Category Archives: For Educators

The Economics of Parenting Style

I’ve written before about the four parenting styles, about other parenting labels like helicopter parents, free range, and tiger moms, and how parenting style might affect how we handle choices in our families.

Yesterday, there was an article in the NY Times called Is Education No Longer the Great Equalizer, and it quoted extensively from “The Economics of Parenting,” by Doepke, Sorrenti, and Zilibotti, that is a fascinating way to think about parenting through an economists’ lens. They say the “basic parent-child conflict is that the parent attaches a higher weight to the future utility of the child” versus the child places a higher weight on their “full enjoyment” of the moment.

They say that parenting styles “come down to whether, and how, parents interfere with the child’s choice.” The permissive parent lets the child have their way, and may go out of their way to offer a wide range of choices. The authoritative parent attempts to shape the child’s preferences, by offering choices but also educating about why they believe particular choices are the best ones for the child’s long-term well-being. The authoritarian parent offers few choices, dictating what will be done. Their emphasis is on what children do, not what they think, so there’s no need to persuade them that it’s the right option… it’s the only option.

They also state that permissive parents value either independence or imagination, authoritative parents value hard work, and authoritarian parents value obedience.

Doepke, Sorrenti, and Zillibotti then look at the interaction between the economy and parenting styles. In societies with a wide array of career opportunities and a low degree of income inequality, “the gap between the top and the bottom is small… Parents are less concerned about children’s effort, and thus there is little scope for disagreement between parents and children. Therefore, most parents adopt a permissive parenting style, namely, they keep young children happy and foster their sense of independence so that they can discover what they are good at in their adult life.” If parents believe that their child can be financially successful no matter what, it’s easy to let them pursue their talents and their joys.

In societies where there’s little social mobility, where most children will have the same profession as their parents, the parents have little incentive to be permissive and let their children discover something they’re good at (they may see talent as irrelevant in a world where there aren’t career choices available) and or to be authoritative and convince their child of anything. If the parents’ experience is that you need to do whatever work that is available to survive, they tend to be authoritarian – conveying ideas like “you just have to follow the rules – you don’t have to like it.”

In a society with a high degree of income inequality, the choices a child makes could have a big impact on their economic well-being. The parents know their children have a wide array of job opportunities and want to persuade them to choose the one that will give them the best chance of success. So, a larger share of parents are authoritative. They also tend to be highly involved, ensuring that the child is taking the best advantage of any available opportunity and learning to make “good choices” (as the parent defines them). The authors acknowledge that authoritative parenting requires more effort on the parents’ part than the other options.

The parents’ current economic status also influences parenting style. “richer parents can use monetary rewards to persuade their children to comply with their wishes. Poor parents lack the resources… and may be more likely to resort to authoritarian methods such as corporal punishment.”

Doepke, Sorrenti, and Zillibotti were discussing how this might be see on a country by country basis, but it clearly also comes into play in micro-societies of neighborhoods – for example, a neighborhood with few economic opportunities might tend toward authoritarian values.

For parent educators and others who work with families, I think these ideas add to a deeper understanding of influences on parenting style. Understanding a family’s culture and socioeconomic class, especially if it is different from our own, increases our empathy and ability to communicate.

Parent Educators, here’s a handout you can share to introduce parenting style.

Circle Time for Toddlers

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I teach a parent-child class where the toddlers are 12 – 30 months in September. Each week, we do a circle time for music and stories. I tell the parents that not only does music have many benefits for children’s learning, and not only do rhymes and songs help teach language skills, circle time is also a chance for children to begin to practice key skills for kindergarten readiness: the ability to sit still, to listen to a teacher, to notice and do what the other people around them are doing, and to stop doing something when asked. (We do the shaker song every week, “oh you shake and you shake and you shake and you stop” and I talk about how huge this is for practicing impulse control.) My secret agenda is that teaching parents things to do with their children builds connections. Plus, of course, circle time is fun!

At the beginning of the year, I make sure parents know that their children will not yet be good at sitting still and paying attention for the full circle time, but the more we practice, and the more we model that behavior for them and encourage them to try, the better they’ll get. At the beginning of the year, circle time is about 10 minutes long. By the end of the year, it’s 20 – 25 minutes.

