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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.
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
Rituals Your Kids Will Always Remember
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.
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." .
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. ·
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. ·
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.
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.
for Evaluating Early Education and Care
evaluating your son or daughter's early education and care,
start by asking yourself the following questions:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
to Talk to Your Child--About Anything
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
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
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
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.
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
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?”