Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Praise

A recent article in New York Magazine How Not to Talk to Your Kids by Po Bronson looked at several studies that found common forms of praise manipulative, destructive and damaging to kids. I'm familiar with the concept, every year the co-op preschool parent educators hand out a copy of Alfie Kohn's 5 Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job" article. I've learned to say, "You did it!" instead of "Good Job!" or "Tell me about your painting" instead of "What a beautiful painting. Nice work." Ask specific questions and give detailed feedback "I see you used a lot of red and orange for the volcano." Encouraging kids to have an internal sense of accomplishment, cultivating self-efficacy, and self-motivation is what really matters. It's hard to do though and I still find myself giving lazy praise where it isn't needed.

Kohn argues that punishments (including time-outs) and rewards (including positive reinforcement) may sometimes produce temporary compliance, but they do nothing to help kids grow into responsible, caring, ethical, happy people.

On Bronson's social studies blog they posted 14 guidelines for giving constructive, honest praise:

Children younger than age seven take praise at face value. After that, children become increasingly adept at scrutinizing praise for its veracity. By high school, teens have become so used to hearing insincere praise, that they believe that those who are praised are actually lacking in ability, while those who are criticized are the real talents in a classroom.

Instead of being a genuine compliment, praise is frequently a tool of manipulation – a way of controlling someone. That's particularly true for children. We often use it to control a child's performance or the others who have yet to deserve our praise.


1. Don't Offer Global Statements
2. Be Sincere
3. Don't Use Empty Praise
4. Scale Back the Amount of Praise
5. Be Specific
6. Praise the Process
7. Don't Connect Praise with Promises of Future Success
8. Don't Confuse Praise with Encouragement
9. Timing is Everything
10. Avoid Praising in Public
11. Don't Praise To Avoid Giving Criticism or Addressing Failure
12. Don't Praise Undeserved Success
13. Know Your Praise Audience
14. Avoid Praise-Inflation

*The Praise Uber-Tip: Be Honest* If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Child Well-Being Report Card

The U.S. got an F on UNICEF's (For every child, health, education, protection, equality - Advance humanity) "An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries" report card. Socialist countries that offer universal health care ranked highest which didn't surprise me, but I was curious to know what exactly constitutes child well-being and why was the U.S. ranked so poorly.

"Well-being" means everything: eating regular meals together with familes and talking regularly with their parents, receiving full courses of immunizations, literacy at age 15, percentage of young people who find their peers 'kind and helpful' (the U.S. had low marks here), percentage of children who eat fruit at breakfast, percentage of children who say they feel 'lonely, awkward and out of place', percentage who get daily exercise.

So drug use, teen pregnancy, obsesity, mean bullying peers, self aware lonely kids, kids without health insurance, high school drop outs -- all did the U.S. in. It makes me want to move to Amsterdam. Or Stockholm.

Child well-being at its highest in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. There is no strong or consistent relationship between per capita GDP and child well-being. The Czech Republic, for example, achieves a higher overall rank for child well-being than several much wealthier European countries.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

5 Things You May Not Know About Me

I'm usually a lurker on other people's blogs - I visit a handful of blogs weekly but I rarely leave comments. So I was surprised when I saw my name on Kerilyn's blog - challenging me to do a meme - 5 unique things about me. The pressure! It's a good exercise though. I've gotten to know Kerilyn better, I had no idea she's a Middle Eastern history buff and a map fanatic.

Here is my list:

1. I once caught a thief breaking into a car outside my work in San Francisco and blurted out, "You shouldn't do that." He looked at me in disbelief for a second then grabbed a briefcase and laptop and ran off down an alley. Someone called the police and they came immediately. The police whisked me into the front seat of the patrol car and took me on a high speed tour of the neighborhood (I remember laughing inappropriately). We actually found him a few blocks away. He was easy to spot -- baseball cap, big mop of curly red hair, wearing a blue jumpsuit. I slid down in the car afraid he would see me. They arrested him and took him away in another car.

