How to choose the right kindergarten?

It is January, but parents are starting to worry about kindergarten: Which one is the one for my child? Is my child ready? Is s/he too young?  Does s/he need to know how to read? Write? Do mathematics? Is private school worth the money? Is public school good enough? Is the choice of kindergarten going to be a deciding factor in the rest of my child’s life?

Here are some points to think about:

*   Entering formal school is important, but you are still the most important piece of your child’s life. Keep the sense of being connected, allow for a comfortable flow of communication, and be sensitive to your child’s growing personality without imposing your own dreams on him or her. That will build a strong basis for your relationship with your child.
*   The personality of the teacher is more important than the methodology or philosophy of the school. Meet the teacher and ask yourself: Can this teacher love the kind of child my child is? Do not expect her to change him/her to the child you want him or her to be (more cooperative, less wild, more obedient, etc.). You want the teacher to love your child and be ready to work with him or her the way s/he is right now.
*   Some schools expect a 4-year-old to be able to read/write/know-the-numbers. If your child does not have these skills yet – s/he is not a failure. S/he is just not a good match for this school. Find a place where the teacher is ready to TEACH all that. You will find out that all your child needs is curiosity and eagerness to learn.
*   In general, when money is not plentiful, private schools are not a good investment. It is better to save this money for college. With a close eye on the child, a close relationship with teachers and administrastors, I have seen many children get a wonderful education in some of the more difficult neighborhoods.
*   Some competitive parents want their child to start school as early as possible. Being the youngest in the class is never an advantage. This child will have no shot at leadership opportunities in the class. It is better to wait another year and let him or her be the most mature (in addition to being the smartest…) so he or she can take adventage of her or his briliancy. Finishing college at 20 is not an advantage in the market, but not having girls your age all along can have a strong impact on a person… And yes, this kind of challenge is most common with boys.
*   Think about the friends your child will make in school: A neighborhood school might afford the possibility of walking or riding a bike to a friend’s home. Picking a school outside your neighborhood can make social life difficult later.

I know that, along with all the advice a parent will get, there is a sense of a big transition, and even anxiety. Make sure your anxiety is kept to a minimum, or your child will start to worry about the whole thing. Starting school is a celebration, not a focal point for worries. Make it one for your child!

Handling Temper Tantrums

Lately I’ve been studying the issues around young children’s temper tantrums: Why do they happen? What do they mean? What are the best practices for handling them? What are the pitfalls?
My adult daughter shared with me her memory of a temper tantrum from her childhood: She remembers wanting a stuffed animal in a department store, and me saying “no.” She remembers crying really hard; she remembers thinking how much she wants this bear, how she cannot be without it, and not understanding how I do not understand her.

She also said she remembers how I said “no,” and just stood there, calmly, waiting for her to be done.

And then she said the most remarkable thing. She said: “I think this was an important experience for me. I learned how to be strong. I think if you would have just bought me the bear, I would have felt that every wish of mine needs to be met just because I cry.”

What a lesson!

Handle a 2- to 3-Year-Old’s Temper Tantrum

Temper tantrums are normal

In my conversations with parents, they all seem to worry that something is wrong with their child if s/he experiences a “meltdown.” Well, an adult acting out a temper tantrum is unusual, and an older child’s tantrum is also different from a young child’s.

But for young children, temper tantrums are the only way they can express their negative feelings fully. They do not know what these feelings are. They have no words to describe them, nor can they delay their expression. So, if you feel worries or anxiety around temper tantrums–rest assured that your child is all right, and you need to change your perspective.

How to handle yourself when your child is having a temper tantrum

Take care of yourself while your child is experiencing temper tantrums

It is very challenging, but possible: Center yourself; do not let negative thoughts about yourself enter your mind. And if they do, “talk back” to them.

Remind yourself that you are a good person and a good parent. That this is an important experience for your child, so you have to stay the course.
You can practice centering yourself before the temper tantrums occur. You can research the subject, learn it from your yoga practice, from friends, or from books. Or create a process works for you. Do whatever it takes not to be caught up in the drama.

