Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
At this time of year, I can’t help but get into the Christmas spirit. Whether it’s hanging the lights, decorating the tree, sipping on egg nog or making a list for Santa, I love the holiday season. But because I already made off with a new Keurig and pair of Nike’s for my birthday, my wish list this year to Santa is going to look a bit different. Here’s what I’m wishing for this Christmas...
1. I wish that pre-K wasn’t a political fight anymore.
In 2012 the United States ranked 35th among developed economies in school enrollment for three- to five-year-olds, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. And since then, despite overwhelming evidence showing the value of pre-K education and a constant drumbeat of support from our president, not much has changed. This means that, at every level of government, we are underfunding early education and placing the burden on American families, particularly families that don’t have an extra $20,000 lying around every year for private pre-K. For American schoolchildren to meet the growing demands of the 21st century, they can’t enter the public school system behind. We need every child - literally every American child - enrolled in preschool from the age of three. It’s fine to debate over the style of preschool or to haggle over the standards or curriculum of these early education programs, but the fight against universal, free pre-K has got to end.
2. I wish that teachers were millionaires.
Well, not really. But I do wish that we could pay them like the professionals they are. I wish we paid them like doctors, lawyers, engineers, police officers or firefighters. This would mean upping teachers’ pay. And upping it significantly. It would mean giving them real benefits, support staff and perks - just like every other professional in the world. America’s students will continue to flounder if teachers keep fleeing the field, and the best and brightest up-and-comers avoid the profession altogether. The undervaluing of teachers shows that we - citizens, taxpayers and parents - are inadvertently undervaluing our children’s education. This has to change, for everybody’s sake.
3. I wish that students had the support they truly need.
Millions and millions of America’s kids are struggling. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, addiction or a dozen other issues, the majority of our children need extra support. Our schools must have the funding they need to hire more nurses, psychologists, nutritionists, college and career counselors, crisis counselors, chefs, trainers, coaches, secretaries, custodians, gardeners, and support staff. When you surround kids with real support, you greatly increase the odds that all of them will reach their potential. Today, when you walk into any school in America, you see the same things that you see at the DMV - a lack of staffing, support and resources. You see old equipment, outdated facilities, long lines and depressing furniture. We cannot afford to let our kids continue to struggle simply because we won’t pay for the fixes.
4. I wish that people cared more.
If people cared more about America’s public schools, we wouldn’t have teachers begging for supplies, principals begging for devices and districts begging for qualified teachers. If people cared more, we would have the funding we need to make our public schools great and, in turn, our students great. If people cared more, then local, state and federal governments would care more. The purse strings would open, and the change would happen. But for some reason - despite everyone in America conceptually knowing the great importance of a good education - we still don’t seem to care very much. And thus, we get what we pay for: average to below-average schools producing average to below-average students.
5. I wish that community colleges were free.
Nobody should be denied the opportunity to go to college because they can’t afford it. That said, free college for all is probably a ways away in our country. So, we should do the next best thing and make our public community colleges free to everyone. This will obviously cost us some big-time money to set up and maintain, but the impact it will have on individuals will not only change their lives but our economy as well. The U.S. economy is predominantly driven by consumer spending. Therefore, simply stated, the more people learn, the more people earn. This naturally leads to more spending and economic activity, which will be a boon for all of us.
6 I wish that joy spilled out of our schools.
How sad was it when your child started dreading school, hating homework and complaining about their teachers? Remember the days when they were bouncing-off-the-wall excited to go to school? We can’t make kids (or allow kids) to grow up before their time. We need schools - even high schools - to be places of play, places of optimism and places of joy. Practically speaking, this means that we as educators need to calm down about the homework assignments, standardized testing and Advanced Placement classes. And it means that students need to have fun at school, all the way through graduation day. School needs to be a place kids want to be, for if we can bring out their joy, there’s no question that we’ll bring out their best.
Ben Campopiano is a vice principal at Northgate High School in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
Somewhere between eating too much turkey and ripping open Christmas presents is a chance for gratitude and giving.
