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Parenting Tips

Ellen Galinsky appears frequently on NBC's Today Show as a parenting expert. The following is some of the advice she has given on the show.

On Guilt

   From extensive interviews with parents throughout the stages of parenthood, I found that problems occur when there is a gulf between our expectations and reality. We can either stay stuck, or we can attempt to change.

   I found that growth comes from reconciling expectations with reality, either by making the expectation more realistic or by changing ourselves to live up to the expectations. I saw-and see-guilt as initially a positive force, telling us that there is a conflict between what we expect and what is actually happening. If we don't heed the warning signs, don't try to reconcile our fantasies and realities, then guilt can fester, can begin to eat us up. But if we do address the guilt and change accordingly, we are being much more "intentional" as parents.

So you can�

  • Ask yourself how you really want to raise your child. Another way of getting at this to ask yourself if you will feel good about the decision you are making in ayear, in 5 years, in 10 years.
  • If there is a disparity between your expectations and reality, try to reconcile it by changing your expectation to be more realistic or by changing yourself to live up to your expectation.

Creating Everyday Rituals Your Kids Will Always Remember

  Which do you think your kids will remember most? That pricey family vacation to Disney World or the tea with toast and jelly you always make them when they're sick?

   Surprise: It's the tea and toast, or rather, the small, everyday routines that endure. One young girl I interviewed, for instance, talked about how her dad would send her off to school every morning with a cheerful "Go get 'em, tiger!" She told me that a vacation or gift only lasts for a short time. "Family traditions happen again and again," she said.

   Other people I questioned recall silly but affectionate nicknames or conversing in pig Latin. Even the simplest rituals make children (and parents) feel that they're part of a unit, which is key to imbuing kids with a sense of security, even when parents have less time to spend with their children than they'd like. A study at the Families and Work Institute found that roughly one out of three kids gave their parents an "A" in establishing routines and sticking to them, but another third gave their parents a "C" or lower.

Here's how to create a few traditions you'll all treasure. None is particularly inventive, but that's the point: It's the ordinary rituals that become the memories we carry from childhood into adulthood.

  • Make the dinner table a place for sharing. One couple I spoke with designates meals as a time to swap news and events of the day. The children take turns talking about each period of school and what happened afterward. The parents listen, ask questions and keep the conversation moving, but the floor belongs to the kids. Not surprisingly, their daughter later told me, "I never really understood the concept of not telling your parents stuff. They always ask what we do at school, so we tell them." .

  • Make the most of car trips. Many families make travel a pleasure by playing games to pass the time. One family played "I Spy," sticking with simple statements such as "I spy a red car" when their children were younger. But as the kids got older and more sophisticated, so did the game. They'd look for vanity license plates or objects that rhymed: "I spy something that rhymes with line." The game lasted anywhere from five to 45 minutes, but the impact was the same: much laughter and silliness. �

  • Tell special bedtime stories. Evenings are a time when kids are more ready to let down their guard, so put some extra effort into making them comfortable. I know one family ritual in which the children invent the first line of a bedtime story about a cow, a pig and a chicken, and their mother has to finish the tale. The kids all look forward to figuring out ways to stump Mom and seeing how outlandish the story becomes. �

  • Wake them up with a song. Instead of yelling from the bottom of the stairs, some parents sing gentle songs or recite nursery rhymes to their still-sleeping kids. One father, for instance, would play "This little piggy went to market" with his daughter's toes, and she'd wake up with a giggle.

  • Make weekend breakfasts special. One tradition that has survived in my own household is baking Sunday morning biscuits. We've been making them with our two kids - now adults-since they were preschoolers, and we still make them when everyone's home. They roll out the dough and shape the biscuits - hearts for Valentine's Day, turkeys for Thanksgiving and circles for ordinary days. The ritual gives everybody something to look forward to on weekends.

  • Retell your family stories. Recounting the time your son said "hang-a-burger" when he meant "hamburger" or when you all thought the dog ran away (but later found him hiding in the closet) will bring you closer. Kids love to hear stories about themselves and to laugh at private jokes. So make the effort. They won't forget it.

