Friday, May 27, 2011

Recommended by Leisa - What to say instead of praise

A practical piece following Alfie's general advice to reflect what we see instead of our judgements about what we see, from AHA Parenting

What to Say Instead of Praising

"What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. "Good job!" is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgment and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us."
-- Alfie Kohn

"Love is attention without judgment. In its natural state, attention only appreciates."
–Deepak Chopra

If you've heard praise isn't good for kids, you may be wondering how else you can give your kid positive feedback.  After all, you know you need at least 7 positive interactions for every negative interaction to maintain a good relationship. While hugs and smiles go a long way, you're in constant verbal interaction with your child, and your most common words may well be "Good Job!"  Besides, there are things you'd like him to learn about how to be in the world.  If you can't praise, how else can you guide him?

The short answer is that our children need to be seen and loved, no matter what.  The evaluation inherent is praise is what's problematic.

But that doesn't mean you can't find positive ways to interact with your child, hopefully many of them, all day long.  And it doesn't mean you can't help him reflect on the effect of his choices. Here are some examples.

Instead of:
"Good sharing!"
"Wow! Look how happy you made your brother."

(Why? We all want to guide our child, and that does involve value judgments on our part.  But instead of just explaining things as good and bad, take the time to help your child see his power in the world.  Why does it matter what he does? Rather than telling him that he's good when he acts in accordance with a value that's important to you, point out the result.  That way he can decide whether to repeat the behavior to get that result -- rather than just to get your praise.)

Instead of:
"Yes, that's a good painting!"
"I saw you working hard on that painting. Can you tell me about it?"

(Why?  You're not expecting her to be Van Gogh at four.  What you want is for her to enjoy the exploration, the process -- not the product.)

Instead of:
"I'm so proud of you!"
"You must be so proud of yourself!"

(Why? Because if he's to take pride in his accomplishments, he needs to be the judge and the source of the pride. You don't want his self-esteem dependent on other people's feedback, even yours.)

Instead of:
"Good job!"
"You did it!" or "Wow! Look at you up there!"

(He needs to know you noticed that he did it, and maybe that you're impressed, if you are. You're mirroring his feelings, not telling him what to feel.  Leave the evaluation of whether it's "good" to him.)

Does that mean you can't influence your child by telling her that you like what she's doing?  Not at all.  It's fine to express your own feelings. The danger is when our child gets the message that she's only good enough if she does things our way.

Instead of:
"Big girls help Mommy."
"I like it when you help me. Thank you."

(Why? You're teaching your child how to have a relationship with another person.  She needs to know -- without guilt trips -- that what she does has an effect on the other person, so she can choose her actions. It isn't about evaluating her as a human being.)

Remember that non-specific praise backfires.

Instead of:
"You're such an angel today."
"I'm having such a good time being with you today.  I love it when we have so much fun together."

(Why? Your child knows she isn't a little angel, she's a fallible human being -- and if you forget that, she'll need to show you by acting out in the worst way she can think of. Just too much pressure!)

There is one kind of general positive feedback that works, because it's feedback about you:

Instead of:
"You're a good boy."
"I am so glad I get to be your mom. I love you, no matter what!"

May you create miracles today, large and small.
Dr. Laura

Summer Reading

In the Summer Reading section of the Christian Science Monitor, I came across Nina Sankovitch, someone I studied with in Barcelona all those decades ago, and her Read All Day blog. After the death of her older sister, Nina stayed at home (we all know this is misleading terminology) and read a book a day for a year. And she reviewed them all. While most of these are grown-up books, there is a spot on her blog with book reviews for kids and teens, as well as reviews by other categories (look in the left-hand sidebar).

Please also check out the reading lists in the Posts and Lists tab at the top of our blog! Don't forget to add your kids' favorites in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Digging in - Identity & Social Media

And, just in time - a webinar from Hardy Girls... 

Media, Techonology, and Parenting Dilemmas

Adults sometime describe teens as "Digital Natives" because they've grown up with social media in a way that my generation (gen-x, that is) did not.  Gen-Y /The Millennials (born 1981-2000) and Generation Z (awful name, they'll rename themselves, I'm sure)  have digital technologies surrounding them and take internet access as a given.  Yet the term Digital Native is fraught, for me, because it somehow presumes that kids will be acculturated appropriately simply through immersion. In fact, digital media is tied intimately with corporate control and does not constitute a culture so much as a hyper-planned-and-highly-profitable-gated-community (oh anthropologists among us, please give me the proper term!) as well as the foundation of opportunities for the emergence of new democracy. As parents and educators, we want to reap the best possible elements of new technologies while protecting our kids from significant invasions of privacy, cyberbullying, and brain-fragmentation.   Below is a collection of interesting articles & links - no definitive anything.  I think this topic could be great fodder for parents to come together around!

