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Parenting

Intense Child Custody Disputes are Rarely About the Best Interests of the Child

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Child custody disputes are rarely about the best interest of the child, and the stories are all too common. A parent is reported to have abducted their child as part of a long-standing custody and access dispute. Indeed, a quick Google search reveals almost 500,000 hits for the term parental abduction.The term parent alienation yielded over 1 million hits.

For the children, these battles between parents can be scary, particularly when they involve some form of abduction. They are being taken away from a parent who loves them by a parent who also professes the same thing. How can this be? But the abduction is rarely a unique event in the lives of children. They typically have faced years of conflict between parents. The list of what children are exposed too is long:

parental-child-abduction• Parents yelling at each other;
• Arguments in public at custody exchange places;
• Put downs of the other parent;
• Denial of financial support as a means of getting back at a parent;
• Refusal to allow a child to bring favourite toys or clothes to a visit;
• Efforts to get the child to take sides.

It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with a variety of other ways that parents seek to get back at each other. Too often, courts become part of the toolbox used by an angry parent. Anyone who has worked in this area can tell stories of a parent (too often representing themselves in court) filing petition after petition against the other parent. There are also the tragic cases where a parent kills the child. Here in Alberta, we recently saw the death of 9-year-old Amber Lucius. It is believed that her mother killed her. The media reports a six-year custody battle.

Courts are typically more focused on parents who can manage to get along or at least will honour the orders of the courts. They are not as effective with cases where the parent simply ignores the court orders. While this will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there is no doubt that the defiant parent will have created much havoc before the court holds that parent to task. Many will never get held accountable as the other parent just gives up – they can’t manage the battle any longer or they are out of money to defend themselves in court.

Child protection systems are often reluctant to get involved. They feels that a competent justice system is in place through family and divorce courts. Yet, these more extreme cases carry on creating damage to the child. A study just published in the journal Development and Psychopathology researchers Raver, Blair and Garrett-Peters showed that children who are exposed to verbal and physical aggression between parents have long term negative effects which include the ability to identify and regulate emotions. In other words, they suffer from a form of emotional abuse. Conflict between parents warring over custody and access can fit this description.

Child protection should get involved in these cases. They can bring another force of control against the non-compliant parent. In more extreme cases that might lead to more intrusive arrangements by child protection where a child is removed to kinship or foster care. These child custody disputes, while under the guise of the best interests of the child, are far from it. Society needs to be willing to protect the child and child protection may need to be one way to do that when other court based interventions fail.

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Dr. Peter Choate is a Registered Social Worker and Member of the Clinical Registry and Approved Clinical Supervisor for the Alberta College of Registered Social Workers. He is an Assistant Professor at Mount Royal University in the Faculty of Social Work and Disability Studies and a Professional Development Instructor at the University of Calgary. His particular emphasis is on parenting capacity as well child and adolescent mental health including maltreatment, neglect and abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and these issues within family systems.

          
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Health

What Drives Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Prenatal Care for Expectant Mothers?

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Prenatal care — health care for pregnant mothers — is one of the most commonly used forms of preventive health care among women of reproductive age. Prenatal care represents an important opportunity to detect, monitor, and address risky health conditions and behaviors among expectant mothers that can impact birth outcomes.

Both delayed prenatal care (i.e., care initiated after the first trimester of pregnancy) and inadequate prenatal care are associated with poor infant health outcomes such as low birth weight. Although researchers continue to debate precise causal effects, studies suggest that prenatal care brings important benefits — including reductions in maternal smoking, lower rates of preventable pregnancy complications like high blood pressure, and better management of the mother’s weight after giving birth. Furthermore, mothers who initiate care earlier are more likely to take their infants to well-baby visits after their babies are born.

As with other forms of healthcare, we see significant racial/ethnic disparities in access to and use of prenatal care. Although researchers have explored overall disparities in health outcomes rooted in differences in health insurance coverage, education, family income, and county-level poverty, more remains to be learned about how such factors affect various racial/ethnic inequalities.

