Homework help – how much?

I’ve noticed that almost all parents who ask “How much homework help do I offer my child” have 3 things in common.

Every year the same question comes up: How much homework help do I offer my child?

What I’ve noticed is that almost all parents who ask this question have 3 things in common:

They don’t have a strategy. (At least not a strategy that provides direction and a goal.)

– They have big fat, false fears about what will happen if their child does not turn in homework! (Stay back a grade, flunk out of college, lose scholarship opportunities, become a slacker, etc.)

– They sense this could be a growing problem, which is why they want to nip it in the bud. (They don’t like the idea of being the homework police and I don’t blame them).
The Truth is

The homework is not your problem and the only one who can learn to “fix” homework issues is your child. The teacher is who your child can turn to for homework help.

About homework help, Rick Ackerly, a 45-year veteran and thought leader in the field of Education says:

“When you care about it more than your child, it absolves the child of responsibility.”

In his post (a title inspired by the wise words of a 7 year old), Overparenting? Why Do Grownups Have to Take Over? he guides parents through various feelings and beliefs they have about homework help. He also shares a story that I believe will hit home for the majority of our readers who are still struggling with their over-parenting tendencies. In the post, he says to a couple of well-meaning parents,

Right now, (your son) doesn’t have to do any learning, because you are doing all the work. Your anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Get Vicki’s book Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids and “The Straight Talk on Parenting: A No-Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grown-Up
Click here to start following Vicki’s column on Parent Co.!

The Importance of Eating Together — The Atlantic

“The average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. It’s a pity that so many Americans are missing out on what could be meaningful time with their loved ones, but it’s even more than that. Not eating together also has quantifiably negative effects both physically and psychologically

The Importance of Eating Together — The Atlantic.

Free, fun printable comic book activities to spark kid creativity

Here are three awesome, free, printable activity guides for your  kids from First Second Books. These activities are fun, buy they’ll also spark creativity and teach your kids a bit about drawing comics.


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Download the Glorkian Warrior Activity Kit!

It’s based on the hilarious hero of graphic books and the video games based on them. Read our interview with cartoonist James Kochalka.


Adventures in Cartooning

Download the “Adventures in Cartooning” activity book!

It’s based on the book “How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics.” In this action-packed cartooning adventure, kids will have as much fun making comics as reading them. From the Center for Cartoon Studies.


gaston

Download the Official, Awesome Giants Beware Activity Kit!

Giants Beware! is a fantastic graphic novel that twists traditional fairy tale gender roles in a smart, funny way.

Learn about “The Olympians” by George O’ Connor

The best way to introduce your kids to the Greek Pantheon is via the New York Times bestselling “The Olympians” by George O’ Connor.

Modern superheroes have nothing on the original superheroes: the gods of the Greek pantheon. Likewise, even the most convoluted comic book plot can’t approach the twists and turns of the ancient Greek myths.

Unlike modern superheroes, however, the myths of the Greek gods have influenced western literature and thinking for thousands of years. Their stories live on in our poetry, literary allusions and architecture. Over millennia, they’ve morphed into powerful archetypes that underlie modern thinking and storytelling.

The best way I know of to introduce your kids to the Greek Pantheon is via the New York Times bestselling  The Olympians by George O’ Connor.

It’s a series of seven graphic novels drawn from primary documents that retell the myths of the Olympic pantheon one god at a time. Books so far include Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and Ares.

Considering their source material, many books about Greek mythology are surprisingly boring. That’s not the case with O’Connor’s books. By focusing on one god per volume, he simplifies complicated mythology into compelling stories, filled with action, romance, drama and consequences. 

These exciting stories pair perfectly with O’Connor’s powerful, bold and occasionally intense art.

From Hera: The Goddess and her Glory, Olympians (Volume 3)
From Hera: The Goddess and her Glory, Olympians (Volume 3)

These books are great for curious kids (or their teachers or homeschooling parents). At the end of every book is a bibliography recommended books and websites, and discussion questions.

Not only will readers learn more about the Greek Pantheon, they’ll learn about the real ancient Greek world that manifested them.  They’ll also learn many ancient names and words that form the basis for words we still use today (Kronos, for example).

The Olympian books are available in most libraries. If you’re going to buy them, I recommend getting the box set, which collects the first six books in paperback form. It includes a large pull-out poster of the Greek god family tree.

Visit Olympiansrule.com to preview the books and download free educational activities.

Read our interview with George O’Connor here.

 

Cartoonist George O’Connor: Bringing History to Life through Comics

 

George O’ Connor is a New York Times bestselling author of several children’s books, including Kapow, Sally and the Some-Thing, and Uncle Bigfoot. His first graphic novel, Journey Into Mohawk Country, uses the journal of 17th century Dutch trader Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert as its sole text. This journal is one of the earliest accounts of the Iroquois people in the area of what is now known as New York.

O’ Connor’s current project is The Olympians, a New York Times Bestselling series of graphic novels retelling classic Greek myths in graphic novel form. We reviewed them here.


