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Welcome to the EP Parenting Blog


This is the place to read blog posts from our experts and from EP's team of dedicated Parent Bloggers, who write about their own experiences raising their children. Comment, ask questions, and share advice. If you're interested in blogging for us, please click here.
Jan
28
Posted By:

Your daughter is having a tough time navigating the social dynamics at school. Your son sometimes gets so frustrated with his reading homework that he’s brought to tears. When exactly should you reach out to your child’s teacher?

Maybe it’s the fear of adding to a teacher’s already overworked schedule or leftover deference from my Catholic school days, but I almost always wait until the parent-teacher conference to raise issues my children might be having. According to new research by social scientists David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, I shouldn’t wait.

Last fall, Grenny and Maxfield surveyed over 1,000 parents and teachers about how best to handle school-related issues. I called Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. He said the research shows teachers want to hear from parents. “They don’t see your reaching out to them as a burden,” Grenny assures me. In fact, he says, parents should know it’s their responsibility to check in with a teacher, not the other way around. I never thought of it that way.

“If you check in from time to time, then when issues arise, you’ll already have a relationship—they’ll know you’re working together as a team, not assigning blame,” says Grenny. “Build the relationship by sending teachers affirming emails early and throughout the school year, telling them about how their lessons are reaching your child,” he says.

If a problem does arise, Grenny suggests calling the teacher when you’re still in the “curious, questioning stage,” so that you can problem-solve effectively together. “If you go in early, at the exploratory stage, there’s a 99% chance you’ll have a successful conversation about it.”

The researchers offer these tips for starting the conversation:

  • Check your motives.  Remember, Grenny says, you and the teacher have a common goal: To help your child succeed. Approach the conversation with that in mind.
  • Start on a positive note.  “Begin by letting the teacher know you’re here to understand the problem, not to blame,” he says. “Let the teacher know you see him/her as a partner in solving this problem.”
  • Use facts, not emotions.  Be fact-based and specific in your conversation. “And if your child is in any way at fault, be quick to admit it,” he says.

 

What has your experience been like with teachers? Do you take a proactive approach? Or, have you been reluctant like me?

 

Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines.   Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.”  She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4.  You can read her other work at www.JenniferBWallace.com.

Jan
23
Posted By:

Divorce is something that happens between two adults, not unlike marriage.  It is the formal dissolution of a relationship that, for whatever reason, did not work out.  It is not, however, permission to talk negatively about your children’s other parent or their families, as the case may be.

The death of a child puts enormous strain on a marriage; when our teenage daughter passed away in 2004, it was the final blow to my and my husband’s tenuous relationship.  We had been together for about twenty-four years at that point and, like most relationships, we had weathered a few storms.  The details of those storms were only for us to know, not our children.  It was not their fault that the relationship was ending; it was a series of circumstances.

When we decided the relationship was done, I had no idea how to talk to my teens: what to say, what not to say.  So, initially, I said nothing.  The boys were 13 and 15, and our family was dysfunctional.  As for me, I was attempting to recover from my accident injuries and the death of our child.  Overall, it was not a great place to be.

I knew that at some point I would have to have the conversation with my sons about what happened and why, after all those years, we divorced.  So I began to research and read everything I could get my hands on. Then, when the questions came, I was ready.  I knew that they did not need details; those would remain private.  I told them the truth: we fell out of love with each other, but truly loved both of them.

I firmly believe that it is part of my job as a mother to be a positive role model for my boys while allowing them to form their own opinion of others.  I have never told my sons mean-spirited things about my ex-husband or his family. After all, these are still people in their lives. So I continue to speak positively, and if I have nothing nice to say, I remain silent.

One of the most important conversations I have had with my boys was when I told them that I do not hate their father.  He gave me the two of them, along with some amazing memories from our marriage. For that, I will always be grateful.  It is important for my sons to know that they do not have to choose a parent to align with; this is not a war, it is life.

One thing I wish I had done better was to help them navigate the new relationship between me and their dad after the divorce.  Instead, they tried to create the relationship on their own.  It was only years later that I realized that they did not have the skills to do this.  So after years of no contact with my ex, I tapped out a text message to him and talked to him about his sons.  The look of surprise on both my boys’ faces made it all worthwhile. They knew then that I would support their relationship with their father — and that I would do anything I could to strengthen it.

Even though my sons are both in their twenties now, they know I am always available to offer guidance in any situation (even if it involves their dad), and that is a great feeling!

