Grandmom Blog

Things are Looking Up

In February of this year, President Obama made good on one of his campaign promises: he signed the American Recovery Act of 2009.The resulting law contains money to support states looking at shortfalls. It supports funding for several early childhood programs including Head Start and Early Head Start as well as a Child Care and Development Block Grant. There is more, a veritable largess in early education –What joy. And we thought it could never happen.

The aim of the new programs is to strengthen the coordination of early care and education, health, and family support programs. Some of it backs the cry for evidence of the merit of these programs and some supports the programs which have already been well documented as beneficial.

There are many people to thank; but one who rises above all the rest,from my own discipline -- psychology’s Ted Strickland. Dr. Strickland is now Governor Strickland of Ohio and former Congressman Strickland. In all these roles, Governor Strickland has a history of concern for the well-being of children and families. Two years ago, he established an Early Childhood Cabinet to create, and manage state policy concerning the well-being of children. They worked closely with the state’s child policy team, before the watchful eyes of their governor.

Not everything in the new president’s campaign proposals will sail through with the backing of other national leaders like Strickland; but a new hopefulness is evident in the halls of academia, as researchers rush to complete their own grant proposals before the deadlines. Armed with the new rules and regulations, Zero to Three put out the data base: “Policy Center’s Infant & Toddler Framework”. Go to the Zero to Three site to get the documents if you are intent on serving young children and families. Your inquiry will be treated with the respect due this vital cause. Three cheers for all who have made changes for the better possible. As for Ted Strickland, he has been faithful to the call to duty of an inspiring leader in 20th century psychology: George Albee, once president of the American Psychological Association who exhorted his members to “Give Psychology Away”. Since this may be my last blog on this site for some time, you should know that I have done my best to be true to that exhortation to “give psychology away” on line and in print, representing my profession and another consistent champion of children’s interests: Scholastic, Inc.

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Hovering is Out

Parental hovering is out; and so is micromanaging… Really? That’s news to me!

I don’t agree with Lisa Belkin, Parenting writer for the New York Times, who reports that where parenting is concerned, the times they are a’changin. Actually, she’s a little more cautious than that—saying they “may be changing”. As evidence, she cites, for example, the publication of a book, “The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids”, wrapped in a cover illustration of “Mum and Dad lounging with martinis while their well-trained toddler sits on the floor mixing up the next batch”. Belkin interprets the scene as advice to parents to “just chill”.

Then there is the economic factor. Parents don’t have as much money as they once did to support violin lessons, tutors in both test taking and subject matter, little league in a fall, winter, and spring sport and private coaching, as well as specialty camps…

Ms. Belkin attributes the change to not only the slipping economy, but also a new tempo, or what Carl Honore calls “slow parenting”. No need to rush from the French tutor to the baseball lesson and math tutor…

Since none of us has any hard data about these trends, but rather just impressions, I need not apologize for my impression to the contrary. I’m sure there are some parents who simply must cut back on the cost of all this polishing of kids and their medals. But I don’t see any slowdown of the intense hovering on the part of many parents. I can even go out on a shaky limb and suggest that there is usually one child, often the first born, in each family who is hovered over the most. There is an immoveable conviction on the part of the parents that this child will fall by the wayside unless he practices, studies, engages with tutors and coaches, and never never “wastes time” with non-academic or impromptu neighborhood sports. Any number of regrettable consequences are possible. This child does not own the responsibility for his own performance since his mother is his eternal gatekeeper. He need not work hard because a tutor is coming later to put the material at his finger tips before the test. He also begins to believe the myth of his own innate inadequacies which free him of the responsibility to work hard. But maybe, just maybe if “authorities” like Lisa Belkin continue to tell us that such a state of affairs is now OLD, at last we can relax a bit and allow our kids to do the same.

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Beddie Bye

Scholastic Parent & Child is, of course, my favorite Parenting magazine; but from time to time I look at one of the competitors’ to get a sense of  trends in topics, style, etc. Last week I was drawn to the blurb on Parenting’s cover, a blurb that said, “WANT YOUR BED BACK? Getting kids to sleep alone.”

“Well now,” I thought. “It was only a few years ago that our advice to families was, “Everyone back in your own beds.” And that had evoked  strong protests from believers in the merits of the “Family Bed”.  I had written that it’s essential to help children to tolerate the separation that night brings, to guide them toward the capacity to fall asleep alone and wake alone without panic.  Doing these things allows mastery in many other spheres—feeding, dressing, deciding with whom and what to play.  Remembering the many comforting words of parents at stressful times during the day, is often enough to soothe children to sleep. Tomorrow promises to be another good day.

