Kids Eating Food With Spices? Yes, It's Possible!

My nine-year old daughter Sabrina thinks McDonalds is gross. She won’t eat boxed cookies but likes snickerdoodles dusted with Vietnamese cinnamon. She doesn’t like regular old mashed potatoes but does love when I add in wasabi and mustard. She scoffs at fluffy supermarket bread suffocating in plastic yet loves the jalapeño-cheddar loaf from an old-school bakery in our neighborhood. She loathes the supermarket birthday cakes served at kids’ parties but begs me to make cardamom cake.

I love that she loves spices as much as I do.

Sabrina enjoys blending flour with baking soda, salt, and spices for the cakes we make together. She adds spices to the homemade tomato sauce we make for pizza, enjoying blending oregano, basil, and the Italian salt we bought in London. She loves Sriracha, cardamom, harissa, chipotle pepper flakes, ancho chilies, and chai tea made with tea leaves, fresh ginger, and spices.

What’s made her like spices? I’m not sure exactly, but more than likely it’s because I’ve brought her into the kitchen with me – and to the farmer’s markets, spice stores, tea shops, and other specialty stores that populate New York City.

While some kids might at first feel intimidated by spices, they might like the idea of exploring with you. If you’re having trouble inspiring your kids to try something new, especially spices, then by all means start with taking them shopping with you, perhaps to a market you don’t usually frequent. They might reach for a certain spice solely because of its appearance, but I believe that cooking is a visual process at first. If your child likes how a spice looks, she just might like how it tastes or at least be more apt to try it. Plus, she might become a more adventurous eater, and even be interested in the world behind the spices.

Have your child pick out vegetables at the farmer’s market to pair with some spices. Choose noodles and a few bundles of unique greens in an Asian market to make a spice-filled noodle soup or stir fry. Peruse the aisles of an Indian spice market and take home something new. Then, most importantly, invite him to cook with you. Pull up a stool, hand him a whisk, a spatula, or a large wooden spoon (no sharp knives until he’s older).

While it’s true that some children won’t try new things, others might…especially if you’ve included them in the entire dinner-making process.

Here are five spices to get you going:

Cardamom

As I mentioned above, the only cake my daughter will eat is a cardamom pound cake. There is a recipe for coffee-cardamom pound cake in my cookbook, but you can omit the coffee while still adding in the cardamom. You can add a small amount at first to get them acclimated.

You can also make snickerdoodles and, instead of rolling them in the classic combination of cinnamon and sugar, replace the cinnamon with cardamom. Trust me, you’ll be taking these to the next school bake sale.

Chinese 5-Spice

Another dish to make for some spice-filled inspiration is roasted chicken, a pleasant canvas for many spices and flavors. In The NYC Kitchen I’ve covered the chicken with a spice well-known in Asian cuisine: Chinese 5-spice, a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. If they’re just not into the Chinese 5-spice, you can remove the skin for them.

Herbes de Provence

This savory blend comprised of a variety of French herbs (it can differ from blend to blend), including marjoram, savory, thyme, basil, lavender, parsley, oregano, tarragon, and bay powder with the rosemary and fennel. This blend is a more mild way to introduce your kids to spices and herbs. It’s less robust that the Chinese 5-Spice or Smoked Paprika. Add some to roasted chicken, sprinkle onto vegetables before roasting (carrots, potatoes, or zucchini, for example), or dust some onto salmon before baking.

Smoked Paprika

One night I declared, “We having breakfast for dinner.”

Little did my daughter know it would be a tangy, spicy, egg-y Mediterranean dish made with smoked paprika and sprinkled with fresh herbs, but she was game. I picked up a loaf of ciabatta and, instead of dipping it into the shakshouka as many do when eating this dish for brunch, Sabrina made a sandwich out of it and smiled at how much she liked it.

I’d like to inspire other parents to try this. Shakshouka is one of those versatile dishes that you can mix and match according to your taste buds. Add some sweet Italian sausage, omit the smoked paprika if it’s not to your taste, and instead add fresh basil, making it more Italian. Or add chorizo and some red peppers – with some beans, perhaps – to give it more zip and heft. Shakshouka is a humble dish to inspire your taste buds, so experiment and see what you and your children like.

Za’atar

This Middle Eastern spice blend is a generally mix of thyme, oregano, marjoram, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac (another spice I recommend trying). It’s most well-known for serving on baked pita bread and sprinkled on top of dips (like a yogurt-based dip). I also love adding a few tablespoons to a vegetable soup, tossing with olive oil in a salad comprised of Mediterranean ingredients, and spreading some on top of roasted fish. I think you’ll love its versatility. It’s also mild enough that kids will love it, too.

Instead of just making your kids dinner, invite them in to the kitchen to help out. They might like mixing, tasting, blending (Sabrina loves using the old fashioned mortar and pestle to crush spices), and ultimately tasting what they’ve helped you make. There be some extra cleaning involved, but it’ll be worth it. Picking out spices and adding them to your recipes will help your child feel good about food and what she’s eating – and make her more apt to try new spices.

Play This Spooktacular Orchestral Soundtrack for Your Kids This Halloween

There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween.

Every Halloween, my Dad would play this spooky piece of music while we were busy carving pumpkins. I never knew the name of this piece until I was older and studying music history at university. Turns out, it’s an orchestral piece called “In the Hall of the Mountain King” composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875. It’s dreamy fantasy music that evokes images of marching goblins and trolls and my sisters and I would dance around in our devil costumes with our jack-o-lanterns.
Years later, I inherited my Dad’s LP record collection and I now play Halloween music for my kids as well as other orchestral pieces found in his extensive collection. There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween. Make this Halloween extra fun and spooky by including symphonic music selections as well as the popular Halloween standards when trick-or-treaters arrive on your doorstep. Here is a list of orchestral pieces to get you spooked:

1 | “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas

Paul Dukas was a French composer who composed this dazzling orchestral work in 1897. It became popular through its inclusion in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice. The music conjures up images of magic spells, wizardry, and dancing brooms. The pizzicato broomstick theme on the clarinets gives the music a marching rhythm. The final bars of the piece finish with a calm and mysterious tempo before the rush to the cadence and the final loud chord. Encourage your kids to draw or paint a picture while they are listening to this imaginative music.

2 | “Danse Macabre, Op. 40” by Camille Saint-Saens

Danse Macabre is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The composition is based upon a poem about an ancient superstition wherein the Grim Reaper appears at midnight on Halloween night. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance until the break of dawn, when they must return to their graves. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note 12 times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the eerie melody played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. The piece is energetic with strong dynamics. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves. The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Lots of fun at a Halloween dance party!