Temper Tantrum Advice

Temper tantrums are “teachable moments”

It is hard to imagine, in the midst of the chaos created by temper tantrums, that there is something good about them, but temper tantrums are importent steps in your child’s development. They represent the opportunity for the child to experience his or her strong feelings, although not positive ones, and if we do not jump to pacify them, s/he can experience his or her power to control those feelings and his  or her body. So, give your child the time s/he needs to have this experience!

Parenting as a test of character

Parenting is hard. I remember when I became parent, I was exhausted. Night after night of waking up to feed, change, and put my angel to sleep; day after day, the same routine–plus all the housework. Months, then a year of this–and then a second child arrived. I remember thinking: I gave my mom a hard time as a teenager, but nobody told me about THIS! I also remember thinking: I wish I was not so tired so I might enjoy my babies!

And as my babies grew, and I could sleep at night, other challenges came along: Temper tantrums; making sure they eat their vegetables; teaching them to waiti to get my attention; cooperating with Dad to make discipline consistent. And listening to a lot of crying, then complaining–and later, criticism.

What helped me through it all was my clear vision of my goal: I wanted strong and independent, but loving and connected, children. And every time I felt I wanted to take some “easy way out”–I thought about that: What will they say about this 20 years from now? What will they think of me? It was not about trying to buy their love, but it was about wanting to be appreciated and respected. I wanted my children to know I was strong, that I know what I want–and so can they.

I am glad to report it all worked out just as I had planned–and hoped. And it can for you, too.

Parents as Life Coaches II

There are two main ideas I liked in the article I just shared with you: One is that parenting is like life-coaching, and the other is Xeroxing.

Parenting is life coaching. The goal of the parents is to prepare their child to be a healthy, productive adult in society. For that goal, they create many experiences that will teach the child how to become such an adult: They send him or her to school, read to her, listen to him.

That metaphor might not be clear if you do not know much about coaching, so here it is in a nutshell: Coaching is creating a relationship between two individuals, where one is giving the other information, encouragement, and support to reach the recipient’s goals. If it is a swimming coach, for example,  s/he does not have to be a great swimmer, but has knowledge of what a great swimmer needs: When does the swimmer need to be pushed to work harder, when does s/he need to go easy on the swimmer, what will inspire him or her, what will help the swimmer stick to the work, the practice, the discipline it takes to reach the swimmer’s goal.

You can see how this describes the parents’ role as well: A parent cannot live his or her child’s life. A parent cannot decide what the child likes, what moves him or her, what s/he is good at – and what is his or her passion. The child is not a mirror-image of the parent. S/he is different genetically, emotionally, has different strengths and weaknesses and lives in a different historical context. If in one century it was a good idea to become a doctor, later on it seems to be better to be a lawyer, or an engineer, or have a degree in business.  A career choice that worked for the parent might not be a good one for the child, for many reasons.

That is why I like the concept of “Xeroxing” – it is such a good metaphor for explaining to parents what is wrong with asking children to fulfill the parents’ dreams. Let your child have her or his dreams – and coach your child the best you can to reach them!

Rabbi Hirschfield: Parents as Life Coaches

I want to share this wonderful article with you. For more from Rabbi Hirschfield, go to this link.

Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield, author, radio and TV talk show host and President of CLAL, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Parents as Life Coaches

— Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield

People ask me all the time how to be good Jewish parents, and my first response is that they should ask someone who has already figured it out! But I am trying. And the truth is, since both we and our kids are always changing, there really is no final answer to that question. That doesn’t mean that there are not guiding principles that can help us along the way – there are, and there are also wonderful role models that can inspire us as we strive to be good Jewish parents.

What does successful Jewish parenting look like? Is it about turning out kids who are replicas of us? Is it about producing kids who look and act as we do? Is it about raising kids who agree with us religiously, politically, or about the professions and partners they choose? I think not. But too often, especially in Jewish life, that is what happens.

We reduce parenting to Xeroxing, even though we know that copies can never be as sharp and clear as the originals. And if a process continues in which we keep making copies of copies because there are no new texts, eventually the copies become so weak that they fade to nothing and we have neither copies of the original, nor new originals.