I always go in the same order each time, just adding more pieces to each segment as we go along. That way the children learn the ritual, and are better able to participate because they can predict what will happen next.

  1. Greeting Songs – each week we do the “I roll the ball to [name] song” and one other greeting song which uses the child’s name and gives each child a moment in the spotlight.
  2. Lap Songs – when we bounce children in a rhythm, it helps to instill rhythm in them at a fundamental level. It also helps to build their vestibular system. These songs are also super fun, and get lots of giggles going.
  3. Finger Rhymes – these teach a lot of vocabulary, and also teach children to notice patterns… “after dad says ‘with a one step and a two step’, he’s going to tickle me.”
  4. “Theme Activity” – I always have some small toys, puzzle pieces, or decor items tied into the theme gathered in my red gift bag. We sing “what’s in the red bag, the red bag, the red bag…” song. The kids come running over to find out. I give each one an item to take back to their parent – they talk about it together, then we do a few rhymes or songs that are related, then they bring them back to me.
  5. Book (we start these about halfway through the year)
  6. Shakers – we do the shake and stop song, sometimes some other songs, sometimes we turn on recorded music and dance and shake to the music.
  7. Active Songs, with or without parachute. Moving around the room in rhythm to the music is great at building coordination, rhythm, and large muscle skills.

I’ve gathered the ideas for my circle time rhymes and songs from many great sources. I have lots of favorite songs (here are links to lyrics and to videos showing hand motions). I have some favorite toddler books I share.

I have a full year’s worth of circle time plans for my toddler class – it’s organized by theme, and we do each set of songs for about 4 – 6 weeks. Themes include: fall, winter, spring, farm, zoo, stars, transportation, ducks, and beach.

For my science class for 3 – 6 year olds, we do two completely different circle times each week – opening circle teaches a rhythm activity, a discussion of the day’s topic, and a non-fiction book. Closing circle teaches a song, we read a fun imaginative fiction book related to the day’s theme, and we often do a group game to reinforce the day’s learning. You can find about 35 topics worth of circle time plans at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

Do you have any great tips for how to help circle time go well, any favorite songs, or favorite resources for finding more ideas?

Ages & Stages Questionnaire

How ASQ works

The Ages & Stages Questionnaire, or ASQ, is simply one of the best tools available for developmental screenings of children from birth to age 5. It has been in development for about 40 years and tested by tens of thousands of participants.

You can purchase questionnaires, or it is now available as a free* online screening tool at https://osp.uoregon.edu/home/checkDevelopment.  A parent may complete it by themselves, or it can be done with a professional. (Parent educator, social worker, child care worker, physician…)

Completing the questionnaire

First, you choose the correct questionnaire for the child’s age: they’re in two month increments for the first two years (2 months, 4 months…. 24 months), then every 3 months (27, 30, 33, 36), then every 6 months (42, 48, 54, 60).

The parent fills out the questionnaire. It asks six questions in each of five realms of child development: communication (what child understands and what they can say), gross motor (running, climbing, throwing), fine motor (hand and finger coordination), problem solving, personal-social (self-help skills and interactions with others).

The form asks simple questions, like “If you point to a picture of a ball (kitty, cup, hat, etc.) and ask your child, ‘What is this?’ does your child correctly name at least one picture?” The parent answers the questions yes, sometimes, or not yet. They are encouraged to try things out with their child as they go through the questionnaire, so they can see what their child’s abilities are for sure.

There is an additional optional questionnaire called ASQ:SE which assesses social-emotional development, such as autonomy, compliance (ability to follow directions), adaptive functioning (sleeping, eating, toileting), self-regulation, emotional affect, interaction (ability or willingness to respond to others), social communication.

Results (and how they’re calculated)

With the online questionnaire, the parent receives a report which lists which categories their child is “on schedule” with, where they should “monitor” and if there are any categories where the child is “not on schedule.”