Three of the seven deadly sins — gluttony, greed and sloth — can take over the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas and overshadow the meaning of the holidays. But they don’t have to.
Families focused on spending time together can use it as a chance to be thankful for what they have and reinforce the importance of giving to others. To help children, and parents, better understand this and learn empathy, it can help to volunteer during the holidays.
While the thought of volunteering is fresh on the mind, December can be a good time to encourage children to give back throughout the year.
Volunteering can teach many important values, including empathy, self-esteem and civic responsibility and can serve as a way to explore new interests. Studies have also found that volunteering can lead to lower death rates and improve mental health.
“You want your children to learn proper values, life lessons that will sustain them all of their lives,” said Candi Wingate, president of Care4Hire in Norfolk, Neb. “Your children’s most powerful learning opportunities come from what they observe you saying and doing as well as what you all do together as a family.”
Five ways to volunteer year-round
There are probably all kinds of volunteering opportunities in your area, but one way to help children start is to talk to them about the need for help.
Mark Aselstine lives in an urban neighborhood where people are sometimes asking for money on street corners and in front of the grocery store. It’s a chance to talk to his children about the importance of giving to others, Aselstine says.
“I think just having the conversation with your kids from a young age that sometimes people need a little extra help from time to time is a good place to start,” he says.
1. Charity party
“We also try and make a small donation to a charity at the kids’ birthday parties in lieu of bigger favors for attendees — which we find just get tossed anyway,” he says. “So kids get a couple of gumballs, a paper airplane and a note saying that, in their name, some money was given to a charity.”
Their most recent donation was to a charity providing year-round housing for foster youth at San Francisco State University.
Another method is, instead of receiving gifts at their birthday party, kids can ask their guests to bring new or used toys to donate to shelters or churches or for other donations that can help other kids. The nonprofit Milk + Bookies offers ideas on how to host parties for guests to donate books to needy kids.
Latasha Kennedy, a wife and mom of two boys, ages nine and three, in Brooklyn, N.Y., says her family throws a Christmas party every year for her oldest son’s school friends, who are asked to bring a small gift to donate to children at shelter for women and children.
They often receive a thank-you note from the shelter, and the family discusses how their son helped make a difference. “It’s very impactful, and we find that it helps our son gain perspective and a greater appreciation,” Kennedy says.
2. Volunteer at a food bank
Donating food and time at food banks is common around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but they need help the rest of the year also. Because food banks are nonprofits that rely on volunteers, many have family-friendly events that make it easy for children of all ages to attend.
The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey has an area for teens and adults to sort food for its pantry and a separate area for younger children to color food bags or make cards for homebound seniors, says Lara Barrett, the group’s marketing director.
Be sure to check with your local food bank for requirements for young volunteers. The city of Alameda Food Bank’s warehouse may not be safe for children, so it requires that volunteers be at least 12 years old and that volunteers between ages 12 and 15 be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
3. Cheer up children in a hospital
If your child is up for cheering up children in a hospital, visit or call a local children’s hospital and ask what you can do, suggests Rachel Robertson, vice president of education and development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions. The organization offers tips for volunteering with kids and different ways to donate.
“You may want to suggest specific activities like hosting a holiday party, doing arts and craft projects for children in the hospital, painting the fingernails of all the girls, dressing like a clown and painting faces, or whatever your child thinks of,” Robertson says.
4. Start a helping jar
With coins found on the sidewalk, leftover lunch money or any spare change they have, kids can start a “helping jar” to save money in that they can donate throughout the year.
The money can either be donated directly to their favorite charity, or they can buy travel-size toiletries to give to shelters or homeless people.
5. Care for pets
Local animal shelters and pet adoption agencies often need help from volunteers. With the supervision of a parent, even toddler and preschoolers can play with kittens or dogs at an animal shelter and take them on walks.
Older kids can walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, or a family can take their pet to a nursing home to cheer up patients.
Whatever volunteer activities you pursue with your children, ensure that they’re grasping the life lessons inherent in the activities, says Wingate.
