Tag Archives: articles

How to be a Terrific Parent

Parenting can be challenging and of course no one can tell us exactly how to go about it.  Here are some things to consider by educational theorist Alfie Kohn:


What Makes a Terrific Parent?

Posted: 04/23/2012 12:16 pm


If you decided to have a child, presumably it was because you wanted to be a parent and anticipated that the experience would be fulfilling. You did it for you. But the child’s arrival demands a radical shift: Now you must do things for him or her. Moreover, you need to be mindful of the difference and how it’s predicated on the fact that your child is a separate being with distinct perspectives and preferences.


That may sound obvious, but some parents use their children to meet their own emotional needs — and seem unaware that they’re doing so. To put this in positive terms, we might say that high-quality parenting is defined by three closely related features: (1) an awareness that a child’s experience of the world is often different from one’s own; (2) an ability to understand the nature of those differences, to imagine the child’s point of view and tune in to his or her needs and (3) a willingness to try to meet those needs rather than just doing what’s right for oneself.


Each of these is more difficult for some people than for others. Those who are plagued by doubts about their own worth may be so consumed with getting what they lack, psychologically speaking, that it becomes impossible to focus on their children or even to see them for who they are (and aren’t).


But it’s not just about differences among parents. The same issues play out in the differences among situations that any of us will face. For example, when we’re out in public, where other people may judge our parenting skills, we’re more likely to respond to what we interpret as our children’s misbehavior with too much control and too little love and patience. When a child is having a meltdown in the grocery store, it takes extra effort for even the best parent to remember that what matters are the challenges the child is facing, not our need to appear competent in the eyes of strangers.[1]


Not everyone who’s preoccupied with his or her own needs fits the stereotype of an authoritarian, punitive parent who cracks down on any sign of disobedience. In fact, some people who are appalled by harsh traditionalism take pride in their extreme attentiveness to their children. Their assumption is that the more you do for your kids, the better your parenting.


But this isn’t necessarily true. Some parents who conspicuously sacrifice everything for their children, whose very lives seem to revolve around them, actually turn out to be rather narcissistic. The family appears to be child-centered to a fault, yet the child is really being used to meet the parent’s own needs.


Kids may come to feel their job is to keep their parents happy, to reassure them, to make them feel capable. Sometimes children are subtly encouraged to provide what the parent fails to get from her partner (or even from herself), and perhaps to provide adult-like companionship. The child may be steered into becoming a friend, or even a parent, to the parent. All of this can take place without anyone’s realizing what’s going on. But whether or not the child manages to figure out how to become what the parent wants, the result is that the child’s development may be warped because the adult’s needs have taken center stage.




Rather than seeing an aptitude for good parenting (or for just about anything) as something you either have or you lack, perhaps we should say that it takes more effort for some people to attain a level of proficiency that comes easily to others. I have a lousy sense of direction, for example, but that just means I have to work harder to figure out how to get where I’m going. Thus, the kind of parent who’s tempted to say to her child, “I’m cold. Go put on a sweater” (in the classic tongue-in-cheek example of this syndrome) may need to remind herself periodically, “My kid isn’t me. She has different interests. Just because x makes me happy or upset doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on her.”


That’s part 1 of the three-part formulation I mentioned earlier: taking care not to confuse a child’s identity with our own. Part 2 is to figure out who the child is, what she’s feeling, how her mind works, why she acts as she does. That invites us to engage in what psychologists call “perspective taking”: getting outside of ourselves in order to imagine how things appear to someone else. The question isn’t just “How would I feel if someone did that to me?” It’s “How does he feel about someone’s having done that to him?” It’s not just about asking what it’s like to be in his shoes, but what it’s like to have his feet.


Three different studies, each from a different country and all coincidentally published the same year, confirm the importance of this attribute. A group of Dutch researchers found that one of the most important factors in predicting parenting quality was the level of understanding of children’s unique interests and needs, along with a willingness to consider that perspective as distinct from the parent’s own. Canadian researchers discovered that parents who were better able to “accurately perceive their [teenage] children’s thoughts and feelings during a disagreement” ended up having fewer conflicts — or at least a more satisfactory resolution of the conflicts that did occur. And a U.S. study of families with toddlers showed that parents who were “able to adopt the child’s viewpoint” were more responsive to his or her needs as a result.[2]


Part 3 in my little model consists of acting on what we understand about a child’s inner life, which, in turn, entails a commitment to be less egocentric. That doesn’t mean giving a child everything he asks for, or engaging in endless self-sacrifice (which, paradoxically, may mean the parent is using exaggerated devotion to the child as a way of proving something about herself), but simply being a caring and attentive parent. As yet another study discovered, parents who tend to think mostly about their own needs and goals tend to be less accepting of their children than those who are concerned with the needs of their kids or of the family as a whole.[3]


In short, the best parents acknowledge the needs of their children (as distinct from their own), learn all they can about those needs and are committed to meeting them whenever possible. And those of us who find it a struggle to do these things most of the time… need to make a point of struggling to do these things most of the time.




