Parenting as Justice Work

A few days ago, my six-year-old had been playing a video game, and told me the characters said they wanted to make the world a better place. Then my son said “It seems like that’s what everyone is trying to do – everyone wants to make the world a better place.”

He said this a few days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. And I thought to myself “But the challenge is that some people’s view of what would be ‘better’ is very different from other people’s views.”

As we’ve seen this week, some people’s view of a better America is one where everyone is of European descent and where all others have “gone back to where they came from” or have “learned their place.” It’s a view based on hate / prejudice, or driven by fear, or a desire to protect those who are “like me” from those who are different.

My view is of a more just and equitable society, filled with diverse traditions and perspectives, where all members of the society have equal rights and equal protections. My view acknowledges that we are a long ways from that right now, as the marginalized members of our society who may most need the protections are instead the least likely to be well served by our institutions and policies.

What do I, as an individual, do to help work toward my view of a better world? How do I, as a parent, talk to my child about my vision of a better world? What do I, as a parent educator, say to the parents in my classes to encourage them to articulate their own view of a better world and to talk to their children about that? How do I, as a member of a faith community and other communities, work together with others to speak aloud our vision for a better world, knowing that the more voices are united, the more powerful the message is?

Talk about (and embrace) differences

I’ve written three posts in the past, which articulate many thoughts on these topics: Talking to Toddlers About Race; Teaching about Differences and Appreciation of Diversity;  Look Mom! That lady only has one leg! All of these address the fact that children notice differences! (As early as six months, children can classify faces by race and by gender. Source.) They also notice how we respond to them. So, when your preschooler shouts out “Look! That kid has a weird red spot on their cheek!” or “Is that a man or a woman?” or “Why is she wearing that weird robe that covers her all up?” or whatever… think about how to respond. If you “shushhhh” your child, you teach them that the thing they have observed is a shameful thing we don’t talk about in public. If you try to ignore the difference or say “but we’re all the same!” you confuse your child and miss a teaching opportunity.

Here’s another perspective:

“[Being “colorblind”] is not realistic. I’m an African-American woman. … When I walk into a room and I am the only black woman, it’s obvious. There’s no benefit in pretending. …  however, [we don’t] need to act awkward around each other. If we’ve embraced the fact that God has created us as equals, there’s no need or reason for that awkwardness. If someone who is culturally or ethnically different from you comes around, it is unrealistic, unhelpful and possibly unloving to pretend that you don’t notice. So, when your child says, “Mommy why is that woman wearing a dot on her forehead?” Instead of asking them to be quiet out of embarrassment, the colorsmart approach is to take that question as an opportunity to positively explain her different, unique culture. (source)

Here’s another thought:

“I’m going to teach my daughter the truth about race — that our brains are wired to notice looks first. … It’s okay to notice skin color. What’s not okay is to pretend color doesn’t exist. It’s the way you acknowledge color, and how you react, that makes you embrace race, hide from it, or run from it. … it’s [our] job to move beyond primal instinct in order to truly accept everyone — no matter what color or culture they may be. … Step out from behind the curtain of color-blindness, and embrace how not everyone is the same.”   (source)

Or, as one of my friends says to her five-year-old: “everyone’s different, and that’s awesome!”

And it’s not enough to say this with your words… your actions also matter. Children pick up and interpret subtle messages from their environment. So, if all the people you hang out with look and talk a lot like you, your child may interpret that they’re only supposed to hang around people who look and talk like them. (Source)

If we don’t talk about race , religion, abilities and other differences, then our child will come up with their own guesses and interpretations. It is better to talk about it openly so they know our views.

Talk about Inequities

As we talk about differences, and embrace differences, we may also naturally talk about equality – how in the United States, we are supposed to all have equal rights, equal protection, and equal responsibilities. I absolutely want to talk to my child about how things should be. But, I can’t leave it at that… I also have to talk about the fact that things in our country are not truly equal.

“If you tell your kid his entire life that all people, regardless of the color of their skin, are exactly the same, then when your white kid is a white grown up and he sees a disproportionate percentage of the people living in poverty have a different skin color than he does, he’s going to assume it’s because there’s something wrong with them. He will blame the people, not the flawed system. If we’re all the same, those people with brown skin can just work hard and be successful, right? …

By teaching your kids not to see color, you’re teaching them that the black men gunned down by white cops must have been criminals, they must’ve been bad guys, they must’ve deserved it.

By teaching your kids not to see color, you are teaching them that systemic racism does not exist… you are teaching them to be complicit in a culture of racism and fear.

Colorblind is not the answer. Skin color exists. Race exists. Racism exists. To ignore it and pretend it doesn’t is not just the wrong way, but is exacerbating the problem. Ignoring race, being colorblind, teaches kids that there’s nothing to talk about, nothing to discuss. White parents need to ENCOURAGE their kids to talk about race, ask questions, learn. Feed the discussion, not the ignorance.

Teach your kids to celebrate differences. Teach your kids that skin color IS important. Teach your kids that race exists, but bigotry shouldn’t. Teach them that our differences make us amazing. Don’t ignore, embrace.”  (Source)

Talk about Privilege

If I acknowledge that it is harder to be black, or Jewish, or gay in our society, I must also acknowledge that it is easier to be white, Christian, or straight. There is inherent privilege in these identities. “Privilege is the “up-side” of oppression and discrimination. It is about unearned advantage, which can also be described as exemption from discrimination.” Source

Privilege can be mis-interpreted.

