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  • The Greatest Gift of Motherhood

    Happy Mother's Day - chieffamilyofficer.com

    There are many wonderful things about being a mother, and I can hardly believe I’ve been a mother for nearly a decade. I don’t feel ten years older than when I first gave birth. And yet, the proof is standing next me, the top of his head reaching my shoulder, his dresser covered in academic and athletic awards, and Nike Elite socks strewn across the floor.

    He and his brother are amazing little men, and I feel so blessed when I think of how happy and healthy they are.

    And yet, there have been many dark and difficult times, and that’s when I’ve received the greatest gift of motherhood: Understanding of my own mother.

    It was only in becoming a mother than I learned to let go of the childhood wounds I’d carried around for years. It took becoming a mother to understand that the years of misunderstandings with my own mother didn’t mean she didn’t love me.

    And of course, I finally understood how aggravated and frustrated I made her when I pretended not to hear her call me to dinner so I could finish the chapter I was reading, when I failed to clean my room, and when I mumbled “Fine” when she asked how my day was.

    So Mom, today on Mother’s Day, I want to apologize for all the aggravation I put you through. I know that you love me enough to think it was worth it, and I love you even more for that. Happy Mother’s Day!

    And Happy Mother’s Day to you if you’re a mother, whether your babies are here on earth or in heaven.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by 89studio.

    Should your child start kindergarten early?

    Should your child start kindergarten early? - chieffamilyofficer.com

    In the last few months, several parents have said to me something along the lines of: “I probably should have held him back.”

    It’s made me grateful that my children’s birthdays fall in months that didn’t give me much choice about when they would start kindergarten. I’ve watched many friends struggle with the decision of whether to start their child in kindergarten in the fall or wait a year, and as I said, I have friends who’ve regretted – or at least doubted – their choice to start their child early.

    Some of the reasons for starting kindergarten on the earlier side include:

    • The child is emotionally ready. Some kids have trouble sitting still, getting along with other kids, cry a lot, etc. Other kids fully participate in their preschool class, and handle interactions with other kids appropriately. If you’ve got the former, it’s easier to say your child isn’t quite ready for kindergarten. But if you’ve got the latter, you might wonder if keeping her in preschool for another year is actually hindering her development.
    • The child is intellectually ready. I know some kids who could not only write their names and the entire alphabet, but they could read Level 1 or 2 books and do simple addition and subtraction when they started kindergarten. Some kids get bored in preschool, too. Again, if you have an academically advanced child, you might wonder if holding him back will just make the next year more difficult than it needs to be.
    • The child is physically ready. In almost every class, there seems to be one kid who’s noticeably taller than everybody else. And a lot of times, that kid is one of the younger ones in the class. It can be difficult to look like you’re older than everybody else, especially when you actually aren’t. So parents with a tall kid might be more inclined to start their child in kindergarten than parents with a short kid.
    • The financial cost of another year of preschool is a burden. Preschool can be expensive {although it’s cheap compared to summer camp!}. So the thought of paying for an extra year of preschool when you don’t have to can be a huge incentive to send your child to kindergarten instead of holding her back for another year. That’s money that can be applied toward college savings or other good uses.

    On the other hand, there are also reasons to hold your child back:

    • Your child may be able to keep pace with her peers now, but may fall behind in a few years. As school work becomes more challenging, your child may have increasing difficulty with the material. One of my friends said her son was struggling with fourth grade math, and was wondering if he would have had an easier time in school if she’d held him back a year.
    • Your child will have to face social pressures earlier. Adolescence is never an easy time, and that may be when your child’s younger age compared to her classmates starts to show. So it’s important to project ahead and ask yourself if you want your child to be exposed to middle school or high school a year earlier than she needs to be. In fact, one of my friends who skipped a grade said that she felt fine about it until middle school, which is when she really started to feel the age difference.
    • It can be difficult to hold your child back later. Some schools will not allow you to hold your child back once she’s in school, especially if she’s keeping up academically. You may wish to check the policy of your local school district before making a decision.
    • Your child may have an advantage when it comes to athletics if he’s on the older end of the scale. While it’s statistically unlikely your child will become a superstar athlete, he may have a better chance of athletic success in high school if he’s older.

