Saturday, February 26, 2005

Teaching Children to Be Polite

"True politeness is the spontaneous movement of a good heart and an observing mind. Benevolence will teach us tenderness towards the feelings of others, and habits of observation will enable us to judge promptly and easily what those feeling are."
~Lydia Marie Child, The Mother’s Book, published 1831

Until the age of six, we are in a developmental period that is critical to the formation of social relations. Children are learning how to treat others by observing others and by direct instruction. We learn manners by watching people around us and by having manners taught to us. Manners, coming from the Latin word "manus," or hands, are manual social skills. Politeness is a character trait, coming from the Latin "polire," meaning "to polish" or "to be polished." With politeness, we shine from being polished. Our character shines because of genuine concern for others.

Lydia Child also writes, "In politeness, as in many other things connected to the formation of character, people in general begin outside, when they should begin inside; instead of beginning with the heart, and trusting that to form the manners, they begin with the manners, and trust the heart to chance influences."

We can teach our children how to curtsy and bow or how to say please and thank you, yes ma’am and yes sir and other niceties. If we neglect to help our children learn to look for the needs of others and put others first, they may have impeccable manners but never be truly polite.

Writing thank-you notes for gifts or kindnesses is good manners. It is a skill that is done, more often that not, grudgingly by children. Beginning with our one-year old children, we can send a child’s drawing or photo with a thank-you note. Our children can help put the drawings in the envelope and place the stamp. We can say something like, "Grandmother was very kind to send you a new puzzle. She will be very happy to get a picture from you." When it is time to give a gift, include your children by asking them what they think their grandmother would like for a present. Ask, "What is your grandmother’s favorite color? What is her favorite thing to do? What does she like to eat? What do you think we could do to make her feel special?"

Writing thank-you notes and gift giving are skills. Learning to think lovingly of others and to act on those thoughts builds character and true politeness. When we can help our children think of others first and offer lessons of grace and courtesy, we will not be "trusting the heart to chance influences."

After shopping one afternoon for a birthday present for my seven-year-old's best friend, my daughter said, "It's hard work to get the right present, Mom. We've spent two hours, and I still have to wrap it. You know, I won't complain about writing thank-you notes anymore. If you really care about somebody, it's important to get something they like, and it's important to say,'Thank you.'”

I smiled. My daughter might not remember her manners all the time, but her heart was shining through.

Next Week: Be Proactive and Choose How You'll Parent

Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at maren@shininglightreading.com.

Visit www.shininglightreading.com for more information.

Ask your local newspaper to carry Kids Talk. Call, write or e-mail your local newspaper editor and recommend Kids Talk.

Would you like to send Kids Talk to friends and family or receive Kids Talk e-mail updates in www.shininglightreading.com/enews.html

©KIDS TALK™
925 N.W. Hoyt #532
Portland, OR 97209
503.274.9788
maren@comcast.net

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Helping Your Child Learn to Listen

"You can't help your child learn anything if you don't teach them to listen and pay attention. That's what you have to do first." I overheard Tricia, a mother of three, as she visited with a father at a parent get-together.

Afraid of breaking a child's spirit, we are sometimes reluctant to "make" a child do something. With clear, consistent structure and expectations, we can help our children learn to listen and pay attention. Without these two skills, learning becomes difficult.

One of the wonderful things about working with three-, four- and five-year-olds is we can sing and play to learn. If you are working with children who are having difficulty responding to their names and requests, sing songs using their names. A favorite is "Mary Wore Her Red Dress." Gather a group, being sure you have enough time to include every child in the song. Select a child's name and a piece of clothing and substitute this into the song. When the child's name is sung, he or she skips around the inside of the circle. For children who are having difficulty listening, call on them near the end. The words follow:
Mary wore her red dress, red dress, red dress.
Mary wore her red dress all day long.
Johnny wore his white shirt, white shirt, white shirt.
Johnny wore his white shirt all day long.

Another favorite song for transitioning into a new activity follows:
Wibbly wobbly wee, and elephant sat on me.
Wibbly wobbly woo, an elephant sat on you.
Wibbly wobbly woosan, an elephant sat on Susan.
Wibbly wobbly wicheal, an elephant sat on Micheal.

"What's That Sound?" is a fun game for one or more children. Ask the children to face away from you and cover their eyes. Make different sounds. For example, snap your fingers, clap your hands, click your tongue, rub your hands together, jingle jewelry, tap a finger on a table, rustle clothing, tap a glass or pull a tissue out of a box. Use your imagination. After each action ask, "What's that sound?" If one child dominates the game, call on individual children.

