Parents, Children, and Election Day Ideas

Election Badge
Election Badge

It’s almost here! Election Day 2012 is on Tuesday November 6th, and the weeks leading up to it bring a goldmine of opportunities for parents to create stimulating dialogue with their children.Whether it is over the family dinner or during an otherwise monotonous car ride, the following ideas can help parents find out whom or what influences their child’s opinions, how school is or isn’t expanding their child’s knowledge base, and ways to influence a child’s principles or vision.  And who knows?  Parents and kids may bond a little too!

1. Utilize Election Day as an opportunity to ask kids what they know about “government”. Can they name the three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial)? Do they know their two State Senators, or any of the Congressional Representatives? How might they respond if asked to debate the pro or con side of a current issue such as drilling for oil, or dealing with terrorists (otherwise known as big bullies)? These open ended questions can provide a good glimpse about what a child is or isn’t learning in school, and how a parent might applaud or supplement their knowledge base. Younger kids can be taught these concepts in very basic ways while older kids can be challenged with more thought provoking debates.

2. Consider inviting a child to imagine that they were an elected official and ask them what they would do to improve the country. Parents may hear comical answers such as “I’d ban all homework”, or thoughtful answers that give insight into their child’s knowledge and personal beliefs. Most parents enjoy hearing their children’s opinions and ideas. They’ll likely glean what kids are picking up from their sphere of influence, including academics, news stories, social media, peers, or even their peer’s parents.

3. Election Day celebrates our right to make choices. Ask your kids which candidate they would choose. Then ask them to give you two solid reasons for that choice.  Some kids will make their choice based on the preference of a parent or best friend? If this is the case, a parent might dig deep to evoke their child’s opinions and encourage them to be leaders of their own beliefs instead of followers of other’s beliefs. Parents might consider observing for this pattern of behavior in other parts of the child’s life. Whether kids elect a candidate, choose an extracurricular sport, or pick the perfect college, we ultimately want them to know how to research their choices, match them with personal beliefs, and make intelligent, informed decisions.

4. Consider taking your children to the poll with you. I did this with my son when he was 8 years old.  He was thrilled to be included in a grown up activity and this alone increased his attentiveness to election process. I was allowed to take him into the ballot box and even let him punch the holes in the card to choose our candidates. He was over the moon!

5. Elections, as we have observed this year, can get rather ugly with contemptuous ads, gross exaggerations, and insults. Ask your kids what they think about these strategies and the grown up bullies who action them? Do they think that they are justified in order to win? Why or why not? Ask your child what alternatives they would implement to run an ethical and moral campaign? When you hear all the good things they know they should do, pat yourself on the back. That is likely the result of your good parenting!

Please share your ideas on how to maximize teaching opportunities before our upcoming election.

Parenting Touchdowns: A Lesson taken from NFL Commissioner Goodell


An October weekend in 2010 brought three heart stopping games for college and professional football players, teams, and fans.  During a Saturday Army / Rutgers game, Rutgers player Eric LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck after a hard hit in which he ducked his head.  On Sunday in the NFL, the Falcons played the Eagles, and the Steelers took on the Browns.   Four players were seriously injured due to “head first tackles” that are clear violations of the rules.   Now I’m aware that there is some controversy as to how “violent” or “clean” these hits were, but that’s not what this blog is about.  This blog is about parenting and we’ll get to that in a moment. I have been a quiet observer of the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, for the past five years, and I like his leadership.  In 2007, after a year of consequential scandals involving NFL players, he instituted the NFL Personal Conduct Policy.  Players, who crossed the line with weapons, drugs, drunk driving, or using banned substances, were suspended without pay and/or fined up to $100,000.  Players who were held in “higher public regard” than other players on the field were given more severe penalties.  Why?  Because they were role models who were powerful enough to positively or negatively influence millions of viewers including our impressionable children.

Two days after the injurious October weekend, Mr. Goodell and his Commission decided that they had to keep their players as safe as possible.  They also had to help them stay accountable.  If players could not regulate themselves in their pursuit to win, they would have new incentive. 

Any player who initiated a “dangerous and flagrant” hit that violated rules, particularly those including helmets and a “defenseless player” (a receiver in the act of making a catch) would be suspended and possibly fined.  This new rule would punish careless or downright defiant players who took rules for granted. 