General Info 
  • PBS Digital Nation links for Parents and Teachers - includes streaming of their documentaries on growing up digital (we could watch together) - this site has all the links a person really needs
  • Pew Research on Social Media & Teens (2010)  
  • Common Sense Media on Teens and Social Media
  • MacArthur Foundation research on the benefits of teens time online - links to tons of resources as well
 Curriculum & Scaffolding for Teaching Media Literacy
Tools for Connecting Kids to Digital Media
Arguments for Reducing Kids Access / Exposure to Screens / Digital / Social Media

Reminder - Nutrition Speaker tonight

Nutrition Speaker offered by Mom 2 Mom of Maine

Mom to Mom of Maine "Happy and Healthy Family Speaker Series" Presents - "They Are What You Feed Them:How nutrition can affect attention and behavior in children"

When: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
7:00 to 9:30pm
Where: Dana Center Rm#4 @ Maine Medical , 22 Bramhall Street Portland

"They Are What You Feed Them: How nutrition can affect attention and behavior in children."

Contact Anita for more information

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Disparate Links

Today is my baby's 7th birthday!  Amazing all that happens in the first 7 years, and all that happens in the next 7, too.  Here are a bunch of somewhat dispirit thoughts & links:
  • I'm 1/2 way through Sandra Steingraber's newest book Raising Elijah and am blown away.  If we ever needed a reason to be grateful for the demolition of the playground, her chapter on arsenic, playsets and nursery school politics give it to us!  Highly recommended...(also, see her newest article in Orion about the connection between toxic chemicals and kids learning)
  • Alfie Kohn has a new blog post about parent surveys...what is taken for granted (or what ideas are eliminated) in closed-ended surveys. 
  • The Save Our Schools Maine project has a facebook page - interesting sharing of information about what makes a great education, how to advocate for public schools, etc. The national organization has a fantastic march planned for July.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Connections between P4P speakers

I continue to chew on AK's talk, and to wish for more opportunities for reflection and processing and connecting of dots -- definitely something P4P should build in next year.

I attended a conference put on by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, and the keynote speaker said "It used to be the job of a good parent to socialize their child to participate in the culture; now a good parent must protect their child from dominant culture."  I don't know to what extent that is true - but the heavy commercialism that children are exposed to definitely complicates AK's message of providing kids with a lot of opportunity for self-determinism and decision making.  That is, there are adult forces, other than direct adults, who are using extremely sophisticated means to influence kids decision making and sense of self.   Children younger than age 7 or so really can't use critical thinking to deconstruct advertising - so how do we keep from letting corporations shape their development without being slightly hyper-controlling, at least some of the time?

This came up around food, in my house, yesterday.  With Alfie's reproachment about not counting string-beans in my mind, I said yes to the crap-pretzels with the caveat of adding a banana.  Now, maybe they weren't hungry enough for both pretzels and bananas and ate more than their bodies really wanted because that was the gateway. On the other hand, we talked about how the pretzel company has the upper hand because they've done tons of research on exactly how salty, crunchy and cheesy the pretzels should be to encourage a complete override of sensible eating and hunger-driven choices. The food industrial-complex is not just letting kids guide their choices based on some biological drive - they have billions of dollars of R&D invested in branding, and yumminess.  Now, it's true, if I could create the bubble of my dreams my children may never know such pretzels exist - except I like them too, and I like other people's families and being in the world.  (I really liked the adult book 'The End Of Overeating" for this take, and Grace read Michael Pollan's book for kids with interest).

It is tricky to provide the right amount of protection, without over controlling, and to provide the right amount of space without abdicating our adult responsibility to provide children with a safe and healthy environment within which they can flourish and make mistakes that are not too high-stakes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Parenting for Peace Books & News

Our former Parenting for Peace speakers continue to be prolific and provocative - bookclub, anyone?

Susan Linn - Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood  - in coalition w/other organizations, CCFC recently helped stop Scholastic from partnering on a curriculum that was authored by the Coal industry! See a Susan Linn TedxTalk -- maybe it is time for a second showing of Consuming Kids?

Sandra Steingraber has a new book : Raising Elijah - I have ordered it, would love to read it with others! Maine recently strengthened the Kids Safe Product Act, a bill championed by P4P partners, the NRCM and EHSC

David Sobel's book Wild Play is now available - and sure to remind us that "better a broken bone than a broken spirit" are words to live by, at least some of the time.  Here's a video, as well.

Alfie Kohn - well, Alfie was just here, so we have all his books but I thought this article he linked (on twitter) is of interest, too (by Michael Moore, but a different MM than the one from Flint :)  - The Corporate Connection to the Common Core 

Nutrition Speaker offered by Mom 2 Mom of Maine

Mom to Mom of Maine "Happy and Healthy Family Speaker Series" Presents - "They Are What You Feed Them:How nutrition can affect attention and behavior in children"

When: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
7:00 to 9:30pm
Where: Dana Center Rm#4 @ Maine Medical , 22 Bramhall Street Portland

"They Are What You Feed Them: How nutrition can affect attention and behavior in children."