 

Sandra Steiner is a published Inspirational author, blogger (www.steiner-style.com) and grandparent.  Sandra writes to encourage and inspire those around her to live life to its fullest.  She lives on beautiful Vancouver Island in Victoria, BC with her husband and fur babies.

Jan
21
Posted By:

I stumbled onto a website last year, where you write a letter to your future self and then choose the date it gets sent to your email.  I excitedly wrote mine and I just received it today.  Wow! What a blast to read what I wrote — and not just because I can’t seem to remember anything these days!

In the letter, I asked myself several questions: follow-ups to what I was dealing with/ struggling with, upset and worried about. You know: the usual stuff. Want to know the best part? It was a rush seeing that I had moved past so many things that appeared monumental in January of 2014. Things that took up so much of my bandwidth at the time, yet a year later, I could see how little they ended up mattering.  The gift of time and hindsight certainly showed me that what felt like an enormous boulder in the path of life actually was a handful of pebbles.

The whole exercise got me thinking about raising kids. No matter the age of the child, they are always in a particular stage of development; and many times, that stage is UGLY. When will my son stop bedwetting? Biting kids? Teasing his sister? I want you to think right now about something one of your children is doing that’s making you bonkers. Then think ahead a bit; will this still be a big deal a year from now? Most likely not. Most likely, it won’t matter in a day or two.

Here’s what I’m getting at: even in the heat of the moment, we have a choice. We can dramatize every little thing into a major issue, or we can stop overreacting.  Does your child refuse to brush her teeth? Most likely, she’ll come around.  It’s unlikely that she’ll become the young adult that you keep picturing: the one with a gummy smile, sans teeth. Is your son playing video games way more than you are comfortable with? Although I’m with you on this one, most likely he’ll get restless, and move on to a new activity. I can’t tell you the nights I’ve lain awake, ruminating on some quirk of my son’s that I was certain would cause him to be unemployable and therefore unable to move out of my house (horror of horrors). A steady chronicler, I’ve looked back on old journal entries and been able to laugh at how hung up I was over what turned out to be, as they say, a hill of beans.

So, do me a favor. Write yourself two letters.  The first one is for you; talk to yourself as a person, not a parent, 12 months into the future.  Send yourself lots of sweet talk and love. Then write a separate letter to your parental self. Write down the issues of today so that you can ask yourself in January of 2016 if they are still lingering around. Lay it all out there; spare nothing. After all, you don’t have to share this with anyone else.  Then, set both letters aside. And in a year, when you read those (hopefully) forgotten words, let them sink it. I bet you’ll find that you, too, can laugh; that your worries will fade quickly, and you’ll be able to focus on new, bigger, and better things!  In the meantime, here’s a small step you can take when you start to become overly anxious: tell yourself to knock it off and that tomorrow’s just around the corner. See you there!

 

Renee Brown is the tired yet happy mother of two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary. Almost an empty nester, she loves sharing her single parent experiences with the goal of providing hope and encouragement to those struggling on that “long and winding road.” Renee lives in Minneapolis, works in advertising, and also blogs for Your Teen magazine.

Jan
16
Posted By:

As the holiday season comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on how important it is to talk with the ones we love about family and friends who have passed.  Telling stories and remembering the people that are missing can be bittersweet, it’s true; but, for those of us who knew them, it keeps their memories alive.  It’s also a way to build and reinforce intergenerational ties, ensuring that our children and grandchildren remember these wonderful people too, even if the younger generation didn’t have the chance to know them.

The holidays, with their visits home and with relatives, can cause us to feel nostalgic.  Instead of resisting it, I share my memories with my kids and grandchildren.  It is truly beautiful to hear them share their memories as well!  When I visited my sons over Christmas, numerous stories were told about my daughter; the memories of her sixteen years with us have great value to us all.  When my grandchildren were running about the house playing hide-and-seek, I recalled my own three children doing the same thing many years before. As the oldest, my daughter would help hide her little brothers and then pretend to find them — just like my grandchildren were doing.  In telling my son the story, we smiled at the memory.

Later, we all worked together to complete a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle; my four-year-old grandson was diligently trying to make the pieces fit together using a combination of deep concentration and a little hammering with his small fist.  His dad assuring him that he was a big help made me think of my grandmother and smile.  She was always working on a puzzle and would allow the grandchildren that visited to help her with it.  Her encouraging words echoed in my mind.  Voicing the memory to my son created a link to a family member that had passed.