 

Parent Co: How did you first get involved with comics?

George O’Connor: Both of my parents were very comic-friendly, so I grew up with a lot of comics in the house. There were a lot of Marvel comics and a lot of Archie, stuff like that. Comic strips were also huge in my family. We were really into Calvin and Hobbes.

Love Calvin and Hobbes! You’re working on The Olympians graphic novel series right now. What inspired you to recreate Greek myths in graphic novel format?

When I was in third grade we studied Greek mythology for the first time, and I really, really got into Greek mythology. I read everything I could find in the library that was age appropriate at that point.

I moved into other mythologies, and then when I was in about sixth grade I was home sick from school one day. My mom, as she would often do when I was sick, bought me a comic book to read. She bought me Mighty Thor by Marvel. It was during this one particular run by this guy Walt Simonson that was really very mythologically influenced, and that was one of the first comics where I was like, “Oh, check this out! This is mythology and comics all together!”

I think I drew my first comic then, which is actually a retelling of Ragnarok, the death of the Norse gods.

That’s awesome!

Some of it’s online, but I did a comic called the Thunderers, which was like Viking superheroes back in the day. But I was always more of a Greek mythology fan than Norse fan, so I eventually switched over to being a Greek mythology guy again.

The illustrations from The Olympians graphic novel series are incredible. Are you inspired by any classical art when you’re creating them, or is it all from your imagination?

I decided early on I wanted Olympians to be very…to have a lot of educational value. You’re always going to come up with something better than what you could do with just your pure imagination if you do a bit of research. I kind of like that collective knowledge of everything that came before you.

I would read immense amounts when I was starting the series, but for each book I’ll read every myth I can find. It has to be an original myth. It has to be something by somebody who was Greek or Roman, or otherwise believed in these gods. I try not to read other people’s retellings because everybody puts a spin on it.

I purposely put spins on the stories too, but I don’t want to accidentally steal somebody else’s spin. I’ll read everything. I’ll make notes about any detail they would give about the appearance of the gods in the stories, which they’re actually pretty loathe to do for the most part. It makes sense. They’re shape-shifters.

True! Good point!

I’ll build off of those descriptions. Like in my Poseidon book I think a lot of people think of Poseidon as having a fishtail, white hair, and a beard. But he doesn’t have a fishtail in any of the myths, and it’s mentioned often that he has dark hair. They say it even looks like seaweed, so my Poseidon is a young hero looking guy. He’s got seaweed hair, and he’s got eyes the color of the sea because that’s another detail they give about him.

He doesn’t have a long beard because I discovered drawing the long seaweed beard on a guy makes him look gross. He’s like a zombie one of the Duck Dynasty guys or something. Instead he just got this long seaweed mustache. He’s a proud god. He likes the way he looks. He wouldn’t have seaweed hanging off his face.

Ha! It seems a lot of your work like the Journey into Mohawk Country and the Olympians connect really well with social studies curriculum in middle schools and high schools. What role do you think graphic novels have in the classroom these days?

Man, I wouldn’t have the career I have if it weren’t for the fact that teachers have become enormously accepting of graphic novels, and librarians too. It’s amazing. When I got out of college, I went into kids’ books first because I didn’t want to spend my life drawing superhero comics. I wanted to be able to tell my stories, but there really wasn’t a market yet. But schools and libraries have turned around, and they’ve realized what a valuable tool graphic novels can be.

My first big graphic novel was Journey into Mohawk Country. I’d read this book by Russell Shorto called Island at the Center of the World about Dutch Manhattan, or Dutch New York rather. It was really cool, and in the notes they have this bit about the journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, the guy who wrote Journey into Mohawk Country. So I read that, and I’m like this is such a cool first person document that is out there, has been out there for years, and nobody knows about it! I’m like, but if I do this as a graphic novel I think people would be tricked into reading it!

Yeah, absolutely! Do you think it makes some historical material more accessible to younger audiences when done in a graphic novel form?

Oh, definitely. Yeah, and not just younger audiences. Any audience, but especially younger audiences. One of the things that I love too about writing for young audiences with graphic novels is you don’t have to speak down to them at all. I make no effort to simplify my language or anything like that because graphic novels are words and pictures working together in tandem.

You’re really free to go pretty sophisticated in language because there will be so many clues in the artwork that a reader can pick up on. There’s pretty sophisticated vocabulary in all of my books. My editorial team and I’ve never made any efforts to “kid it down” because there’s just no need to.

If anything I feel like kids have a greater natural ability to understand polysyllabic names at that age. Kids are so much better at rattling off the Greek names or dinosaur names than adults are. It’s something about that at that age they can really glom onto.

Totally. I’ve often wondered why the Greek names aren’t more popular in modern culture. Why we don’t see more people named after these characters?

I meet quite a few at my signings. I guess it’s just those type of people who will be the ones more interested. I wish I had a name like that. George is so boring. I would like Dionysus.

Yes! My daughter’s actually named after a character from Greek mythology. Her name is Nephele.

Nephele?