2. When I pass by streetlights at night - it seems like 4 out of 5 times the lights turn off. Danny says he never notices that happening to him. Is it just me? Does this happen to everyone?

3. I regularly fly in my dreams. I'm usually aware I'm flying, concentrating on keeping myself above the ground. It's not free and easy flying. It's a whole body experience, flying over houses and cars at night when the air is wet and heavy.

4. I'm obsessed with medical histories and narratives. I devour any medical article in the New Yorker immediately. I was in a used bookstore the other day and I was amazed that I had read nearly every book in their medical section (it was just a shelf long though). Mary Roach's Stiff. Atul Gawande's Complications. The Great Influenza. The Plauge. Leper Colony. Ebola. The Hot Zone. The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat. Phantoms in the Brain. Oliver Sacks. How the Mind Works.

5. I vividly remember a few nightmares from my early childhood. Both are probably sad comments on the impact of television on my life. In one dream I'm terrified as I'm locked in Carpeteria, the carpet warehouse, for the night. In my other dream I'm chased by the Michelin Man - who is supposed to be what? A cute marshmallow character? A stack of fluffy white tires? I don't get it, he's very, very frightening. He's a dreadful mummy.

Ok so I'm supposed to tag 5 more people to do this meme. Bessie - you're it. Anyone else? I dare these non-bloggers: Sheila, Mom, Roberta and Britta send me your lists!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Teaching Positive Thinking / Success Mindset

I heard this story on NPR this morning and it drove home the importance of emotionally coaching Elliot through school.

A new study in the scientific journal
Child Development shows that if you teach students that their intelligence can grow and increase, they do better in school.

"Other children think intelligence is something you can develop your whole life," she says. "You can learn. You can stretch. You can keep mastering new things."

"If we gave students a growth mindset, if we taught them how to think about their intelligence, would that benefit their grades?" Dweck wondered.

So, about 100 seventh graders, all doing poorly in math, were randomly assigned to workshops on good study skills. One workshop gave lessons on how to study well. The other taught about the expanding nature of intelligence and the brain.

The students in the latter group "learned that the brain actually forms new connections every time you learn something new, and that over time, this makes you smarter."

Basically, the students were given a mini-neuroscience course on how the brain works. By the end of the semester, the group of kids who had been taught that the brain can grow smarter, had significantly better math grades than the other group.

"When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections," Dweck says. "When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing."

Dweck says this new mindset changed the kids' attitude toward learning and their willingness to put forth effort. Duke University psychologist, Steven Asher, agrees. Teaching children that they're in charge of their own intellectual growth motivates a child to work hard, he says.

"If you think about a child who's coping with an especially challenging task, I don't think there's anything better in the world than that child hearing from a parent or from a teacher the words, 'You'll get there.' And that, I think, is the spirit of what this is about."

Dweck's latest book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, gives parents and teachers specific ways to teach the growth mindset of intelligence to children. A new study in the scientific journal Child Development shows that if you teach students that their intelligence can grow and increase, they do better in school.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Asher loves this song, so I'm forcing myself to learn it. I had no idea it was such a long complicated song. This poor woman, she really has to prove herself.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsely, sage, rosemary & thyme
Without no seams nor needlework
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Tell her to find me an acre of land
Parsely, sage, rosemary, & thyme
Between the salt water and the sea strand
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather
Parsely, sage, rosemary & thyme
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cabeza y hombros pierna y pies, pierna y pies

Asher's school requires the parents to lead "small group activities" for 4-5 kids during the second half of the year. I've got to come up with 9 lessons. Activities can be very simple - finding leaves on a walk, cutting string, singing songs, pouring water, washing a chair etc. I'm going to try to teach them to sing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" in Spanish.

Cabeza y hombros pierna y pies
Cabeza y hombros pierna y pies
Ojos orejas boca una nariz
Cabeza y hombros pierna y pies.