I had the pleasure of bunking with that same grandson for three nights.  As we were preparing for our first night together, he very excitedly asked me to tell him stories “from my brain.”  To him, these are the stories from when his daddy was a little boy and from when I was young.  As we cuddled together, I told him stories about the Auntie he would never meet.  How beautiful she was and how much she would have loved being an Auntie; stories about camping trips, playing at the park and amazing vacations.  My grandson was completely enthralled by the idea that, as a child, his daddy did some of the very same things he does.  He listened intently as I told him how his daddy loved the dinosaurs at the museum, the same museum that he goes to now.

My grandson is very proud of the fact that his playschool is at the same school that his daddy went to as a little boy.  In fact, I went to that school as a student and was also a teacher there.  He loves to hear stories about all of us at that same school, learning just like he is.

So talk, tell stories, share – even write!  It’s so important to pass these memories on so that the moments and the people can be remembered for years to come.

 

Sandra Steiner is a published Inspirational author, blogger (www.steiner-style.com) and grandparent.  Sandra writes to encourage and inspire those around her to live life to its fullest.  She lives on beautiful Vancouver Island in Victoria, BC with her husband and fur babies.

Jan
14
Posted By:

I am fresh from a meeting with my daughter’s teachers to discuss her senior year. Overall, she’s doing pretty well. She has a good mix of classes and is keeping up relatively well with her coursework, save for a couple of missing assignments. Granted, her grades are not as stellar as they could be. She could probably be a straight-A student if she put her mind to it. My daughter is a very bright girl with an above average IQ. She could have been in the gifted program if behavioral issues hadn’t reared their ugly heads around 6th grade. I swear, when she turned 12, it seemed as if she had been abducted by aliens and replaced with some angry, disrespectful, acting out child. We had some very, very tough times, she and I. And, while I won’t go into the gory details about those years (I don’t really feel it’s my story to tell), I will admit there were times I doubted my ability to see it through: many sleepless nights wondering where I had gone wrong, many days going through the motions of trying to be a decent parent and feeling very much the opposite.

We talked some today about my daughter’s grades and her potential. No one sitting at the table had any doubt of her ability and the fact that her current grades don’t really reflect that ability. She’s passing everything with at least a C average, and most are Bs or above. She has all of her credits and is on track to graduate this year, so it’s not terribly awful. Truth be told, I could live with bad grades and maybe needing extra time to complete coursework. I don’t see those as a reflection of my parenting or of who my daughter is as a person. It’s the other stuff we talked about that means more than the grade she’s getting in Geometry. Things like what a joy she is to have in class, how helpful she is to other students, how engaged she is in class, and how active she is in class discussions. My daughter may not be a straight-A student but she is a great person. She cares about others and is not afraid to speak up and be heard. She’s not perfect, but, then again, neither am I. As a “good enough parent” I’m happy to have a “good enough kid”—one who tries but isn’t always successful, genuinely cares about others even though she may have disagreeable moments (or days), and is capable of learning from her mistakes—even though she may not always be willing to. She’s not always my favorite person but, even during our darkest times, I wouldn’t have traded her for another.

As I was leaving the meeting, one of the teachers commented on how I must have done something right to have such a great kid. My response was it was all her choice (I don’t take compliments well). I left the school with tears in my eyes because I was so proud of how far my daughter has come. I actually had to wipe away a tear or two as I wrote this. It wasn’t all me, though. The reality is that it was all of us pulling together to make those changes happen: me, my daughter, her teachers and all the other people who showed up throughout our struggles. I will be forever grateful to her middle school teachers who never lost faith in her. They were able to look past the troubles she caused and see the awesome child beneath. I’m also grateful to her high school teachers who went above and beyond to help her when she lacked focus, sometimes bending their own rules to let her turn things in past the due date when she was really struggling. I am grateful to my daughter for being who she is and sticking it out, even when it wasn’t easy. We made it through and now, here we are in the middle of her senior year. We have a bond that has been forged in fire, one that will hopefully get us through the sometimes-rocky transition into adulthood. I have faith we will.

 

Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from USM and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from ICF.

Jan
12
Posted By:

In my last post, I wrote about some strategies parents can try in order to prevent teen drug use.  By taking these steps, you can minimize the chance that your children will use drugs, but you can’t eliminate the possibility entirely. If your child does test positive for drugs, it’s crucial to address the matter as soon as possible. Taking action immediately can improve your chances of getting your child the help he or she needs and avoiding further damage.

These seven steps can help you navigate the situation as smoothly as possible.