She was a cloud nymph who was made by Zeus from a cloud in the likeness of Hera.

Oh, yeah! The ones to fool Ixion!

She’s really into comics and a challenge for me has been able to find comics that are age-appropriate because sometimes something looks like it might be, and then you really dig into it and it’s a little bit above her age-level. I know you published some bestselling picture books like Kapow and Uncle Bigfoot. What was it like trying to write for a really young audience in a comic format?

Honestly in a way that is harder for me. Picture books, they have to be…a lot of people don’t realize this, but virtually every picture book is thirty-two pages, including the front and back cover.

They could go up in increments of eight pages because of paper signatures, but essentially you have to tell an entire story, make it have an arc, make it interesting, and make it age-appropriate in thirty-two pages.

And you don’t really have thirty-two pages. At most you have thirty pages. It’s really hard. Also the age with which kids read picture books, adults have been steadily shrinking that for years, because there’s kind of a badge of honor in having your kid read harder books. “My eight-year-old read Harry Potter!” There’s such a short period of time where they can enjoy picture books.

You’re creating these picture books and you’re competing with some real stellar classics that have been out there forever. Picture books, in general, is just a very tricky art form. It’s very related to comics. It’s the only other one that is really such a close synthesis of words and pictures.

True.

They’re remarkably sophisticated. To really do it well is a really hard thing. I’ve got to say I think I have an easier time writing the graphic novels for older kids where there’s not quite so many limitations. I’m able to go off into little digressions and have a little bit more room to breathe, whereas with a picture book – every word and every word line has to count.

What kind of advice would you give to kids or teenagers who are interested in writing comics and graphic novels?

Oh, I’ve got a lot of advice. One thing is to get a dedicated sketch book to draw in. Don’t just draw in your math notebook or your writing notebook. Get a dedicated comics notebook and write or draw in it everyday, even if it’s only for a few minutes just so you never go cold.

Never be embarrassed about what’s in it. I really want to emphasize it’s a sketchbook and not a “perfect work of art book”. Draw in it, write in it, jot down anything. Draw it quickly and if you screw it up, just draw it quickly again because you’ll do better the second time. Never be embarrassed or pressured about your work, especially when you’re in high school because you’re still learning.

My sketchbook is a hot mess. I’ll draw the same drawing six times sometimes before I get it to the point where I will like it. That would be my biggest advice. Carry something with you to draw in, do it every day, and never be embarrassed to make a mistake or share with people because that’s just the way you’re going to learn.

Earlier you mentioned how the market changed when teachers and librarians really started bringing comics and graphic novels into the classroom. Where do you see the comic book industry heading next?

The subject matter of it is just going to keep expanding outwards and outwards. If you go back fifteen years ago there wasn’t nearly as wide a breadth of different subjects being covered in comics. Every year there’s just more and more different subjects being covered, and there’s so much room for it to grow still. For so many years, the comic industry was just superheroes. Now it’s so much more than that.

Another thing that you’re already seeing happening is there are more and more female creators. Comics were very much a boy’s club for many years, again superhero ages, but I used to teach comics. Right from the beginning I had as many female students as male students, and at the end I had way more female students than male students. Women have come into the industry in a huge way, and that’s going to transform it even further.

Any future projects on the horizon?

Work continues on Olympians. I’m just finishing up the last bit of coloring on the eighth volume, which is about Apollo. That one’s really fun. It’s a bunch of short stories about Apollo telling different aspects of his personality, different myths. Each of them is narrated by one of the nine muses, and it’s narrated in the form of art associated with that muse. One story’s written in iambic pentameter, one story’s acted out in mime. It’s a real mind bender for me to get behind, but I’m having a lot of fun with this story.

Sounds awesome!

And after that I’m working on Artemis, his twin sister.

I’m so glad I came across The Olympians. They’re perfect for the middle school classroom and could be used at the high school level for teachers using Homer’s Illiad or Odyssey. I find that the graphic novels are also great for English Language Learners. They often don’t study Greek mythology or ancient Greece in their earlier education, so I find that graphic novels can really help them to have that background information and get the allusions when we jump into The Odyssey in ninth grade. I’m so excited to come across your work.

That’s really cool. I didn’t even mention that, but when I first started working on this series I moved to Italy for a little bit and I didn’t speak Italian at all, but I taught myself to read Italian by reading Italian comic books.

Cool!

Comics are such a great tool in America for ELL students because there are so many cues in the artwork about what’s going on, that you can really piece it together. If there are words you don’t know, you can figure out through context much easier than you could just through text.

Well, this was so fun to nerd out on Greek mythology. I don’t get to do that very often with other adults.

I feel like I nerded out pretty hard. I hope you can use some of my jibber jabber.

7 Louis C.K. GIFs that break down “Because I said so”

We’re hands-on parents. We’re fair and loving. We have conversations with our kids, explaining the how and the why of the 300 hundred questions that they ask per day.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we’re pushed to the limit. Right up to the edge of that 4 word cliff. No, not four letters. (Well, ok. Sometimes that one.) Four WORDS.