“… privilege does not mean that their lives will be easy or that everything is “handed” to them. People tend to think of privilege in terms of super rich people who don’t have to work for anything. It’s hard to see that we are privileged when we are struggling to make ends meet. The fact is that privilege isn’t so much about what is handed to you, it’s about what isn’t even accessible to others. White privilege doesn’t mean that someone gives you a job for no reason, but it might mean that your resume is instantly taken more seriously because your name is John and not Jamal.” Source

I believe that I am a good person, and that I am smart, and that I work hard. So it is easy to believe that I have earned all the things I have in life. But I must also acknowledge that many things were easier for me to earn when I am white, 4th or 5th generation American, of Christian heritage, middle class, straight, cisgender, well-educated, and had a calm childhood with few things that could be considered adverse childhood experiences. (Read more about me and my identity here.)

What are some of the ways I’ve experienced privilege? In a classic essay on Unpacking the Privilege Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh lists some examples of the privileges I’ve experienced:

  • I can turn on the TV or open the paper, and see people of my race widely represented.
  • I can go shopping… mostly assured I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these things to the bad morals, the poverty of the illiteracy of my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to speak to “the person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I need medical or legal help, my race will not work against me.

My kids will also experience these benefits.

“A white kid growing up in a middle-class family an hour outside Seattle like my kids can work hard and become anything they want to be. A black kid growing up in a poor family in Baltimore could work just as hard as my white kids and not end up in the same place. Do some of those kids “beat the odds” and become super successful? Absolutely. But the fact that there are “odds” to beat is exactly the point of white privilege.” Source

So, what can I do? I’m still going to encourage my kids to be good people and to work hard. When they succeed at something, I’ll still celebrate and tell them they earned it. But when they earn access to some option just because of their privileged status, I will also point that out to them. I’ll ask them to question whether everyone truly had equal access. I’ll ask them to notice when other people do not have the same access as they do, and to question why that is the case.

Use Your Privilege

“Privilege means that you owe a debt. You were born with [privilege]. You didn’t ask for it. And you didn’t pay for it either. No one is blaming you for having it. You are lovely, human, and amazing. Being a citizen of a society requires work from everyone within that society. It is up to you whether you choose to acknowledge the work that is yours to do. It is up to you whether you choose to pay this debt and how you choose to do so.”  Source

That might mean speaking up for a person who is being poorly treated at a business due to their marginalized status, or it might mean speaking at a town hall where your voice may be heard better than the voices of those who are often silenced, it might be standing up for someone who is being bullied, or walking alongside marginalized people as they rally for their rights.  There are lots of things we can do as individual adults, and as our kids see us taking action, they learn from our example what our values are.

We can also encourage our children to use their privileges. A mother of a black son (who will transition from “an adorable black boy to a strong black man”) writes:

“We talk to our son about safety issues. We talk to him about being respectful of police (and anyone in authority), about keeping his hands where they are visible, about not wearing his hood up over his face or sneaking through the neighbor’s backyard during hide-and-seek or when taking a shortcut home from school. … Some people are going to see him as a “thug” before they ever know his name, his story, his gifts and talents.” Source

I’ve got an adorable white boy, who’s likely to transition to a scrawny geeky white man. I don’t have to have these same conversations with him. But I can talk to him about racism (and other -isms) and help him understand how to use his privilege to protect others. As the mother of the black son writes:

“So white parents, please talk to your kids about racism. If they see my son being bullied or called racist names, they need to stand with him. They need to understand how threatening that is and not just something to be laughed off. If your child is with my child playing soccer at the park and the police drive by, tell your child to stay—just stay right there with my son. Be a witness. In that situation, be extra polite, extra respectful. Don’t run and don’t leave my son by himself. If they are with my son, this is not the time to try out any new risky behaviors. Whatever trouble they get into, he will likely not be judged by the same standard you are. Be understanding that he can’t make the same mistakes you can.

Be conscious of what media messages your kids are getting about race. Engage in tough conversations about what you’re hearing in the news. Don’t shy away from this just because you can. He can’t. We can’t. I have hope that when white parents start talking about these issues with our white kids, that’s when change starts.” Source

When do we start?

We start talking about differences as early as our kids start noticing them. That’s as young as 6 months for race and gender! They start to crystallize beliefs about group identities as by the time they reach preschool. (Source) We can help to shape their initial attitudes on all these things, but not if we don’t start talking about it till they’re 6 or 7 years old. That’s too late to start.

So, from very early on, do step 1: talk about (and embrace) differences.

The other steps are more sophisticated, and require a more advanced cognitive level to understand. As rough estimates: when your kids start talking about what’s fair and what’s unfair is a good time to start talking about equality and step 2 – talking about inequities. This would typically be around age 4 – 6. You can talk about recognizing and using privilege as they get into later elementary school, or before then if you note that they are starting to make assumptions about “____ got that because he deserved it and ____ didn’t get it because she’s not good enough” or any other judgments that imply a developing bias.

Resources for learning more:

To learn more about these topics, click on any of the links above to find lots of great articles.

Also check out resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center. For adults, Ten Ways to Fight Hate. For kids (and educators), the resources on Teaching Tolerance.

Advertisements

Teaching about Differences and Appreciation of Diversity

 

Young children love to sort things by color, or by shape, or by type (e.g. car or train?). They make sense of their world by seeing how things fit into categories. And in most cases, we encourage them to think about classifications – especially when it helps them to remember to put the Legos in the Lego bin, the books on the bookshelf, and the dirty socks in the laundry basket!

But, when they try to sort out categories of people: race, gender, ability, age, and more, we tend to get all flustered. We worry about saying the wrong thing, causing offense, creating prejudice, etc.