Portions of this essay first appeared in the author’s book Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (Atria Books, 2005). For more, please see www.unconditionalparenting.com.



1. Consider how much of what we do with our children is driven by worries about how we’ll be perceived by other adults. A grown-up hands something to our baby and we pipe up: “Can you say thank you?” — ostensibly addressing the baby even though he obviously can’t say thank you and may be too young even to learn from our example. What we’re really doing is speaking through the child to the adult, making it clear that we know the polite response as well as the right way to bring up kids. People in our culture are far more likely to fault parents for controlling too little rather than too much — and to approve of children because they’re “well-behaved” rather than because they’re, say, curious. So when you combine the parent’s anxiety about being judged with the likely direction of that judgment, you end up with this unsurprising fact: We’re most likely to resort to coercive tactics and to become preoccupied with the need to control our children when we’re out in public. As is true of many other fears, this can set up a self-fulfilling prophecy, so that cracking down on kids for fear of what other people will think may produce more of exactly the kind of behavior that we don’t want anyone to see.


2. Jan R. M. Gerris et al., “The Relationship Between Social Class and Childrearing Behaviors: Parents’ Perspective Taking and Value Orientations,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 59 (1997): 834-47; Paul D. Hastings and Joan E. Grusec, “Conflict Outcome as a Function of Parental Accuracy in Perceiving Child Cognitions and Affect,” Social Development 6 (1997): 76-90; Grazyna Kochanska, “Mutually Responsive Orientation between Mothers and Their Young Children,” Child Development 68 (1997): 94-112.


3. Paul D. Hastings and Joan E. Grusec, “Parenting Goals as Organizers of Responses to Parent-Child Disagreement,” Developmental Psychology 34 (1998): 465-79. Those who habitually put their own needs first were also more likely to believe that their children’s misbehaviors were deliberate and rooted in their nature or personality rather than emerging from a particular situation.




 Follow Alfie Kohn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@alfiekohn

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Follow this link to download a printable list of simple ways to get your child ready for kindergarten!

Saving Artwork

I ran across a great idea today that I wish was around when my kids were little.  Construction paper does not stand the test of time!

Overwhelmed by what to do with growing piles of your child’s art projects? Peter has a great solution! “Take digital photos of their artwork, upload them to Snapfish.com, and they will send you back a beautiful, bound book of the kids’ artwork. So, over time, you can build a library of your children’s artwork—let the pieces go, but keep them in this form forever.”

kid art work

How to Help With Reading

Here is an article for parents from PBS.org that is worth a look:

Seven Tips for Early Literacy Learning: From Knowing Your ABCs to Learning to Read

By Amy Mascott

learning to read

Hooray! Your child can sing the alphabet like a pro! Now what? Once your child has mastered letter recognition, what can you do to help her get on the path to literacy? Here are seven important tips to consider after your child has learned the letters of the alphabet, but before she’s reading fluently.

