Simi Valley Family Magazine --

Fall 1997 Edition


How Is My Child Doing? What Parents Need to Know

Deborah Tucker, M.A., M.F.C.C.

"How are my children doing in school? Are they performing up to their potential?" Questions like these have been on the minds of every parent ever since school began in September. We look at their work, ask them questions, talk to their teachers. Often we still wonder, "How would I be able to tell if my child were having problems?"

Sometimes our first signal that all is not well is that we begin to notice our child consistently falling behind other children in a certain area. Attitude changes toward school, a sudden unwillingness to bring home assignments or work graded at school, increased frustration while attempting homework -- all of these may point toward a worsening area of difficulty in academics. Two very common problem areas are poor reading comprehension, and trouble understanding and applying math concepts. Parents need to keep themselves aware of how their child is doing by working with their children and making note of how well their child seems to understand the work sent home by the school.

Educators point out that a child's inability to learn a new skill may mean that a prior, more basic skill was not learned along the way. This shows up especially clearly in the area of mathematics. A teen may be having trouble in algebra because they never really mastered the elementary age skills of fractions and division. Also, parents may not realize that children often don't do their homework because they truly don't know how to do it -- how to organize themselves, break down a large assignment into more manageable parts, how to take notes and review reading assignments.

Academic problems are usually verified by poor test scores or falling grades. Spotting emotional problems in our children can be a little more difficult. In this area it is also extremely important to be aware of what is appropriate developmentally. How a child is functioning in the major biological areas of eating, sleeping and toilet habits can be a major source of information. Prolonged regression, or marked changes of any kind in these areas definitely warrant a call to the pediatrician, who may then make a referral for counseling.

The ability to tolerate frustration and to do independent problem-solving is vital, and one that tends to develop steadily with a little encouragement. If we notice that our child differs a great deal from other children of the same age, or if our child suddenly has much less frustration tolerance or patience, then this too may be cause for concern.

A third area to be aware of is that of relationships with peers. Obviously every child is different in their approach to socializing, but again it is valuable to note how our children compare in a general way with other children of roughly the same age. With very young children, we look at their ability to separate from parents and form bonds with teachers and other caretakers, and also at how well they transition from one type of activity to the next, such as learning to stop playing at recess and line up to enter the classroom. Elementary age children are very interested in forming friendships, although some children will have many friends while others prefer just one or two. Teens who are having great difficulty finding a peer group, or who gravitate toward a very negative peer group may give us cause for concern.

The point of all this discussion about noticing signals of potential problems in our children is not to raise our anxiety. Instead, the objective is to define a few areas to be aware of, so that if we find ourselves consistently feeling worried about our children, we have a beginning way to evaluate them. If after reading through this article, you are still concerned about how your child is progressing, it is always valuable to check with your child's teacher and/or their pediatrician. Both know your child well, and can help you decide if you need or want to investigate further with other professionals, such as tutors, speech pathologists, or counselors.

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Keeping The Balance

Wendy Wilkinson, M.S.

Recently, some friends of our asked us for advice on how to coordinate career planning with child rearing. After having one child, and now thinking about having another, they realize that children add a whole set of unpredictable variables to their straight-forward career goals.

As we thought about our career paths, marriage, and family life, we realized that it was not well-laid plans that enabled us to achieve our successes in career and family. Instead, it was a well-laid concept of who we are and what we are about that guided us. We challenged them that instead of trying to plan out career paths and trying to fit children into those plans, they should instead be determining just what exactly they are about. We asked them the following questions to help them figure this out:

  1. "What are your values, as a couple, as a family and as individuals your careers?" If our values are reflected in what we do, then we will feel successful.
  2. "What are your goals in life?" Is this or that career your ultimate goal? Do you have other goals as well? Do these goals reflect the basic values you chose above? If not, why is there a the discrepancy? Do you want to set your sights on goals that are inconsistent with your values? Probably not.
  3. "What are your talents and limitations?" I believe we feel the most satisfaction when we are making the most of our talents, but are not exceeding the boundaries of our limitations.

After deciding upon our values, goals, talents and limitations we now have the structure we need to make decisions for ourselves and our family. When opportunities or circumstances come our way, we now have a guideline. We must ask ourselves, "Does this opportunity fit into my goals? Does it reflect my values? Does it take into account my talents and limitations? If the answers are "yes," then we know the opportunity will fit into our family's "master plan."

It is also important to remember that life is always about change. As our family changes, as our children grow, and as our circumstances and opportunities change, we can expect to implement many different plans. But if we know what our values, goals, talents and limitations are, we will be able to evaluate the opportunities and challenges as they come along.

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Nurturing a Close Relationship with Your Child

Sue White, M.A.

A close, nurturing parent/child relationship is the dream of most parents as they prepare for and anxiously await the arrival of each newborn baby. Webster defines nurturing as "To nourish, care for, provide for, to feed or sustain." Beautiful words, but just how do we care for, provide for, feed or sustain a close relationship with our children? Following are some suggestions that hopefully will help parents to achieve this goal.

One of the most important elements in sustaining a relationship with a friend or spouse is time, and so it follows that this would be equally important as we build a relationship with our children. How much time have you spent with your child in the past 24 hours? How much of that time has been spent in nurturing activities? Most of us spend considerable time in the car with our families. Have you ever considered how that time could be best used to build relationships? Do you sing together in the car? Tell stories? Talk about the day? Play games? As children get older this can be a great place to discuss more delicate issues as eye contact is minimal and thus the atmosphere a little less threatening or embarrassing (not to mention there is no place for either of you to run). When was the last time you asked your child for their opinion about something, and then listened carefully and respectfully to their answer? Learn to take advantages of small segments of time to discover a little more about who your child is. Maybe they will, in turn, learn to listen respectfully to your beliefs and opinions.

This leads to another very important element in any relationship -- respect. We can demand that our children treat us with respect, but we can't demand that they respect us. We earn respect. The tone of voice we use when we talk to our children (or our spouse), our ability to admit our mistakes and apologize when necessary, the amount of grace we are willing to extend to others when they fall short of our expectations, all determine what our children will learn and what skills they develop in the area of respect. What about the pet names that we call our children? Are these names that model respect? We have a great deal of control over this area of our children's lives whether we believe it or not, just by who we are.

Another important factor is attitude. Do we find qualities to be thankful for in our children on a daily basis? Do we see our children as burdens or ourselves as inept? Either one of these attitudes will greatly affect our relationship with our children. What are our expectations? Do we expect trouble? Do we expect hostility? Do we see our children as growing into competent, caring young people? Do you expect from your children what you gave to your parents? This isn't inevitable and our positive actions to change any past negative patterns can affect our family for generations to come. Our expectations are often fulfilled, so carefully examine your expectations and aim for realistic but honorable results.

How would you rate your style of parenting? On a continuum there are three basic styles: AUTHORITARIAN -- AUTHORITATIVE -- PERMISSIVE. A parent who has an authoritarian style is demanding, rigid, has many rules. They believe in absolute obedience to authority without question. An authoritative parent, on the other hand, is more flexible. They provide clear guidance, based on competent, reliable authority. There is much more room for grace and nurturing. A permissive parent allows freedom, is lenient, the relationship is based on equality. The most nurturing parent/child relationships generally come from the middle, the authoritative style of parenting.

We can't demand that our children be close to us, but we can invite them to come closer. We can create an atmosphere that makes it safe and even fun. We have control. Remember, change is slow; progress is measured in very small increments. You will slip up and so will your kids. But move forward. Desire a closer, more nurturing relationship. As we demonstrate love and nurturing to our children in a healthy way, it will become contagious.

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