Such knowledge is critical for achieving national public health goals and for addressing gaps in health outcomes for pregnant women. My research explores this area and can point to solutions that can improve and equalize health care for various groups of women and their children.

Disparities in First Trimester Initiation and Adequacy of Prenatal Care

My research quantifies how various factors contribute to gaps in prenatal care among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic women. By combining county-level U.S. Census data with rich data on children born in 2001 from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, I am able to pinpoint factors that typically cannot be considered simultaneously. For example, I can explore the effects of both maternal access to transportation and the availability of physicians in various counties.

My results reveal significant disparities among black, Hispanic, and white mothers in terms of the start of prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy. Although approximately 89 percent of whites initiate care during the first trimester, only 75 percent of black mothers and 79 percent of Hispanic mothers do so. Mothers from these groups also experience disparities in the adequacy of prenatal care they receive. Approximately 79 percent of non-Hispanic whites experience at least adequate prenatal care, while only 68 percent of Hispanic mothers and 69 percent of black mothers receive adequate care. What explains these differences? Here are the key findings from my research:

  • Socioeconomic characteristics like education, family income, and participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children explain far more of the racial/ethnic gaps in prenatal care than any other factors. These factors explain over half of black–white disparities and nearly half of Hispanic–white disparities in first trimester prenatal care initiation. Socioeconomic characteristics also explain far more of the racial/ethnic gaps in prenatal care adequacy than any other group of factors (although these factors account for considerably more of the black-white gap than the Hispanic-white gap).

  • Maternal health and characteristics of pregnancies (such as maternal age and number of previous pregnancies) explain 8.8 percent of black-white differences and 8.7 – 9.7 percent of Hispanic–white differences in the timing of the start of care in the first trimester. But differences in the adequacy of care are not related to maternal health or pregnancy characteristics.

  • Types of insurance coverage – whether women are covered by Medicaid, private insurance, or have no coverage — explain similar small percentages of differences in the timing of first trimester care, but again do not account for gaps in the adequacy of care.

  • The location of prenatal care facilities – in physicians’ offices and public health clinics — explained 4.7-6 percent of black–white gaps in timing of the start of care and 2.9-4.9 percent of Hispanic–white disparities. Location of care explained about 8.3 percent of black–white gaps in the adequacy of care but did not explain Hispanic-white gaps.

  • Maternal behaviors like smoking and state of residence and count-level conditions did not significantly contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in the initiation of prenatal care. But the availability of local gynecologists and state of residence did help to narrow black–white gaps in the adequacy of prenatal care, although these factors did not influence gaps in the adequacy of care between Hispanics and whites.

Addressing Socioeconomic Factors to Improve Prenatal Health

My research suggests that large and persistent socioeconomic disparities are primary contributors to racial/ethnic gaps in the timing and adequacy of prenatal care. This finding is not surprising — pregnant women with lower incomes and levels of formal education often do not have the resources necessary to obtain care early and often. However, participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children made a difference for pregnant women, suggesting that this public program can help meet the financial needs that remain an important barrier to timely and adequate prenatal care.

My findings suggest that policymakers should endeavor to help disadvantaged populations gain expanded access to healthcare. Medicaid expansions through the 2010 Affordable Care Act provide one promising intervention. Although such expansions target childless poor and near-poor adults, women who receive coverage prior to pregnancy can end up enrolling earlier in prenatal care; and they can obtain continuing help with the management of chronic health problems, potentially improving outcomes when their babies are born.

Ultimately, as my research shows, reducing economic inequality may help to close racial and ethnic disparities in prenatal care. Read more in Tiffany L. Green, “Unpacking Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Prenatal Care Use: The Role of Individual-, Household-, and Area-Level Characteristics,” Journal of Women’s Health 27, no.9 (2018).

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Elder Care

Dilemmas and Solutions for Americans Raising Children While Caring for Elderly Family Members

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Approximately half of middle-aged people in American provide financial, health, or emotional support for adult parents and minor or adult children. The term “sandwich generation caregiver” emerged in the 1980’s to describe middle-aged people who support minor children while providing physical, emotional, financial, or legal assistance to adults. Of course, doing so much exacts personal costs. Sandwich generation caregivers often experience stress-related illnesses, lost income, and decreased work productivity. They also find it harder to provide prolonged assistance to adult children.