The extra glass of water and story may be enough additional comfort for most young children.

On the other hand, waking during the night and crawling into the parents’ bed can easily become a habit. Especially at stressful times (eg. Following or anticipating moving day, the birth of new baby, divorce or separation, illness in the family, etc.) the habit of making the parents’ bed a comfort zone is easily begun.  Then when the time comes to reestablish independence, it isn’t easy. But it can be done and done lovingly.

One parent told us that she and her husband can’t persuade their 9 year old that it is time to move into his own room and his own bed. He had been sleeping in theirs all his life;  because they were originally told the ‘family bed” is a boon to the new baby and small child.

It’s understandable that nursing newborns would sleep in a bassinet beside their mothers. But in only a matter of weeks or months, one of the wonderful new intercoms can serve the infant’s need for being heard while allowing the discovery of characteristic smells, sounds and sights of the baby’s own room. Getting used to and getting comfortable in one’s own crib should begin that early. With encouragement, babies, toddlers, and young children are able to make friends with the night. An extra reading of Goodnight Moon will show parents and children how it’s done.  Oh, and one more hint, never use “go to your bed” as a punishment, when, after all, it is actually a refuge.

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Vindicated

A one-page column in the current New Yorker Magazine (5/25/09) brought me enlightenment and relief. I’m referring to Ann Hodgmans “Shouts and Murmurs”. This week’s title: “Book Club”.

First, I must tell you that I have never belonged to or even been a guest at a book club. That might seem strange since I love to read and do a lot of it.  I was an undergraduate English major/editor of the college literary magazine; I also have a number of very wonderful friends, most of whom are members of at least one book club.  These book clubs are often made up of peers in gender, age and socioeconomic circumstance. I have also heard about a few mother and daughter book clubs.  Then there are the professional/ working women book clubs. More often the clubs mix stay at home and working women. I have declined honest invitations to join many, including psychologists’ book clubs. Then there are the clubs where non-employed but busy college educated ladies who can’t get enough “culture” gather. And they are faithful book club members although their calendars are jammed with tennis dates, bridge clubs, luncheon dates, symphony or chamber music concert series and charitable events.

I must confess I have often wondered if most of the members of book clubs really read every word of the assigned books. Fearing that I wouldn’t have the time to finish these tomes from or near the Best Seller’s lists, I have avoided adding such pressure to my already full schedule. Now along comes Ann Hodgman with a delicious dose of truth serum:  “Discussion points for members who have not read this month’s book”, implying that more don’t read it than do. And, she further implies that the book club enterprise is a hollow exercise. Take for example the following questions she submits for our consideration: “In your opinion, is this book fiction or nonfiction?

Support your answer with examples taken from the jacket copy”. Here are a few more of her questions: 9. Is there a way that, by quickly flipping through the pages as if in search of a particular passage, you might be able to glean more of the plot in case Mary calls on you? Why not turn to the last page?” 10. What is in those little sandwiches on the piano?” 12. What do you think will happen next?”

Thank you, Ann Hodgman, for freeing this lover of reading to go on doing it my way.

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What Do Women Want?

Sigmund Freud bluntly asked that question in his published work (somewhere in the 24 volumes), Even he was mystified by the opposite sex.  Freud who is known for his declarative statements and bold theory rarely demonstrated uncertainty. Female psychology was one exception. It wouldn’t have cleared up his confusion had he gotten to know females of the 21st century. Little girls and women of today are as mystifying to men as any generation before them had been. They may have a demonstrated ability to endure pain, loss, and other misfortune.  However, these all take their tolls. Women are twice as likely as men to feel depressed. At all ages they are 9 times more likely to have eating disorders and 3 times more likely to have anxiety disorders.  Many women still endure discrimination, have lower socioeconomic status,  and are more often than men, the victims of abuse, in and out of the family. And with it all females still have greater longevity, as a group. Maybe one protective factor is girls’ and women’s ability to dream big.  I don’t know how typical my daughter, granddaughter or I am, but we sure do have big dreams.  My one and only granddaughter is a competitive swimmer. She will soon celebrate her 9th birthday, but she has been building her strength and confidence as a swimmer, a soccer player, and a long distance runner for a few years now. During the Olympics last summer, she asked her Mom if Grandma and Grandpa could come along to Bejing when she competes in 2020. (a pleasant thought, despite its break with reality) I’m for letting her keep those hopes up, although we might inform her that Beijing isn’t the setting for all Olympics.