“BECAUSE I SAID SO.”

While the internet parenting experts want to convince us to erase the phrase from our parenting lexicon because “it doesn’t work”, “they deserve real answers”, and “you wouldn’t say it to employees you manage”. Well, guess what? “So”, “Not always”, and “I would if I could.”

Here to illustrate exactly why we’re sometimes left with no choice, parenting guru, Louis CK.

“I really want to get a dog. All my friends have dogs and it makes me sad that we don’t. I would totally take care of it. I’d feed it, and walk it, and even clean up its poop.”

“Well, mom said that when I turned 10, we could get a dog.”

“You always tell us stories about the dog you had when you were growing up. How he’d wait in the window for your school bus to bring you home from school.”

“Honey, I know you want a dog. Dogs are great. But it’s just not going to happen right now. Dogs are a lot of work and we just don’t have the time.”

“That’s not fair! I’m the only person in my class who doesn’t have a pet. Please can we get a dog? Please? Please? Puuuhhhhhllllllllleeeeaaassseeee?”

“I’m really sorry. The answer is no.”

“Why?”

“I already explained. Dogs aren’t a toy or an accessory. They deserve to be treated like members of the family.”

“You’re right.

What I really want is a sister.”

“Why?! Don’t you want me to be happy? You didn’t grow up as an only child without pets. It’s unfair. I’m sad and lonely. WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHY?”

“I NEED NEW ANSWERS! THIS CHILD WON’T ACCEPT MY ANSWERS!”

“BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

 

My recipe for (temporarily) bringing everything into balance

Food is my speciality. I’m happy to delude myself into thinking that making something like meatballs will bring everything into balance.

 

I think it started in the NICU. Still sore, swollen and slightly delirious from my emergency C-section—the result of my breech baby making an appearance nearly six weeks early—I’d escaped the maternity ward to sit next to my tiny guy’s isolette, watching, waiting, begging to do more than, at that point, was permitted. Julian needed to keep warm; to stay under the bright, jaundice-clearing lights; to sit tight under observation until test results revealed exactly was what going on (the verdict: he just wanted out early, for unknown reasons).

Knowing I was feeling helpless and hormonal, a compassionate nurse prescribed redirection. I needed to rest—and to start pumping. “Your most important job right now,” she told me, “is to collect that liquid gold.” She wheeled in a hospital-grade breast pump and instructed me to use it every two hours. I took the assignment very seriously. If being a good (first-time) mom simply meant trying to make my new kid dinner, I was all in. No problem. Food is my speciality.

So I pumped like a mother—producing just drops at first, then enough ounces to fill a good portion of Julian’s feeding tube. After each session, I’d take great care, and great pleasure, in sterilizing all of the equipment and putting it away until it was time to make his next meal.

Our time in the NICU was fortunately short—just 8 days—but throughout Julian’s babyhood, the ritual of pumping, preparing bottles, and sterilizing plastic flanges and rubber nipples felt as comforting to me as it did inconvenient.

I might not be able to control how long my baby slept, or whether he was hitting milestones at expected times; I might not be able to control how much milk I actually produced but I did know this: I could pump at 10 and 1 and 4. I could scrub and boil and pour. I could prepare and pack all those little bottles up for his “school.” I could do all of this—I would do all of this, day after day—and I would feel totally in control.

When Jules started eating real food, I took the same care in preparing his purees. I’d steam and blend fruits and vegetables, then pack them all into plastic freezer trays that made perfect little squares. He might house the parsnips and spit out the green beans—no matter. He didn’t have to like everything.

The point was that I was doing this part of parenting right. I was mixing and blending and prepping. In this arena, I knew just what to do, and I was doing it.

Fast-forward six or so years. Now, I’m a mom of two—two boys, almost 7 and almost 5. My husband and I both work full-time, our far-from-perfect organizational systems are ever-evolving (which is to say we haven’t found one that actually works), and I don’t ever really feel in control of anything. Except the food.

I know that, every week, I can go to the store and bring home bags of pristine produce, of simple snacks, of ingredients intended for healthy meals that I can make pretty quickly, on a regular rotation. I know that if I chop carrots and make fruit bars and meatballs at night, I can convince myself that, the next day, when we reconvene as a family after many hours at our respective offices and our respective schools, we will fall into the sort of family dinner captured in a Norman Rockwell.

By morning, I will realize that my meal-plan preparedness won’t protect me from the chaos that comes with being part of a busy, young family. This, I know is true. But for an hour or so on most weekday evenings, I’m happy to delude myself into thinking that making something like meatballs will bring everything into balance.

Here’s my recipe:

1 pound of ground turkey
½ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons super-finely chopped onion
½ cup grated Parmesan
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp fennel seeds
a pinch of each: garlic powder, salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 ℉. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with your hands. Roll into golf ball-sized balls and place on a lightly oiled, foil-covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

Serve with spaghetti (or zucchini noodles) and sauce—or however you like.