Historically, caregiving could be shared by extended family members who lived in close proximity. Now more people relocate for career opportunities. Younger people may do senior care at a long-distance, or aging parents may move closer to one of their adult children and increase the burden on that family.

Caregivers who are employed full-time and taking care of multiple family members must adjust their work schedule and often take unpaid leave to fulfill obligations. They may lose Social Security and pension benefits or experience stressful financial strains that can cause them to become ill. Very often, sandwich generation caregivers choose to attend to the health of a child or parent and neglect their own health. Poor caregiver health is becoming a public health issue.

Sandwich generation caregivers also face barriers in the workplace and increase the cost of health care for employers. Health care costs for caregivers are approximately $13.4 billion greater than for employees that do not have caregiving responsibilities. Working caregivers may have a hard time juggling the crushing time demands of work and caregiving; and they may pass up promotions, decrease work hours, and take unpaid leave because they have depleted paid vacation and sick days.

Caregiver absences cost the U.S. economy $25.2 billion annually in productivity; and workers often quit jobs, lose lifetime wages, retirement savings, and pension benefits. Less than half of U.S. employers offer flexible schedules or the opportunity to telecommute to accommodate caregiving tasks.

Guilt and Exhaustion

Sandwich generation caregivers at the same time express guilt that they are not doing enough – and say they feel exhausted from doing too much. Guilt and exhaustion about how caregiving affects their children is a perpetual undercurrent of stress that affects their own health. In one of my research interviews, Sophie said “I was a single mom at the time…[my kids] really needed me here and then it would be my night to go shower mom and put her to bed… I’d cry sometimes all the way there and then I’d get there and Mom would be sitting there, facing the wall …and then on the way home you’d cry because…how could I think that I didn’t need to be there.”  And in another interview, Ellie explained that she felt  “…sometimes it’s almost like a ball and chain and then I think, “What am I teaching my kids… I want them to have the freedom to live their life without feeling obligated to take care of me someday. And sometimes I wonder how strong a message I’m sending in that regard.”

Self-Care Helps Caregivers Cope – and Jobs Can Too

Parenting and caregiving are both consuming roles – yet many caregivers understand that they still need to take care of themselves because otherwise the pressure or anxiety can be overwhelming. Self-care takes many different forms for sandwich generation caregivers: leisure, exercise, and socializing.

Abby, for instance, told me that even during the hardest part of her caregiving experience she still did Friday night dinner and cards with her husband and friends, took her Tuesday golf outing and walked her dog daily. Abby realized that carving out time for herself helped her stay healthy and not resent taking care of her dad. Similarly, at the beginning of our interview, Zach, said he “was not the type of person to feel guilty” about taking time for himself. He incorporated his kids into his coping strategies by going for long walks with them.

Not only do most sandwich generation caregivers need the wages and benefits that work provides, they also need a break from caregiving. Work sometimes offers a “guilt-free” break, allowing them to feel productive and serving as either a social outlet or a place for solitude, as two interviewees explained:

  • Chloe stated that caregiving was mentally and physically exhausting.  She admitted that it was hard to not feel guilty about taking time for herself but she had a “wake up call” during a physical when her cholesterol and blood sugar were elevated. She allowed herself to relax and socialize during her quarterly conference for work.
  • Leah believed the hardest part of being a parent, caregiver, and professor was that she was “always surrounded.” Leah said that she didn’t take any time for herself. She felt she had to work to make up for the “hole” she put her family in to earn her degree but then she revealed that being in her office at work was like a “retreat”.  She could play music and work at the computer and just be by herself while she graded papers and worked on her research.