Contact Anita for more information

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Creative Process

There's an interesting article this month in The Atlantic called Project: First Drafts. The article explores the creative processes of a painter/photographer/printmaker, a novelist, an animator, an architect, a car designer, a songwriter, and several other artists. I thought it was interesting to see the variations in process between artists, and how creativity looks different for each of them. It will make for interesting dinner table discussion in our house, for sure.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What makes musical kids?

"I wish [insert name of child here] played an instrument." The number of times I've heard that over the past few years I can't even begin to tell you. What have "musical" kids got that other kids haven't? Can a kid become a fabulous musician without parents being mean? Do we have to be Tiger Mothers? Or can musical parenting come from a more organic process?

Musical kids have:

1. a listening library in their heads that is constantly being restocked: These kids hear music everywhere they go, and in diverse genres. There's always something in the CD player at home, or a good WMPG or NPR program (blues, bluegrass, Cajun, Celtic, Caribbean, classical, Latino, local...). Bedtime songs that are eventually sung in harmony. Sing-alongs in the car with real musicians (as opposed to made-for-kids bubble gum muzak - ick): Pete Seger, Leadbelly, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Emmy Lou Harris, Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road, Gilbert & Sullivan, You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Revels, Afro-Brazilian, Flanders and Swan, Beatles. Classical music while they do homework. You name it, they've heard it.

2. musical role models: They have relatives, friends, babysitters, or neighbors who play instruments and sing, and their families hang out places that have good music. If your kids' music lessons are not happening at a place that encourages jamming and like-aged groups, where music is happening outside the practice rooms as well as in, where people are talking about music, where random people of all ages encourage your child as they walk by, or stop to show them a new technique, you're in the wrong place.

3. parents who listen to a wide variety of music, share music, sing, and play/learn an instrument. Consider signing up for lessons on the same or another instrument. Practice as often as you expect your children to practice. Share your learning joys and frustrations, talk about what goes on in your class, and ask your children for advice.

4. many opportunities to go to performances and talk about them afterward: This doesn't have to mean $60 symphony tickets. It can be a free noonday concert, a college recital, a street festival, or a middle school band concert. It can be an outdoor music festival where the bands play on and on while the kids play frisbee, roll down the hill, and eat pie.

5. schools that actively value instrumental and vocal music, not as a 'special' or an extracurricular activity, but as an integral part of a whole child's education.

6. opportunities to share their music, whether at a nursing home, in regular 'concerts' at home, performing on the street, or as part of an ensemble.

7. music practice time that is as important and regular as their homework time. It has structure and repetition, with time for noodling at the end.

8. instruments that are out on stands in a high-traffic area of the house, not hidden in a case under a bed. The more often they see their instruments, the more often they will want to play them.

9. encouragement to explore, compose, and switch genres. A good teacher should be able to work with what your child wants from an instrument. Sometimes a switch of instrument or the addition of an instrument is in order. It can be temporary or it can lead to a complete change.

A young musician comes from his or her surroundings. It is a holistic endeavor that can begin with a supportive school program, but must be embraced by a musically nurturing family. Tiger Mothers get results, but at what cost? The goal should be for each child to develop a lifelong creative outlet that gives him or her joy and respite from the stressful world we live in, rather than being an additional stressor. Surround your kids with music. Instead of wishing your child played an instrument, or asking whether they'd like to, ask which instrument they'd like to play and when they'd like to start. Then follow through.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Spunky Female/Gender NonConforming Animals in Picture Books

Via Sociological Images - one of my favorite sites :   The NYT recently reported on a study of children's books in Gender and Society (PDF available) that found:
Compared to females, males are represented nearly twice as often in titles and 1.6 times as often as central characters.  . . We argue that these disparities are evidence of symbolic annihilation and have implications for children’s understandings of gender. Nevertheless, important differences in the extent of the disparity are evident by type of character (i.e., child or adult, human or animal), book series, and time period. Specifically, representations of child central characters are the most equitable and animals the most inequitable. . . 
This got me thinking - what books include great female or gender nonconforming animals?  A few that immediately come to mind for me:
I'm struggling to think of books where the male character is shown to be more feminine - maybe the Son in The Kissing Hand?   [Here's a list by blogger AcceptingDad -- and a "GenderEqual" online bookstore].

What other books can you think of? 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alfie Kohn -- Link and beginning reflections

Edit : Link Fixed (I hope) 

If you didn't hear the talk or want another chance, you can listen here.   Alfie, himself starts at 8:50;  At about 120 he begins talking about what we should do; The Q&A starts at 157:16.  Maybe more reflection chunk by chunk later, or by someone else!!!!