Reading out loud everyday will help your child learn to listen. Even if you start out reading one minute a day, keep adding a minute a day until you get to thirty minutes. If your child walks around the room while you read, keep reading. Your child may have a learning style where movement is important. Many children (and adults) are able to move and listen at the same time. To "test" listening skills, change a few words to a familiar story.

Children need to learn to hear silence. Claude Debussy is quoted as saying, "Music is the silence between notes." Appreciation of silence allows us to hear what is important. The word "obey" has roots in the Old English word "obeyer," meaning "to listen." When our children know how to listen to both sounds and silence, they can choose to respond with ability, or in other words, become responsible.

To help your children appreciate silence, play "The Silence Game." Darken a room, and ask your children to listen and not talk. Count silently, using your fingers to help your children focus on staying silent. Sit quietly for 60 seconds, and then ask what they hear. Lengthen the time by thirty seconds each time you play. This is a simple but powerful learning game.

Sing songs, read out loud and play games to help your children learn how to listen and pay attention. Tricia's advice was right. It's what we have to do first.

Next Week: Teaching Children to Be Polite

Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at maren@shininglightreading.com.

Visit www.shininglightreading.com for more information.

Ask your local newspaper to carry Kids Talk. Call, write or e-mail your local newspaper editor and recommend Kids Talk.

Would you like to send Kids Talk to friends and family or receive Kids Talk e-mail updates in your own inbox? Sign up for FREE here:
www.shininglightreading.com/enews.html

©KIDS TALK™
925 N.W. Hoyt #532
Portland, OR 97209
503.274.9788
maren@comcast.net

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Home Responsibilities Make Us Feel We Belong

Family is about giving us a sense of belonging. Whatever ups and downs we have in life-changes in jobs, money or health-family is where we know we can always go, and the door will be open. Strong families create powerful ties to their family and to each other through sharing responsibilities at home, church, school and work.

Many times in the need to get "something done," adults will dismiss our children's requests to help us. "Oh, just go outside and play," is one of our frequent replies. When we see the eagerness in a child's eyes and hear, "But I want to help!" we need to direct the child's energy in a loving and positive way.

"How can a three-year-old really help?" parents ask me. "It's more work cleaning up after them. It's easier to send them away."

When we send them away we are missing opportunities to foster a sense of belonging and ownership in our families. Imagine if we went to work at a new job, full of enthusiasm, and our boss patted us on the head and said, "I'm busy. Keep yourself amused. We'll call you when it's lunchtime. Remember to stay out of the way."

Here are some age-appropriate job ideas for two- to six-year-olds that will help your children feel a sense of ownership and belonging. This list is cumulative and only suggests starting points.

Tasks for Two-Year-Olds

  • Pick up toys and return to proper place
  • Put books and magazines in a rack
  • Sweep the floor
  • Place napkins and silverware on table
  • Clean up food dropped when eating
  • Give a choice of two foods for breakfast
  • Clear own place at the table
  • Toilet training
  • Brush teeth, wash hands and brush hair
  • Undress self
  • Wipe up own spills
  • Put food away from grocery sacks to shelves

Tasks for Three- and Four-Year-Olds

  • Setting the table, even with good dishes
  • Put the groceries away
  • Help with grocery shopping and grocery list
  • Polish shoes and clean up afterwards
  • Follow a schedule for feeding pets
  • Help do yard and garden work
  • Make the beds and vacuum
  • Help do the dishes and fill the dishwasher
  • Dust the furniture
  • Have goal chart with tasks
  • Spread butter on sandwiches
  • Prepare cold cereal
  • Help prepare plates of food for family dinner
  • Make a simple dessert (jello, ice cream yogurt)
  • Hold the hand mixer to whip potatoes or mix batter
  • Get the mail
  • Should be able to play without constant adult supervision
  • Fold laundry
  • Polish silver, brass and car
  • Sharpen pencils

Tasks For Five-Year-Olds

  • Help with meal planning and grocery shopping
  • Make own sandwich and simple breakfast as well as clean up
  • Pour own drink
  • Prepare dinner table
  • Tear up lettuce for salad
  • Measure and pour ingredients for a recipe
  • Make bed and clean room
  • Dress and choose outfit
  • Scrub sink, toilet and bathtub
  • Clean mirrors and windows
  • Separate clothing for laundry
  • Answer and dial phone properly
  • Yard work
  • Pay for small purchases
  • Help clean out the car
  • Take out the garbage
  • Help make family entertainment decisions
  • Learn to tie shoes
  • Feed pets and clean the living area