3 | “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens

Camille Saint-Saens also wrote a humorous orchestral suite, which is wonderful music to play at Halloween for young children. “Carnival of the Animals” is a suite of 14 movements and each movement represents an animal. For example, there is the “Royal March of the Lion,” “The Kangaroo,” “The Elephant,” and “The Swan.” The most famous movement is “The Aquarium,” which is musically rich with a mysterious and ominous melody. Encourage your trick-or-treaters to wear animal costumes and move and dance to the music, pretending to be the animals.

4 | “Totentanz” by Franz Listz

Liszt loved to flirt with death. The great Romantic was obsessed with all things macabre and diabolical, themes he explored in many of his works. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is a symphonic piece composed in 1849 for solo piano and orchestra and it is one of his most thrilling pieces. The piece opens with menacing and sweeping chords and the solo pianist must play repeated notes with diabolic and percussive intensity. There are also special sound effects in the orchestra in the “col legno battuto” section where the strings play with the wooden part of the bow and sound like rattling or clanking bones. Give your kids wooden rhythm sticks to tap to the beat at the “col legno” section.
Symphonic music is an enjoyable and wonderful way to spend time with your family at Halloween or at any time of the year. By taking the time to explore symphonic music, you will be expanding your child’s imagination and inner sense of creativity. Happy Halloween!

12 Books that Reflect the Diversity of the World Around Us

I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help.

We know eating a variety of foods is healthy. Now that I have three children with various repetitive eating preferences, I often reassure myself with a classic tidbit of advice often delivered by pediatricians: Worry more about what your child eats over the course of a week than in a given day.

This principle is a helpful frame of reference in other aspects of parenting, too. What if you applied this concept to your children’s reading lives? How diverse is their weekly book diet?

In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop, professor at Ohio State University, penned what would become an iconic essay in the world of children’s literature titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” In short, she argued that books reflect readers’ own lives and give glimpses into others’. Bishop warned how imbalances can warp children’s perceptions of the world. A predominance of mirrors makes it seem as though the whole world is the same. Exposure to only windows can leave a child wondering, “But what about me?”

One of the many unearned privileges of being a white family is that “mirror” books aren’t hard for us to find. If you’re a parent to a child of color, though, you’ve probably already thought about “the apartheid of children’s literature.” The good news is that there have been major initiatives in recent years to encourage more diversity in children’s books. Data shows 22 percent of children’s books published in 2016 as being about children of color or First/Native Nations. This figure is an improvement from the 13 percent noted at the start of data collection in 2002, but it still doesn’t come close to aligning with US population statistics.

I began thinking more about diverse books when we moved from San Jose, California, where we were regularly in the minority at the playground, to a small town in Maine. We love where we live – the view from our actual window is gorgeous – but I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help. These questions helped me stay tuned into balancing our family reading diet:

Do some of the books we read feature characters of color having everyday experiences?

I’m not talking about books about slavery and civil rights, although those are important titles too. Decades ago, books like “The Snowy Day” and “Corduroy” were unusual in that they showed children of color doing regular things like playing outside and shopping. Luckily, more such titles are hitting the shelves each year. Sometimes my kids bring up a character’s appearance or ethnicity, but mostly, we just enjoy the stories. Some of our family favorites include:

OverandUnderthePond

Over and Under the Pond

by Kate Messner

This story tells about a mom and son spending a peaceful day canoeing near their home. The descriptions of wildlife appeal to my kids and the nonfiction information at the end helps answer their questions.


MarisonMcDonald

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la Fiesta Sin Igual

by Monica Brown

Proud, Peruvian-Scottish-American Marisol is just about the most lovable children’s book character out there. She likes so many things that she can’t decide what kind of birthday party to have. She ends up doing it her way, as a soccer-playing pirate unicorn in purple high tops. The icing on the cake is a surprise Skype call from her grandmother in Peru.


JabariJumps

Jabari Jumps

by Gaia Cornwall

My kids are always amazed that Jabari wants to jump off such a high diving board at the local pool. Jabari makes the dive and the family celebration is priceless.


SparkleBoy

Sparkle Boy

by Leslea Newman

This is the perfect story for my son, who loves glitter and pink. Casey begs his parents and Abuelita to let him wear a skirt, sparkly nail polish, and jewelry. They agree, and when he’s teased at the library, his sister comes to his defense.   


NotNorman

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

by Kelly Bennett

When a boy gets a goldfish for his birthday, he makes big plans to trade him for a more exciting pet. Before he can make it to the pet store, though, sweet little Norman proves himself to be a faithful companion.


ShoppingwithDad

Shopping With Dad

by Matt Harvey

A dad takes his daughter grocery shopping while Mom stays home to work, subtly bucking traditional gender roles. The errand turns into a hilarious adventure when the little girl sneezes and sets off a chain of events that upsets an entire display. Books about biracial families can be hard to find, so that adds to the appeal of this title.


Do some of the books we read broaden my children’s views of the world?

Of course, the books that broaden your kids’ perspectives will depend on your actual perspective. My family knows a lot about winter weather and lobsters, but not as much about city buses and chopsticks. These titles give us the chance to talk about the world beyond our little corner:

Beebimbop

Bee-bim Bop!

by Linda Sue Park

The catchy rhyming text describes how a family prepares and eats a traditional Korean meal. My kids love to join in when we read it and the recipe in the back even inspired them to request bee-bim bop for dinner.


OneGreenApple

One Green Apple

by Eve Bunting

Farah, a new immigrant, navigates a school field trip to an apple orchard. Eve Bunting sensitively portrays her cultural confusion and limited English, and the immediate kindness displayed by her classmates is touching.


Laststoponmaple

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Pena

This title is deservingly well decorated with awards. CJ and his grandmother ride the city bus route to help out at a soup kitchen. CJ – with all his complaining – is relatable, and the story gives us so much to talk about.


Thestoryilltell

The Story I’ll Tell

by Nancy Tupper Ling

We’re expecting our fourth child, so my older kids are well-versed in the arrival of babies. This mother’s bedtime story about her child’s adoption from China captivates them, though, and initiates conversations about the many ways families are made.


Rainbowweaver

Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Acoiris

by Linda Elovitz Marshall

In her village in the mountains of Guatemala, Ixchel wants to weave like her mother. Thread is at a premium, so she has to improvise. She ends up twisting up colorful plastic bags, cleaning up her village in the process. This fascinating story – with its factual roots – offers a new viewpoint for everyone in our family.


Thisishowwedoit

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

by Matt Lamothe

This book shares details of the lives of children in Italy, Japan, Peru, Uganda, Russia, India, and Iran, from what they eat for breakfast to what they play after school. It isn’t a new book concept, but this one is thoughtfully done. Whether we read just a few pages or the whole book, we all appreciate the diversity and the common connections.