I tripped over myself a million times learning the song, it was harder than I thought, but now I think I've got it. We'll see if I can get the kiddos to do it. Elliot picked it up. Asher thought it was funny.

During my research, I found a good resource for children's songs and nursery rhymes from around the world:

I also found this great site that has videos of children around the world singing "Frere Jacques" in their native languages. Asher thought it was fascinating.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Election Day - Voting to Fund Local Schools

It's election day and there are only two issues on the ballot unfortunately and both are Seattle school funding measures. Should we give money to repair old school buildings? Should we renew a $397 million dollar operations levy? No one expects a large voter turn out.

In Washington, our schools are forced to rely levies to help pay for the "extras," those non-essential things like teacher salaries, librarians, special education and books. In Seattle 24 percent of the operating budget comes from that 397 million dollar levy.

In the Seattle PI, someone wrote in to say:
"Why should I vote for the Seattle schools levies? I didn't feel the need to populate the earth with children. I don't care about your kids or your schools or anybody else's kids for that matter."

This kind of thing makes me want to rip my hair out. No sense of community, civic pride, responsibility, short sighted. Unbelievable.

I like these responses to that question best:
"I have no idea how to reply to something like that. State-funded public education is in the state constitution, so perhaps "kidless" needs to find a state more in tune with his "me first" beliefs. I confess, I have never met anyone whose views could be construed as anti-education, based on costs. What next, police and fire protection by auction? If you can't outbid your neighbor, your house burns while his is saved?"


"Wait until that uneducated kid becomes an unemployable adult who will in short order become incorrigible criminal and subsequently an irredeemable felon. School kid = $7000/annum to educate. Felon = $60,000/annum to imprison. Do the math. You can pay now or pay later. Your choice."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Lunchbox Saga

When Elliot lost his bumblebee mini backpack/lunchbox in December, we looked in lost and found but it had disappeared into a black hole in his elementary school. So we bought him a replacement Star Wars "May the Force Be With You" vinyl lunchbox - Thermos brand. Inside the lunchbox a note claimed that it had no traces of lead - a reference to the lawsuits filed by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) against makers and retailers of soft vinyl lunch boxes that can expose children to harmful levels of lead. Of course he loved the Star Wars lunchbox and never lost it.

Last week, I left his lunchbox on the kitchen table with food in it and discovered in the morning that something (a raccoon? a tiger? a Norwegian rat!!!!) had ripped open the vinyl siding and shredded the zipper and gorged on the rotting food inside. Sadly, the force was not with the lunchbox, it did not survive the vicious attack. Needless to say I was disturbed, I shrieked a few times in disbelief. Bad mommy, I made things much worse. Elliot was really traumatized. We left the house and went to whole foods for breakfast. We called rodent control later that day. We hadn't closed up a few holes inside the house after the remodel and that's how they got in, but that's another story. So now I'm on the hunt for lunchboxes again.

I don't think I'm going to go the vinyl route again. In Mothering Magazine they recommended avoiding the following three plastics:
#3 (PVC/phthalates; hormone disrupters)
#6 (polystyrene/styrene; human carcinogen)
#7 (polycarbonate/bisphenol-A; hormone disruptor)

Here are my two front runners for new lunchboxes:

Cool Tote
Cool Tote Lunch Bags are free from lead, and the lining is made of nylon which is very safe. As you may know, nylon is even used to make toothbrush bristles. We choose nylon because it is much more durable than vinyl, and it is easy to wipe clean every day so there is no buildup of bacteria from left over lunch materials.

Asiana West Junior Lunchbox
Insulated construction designed to keep warm foods warm and cold foods cold. These stylish, lightweight, compact containers are built tough and great for meals on the go, or for general-purpose storage for just about whatever you might want to use them for. Great for children’s school meals and snacks. Available in 3 bright colors, each with a removable compartment divider. 7” x 5” x 3”. - $17.95 each