Great parenting is not about Xeroxing, as much as it is about life coaching — about preparing our kids to make their own images. Does that mean that we don’t value our traditions, be they personal, familial or Jewish? Of course not! Those traditions are among the most powerful tools we can give our kids in order to help them make their own way in this world. But we give them, not as an end in and of themselves. We give them as the means to achieving a better life for our kids and as tools to help them make their own unique contribution to the world in which we live.

Great parents are like coaches who teach drills and raise the skill level of their players, but know that when it comes to playing the game the players must take the field for themselves. The rabbis of the Talmud understood this and so did my own mother. Though I must confess that my mother probably never heard of the Talmud before she was fifty years old and the last of her four children was pretty much out the door, she understood what it meant to be a good Jewish mother. She appreciated the rabbinic wisdom that teaches that what parents must really give their kids are the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and financial tools to create purposeful lives that will be animated by shared values, if not always identical practices with the generation that went before.

When I was twelve years old, I decided that I wanted to become Orthodox, and I asked my mother to buy me two separate sets of dishes and silverware. When she asked me why, she was not kidding. She knew little about kashrut. When I told her it was because I wanted to keep kosher, she told me that she would do no such thing. I was stunned – my parents were pretty serious about being Jewish, but not observant in that way.

Instead, she told me, that if I would wait until the summer when I was off at camp and she had more free time, she would make the entire house kosher. Now, I was really stunned. I asked her why, and she told me it was because in one’s own home, one doesn’t eat off of separate dishes from the rest of the family. She also told me that as she and the rest of my family were going to honor this new requirement of mine, I would need to figure out how to continue eating with them in the variety of non-kosher restaurants in which we regularly ate – which I did and still do to this day when I am fortunate enough to share a meal with my now aging parents.

My mother neither demanded that I eat as she did, nor allowed me to expect her to eat as I was choosing to. Instead, she provided a living lesson in which my way of eating Jewishly could be honored and so could hers. She gave me a skill that celebrated our shared value of Jewishness without requiring identical expressions of this value. That’s great life coaching and that’s great Jewish parenting.

The rabbis describe many parental obligations – from teaching their children to swim to teaching them torah, from finding them jobs to finding them life partners. These wise rabbis never expected that this teaching would result in children who never questioned, never adapted. Judaism wouldn’t be here today if they had.

The rabbis presided over some of the most sweeping cultural, communal, intellectual and spiritual changes that had shaped the Jewish people since Moses ascended Mount Sinai. And yet, with all those changes, they also presided over a people that felt connected to all that had come before. The rabbis set the example for all parents that they needed to pave the way for Independence for the future and a sense, if not the appearance, of real connectedness. This excellent parenting is what my mom passed on to me, and what I try every day to give to my own three kids.

Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield is an acclaimed thinker, speaker, Orthodox rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture. Hirschfield is the President of CLAL–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center. Never one to shy away from a tough topic, Hirschfield challenges people’s long-held opinions, assumptions and beliefs. A leader for pluralism and interfaith dialogue, he says that we must own the dark side of all our religious traditions or we risk the same kind of hatred that destroyed the Twin Towers. “Religion drove those planes into the buildings, but it can also provide the catalyst for building a better world.”