What is most significant is that Roger Goodell and his NFL Commission have had the backbone to enforce their rules.  Players know this and take their consequences more seriously. 

Fast forward to the upcoming 2012 season.  Mr. Goodell and the NFL aren’t just taking care of their own players, and they’re not just being punitive.  Proactive and practicing what they preach, the NFL is donating one million dollars a year to Heads Up Football a health and safety resource for parents, coaches and players in youth leagues.

Furthermore, Mr. Goodell, in response to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal for which he imposed harsh penalties to players and coaches, released a 2012 preseason letter stating that “there was no place for bounties in football.”  He re-emphasized NFL rules and his commitment to enforcing them.  I particularly appreciated this statement: “Our players do not make excuses on the field; we will not make them off the field.”

So what does all this have to do with parenting?  Roger Goodell is like a parent to the NFL players and even coaches.   If he can straighten his backbone to set standards and enforce them, for player welfare, and for the NFL family reputation, why don’t we take his example and do the same for our kids and our families? 

Your kids, like some football players or coaches, will test your rules by breaking them, either unknowingly or intentionally.  Pause for a moment and evaluate how you have handled this type of situation thus far.   Do you need to create and enforce a personal conduct policy for your children in sports and in the game of life?   How would this help to keep your kids and other kids safer and out of trouble? In other words, what's in it for all of you?

Once you create rules, how effectively do you enforce them? Are your approaches punitive, proactive or both?  How well do you model the behaviors you wish that your children would demonstrate?

If there is one thing we know from decades of research, it is that children like to know what they can and can’t do.  It takes some of the guesswork out of life.  In other words, they want limits.  Who better than a parent to set them? 

You are the Commissioner of what happens in your family.

Let us know your thoughts and ways you’ve helped your kids to regulate their personal conduct.

What Parents Must Know About Marshmallows, Tests, and S' mores!

It was 1972.  Walter Mischel was a researcher at Stanford University and he was curious about the human ability to delay gratification.  He gathered four year old children and one by one placed them in a room with a solitary marshmallow.  The children were told that if they could refrain from eating the marshmallow while the researcher left the room (roughly 20 minutes), that they would be given a second marshmallow.  About 30% of the children were able to wait.  They along with the others were tracked for over 30 years and the tales of their lives are very telling.  Let’s take a look.

Toasted marshmallows and emotional intelligence
Toasted marshmallows and emotional intelligence

Those children who were able to delay gratification showed higher levels of happiness emotionally and higher achievement academically.  They had superior skills at managing personal and social stressors, had sharper focusing abilities, had lower levels of substance abuse, and enjoyed healthy, fulfilling relationships.  Academically they boasted SAT scores that were, on average 210 points higher than the children who were not able to self regulate while in the grips of a tempting sugary delight. 

Are you surprised?  Self regulation and delayed gratification are both competencies of emotional intelligence skills.  Countless global experts tell us that these skills create “happier”, more “successful” kids.  These skills are clearly worth developing.

Now it would be easy if parents could simply mandate their kids to self regulate their urges.  “Control yourself” or “just be patient” are two commands that come to mind.  But since these character traits cannot be conjured in the time it takes to eat a marshmallow, we will have to institute measures to develop them in our kids.  So we have reached the crux of this article.  How exactly do we do this?

I believe it begins with a parent that is fully engaged with their child.  Put the iPhone down and toss the newspaper aside.  Get to your child’s level and teach them how to be patient so they can successfully delay gratification. 

1. Be an example of patience.  Kids are watching your every move.  The “monkey, see monkey do” tendency in them will learn to whistle a favorite tune at the exceptionally long red traffic light, or to shriek or curse at it. 

2.Communicate and teach them about alternatives.  “Mary… I know you want to get that doll today, but you are going to have to wait until next week when it’s your birthday”.  Until then, which of your other dolls would you like to play with?

3.Use fantasy.   I know you really want the red toy truck.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could have the red toy truck you want and I could have the red Ferrari I want? 

4.Consider distractions.  For younger children in particular, a different activity can create an “out of sight, out of mind” diversion.  For example a child hungry for dinner that is 15 minutes away from being ready can be told, “No you can’t have a snack right now but we can color together until dinner is ready in 15 minutes.”