For example, consider our approach to racial differences. Children are very aware of different skin tones, even as young as 6 months. But when kids ask their parents about it, how do they respond? Most non-white parents talk openly and frequently about race. But research finds that 75% of white parents almost never talk about race – they often just change the subject. When well-meaning white parents do talk about race, they often try the “color-blind” approach and say “we’re all the same.” Which mystifies a young child who can clearly see we are NOT all the same.  If parents avoid a subject, or become awkward around it, kids may get the message that the topic is “taboo.”

How might our kids’ perception be changed if we instead acknowledge and celebrate differences?

Talk about Differences. When reading books, watching movies, or people watching, talk about differences easily and openly. Note different skin colors, ages, gender expressions, weight, ability, clothing / hairstyles, languages spoken, family compositions, and more. Use descriptive words / labels they can use, like Asian, gay, disabled, multi-racial – you can say this just as easily as you can say “look it’s a girl and a boy in that picture”. (As they get older, we’ll help them learn that no one can be defined by any one label. But, as they start to sort things out, talking about differences builds vocabulary and context for understanding the broader world.)

Be careful not to add in biased judgments or stereotypes when talking about differences: “She’s only got a mama, no daddy. That must be hard for her.” “He’s Asian, I bet he does well in school.” “She likes sports? She must be a tomboy.”

Talk about Commonalities. We shouldn’t ignore the differences and only talk about commonalities. But, once you’ve acknowledged a difference your child has noticed, you can also talk about universal needs and common interests. “You’re right, her skin is a different color than yours. Her ancestors came from a different part of the world than ours did. I saw you guys played soccer together for a long time – it seems like she likes it as much as you do.” “Yes, you have just me as your parent, and most of your classmates have two parents – sometimes a mom and a dad, sometimes two moms or two dads. But all of you get lots of love and snuggles, right?” “They wear those special clothes as part of their religion. We don’t wear special clothes, but we do celebrate special holidays because of our religious beliefs.”

Answer Questions about Differences. I have a visible handicap, and it’s pretty common for me to overhear a child saying “mama, how come that lady only has one leg?” Some parents ignore the question, change the subject, or “shush” the child. That tells the child this is something that is “not OK” to talk about. It implies that disability is something shameful or embarrassing to discuss, either for them or for me. Instead, when your child asks questions about differences, try these approaches:

  • Acknowledge the difference – “you’re right, and that’s different than what you’re used to.”
  • After acknowledging it, you could say “we’ll talk about it later” or you could address it now.
  • Give a simple answer to the question, it you know it: “Those are called crutches. They help her to walk.” Or, if you don’t know, you might say “I don’t know why she has one leg… some people are born without one and sometimes they lose a leg in an accident.”
  • Try to figure out how your child is feeling. If they’re simply curious and wanting to learn something, then answer the question they asked. If you sense there’s any fear or discomfort for them, make some guesses about what that is and address it.

Actively expose your child to other perspectives: Eat at ethnic restaurants, attend cultural festivals, visit museums which focus on other cultures, read books and see movies from many countries, learn bits of other languages. Seek out multi-generational communities – make friends with people of all ages. Connect with queer families. Attend public events hosted by faith communities. Choose to live in a diverse neighborhood and/or attend a diverse school.

Choose children’s books which teach about diversity. Look here for info on how to evaluate books (and other media): http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books and here for recommended books www.childpeacebooks.org/cpb/Protect/antiBias.php

Talking about Inequity. In the early years, we can focus on building an appreciation for, and understanding of, a wide variety of differences.

As they get older (around early elementary school), then we add in that even though people may be different, we all have the same rights and deserve the same fair treatment.

As they get even older (by age 8 to 10), we can refine that into “we should all have the same rights and opportunities, but we don’t. What can we do together to help increase everyone’s access to the same opportunities?”

And with teens, we can add in discussion of systemic oppressions – classism, ableism, homophobia, and so on. If you think you can skip these discussions, you likely are coming from a place of privilege. As a white parent, I can choose whether or not to talk about this. If my kids had brown skin, it wouldn’t be an option to not talk about it. Check out this article on how white parents talking about racism can help their kids support friends of color: www.scarymommy.com/black-child-friends/

In an increasingly diverse society, the more we try to pretend racism and sexism and such are things of the past, the more we allow them to persist. Having open and honest conversations about diversity will help us work together toward a more equitable society for all.

Learn more: Even Babies Discriminate – excerpt from Nurture Shock: http://mag.newsweek.com/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html; Teaching Young Children to Resist Bias, from NAEYC: www.cccpreschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Teaching-Children-to-Resist-Bias4.pdf; What White Children Need to Know About Race: http://www.nais.org/magazines-newsletters/ismagazine/pages/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race.aspx

Teaching about “Tricky People” vs. “Stranger Danger”

candy

Parents worry. It’s part of being a parent. We worry about all the things that could possibly harm our children. We do all we can to protect them. But sometimes our efforts to keep them safe limit their opportunities to fully experience life, and learn all that they can.

Parents’ Fears and how they impact our children:

One of the biggest fears amongst American parents is abduction. One study indicated that 72% of parents were worried about abduction. Parents believe that the risk is much higher than it used to be, when actually rates of child abduction have been steady for over 20 years. (On a related note, child sexual abuse declined 62% from 1992 to 2010.)

Abduction is a rare risk. In the US, we have almost 70 million children under age 18. One research report showed that if you total up all the cases of ‘stereotypical kidnappings’ – the kind that parents imagine, where a stranger snatches a child and disappears with them – it was 115 that year in the US. A tragedy for those families, but a rare tragedy.