The best apps for family nature exploration, fun and learning

These super handy apps can make anyone an adventurer. They also make a decent case for swapping Angry Birds for the real thing. Like geese. (Although, geese are always angry.)

If you lined up all the words written about keeping your kid off screens and laid them end to end, they would likely circle the Earth a few dozen times. Even in an 8 point font.

Sure, there are plenty of mind-numbing time sucks available for every version of smartphone and tablet, but there are also amazing resources that get kids and grown ups alike off the couch and out into the great big world.

[do_widget “Text”]

These super handy apps can make anyone an adventurer, and weigh a whole lot less than a stack of books. (They also make a decent case for swapping Angry Birds for the real thing. Like geese. Although, geese are always angry.)

The Best Bird Guides

bird-apps

Who better to call on for information than one of the world’s oldest and most respected environmental organizations?  Audubon guides- Birds, Trees, Wildflowers, Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians, Butterflies, Insects & Spiders– Some available in bundles. ($4.99-$14.99)

Developed by birders for birders, the Birdseye Bird Finding Guide (Free, in-app purchases totalling $124.00) has packages that cover almost every inch of the globe. Find out what birds have been spotted nearby, and learn their sounds to make it easier to spot them yourself.

Peterson Birds ($14.99) iPhone only. A simple guide, for even the casual bird watcher. Complete with gorgeous illustrations and photos of their nests. Create and maintain Life Lists of the birds you hope to see. Goal oriented birding sounds like something I should really get into.

Wild Lab Bird (Free!) Another great app for birdwatching, but this one connects with other “citizen scientists” to share your findings.

Citizen Science

project-noah

If you plan to spend a stretch of time at the ocean, download Marine debris tracker (Free!). Kids seem naturally predisposed toward picking up trash. And since I have a rule that the last person who touches something is responsible for disposing of it, my kids have thrown away a lot of other people’s litter. I’d be proud if I weren’t thoroughly grossed out. This app enables environmentalists of all ages to conduct their own scientific marine debris collection data work.

Project Noah (Free!) is the perfect tool for nature lovers to explore and document wildlife. Because findings are tagged with geo-locations, you’ll likely want to use this alongside your kid.

Digital Field Guides

critter-trax

TreeBook (free!) iTunes only. The authoritative guide to 100 North American trees.

Critter Trax ($1.99) Identify animal tracks and scat (what kid wouldn’t want to focus an entire nature adventure on looking for poop?)

Skywatchers

skywatcher

Earth A primer ($9.99) Although built for iPad only, this is the science book of the future.

Star Walk Kids ($2.99) A quality app built with no ads and great animations. Hold your phone up to the night sky and map constellations and planets overhead using the built in gyroscope. So cool it’s almost sorcery.

Exoplanet (Free, with in app purchases totalling $7)

Nasa (free!)

Explore our National Parks

arches

National Park by National Geographic (free!)

Passport to your National Parks (free!)

Oh Ranger Parkfinder (free!) Find National Parks and public land. Narrow your search based on the activities you’re interested in, get directions and get on your way.

Outdoor Adventure

Geocaching (Free!) As a person who grew up watching the Goonies 400 times, treasure hunting has always been my holy grail of adventure. Geocaching is sort of like that. Get your older kids excited about learning to use a compass and GPS to locate objects hidden by other geocachers.

Animated knots ($4.99) Any survivalist worth their salt can tie a variety of useful knots. The perfect app for a Bear Grylls in training.

For kids and grownups, savoring a daily dose of nature

Being in nature is therapeutic on so many levels. In a forest of 100,000 trees, every tree is different. Yet in the natural world, the trees belong, as do the rocks, plants, raccoons, birds, and insects. Everything has its place in the natural world, and of course the same is true for us.

It’s said that in a forest of 100,000 trees, every tree is different. Yet in the natural world, the trees belong, as do the rocks, plants, raccoons, birds, and insects. We don’t say, “this tree should look more like that tree or this rock should be here and that rock shouldn’t.” Everything has its place in the natural world, and of course the same is true for us.

However, a sense of belonging in our culture is scarce. In our schools, kids all want to be the same – to  “fit in.” Friendships and school dynamics fluctuate, which creates restless energy for kids.

This doesn’t end in childhood. In our culture, we all seek acceptance. But, just like the trees, none of us belong more than anyone else; in fact, we all make up the whole.

Being in nature is therapeutic on so many levels. Whether I was working with kids in wilderness therapy, or playing outside with my daughters, I notice profoundly positive impacts from spending time in the natural world.

First, we don’t project ideas onto nature. (Well maybe sometimes – like it shouldn’t snow in April as it has been here in Vermont.) Generally, when we step outside, we step into the present moment.

In our indoor environments, we attach labels, judgements and assessments about what “should” be happening and what’s right or wrong. But outdoors, there’s typically a letting go and a sense of acceptance.  For example, while we may wish it was warmer or colder, we know and accept that we can’t actually change the temperature.