Need more ideas for your family reading menu? Check out the following lists of diverse titles, including suggestions for older children: Where to Find Diverse Books from We Need Diverse Books and Books With Characters of Color from Commonsense Media.

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What You Need to Know About Protecting Your Kid From Identity Theft

With their squeaky-clean credit histories, our children’s data are the crown jewels to identity thieves.

It’s a standing joke that in the first week of school, parents have more homework than kids. One form our schools have always sent home is the permission slip for releasing directory information. Like me, perhaps you thought checking “no” and signing it was enough to keep your kids’ information safe. The sad truth is that most schools are under-equipped to keep our children’s data secure. After all, if big financial companies employing the latest in cybersecurity can’t keep our information safe, why should underfunded schools with out-of-date technology?
That should concern parents, because children are especially vulnerable to identity theft. With their squeaky-clean credit histories, our children’s data are the crown jewels to identity thieves. And the consequences aren’t pretty: identity thieves can use the data in multiple ways, like opening credit cards, obtaining government benefits and health care, using Social Security numbers to obtain identification for employment, applying for loans, and more. Once done, they can then sell it to other criminals.
Often, stolen identities are not discovered until it’s time for your teen to apply for an education loan or their first credit card. It can take years to repair damaged credit, and that can hamper your child’s ability to rent an apartment, apply for a loan, or even get a job. “Your credit touches virtually everything,” says John Sileo, a cybersecurity expert with The Sileo Group who has personally battled identity theft.
The New York Times, NBC News, and other outlets have reported that children as young as one-week-old have had their identities stolen. One young person who posted in an online forum for renting apartments in New York City expressed frustration with being unable to rent a place because his identity had been stolen as a teen.

A troubling trend

According to a Carnegie Mellon report, there were 11.7 million reported cases of identity theft in 2008. Researchers in the study looked at over 42,000 identity scans of children 18 and under and found that 10.2 percent had had Social Security numbers stolen – a rate that’s 51 times higher than the rate of adults who experienced the same theft.
Experts say it’s just going to get worse.
One mother I spoke to found out that all three of her children’s identities had been stolen when a pharmacy called to verify a prescription. It took her more than a year to resolve, and she ended up putting credit freezes on all her children’s files. This happened over 10 years ago. “Had it happened now, I think the repercussions would have been much, much worse for my kids,” says the mother, who wished to remain anonymous.
With more data than ever being digitized and more thieves and hackers trolling for vulnerabilities “it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Rachael Stickland, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, an organization that advocates for stricter regulations to safeguard children’s data.
Just this month, the U.S. Department of Education issued a warning that many school districts have been targeted for extortion and threatened with the release of student data. Higher education is also vulnerable. Stickland says that colleges and universities report upwards of 4,000 attacks of ransomware a day.
In addition to inadequate protections at institutions, experts say there simply are not enough regulations in place that keep companies from selling children’s information. While FERPA supposedly protects this information, in 2012 many parents became aware of loopholes when the company inBloom, funded by the Gates Foundation, was able to set up service contracts with schools that accessed student information without parental permission. While the company closed after many states passed laws preventing any outside vendor from aggregating student data, it exposed the inadequacies in the system. The CEO of inBloom defended their database, saying that it was up to the schools to upload the data and that parental concern was really a misunderstanding.

An ounce of prevention

What it comes down to is that parents are left with little recourse to protect their children, but there are some things we can do. Educating ourselves is the first step, says both Sileo and Stickland. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy provides a free downloadable toolkit that explains what data is collected, how it’s used, and how you can protect your children.
Parents also need to talk to their kids and make sure they know what to share and not share. “Educating kids often gets passed over,” says Sileo. Stickland recommends that parents frequently remind their kids about what they should and shouldn’t be sharing on social media.
Be sure to safeguard your child’s information by shredding documents that contain data. Ask schools and other groups that keep information where it’s stored and how it’s kept private. Only give out information that’s necessary to people you trust.
Some cases of identity theft are actually perpetrated by parents, guardians, and other adults who know the child. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests safeguarding your child’s information from anyone who may find it tempting to steal your child’s identity because they’ve been turned down for benefits or credit.
The FTC also recommends checking your children’s credit reports before they turn 16 so there’s time to address issues before starting the college search process and applying for jobs. You can request a free credit report annually for both yourself and your family members through annualcreditreport.com. Through this service, you can obtain free credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (There is a charge if you want to check it more than annually.)
You may find that there is no report on file for your child. Sileo recommends not doing anything until there’s actually a report, then freezing it. However, freezing your child’s credit report can be time-consuming and comes with its own challenges. It often requires you sharing the information you’re trying to keep private, like copies of birth certificates and Social Security numbers.
Many parents and advocates would like an easier process for freezing a child’s credit report. A number of states have passed legislation requiring credit bureaus to work with parents to freeze their children’s credit files. On the federal level, Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin has introduced legislation to allow parents and guardians to create a protected, frozen credit file for their children.
“We’re in a surveillance culture. What happens with our data could have a lasting impact,” says Stickland. “I think it should be a consumer right that your credit should be protected by default.”

Warning signs that your child’s credit may be compromised

  • Rejection for government benefits
  • IRS notices about taxes in your child’s name
  • Collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t buy
  • Claims for medical treatment that they didn’t receive
  • Multiple credit card offers

For more information

Every Mother Deserves a Doula: The Benefits of a Supported BIrth

Supported birth is not just a luxury – it is a complete and utter necessity.

I’m 24-years-old, lying flat on my back in a stiff hospital bed. I’ve been forced here by a nurse who told me that regardless of what my doctor had said, “it’s hospital policy.” I’m entangled in wires, attached to monitors. Gray machines are beeping at me. I’m growing more uncomfortable, being held like a hostage in my own body, and I haven’t even begun to feel the force of my contractions.
“Am I having one now?” I ask naively, when a gentle tightening comes across my belly.
The nurse shifts her gaze to the screen next to the bedside.
“Yeah. You’re having one.”
Within a few hours, being on my back is unbearable. I’m twisting and turning, tying myself in knots. I am not being pounded with one contraction after the next, like I anticipated. I am in constant, unrelenting agony. I am blindsided by it and at a loss for how to manage it.
I sense everyone is angry with me for thrashing wildly, tearing at the bed sheets. But I don’t care because I’m angrier. I’m thinking of the time I spent reading pregnancy books that emphasized how important it was to move during labor, how birthing on your back could make for a longer, more difficult delivery, how your pelvis can’t open when you’re laying flat, and how the risk for cesarean birth increases. I did my research, and here I am, suffering at the hands of someone else’s ignorance. Someone who should know better.
My daughter finally emerges, in the early morning, but not before a doctor picks up a knife a slices me from underneath without warning. I almost yell out “Don’t!” I want to command him, but something, a fear of authority perhaps, holds me back. I don’t yet realize that it will be months before I can sit down without wincing, that my nerves have suffered permanent damage from his deep cut.