Despite the unlikelihood of abduction, the fear stops parents from sending their kids outside to play. In one survey, 19% of parents never allow their child to play outside. In Great Britain, 49% said they limited their children’s outdoor play because of fears about “stranger danger”. (Source)

What do kids miss out on when we keep them inside? They miss out on a lot of what we think of when we say the words “happy childhood.” Running in the sprinklers, playing in the backyard, riding bikes around the neighborhood, climbing trees, playing tag….

Parents need to consider not just the potential risks of unsupervised time outdoors, but ALSO consider the risks of:

I encourage parents to teach safety skills to their children when they’re young, because that lays the foundation for them making smarter decisions as they grow older, and are out of our sight more often. When I teach a toddler how to carefully climb on a small rock or climb a small tree, I teach them how to be cautious, but I don’t convey fear, because I want them to have the skills and the courage to climb bigger rocks and trees as they get older. In a similar way, I want to start teaching my child at a young age how to stay safe around unsafe people. But I don’t want to create a universal fear of “strangers”. I want to teach what behaviors would show us that someone was a “tricky person” and how we would avoid interactions that put us at risk.

Why Not Teach Stranger Danger?

For decades, parents and educators have taught the idea of stranger danger. There are several flaws to this message:

  • It creates a culture of fear. It can be frightening to a child to be out in public when they’ve been told that all the strangers around them are people to be feared.
  • Talking about “bad people” means that our children are on the lookout for people who look and act evil: the mustache-twirling, black-clad villain. Most people who perpetrate crimes against children are nice looking and quite charming.
  • Talking about “odd looking” or “dangerous looking” people or “people who don’t look like us” can lead to racial profiling and prejudiced attitudes.
  • Creating fear of strangers might mean that our children are afraid to seek help from adults when needed – such as a lost child who is too frightened to approach a security guard to help find their parents, or a lost child who evades rescuers because they are strangers to him.
  • Crimes against children are much more likely to be perpetrated by someone the child knows than by a stranger.
    • According to the Department of Justice, for sexual abuse, 10% of perpetrators are strangers, 60% are non-family members who are known to the child, 30% family members. Not all perpetrators are adults – 23% of reported cases were attributed to individuals under the age of 18. (Stats for Canada here.)
    • For abduction, about half the kidnappers are family members, a quarter acquaintances, a quarter strangers. Source.
    • If our children have been taught that strangers are always bad, but that the people they know are “safe”, then we have not protected them.

I don’t want my children to be frightened of all the new people they encounter. I want my children, and the children I work with, to feel safe in their world. Children are happiest and learn best when they feel safe. I tell children, through my words, my body language, and my interactions, that the vast majority of people are good people. Even a stranger who looks very different from the people I interact with every day is most likely a good person.

But, when children are around three years old is a good time to start talking about “tricky people.” They’re not a certain kind of people (like strangers, or like people whose skin is a different color from my own) but they are any person who displays certain odd behaviors. Those behaviors should raise red flags for a child, and let them know they should check in with a trusted adult for advice on how to respond.

What are Tricky People?

Here are some things to tell your child to watch out for. Tricky people may:

  • ask kids for help (such as help finding a lost puppy or pretending to be hurt). If safe grown-ups really need help, they’ll ask other grown-ups. If an adult asks them for help, they should go speak to a trusted adult.
  • try to arrange for alone time with a child. Let your child know that it’s best to have two adults around them, or be with other kids and an adult. They should not go somewhere alone with one adult unless a trusted adult has told them it’s OK.
    • Note: parents should be wary of someone who offers “too enthusiastically” to help out by doing things like free babysitting, car rides, or trips that put the child alone and unsupervised with that person, especially if they try to make the parent feel guilty for saying no to them
  • try to make one particular kid feel special, lavishing praise and gifts. Tell your child that if someone offers to give them something (candy, money, a kitten), they should not take it, they should say that they need to ask their parents if that is OK.
  • ask kids to do something that breaks the family rules, or just doesn’t feel right. Teach your child the idea of thumbs up or thumbs down – does the interaction feel perfectly fine to them (thumbs up) or does it give them an uncomfortable “uh-oh” feeling (thumbs down.) Encourage them to trust their instincts.
  • ask kids to keep a secret from their parents or their teacher, or threatens something like “if you tell anyone, I won’t be your friend anymore” or “if you tell, you’ll be in big trouble”. Any time this happens, a child should tell their parent or a teacher.
  • touches a child a lot (tickling, wrestling, asking for hugs), and gets angry or unhappy if the child says no to the touch
  • touches a child in a private area, asks a child to touch their private areas, asks to see a child’s private areas, asks to take pictures of private area, or shows a child their private areas. See below for more on how to talk to your children about this topic.
  • tells the child “there’s an emergency. You need to come with me right now.” Note: For children over 5, it can be a good idea to establish a password (see below).

How to Help Your Child be “Street Smart”

An article for kids on Kids Health describes street smart as “knowing how to keep yourself safe from strangers when you’re alone or with other kids. Whether you’re walking to school or to the bus, hanging out on the playground, or riding your bike in your neighborhood, being street smart helps you stay safe. When you’re street smart, you know your way around, you know how handle yourself in tough situations, and you’re able to “read” people.”