To give professionals a little more insight into the calculations that lead to these categorizations: The results are scored 10 points for every yes, 5 for sometimes, 0 for not yet, so a maximum of 60 points per category. On the written test, you would then tally it on a table similar to this:

tally

If the child scored as we would expect for a child of this age (on the example above, this would be a score of 40 or higher on problem-solving, shown in the white/un-shaded area of that row), then the child’s development appears to be on schedule. If they scored close to the cut-off (in the gray area, shown as 35 or 40 points on the personal-social row), that would be something to monitor. If they score below the cut-off (a unique number for each category of each questionnaire), then further assessment by a professional is recommended.

This is a screening tool, not a diagnostic tool. If all looks well for the child (all scores are in the white area or the online tool says “on schedule”) then we can be assured that they are likely well on track. If they’re in the gray area / “monitor”, then we ask more questions to figure out why. If there’s a good explanation, then the score probably is not a cause for worry, but you could recommend adding activities to build the child’s skills in those areas and re-screening in a few months. If they’re in the black area / “not on schedule” consider referrals to more resources. The Oregon website offers this helpful ASQ Review Guide to help you determine next steps.

These videos for providers offer more information about how to use the ASQ with parents.

Follow-Up

It’s most effective when this tool is used as the beginning of a conversation with parents. After completing the tool, what do they see as their child’s strengths? Do they have any concerns about their child’s development? Did the screening reduce those concerns (they discovered the child is actually on track) or increase them (child is shown as monitor or not on schedule)? What are some next steps they can do to help their child’s development?

On my post for parents about how to complete the ASQ, you can see how I talk with parents about interpreting their results – whether to worry, how to seek help, etc.

If they completed the online questionnaire, their emailed test results will include links to age appropriate learning activities and play activities.

* The screening is free for parents. Since I know the ASQ is a product that is sold, and is fairly pricey, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t violating copyright by promoting use of the online tool. The website is for the Oregon Screening project, so  I have looked for legal terms on the site to see whether they limit its use to Oregon residents or in any other way, and all I have found is “This site is open to all parents of children ages 1 month up to 72 months.”

The screening is also available free at Easter Seals: www.easterseals.com/mtffc/asq/. I prefer the Oregon screening project, because Easter Seals asks for all of the family’s contact information and will add them to their mailing list.

Talking with Children about Gender Identity

Gender is a complicated mix of our biological sex, how we like to dress and wear our hair, our interests, our identities, and what other people expect us to do based on their perception of our gender. In this post, I’ll address:

When do we talk to children about gender identity?

You already have been! We probably started moments after their birth, with the first announcement of “it’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.” By 2 to 3 years, children begin to label themselves as male or female. By 3 – 4 years, they start categorizing things as “boy things” or “girl things”, and by 4, they may say “only boys can do that” or “girls never do that.”

So, young children are very aware of gender. Even if we avoided talking about it, they would absorb lots of messages from their environment. If we talk to them about it, we have the chance to share our own values with them, and to help to shape their understanding.

What is gender?

Let’s start with a few definitions.

Biological Sex: A person’s body parts / hormones. Can be categorized: male, female, intersex.

Gender Identity: A person’s internal sense of who they are. (No one else gets to define it.)

Gender Expression: How a person chooses to dress, wear their hair, and behave.

Gender Roles: How other people expect you to act, or what they expect you to be interested in, based on their perceptions of your gender.

Those are all separate from sexual orientation. Gender is about who you are. Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to.

Sometimes all these pieces line up just like cultural and generational stereotypes would predict, but sometimes they don’t. Many people are cisgender – their identity aligns with their biological sex. Some people are transgender – their internal sense of who they are (identity) does not line up with the sex assigned to them at birth. Others may identify as gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer, or other variations. It is estimated that between 1 in 100 and 1 in 400 people are transgender.

There are also many people who are cisgender, but don’t fit a stereotypical understanding of gender. In terms of gender expression, some women prefer to wear ‘men’s clothes” and some men like to wear dresses or makeup. In terms of gender roles, we all acknowledge that boys may like dolls and dresses, and girls might like trucks and baseball. We say women can be doctors, and men can be dancers. Yet, there is still surprise in our society when people run across a male preschool teacher or a female heavy equipment operator.