The advocate I wish I had

It’s been eight years since my first birth, but I’ll never forget how it felt to be so utterly unsupported on one of the most important days of my life. Yes, my then-partner, now-husband held my leg and said encouraging words. But he’d never attended a birth before. How should he know how to offer labor support? Everyone made it out alive, yes. Is this the only standard by which we measure the experience of giving birth? Escaping death?
No one had seemed to care about my choices, my feelings about my body or my baby, or what my recovery would look like as a result of how my body would be manipulated. There had been no one in the room to help me manage my pain, or to be my advocate when policies that lead to riskier birth were forced upon me. From laboring in bed to the episiotomy I received (a procedure that hasn’t been routinely recommended in over a decade), most of what happened during my first birth wasn’t evidence-based. I knew it at the time, but advocating for yourself while you’re in the throes of labor is practically impossible.
It would be years before I would become pregnant again. When I did, I learned there was a profession called a “doula,” a designated person who provides non-medical support during labor and delivery and in the immediate postpartum. I learned that doulas have the power to drastically improve labor outcomes, from decreasing the rate of cesarean birth by a landslide, to making sure women feel supported, empowered, and comforted during delivery.
Personally, a doula could’ve helped me to achieve an evidence-based birth, rather than one that felt convenient for everyone in the room, but torture for me. A doula could’ve saved me from hours of back labor (the most excruciating pain of my life) by letting me know I had the right to informed refusal (as any patient, even a mother in labor, does). A doula could’ve helped my partner be a better support, or spoken up to hospital staff if medical treatments I didn’t want were being pushed upon me.
A doula could’ve been the light when everything seemed dark and terrifying.

The case for doulas

There is no denying that giving birth in the US has become astonishingly dangerous. From having the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, to high rates of unnecessary interventions, to women experiencing birth trauma (PTSD-like symptoms post-delivery), supported birth is not just a luxury – it is a complete and utter necessity. Where you give birth is now the biggest predictor of what kind of birth you will have, and your care provider’s preferences and bad hospital policies dictate outcomes, rather than science.
Why shouldn’t they? A traumatic birth can lead to greater cases of postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Not to mention, the day a woman becomes a mother is a day she will likely remember for the rest of her life. Only too many of us don’t want to.
Women shouldn’t have to learn the hard way that when it comes to giving birth they need to arm themselves with an experienced person whose sole job is to support her, because often times no one else is (or even knows how). It’s why every single pregnant woman deserves a birth doula. It’s why they should be accessible and covered by insurance without question. And because black women are more likely to die in labor than white women, we especially need to make sure women of color have access to doulas, too.
Research also shows that women’s feelings about their births have more to do with labor support and having choices than specific details about the birth. So doulas shouldn’t be brought on board for one specific type of birth. Rather, they should be a standard for every birth. Whether a home birth, a hospital birth, a planned cesarean, or a VBAC, making doulas the new norm can make women feel comforted and supported no matter what type of birth they plan on having – or end up having.
Regardless of positive outcomes demonstrating the importance of labor support, mothers-to-be are routinely subject to messages that tell them that their choices about their own bodies aren’t important. They are told if they plan for their birth at all they will be mocked by the care provider. The narrative of calling women “controlling” or “unreasonable” for wanting to make choices about their own bodies might be centuries old, but it’s certainly not gone. We hear it all the time, and yes – some providers still hold onto the paternalistic attitude that tells women to lay down and be quiet. We should be pushing back against this harmful narrative, not accepting it so easily. These are our births, our bodies, and our babies, after all.
Supported birth is not our normal. We don’t see it or hear about it often enough. And while hospitals and care providers need better policies, training, and an attitude that seeks to protect women’s choices, we still have far to go. Too often, birthing women don’t receive the care they expect. Labor support can help bridge that gap for every birthing person and every type of birth, too.

Who Decides What Makes a Toy "Safe"?

Last spring, Target recalled over a half-million water-absorbing toys, including Hatch and Grow Easter Eggs.

The story was one of those rare political unifiers. Commenters on Fox News’ coverage were indistinguishable from CNN’s, with the majority of respondents chiding kids without the “common sense” to avoid eating toys or blaming parents for not watching their young children closely enough. Many noted that the recall was overkill because no children had been harmed.

The egg case reflects a surprising problem facing today’s parents: toys are now so safe that we tend not to take safety warnings seriously. By many metrics, kids’ products are safer than ever. However, parents need to remain vigilant, especially in light of a current vacancy at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The “Year of the Recall”

Just 10 years ago, toy safety was consistently making headlines. Consumer Reports dubbed 2007 the “Year of the Recall” after news coverage demonstrated the various barriers to toy safety.

In May of that year, the Chicago Tribune ran a pair of stories about the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s failure to act upon warnings about Magnetix toys, specifically, the super-strong magnets that, when swallowed, tended to rip through children’s intestines. The first part of that series focused on the gutting of the CPSC over the previous two decades. Its budget at the time was so small that one congressional aide interviewed for the piece called it a “rounding error.”

The second part of the series emphasized problems resulting from the Toy Industry Association’s role in setting voluntary safety testing standards. The Tribune’s coverage later received a Pulitzer Prize.

In June, the New York Times focused on China, which was implicated in many many of 2007’s product recalls, including a recall of 1.5 million Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway toys due to lead in the surface paint. According to that reporting, the CPSC’s staff had recently been cut by 10 percent, making it more difficult for the agency to inspect imported toys.

In August, an article published in the journal Injury Prevention revealed that many recalled items were still being sold online. The researchers randomly selected 141 items recalled by the CPSC and searched auctions for those items. During a 30-day period, the researchers identified 190 auctions with a recalled or “probably recalled” item. (“Probably recalled” referred to items with a matching product description and/or image, but without the additional confirmation of a model number.) 69 percent of the auctions resulted in a sale.

In December, NPR’s investigations showed that even when manufacturers issued a toy recall, the toys still posed danger, because very few were returned to companies. Many toy recalls were based on lead contamination. When parents responded to these recalls by throwing toys in the trash, they merely sent the hazard to a new location.

Improvements to toy safety

In response to these toy safety concerns, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act by a vote of 407-0 in December 2017. The CPSIA passed the Senate in March 2008. The bill drastically increased both funding and staffing for the CPSC.