Tasks for Six-Year-Olds

  • Choose clothing according to weather
  • Shake rugs
  • Water plants and flowers
  • Peel vegetables
  • Cook simple food (toast, hot dogs and boiled eggs)
  • Prepare own lunch for school
  • Hang up own clothes in closet
  • Gather wood for fireplace
  • Rake leaves and weeds
  • Take pet for a walk
  • Tie own shoes
  • Responsible for minor injuries
  • Keeping garbage container clean
  • Clean inside of car
  • Straighten and clean silverware drawer.
These activities come from a list I got almost 25 years ago at a parent education meeting. It was complied by the Department of Education at the University of Arizona and includes tasks through junior high. I'll be glad to send you the complete handout by e-mail or by postal mail. E-mail me at maren@comcast.net, and ask for the job list. Happy parenting!

Next Week: How to Know When Development Is Going Awry

Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at maren@shininglightreading.com or P.O. Box 1534, Bentonville, AR 72712.

Visit www.shininglightreading.com for more information.

Ask your local newspaper to carry Kids Talk. Call, write or e-mail your local newspaper editor and recommend Kids Talk. Want to send Kids Talk to friends and family? E-mail maren@shininglightreading.com.

©KIDS TALK™
925 N.W. Hoyt #532
Portland, OR 97209
503.274.9788
maren@comcast.net

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

How to Know When Development Is Going Awry

"Is my child going through a stage, or is something wrong?” is a question that runs though our minds, usually in the wee hours of the morning. We worry because the question addresses the art of being a parent, that is, knowing when to act and when to step back and watch.

For the young child, learning skills and appropriate behavior doesn’t follow a straight line. Instead it is a zigzag path of peaks and valleys. As parents we can be mystified when Wednesday night Sarah can get her pajamas on all by herself, and on Thursday she can't and cries in frustration.

It requires a lot of patience (I’m talking mythical and biblical here) for us as parents and teachers to deal with these ups and downs. It is important for us to follow through when giving instructions. For example, if you've asked your four-year-old to set the table for dinner, you need to be prepared to reteach the skill, walk through the job with your child and then remind him or her to do it each night until he or she can be fully responsible. While learning to set the table, children have many details to remember, such as how many places to set, where to place the plates and utensils, filling water glasses, etc. We need to be there to assure success.

Learning skills and memorizing rules of behavior can take frequent repetition for child and parent. One familiar lament that we might remember from our childhoods is, "How many times do I have to tell you to close the door?" We need to understand that the answer may be a "few gad zillion."

Certain skills may take a long time to develop. If you are concerned that your child is not developing an age-appropriate skill, write down in your calendar one month ahead the desired skill, such as “Close the door properly.” When you see on the calendar that the skill has not progressed after a month of reteaching, visit with your pediatrician about your concerns.

Behavior is of course a key component to our children's development. In normal development we should observe children who are joyful, pleasant, eager to please and connected to their families and homes. Two "emotional vitamins" for proper child development, recommended by Robert Shaw, M.D., are clear structure and expectations.

Dr. Robert Shaw, author of The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children, says that "excessive tantrums, persistent bedtime issues and aggression towards playmates" are signs that development is going awry in the three- to six-year-old. These behaviors are a cry from the child for the parent to take charge and provide clear family structure and expectations for behavior. If unacceptable behaviors are given in to and the child placated, you have started on the path to a defiant, unruly child. Left unchallenged, the child's behavior will become more and more difficult to handle.

As parents and teachers we need to observe our children's behavior. If a behavior, such as not closing a door properly, is due to weak skills, we need to teach and reteach the skill, and then wait and watch. If the behavior is defiant, rude, unkind or aggressive, we need to act immediately to stop it. We can eliminate tantrums, along with defiant, aggressive and unkind behaviors, by providing clear structure and expectations.

When you are lying awake at night, concerned about your child's behavior, ask yourself these two questions:

1. Is my child's behavior due to needing to learn a skill?
2. Is my child’s behavior due to a lack of clear expectations for behavior and clear family structure?

With the answers to these two questions, you’ll know what you need to do.

Next Week: Helping Your Child Learn to Listen

Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at maren@shininglightreading.com.

Visit www.shininglightreading.com for more information.

Ask your local newspaper to carry Kids Talk. Call, write or e-mail your local newspaper editor and recommend Kids Talk.

Would you like to send Kids Talk to friends and family or receive Kids Talk e-mail updates in your own inbox? Sign up for FREE here:
www.shininglightreading.com/enews.html

©KIDS TALK™
925 N.W. Hoyt #532
Portland, OR 97209
503.274.9788
maren@comcast.net