    This is one of those really difficult parenting decisions where you won’t know if you made the right choice for a few years, if ever. Ever since college, I’ve wished that my parents had held me back so that I was one of the oldest kids instead of one of the youngest – I think I would have been more self-confident, and consequently thrived more. But one of my good friends growing up had skipped a grade and was younger than me, and seemed far better adjusted in our late adolescence/early adulthood than I was. {I’d say there’s zero to no disparity now, so maybe that’s the real answer: eventually it just doesn’t matter.}

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by AKARAKINGDOMS.

    Tips on Parenting an Athlete

    Parenting an Athlete - chieffamilyofficer.com

    As a parent, one of my biggest jobs is to give my children the best opportunities to experience early success, to help pave the way for greater success as they get older.

    One thing that hasn’t changed much in the decades since I was a kid is that athletic kids seem to have it a little easier than other kids. Excelling at sports (or any specialty) breeds confidence in other areas, and athletic ability tends to garner admiration from adults and kids alike.

    While not all kids are meant to be athletes, from what I’ve seen, true natural athletes for whom athletic feats come easily are actually really rare. Sure, some kids have incredible hand-eye coordination. Others have size or speed on their size. But the young athlete who is the whole package – raw ability, skill, technique, toughness, and awareness – is truly one in a million.

    That’s good new for the rest of us! It means that if we help our kids be the best athletes they can be, most likely they can be more than good enough to feel comfortable out on the field and have that sense of self-assurance that the athletic kids at school {of whom I was not one} always seem to feel.

    Here are some tips on parenting an athlete, which have translated for us into general teachings about life that have been incredibly good lessons for my children:

    Emphasize effort, not the outcome – This is generally applicable parenting advice that I first read when my kids were little, and it’s backed by research concluding that kids who are praised for their effort rather than their successes end up more successful, largely because they’re more persistent. It works especially well in sports, where success can be achieved at lower levels without much effort, but success at higher levels requires great effort. For example, a kid who can throw a baseball really hard and somewhat accurately at age five may be lauded for getting the outs, but because his form is really bad, he can’t throw very far or accurately when he’s playing on a bigger field at age eight. But encourage the same kid to work on his throwing motion instead of just congratulating him on recording the out, and by age eight, he’ll be throwing people out from the outfield.

    Emphasize the importance of practice, and back your words up with action – I love that with sports, you get tangible results with lots of practice. Most recreational teams practice just once or twice a week, so encourage your child to practice outside of the team dynamic, and help them do so. Take her to the park, hit balls to her, or kick the ball back and forth. For particular skills, you may need to hire a coach, or if you can’t afford one, ask if the team’s coach can show you and your child one or two drills or skills to focus on.

    Emphasize mental skills as much as physical skills – Help your child learn the rules of the sport, and emphasize the need to pay attention during games. It’s hard to make a play if you don’t see the ball come your way until the last second, or if your teammate can’t pass you the ball because you’re out of position. But the kid who wants to be there, who’s always focused and participating and trying his or her best, will always win the coach’s heart, even if he or she doesn’t have the best skills.

    Teach sportsmanship – This goes with the last tip, but I’ve put it separately because attitude is a huge part of sports. Everyone makes mistakes (including umpires and referees), someone has to make the last out, and so on. Having a great attitude will endear your child not just to her coach, but to her teammates. {And that in itself is a great life lesson!}

    Don’t compare – There will always be other kids who are bigger, faster, or stronger. We all have limitations. So point out the absurdity and uselessness of comparisons, and encourage your child to do his best, which is all he can control.

    Learn the sport – If you don’t know the rules, learn them so you can help your child learn them. Watch games on TV, play videogames, or watch YouTube videos on technique. While these activities can’t substitute for actual practice, they can help your child fine tune her skills and learn positioning.

    Above all, help your child translate athletic success into lifelong success. When my son recently complained about his academic workload, particularly extra work I was giving him to practice for a specific test, I suggested he think of homework and studying as practice. Working hard outside of school will help him succeed in the classroom in the same way that practicing sports helps him succeed during games. It made sense to him, and he hasn’t complained since!

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by xedos4.