The CPSIA restricts the amount of lead and phthalates allowable in children’s products. The law mandates third-party testing of children’s products. The law also requires permanent tracking information to be placed on all children’s products.

Since the passage of the CPSIA, there are drastically fewer recalls because toys are safer from the start. The large increases in CPSC staff have meant that more dangerous toys are discovered before they ever make it to market. In 2011, the CPSC established a Beijing office, which allows it to educate and inspect toy manufacturers. The CPSC examines 8,000 shipments each year to ensure products are safe before they make it to stores.

Due to higher standards, when toys are recalled, the health risks posed are often less serious than toy recalls from the previous decade. In 2007, the CPSC issued 172 toy recalls, 19 of which were for lead-contaminated toys. In 2016, the CPSC issued only 24 toy recalls, one of which was lead-related. The toy in question was a glockenspiel, for a recall of 150 units with one contaminated paint color.

The new regulations also mean that more recalled toys are being removed from circulation. The CPSIA applies to all sellers, from toy industry giants to online retailers to flea market vendors to garage sales.

U.S. online retailers have clear policies about recalled products. In its recalled items policy, Ebay makes clear that sellers are legally prohibited from selling recalled items. Amazon includes similar language for its third-party sellers.

Sellers who list products that had been under recall often do a thorough job explaining why the items are available for sale. A listing for the Thomas & Friends Yellow Box Car, which was included in the 2007 recall described in the above New York Times report, includes a disclaimer about the product along with its lead-free paint codes. A Fire Brigade train from that same recall indicates that the item being sold is a replacement item from that recall. However, no system is perfect. Multiple listings for the Old Slow Coach suggest that at least one of those recalled Thomas trains may still be available for purchase from Chinese sellers.

The CPSIA allowed for better consumer notification systems, including registration cards for cribs and other large products. Combined with recalls.gov, a registry for all recalled products in the U.S, these measures have improved the return rate for recalled items.

In 2007, Mattel reported that only six percent of its recalled toys were returned. In September of this year, CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle reported that the CPSC has a 65 percent return effectiveness rate. That rate applies to all of the 15,000 products overseen by the CPSC. Toy companies and toy sellers contacted for this article declined to provide data on their recall return rates.

An emerging safety concern

Parents’ current responses to toy recalls make sense because current regulation has made toys impressively safe. But while we’re not paying attention, toys – as well as the other 15,000 products monitored by the CPSC – are poised to become more dangerous.

On January 30, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, which included his demand that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.”

The EO prompted a response from the CPSC’s then-chairman Elliot Kaye. Although executive orders do not apply to independent agencies, Kaye’s practice at the CPSC was “to follow in spirit EOs that advance sound public policy and do not conflict with our critical public health and safety mission.” Kaye voiced his strong disagreement with this EO, which he claimed “would cruelly and unfairly have us pit vulnerable populations against each other when it comes to making safety decisions.”

In keeping with many political appointees at the start of the new administration, Kaye resigned his chairmanship on February 9.

President Trump has nominated Dana Biaocco to be the new CPSC chairman. Biaocco’s appointment is concerning because of her role defending companies in consumer safety lawsuits.

One notable item on Biaocco’s resume is her work with Mattel in defending itself against toy safety lawsuits. Her track record defending large corporations against safety complaints makes her a unique candidate to lead a government association designed to protect consumers from safety hazards. As the Daily News puts it, “Baiocco appears to join the list of Trump nominees who built careers doing the exact opposite of what their federal government role will entail.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the CPSC focused on how the Reagan administration paved the way for deregulation and inattention that resulted in the preventable deaths of children. Although toys seem safe to us now, parents have a responsibility to follow the CPSC’s new direction closely to ensure that 2007 does not repeat itself.

What Harry Potter Teaches Us About Mindfulness

Relate the strategies and techniques of mindfulness to the perennial favorite, “Harry Potter,” and you’ve got a whole new set of tools.

I’m a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with children and young people. My patients come to me seeking help for prevalent mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression. I’m also a mum and a huge Harry Potter fan!

The struggle is real when it comes to explaining a concept like mindfulness to young children, and often to parents too. It may seem too abstract, too complicated, or too “hippy-dippy” to be effective in their lives with their very real and present problems – you know, the ones they came in to get actual, realistic help with? Uttering the words “meditation” or “mindfulness” is a quick way to see glazed-over kiddie eyes, and a flash of disappointment cross the parents’ faces while they mentally scroll the yellow pages for someone who is going to provide “an actual fix” for the presenting issue.

Perhaps part of the issue is the way we are communicating what mindfulness is, and the profession’s own difficulty in describing it. Another issue is that mindfulness has become such a trend in pop psychology (think coloring books) that it’s not deemed serious or academic enough to help in any real way.

I do think that as far as treatment plans go, mindfulness-related strategies hold the potential to help kids with a myriad of concerns, whether they be clinical presentations or simply as a way to live in a more positive, engaged way.

A simple way to explain mindfulness is to notice what’s happening right now. Notice what your body is doing. Notice what your mind is doing. Be present in the moment. It’s about paying attention in a specific way, on purpose.

This is not often a concept that reads well with young kids. But in re-reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time (I’m not proud of the number), I began to notice some parallels between the Harry Potter stories and mindfulness strategies. I started to think about ways to explain mindfulness to kids using Harry Potter language (provided they’ve either read the books or watched the movies).

The following parts of the series do, I believe, teach us something about mindfulness strategies and techniques. There are so many strategies relating to mindfulness that it would be impossible to cover them all in one post, so I’m going to write about some of my favorites (and most effective, based on my own clinical population).

Contentment and gratitude

When Harry stumbles across an ornate, ancient mirror, the Mirror of Erised, on one of his nightly wanderings through Hogwarts, he sees an image of himself surrounded by both of his parents, smiling, happy, and most importantly, alive. For Harry, whose parents are both gone, this was a stunningly emotional moment. He tells his friend Ron to have a look and see his own family, but Ron sees himself as head boy and winning the Quiddich Cup. Confused, Harry comes to realize that the mirror reflects one’s deepest desires. Ron, who is constantly surrounded by his large family, deeply desires to stand out and achieve as his own person even more than his high-achieving brothers. Harry, who’s already famous, just wants his parents back.

Later, Professor Dumbledore confides in Harry that the most well-adjusted, content person would simply see an image of herself, as she is today, with no embellishments. What does this mean?

We spend the majority of our waking moments awash in thoughts of “What if” or “If only.” Regret, envy, and discontent follow us through our days, rendering us stuck and blind to the present moments that we are told to “cherish.” We’re not cherishing them, are we?