Defining Your Family Values about Gender

Parents are their children’s most important teachers. The way you talk about gender, and your unconscious actions, will shape your child’s early perceptions about gender. So, spend some time reflecting, and talking with the other significant adults in your child’s life (friends, family, faith leaders), to figure out what your family values are about gender identity, expression or roles. Then, pay attention to how you’re manifesting these values. Some things to consider:

  • When buying clothes or toys for your child, or choosing activities to sign them up for, ask yourself: does my kid like things like this, or am I picking it because of gender? Does this choice expand or limit their choices and expectations about gender?
  • If you hear your child (or other people in your child’s presence) make observations like “only girls wear pink” or “boys can’t do that”, ask them questions about why they think that, and talk about stereotypes and alternative views.

For more on gender, see: https://bellevuetoddlers.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/gender.pdf

What if your child is exploring gender roles or expression?

During preschool and early elementary years, many children explore what it means to be a boy or girl, and they may try out different roles. Especially in pretend play, girls may try out being a dad, boys may try on “girly” clothes. This is a normal part of children’s play, and part of how they learn about their world and their culture. There is no need to discourage this.

Nor do you need to overly encourage it. Just because a boy tried on the fairy wings at school doesn’t mean you need to immediately purchase full princess wardrobes for home. (If, over time, he tells you he really really wants a princess wardrobe, that’s fine… but don’t feel like you need to jump in with both feet immediately. It may have been just a short term exploration.)

Don’t make assumptions about your child’s long-term gender identity or sexual orientation based on short-term interests or activities. Some children outgrow this and move on to gender expressions and roles that line up with their biological sex. Some continue to explore gender expression and gender roles, such as the “tomboy” who dresses and acts (expresses themselves) like a boy but still clearly identifies as a girl, or the teenager who may wear eyeliner and nail polish but identifies as male. Some people who blur these lines call themselves gender expansive or gender creative. However your child wants to express themselves, you can help them to feel safe and loved.

If children want to make non-stereotypical choices, some parents choose to inform them about what reactions they might encounter: “it’s fine to have a sparkly pink backpack, but some kids think that only girls like sparkly pink, so they might tease you.” Then if the child still chooses that, at least they had the information to prepare themselves for the response.

What if your child tells you they are transgender?

Gender identity tends to be firmly established by age 4. If a child occasionally swaps gender roles in pretend play, or tells you “I really like playing with girl’s toys” or tells you once or twice, “I wish I was a boy, so I could do that”, those are likely just short-term explorations.

There’s a big difference between that and a child repeatedly telling you that their biological sex does not match their internal identity. Transgender and gender non-conforming kids are: consistent, insistent, and persistent. They consistently identify as one gender, they don’t waffle back and forth. They are insistent about that identity and get upset when mis-identified. They persist – they identify this way over a long period of time. (Source)

If you are cisgender, you may not be able to really understand a transgender person. For me, as a cisgender woman, I have truly never questioned my identity – I’ve always known I was female, always been comfortable with other people treating me as female, and offended if someone mistakenly thought I was a boy. But imagine what it would be like if I felt that way as strongly as I do but I happened to have been born into a body with a penis. Imagine the challenges of that experience!

Transgender people often experience gender dysphoria, a distressing disconnect between the sex assigned them at birth, and their internal identity. Every time they look at their body, it feels wrong to them. Every time someone refers to them by the wrong pronoun, they may squirm inside. For some transgender people, this sensation is mild and manageable, but for many it is not. Transgender girls may talk about a desire to cut their penises off. Transgender boys may begin self-harming as their breasts begin to grow. Many transgender people (41%) attempt suicide, often to escape the pain of dysphoria.

If a child says they are transgender, we don’t need to know whether they will always identify that way. But, in that moment, we can listen to our children tell us about who they are, so we can provide the best possible support. Trying to change a child’s identity, by denial or punishment or whatever, doesn’t work, and can do long-term harm.

Amongst transgender people, rejection by their families can lead to depression and other mental health problems, homelessness, behaviors that put their health at risk, and suicide.

Family acceptance promotes higher self esteem, more social support, improved health, improved mental health, with reduced anxiety and depression, and a huge reduction in suicide attempts.