Gather yourself. Finding out that your child tested positive for drugs can be startling, so take a moment to breathe, compose yourself, and calm down. You may feel angry, guilty, or betrayed. These emotions are understandable, but remember that focusing on your teen is what’s most important.

Confirm the results. It’s always best to get a second opinion of the test from a laboratory. A lab test can also tell you more about your child’s drug use, such as which drugs came back positive and at what levels.

Talk to your teen. Confront your child without imposing judgment. Ask what’s going on in his or her life and discuss specific things you’re concerned about. Share the test results and be ready to listen.

Expect excuses. Your teen will likely try to deny any drug use. This is a typical reaction, so be prepared for it. However, be aware that secondary exposure to drugs (for instance, being in the same room with people who are smoking pot) will not result in a positive drug test. A person must ingest a drug to test positive.

Discuss the reasons not to use drugs. Avoid scare tactics. Instead, emphasize how drug use can negatively affect what’s important to your teen, such as sports, driving, health, school, relationships, and physical appearance.

Look for solutions. Don’t blame or judge your teen. Use this as an opportunity to work together on boundaries and expectations. Discuss ways to resist peer pressure and turn down offers of drugs.

Repeat the message. Even though you don’t want to dwell on your child’s mistake, continue engaging in the drug conversation. Frequently observe your teen, and remind him or her that you’re always there to talk.

Teen drug use should be a serious concern for all parents, regardless of where you come from or how you’ve raised your children. Being educated, talking to your children about the dangers of drugs, and keeping the lines of communication open are the best preventive measures a parent can take. And if your teen tests positive for drugs, remember that you haven’t failed. Act decisively and calmly to get your child the necessary help to set him or her back on the right course.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For information about available resources in your area to help address teen drug use, contacting the 211 Helpline could be a good place to start.  The 211 Helpline is an information and referral service which connects people with resources and services in their community.  You can reach them by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting www.211.org in the US.  In Canada, you can contact the 211 Helpline by calling 1-800-836-3238 or by visiting www.211.ca)

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm Biosciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug-testing technologies and was recognized as one of San Diego’s Best Places to Work in both 2013 and 2014.

Jan
09
Posted By:

For many kids, the start of a new school year can feel daunting. They enter a new classroom filled with unfamiliar faces and have to adjust to different teaching styles and expectations. For students with special needs, overcoming these unnerving feelings is crucial for their educational success.

Just as every student with special needs is unique, each special education teacher has their own specific approach and training. Some specialize in learning or behavioral challenges, while others are more adept at helping students with speech impairments.  Regardless, these teachers are equipped to implement specialized teaching tactics that help children overcome learning and life obstacles, but it’s no easy feat. Special educators have a tremendous task before them, but you can help ease the transition for your child and his teacher.

When you form a strong, open relationship with your child’s special education teacher, you can get a feel for classroom expectations, communicate your child’s specific learning style, and collaborate to drive home pivotal lessons.

Cultivate an Open Relationship

As a single or working parent, staying actively involved in your child’s progress is difficult. But plugging in wherever possible will help you maximize your child’s education experience, and position him for success. Here are a few tips for building strong, trusting relationships with your child’s special educators:

Attend open houses at the beginning of the year. Most teachers hand out supply lists and set classroom expectations at this event, which will allow you to familiarize yourself with their standards. It’s also a great way to get some face time with your child’s teacher early in the school year.

Schedule Q&A time with your child’s teacher. Review your child’s daily work, and look for areas in which he’s succeeding and those that need improvement. During your Q&A session, ask the teacher how they will help your child improve in those areas.  Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. Special education teachers appreciate parent involvement because at the end of the day, it only makes their jobs easier.

Make an effort to be at scheduled meetings. Make it a priority to attend Individual Education Plan (IEP), 504, and parent meetings. IEP and 504 meetings are invaluable for developing a relationship with your child’s special ed teacher; that’s why your signature is required on the forms. Scheduled parent meetings allow for more one-on-one time with your child’s teacher.  If you can’t attend, send someone you trust. This education plan lasts for the entire school year and can be challenging to alter mid-year.

Get involved with your child’s class. Consider becoming a class mom or dad, or volunteering to chaperone class trips if you are able. Taking an active role in your child’s classroom will give you the chance to observe how she’s doing and interact on a less formal basis with the teachers, para-professionals, aides, and therapists assisting in the classroom. Helping with simple tasks, such as making copies or setting up activities that take a lot of prep time, will allow teachers to spend more time teaching.