An important component of mindfulness is to be aware when our thoughts are going down these tracks, to stop and ask ourselves what are some things we are grateful for, to remind ourselves that the big and the small things matter. People find journaling a beneficial way to do this. Listing five things we are grateful for each day is a good place to start. Gratefulness leads to contentment when we see that our grass is just as green as the grass next door, we just have to water it! Think of thoughts as seeds, the ones we “water” (pay attention to) are the ones that grow. Water gratefulness!

Defusion techniques

Russ Harris, author of “The Happiness Trap,” talks about defusion as a way to detach or step back from our thoughts. The kids in Harry Potter learn to do this with the help of Professor Lupin and his Boggart, a dark, immortal, non-being who shape-shifts to take on the appearance of the darkest fear of whomever is closest to it.

As an example: Ron, Harry’s friend who is deathly afraid of spiders, gets confronted with the Boggart, which becomes a spider. His challenge is to picture the spider in a funny way, using humur as his weapon. He pictures it with roller-skates on and the Boggart changes into a clumsy object of fun. When Ron laughs, the fear is banished and the Boggart leaves him alone.

When our kids are learning to “defuse” from their thoughts, they can be taught to look at their fears from a distance. Their thoughts about their object of fear are not necessarily the truth, more a story that they are telling themselves. If they can look at the fear in another way (say wearing roller-skates), the story can change and their fear can shift. “The Happiness Trap” has some really good techniques for learning the skill of defusion. In the meantime, an effective question to ask is, “What are some other ways of looking at that?”

Mindfulness meditation

The Dementors are dark creatures who suck out your soul through your mouth. (Yes, this is a kid’s series, but when I write it like that it does seem a bit morbid.) In the Harry Potter series, Dementors bring about a sense of fear and hopelessness, much like the experience of someone going through anxiety or depression. After encountering a Dementor, one feels better by eating chocolate. I like this idea.

Practitioners who utilize mindfulness techniques teach us about “mindfulness meditation,” which focuses our whole attention on our sensory experiences. It may be leaving a piece of chocolate (yum!) or a raisin (less interesting but okay) in our mouths, and focusing our attention on that for a window of time, noting the taste, feeling, sensation, and so on. When our intrusive, worried “what-if” or hopeless “if-only” feelings come in (our Dementor thoughts), we are not to judge or pay attention to them (don’t water them!), but to let them pass us by, bringing our attention back to the piece of chocolate instead. People also do this by focusing on their breathing, but chocolate is yummier than air.

In starting to write this piece, I’m thinking of more and more examples of mindfulness in Harry Potter. I could go on all day! This is just a taste of the types of things mindfulness encompasses (besides coloring books!). It is really worth looking into, for both us parents and our kids. And Harry Potter provides a really good way to explain the concepts to them. Perhaps a good place to start is by reading a book about mindfulness (I recommend “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris) and then reading or watching (or re-reading or re-watching) Harry Potter with your kids. Mindfulness is truly a ground-breaking way to live in the moment and learn to let go of intrusive and unwanted thinking patterns.

As Dumbledore would say, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times…if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Beyond "I Spy," Books That Keep Kids Busy for Hours

Kids can get lost for hours in books that provide a full interactive experience like guessing games, search-and-find, or mazes and puzzles.

The bestselling “I Spy” series has sold over 24 million copies worldwide, and for good reason. Kids can get lost for hours in books that provide a full interactive experience like guessing games, search-and-find, or mazes and puzzles. Some books take children beyond the basics while still presenting a wealth of opportunities for education and learning.

I spy with my little eye… more books like “I Spy!” Here are eight books guaranteed to send readers on inquisitive and challenging adventures.

  WhosHiding

Who’s Hiding?”

by Satoru Onishi

Perfect for preschoolers, “Who’s Hiding?” pulls little readers into a world of where is it and what is it. They’ll answer fun yet simple questions like “Who’s hiding?” “Who’s crying?” and “Who’s backwards?” while looking for 18 fun-loving animals spread across the pages.

“This is a clever puzzle book for caregivers and young children to share and to learn animals, colors, concepts. A solid choice for most picture-book collections,” says School Library Journal.


Look! A Book!”

by Bob Staake

Young children will relish this seek-and-find adventure with die-cuts and objects hidden on every page. From underwater worlds to haunted houses to tree-top towns, there are endless details for readers to search for and discover. Poems reveal clues for uncovering dinosaurs, flying saucers, robots, and more. The book ends with a rhyme and a foldout page that ask readers to start all over again.


WhatsDifferent

What’s Different?”

by Fran Newman-D’Amico

This fun book features 27 sets of brain teasers that ask children to identify the differences between two similar pictures. What’s different in the backyard? What’s different about the butterflies? Discovering how the pictures are unlike one another will delight kids for hours. Once they’ve solved the riddle, they can color the pictures too.


Labyrinth

Labyrinth

by Theo Guignard

This gorgeously designed maze book for children and adults alike asks the reader to trace a way through 14 different mazes while finding a variety of objects in various worlds. Jump to the future, explore an environment made of plants, or wind your way up a skyscraper.

“With seductively colorful and madcap graphics inviting fingers to trace routes along the page, this is a perfect bridge between book and video game,” writes The Guardian.


 LateralThinking

Lateral Thinking Puzzlers

by Paul Sloane

This challenging book proclaims, “Logic is not enough!” To unravel a lateral puzzle, you need to think outside of the box. These classic brain teasers range from easy to extremely difficult, offering a puzzle for every mind and age range. Can your child figure out these problems from only the vaguest details and yes-or-no questions? Can you?


SpottheDifferences

Spot-the-Difference Masterpieces

by Puzzlewright Press

Many famous works of art contain hidden messages, meanings, and pictures. “Spot-the-Difference Masterpieces” lets the reader journey through time to explore some of the greatest artwork ever created as they find the differences between two images. These 40 fine-art puzzles, from Renaissance Florence to Dutch still life paintings to the Paris of the Impressionists, will dazzle the budding historian, painter, or young creative mind.


TheUltimateBookofOpticalIllusions

The Ultimate Book of Optical Illusions

by Al Seckel

When they open the pages of “The Ultimate Book of Optical Illusions,” kids will be amazed. Inside is a collection of the world’s most powerful optical illusions. They’re stunning in their trickery and beautiful in their depth and deception. Some images pop from the page, appearing to spin, move, rotate, and pulse. Most will leave diehard puzzle solvers impressed beyond belief.


