Want a Child with Values & Self-Respect? Set Rules & Say No

By the time they reach school age, a child is as skilled at debating as politicians on the campaign trail. But while their persistence can wear you down, giving in to their pleas will only encourage them to keep it up.

“If you’re looking [to raise a] respectful child with good self-esteem, then start saying no,” says Michelle Borba, educational psychologist and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. “If you say no, and your child learns to accept it, your child learns to accept your values.” Borba also notes that research shows kids who are raised in less-permissive homes have higher feelings of self-respect and more confidence.

You have to start saying no now, though, because it only gets harder later, says Borba. Here are her top five steps for how to say no — and have your child really hear it.

1. Review your rules.

Every six months, take time to think through exactly what your expectations and values are: what you’re saying yes to, what you’re saying no to, what is non-negotiable and why you feel that way. Also consider what you want to teach your child with the rules you’re setting. Without the conviction of your beliefs — knowing what you won’t accept and why — you’ll be more likely to cave in when he starts pushing.

2. Make a formal announcement.

Once you’re sure what you will and won’t tolerate, call a family meeting and explain the rules. Be matter-of-fact and non-critical; laying out your expectations shouldn’t come off as punitive. And by explaining your reasons for each rule, you’re showing your kid that you’ve given this a lot of thought and you’re serious. “It’s a guideline for your values, a family mission statement,” says Borba.

3. Get on the same page.

Whether you live in the same home or not, try to reach an agreement with your parenting partner about which rules are non-negotiable. Then, put them somewhere where everyone can see them. “Even if there are only three rules, mark them in stone,” says Borba. “If you don’t have them written and posted on the fridge, your child will water you down.” The other benefit to hanging them up? “Whenever your child has a friend over, he can point to the fridge.”

4. Don’t engage.

When your child starts pestering despite the rules, say as little as possible in response. If you’ve told him that you don’t want a video game system in your home but he argues that everyone else has one, respond with, “That’s what they do in their house.” If you have a gaming system but have decided that your child is too young for teen-rated games, don’t hesitate when he says, “But I’ve played them at my friend’s house.” Say “Not in my house,” — and leave it at that. “Too much explanation continues the power struggle,” says Borba. “How you handle a wordy kid who wears you down is to stop talking yourself.”

5. Avoid confrontation.

If your child pesters for sweets at the store after you’ve told him no, don’t tolerate one minute of it. He’s been disrespectful by ignoring the rules, says Borba, and that demands action. Follow your conviction, even if it’s inconvenient for you. As soon as your child starts pestering, stop shopping and tell him you’re going home. Or give him a time-out in the car while you stand by. Will it be embarrassing for him? “Yes,” says Borba, “and thank goodness it is!” Sometimes, a little embarrassment makes the point better than any scolding could.

For National School Lunch Week: Childhood Obesity Revealed

This past Monday marked the beginning of National School Lunch Week (NSLW) 2011. According to Sarah Fudin, Social Media and Outreach Coordinator for MAT@USC (the Master of Arts in Teaching program for the University of Southern California), “it’s important that we help students understand where food comes from and the nutritional benefits that go along with the food they consume. During National School Lunch week, the School Nutrition Association, as well as teachers, parents, community members and educators around the country will help highlight to students the benefit that school lunch can provide for kids to grow strong and healthy.”

According to the School Nutrition Association, this year’s NSLW theme, School Lunch – Let’s Grow Healthy provides an opportunity for schools to try something new while promoting locally sourced foods. “From a harvest-of-the-month menu to a school garden to a meet-the-farmer educational presentation, there’s a farm-to-school model or activity that can fit the needs of any school or district!”

In support of the School Lunch – Let’s Grow Healthy theme, MAT@USC has created an infographic on childhood obesity with statistics sharing lifestyle, nutritional, activity-related and consequential facts relating to children. It is an easy to read (and pretty disturbing) cause and effect diagram that shows how we got here and what can happen if we continue.

I think it’s time we started paying attention to childhood obesity… What do you think???