Child development charts

Is my child’s development OK?  When a parent ask this question, the expert will give her a chart. This is what I found on the Mayo Clinic web page, and there are many others out there:
Age 2 Age 3 Age 4 Age 5
Language skills
Links two words together Identifies most common objects Describes the uses of common objects Uses compound and complex sentences
Speaks clearly enough for parents to understand about half the words Says first name and age Speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand Says full name and address
Knows some adjectives (big, happy) Uses pronouns (I, you, we, they) and some plurals Uses verbs that end in “ing” and some irregular past tense verbs, such as ran and fell Uses future tense
Speaks about 50 words Answers simple questions Tells simple stories Understands rhyming
Social skills
Becomes aware of his or her identity as a separate individual Imitates parents and playmates Cooperates with playmates Wants to be like friends
May become defiant Takes turns Tries to solve problems Follows rules
Becomes interested in playing with other children Expresses affection openly Becomes interested in new experiences Understands gender
Separation anxiety begins to fade Easily separates from parents Becomes more independent Wants to do things alone
Cognitive skills
Begins to play make-believe Plays make-believe Becomes involved in more complex imaginary play Uses imagination to create stories
Begins to sort objects by shape and color More confidently sorts objects by shape and color Prints some capital letters and names some colors Correctly names at least four colors and counts at least 10 objects
Understands some spatial concepts (in, on) Understands more spatial concepts (over, under) Understands more complex spatial concepts (behind, next to) Distinguishes between fantasy and reality
Scribbles Copies a circle Draws a person with two to four body parts Copies a triangle and other geometric patterns
Finds hidden objects Understands the concept of two Understands the concepts of same and different Understands the concepts of time and sequential order
Physical skills
Walks alone and stands on tiptoe Walks up and down stairs, alternating feet Stands on one foot for at least five seconds Stands on one foot for at least 10 seconds
Climbs on furniture and begins to run Kicks, climbs, runs and pedals tricycle Throws ball overhand, kicks ball forward and catches bounced ball most of the time Hops, swings and somersaults
Builds a tower of four blocks or more Builds a tower of more than six blocks Dresses and undresses May learn to skip, ride a bike and swim
Empties objects from a container Manipulates small objects and turns book pages one at a time Uses scissors Brushes own teeth and cares for other personal needs

Most parents get too anxious to score their child on the chart, and they need some help in the process.

Here are some suggestions:

It’s easy to look at such a chart and become anxious because your child is 3 and not yet taking turns, for example. But the fact is, there is not really a specific age for any stage. This is simply a general guideline. Researchers are more sure about the ORDER of what comes first, but cannot say that any stage should happen at a particular age.

Is the child growing? Just as the weight gain of an infant is a general growth indicator, you can look at others. Do you notice more vocabulary words? More understanding? Does curiosity move the child forward? Your child is growing.

Language is important. In the past, we gave time for language development to manifest itself. Recent research sends parent to speech therapists at a younger age now. There is an important reason: Speech is the key for both social and emotional development. Without language, a child is more vulnerable to frustrations and temper tantrums, and will experience a harder time in moving from solitary play to cooperative play without becoming aggressive.

Language specialists now have many tools to aid a child’s language development, but I recommend that you see the process as facilitating a natural process and not fixing something that is broken. Your child would have picked up the language on his or her own; we just want to protect him or her from the side effects of delays. Your child is FINE!
Do not look for information that causes you to worry–but do not ignore your gut feeling that something is wrong. If you do feel something is wrong–talk to your pediatrician, child-care provider, family member. But above all, trust your child, accept him or her as s/he is, and take delight in every step of development–even it is behind your best friend’s child’s.

Your child’s development is nurtured by you witnessing it. So, go ahead, become your child’s cheerleader!

Your child’s crying – your crying

The first crying of a baby, the one to which the mother responds so powerfully, is the basis of the mother-child bond. Mother–and father, too–will always jump to help their crying child. The “alarm bell rings,’ and help is on the way. This bond can be described as hormonal/physical, emotional, and spiritual. We are connected. We are one.

As the child grows, and the parents perceive him or her as a more-aware partner in the relationship, it becomes harder for the parents to listen to the crying. If it is obvious to the parent the the child is not in imminent danger, than why does s/he cry? Parents’ thoughts and feelings start to swirl around: Why does s/he do that to me? Why doesn’t s/he listen to me?

And judging start to take place: What a selfish kid! S/he just want to show s/he can get his or her way, to show me s/he is the boss. Many negative thoughts and feelings come to the foreground. The normally loving and supportive parent becomes an angry, frustrated, and negative individual. It is almost like this individual needs to cry, too.

Fact: This parent does need a shoulder to cry on. Our children’s feelings resonate with us, bringing our own feelings to the surface. We have found ways to ignore those feelings, bury them, deny them, invalidate them–but they are there. And spending a long time with young children who cannot cope with negative feelings yet reminds us of times we were just as vulnerable. And we, too, need to find our way out of these negative feelings.

What is a parent to do? If you do feel your negative feelings coming to the surface, do not take it out on your child. Find a safe place, a friend, a journal, a coach or a counselor, to unload your pain, your crying. That will help you to be calm, present, and positive, so that your child will be able to unload his or her feelings safely, and move on.