WheresWaldo

Where’s Waldo?

by Martin Handford

This list would not be complete without a mention of the all-time favorite, “Where’s Waldo?” the puzzle book that sparked an entire genre. For more than 25 years, children have been trying to find cultural icon Waldo hidden in the pages of some pretty glorious illustrations. Some of us are still searching and some of us have yet to begin. Either way, this book should be a mainstay on your home library shelves.

Which books like “I Spy” would you add to this list? Share in the comments!

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If You're Lucky Enough to Have a Grandparent, Call Them

Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected as a result of their age. Making a change starts with the way we treat our grandparents.

On my grandma’s birthday this year, I called her at 6 p.m. When she didn’t pick up, I left a voice message wishing her a feliz cumpleaños and saying that I would try calling her later in the evening.
A couple hours later, my dad was on the phone with her and passed me the phone so I could wish her a happy birthday:
“Hi Abis, Happy birthday!”
“Why haven’t you called me? You said you were going to call me?”
“Well I did call you, but you didn’t pick up.”
“No, I don’t mean today, I mean before. The last time you called, you said you would call me more often.”
I didn’t know what to say. She was right, I had promised to call more often, and I hadn’t talked to her in a few months. That made me feel awful. Though she said it in more or less of a joking manner, I knew it was more than a lighthearted guilt-trip.
My grandmother on my dad’s side lives with one of her sons in Nogales, Arizona, a small town bordering Mexico. You can see the fence that divides the two countries from their backyard. My parents moved my sister and me to Boise, ID, when we were infants. Over 1,000 miles away, I only get to see my extended family once or twice a year, so phone calls are an important means of communication.
This is especially true for my paternal grandmother, who has severe arthritis and shoulder problems. She’s seen many specialists, but most days she’s in too much pain to leave her room. She has a lot of support around her, but I know how happy it makes her when she hears from her long-distance family.
Most of my family lives in Arizona and Mexico, including my other grandparents. I love them and I think of them often, but I get so caught up in my own routine that I don’t make the time to call them — though I easily could. The fact that I can make a difference in my grandma’s life and I don’t, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.
Worse, this issue goes far beyond myself and my family. Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected as a result of their age. The population of adults over 65 is currently 47.8 million and is expected to double by 2050, and the overall attitude in the USA towards senior citizens paints a negative image of them. This seeps into their work prospects and mental health. The bridge to making a positive change starts with the way we treat our parents and grandparents.

Ageism in the USA

Ageism as a societal problem in the USA affects millions of people in both obvious ways, like unnatural beauty standards, and unexpected ones, such as lower employability for those over 40. American culture is known for treating its older citizens unfairly, which has permeated its way into almost every facet of life.
Many Americans do not seem to understand that aging is a normal biological transition. This leads to unhealthy and unattainable expectations for women to achieve, like having an unwrinkled, fat-free, and flawless body; and for men to have a magical six packs and biceps that can lift two cars and a small house.
Data released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2015 illustrate the dramatic trends to make artificial improvements through plastic surgery: 1.7 million cosmetic surgical procedures were performed on females in 2015 including over 200,000 breast augmentations, liposuction, and nose reshaping procedures. In 2016, males underwent over 200,000 cosmetic surgeries, including facelifts, breast reductions, and liposuction.
The substantial number of cosmetic surgeries labeled as anti-aging procedures emphasizes the need many people feel to slow the aging process. Not surprisingly, this manifests itself in a negative portrayal of those who have entered the stage of “growing old.” Anyone 40 years old or older (and sometimes younger), can face age discrimination.
One of the most visible effects of age discrimination is negative bias when applying to jobs. Currently, baby boomers face unrelenting ageism when looking for a job. Though it is illegal for employers to favor candidates based on age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), many job seekers over the age of 40 find it difficult to find a job.

Treatment of Seniors

Of course, age discrimination only worsens the older a person gets. Seniors in society are affected by the way others treat them on a daily basis. Offhand comments like calling a senior “adorable” or speaking to an adult like you would a child harbors fundamental prejudices against older people.
This type of treatment is not only unfair, but it leads to depression. Depression in seniors is often unique as it’s commonly comprised of anhedonia, the lack of enjoyment in life, rather than sadness. Older people can feel like their life is not worth living due to poor health and can think of themselves as mere burdens to their family
While nursing homes can sometimes provide a feeling of community and belonging, they can also work to further isolate seniors in society. Studies found 40 percent of patients in nursing homes have depression, but not many will admit to it.

Our responsibility

The widespread issues with the treatment of elderly people in our culture are not acceptable. Even in our local communities, making a conscious effort to treat older people with respect is one helpful step to ending negative attitudes towards those growing old. Not only is this beneficial to those around us, but we should consider how we want to be treated when we grow old.
Though certain careers such as Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNP) are designed to eliminate age discrimination, it is important to realize the unlimited potential everyone has to ameliorate the treatment of the elderly in their own communities. This can be as simple as making eye contact with a senior, acknowledging what they say, and making an effort not to talk down to them – basically treat them like a regular person, which they are.
Making the effort to figure out even small ways to do so can seem daunting; Americans are largely defined by individualism. We grow up in a hurry to move out of the house and become independent. We want our own car, apartment, and job – and we don’t like to rely on others. We focus on our own lives and get caught up in the madness: get up, go to work, run some errands, relax however possible, go to bed, and start over. We all feel it.
However, it’s important to sometimes pause the Netflix, get off Facebook, and make an effort to reach our grandparents. When I think of mine, I think of how my maternal grandfather keeps photos of us in his wallet and says a prayer for his grandchildren every single night before he goes to sleep. I think of how my maternal grandmother sends us weekly pictures of her garden.
Most recently, I think of how my paternal grandmother always asks me to call her more often. Though it takes time to make widespread changes in society, making a difference to your loved ones can be as simple as not taking your grandparents for granted. From now on, I will make it a point to reach out to my long-distance family, especially my grandparents.
 

Rewards and Punishments Don't Intrinsically Motivate – These Things Do

Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.