What Employers Can Do

Employee assistance programs, flexible schedules, and telecommuting options can reduce some of the stress sandwich generation caregivers experience. Such employees often miss work due to caregiving tasks and their own poor health as a result of stress. They may not have the time to practice preventative health habits and coping strategies, and some develop cardiac, psychological, and chronic illnesses. Employee assistance programs can reduce such problems, to the benefit of all concerned. Employers can, for starters, create a supportive environment for caregivers and help them to seek and utilize institutional and community resources.

In some cases, flexible schedules and telecommuting may allow caregiver workers to maintain their job productivity and prevent valued employees from having to reduce work hours or quit altogether. Employers and fellow employees should also realize that for some caregiver workers time at the office can also act as a coping strategy because it offers a physical and emotional break. This should not be seen as a problem. When caregivers practice self-care, they are healthier – and can be more productive even as they balance the complex demands of their work and family responsibilities.

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Education

Family Team Time

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It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grind with family team time.

What is Family Team Time?

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities — as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly change students’ lives — but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes — all these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

Museums & More

Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang — not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs.

Family Entertainment

Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so children can follow along while listening to the book aloud.

Physical Activity Fun

Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste-tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud!

Volunteer as a Family

As opposed to hustling from a game, to a recital, to a playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day — what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

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Child Welfare

Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies – Alan Sinclair

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It is widely accepted the earliest months and years of a child’s existence have the most profound impact on the rest of the lives. Attachment theorists believe the early bonds and relationships a child forms with his/her carer(s) or parent(s), informs that child’s ability or inability to form successful and healthy relationships in the future.

Alan Sinclair’s ‘Right from the Start’ is the latest in the Postcards from Scotland series of short books, which aim to stimulate new and fresh thinking about why us Scots are the way we are.

In my previous book review in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, I commended the author of ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ (another book in the same series) Carol Craig for her ability to write succinctly and accessibly about a complex subject matter. I feel the same way about Alan Sinclair’s writing in this book.

The premise of this book, put simply, is laying out the bare truths of how good and bad us Scots are at parenting as well as having the appropriate supporting systems in place for parents and carers of our most vulnerable children.

A consistent thread throughout the book is the author arguing that by investing in parents and babies ‘from the start’, governments and the surrounding systems who support children and families can relieve the heartache of tomorrow in the form of poorer outcomes in education, employment and in health.
The book begins by acknowledging the UK’s position on the UNICEF global league table of child well-being, ranking 29 of the world’s richest countries against each other. The UK is placed 16th, our particular challenge being a high proportion of young people not in work, training or education. Although the league table did not single out the devolved nation of Scotland, the author describes the UK as a ‘decent proxy for Scotland’.

The first 1,000 days

The author goes on to explore the theory of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This theory suggests this is the most significant indicator of what the future holds for them. He touches on child poverty, which we know from well-cited research can lead to adversities in life, but he also mentions too much money can be an issue as well.

This point is explored more deeply later in the book’s in a chapter titled: ‘Is social class a factor?’. The author is effective at challenging the popular rhetoric that it’s the least educated and most poverty-stricken parents in society who are most likely to neglect their children. He talks about the longitudinal study, Growing Up in Scotland, which tracks the lives of thousands of children and families from birth to teens. Amongst many other findings, the survey shows 20% of children from the top income bracket have below average vocabulary; it also finds problem-solving capabilities are below average for 29% of this group. This proposes child poverty is only a small indicator of the child’s developmental prospects.

Where the Dutch Get it Right

The most intriguing part of the book from my point of view is the comparison the author makes between raising a child in Scotland versus the Netherlands (which ranked first in the UNICEF league table). In Holland, pregnant women have visits from a Kraamzorg, an omnipresent healthcare professional who identifies the type of support required. Post-birth the Kraamzorg plays a very active role and can typically spend up to eight hours a day supporting the new mother in her first week of childcare. The Kraamzorg also becomes involved in household chores including shopping and cooking. And it doesn’t stop there. The Dutch system includes Mother and Baby Wellbeing Clinics, which support families from birth to school age and have been doing so effectively for the last century.