  1. Focus on the letters of her name. Names are the most important words for children, so it makes sense to begin literacy learning with the child’s name. Acknowledge the “child’s letter”—the first letter of his or her name—by pointing it out whenever and wherever you see it. Then do some letter scrambles using blocks, magnetic letters or letters on index cards. Mix up the letters of the child’s name and work together to put them back in the proper order. Repeat this often with your child’s name, and then introduce “Mom,” “Dad,” and the names of siblings, friends, family and pets.
  2. Recognize each letter and know their sounds.It’s one thing for the child to know the letters in order, but it’s a bit harder for her to recognize each letter individually. When you see “her letter” on a sign, cereal box, or book, remember to point it out. Say, “Hey! Look here! I found your letter, Maddy! Here’s an M for Maddy. Mmmm, mmmm, Maddy!”Talk about the sounds that letters make and return frequently to easily relatable objects or things that interest the child. For example, say: “There’s a letter B for ‘blankie.’ I know you love blankie and sleep with it every night. Blankie begins with the letter B, like ‘ball’ and ‘butter’ and ‘baby bear.’ What else can you think of that begins with the B sound?”
  3. Introduce uppercase and lowercase letters. Your child will not likely be reading books that have all uppercase letters, so it’s imperative that you talk about uppercase and lowercase letters early on. Play games that involve matching uppercase and lowercase letters and spell her name using both cases.
  4. Practice early writing techniques. If children practice creating several simple letters, they will most likely be able to write the majority of the alphabet. Begin with X and O and then move on to a square and a triangle. Encouraging kids to “write” on sand, paint with water, or use their finger in shaving cream will make creating these shapes fun, and before you know it, they’ll be ready to move on to the letters of their names.
  5. Connect objects with words. Because reading involves creating meaning by combining words, pictures and prior knowledge, early readers lean on illustrations when reading—and that’s okay. Label everyday objects and point to the word as you say it. Play games where children connect simple words with pictures, like “cat” with a photo of a cat and “dog” with photo of a dog, etc. Model how to do it by pointing out the first letter of the word and saying the sound that the word makes, followed by the word, and then pointing to the picture.
  6. Practice print referencing. Print referencing is a simple yet meaningful way to enforce early literacy skills. It involves pointing out print elements in texts: pointing to the title of the book as you read it, running your finger under the words as you read the text on a page, or talking about anything related to the text. This helps children learn the basics: every book has a title and an author (and sometimes an illustrator), and we read from left to right, followed by a sweep down to the next line. Later, consider touching on basic grammar conventions and punctuation marks, differences between fiction and nonfiction texts, and different genres (news, magazines, poetry, short stories, etc.).
  7. Read, read, read! Read with your child every day, many times a day. Read books, signs, posters—anything with words. Read in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Read at the park, in the living room, at the pool. Read print everywhere you can find it!

Most importantly, make an effort to celebrate your child’s successes, because learning to read is something to smile about!

Letter Reversals

Wow, what great attendance for conferences!  Thank you so much for your involvement in your student’s education.

Several of you wondered about reversals you are seeing in your child’s work.  The following is an excellent article from Make, Take and Teach explaining what is happening when your child reverses letters.

Why Students Reverse Letters

Many parents become quite concerned when looking at their child’s writing and see that their child is confusing letters such as b/d, p/q or m/w.  Letter and word reversals have become so strongly associated with dyslexia that it’s no wonder why parents are anxious when they see such confusions.  As educators, it is important for us to understand why students reverse letters and to provide parents with the best information possible.

Learning to Read

Before we talk about reversals, let’s take a moment and think about what we are asking children to do when we are teaching them to read.  In our system, learning to read is based on the alphabetic principle.  This means that a child must understand that letters have sounds that make words when combined together.  Letters are “abstract”.   There are 26 letters of the alphabet and letters consist of a series of sticks, circles and curves that when combined in different ways, make different letters.  Each of the 26 letters has an uppercase and a lowercase letter.  Sometimes the letters look similar and sometimes they look very different.

Sometimes letters look very different depending upon if they are handwritten or typed.  Even typed letters look different depending upon the font.

There are certain letters that have the same stick, circles and curves, but if you switch the direction, they are different letters with different sounds.  Up until this point, the child knows that an object is an object no matter if it’s upside down or turned about, but not so with letters.  Direction now matters.

Well, then each letter has a sound.  Wait-not so simple-some letters have two sounds.  The letter “c” has the /k/ sound as in the word “cat” and a /s/ sound as in the word “circle”.  The sound that is used depends upon the position it is in the word and the other letters around it.  Sometimes letters are in a word, but they say nothing at all (like the “e” in “name”).  Sometimes two letters are put together to make a whole different sound (“s” and “h” together make the /sh/ sound).  When you think about it, it is amazing that most of our young children learn to read relatively easily.

What we know about reversals and dyslexia/reading disabilities (RD)

Fortunately, neuroscientists have at their disposal brain imaging techniques (fMRI, PET) that allows them to see exactly what is happening in the brain as a person reads.  Such techniques have helped us understand the nature of learning to read as well as differences that are present in people who struggle with reading.  Based on these and other studies, what we know about reading has strong scientific basis.  Current research tells us that the root cause of dyslexia/RD lies in the way the brain processes sounds.  With the large majority of children, the issue is with language processing at the phoneme (sound) level and not a problem with visual processing.  There is no evidence to suggest that children with dyslexia/RD see letters and words backwards.  Backwards writing and letter reversals are very common in the early stages of writing.  Students who have dyslexia/RD do not “mirror write” or reverse letters with any greater frequency than those who do not have reading difficulties.  When children reverse letters, it is a sign that orthographic representation (forming letters and spelling) is not fully developed.  While it is true that children with dyslexia/RD continue to reverse letters longer than children without reading difficulties, this is primarily due to delayed development in reading rather than a separate issue with visual processing.