Tips for Evaluating Early Education and Care

When evaluating your son or daughter's early education and care, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How does your child care provider greet your child in the morning? Does she seem genuinely happy to see him? Or does she give a curt "Hello" while she busies herself with other things? Studies show that the warmth of the relationship between children and their providers is key to quality care. If children don't feel safe and cared about, they will have difficulties learning and growing.
  • Is your caregiver tuned in to your child? Pay close attention to how she relates to your little one. Does she squat down and talk to your child eye to eye? The provider who is responsive repeats the sounds your baby makes, or when your three-year-old gets excited about something, the provider asks questions, listens, brings a storybook on the subject, and encourages your child to know that he can learn and enjoy learning. Quality caregivers are responsive and able to read a child's cues - these characteristics are essential for promoting emotional and intellectual development.
  • What do you see at the end of the day? Is your child busy at play, engaged in art projects, reading books and interacting with other children? Or does she rush up and cling to you when you arrive? If it's the latter, she may be bored and starved for attention - and in need of a new daytime environment.
  • What is the adult-to-child ratio? Each state has different regulations for how many children a teacher can care for at once. Still, being in compliance with such laws doesn't necessarily mean that a center is a quality operation. Often, official standards are lower than what child care experts recommend. In my experience, a group size of six to eight infants for every two adults, and six to 12 one- and two-year-olds per three adults, is ideal. For preschoolers, look for 14 to 20 children for every two teachers.
  • What is the teacher turnover? Constant turnover can be disruptive and potentially disturbing for children. If you're hiring a nanncy, look for one who doesn't have a history of job-hopping - one who can commit for at least a year or more. If you're investigating a child care center, find out how well it retains workers. Good centers, which pay their workers reasonably well and treat them with respect, should have a turnover rate of less than 25%.
  • Do the teacher have advanced training? Don't dismiss the value of well-trained providers-they understand how children develop and are better able to meet their needs. They also tend to be more 'intentional'-those who bother to learn how kids grow are more likely to put some thought into furthering your child's development.
  • Is the environment safe, clean and inviting? At a minimum, providers should follow basic health and safety measure, such as washing hands after changing diapers and keeping a list of emergency numbers so you or a doctor can be quickly contacted if necessary. Check to see that a variety of interesting and age-appropriate activities and toys are within easy reach. Finally, look for more subtle signs that all is well, like displays of children's work on the walls. This simple action shows that the kids' efforts and creation are priased and appreciated, just as they would be in your home.
  • Do you feel supported as a working parent? The best teachers should seem like part of your extended family. Does she help you to be a better parents? Or do her comments and actions make you worry and feel guilty about leaving your child all day? If she's doing her job well, a provider should help you feel confident in your decision to work or have time alone while your child stays with her.
  • Would you want to stay there all day? If the answer is no, then look for another arrangement. Your child shouldn't have to tolerate a situation that you would find unpleasant. After all, with the right provider, your child will thrive - and, in turn, so will you.

How to Talk to Your Child--About Anything

Good communication with your children is one of the most important factors in raising children well, but sometimes children put up barriers that can make talking difficult, especially when dealing with the tough issues that adolescence can bring. Here are some suggestions for setting the stage for communicating with your child, no matter what his or her age:

  • Put your own concerns aside so that you can focus on your children. According to research in Ask the Children, to kids, the litmus test of a good parent is someone who is "there for me." To children, "there for me" means times when their parents are paying attention, really listening and really focused on them. The mother of two teenage children says, "Being there for your children is emotionally and mentally. There was a time when the joke at the dinner table was 'Earth to Mom, Earth to Mom' because I would be physically sitting there but mentally somewhere else." This mother and others learned how to focus. One works at being more mentally alert, looking at her children as if to say, "This is our time."
  • Set aside regular times for talking and take advantage of found moments. For some parents, this is dinnertime. One father says that dinnertime "establishes a pattern where we talk to our kids about what's going on in a fairly in-depth manner." A mother takes her daughter out every Monday: "We have dinner, then we go to the library and read together-it helps keep us close." Other parents use car time. One father says, "Get them in the car, turn the music on low, and talk." He notes that this is a safe place for talking, especially with older children, "because you don't have to look at each other." Another parent takes teenagers for walks in the dark: "They'll tell you anything in the dark, because they have that cover."
  • Be alert to when they are "hovercrafts." There are times when our kids want to talk to us but they don't quite know how to begin. Often, this is the case with older children. Older children are more likely than younger children to want more time with their parents. However, as they told me, they have been so busy pushing their parents away that it is hard for them to reconnect. But they do give us clues, particularly hanging around us-what I call being "hovercrafts." So when that happens, put down what you are doing and start to talk. About anything. Pretty soon, they'll probably open up and tell you what's on their minds.
  • Talk about third parties. If there is a tough issue you want to bring up, you can do so by talking about "third parties" or other people: "I just read a magazine article about girls and self-esteem and it said... what do you thin?" Or, "I saw a movie about teenage boys and sex and it said..." Children's books are a good way to start a conversation with younger children. If your child is afraid of going to school, or of bullies, there is a book on this subject. Reading the story sets the stage for a good conversation
Now you've set the stage for communication, but what you say, and do, once you have your child's attention are equally important. Some suggestions:

