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Building a Leader

February 17, 2014

By Jessica Vician

A young girl flexes her muscles in superhero garb.

Today is Presidents’ Day, during which we celebrate George Washington’s birthday and honor all United States presidents. Regardless of political affiliations, most of us can agree that each president we elect is a leader. While you might not aspire for your child to become president one day, teaching your child leadership skills will help him or her on the playground, in the classroom, in college, and throughout a career.

Here are three important leadership qualities and skills you can help your child develop.

  1. Listening. Teach your child to be a better listener. When someone speaks or shares an opinion, your child should listen to what that person is saying. Teach him or her to consider the speaker’s opinions before responding.

    Each of us learns more by listening than by speaking. By practicing listening, your child will learn more about people and the topic discussed and can apply that knowledge to future conversations.

  2. Assertiveness. While your child learns to listen to others, he or she should also learn to effectively communicate with others. Teach your child to be politely assertive so that he or she can communicate his or her needs and opinions with others. Being assertive will help your child with his or her own self-respect while also helping manage others.
  3. Set goals. A leader accomplishes many things. In order to do that, he or she must be organized to set and achieve goals. Help younger children set goals like completing five chores a week to teach them time management and the reward of accomplishment. Help teens set longer-term goals like getting four A’s in a term. This type of goal requires longer planning and dedication, but the reward is greater and can positively impact your teen’s future.

As your child develops and practices these skills, he or she will build knowledge, confidence, and self-respect, which are all qualities of a leader.

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How to Be Affectionate with Your Child

February 10, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A mother hugs her son.

As a parent, there may come a time when you realize that however unlikely it seemed, you are just like your mother or father. If your parents were extremely affectionate, then there is good chance you are, too. However, if your parents or caregivers were not affectionate with you as a child, it may be difficult to show affection to your child.

I have worked with several young mothers who are scared to display love toward their children. Some are stressed, others lack confidence to attempt new bonding activities, and others find themselves lost. My goal with these parents is to guide them through the wonderful journey of parenting by coaching them through simple bonding activities that eventually strengthen their relationships with their children. I am glad to share these simple ideas with you.

Remember that your children love you no matter what. Their love is unconditional and they are naturally wired to bond. Try the following ideas and you may find yourself enjoying a bonding experience with your child.

  • Disconnect and Connect. Turn off your phone and/or electronics around you to be able to give your child your undivided attention. Make your child feel important and let him or her know that he or she is your priority. Begin doing this for ten minutes and work your time up to 30 minutes a day when time permits. Play and talk with your child and praise his or her efforts without corrections to make this a positive experience. Praise is a form of displaying affection. A simple “great job” or “you are beautiful” goes a long way.
  • Reading Date. Create a designated time in your routine and schedule to sit down and read together with your child. Make your special reading area cozy and comfortable. Sitting together can give you opportunities to hug your child and promote literacy.
  • Bathtime Fun. Use your bathtub as your indoor swimming pool. Have fun indoors even in cold weather. You can splash, play, and bond in the bathtub. You and your child are in small space cooperating together and having fun. You can share smiles and bond.
  • Walk and Talk. Taking walks will allow you and your child to exercise and initiate conversation about anything. Hold hands if your child is young and use opportunities to display your love toward him or her by kissing your child’s cheek, hand, or forehead.
  • Hugging Time. Make traditions to hug each other during different times of the day. Hug during your morning greeting, after breakfast, after a nap, and before bedtime. Encourage your child to initiate hugging during other times too. Never decline a hug from your child.

Do not stress or overthink when you bond with your child. Keep your child’s best interest in mind and have fun. You will do great!

"Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label. Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom." – Anonymous

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My son won’t share anything with me. How can I get him to speak to me?

February 7, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

A son puts his hand up to stop his mother from speaking to him.

Question: My 10-year-old son won't tell me about his day or talk to me about anything. How can I get him to speak to me?

Answer: Sometimes children don’t want to share with their parents, whether they’re teenagers, toddlers, or in between. There are many reasons, from shyness to privacy wishes. Whatever the cause, it’s still important to speak with your son daily about his life, even if it’s just a few sentences at dinner.

Here are some quick ways you can sneak in a conversation with him.

  • Tell him about your day. Often times sharing about you will prompt him to talk about himself.
  • Watch TV. Sit with him and watch one of his television shows and ask questions about the plot or characters. He might share his thoughts on the show as well. A word of warning: you might want to wait until a commercial so you don’t interrupt and aggravate him.
  • Visit someplace new. Take your son to dinner at a new restaurant and ask about his food. If his initial response is one word, ask more detailed questions. Why did he choose a cheeseburger instead of pizza? What’s his favorite cheese?