    Thoughts about Video Games and Kids #NavigateTheHolidays

    #NavigateTheHolidaysLast week, the folks at MomsLA and GameStop invited me to a #NavigateTheHolidays event to learn about the hottest games and consoles this season, how GameStop can help with holiday shopping, and – what I ended up finding to be the most interesting – some statistics on video games, screen time, and kids.

    My husband and I both get a lot of screen time ourselves, mostly through computers, some from television, and especially now with our smartphones. So from the moment I first became a parent nine years ago, I’ve been concerned about how much screen time my kids get. I read the articles and recommendations in various parenting books and magazines about minimizing screen time, and I’d heard some nightmarish stories from friends with kids older than mine about screen time obsessions.

    However, over the years, my kids have had ready access to television, video games, iPods, DVDs, and computers. (I know it might be shocking, but we don’t have a single tablet in our household . . . yet.) And while I may not be unbiased, I do think my children are well-adjusted, healthy and happy. They both keep very active with sports, do well in school, and by all accounts are reportedly extremely well-behaved when they’re not with me or my husband. Thanks to school, homework, and their busy sports schedules, screen time is inherently limited, so they rarely have a chance to exceed the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of two hours per day.

    At the event last week, a representative from Techlicious shared some interesting study results from the UK Millenium Cohort Study, which tracked 11,000 kids over 10 years:

    • “When video games were introduced to kids as young as 5, there was no effect on the child’s attention, behavior, or emotional health”
    • However, “[k]ids who watched 3+ hours of TV, specifically between ages 5-7, had increased behavioral problems”
    • Video games can “help improve hand-eye coordination, memory formation, and can even help dsylexic children to read better”

    I personally found these results reassuring, since they tend to corroborate my observations of my own children. It reinforces my common-sense belief that, as with all of parenting, what matters isn’t the fact of screen time by itself. What matters is the content you let your children watch on TV, the types of games you allow them to play, whether you discuss the proper use of technology at appropriate times, and so on. The key to good parenting when it comes to screen time isn’t so much limiting the amount of screen time, as it is monitoring the quality and content of screen time.

    If you’re uncertain about video game content, the Entertainment Standard Rating Board issues ratings for video games that make good general guidelines regarding content and age-appropriateness. The GameStop representative at the event last week assured us that they work hard to prevent sales of mature-rated games to minors.

    Another nice thing that came up was how many families play video games together. It’s basically the modern version of Family Game Night, just with video games instead of board games. And there are so many games that you can play together, although it sounds like the most popular one is Just Dance.

    Not surprisingly, however, my kids’ favorite games right now are Minecraft {every kid their age seems to play it!}, and sports games like Madden and FIFA. And I’m ok with that!

    Although the event I attended was sponsored by GameStop, I was not required to write about it. This post does contain affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for using through them! All opinions are my own. You can read CFO’s full disclosure here.

    When you feel like a bad mother

    Sometimes the boys are particularly challenging and there are many times when, after interacting with them, I start to question myself and to feel like an inadequate mom. I know I’m not the only one out there, so here are a few tips for recapturing some equanimity:

    Have a sense of self-worth that’s independent of  your identity as a mother - I think this is the most important tip of all, because the more your sense of self-worth is dependent on your sense of accomplishment as a mother, the harder you will take it when things aren’t going well with your child. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and on your child. So have something else in your life that makes you feel good about yourself, whether it’s a career, volunteering, or something else.

    Do something you enjoy and that you’re good at – I’m thinking of things like cooking, gardening, exercise, scrapbooking, etc. Like the first tip, this one restores your sense of well-being without requiring anything from your child. It will also help give you some distance from the problem event.

    Think about your child’s positive traits – Once you have some distance, it’s easier to remind yourself about all the things you love about your child, which makes it easier to forgive their transgressions and to think objectively about how to proceed.

    Talk to someone you trust for another perspective – Your partner, a good friend, your child’s teacher, or even your child’s pediatrician can provide some much-needed reassurance, a more objective perspective, and maybe suggest some new tactics to try with your child.

    Think long term – Remember that this too shall pass. In 10 to 15 years, your child will be an adult – hopefully one who is happy, able to take care of him or herself, and makes good decisions. And all of the angst you feel now will be but a distant memory.


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