Childhood Obesity Epidemic Infographic
Brought to you by MAT@USC Masters in Teaching

Ray Ray’s Story: A Call to Action for Parents and Caregivers

Our Story

On May 25th 2011 our lives changed forever. Though we awakened a little late, the day started as usual: we played for an hour with our daughter (she was a morning person) before getting her dressed for daycare. It was tropical day: the children were to wear “tropical” attire. We dressed Ray Ray in a cute little flowered dress and she smiled back as if she knew she looked so adorable. We carried Ray Ray to the car and placed her in her car-seat. We kissed her and told her we loved her as we buckled her in her seat, and she waved the most mysterious goodbye to us: a wave we had never seen before and one we would never forget. It was the last goodbye we would ever have from our little angel.

Brett drove away in his truck with Ray Ray tucked securely in her carseat. She dozed off into sleep, probably tired from playing all morning with us. Then our perpetual nightmare began: for reasons we do not know or understand, Brett drove past the turn that he would normally take to drop Ray Ray off at daycare. A simple left hand turn, beyond which daycare is only about 300 yards away. He turned right instead. Why? This is a question that will haunt us forever. Brett continued his drive to work, assuming that our daughter was safely in the hands of her daycare teachers and enjoying tropical day. We carried on with our regular work routine.

A few hours later we met at Brett’s office for a lunch date before I went out of town for a business event. As we drove to lunch, we talked in the car about Ray Ray and how pretty she looked for Tropical day. Suddenly, Brett’s heart skipped two beats and his mind raced chaotically as he tried to understand why he could not remember seeing the reaction from her loving teachers about her cute little Tropical day dress. Reality hit. Brett’s heart sunk to the bottom of his chest: he couldn’t remember dropping Ray Ray off at daycare that morning! He screamed out loud for me to get us back to his office as fast as possible.

We raced through traffic lights, stop signs, one-way streets, and arrived at Brett’s office in record time. We called the office manager as we drove, instructing her to check the truck. As Brett was awaiting a response from the office manager I called the daycare. When the teacher confirmed she was not there, I hung up and immediately called 911. Simultaneously the office called 911 as well. The nightmare had happened. Ray Ray had been forgotten in the truck for nearly three hours in 90 degree heat.

The office manager took Ray Ray out of the truck, ran cool water over her body, and began rescue efforts—she was still alive, making gurgling sounds and having difficulty breathing. I continued aggressive attempts at resuscitation once we arrived while the office staff stayed on the line with 911. Our last visions of our living daughter were of her lying on the floor as she lost consciousness and CPR was being performed. She gazed into mommy and daddy’s eyes one last time. That will haunt us forever. One hour and 19 minutes after this nightmare began she was pronounced dead.

We have asked ourselves thousands of times how could this happen. Where did we go wrong? How could either of us ever possibly forget our most precious gift? How can we ever move forward? How can we ever live after this? Can we ever forgive ourselves?

We searched for answers and to our shock we found that we were not alone. Data derived from media reports of child hot car deaths from 1998 through 2010 suggest that, in 51% of cases, these children were “forgotten” by their guardian. Forty-four percent of these “forgotten” children were supposed to have been dropped off at daycare/ pre-school on the morning of their tragedy. That’s more than 1 in every 5 child deaths due to vehicular heatstroke!

Ray Ray’s Call to Action

Ray Ray’s Pledge aims to prevent the more than 1 in every 5 child hot car deaths due to heatstroke that occur because the child was not dropped off at daycare in the morning and his/her whereabouts went unquestioned. It takes a village to raise a child, and good communication in this village is key to prevention of tragedy. Ray Ray’s Pledge is designed to create a safety net surrounding a child’s morning drop-off time at daycare—a time when parents may be vulnerable to human error, as history has proven from our story as well as the stories of more than 100 other known families who also never imagined that this could happen to them.

This CAN happen to YOU! Please don’t be the next victim! By signing the pledge, you are committing to keeping your child’s teacher informed of any planned changes in morning drop off. In exchange, your child’s teacher is committing to you that he/she will act as your guardian angel by calling you if your child does not arrive on time and a planned tardiness/absence has not already been communicated. The first and most important step relies on YOU: please communicate planned absences to the teachers so that they can provide an effective safety net to your family when one is needed. DO NOT allow yourselves to become a statistic! MAKE THE PLEDGE, and take it seriously. The risk of heatstroke is too often an unheeded risk to child safety, one that we learned of after it was too late.