My kids and I practice what I call “savoring”—noticing special moments in the midst of rushing around through our day. My daughter took her new Nordic skis into the yard after a fresh snowfall and said, “Thanks so much for getting these – it’s so calm and peaceful outside.” I looked up and noticed that dusk was settling in and saw that she was savoring it. My younger daughter built an igloo and hummed a tune to herself. These moments seem to last longer, like time is being stretched.

In  schools in Finland, kids go outside for 15 minutes every hour.  This sounds dramatic compared to most schools in the US that only go outside for 15-30 minutes per day. Perhaps not surprisingly, Finnish kids aren’t on as many meds as American kids. They get their energy out and return to the class ready to learn with fresh blood and an energized brain.

Being in Nature also allows us to notice change and impermanence. Right now in Vermont it’s the end of mud season. There’s still snow in the mountains. Each day is different. While the mud is an unpleasant hassle, it’s also a direct reminder of the seasons and the movement of time. Life is fluid and not static.

A sense of belonging and acceptance, learning to let go, savoring, being present, a fresh mind, awareness of impermanence – these all have a huge impact on our mental health.  (Never mind our physical health.) This is why it’s so critical for kids to get outside everyday.

Kids need a daily dose of nature. It’s free and available to most kids.  They will return indoors refreshed – even during mud season in Vermont.

__________________________________

Krissy Pozatek, LCSW, is an Author, Therapist and Parent Coach. After a decade as a wilderness therapist, Krissy has identified the concepts and skills kids gain in the wilderness and integrated them into everyday parenting so kids can be more adaptable and resilient. She is the author of Brave Parenting: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Raising Emotionally Resilient Children (Wisdom Pub) and The Parallel Process: Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment (Lantern Books).

Visit her website at Parallel-process.com and follow her on Twitter.

Parent educator Vicki Hoefle: Don’t get trapped in the perfect parenting myth

The thing I want parents to understand is this: you are doing the best you can with the information you have. There’s no room for judgement or criticism. You have made the best use of the information you have to raise really great kids and people.

Vicki Hoefle is a popular parent educator, speaker and author of Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids and her new book The Straight Talk on Parenting: A No Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grownup. She’s also  contributor to Parent.co. Learn more about Vicki on her active blog and connect with her on social media via VickiHoefle.com.


Parent Co: I’m wondering if you can offer any advice for parents who read your books, really connect with the material, and then find themselves stuck at the implementation point.

Vicki Hoefle: I wish truthfully that I had a magic pill that I could give parents that would just allow them, for a week, to experience what it’s like to trust themselves first. But I don’t, so I’m always trying to figure out what to say to convince them to give this a go and to trust themselves.

What I know to be true after 25 years is that the real experts in the house are by far the children. They have all the information we need to parent them in a way that brings out their best but we use them as our last resource. I also know that parents have a keen sense of intuition about what will work with their kids, what won’t work with their kids, kinds of rhythms their children establish when they’re young, and yet they trust a book, an expert, a blogger, a podcaster, long before they’ll take that intuitive nugget and test it.

If you have a gut sense, an intuitive sense, about what will work for your child, before you talk to anybody about it, before you get confirmation that it might be a good idea, test it for a week and don’t tell anybody. You’ll know if you’ve hit the mark because you’ll see your children’s eyes begin to dart around curiously. They’ll know that you have tapped into something bigger and deeper and more honest than the latest strategy that you brought home that you’ve slapped onto the refrigerator.

This lovely dance gets started between the parent and the child. The parent starts to test their ideas and they see the response in the child’s eyes. There’s a new connection made between Mom and the kids, or Dad and the kids. If a parent’s confidence starts to go up, and the kids begin to resonate with what Mom or Dad is doing, it creates this momentum in the house.

Once that momentum gets started, it’s pretty easy to keep it going. You get this sense as a parent that you’ve tapped into something deeper than just the latest trendy strategy and that’s what I’m always encouraging parents to do. I feel like my work is a little bit of a launching off pad. It isn’t the whole nut, it’s just the launching of it. It points you towards where you want to be moving or what might be helpful, but it isn’t the map.

What do you think stops parents from trusting themselves to begin with?

I think they have this idea that they should be perfect, that they should understand their child right from the get-go. Instead of looking at it like it’s a new dance and so you’re going to step on some toes and you’re going to drop somebody once in a while and the turn won’t work, as being a normal part of the early stages of parenting, we lose confidence very quickly. The propensity is to go ask our mom, ask our mother-in-law, ask our older sister, ask our best friend, and once you get into that habit, it’s hard to go back to trusting yourself. I think part of it happens so early on in the parenting journey that it then becomes a way of life. ‘Oh, ask other people first, then trust yourself second because you made some blunders early on in the game.’

I’m curious about your new book and maybe some of the topics covered, or area that you’re covering that wasn’t covered in the book “Duct Tape Parenting”.

Okay, so, “Duct Tape Parenting” was the overarching theory that I relied on heavily as a new mom. These kind of five tenets that I used to guide my parenting decisions. They really encompass the whole … you just do less. Here are five areas where you can do less and you can start to see the benefits. It was really just an invitation to consider going in the opposite direction of micromanaging and helicoptering.