“Talk with your children about what lessons you perceived in the volunteerism,” she says. “Did you experience empathy? Gratitude for your many blessings? A desire to help others? Ask your children what lessons they perceived as well.
“Encourage your children to explore their thoughts and feelings and grow from each volunteerism activity. These life lessons will shape and sustain your children all of their lives.”
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the Bay Area. He worked as an editor at the Contra Costa Times and now writes and edits as a freelancer about such topics as families and finances, retirement and other personal finance issues for websites. He also writes about family finances at his website, CashSmarter.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronCrowe.
I’m about to start the annual holiday dance with my family concerning what they should buy me.
Men say that and people don’t believe it. I don’t know why. If I really want something — and can afford it — I’d buy it for myself. If I can’t afford it, my wife and kids can’t either (you know, it’s that community property/everyone’s money thing), therefore, I don’t want them to buy it.
Seems pretty sensible. And it never works.
My best holiday memories have nothing to do with stuff ... except, of course, 1978, when I got Coleco football and Earth Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits the same morning. That was a great day. I loved opening presents and all, but you get older, you have kids and it becomes about them.
At least until they open a present, take one look at the scooter they just had to have and toss it aside to open the next box.
Then you vow the holidays are about to become about washing dad’s car and doing dishes.
But because we do this dance every year, I’m trying to figure out some things I can ask my family for that don’t involve buying me another T-shirt (their fallback gift, which is fine ... now that I have 5,238 T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of a sports franchise or a quote of something else someone deemed witty).
I realize a pet alligator is probably illegal, and Super Bowl tickets and airfare are out of the question. So I’ll do my best to be a tad more realistic.
My toddler (she’s 22 months old) has been waking up at 5 a.m. for the past few months. We are exhausted! I was told to just ignore her until 6 a.m., but that hasn’t helped and that means I’m awake anyway listening to her cry! Help!
I agree, 5 a.m. is too early for your toddler to wake up! It’s difficult for parents too. Interestingly, 5 a.m. is a time of light arousal for everyone and should be followed by two more hours of sleep. That’s why parents of babies sometimes find that, if they respond to an early waking by feeding in the dark, the baby will go back to sleep. But this need for feeding usually is gone by a year of age. For parents of young children, too-early wakeups can get in the way of everyone’s energy, patience and enjoyment of life for the rest of the day.
I’m assuming that you are keeping her room DARK and that the windows are blocked so the early morning sun is not advertising that the day is beginning at 5 a.m.!
First, find out what is “normal” for your child.
It’s important to know if your child really is waking too early for her age and stage of development. Many children are “larks,” and a parent who is more of an “owl” can find this difficult. Even an early morning, energetic “lark” needs a certain amount of sleep, so you want to figure out whether the early waking can be helped by a change in schedule.
In general, almost all children from one to five years need 11 to 12 hours of sleep out of 24 hours, supplemented by naps. Keep a log of your child’s hours of sleep for a week or two to figure out if he or she is sleep deprived. The total hours of sleep should be about the same every day. Another way of measuring sleep deprivation is to notice your child’s mood in the morning. Does she wake up on her own seeming refreshed and happy? Or is she awakened by family members who are getting ready for work? Does he seem cranky even though he’s awake? Noticing if there are variations of wakeup time or length of naps on weekends will also give you information about whether your child needs more sleep on a daily basis.
If your child is a “lark” by nature and you are keeping her up too late because you are an “owl,” she’s not going to sleep later. Instead, that may worsen the problem!
Here are the most common causes and solutions for early wakings:
Going to Bed Too Late
This explanation defies logic, because most adults wish they could sleep late after a late night. For children, it’s different. A child who stays up late gets used to the feeling of being overtired. For him, it’s normal. Then, when he wakes up for the day nine or ten hours later, he feels fine, because the feeling of fatigue is what he’s gotten used to. (Adults are the same—we usually wake up because we have to, and we learn to function quite well on less sleep than we really need). Even though it is paradoxical, an earlier bedtime usually leads to a later wakeup time.