Addressing Reversals

Although reversals are common in kindergarten, first and second grades, students who continue to reverse letters past second grade should receive targeted intervention.  A screening by an Occupational Therapist may be helpful at this point.  There are several strategies that can help cue students, regardless of age, that can be used.

    • For students who reverse multiple letters (b/d, m/w, p/q), address one discrimination at at time.  Over-teach one of the letters before introducing the other.  For example, if you are addressing the b/d reversal, over-teach writing of the “b” before introducing the “d”.
    • Use multi-sensory materials while teaching the letter(s).  Making and tracing the letters using playdoh, wikki sticks, shaving cream, hair gel in a baggie, yarn, puffy or glitter glue will help.  Be sure the child says the letter name and sound while tracing the letter (“b” says /b/ while tracing the letter-repeat multiple times).
    • Use visual cues to cue correct letter formation.  A common visual cue is to teach the “b” as a “bat with a ball” to cue that the stick is formed first while writing the letter.  The “d” is cued as a “drum and a drum stick”.  Placing a visual cue on the student’s desk or in front of the classroom also helps.
Click the following link to download free b/d cue cards for student desks. Reversal Cue Cards for Student Desks
  • Another strategy that one of our reading teachers shared is using mouth formation as a cue.  I like this strategy because it doesn’t “take the student out of the reading process”.  Using this strategy, students are taught that when they make the /b/ sound, the crease between the upper and lower lip is straight just like the line in the “b”.  When making a /d/ sound,  the tongue is curled just like the curl is first when writing the “d”.

With any child who struggles to learn to read, it is important that vision is tested.

Note:  The word “dyslexia” means “difficulty with words”.  Dyslexia is a term most commonly used by the medical profession, researchers and clinicians.  Reading abilities exist on a continuum.  Whether a clinician determines whether an individual has dyslexia is based upon an arbitrary cut-off point on how far behind age/grade level he/she feels an individual needs to fall.  In the school setting, the term “Specific Learning Disability” (SLD) is used to describe students who are significantly below grade level to the point that the student requires special education services.   Within this post I used the term “Reading Disability” (RD).  It is certainly possible that a student may have an outside diagnosis of dyslexia; however, not qualify for special education services in the school.

If you would like more information on dyslexia/reading disabilities check out my favorite reference book:  Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Probles at Any Level by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

Bullying Prevention–The Role of the Parent

Our school staff works very hard to teach children about bullying and how it can be prevented.  A thought I would add to the article is to encourage your child to come to an adult at school for help.  It is much more effective to address bullying immediately so that the bully does not make the mistake of thinking that they are “getting away with it.”

The National Education Association (NEA) has an interesting article for parents:

Parents’ Role in Bullying and Intervention

Behavior Patterns Begin at Home

Behavior patterns begin at home. Teaching your child good communication and social skills at home will go a long way toward his/her success in school. Talk with your child. From the time children learn to talk, parents can have a running conversation with them about how their day went. This makes it natural to continue the custom after the child starts to school. Ask questions about their days. Ask about their friends. Get to know their classmates and friends. Volunteer your services to  the classroom whenever possible.

Parents need to be observant of their children’s behavior, appearance, and mood, both for signs of the child being bullied or engaging in bullying behavior. Torn clothes, bruises, loss of appetite, mood changes, reluctance to go to school are all signs that something is wrong. These are all signs that a child is probably being bullied. Many children fall deeper and deeper into depression as a result of long term bullying. Signs that a child is engaging in bullying behavior might be impulsiveness, showing no empathy for others, or a desire to be in control. Children who bully are often arrogant and boastful winners and poor losers when they engage in competitive games.

A child who has bonded well with his/her parents and feels warmth and caring from them is much less likely to resort to bullying behavior with peers in schools and elsewhere. The parents should have also set adequate limits for a child’s behavior at home and not allowed aggression toward siblings, other family members and peers.