I once told you about the interesting change in the themes of her birthday parties. The four year old party was all Princess. The girls dressed up in gowns, ate dainty tea sandwiches and there was hush in the room. By her 8th birthday, gowns were given up for rented bowling shoes. And the 9th birthday, I understand, will be in a party place that fosters sloppy aggressive behavior---throwing stuff at each other, with loud heavy rock playing, nothing unsafe, of course; but don’t wear that princess party dress.  My granddaughter is coasting along through the various stages with ease; but we still have the early adolescent meanness and clique stuff ahead.  I think she’ll do fine. She knows she is talented, smart and pretty, despite the verbal disclaimers of her older brothers. She is very attached to family—not only her own nuclear group, but cousins, aunts and uncles, and yes Grandparents too. And do we ever love our only granddaughter, our jock princess.

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The Media Can’t Win!

We have a new instance of “Blame the Messenger”: this time it’s the media for frightening the public about a possible flu epidemic. But what else could the media do?  We are told that the swine flu situation is in flux.  It’s a new strain to humans, so no one can’t predict the risks entailed. How widespread will it be?  How long will it be around? How sick will its victims get? Is this just a preview of a bad situation in the next flu season? What will it leave in its wake? How prepared are we? The President tells us that his administration is taking this very seriously, monitoring it, but not panicking. We are told too that we are prepared with plenty of medication and authorities are keeping a close watch.

I personally think that the media is doing a measured and appropriate job. They are reporting the incidence in different locals, the death rate (which, so far, is very small), the symptoms, and they are even interpreting the alarming sounding numbers referring to the speed of the spread---does it approach the World Health Organization’s prediction of a Pandemic? In the U. S., it has been declared a public health emergency, so far not a pandemic.  Some schools have closed because there have been at least a few cases reported among their students. Other schools are closed to prevent the spread, even though no local cases have been reported. The media is simply reporting all of this and adding a note saying there is no need for panic. Wash hands often, cover our noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing, stay home and keep our kids home if we or they are ill.

Despite careful, accurate and measured reporting, some people are prone to great anxiety over talk about a pandemic. So the American Psychological Association and APA Practice.org are offering help to ease that anxiety. You can read, “Managing Your Anxiety about Swine Flu” at www.apahelpcenter.org.

Stay informed because this is a dynamic situation. Check the CDC web site.
Get the facts that will help with decision making; but limit the time spent watching or listening to media coverage. Then help me with my own tough decision: should I go to “Grandparents’ Day” at my granddaughter’s school in 3 days? I have had more than my share of illness this past fall and winter; but how can I disappoint her by being so extra cautious?  Advice please!

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Can We Afford The Banality of Doctors Doing Evil?

We must acknowledge the abhorrent truth of Frank Rich’s report (New York Times, April 26, 2009) that torture was “a premeditated policy approved at our government’s highest levels” during the Bush administration. What is most troubling to me about it all is the fact that “psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain”. Those individuals trained to reduce pain and suffering nevertheless did not say “no” to torture.

We are all prepared to acknowledge the sad fact that evil exists in the highest levels of even some democratic governments; but I hope I am not alone in shunning the dreadful reality that some members of the helping professions which declare they will “First Do No Harm” have stooped to a partnership in evil. Where I come from, doctors and psychologists don’t use torture for any end, no matter who calls them to duty.

There is a famous experiment designed and carried out by a social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, shortly after the 2nd world war.  Recent studies have repeated Milgram’s design, with predominately the same results: the majority of people asked to press a button to cause an innocent person to feel strong electric shock, carry out the command.  Few refuse at the risk of displeasing the person in charge. These results have been shocking to two generations of readers. Now, in my view, even more shocking is the fragility of the moral principles of some who have taken an oath to do no intentional harm.

Can we bring these facts to the table in admissions committee meetings at Medical Schools and Graduate Schools? Can we hope to give less power to arbitrary standardized tests and more to character assessment?  Can we start, in fact, in preschool, and proceed all the way through the pre-vocational years in order to restrict a caring professional identity to those who cannot be corrupted as the Bush/Cheney physicians and psychologists had been?

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Three Cheers for the Garden State

It was a very long time ago, but my memory of the incident remains crystal clear. My two young children and I were enjoying a brief vacation in Disney World. The rides were as much fun for me as they were for the kids. What artistry there was in every last detail.  And staff members (not only Mickey and Donald) connected with visitors in a welcoming way.