Yesterday, I ventured out into the world, a few days after Hurricane Irma stormed her way through Florida and left, not only people without power, but traffic lights, too. When I approached an intersection, I felt lost and unsure because I didn’t know how to move or when it was safe to go.
Knowing the rules, and trusting that everyone else observes them in the same way, provides a sense of security and competence. Without systems like these, our efficiency, comfort, and safety become jeopardized.
Magda Gerber, an early childhood educator refers to discipline as a social contract, which, like traffic signals, provides clear expectations and predictable environments. A system of rules, procedures, and values that the community agrees to makes life easier for everyone. For this reason, Magda Gerber said, “Lack of discipline isn’t kindness, it’s neglect.”
In the beginning of the school year, we talk a lot about the rules of our classroom, which all students agree to easily because they so clearly protect the well-being of everyone and promote a productive learning environment. We practice the procedures for coming into class, leaving class, going to the bathroom, walking down the hall, and so forth because – like me at that intersection – people want to know how to be safe and successful.
By the end of the first week, my students asked, “Are we going to have dojo points? Is there a treasure box? How about Fun Friday?” I told them yes and no. I believe in acknowledging accomplishments. I believe school should be a place where children want to go and that it’s important to incorporate fun into the classroom. So yes, we will celebrate regularly as a class, and no, there won’t be points to add or subtract.
The ultimate goal of discipline is self-discipline, which must be cultivated from within. The desire for points, or the fear of losing them, diverts internal guidance and makes children more externally motivated and dependent on outside control. My job is to teach expectations, practice procedures, hold discussions about our values, set limits, give feedback, and enforce the rules. But it’s also to stay out of the way and encourage the students’ independence and autonomy.
Over the summer, I read The Daily 5, which is a framework for structuring the literacy block so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently. I was surprised how adamant the authors are on the importance of staying out of the way:

[In the beginning] we did what we thought all good elementary teachers did. As the children were practicing Read to Self and building their stamina, we went around the room to each child, quietly telling them what a wonderful job they were doing as readers. We were proud of their ability to stay focused and believed that we needed to constantly reinforce on-task behavior. The first days our students read without our hovering reinforcement, their behavior fell apart. They were up and walking around and coming to us asking what they should do. We realized we anchored their behaviors in our reactions. We realized we unwittingly taught them to rely on our reinforcement to keep them on-task. They were not the least bit independent.

What did the authors do to correct this? Review the desired behaviors daily, give the students many opportunities to model them, stop the class as soon as someone practiced incorrectly, and reflect. It’s possible to hold children to very high standards without the use of rewards and punishments.
The experience of those authors applies to independence in general. I could give out points every time a student lines up quietly or starts a task promptly. I could move a color card higher each time a child acts with kindness. But rewards only motivate people to get rewards. Being a kind, responsible, and a contributing member of a community should be a reward in its own right. If I’m not around or the rewards aren’t forthcoming, where is the motivation to do the right thing?
In her book “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” Kathryn J. Kvols writes, “Rewards can interfere with the development of a sense of self-worth. Children may interpret being rewarded to mean they don’t need to do anything until there is something in it for them…. If you rely on rewards to teach children how you want them to behave, you deny them to learn from an internal source of motivation and strength.”
I want my students to do the right thing, but not because someone is watching, and not because they are going to earn or lose something. I don’t want them to act a certain way so they can make a trip to a treasure box. I want them to realize they have the power to make choices, and that their choices contribute to their happiness. It’s not up to someone else to provide a reward or punishment for their behavior. Behavior alone does that. This empowers children.
Misbehavior is often a child’s way of expressing a need. Maybe she’s asking for a limit or communicating that she hasn’t mastered a certain skill. When we take points away or move cards, we aren’t encouraging problem solving and communication. In this environment, children are more likely to feel discouraged or even angry and hide their mistakes. I want my students to learn that mistakes are inevitable, powerful teachers.
Even when rewards systems focus on positive behaviors, they create competition and stifle creativity. Many children spend time wondering what to do to “get to blue” or why someone else earned a point instead of them. Children typically want to please us. Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.
“The question isn’t how to get children to obey,” writes Dr. Shefali Tsabary in her book “Out of Control”, “but what are the needs of the child?”
Below are 10 needs children have that I use to guide the way I run my classroom:

1 | Clear expectations that honor their age and nature

Third graders need to be social and active. For this reason, I incorporate movement and collaboration into the majority of our activities. Before we start an activity, I go over what the classroom should look and sound like while they work.

2 | A sense of control over themselves

For this reason, I offer choices within boundaries, which promotes inner discipline. For example, during Read to Self, the students may sit where they please and read material of their choosing, but they must begin right away, read the entire time, and stay in one spot.

3 | Consistency

A rule is always a rule, and it’s expected to be followed.

4 | Opportunities to practice

When I teach something, be it a skill or a procedure, I don’t just tell them what to do, I show them. I give them opportunities to practice and role play. Often, misbehavior is simply showing a lack of mastery. What’s called for in these cases is practice in the procedure or expectation, rather than guilt, shame, or punishment.

5 | Acknowledgment of their intentions

Although they require redirection, children should also have their true intentions acknowledged. For example, I might say, “Your friend is bothered because you’ve been violating his personal space. I know you’re usually very respectful, and that’s not your intention. Is there something going on?” Part of true discipline is cultivating positive self-talk in our children, not interfering with it.

6 | Chances to repair and solve

I believe in encouraging children to think through situations to come up with solutions. “What’s the problem? How can it be fixed? How can we prevent it from happening again?” Children are usually very insightful. If the problem regards a conflict between two people, we think of win-win solutions together.

7 | An understanding of why we do the things we do

It’s not about blind obedience. We do things in certain ways for important reasons, and these reasons should be communicated to create a sense of ownership over the rule or procedure.
When I go over the way we move in hallways, I explain the importance of being respectful to the people who work in the office and other classrooms. I tell them high-traffic times require us to move smoothly and in a way that allows other people to move, too. I also tell them it’s important for me to be able to give them directions in these situations. Cooperation is more likely when they understand why.

8 | Honesty

When we communicate authentically with our children, we model respect for ourselves and respect for them. From this place, we set limits that honor who we are.
We were walking to lunch recently, and the students were very chatty. It was hard for me to give them a direction. I told them, “I’m not willing to fight for your attention. Let’s go back to the room and review this procedure.” When we’re honest, we reveal parts of who we are, but not in ways that are flustered or emotional. This promotes connection and trust.

9 | Connection

I strive every day to give each of my students focused attention, even if it’s just for a moment or two. I want them to know I care about who they are and am interested in listening to them. Every child is important, and when they feel this, their need to misbehave in order to get attention decreases. I always thought, even with my own children, that cooperation is best won through closeness.

10 | True and meaningful learning experiences

Consequences for misbehavior should be respectful, reasonable, and related. For example, if a student doesn’t finish her classwork, it becomes homework. If a student makes a mess, he must clean it up. If she damages something, she must repair it. If he abuses a privilege, he loses it. If she’s off task while working in a group, she’ll work on her own. Natural and logical consequences are built in to just about every situation.
Discipline isn’t about controlling children, but teaching them to be self-responsible. Rewards and punishments are effective in gaining temporary compliance, but they don’t help kids become caring, responsible, and self-directed.
I firmly believe children don’t need to suffer to learn, and they don’t need external rewards to be motivated. They need a system that fosters respect between all community members, in which self confidence is the by product and joy is the reward of cooperation.