How you can show your support (for your child or others that you know):

  • Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support
  • Use the name and pronouns that the child asks that you use (note: I don’t say their “preferred pronouns”. Their pronouns are their pronouns, that’s not like a preference for vanilla ice cream.)
  • Ask that others respect the child’s identity
  • If they ask to transition to a gender expression in line with their identity (e.g. clothes and hairstyle), many parents have followed the path of first trying it out at home, then trying it out on a vacation – what is it like to be out in public with that identity, then transitioning in their home community.
  • If children ask for a medical transition, there are options: adolescents can take hormone blockers to delay puberty – these put on a “pause” button while they make long-term decisions. Taking gender hormones (e.g. testosterone and estrogen) can help to move biological characteristics to line up more with their identity, and most of the effects are reversible if the hormones are stopped. There are gender-affirming surgeries as well. These are not common for youth, but can reduce suicide risk for children experiencing severe dysphoria.

You can find many more resources at: www.hrc.org/explore/topic/transgender-children-youth

What if your child asks about someone else’s gender?

Young children are trying to make sense of their world, and one way they do that is by categorizing the people they see. If they think they’ve worked out an understanding of gender, but then see a person who doesn’t fit that understanding, they may ask questions – quietly, or at the top of their lungs. Remember that if your child asks a question about something, they are trying to understand it, and they may also be asking you if you think that it’s OK.  (check out Jacob Tobia’s post on this)

So, your child might say “that boy is wearing makeup!” or “Why is that woman dressed like a man?” If you shush them, or avoid the topic, you imply to your child that what they have seen is bad or is a taboo subject. Try answering the question: “Yes, sometimes boys do wear makeup, and that’s OK.” Or “Yes, some women prefer to dress in men’s clothes. Or, that might be someone who identifies as a man, even though their body might look more like a woman.”

You can find some simple, matter-of-fact things you might say to a child about gender identity at http://muthamagazine.com/2014/01/mama-ella-has-a-penis-marlo-mack-on-how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-gender-identity/; and www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/its-not-that-hard-talking-to-children-about-gender_us_5899f3b0e4b0985224db5a3f

Interacting with a transgender person

Some other things you can do (and model for your child) about how to interact with someone who is (or may be) transgender:

  • Use the language a transgender person uses for themselves. (He, she, they, or whatever.) Sometimes you may just wait till it comes up in conversation with those who know them. Or, if you don’t know what pronouns to use, you can ask – or even better, share your own pronouns. “Hi, my name is Janelle, and I use she/her as my pronouns.” If you make a mistake on pronouns, apologize briefly and move on.
  • Some transgender people choose to medically transition, or change their names, or change their appearance, but some don’t. You (or your child) may be curious. Before asking questions, ask yourself “do I need to know this information to treat them respectfully?” and “Would I be comfortable if they asked me this question, or would I ask that question of any other person?” (So yes, it would help to know their name and pronouns, but there’s no need to know about the status of their private parts.) Some specific questions you would generally avoid: Asking their birth name, or asking to see photos of them from before they transitioned, asking what hormones / surgeries they’ve had, or asking about their sexual relationships.
  • Someone’s transgender identity is their private information. It is not yours to share.
  • Remember that you don’t have to understand their identity to respect it.
  • You can’t necessarily tell if someone is transgender by looking at them. So, many people are working to be gender inclusive at all times. You can encourage this process by sharing observations. For example, if forms you’re filling out have two checkboxes for male and female, encourage the provider to instead ask for gender, and leave a blank space for people to fill in. If there are single stall restrooms at a facility, encourage that facility to replace the Men and Women signs with “Restroom” signs. If you notice a teacher frequently divides a group into “boys” and “girls”, encourage them to consider other options: “everyone wearing jeans”, or “everyone whose birthday is in January – June” or “everyone who likes cats.”

