April 15, 2014
Actually, we’re playing AND learning!
In my senior year in college I took a course called “Observation of Young Children.” For several hours a week I sat in a narrow, darkened room, behind a one-way mirror, looking into a pre-school classroom in action. Over the course of the semester I was assigned several 2-4 year olds to “observe” and to keep a log of every single thing the child did, how long he or she engaged in the behavior, etc. Later, I was to write up my detailed conclusions about whatever patterns I observed and what they might indicate about “my kids’” temperament, interests, learning styles, etc.
What I remember most was how seriously these young children took “playtime.” It was clear they were intently busy learning through play.
So in the late ’90s, when I first heard about Baby Einstein, a series of products of the “teach your baby to read” variety, I was skeptical. Babies and young children are in the business of figuring out how the world and everything and everyone they encounter operates. Hands-down, they learn best, with the greatest enthusiasm and retention, through hands-on exploration. (That includes but is not limited to touching, holding, jumping on, crawling through, rolling in, and sticking it in your mouth exploring.)
When I first heard about Brain Insights, my first thought was, “Oh is this another product for helicopter parents who need to chill?” Turns out, happily, it is not. Instead, Brain Insights, founded by early childhood educator, Deborah McNelis, is about understanding your child’s early brain development and using that to support a child’s learning through relaxed play. Bye bye smart apps for over-scheduled toddlers. Hello natural, hands-on parent-child fun!
Listen here to my conversation with Debora McNelis on this week’s Family Confidential podcast.
April 8, 2014
I’m trying hard, Dad, but I’m just not perfect
All parents want their kids to succeed in school. But what does the word “success” mean to you, as a student? Do you know? Is it all about getting a 4.0 GPA? Being accepted into a top-tier college? Getting a high-paying job so you can buy great clothes, an awesome car and (some day ) and equally amazing house? When it comes to actually defining “success” are you and your parents on the same page? If there’s a possibility you’re not and/or that you and your parents might need to to e-x-p-a-n-d your definitions, check out Challenge Success, where students, parents and schools are learning there are many many ways to be successful in life.
But when a parent’s definition of success equals: “All A’s and nothing less,” life can become way more stressful than it needs to be. Take, for example, this email from a high school student who seems to be cracking up under the strain of his parents’ pressure to be “perfect.”
My parents are super successful and push me to be like them. Not only do I have get straight A’s, I also have to get 100% on all tests. If I don’t they take everything from me till I get them. It’s impossible to get 100% in everything. Now all I do is obsess about schoolwork. In fact, everything I do has to be perfect. If there’s a stain on my shirt I spend the entire day trying to get it out. If I have a zit I can barely stand being out in public. I think I’ve become a perfectionist and I hate it. I have no friends any more because I’m just soooo focused on everything else. My parents think I’ve got a great attitude, but it’s a curse to have to have everything be absolutely perfect. Can I change? – Too Perfect
Dear Too Perfect,
You’re right, it is impossible to get 100% in everything. Human make mistakes. It’s how we learn. Your parents are holding you to unrealistic expectations. They have good intentions, but you seem to have reached a point in your life where you are a) unhappy with your need to be perfect and b) would like to make some changes in yourself. The good news is that you can. Talk with a counselor because these behaviors (the compulsion to “spend the whole day trying to remove a stain on your shirt”) are deeply rooted and hard to change without help from a trained professional. Either you can talk honestly with your parents and tell them what you think and feel or you can just walk into the school counselor’s office and be honest with him or her.
My parents are fully aware of my perfectionism and they have told me that’s it’s good for me. That there’s nothing wrong with striving to be perfect. So they’re in another world. I don’t want to see a counselor because I can’t have a flaw and needing to see a counselor is a flaw. You know, I used to be a normal guy who had fun and friends. It’s just gotten out of control. I’m a neat freak now and constantly find flaws with myself. That with a need to get 100% on everything. This just sucks. I literally cried one day when I got home because I got a 98 on a test. – Too Perfect
Dear Too Perfect,
Your level of perfectionism is not a “good thing.” It’s unhealthy. This much stress will continue to make you unhappy. To get healthier talk to your parents about seeing a counselor or talk to them about lightening up or take yourself in to talk with the school counselor. btw, needing counseling doesn’t mean you are “flawed.” It simply means that you (like all humans) feel a bit overwhelmed at times (like now!) and you need some help understanding your behavior so you can lower your stress levels and be healthier. Not flawed… smart!
I’ll go and see the counselor.
Dear Too Perfect,
Smart move! Good luck.
PS If you want to find out more about how stress can work on your body and your brain (in good ways and not so much) check out my book for teens, Too Stressed to Think? It can help!
April 7, 2014
Let me spell it out for you
It’s Autism Awareness Month and organizations like Autism Speaks do a tremendous job in the areas of education, research funding, and providing resources for families. A couple of years ago, at this time of year, I was on a quest to learn more when I heard about Carly’s Voice : Breaking Through Autism by Arthur Fleischmann. I read the synopsis: “At the age of two, Carly Fleischmann was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition that prevented her from speaking. Doctors predicted that she would never intellectually develop beyond the abilities of a small child. Although she made some progress after years of intensive behavioral and communication therapy, Carly remained largely unreachable. Then, at the age of ten, she had a breakthrough.
While working with her devoted therapists Howie and Barb, Carly reached over to their laptop and typed in “HELP TEETH HURT,” much to everyone’s astonishment. This was the beginning of Carly’s journey toward self-realization.”
I was hooked, got my hands on the book and read it in three days. All I could think was, “Wow! There goes a whole bunch of assumptions about autism.” I was blown away by Carly’s intelligence, her wit, and her drive to communicate and be understood. I was also touched and inspired by her father’s relentless commitment to connect with her. I had to learn more about the story behind this story. I wanted to interview Arthur Fleischmann.
Social media being what it is, connecting with Arthur was easy. He graciously accepted my invitation to be my guest on Family Confidential. What a fascinating, dynamic and very personal conversation we had. I’m so pleased to share with you this never-before-published interview. Aruthur’s chronicle of life with his daughter Carly provides us all something to think about, especially when it comes to giving everyone the respect he or she deserves plus the opportunity to be heard. Listen here.
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