Here are some things we can do to help our kids be safe:

For a child age 1 and up

  • Teach them their name and their parents’ name(s)
  • Under three years old, I don’t talk about “tricky people” or “bad people.” But, if I am in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I show it with my body language, and I tell my child “I don’t like being here… I don’t feel safe right now. We’re going to leave.” Even at this age, I want to start teaching them to trust their instincts.
  • Tell them they need to stay near you when you’re out in public, set boundaries – tell them where it’s OK to go and what’s not OK. If they step outside those limits, or refuse to hold your hand in a parking lot, or whatever guidelines you have set, then there should be consequences (e.g. you need to leave the park, or you need to carry them in the parking lot.)
  • When going anyplace where you might become separated, put your contact info somewhere on them (e.g. on a card in their pocket, on a bracelet, etc.). Also, take a picture of them that day with your phone so if you become separated you have a photo of what they are wearing.
  • Teach healthy touch: high fives and fist bumps, patting on the back, brief hugs, etc. Don’t force your child to give a hug to someone if they are not comfortable.
  • Teach them names for their body parts, including private parts. It is best to use commonly used terms (e.g. penis or vagina), not family euphemisms. Feeling comfortable with these words makes it possible for a child to explain if something inappropriate happens.
  • You should always know the basic description of your child at all ages, so if they are missing, you can tell searchers: how tall they are, how much they weigh, piercings, tattoos, birthmarks. Take good head and shoulder pictures at least every 6 months (every 3 months for young children.)

For a child age 3 and up

Everything listed above, plus:

  • Be sure they know their address, parent’s names, and parent’s phone numbers.
  • Help them know what adults you trust. Tell them: “if you ever feel scared or need help, then ____ and _____ are adults you can talk to.”
    • Talk to them about how to find a trustworthy stranger if they somehow become separated from you and need help. I tell my children to look for a person who is working there – I help them identify workers – they’re standing behind the check-out counter, or they’re wearing a uniform. I also tell them to go to another parent – someone who has a child with them. From time to time, I ask my child to look around and identify two people who they could ask for help if needed. Also, point out “safe spots” – the places they are most likely to find helpful people.
    • Talk to them about “tricky people” and what behaviors are red flags. Don’t try to cover it all in one big “talk” – it should be an on-going dialogue.
    • If your child is uncomfortable around someone and wants to avoid that person, don’t dismiss this. Respect your child’s instincts.
  • If you go somewhere you might get separated (the zoo, an amusement park, a large event), talk to them on the way there about the importance of staying close to you the whole time. Tell them that if they look around and can’t find you, they should stop where they are and you will find them.
  • By the time they are three, teach them that the parts of their body that are covered by a swimsuit are private. They should be kept covered around other people, and other people should not touch them there, except for parents or caregivers who are briefly helping to clean them, or a doctor, when the parents are in the room.
  • Don’t label your child’s clothes or backpacks with their name in big, visible letters. “Tricky” adults often use a child’s name to convince the child they are safe.

As your child gets older, and more independent:

Everything listed above, plus

  • They should know contact info for multiple trusted adults, and have a plan for how they could contact them. (For a younger child who doesn’t have a cell phone, they should know how to seek adult help. For older kids with phones, they need plans for what to do if their phone battery dies.)
  • If going someplace  you may get separated, have a plan in advance for where you would meet up again. Make sure they can describe it to you, and from time to time, ask them “do you remember where our meet-up place is? Can you point to where it is?”
  • A responsible adult should always know where they are. Set boundaries on where they can go, ask that they check in with you from time to time, and require that they check in if their plans change.
  • In the places they frequent, they should be able to list “safe spots” where they could go for help if they were feeling worried – for example, if someone at the park was making them uncomfortable, they could go into the nearby convenience store. They should also know to avoid unsafe spots – isolated areas with no one around.
  • They should know how and in what circumstances to call 9-1-1.
  • They should know never to answer the door when they are home alone.
  • They should know never to approach a stranger’s car. If someone calls them over to a car, they should not go.
  • When out and about, they should use the buddy system, not go places alone.
  • If someone offers them money, or an easy job, they should be wary.
  • Consider a family password so that if you ever could need to send an unexpected adult to pick them up in case of emergency, your child could ask that adult for the password to be sure it’s really someone you sent. You could also use that code word or another one for your child to communicate to you “I’m feeling unsafe and I need your help.”
  • Tell them to trust their instincts. If they’re worried about something, they should talk to you or another trusted adult who can help them problem-solve. If they’re very frightened, they should call 9-1-1 or shout for help. Tell them it is better to seek help and find out that everything is actually OK than it is to not seek help when things really are bad.
  • Give kids examples of “tricky behavior”; have them describe how they would respond.
  • Don’t talk about “bad touch” because sometimes sexual touch can feel good or can “tickle.” Instead, talk about “secret touch” that the other person wants you to hide from people, or touch that makes them feel wrong after it happened. Let children know that if anyone ever touches them in an inappropriate way (or makes the child touch them), that it’s not the child’s fault and they will not be in trouble with you. Perpetrators may first involve children by showing them pornography – let your child know that if someone shows them pornography, they should let you know.
  • Explain that you’re teaching safety rules because they are more mature and ready to be responsible. You want to give them more freedom, but you also need to be reassured that they know how to stay safe.

Letting Your Children Out of Your Sight

Here’s an example of how this could play out: My six year old wanted to be able to sit on the front porch and read while I was inside making dinner. We set boundaries: “you can sit on the porch swing, or come back inside. You may not leave the porch or step onto the driveway or the path to the sidewalk.” We reminded him of tricky people ideas: “we have lots of people walk by the house. Remember, that most people are good people. If they say wave or say hi, you can say hi back. However, if they ask you to leave the porch, they’re being tricky and you need to come inside and get us. If they step off the sidewalk onto our driveway or path, you need to come in right away. Even if it’s someone you know from church or school, I would still want you to come inside and get me.” We let him know that as long as he could follow the rules, he could have porch-sitting privileges. But if he ever violated those rules, he would lose those privileges.