“The Straight Talk on Parenting” really focuses in on my big a-ha moment as a very, very young mom. That was this idea that parenting is not about what happens for a kid between zero and 18. It’s what happens for them between 18 and 80. I knew when I had that thought that I was not going to get trapped into the perfect parenting myth.

I knew that a sloppy three year old, and a rude five year old, and a forgetful seven year old, and a snarky thirteen year old – I was just not going to concern myself with that because I already understood that the goal was not to have a perfectly behaved kiddo. My life was very easy because I knew what the end game was.

My parenting decisions were always about reconciling this idea that I’m living with a toddler, but I’m raising a future adult. How am I going to make my decision to get through this moment with the child without making it worse and to then build skills, help develop skills and character traits in this child that will help him or her when she’s 23, but that also might make my life easier while I’m living with them.

For instance, self control. If you have a child who tends to bop their little brother on the head as a solution, you could try and discipline that solution out of the kid, but the character trait that’s underdeveloped is self-restraint. Well, it’s a character trait that all adults have to use on a daily basis, so I thought, ‘I wonder if I put my focus into helping my child develop self-control, self-restraint, if I might see immediate benefits and also know that I was getting them ready for life beyond my threshold,’ and it worked.

It became a really exciting, interesting, and energizing journey into parenting. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t discouraged. I wasn’t going to the next blogger to find out what I should do. It’s just like, ‘Oh, there’s a character trait I need to develop. I can do that, that’s fine. If I see some progress in six months, then I’ll know that I’ve hit on something.’

Yeah, I guess that’s a big part of it too, isn’t it? The patience? Understanding that it’s not going to happen as quickly as you want it to, probably.

No, and I don’t think we want it to. I think when our personal prestige gets involved, then we want to rush our kids. Because I hear parents say, ‘Oh, they’re growing up so fast. I wish he would just put away all of his clothes when I ask him the first time,’ and I think, well, what do you want? Do you want a child, or do you want a forty year old man? You can’t have both, so figure out which one you want.

The kids start to get confused, too. ‘Well you treat me like a baby, but you have these unrealistic expectations that I can behave like an adult.’ It’s accepting that you have 18 years. It’s a classroom. Take your time. Make a mess. Get the play-doh out. Finger paint. Drop all the beads on the floor. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s at eighteen when they leave, do they have what they need?

In your opinion, what is it that drives us to over-parent?

I really do think in today’s age it’s more about personal prestige than it is about safety. I think because the world is so highly connected and everybody is posting and talking and texting and capturing moments, that there is no room for messy lives. That everything is a document of how well we’re doing. We’re looking at our kids as if they’re possessions and that they’re responsible for our self-esteem. It’s just too tempting to compare your kid with somebody else.

Then we lose sight of what we’re supposed to be doing. That lends itself to a micromanaging kind of hovering, ‘Oh but I care so much.’ It’s just like, for goodness sake, get off it. Nobody even believes you when you say that because we all know we’re doing it to look good, so you’re doing it to look good, too. I mean, come on!

Yeah, and as you’re saying this, I’m dissecting my own behavior because I always attribute my tendency to over-parent to various fears. I haven’t identified what you’re talking about as a fear as well: The fear of not living up to some standard that you believe has been set by your peers. I can rationalize or justify so much by telling myself that I’m being careful.

Yes.

Or that I’m teaching my kids to be careful. On the other hand, I know that’s not even necessarily a message I want them to get.

Right, welcome to my world! This is what I hear all the time. Inside of you there’s this part that’s always trying to get to the truth. It’s there, you’re just not listening to it. You’re right, it’s the fear of the judgment that overrides everything else, but if you say to a parent, another parent on the playground, ‘I just can’t let her get herself dressed. She has terrible taste and I don’t want her to be embarrassed and humiliated by her friends,’ the mother would say: ‘I know. Oh my god, of course you have to protect her from that kind of embarrassment. That’s your job!’

The truth is, you want everybody to say, ‘Oh my god. That mother, look at the great outfit her daughter’s coming to school in.’ It’s just such a hard pill to swallow that we parent for other people instead of our kids. That’s the reality. We do. We’re trying to impress each other and the kids lose.

Yeah, I mean we’ve done it our whole lives. We dress for other people. We strive for other people’s approval. It’s not surprising that it translates into parenthood.

Exactly! It’s the fact that we don’t talk about it from the get-go. If we would say to parents: ‘Listen, be on the lookout for how much you want to impress other people with how good you are.’ Nobody says that to a new mom. It doesn’t occur to us that the same things that trip us up when we’re dating or trying to impress our mother-in-law or sister, it’s going to follow us into our parenting. Before you know it, many of the decisions we’re making have nothing to do with what’s best for our kids.

That’s so true. I’ve never heard it stated that succinctly. In this moment, you are exactly right and that is a terrible thing to do and I want to change it, and at the same time I’m judging myself for it.