  • Put yourself in your child's shoes. Sometimes we push our children away by rushing to judgment about how they are feeling. So when your daughter says that she wasn't invited to a party, don't respond that you're sure the invitation is in the mail. Or when she tells you that a teacher was unfar, don't jump in by saying that you're sure that the teacher had a good reason for acting as she did. Unless your children trust you to understand how they feel, they are not going to want to talk. Recall how it feels to live in a world of people bigger than you, how it feels to have a teacher who is unfar or to be left out of a party. If you have genuine empathy for how they are feeling, they will open up more.
  • Don't bombard them with questions. It's easy to do: You're so happy to have a quiet moment alone with them that you immediately begin peppering them with questions. But in my interviews with kids, they told me that it takes them time to unwind from school, and they need time to warm up to their parents again. So, when you and your child do have some time together, don't rush into your questions-ease into them. Let the conversation meander. There is nothing wrong with some small talk until you're both relaxed. Then try asking a question or two.
  • Ask specific questions, not general ones. "How was school today?" will not yield as much as asking about a specific project your child is working on or a book he was reading. And younger children, especially under the age of eight, find it easier to respond to a specific question than a vague, open-ended one. Leading questions, like "What do you think will happen tomorrow?" also will help keep the conversation moving. The how-did-that-make-you-feel questions are helpful too. These questions keep the conversation moving and they help your children develop important thinking skills. Equally key: Don't forget to ask about out-of-school times. For children, the school bus ride, lunch and after-school meetings are as important as classroom activities.
  • Be and active listener. Communication involves both talking and listening, but it is listening that leads to more talking and sharing. Think about the people you avoid talking to-they're probably the people who butt in, give unwanted advice, change the subject nd don't pay attention. What you need to do is show your child you're listening. Repeat back what he says: "Your sandwich at lunch tasted funny." Express sympathy, "That must have made you upset"-and let him have the floor.
  • Don't be negative. When your daughter complains that her teacher unfairly reprimanded her in school, you might feel like asking her, "What did you do to provoke the teacher?" Or, you might want to lash out at the teacher. "How stupid of him!" Likewise, when she is upset at not being invited to a party and confides her fear that no one likes her, you might want to push her hurt aside, "Don't be silly. You have tons of friends." Resist the temptaiton. If kids sense their parents are critical or dismissive, they can become hurt, angry and withdrawn. It's important to let our kids vent to us-to talk about how they really feel about their lives.
  • Give them permission to talk about what is, or isn't working at home. One young child I interviewed put it best, "The most important thing about being a good parent is making sure everything's okay with your child," she said, noting every day her parents would ask her if they're doing things that aren't working, or what improvements could be made. "I think if everybody's parents did that," she added, "there would be a lot more happy children."
  • Help your children come up with their own solutions to problems. As parents, we can direct the conversation, help them see ways they can learn from their unhappy experiences, and help them figure out how they want to solve their own problems. In the process, it is important to take their feelings seriously and try to be supportive. So when your daughter complains about her teacher, ask her: "Why do you think the teacher reacted the way she did?" And when she tells you about being excluded from the party, tell her you know how bad it feels, and help her come up with an idea to feel better, perhaps a fun outing she can arrange with other friends.
There are specific steps parents can take to help children come up with their own solutions to problems. First, find a calm time. You can announce that you want to call a family meeting or simply say that you want to talk. I have found that it is best to have understood and agreed-upon routines for problem solving. Here are mine:

  • The adult states the problem.
  • The adult asks others for their feelings about the subject. No accusations are allowed. Each person states what "I" feel and no one may interrupt.
  • A range of solutions are generated without criticism or comment. It is often useful to write these solutions down because they have more gravity in a written form, even for a child who can not red or write yet.
  • Next, the pros and cons of each suggested solution are evaluated by the children. This is an important step because you are teaching your children to look at solutions from the perspective of what would and wouldn't work.
  • Agree upon a solution to try out. No solution works forever and it is a good idea to reinforce this notion from the very beginning.
  • Set a trial period to try out the solution and make a plan to get together to talk about how it is working. If it is working, great. If not, go through the process again.