Deciding to let a child play outside unsupervised, or let an older child go places without you, requires a leap of faith on your part. It can be scary to take that risk. But remember that keeping them at home and in sight at all times also creates risks – it limits their potential to be active, independent, decision-making people.

Part of parenting is teaching our kids the skills they need to know so that later on, they don’t need us so much any more. This is just one of many things that we do to prepare them to be out in the world on their own.

Handouts: If you’re a parent educator who would like to share this information with families, I’ve created a 4 page handout and 2 page handout of this information.

Resources

Earthquake Preparedness

rabbits-in-a-hole-earthquake-drill-for-preschool

Although earthquakes are infrequent in the Seattle area, we are at risk of a major quake, so we do earthquake drills in our preschool classes.

When looking at websites, I found multiple references to a “Rabbits in the Hole” story to use with preschoolers for earthquake drills. I couldn’t find an official version of the story, so I wrote a little book of my own, aimed at the preschool or kindergarten age child* at school or at child care, which you could read in a group circle time to lead into a earthquake drill. It is intended to teach essential skills in a simple, manageable way, without creating fear. It tells the story of a bunny school where the teacher tells the bunnies how to stay safe if the ground shakes.

You can download and print a copy of the story here: rabbits-in-a-hole-earthquake-drill. I also made a version for parents to read at home: rabbits-in-the-hole-for-parents

For adult reference, here are current recommendations (source) on what to do indoors:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquakes knocks you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk.
    • If there is no shelter nearby, crawl away from windows and things that could fall on you, covering your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

What to do outdoors: Move no more than a few steps, away from trees, buildings and power lines. Then drop and cover.

If you are driving: pull over, stay in your car with your seatbelt buckled (and your child buckled in their car seat) until the shaking stops.

What NOT to do:

  • Do NOT stand in doorways. In modern buildings, the doorways are no stronger than other parts of the house. You are safer under a table.
  • Do NOT try to run outside or run around inside the building. Although it is safer to be near an interior wall, away from windows, don’t run to another room during an earthquake. It’s better to drop, crawl a few feet to the safest space, cover, and hold.
  • If in bed, stay there – put a pillow over your head for protection.

* Note: This book is for children age 2.5 – 6. If you have a baby or young toddler, we can’t rely on them to follow instructions. In the case of an earthquake, it’s the adults’ job to keep them safe. Pick up the child in your arms, tight against your chest as  you drop and find cover for both of you. If possible, cover the child’s body with your own. (source)

There’s a lot more information on earthquakes at the Earthquake Country website.

You may also be interested in my posts on teaching child safety to toddlers and preschoolers, or in my collection of resources for parent educators.

Top Ten Posts of 2016

Here are my top ten posts by number of views… check them out!

  1. Should we teach toddlers to say I’m sorry? Teaching good manners, empathy, and taking responsibility for your actions.
  2. Passive Toys = Active Kids. Busy toys with buttons and flashing lights entertain children. Open-ended passive toys engage them.
  3. Brain Development: How to Help Your Child Learn and Grow. Learn about how novelty and repetition and down time help to build a brain.
  4. Schemas of Play. Children often have periods where they’re focused on one activity: throwing, or taking things apart, or carrying things around the house. Why do they do this – what are they learning, and how do we live with it?
  5. The Discipline Flow Chart – 6 Easy (or not-so-easy) Steps to Good Behavior. Discipline is about helping your child learn how to be a good person.
  6. Periods of Disequilibrium. Children have predictable developmental phases, when they are a struggle to live with as they work on managing new skills. Understanding that it’s just a phase can help give you the energy to make it through!
  7. How Many Toys is Enough. Finding your own balance between having “enough” toys to stimulate your child’s learning and entertain them without getting buried in toys.
  8. Fun with Toddlers: Transportation Theme. I have a whole “fun with toddlers” series which includes crafts, songs, books, and activities on various themes.
  9. Materials for Parent Educators. A large collection of handouts for teachers and parent educators to share with families on all aspects of parenting a young child.
  10. DIY Ball Wall. A fun project with PVC pipe, magnets, marbles, and an oil drip pan.

Choosing Toys

4490832429_3ca567fee5

If you walk into any modern toy store, you’ll be overwhelmed by an insane number of toys to choose from.  Parents ask me all the time: how many toys are enough? How do I decide which toys to buy for my child? Which are the best toys? Are there toys I shouldn’t buy? What if my kid falls in love with toys that I think have no educational benefit or that don’t match our family values?

There’s no one right answer to these questions. I’m not going to give you a list of “most recommended toys for all children.” But, I will give you some things to think about when choosing toys…