Establish a system for regular feedback. Every child has some form of an IEP that’s reviewed and signed at the beginning and end of the year. But as a parent, you can establish a more frequent system for monitoring progress.

Try setting up a communication book and sending it in your child’s bag. Encourage the teacher to write about your child’s progress or challenges on a weekly basis. This will help address challenges and victories earlier on and promote an open, direct dialogue. You can also do this via email if that works better for the teacher.

Incorporate Education at Home

In-home activities are vital for helping your child meet his classroom goals. By staying informed about your child’s in-class experiences and reiterating important lessons at home, you can maximize their impact and boost your child’s memory and comprehension.

If you’re crunched for time, squeeze in these education opportunities during dinnertime, bath time, and before bedtime. Spend five minutes going over classroom topics, and use examples found at home to reinforce them. Keeping tabs on your child’s weekly classroom work and gathering examples from movies and books will also help strengthen the pathways in the brain that make learning easier.

Illustrating how your child communicates at home will also lessen the burden on teachers. Communicating the nuances you notice at home — that might not be visible at school — can help teachers better understand and attend to your child’s needs and abilities.  For example, if your child is able to manage distractions more effectively when you are close by, the teacher might be able to position her desk to set her up for success.

Special education teachers have the skillsets to tailor educational tactics to your child’s special needs. Don’t underestimate the value in developing close ties with these educators. As you work to build strong relationships, you’ll be celebrating victories with your child and his teacher more regularly.

Rebecca Dean is the president of Tiny Tots Therapy, Inc. and a partner in Therapy Nook, Kids Blvd, and Fun Factory Sensory Gym. She earned her degree in occupational therapy from Kean University, and she’s certified and trained in sensory integration. Rebecca believes in a holistic therapeutic approach and realizes that alternative methods, combined with traditional therapy, allow children to acquire functional and developmental skills and retain them.

Jan
07
Posted By:

As your children approach their teenage years, it’s easy to fear drug use. Addiction, after all, doesn’t discriminate against race, gender, ethnicity, or social standing. Even if you’ve “raised your kids well,” illicit substances, and the pressure to experiment with them, can still influence your children.

The reasons for teenage drug use are as complex as teenagers themselves; peer pressure, boredom, family history, and rebellion are just some of the reasons kids begin to use drugs. And for many teens, experimentation with marijuana can lead to use of other drugs, including prescription drugs, cocaine, and even meth.

As a parent, one of the best preventative measures you can take is to talk with your children from an early age about the risks of drug use so you can help them make good choices.

Talk to Your Kids about Drugs

Talking to your kids about drugs is an incredibly important way to lay the foundation for a drug-free home. Taking the time to talk can make all the difference.  By having this dialog, you are showing your children how much you care, which means more to your kids then it sometimes seems!

It’s not always easy, so here are some tips to help you get started.

Educate yourself. Information is your most powerful tool! Get the facts about common misperceptions kids have about drug use.  Learn about which substances are most commonly abused by young people.  Know the signs of drug use (e.g., changes in behavior, worsening hygiene, missing or ditching school, and suffering grades).  Find out how to get a teen help for a drug problem.

Talk openly. Start a two-way dialogue from an early age, although it’s never too late to start the conversation. Talk about the types of drugs, their dangers, and the ways they can damage someone’s life. Be prepared to answer questions and to hear what your kids have to say.

Ask for your children’s views. Encourage your kids to talk by asking for their points of view.  Listening to their opinions, concerns and questions is more effective than a long, boring lecture.

Make your position clear. It’s never too early to make sure your children know how seriously you disapprove of any and all drug use.

Act it out. Sometimes telling your teenagers to “just say no” isn’t enough. Resisting peer pressure can be difficult, so help them by practicing potential conversations and responses.

Stress continued communication. Maintain ongoing honest communication with your children. Let them know that you’re always available to listen, answer questions, help solve problems, and provide support. By offering an open, nonjudgmental ear, your teenagers will be more likely to come to you in times of crisis or when they are confronted with drug use.

Drug use is, unfortunately, a common problem that many teens have to address within their peer group.  By taking the time to have ongoing conversations with your kids about your expectations, and developing strategies to help them meet your rules, you can have a huge impact on preventing the use of illegal drugs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a series. Be sure to check back next week for part two, which will address what to do if your child tests positive for drugs.

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm Biosciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug-testing technologies and was recognized as one of San Diego’s Best Places to Work in both 2013 and 2014.