The incident that sticks in my mind occurred when we boarded a boat for a special ride. The Captain asked each group aboard to name its home state.  When my two proudly called out, “New Jersey”, everyone laughed and laughed even louder when the Captain offered, “Don’t feel bad. We won’t hold your New Jersey roots against you!”

My children were stunned and a little bit hurt. They were proud of their state; and no one had ever questioned their pride before. Later while sharing a tank of popcorn, I tried my best to explain why N.J. had become a national joke, mostly among people who had never gotten off the Turnpike to see the real “Garden State”. Hearing people pronounce N.J. home evoked the question, “What Exit?”.  But that only meant the listeners were ignorant of our state’s fine qualities, including its generous spirit.

Today, I am especially proud of the news that N.J will be supporting (and that means funding in hard times) preschool programs, particularly for children of poverty. Our governor, Jon Corzine, had hoped to provide all day pre-school for all of N. J.’s children. That hope will have to be compromised.  There will not be funding enough for all. But the Governor understands the potential life long benefits of a good preschool experience. He plans to use federal stimulus funds and an additional 25 million already set aside for preschool programs. Since the funds are still limited, he plans to focus on the most needy---the most at risk kids.  While many other states are cutting back on preschool programs, N. J. is enriching theirs. Hip hip hurray for the Garden State.

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Whose Bragging Rights?

It’s been some time; but I know I did share at least one story about my oldest grandchild’s social skills.  It’s the honest truth that he began to reach out to other people the minute he emerged from the womb. I saw him about 10 minutes later when he was being wheeled in a newborn’s warmer to get his wrist I.D. (My son-in-law wouldn’t let the newborn out of his sight until that I.D. was secured.) But the little boy himself was busy looking the world over, making eye contact, bundled up but bursting with the energy to reach out and “touch someone”.

A few years later at a community pool, he approached a little girl about his size.  “Hi, what’s your name?” he asked without a hint of shyness.  The other child responded, “Marianne”.  “Oh, hi, Marianne. I’m ‘B’, the landscaper.”

When he was about 8 and just entering a new school, he knocked on the door of the athletic director. “Excuse me, Mr. M”, he said apologetically; “I hope I am not disturbing you. I am BB; Just wanted to say ‘hello’, and tell you how happy I am to be at ______ (school’s name).  His parents were shocked and unequivocally denied having suggested that he do this.  It was all his idea and the first they had heard of it.

Now he has a two year old cousin, who is showing similar signs of social precocity. When his family of four goes out to eat, L often flirts with the diners at the next table, and often breaks out with easy introductions. “This is Mommy; this is Daddy;  that is C., and I am L.”

Handshakes and self-conscious smiles all around among the adults. The origin of the socio-political ease shared by these first cousins is a mystery to us all. Grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles alike, protest, “He doesn’t get that from me!”

Whatever it’s genetic source, it’s a very special gift.

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Brother, Can you Spare a Cup

This is really puzzling to me. Something must have happened when I wasn’t paying attention to the waves of cultural changes affecting every day life.  I am too busy focusing on newspapers barely clinging to life, books and music finding their way to the internet’s instant cost-free availability, wondering what to do with my Webster’s all print dictionary. Probably I’ll keep it for old times’ sake, as I did my Selectric typewriter gathering dust for years before I moved and threw it on the truck of “1-800 Junk” along with an old black and white tv set. There is a fine line between Junk and retro-ware status. I’m sure I always pick the moment before my junk would have become a valuable piece of memorabilia to discard it.  But that’s water over the dam, and not my focus today.

What I want to know now is whatever happened to the plain plastic bathroom cup. I have been searching the vast canyons of mini-malls, the big chain pharmacies, the rare independent drug stores, the “we have everything for the home” chains, even the going out of business novelty stores that always answered “Yes” to any question that began with “Do you carry…?”.  What has happened that I missed? Have Americans given up on rinsing their teeth after brushing?  Are they sucking mouthwash directly from the bottle?  How do they take their plethora of pills, vitamins and cure or prevent-alls?

Confession: I did find a plastic bathroom cup in one large home styles store; but it was made in China and labeled “not safe for the dishwasher”.  Couldn’t risk that one.   Well, anyway, whatever cultural force has crushed the market for bathroom cups in America, it has yet to hit China. When Chinese plastic cups disappear entirely from our marketplace, we will know another mysterious, yet very bad blow has befallen the world economy.

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