  • Don’t fill their lives with too many toys and too much entertainment. If every time achild expresses a whiff of boredom, we hand them a new toy, they learn to depend on new commercial goods to be happy. And they don’t learn the creativity that can be inspired by boredom and limited materials. Also, if there are too many toys to choose from, children tend to be distracted and over-stimulated. Having fewer toys helps build their attention span and focus. (Learn more here.)
  • Choose more open-ended toys. Open-ended toys are toys that can be played with in a wide variety of ways, such as a set of wooden blocks, versus closed-ended toys which are designed for only one thing, such as a superhero action figure. Open-ended toys are passive and require your child to be active and creative. (Learn more here.)
  • Choose toys which stimulate a wide variety of learning. If my child had only ten toys, I would want them to have some which stimulate each of the major intelligence styles: linguistic, mathematical, kinesthetic, artistic… Learn more at https://gooddayswithkids.com/2014/08/14/10-types-of-toys/
  • Consider your family values. Where will you compromise, and where won’t you compromise?
    • My son is in love with Shopkins. They are everything I hate in a toy. They’re cheap plastic, lots of clutter, gender biased, and encourage consumerism values not in alignment with mine. The slogan for Shopkins is “once you shop you just can’t stop.” But… we have lots of Shopkins. Why? Because he fell in love with them at pretty much exactly the same time as we introduced allowance and the idea of having saving money, gift money, and spending money. (Learn more about financial literacy.) The rule for spending money is that he can spend it on anything that he chooses. He chooses Shopkins. Right now, my appreciation for what he’s learning about math and financial decision making are outweighing my dislike of Shopkins.
    • I am very much a pacifist and have never held or fired a real gun. However, I spent many hours of childhood playing with toy weapons, and I do allow my children to play with things such as light sabers, toy swords, and nerf guns. However, we do not buy anything that looks like a real weapon or like a real person firing real weapons at real people. (i.e. no first-person shooter games in our household!) For lots more thoughts, read about Gun Play here.
  • Think about gender and toys. Many toys are marketed to either girls or to boys, or are marketed as gender neutral. What are your preferences? (Read more on Gender)
  • Ask yourself from time to time: am I happy with the toys we now own? Does my child enjoy playing with them and do a good job (at a developmentally appropriate level) of taking care of them? Do I feel like we have enough toys to feel abundance and happiness, but not so many that we’re all on sensory overload? If you’re happy with your responses to those questions, you’re in a good place. If you’re not, then think about what you want to change.

Great Classes for Kids AND Parents: Parent Education & Coop Preschools

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program – click for larger view

Are you a parent of a baby, toddler, or preschool age child? Are you looking for:

  • A place where your child can explore toys, do art, hear stories, sing songs, and make friends? (And use up some energy on a cold winter day?)
  • A fun activity to do with your child where s/he learns new skills and you get new ideas?
  • Opportunities to meet other families and build community?
  • Expert advice and research-based information about parenting and child development?
  • Support from professionals and other parents for the challenges of life with a little one?

You can find all these great opportunities in one place!

In the Seattle area, our community colleges sponsor parent education programs, including parent-child programs and cooperative preschools, which are a fabulous resource for families. For children, classes offer hands-on learning, discovery and play. For adults, they offer on-going education on all topics related to parenting, plus connections to other parents.

What is the children’s experience like?

The programs are play-based, because research shows children learn best through hands-on exploration in places where they feel safe and free to explore. Each classroom has several stations around the room, with developmentally appropriate activities to help kids build the skills they need. Children are encouraged to move around and explore at their own pace. In parent-child programs (aka “mommy and me classes”) for babies and toddlers, parents play along with their children. In coop preschools, working parents are assigned to a station. Activities vary by age, but might include:

  • Art activities: play-dough to roll, easels to paint at, markers for learning to write
  • Sensory activities: tubs of water or rice or beans to scoop, pour, stir, and run fingers through
  • Large motor: mats for tumbling, tunnels to crawl through, climbers and slides, balls to throw, dancing and movement games
  • Small motor: blocks to stack, puzzles to assemble, shape sorters to solve, beads to thread, and building toys for construction
  • Imaginary play: dress up zone for trying on new roles, dolls to care for, kitchen for “cooking”
  • Science and nature experiences: seeds to plant, tadpoles to watch, items from nature to explore
  • Snack time: a place to practice social skills and table manners and to discover new foods
stations

click for larger view

Classes also include “circle time” or “music class” where the teacher leads the class in singing songs, dancing, playing musical instruments, and reading stories. This is a chance for children to practice sitting still, listening to a teacher, and participating in a group activity, all essential skills for kindergarten readiness. Academic skill-building (reading, writing, pre-math skills) is integrated into all types of activities.

What makes these children’s programs different from other programs?

Diverse Experiences in One Familiar Setting: Most children’s programs focus on one domain of learning: dance class, art class, story time, music class, or tumbling. These programs do it all. And they do it in a known space where the child feels safe and comfortable. Some of the same toys activities reappear from week to week to provide reassurance and routine, and some new toys and activities rotate in to encourage children to explore and try new things.

Long-Term Relationships: Lots of programs run in short sessions of 4 – 6 classes. Parent ed programs run for the full school year. Seeing the same children week after week allows kids to build friendships.

Close parental involvement: Parents are always welcome in the classroom.

What are they like from the parent perspective: how do they work?

Each program works a bit differently, so check to be sure of the details, but here is the general idea:

Parent-infant Classes and Parent-Toddler Classes: Meet weekly for two hours. Every other week, the parents attend a one hour parent education session. In infant classes (for babies birth to one year old), the baby remains with the parent for parent ed. In toddler classes (for one-year-old and two-year-old toddlers), children are encouraged to play in one room with the children’s teachers and other parents while their parent attends parent ed.

Staffing and Parents’ Role: Each class is staffed by a parent educator and one or two children’s teachers. Parents provide snacks for the class on a rotating basis. Each family may bring snacks 1 – 3 times a year. Parents may also be asked to help tidy up the toys at the end of the class.

Cooperative Preschools:Three-year-olds may attend 2 or 3 days a week, four-year-olds attend 3 or 4 days a week. Typically, the parent stays with the child and works in the classroom one day per week, and the other days are “drop-off” preschool for that family. Classes may be 2 – 3 hours long.

Staffing: There is a preschool teacher, trained in early childhood education, who is responsible for planning and coordinating the children’s activities, and leading group times. A parent educator observes / consults during some class sessions, and offers a monthly parent education session plus one-on-one expert parenting advice.

Parents contribute by working in the classroom once a week. They also help with the running of the school by: providing snacks, fundraising support, helping with end-of-year cleanings, serving on the board (chair, treasurer, secretary, etc.), or as class photographer, play-dough maker, etc.