On reading how the Dutch system operates, it’s hard to not make comparisons to the system here in Scotland (and the wider UK) within our NHS where mothers are wheeled in to give birth and very quickly wheeled out again to free up bed space. I exaggerate slightly here and I do not want to discredit the incredible job hard-working NHS staff do, but I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling envious of the Dutch system and thinking they’ve got something right, in comparison with Scotland. This was neatly summarised at the start of the book in a quote from a Dutch woman who had spent time living in both Holland and Scotland when she said: ‘In Holland we love children. In Scotland you tolerate children.’

But it’s not all bad. As the author remarks himself: ‘Scottish parenting is not universally awful: if we were we would not be almost halfway up the global table of child well-being’ (p. 12).

The penultimate chapter explores some real-life examples of parents who are struggling and striving to succeed in bringing up children with some success despite the odds stacked against them. I found the author’s injection of such human stories among the explanation of evidence useful as it allowed a chance for the reader to reflect on how all this is applicable in everyday life in Scotland.

To me, there was, however, a glaring omission in these stories: a voice from the LGBT community. Gay adoption in Scotland was legalised almost 10 years ago in 2009, and at the same time the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulation 2009 came into force allowing same-sex couples to be considered as foster parents. It would have been interesting to hear from this historically marginalised part of our society what the experience has been like and how different, or similar, this was from the other stories included in this chapter. Are they arguably better equipped as carers of Scotland’s most vulnerable children given their own life experiences of being marginalised?

The book ends with the author setting out his vision for a better future for Scotland’s children where they have better life chances and are fully nurtured. It’s clear we have some way to go but reading this book makes you feel a glimmer of hope that could, one day, become a reality.

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Parenting

Busy Parenting: Spending Time With Kids Is About Quality Not Quantity

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Social engagements, playdates, extra-circular activities, meal preps, homework, school drop off and pick up, bath’s, medical appointments, cleaning, washing clothes, work hours – parents face a lot of activity on a daily basis. It makes you wonder where that village is when you need it, right?

Most parents are utterly exhausted by the end of the day. Spare time on the weekends is often used to recoup and preparing to do it all again the next week. You may even try to practice self-care and soak your tired feet in some apple cider vinegar and have a glass of wine. And, it’s usually an even rarer treat if you find an unused minute on the calendar to spend one-on-one quality time with each of your children.

This conundrum of life demands conflicting with parenting desires causes many parents a tremendous amount of guilt and anxiety. As parents, we often wonder if we are spending enough time with our children to foster bonds and positive development. It turns out that it’s more about what you do than how often you do it.

Here are five ideas to help you achieve this quality time with your children:

Create Opportunity Within Everyday Activities That Already Exist

While it’s the quality, not quantity, of time that’s most important, you’ll find that the more time you share, the more opportunities will arise for that quality time. The most obvious opportunities are actually within the activities of daily living that occur each day.

We all have to eat meals, right? But, how often is that meal a grab and go your separate ways to the television or bedroom or spent with everyone on some electronic device? Seven days of meals where all family members sit down at a table without ANY distractions isn’t likely feasible for working families.

Set aside as many days as you can, making at least one night of the week family meal night at the table without electronics. Use this time to meaningfully communicate with each other and discuss the events of the day or week. Highs and Lows is a great game to play; each person tells what the best part of their day was (the high) and what the worst part was (low.)

Chores provide another opportunity for meaningful conversation as parents can team up with a child to wash dishes, fold laundry, do yard work, and such.

Even commutes can work as meaningful bonding time. As you take your child to and from activities and school, just turn the radio off and shut down electronics. Ask your child questions that aren’t a yes or no answer about wherever you’re headed.

Prepare A Meal Together

Plan ahead a day that you’ll do the meal. Give your child input on what’s to be cooked. Go to the grocery store together to acquire all the ingredients just for this special meal. Take the opportunity to teach your child about the ingredients and how to shop for them. Prepare and serve the meal together. Make them as much a part of the process as safely possible. It’s a fantastic opportunity to teach your child a life skill in cooking and make them feel productive and included through choice.