Hang around time

On NBC's "Today" show, Ellen Galinsky, author of �Ask the Children,� speaks with Katie Couric about the benefits of parents hanging out with their kids. March 23 �

   Who would have thought about the impact parents can have on their kids by just hanging out with them? And we�re not talking about rushing from band practice to ballet practice. We mean actually hanging out with your child. Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of Families and Work Institute, explains how parents can help their children by �hanging out.� Find Books Bargain Books Bestsellers Recommended Books in the News If you have had a stressful day, make an effort to calm down. One mother I know listens to music she loves on her way home from work. Just being conscious of trying to calm down can help.

    Today's families are multitasking more than ever. Increasingly, time-crunched families are made up of dual-earner couples and single parents, cell phones and computers insure that working parents are always �on call,� and kids� extra-curricular activities seem to be becoming more and more elaborate all the time. Who gets left behind in all this? Often, it�s the people this intricate family structure is meant to support � the children.

    And children have pressured lives too. In interviews we have been conducting, we ask young people: �If you were making a movie or a TV show to describe what life is like for you today, what would it show?�

    �Stress!� is the answer we increasingly hear.

    As one explained, �Each person only sees one part of me. My teachers, who are pushing me to do well on tests, see me in school; my coach, who wants me to win the game, sees me on the playing field; and my parents, who want me to get my homework done, see me at home. No one knows what it is like to put it all together. Sometimes, I think my life is more stressful than my parents� lives.�

   What is the result? In �Ask the Children,� a study of 1,023 kids, I found that 44.5 percent of kids feel that their time with their mother is rushed, and 37 percent of children feel their time with their father is rushed. Furthermore, the feeling that time with their parents is rushed affects how kids see their parents. For instance, of children ages 8 through 18 who rate their time with their mothers as �very calm,� 86 percent give their mothers very positive marks for �making me feel important and loved,� compared with 63 percent who rate their time with their mothers as �very rushed.�

    So what is a busy parent to do? Here are some suggestions.

    If you have had a stressful day, make an effort to calm down. One mother I know listens to music she loves on her way home from work. Just being conscious of trying to calm down can help. Another mother says, �Take a look at your values. Is having relaxed time with your kids a top priority? If so, be intentional about leaving your other concerns behind when you are with them.�

    Hang out with your children. In this busy world, it is important to have time when you are just hanging out � whether it is a Saturday morning when you all stay in your pajamas or the time before bed when you sit on their beds and talk. Think about the words kids use today: �chill.� Or �hang out.� Another parent said, �When parents and kids are together, the average parent wants to do something, while the average kid says, �We�re together. That�s good enough for me.�� During hang-around time, you each may be doing your own thing, but be ready to shift your full attention to your child at any time. Says one mother, �My daughter probably won�t tell me about a conflict at school when I take her out to lunch and ask her questions � she�ll want to talk about it when I�m about to sit down and do my bills. So I try to be ready to switch gears when the moment strikes.�

    Join their world. You can be with your kids and it can be a disaster or it can be great. What makes the difference? If you ask kids, they will say, �being listened to.� Connect to your kids through their interests. All children have things they are interested in � whether it is T-ball, skateboarding, or hip-hop music. Find out more about their interests, ask them about them, and encourage them. Once I asked a group of young people what made the difference between kids who got in trouble and kids who didn�t. They said that the children who had a strong interest in something were the ones who stayed out of trouble growing up.

    Spend some time really focusing on your children when you are together. The �Ask the Children� study found that 62 percent of children say that their mothers find it very easy to focus on them when they are together and 52 percent say the same thing about their fathers. When children feel that their parents are focusing on them, they feel much more positive about how they are being parented. And, when adults are asked what makes them feel successful as parents, again and again, they use the word �focus.� As parents describe focus � �It is being in the present tense, not always figuring out the next step� �It�s not being distracted� It is really paying attention.� As one child put it, �Mom, you are always running around. Can�t you just sit down with me for one minute?�

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