5.Praise is a powerful motivator.  As always, it should be delivered with sincerity.  Kids can see your adult artificiality with x-ray vision!  Praise your children when you observe an honest effort at being patient, and self regulating their short term indulgences for their long term benefit.  The key word here is effort.  If it first they cannot succeed, encourage them to keep trying.

There’s one more thing I’d like to say about marshmallows.  They are an essential ingredient in s’ mores.  The individual who is in a rush to eat might just burn the marshmallow while the one who can delay gratification to slowly rotate the marshmallow over an open flame will find it a perfect golden brown, crisped on the outside, and delectably hot and gooey on the inside.  It will melt the chocolate with ease to make this graham cracker sandwich a coveted campfire delight.  How are your s’ mores turning out?

Please leave us a comment.  We’d love to know what you think about marshmallows, tests, or s’ mores!

iPadding Children. Critical Information for Parents

The title for this post is inspired by Linked-IN’s “BrainInsights”, a group about Brain Development and Positive Parenting.  There, a talented group of experts connected to discuss their strong beliefs regarding the perils of screen time in toddlers and infants.

“Inspire the Genius” and “It’s Cool to be Smart” are marketing messages of the Vinci Touch Screen Learning System (recommended age 4 and under).  These messages are designed to target the emotions of parents who then open wallets and recklessly spend $479 for the promise of “genius.” 

To Vinci’s credit some of their other products have earned awards and their website clearly states the following:  “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV watching before a child reaches the age of 2.”  But Vinci left out some very important sentences.

The full statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reads as follows:  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or screen media such as computer games, videos, or DVDs for children under 2. For children over age 2, the recommendation is 1 to 2 hours per day for television or any screen media.  

Imagine that!  Vinci posted only part of the AAP’s statement because they don’t want potential buyers to know that their touchpad is on the banned list of “all” screen media for children under age two!

It comes as no surprise that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has awarded the Vinci Touchpad as their 2012 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) otherwise known as “the worst toy of the year.”   This organization gripes that the Vinci will “virtually lobotomize an infant.”

That allegation is likely made because research tells us that whether children are in infancy, toddlerhood, or of school age, that an unprecedented amount of screen time is thwarting healthy brain development.  While parents buy computer devices with hopes to make their child smarter they are overlooking other important parts of the brain growth that require the kind of nurturing that electronics simply cannot accomplish. 

Not only are excessive hours of electronic usage robbing children of emotional and social nurturing time through human contact, they are also poised to cause future damage.

A recent New York Times article cites numerous researchers warning that too much screen time actually decreases a child’s attention span, creates an environment where children “find the realities of the world underwhelming and under-stimulating” and may be a contributing factor to the skyrocketing diagnosis of ADHD.  Even childhood obesity has been blamed on children plastered in front of televisions for hours on end.

The research is boundless but enough said!  There are five suggestions below that parents can implement immediately to influence healthy brain development in children of all ages.

Follow the AAP guidelines no matter what it takes! 

Stubbornly refuse to let a child under age 2 get near screens of any type. Strictly limit screen time after age 2.

Replace screen time with play time as frequently as possible. 

Hurried lifestyles and adult dependence on screen time as “entertainment” have robbed children of essential play.  In a 10 page report, the AAP states “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights as a right for every child.”  Consistent play times with loving caregivers provide children with the right kind of brain development not just cognitively, but emotionally and socially. Kids can grow bonds and trusting relationships with their caregivers.  Play allows children to learn how to interact with real people and real situations. They learn to manage difficult emotions and learn competencies that will help them when they face future challenges.  For example, with an adult’s help, three year old Johnny learns how to manage when Steven swipes his toy truck.  18 month old Penny learns how to clap for herself by following the cues of her caretaker.  She’s building her confidence too!  The life skills required to successfully navigate the game of life are born out of play.  And playtime is free!  It doesn’t cost anything to stack plastic containers from a kitchen cabinet, or dance to music in a living room.

Do not use screens as a babysitter! 

Do not use screens as a babysitter!  Do not use screens as a babysitter!  CCFC was right.  You might as well “lobotomize” your child!  Developing brains need as much quality human contact as possible.

Be present when your child is using any kind of screen device.  