Plan Routine Special Outings For The Family

You can schedule these events routinely on your calendar as your budget allows, and it doesn’t always have to be something extravagant. It can be simple and inexpensive like a monthly trip to the park, zoo, or local museum where parents can directly engage with children about what he/she sees and take advantage of teaching and learning opportunities.

Maybe your child is a foodie? You can schedule a meal out to try new foods together. Talk about the culture behind the food and all the things you both liked and didn’t like afterward. Maybe your child likes sports. You can attend anything from a free youth game to a professional sporting event and have tons to talk about during and after the game.

Give Each Child A Date Night

Just as you would a spouse date night, schedule one night to take your child out to a place of his or her choosing. The two of you can get dressed up together and paint the town red. Write it huge on the calendar! Setting aside a day or night that’s just your child’s will strengthen your bond and make the child feel extra important, seen, and heard.

Create A Bedtime Ritual

You’re tired, but set aside 10-15 minutes each night to create a routine activity that you and your child will do every night before bedtime.

This can be as simple as reading one chapter in a book each night. You can set up a puzzle and commit to doing 10 pieces each night. Perhaps you want to say a prayer with your child or sing songs together. It can even be as simple as the two of you picking and laying out clothes for the next day.

Such rituals not only provide bonding moments, they also can help establish a healthy bedtime schedule that will serve to help your child’s concentration and immunity. Need more ideas? Author Karen Stephens, director of Illinois State University Child Care Center and instructor in child development for the ISU Family and Consumer Sciences Department, outlines some great ideas for establishing a bedtime routine in her article.

In closing, remember that these activities aren’t about how much money you spend on your child, how long the activity lasts, or where it takes place. It’s about the uninterrupted, undivided attention you give each child during each opportunity. It’s about having an open line of communication between you and the child. It’s about the substance behind the time, not the time itself. Challenge yourself to look for both and create these moments as often as you can.

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Education

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. II

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In part I, we discussed how parents can introduce the concept of self-advocacy with the use of sentence frames, conversation pointers, and self-reflection. Once children begin to understand their needs at home and school, self-advocating becomes much easier.

Self-advocacy is all about speaking up. 

Listening is also a primary part of getting the information that you need. Therefore, when instructing children on how to voice their needs, parents should be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Whenever children ask a question, voice a concern, or seek a response, they must be prepared to listen and absorb the information that they receive. Parents can discuss how eye contact allows other people to recognize that they have your attention.

Additionally, body position and nodding are obvious cues that you are engaged and listening. All of these practices demonstrate active listening skills and help children fully absorb or comprehend the response or information that they are getting. When children ask a question, they should be able to paraphrase the response and formulate a follow-up or clarifying question if necessary. This demonstrates whether or not they were actively listening.

As young learners, children are just beginning to understand themselves as students, which means that their learning needs are somewhat unknown to them. Parents can ask questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” and “When do you think that learning is the most difficult?” Answers to these questions will vary and change as children develop skills for managing their academic progress, but the ability to self-reflect is an essential component of self-advocacy.

Again, practicing sentence frames and hypothetical scenarios can help put children at ease when it comes time for them to advocate for themselves when their parents are not there to speak for them. Remind children that they can and should ask questions when they are confused about something, especially at school.

Parents can also coach children on how to ask direct and specific questions. As opposed to, “Is this good?” or “Is this right?” Children should practice zoning in on concepts that are true roadblocks. In narrowing in on the specific question or need, children will obtain a more specific and helpful response.

Parents should encourage children to vocalize their confusion, stress, worries, or desire for help readily. The whole purpose of school is to seek and gain knowledge and experiences that propel them forward. In this sense, the more children ask, the more they will know.

Explain to them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. For exceptionally shy children, encourage them to speak to the teacher or adult off to the side or one-on-one, instead of in front of the whole class. This will ease them into the concept of self-advocacy by removing the peer attention and anxiety that speaking up in a full classroom may bring.

For children with IEP or 504 accommodations, parents should be especially clear with children about requesting their accommodations and supplementary aides. Of course, this comes with practice and familiarity with their own educational plan, however, children with specific learning needs benefit greatly from their ability to take an active role in vocalizing these needs.

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