Discipline at Home Establishes a Pattern for Interaction with Others

The way a child is disciplined at home will establish a pattern for his/her interaction with other children in school. A parent who disciplines a child with yelling or hitting is teaching a child to react in that manner with other people. Often a child who exhibits bullying behavior in school has been the target of that behavior in the home. Boys who observe their fathers handling disputes with a physical response or girl who observe their mothers practicing exclusion or manipulation of friends or family members will likely exhibit the same behavior in school. Although the data shows that both genders can engage in all of these behaviors, it also shows that boys are more likely to bully other boys physically while girls are more like to bully with manipulation and exclusion or with spreading rumors.

Name calling is a favorite form of bullying behavior among some children. Parents need to be particularly aware of the language children hear at home. One mother, in a discussion of the assortment of hurtful words kids use to humiliate others, say, “Oh, faggot is my son’s favorite word. He calls his friends that all the time.” It apparently had never occurred to her to tell her son that this could be hurtful to his friends.

Racial and ethnic slurs and name calling are another favorite form of bullying. Targets of such name calling should be taught to look the perpetrator straight in the eye and say, “I don’t like it when you call me names,” but to go no farther. They should be taught not to get into an argument or to try to change the perpetrator’s mind.  It is a waste of time, and prolonging the situation could lead to physical bullying.

Parents Must Monitor Their Own Behavior Too

One of the problems that nearly all schools have to deal with at sometime or another is bullying behavior on the part of a parent. Parents who want to address a problem or any other concern with school personnel should learn how to approach an administrator, classroom teacher, or other school staff. A parent who is angry and threatening school personnel solves nothing and makes life more difficult for his/her child. Further, parents who punish their children for not fighting back physically are adding to their child’s problems. Unfortunately, the parent who engages bullying behavior often exhibits this behavior both toward school personnel and his/her own child.

Self examination would be a wise course for a parent whose child has been accused of bullying behavior. The parent’s first question, before taking any action, might well be, “What have I done to contribute to this situation?”


Reprinted with permission from Childhood Bullying and Teasing: What School Personnel, Other Professionals, and Parents Can Do, Dorothea M. Ross, Ph.D.



About Attendance…

Getting to School Each and Every Day

Sep 16th 2012, Posted by John_ChildUp

“You got to get in it, to win it.” That quote heard so many times in my life as a student, as a musician, and as a citizen in our community was just a neat play on words. But nothing rings truer when it comes to learning and being successful in all aspects of life.

The most important factor of being successful in school and in life is showing up. A student can reside in the best school district, with the best teachers, and with the best programs but if they are not present to fill the mind with knowledge every day, the chances of being successful drops significantly.

Portage High School began its school year with a very successful week of attendance where 96 percent of enrolled students came to school. Now we can all look at that and realize that it is only one week out of a 36-week school year, but success starts hourly, daily, weekly, and then ultimately over a lifetime.

The beauty we admire known as the Grand Canyon was not created in one day, but over millions of years slowly formed by drop after drop of water. A student must remind themselves that success is not created overnight and must come from persistence every day towards an obtainable goal.

A survey conducted by the Get Schooled Foundation found that students attending school want to be encouraged to attend school by, “somebody they feel a personal connection with.” In that very same survey, 78 percent of all students asked, stated that personal connection is most important when it comes from a parent or guardian. This statistic is so profound, due to the very nature that parents always question whether their children are truly listening.

The fact is they do when the message comes from someone they trust and feel close to. That is why it is important that parents and guardians throughout our district make getting their child to school a priority and explain the importance of being there.

The school district is focusing on P.E.A.K., Portage Elevates Assets in Kids an initiative that looks at the recognized 40 developmental assets or positive experiences that helps students live healthy and successful lives. Two of the 40 assets addresses the “in it, to win it,” spirit. The first, school engagement, states it is important that a student is actively engaged in learning. To be actively engaged, a student needs to be at school in all of their classes each and every day. The second, parent involvement with school, directly relates to parents taking a vested interest in all aspects of a student’s schooling including attendance. It is important for parents to check the student/parent portal, an online way to check on grades and attendance. Parents and students have the ability to receive regular feedback on a student’s progress.

Portage Township Schools celebrates every success and feels confident that every day we are making positive strides towards improving the quality of education, which will improve the quality of life for its students. But, we are never satisfied with yesterday’s outcomes as we are always looking towards the future, your child’s future. That is why “You got to get in it, to win it.”

By Michael DePasquale, Assistant Principal Portage High School

Source: nwitimes.com – http://goo.gl/aga5J