When children are giving up or resisting naps, they usually drop down on their total amount of sleep. This is a good time to adjust bedtime earlier, because the child who with a nap stays up until 8 p.m. may need to go to bed a full hour earlier—a tough situation for evening schedules in many families but necessary.
Going to Bed When Too Sleepy
This situation can sometimes seem illogical, too, because you would think that a drowsy child who falls asleep quickly would sleep better, right? Not necessarily. When a child is overtired, she may not remember how she fell asleep at bedtime, or she may develop a falling-asleep habit of needing a parent to read to her or lie down with her while she drifts off. At 5 a.m., after nine to ten hours of sleep, she will have a natural waking time (we all do this), and without your help she can’t go back to sleep. So, in the same way that babies who are rocked or nursed to sleep will wake up periodically throughout the night, older children will sleep longer and more deeply for a long stretch but still can have a sleep-association habit.
Sometimes toddlers who have shifted to a once-a-day nap become overtired if the nap spacing isn’t right for them. This can happen when the nap at childcare is after lunch, quite common for three- and four-year-olds but too late for many toddlers. A typical toddler will need a nap after five hours of awake time, and his bedtime should be about five hours after waking from his nap—that usually results in 11 to 12 hours of nighttime sleep and two to three hours of nap.
Some toddlers are picky eaters and can get in the habit of eating small meals and frequent snacks during the day. They are getting enough nutrition overall but not enough to last for a full 12 hours of sleep. They awaken early because they are hungry. If you are feeding or nursing your child at 5 a.m. and she seems hungry, then you will have to adjust her daytime intake to help her sleep later. The best way to do this is by not feeding her until 7 a.m. If she’s really hungry, try to distract her with diluted juice, which will postpone her desire to eat. Then, during the day, try to allow three hours between meals so that she is hungrier and eats more, because a child who “grazes” will often seem satisfied with tiny portions. Every meal should be dense in calories, meaning higher in protein and fat than in carbohydrates.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Even though obstructive sleep apnea isn’t common, in my experience it has been the cause of the most difficult-to-resolve early awakenings. Obstructive sleep apnea is usually caused by extra-large tonsils or adenoids (I say “extra-large” because most young children have large tonsils and adenoids compared to older children.)
The most common indicator of obstructive sleep apnea is that the child snores or snorts during sleep. Other signs might be that your child sleeps restlessly, moving about in bed without seeming to awaken or frequently sleeping in a “child’s pose.”
If you think that obstructive sleep apnea may be an issue, ask your pediatrician to refer you to a pediatric ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist for an evaluation.
So What to Do?
If you are certain that your child is not hungry or overtired or having a physical reason for waking up early, then the cause is behavioral, meaning that you are accidentally reinforcing his wakeup by your response.
I’m not a fan of letting a toddler cry without any response at all, but having a boring and predictable response at planned intervals may be helpful. What that means is that, when your child wakes up at 5 a.m. and calls you, you go into his room and quietly say, “It’s not morning. Go back to sleep.” You repeat this at 5-, 10- and 15-minute intervals until the time is at least 11 hours since he fell asleep at bedtime. Then, go into his room, turn on the light, open the shades and announce, “It’s morning now, time to get up.” The idea is for your child, when he awakens in the dark, to go back to sleep and to learn that it has to be light before it is time to get up. Some families use one of the cute wakeup clocks that change color when it’s time to wake up. If you want to add this to your morning routine, just make sure that the light isn’t so bright that it illuminates the room before morning time.
This approach make take weeks, so don’t expect to get more sleep for yourself for a while! Don’t start this approach unless you can commit to continuing. If you are inconsistent in your response, you’ll have to start again, and it will take longer.
Early wakeups are a challenge. And, to add to the burden, in a few short years your problem will be the opposite. When the teen years begin, you’ll long for the days when you didn’t have to pry her out of bed!
Meg Zweiback is a Bay Area Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who counsels parents about children’s behavior and development. Her website, www.bringingupkids.com has more articles and information about children of different ages.
Photo: Winchester House, San Jose