Length of program: Most classes (parent-child and coops) meet for the full school year – September through May. [Note: you may be able to enroll mid-year, if there are spaces available. Check with the programs to find out.] Some have summer programs.

What do Programs Cost?

For some programs, you pay by the month, some by the quarter, some by the year. If you look at the cost for a quarter (11 weeks) or year (33 weeks), it may look like a lot compared to other children’s activities in the community. So, to compare apples to apples, it’s best to look at it as cost-per-hour. Infant and toddler groups at our local community colleges range from $7.50 – 11.50 per hour. For comparison’s sake, here’s what a sample of other programs cost on an hourly basis:

  • Big motor activities: Gymboree $30, Gymnastics East $20, Northwest Aerials $13
  • Parent education and support: Mommy Matters $22 plus child care costs. Baby Peppers $10.
  • Art programs: Kidsquest $17 per hour. Kirkland Parks $13. Kirkland Arts Center $10.
  • Music programs: Kindermusik $22, Kirkland Parks $11. Bellevue Parks $21.

Cooperative preschools in these programs range from $7.50 – 10.00 an hour. For comparison sake:

  • Bellevue public schools, $10 per hour. Bellevue Boys & Girls Club $10. Bellevue Christian School $11. Bellevue Montessori $18. Jewish Day School $19. Villa Academy $18. Seattle Waldorf $22. Cedar Crest $24.
  • Note: most preschools have an adult/child ratio ranging from 1:6 – 1:9. At a coop, the ratio may be 1:3 or 1:4.

All the parent education programs and cooperative preschools offer scholarships to lower income families which can further reduce the cost.

What makes these programs different from other programs?

College credit and student privileges: Parent education programs are college classes, and parents receive college credit for attending. They can also receive student ID cards, which depending on the school may give access to services such as fitness center or gym access. They may also allow you to get student discounts at a wide variety of local and online businesses.

Parent Education: Experienced professional educators offer information that is current and research-based but also relevant to the day-to-day reality of parenting little ones. Topics are tailored to the age and needs of the families, but may include: daily routines, discipline, child development, early learning, nutrition, potty training, emotional intelligence, kindergarten readiness, and self-care for parents.

Individualized Advice: Parent educators and children’s teachers have the opportunity to get to know each child as an individual, and also get to know parents well. This allows them to answer questions in a highly personalized way. They can also refer on for additional services when needed.

Parent Involvement: Participating in your child’s classroom from day one encourages you to think of yourself as an active participant in your child’s learning and an advocate for them in future classrooms. You’ll know the other children and can help your child learn about them. You’ll know what happened in class, so you can later reinforce the learning. Seeing classroom activities may give you new ideas for what you can do at home to enhance your child’s development. Having the opportunity to observe other children each week helps give you a deeper understanding of child development, and seeing parents respond to their children shows you options for parenting style.

Peer Support and Long-Term Relationships: Parents meet with other parents over the course of many months, which allows for long-term connections. Working together on projects strengthens those bonds, as does the peer support gained when parents discuss and share the joys and challenges of caring for kids.

Programs offer classes for families with children from birth through age 5, so instead of having to search for new classes every month or every year, you always know where you can find a fun and educational class for you and your child.

Learn More about Programs Near You and Register Now!

Note: Classes for each school year start in September but it is best to register in spring or summer, because they do fill up!

Program Name / Website Locations * Ages Served / Programs
Bellevue College
www.bellevuecollege.edu/parented/
Bellevue, Carnation, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Renton, Sammamish, Snoqualmie Birth to 7: Parent-Child (day & eve), Coops, Inventors’ Lab (formerly Dad & Me), Art & Science Enrichment. Summer
Edmonds Community College
www.edcc.edu/pared/
Edmonds, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Snohomish Birth to 5: Parent-Child, Coop Preschool, Summer
Green River CC. Limited info available on their website: www.greenriver.edu/academics/areas-of-study/details/parent-child-education.htm. Auburn area, birth to age 6. Learn more by searching for: Benson Hill Coop in Kent, Tahoma Coop in Maple Valley, Covington Coop, and Darcy Read in Des Moines.
Lake WA Institute of Technologywww.lwtech.edu/parented Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool
North Seattle Community Collegehttp://coops.northseattle.edu/ 12 sites in Seattle, from north of ship canal to NE 145th. Vashon. Birth to 5: Parent-Child (day and evening), Coop Preschool
Seattle Central Community College.
Links to coop websites: www.itc210.cleobrim.com/about/resources/off-campus-coops/
7 sites in Seattle: Capitol Hill, Mt. Baker, Madison Pk, Rainier Val, Queen Anne One to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool; Dad’s, Summer
Shoreline Community Collegewww.shoreline.edu/parenting-education/ Shoreline, Bothell, Inglemoor (Kirkland), Woodinville Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool, summer, evening
South Seattle Community College https://sites.google.com/a/southseattle.edu/homelife/ or http://westseattlepreschools.org/ SCCC campus, Admiral, Alki, Arbor Heights, Lincoln Park Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool, Spanish

*Not all ages served at all sites. For example, most programs only have infant classes at one site.

Would you like to print this information for your reference or to share with a friend? Get the PDF here.

If you want more information right now about parenting, look in the “categories” section on the right hand column and click through to any topic that interests you (for example, you can read my posts about tantrums or potty training or choosing a preschool or find lyrics to songs your child will love.) To receive updates as I publish new articles, go to the right hand column and click on “like on Facebook.”

Note: this is an update of a post from 2014