While he talks, listen to his tone. Is it normal for him? If so, then he might just be going through a phase where he doesn’t share much with his parent(s). If he sounds upset or angry when answering normal questions, or avoids answering them, he might be dealing with a problem. Find a quiet, safe place to speak with him about it. Tell him you noticed he hasn’t been himself lately and you want to help him. If he’s not receptive, you may want to speak with his teacher or school counselor to see if they have any insight into what could be wrong.

For more information on speaking with your child of any age, see the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher three-book set. For information on speaking to younger children, see pages 46 and 60 in Through The Early Years. See pages 43 and 77 in Through Elementary and Middle School for newer ways to interact with your child. If you are worried that your child is suffering from depression or struggling with peers, see page 64 in the same book and reach out to a school counselor for additional help.

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How can I teach my children the value of money?

January 31, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

Children with piggy banks

Question: My kids think money grows on trees. They think they're entitled to the latest toys and video games as soon as they come out, but I want them to work for nice things and earn them. How do I teach them to appreciate the value of money?

Answer: As a parent, it’s normal to want to give our children everything we can, especially those of us who grew up not having a lot things. We feel we need to compensate, but we have to be aware to not fall into that trap. Create a balance between what you give them and when you give it to them.

One of the first things that your children should learn is the importance of money. They need to understand the difficulties of earning it. Try giving them a certain amount of money for every age-appropriate chore they accomplish. Let them learn that they will only get money if they work hard for it.

Depending on their ages, you can apply the following strategy: suggest that your kids save up to pay half the cost of what they want and you’ll pay for the other half. If they want the item, they should be willing to earn it. Kids need to learn that if they really want something, they should wait and save in order to buy it. This strategy will also get them into the habit of thinking before spending.

Teaching your children how to save and manage money wisely will help them face future financial hurdles. You can even start teaching your children to save when they are toddlers. They probably receive birthday cards with money or checks from relatives during special occasions. Open a savings account for them and let them watch it grow. Have your children set a long-term goal for something more expensive than the toys, candy, or clothes they might have been saving for.

While you are working on helping them understand the value of money, you can use this opportunity to talk to them about the importance of donating to charities. Later in life, they will be in the habit of donating to those in need, which will help them value what they have. What kids learn about giving during childhood will last a lifetime.

Parents are the main influence on their children’s financial behaviors, so it’s our responsibility to raise a generation of conscious buyers, savers, and benefactors.

You can learn more about the issues addressed in this question in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher book series. For information about teaching your child financial responsibilities, see the Through High School and Beyond book on page 40.

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Limiting Options: Avoid Hearing “No”

January 29, 2014

By Stephen J. West

Peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese

Photo by Libby VanWhy

In the college courses I teach, I ask my students to answer open-ended questions to help them form their personal opinions. While this strategy is great for helping adults learn how to influence the world they live in, I’ve found that it isn’t nearly as productive when it comes to getting my two-year-old son to decide what he wants for lunch.

“No!” my son will often respond, sometimes even before he hears what I’m asking. Like many toddlers, he has a willful personality and prefers to make his own choices. I believe this is a positive attribute, but when “no” becomes his favorite choice for daily rituals like putting his shoes on or brushing his teeth, it can make life difficult.

To embrace my son’s desire to have a say in things while keeping his answers productive, I need to give him more structure than open-ended questions provide. According to Monte W. Davenport, Ph.D, “the determined child desperately wants her parents to be in control; however, she does not want to give up whatever control she has.” This concept helped me understand why the questions I was asking my son were unproductive. Instead of asking, “do you want to eat lunch?” as I usually would, if I rephrased the question as, “do you want peanut-butter and jelly or macaroni and cheese?” my son has control over what he eats while I have control over when he eats.

Providing your child with limited options works great in most scenarios, whether it’s time to take a bath (“do you want bubbles or not in your bath?”) or get dressed to go to school (“do you want to wear your bulldozer shirt or your monkey shirt?”). Using limited options allows you to control the structure of your child’s life while giving him or her the chance to feel control within that structure.

When providing your child with limited options:

Make eye contact. Acknowledgment of the choice emphasizes the structure, and confirms they have a say in the matter.

Provide options you are happy with, and stick to them. Make sure not to offer a choice that you don’t want your child to make. And don’t negotiate! Your child will quickly learn that his or her options aren’t firm if you change or add to them.

Avoid ultimatums. “Or else” isn’t a choice, and children are smart enough to know the difference between a choice and a threat.

When decisions need to be made, giving your child two or three choices provides the power he or she wants and provides you with the control you need.

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