Celebrate International Walk to School Day

I recently learned that October 5th, today, is International Walk to School Day. Originated in the UK, the day is now celebrated annually in over 40 countries around the world, including the US.

A day to celebrate walking to school??? When I was a kid that was the only way to get to school. But now, according to the US Walk to School site, only about 10% of US children walk to school on a regular basis. While that may be driven by larger distances between home and school, only 25% of children living within a mile of school walk regularly. I’ve seen that in my own town, where the schools started busing kids within a mile radius of schools last year.

There are several reasons why walking to school – or more walking in general – can be beneficial: everything from air quality and reduced traffic congestion to a greater sense of community. But one of the most pressing reasons has to be the increasing epidemic of obesity in this and most developed countries; a critical issue even among children. Data from Health, United States, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that rates of obesity in children 6-years and older are approaching 20%. If you break down the statistics further you see rates for some minority children (such as Latino boys and African American girls) at nearly 30%!

Obesity is a potential health issue at any age, but it is particularly concerning among children. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, and the negative health effects of obesity are thought to increase the longer a person is obese. So we are seeing children with weight issues begin to develop diseases typically only seen in adults, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and the impact of these diseases on their health may be much worse than what we see in individuals who develop these conditions later in life (source: CDC).

In her writings on population health, Pamela Russo MD, MPH – a Senior Program Officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, whose mission is to improve the health and health care of all Americans – cites several factors (many that developed for perfectly rational reasons) that have “conspired” to produce the epidemic of obesity:

  • The higher density of fast food restaurants in low income neighborhoods (which offer high calorie, high fat, low nutrient, super-sized meals at very low prices)
  • The presence of vending machines in schools (selling high calorie soft drinks as a source of needed revenue for the schools)
  • Subsidized school lunches (containing high caloric and fat content)
  • The decrease in physical education classes and near-elimination of recess periods (due to shrinking school budgets and a narrow focus on meeting academic test score requirements)
  • Fewer children and adults walking or bicycling to school or other destinations (due in part to the lack of sidewalks, safe pedestrian crossings, and bicycle lanes)
  • Increased busing of students (due to liability concerns)
  • In urban, low income neighborhoods, few places to play or walk (due to unsafe playgrounds, crime, and violence)
  • A lack of grocery stores with healthy food options, such as fresh fruit and vegetables in many neighborhoods (related to their higher cost and lower profit margins)

As we can see by the bolded items, many of these factors are very much related to the mission of the Walk to School movement, which is to create awareness of the importance of walking and physical activity – and the need for our communities to be walkable. I’m thankful that we live in an area and school district that still supports and promotes lots of childhood activity – including regular gym classes, recess and great local parks. But until recently we had limited sidewalks and bike routes outside our neighborhood – and my son does take the bus every day. Though he would like to walk home from school on occasion, when I’ve tried to arrange it I’ve met some resistance and concern from school organizers, especially since it seems no one else is walking. While safety is important, we may also have to address some new cultural barriers to kids walking.

The US Walk to School website provides information on the benefits of walking and has some great checklists for assessing the “walkability” and “bikeability” of your community – including concrete steps you can take to make improvements. The site also provides ideas and resources for local events you can organize – and an opportunity to register and highlight your efforts – all under the 2011 slogan “Hike it. Bike it. I like it!” Although it’s a little late to organize something for October 5th (I’m planning just to walk to school with my son today), many events are taking place throughout the month of October. Events can be throughout the community – or even just on school grounds.

In addition, through the National Center for Safer Routes to School, which maintains the Walk to School Program (with funding from the US Department of Transportation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), communities can develop strategies for increasing the walkability of their neighborhoods year-round. And they can access grants through the 2005 legislation that created the Federal Safer Routes to School program.

So, there are lots of reasons to get up, and get walking! If you don’t make it this year, be prepared for International Walk to School Day 2012 – scheduled for October 3rd!