I was just reading a post on your website about ignoring sibling squabbles and how to get kids to fight less by not feeding into their arguments with each other. I love the line that said they’re actually fighting for their parents.

My kids are are fighting more and more, and it makes perfect sense that with just one parent home most of the time, they have to fight harder. I’m just me and I can’t give the attention of two parents. How do I ignore their fight without feeling guilty?

Everything I teach has a layering process because there isn’t just one thing. If I said ‘Oh, just ignore the fighting,’ people would say, ‘You can’t just ignore the fighting!’ But, right, you can’t. You have to build something. If we’re going to essentially take apart, dismantle the fighting, we have to construct something else, a different way of  being in relationship.

One of the things is you ignore the fighting, but you address it in different ways. For instance, you could say, ‘Hey guys, I’m going to guess that part of the reason there’s more fighting going on is because you guys can get me to stop what I’m doing, look at you, and say ‘kids knock it off. It’s a way for us to connect. So how about if we find another way to connect? How about if you come and you get me and you say, instead of starting a fight with each other over something I know you don’t care about, why don’t you both just come and get me and say “Mom, we need you for two minutes. We need you to be present with us for two minutes.” Could you do that?’

So you empower kids. It’s not a discipline problem, it’s an awareness problem. Nobody’s aware of what’s really going on. People are disconnected from the purpose of their behavior. As a parent, you can shine a spotlight on that behavior and completely transform it in the moment.

The other thing to do is to ask yourself: How do you have an appreciative environment in your home? Are there lots of opportunities for people to say nice things about each other? Other than “good job”, but to really show appreciation for the people that they live with. Because my experience is it is difficult to fight with somebody who keeps saying nice things about you.

But kids don’t hear that. They hear their parents talk about what’s wrong with them, what they have to fix, ‘please stop doing that,’ and so that translates into their relationship with each other. If we teach them about appreciating other people, the fighting just diminishes on its own. There is nothing to do it, it just is dismantled. It’s very gentle. It’s very peaceful. There’s no punishment. There’s no win or lose, the idea of ‘fair,’ ‘I’m the victim, he’s the bully,’ all of that just goes away.

In the moment, how do you maintain the peace, the calm, the proper demeanor? Does it require a sense of detachment from the situation? Because I’m picturing my two kids going at it and I try to ignore it for a little while and then it just drives me crazy. Like you’re saying, I don’t have all the systems put in place so that’s part of it. But in that moment, I reach a point where I can’t let this go on anymore because the simple sounds of the fight make me feel like I’m going to lose my mind.

Right. First of all, you do have to detach a little bit. What I say to parents is pretend you’re a scientist. And sometimes you can start to look at it differently and suddenly you think of a way to break the fight up without going in and saying, ‘Knock it off, I’ve had enough!’ You figure out, ‘maybe I’ll just invite them in to cook, make carrots,’ or ‘I think they’re just looking for a connection so maybe I can just make this easy on myself.’ Or, ‘I need to get out of the house. Oh, I wonder if I said to the kids “I’m going for a walk, I need some fresh air. Anybody want to come?”, the fight would be over.’

What happens is your mind goes to this: ‘I can’t stand this fighting. This fighting’s got to stop. I’ve got to do something. God damn it, those fucking little hooligans.’ Before you know it, your mouth is going and now you’re part of the fight.

You’re fighting too, right.

Yeah. I’m not very disciplined. I have to write up little things that I can go to and say, ‘Okay, I hear some squabbling. I could wait ’til it gets really bad and I can do what I normally do, which makes it worse. Or, I can look at my list and say, “Can I distract them from this? What if I went in and gave them both a hug and told them I loved them?”’

I’m always looking for the easiest, simplest, fastest solution. I don’t want complicated in my life, particularly with five kids in the house. No! I’m not very smart. I’m a C-minus parent on a good day. Things have to be really simple and they have to work quickly. That’s what I’m trying to share with parents. Listen, don’t complicate the situation. Keep the problem small. Sometimes you do have to detach, but you also have to have thought about what are your other options for getting through those moments.

Finally, how do you talk to parents about not being so critical of themselves throughout this process?

The thing I want parents to understand is this: you are doing the best you can with the information you have. There’s no room for judgement or criticism. You have made the best use of the information you have to raise really great kids and people.

But now you have new information. Use that information to move yourself forward because criticism and judgement pulls you back. As often as you can, forgive yourself and move forward with the new information. It’s not easy to do, but it can be done with a little bit of practice.

I think that’s also part of the culture. ‘If I beat myself up verbally out loud, other people will tell me I’m doing a great job.’ But that’s because our kids are miserable – they’re not telling us we’re doing a good job, so we need to hear it from other people. If the kids were happy and you were listening to your gut and following your instincts, you wouldn’t be so judgmental of yourself. You would know you made a mistake, and you’d correct it, and you’d move on.

That’s so important. Just in general, in life.

Yes, exactly. It’s all about life. Parenting is just a microcosm of the world.