First, I must give a huge thanks to the FSP community and Alfie himself -- it was a giant example of team work that we invited, fed and engaged with 60 educators, 7 community co-sponsors and over 200 people in one afternoon/evening. Local Sprouts made an amazing dinner, and extraordinary desserts were donated by Bam Bam Bakery.  The Hilton Garden Inn donated a room for Alfie, too.

I am finding myself thinking a lot about the workshop and the talk, which makes the event feel like a success (it's all about inquiry, reflection, action).  I'm reading "Feel Bad Education," talking to my family and friends about my own childhood and my parenting, I'm following Maine's Education Committee (taking up charter school legislation next week) and the Save Our Schools activism.

Before debriefing on content, I am chewing on  process, passionate and problematic in relation to Alfie's talk. I deeply appreciated his passion, conviction and willingness to provoke us out of complacent thinking. It isn't always easy to acknowledge our responsibilities and, like Sandra Steingraber, he is calling us to take action in service to our stated values. At times I found his tone (slightly belittling - I actually do have the maternal "good job" voice and while I hear the critique I also had the sense that I was being "punished" while learning about not using "punishments" - and slightly dogmatic -while encouraging us to ask more open ended questions) off-putting and at odds with the content of his message.  This does make me wonder how very difficult it is to truly see the light in all of us, and to truly practice non-violent communication, while also expressing heartfelt and deserved anger and frustration at people's behaviors and our larger system.  Alfie asks us to consider what children need to feel loved and safe, and what really motivates children to learn and grow; the same question needs to be considered for adults. This set of queries is at the base of a lot of hard work in activism and will fuel my reading for a while, I think.

Would so LOVE if people wanted to use comments to discuss...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's Bugging Bailey Blecker

If you're feeling a bit of horrified attraction to the subject of lice, you can join fictional teacher Mr. McGovern and make a whole curriculum around the topic.

Kate and I have just happened to be reading "What's Bugging Bailey Blecker" - a Maine-based story about a 5th grade girl whose class experiences a lice infestation.  Baily's bummed, her teacher's "super-positive" and her friends are sorting it all out.  The story also has a lovely subplot about what it is like to travel from an island to a mainland school - lot's for us to relate to and talk about.
Lots of Lice Book Cover
Although the launch party has come and gone, perhaps we should host our own FSP bug zoo...

Scholastic also publishes an easy reader: Lots of Lice - haven't read it but there is much rhyming text on the web site.

And for parents, a pretty funny blog post by telling dad.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Don't forget to buy lasagnas tomorrow to support the 8th grade Washington trip. We will make extras, so if you didn't pre-order, just come with cash, either Thursday or Friday. $10 buys dinner - Just add a salad!

Portland Playback : Childhood

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Maine Can Do Better Lobby Day

Please join us in Augusta for Maine Can Do Better Lobby Day
Date:       Wednesday, May 11, 2011
 Time:       9:30 to noon
Location:  Hall of Flags, State House, Augusta
NOW is the time to speak out against proposed cuts that will destabilize families, seniors and people with disabilities.

We are facing tough budget cuts and it is important that legislators continue to hear from people like you about your concerns regarding proposed cuts in the state budget.

We are expecting more budget cuts to be announced towards the end of this week and will be sending out an update as soon as we can.

Citizen Lobby Day will give you the opportunity to connect with your legislators, to take concrete action to stop harmful cuts to effective and important services, and to stand with hundreds of other Maine people as we take a stand in favor of priorities that serve the interests of ALL MAINE PEOPLE!

To RSVP and for more information, go to Maine Can Do Better Citizen Lobby Day. For information about current proposed cuts to TANF, MaineCare, General Assistance, and the Medicare Savings Program, visit MEJP's Budget Webpage.

Thank you,

Ana Hicks
Senior Policy Analyst
Maine Equal Justice

Cultivating Wisdom

Daily Good reports that intelligence (standardized test style) and wisdom are not one in the same -- how do we cultivate the growth of wisdom in ourselves, and our communities?

Researchers found that wisdom is a uniquely human characteristic defined by six prominent qualities: general knowledge of life, emotional regulation, insight, helpfulness to others, decisiveness and tolerance of different values.
More in the full article...

Skyline Farm Day - Sat May 7

3rd Annual Plow Day.  Skyline Farm and Deri Farm are once again working together to organize this fascinating spring event this Saturday (May 7) from 9 AM to 2 PM.  Like past years, horses will be plowing and harrowing the fields and providing wagons rides around the farm.  New this year are a blacksmithing demonstation, pony rides ($5), possibly a team of oxen and a demonstration by Master Food Preservers. Food will also be available to purchase.  As always, this event is free (except the pony rides and food) and will be a great family event.  You can read a little more about the event at