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the child’s brain that discerns “good from bad”, “right from wrong”, “risk versus safety” etc. and will not fully develop until the mid 20’s. This means children need adult guidance to help them make sense of concepts applicable to their real world.  So while a 5 year old hears a good message about values from the television show “Arthur”, he or she still needs a loving adult to help them apply the concept into reality.

Consider your grandparents’ ideas. 

Generations ago, there were creative solutions for passing time in a car or an airplane.  Coloring and story books created a new and brilliant generation in which you, dear reader, are included!  Today many parents covet travel time as an “electronics free zone” in which they can learn about “stuff” in their child’s world.  Yes, parents can actually start conversations in which they learn about their child’s thoughts, ideas, opinions, grievances, and joys about millions of possible subjects. Why not capitalize on this window of opportunity to share your commonalities, debate your differences, guide your child’s maturity, or simply bond.

So in the end, parents can certainly choose to splurge on the $479 Vinci touchpad. If used as the only screen resource within the recommendations of the AAP, maybe, just maybe, it might serve a little short term value.  Used between ages 2 and 4 it ends up costing 66 cents a day monetarily. How much will it cost if parents allow it to become a babysitter? 

Reader comments are cherished. 


30 Days to New & Improved Family Success

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday that heartily welcomes one and all to engage in at least two ubiquitous human practices; eating good food, and of course, giving thanks.  If we ponder just those two things, we notice that the typical family eats three times a day and gives thanks… well… hmmm?   How often are we really giving thanks?  Surely it is not just on Thanksgiving Day!  Most would agree that this noble act “should be”, “ought to be” practiced daily.  And I agree!

Parents and children alike have much to gain by conscientiously giving thanks.  Research proves it!

According to Psychology Today, participants in a study about gratitude reported greater levels of optimism, positive mood, and feelings of belongingness. 

These individuals were more likely to help someone struggling with a personal problem by rendering emotional support with pro-social behavior.  Study participants also complained of less physical pains and boasted better sleep.  And guess what?  All these benefits came without lifting an elbow, finger, knee, or toe for exercise!  That alone makes me feel thankful!

Ah yes! “Feeling” thankful is as important as “thinking” thankful.  When you are authentically thankful, where do you feel it in your body?  Do your shoulder’s drop?  Maybe you are like me and you sense warmth over your heart.  Some of you may feel the corners of your mouth form a smile while others will inhale, and then exhale deeply with content.  Psychological well being doesn’t just have to come from our thoughts; it is accompanied by gratified emotions that are sensed by our bodies.  Go ahead.  Sense yours!

You’ve heard the saying “It takes 30 days to make a habit.” 

This November I’d like to invite you and your family to join me for 30 days of giving thanks.  Let’s not wait for a New Years “resolution” to experience psychological, social, and or physical benefits.

Starting today November 1st, ask each member of your family to verbalize something that they are thankful for.  This five minute family conversation not only allows joyful bonding, it opens windows of opportunity for parents to learn more about their children’s thoughts and emotions.  What a great forum to praise or guide your children as they mature!

Your family’s thanks can include joyful occurrences or difficult life lessons that allowed your wisdom to grow.  You can be humorous, serious, or exuberant.   Your may express a current experience or one that you recall from the past.  It should, however, be sincere.

Here is an example of something I’m grateful for.  Last year Atlanta was hit by an ice storm.  While that is not unusual, the fact that the ice didn’t melt for six days was highly atypical.   After being stranded in our homes for nearly a week, we finally headed out to run an errand.  Another car decided to pass us on what turned out to be a slick patch of ice.  Yup… you guessed it.  His car slammed right into ours.  I was thankful that no one was hurt.  But that’s not where my thanks stopped.  My son was with us.  He had just received his driver’s permit and this experience taught him several lessons including what not to do in challenging road conditions, and the steps to take when one has a car accident.  Lastly, the gentleman who caused the accident took full responsibility for his actions and that fueled my faith that good honest people do exist in the world.

The accident was a dark cloud with several bright silver linings.  It taught me to remember to always seek the good in any difficult situation and I’m thankful for that lesson too!

So what about you?  What example of thanks will you share with your own family today?  How will all of you become a deep well of support and inspiration, poised to benefit each other and those around you?  

Please share your thoughts and thanks in our comments section!  Oh… and THANK YOU!