Learn more about how to be a trans ally: https://bolt.straightforequality.org/files/
Straight%20for%20Equality%20Publications/2.guide-to-being-a-trans-ally.pdf  and https://transequality.org/issues/resources/supporting-the-transgender-people-in-your-life-a-guide-to-being-a-good-ally 

Handouts

If you’re an educator who would like information to share with parents, I have created two handouts. Both address the concept of gender identity, defining your own values about gender, kids who explore alternate gender roles and transgender children. Choose between Gender as a Spectrum and Talking with Children about Gender Identity which adds info on how to talk with a child about gender non-conforming people you may encounter, and how to be supportive of transgender people.

Resources for More Information

Overview: www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/ 

How to Talk to Kids:

Transgender Children:

Big list of resources:  www.genderspectrum.org/resources/parenting-and-family-2/  

Recommended Children’s Books about Gender

Note: some of these books are about gender expression, some about gender identity, and some about gender roles. For example, Sparkle Boy and Jacob’s New Dress are both about boys who like to wear dresses (expression) but both still identify as boys. 10,000 Dresses is about Bailey, who wants to wear dresses and identifies as a girl, although others label Bailey as a boy. Made by Raffi is about a boy who likes to knit even though others say that’s a girl activity (role). Decide what topic(s) you’re interested in exploring, and be sure the book lines up with that goal.

Also, lots of books on these feature non-human characters (like Introducing Teddy) and lots of them are metaphorical – they can be read as being about gender identity, but your child may not make the cognitive leap to understand that metaphor. For example, in Red: A Crayon’s Story, a blue crayon mistakenly labeled as “red” suffers an identity crisis and in Bunnybear, Bunnybear identifies as a bunny, and Grizzlybun identifies as a bear. If you’re just looking for books to encourage a general sense of acceptance of diversity and self-identification in your child, these are a great match. But if you want to specifically address gender identity, you will need to help your child see that message: “Remember that book we read, Neither? It was about a creature that was both a bunny and a chick, but not quite a bunny or a chick? That’s sort of like our friend Rex, who told us they are both a boy and a girl, and not quite a boy or a girl? They said that’s called non-binary. And remember how Neither felt sad when nobody accepted them, but felt happy in the Land of All where they were accepted? Can we be a Land of All for our friend Rex?”

Seattle’s ReCreative Store

In the Greenwood neighborhood of North Seattle, you’ll find a unique store called ReCreative – a Creative Reuse Store and Community Arts Center. Community members and local businesses donate clean and usable art, craft, school, and office supplies that are re-sold to the public. This diverts materials headed for landfills, and re-distributes them to people who can use them for education, art, and inspiration. They are a great resource for preschool teachers, camp counselors, aftercare programs, parents, and anyone who likes to do art or make stuff.

They offer adult art classes (painting, knitting, art journalling), kids’ art classes (paint playground for ages 1 – 5, kids studio for age 5 – 7, early release Wednesdays for grade 2 – 5, crochet critters for ages 8 – 12, and family woodworking), and camps during summer and school breaks. They also offer a creative playspace which is open to kids and parents every afternoon, and parents’ night out for 4 – 12 year olds, and children’s parties.  Learn more on their website.

Their inventory is ever-changing, but here’s what we found on 8/23/17 – click on any picture for a larger image.

Yarn, Fabric and Sewing Notions

       

Paper of all sorts

   

Miscellaneous re-useables: Corks, bottle caps, lids, straws, wood bits

   

Photo frames and albums, stencils and stickers, photos, beads and jewelry supplies

   

Paint, markers, crayons, pens and pencils

  

Rubber stamps, office supplies, leather bits
  

Shells, bottles and jars (although everything else is cheap, I think 50 cents for jars is a bit high), tile samples and laminate samples

  

There’s more… I got pictures of about 70% of what I saw.

As you can see at the top of the post, I bought a little notebook, some index cards, and LOTS of markers… my total (minus the 25 cent hair clip my son wanted) was $1.35!

To be fair – I tested the markers, and although there were no dead markers, five of them are on the verge of drying up. (That’s fine – we’ll use those for DIY liquid watercolor paints… learn how here.) But over 40 markers that work great for under a $1.00 is still a great deal.

If you’re local, check out Seattle ReCreative and let us know what you think in the comments. If you’re not local, do you have anything like this in your community? Let my other readers know!