Parent’s Checklist: Creating and Maintaining a Positive Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

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Today’s technological advances make getting and keeping in touch with your child’s teacher easier than ever. Like everyone else these days, teachers are never too far from their cell phones, and some are more than happy to share their contact information with their students and their students’ parents. Keeping the flow of communication open between you and your child’s teacher is an essential element of your child’s success in school. The following are some guidelines about staying in touch with your child’s teacher.

  • Pick your mode of communication. Teachers have email addresses, phones in their room, and certain periods of time during the school day when they are available to take calls and conference with parents. Some will even give out their personal phone numbers, and some might even be open to texting. Ask your child’s teacher which modes of communication he or she is willing to engage in and/or prefers, and then pick one that is most convenient and reliable for you.
  • Be respectful of teachers’ time. Understand that teachers are busy. While they might have 30 to 90 minutes of “planning” time each school day, as well as time before and after school, this time is often spent grading papers, planning lessons, and meeting with committees and other teachers. Therefore, if you want to meet with your child’s teacher, it’s important to plan ahead and make an appointment whenever possible. This is also the best practice for a phone conversation that you anticipate will be lengthy.
  • Be prepared with an agenda. Make the most of your conversation with your child’s teacher by having a list of questions or concerns. This will help keep off-topic conversations to a minimum and will cut down on distractions. Also, if your child is struggling in school, teacher conferences can be stressful for both parents and teachers; therefore, having a well-organized agenda for the conference can help alleviate on-the-spot anxiety for everyone.
  • Present a “united front” for your child. You probably remember a few teachers over the years of your own schooling whose personalities and teaching styles did not mesh well with your own. As a parent, you are likely to encounter teachers who approach the art of teaching in a way with which you or your child might not be comfortable. Nevertheless, it’s important to remain respectful and polite to your child’s teacher, especially in front of your child. Criticizing or complaining about your child’s teacher can leave your child feeling confused about his loyalties and possibly unmotivated to put forth his best effort in the classroom. If you are at odds with your child’s teacher for any reason, be sure to discuss these matters privately (but respectfully) with him or her—not in front of your child.
  • Show that you’re on the same team. If your child is struggling in school academically or behaviorally, ask your child’s teacher what you can do at home that will support his or her efforts in the classroom. If your child is learning material in a way that is different from how you learned it, ask her teacher to explain it to you so that you can then present the material at home in the same way. Mothers and fathers (and stepparents) often have to “be on the same page” when parenting their children, and a similar team approach between you and your child’s teacher can be just as effective in ensuring your child’s success and motivation in school.
  • Check your child’s backpack every day. Ideally, you will encourage your child to share with you any information from the school or from his teacher with little to no prompting or reminders from you. Realistically, the best you might hope for is that your child will present you with his book bag or backpack daily so you can sift through it to find any graded work or notes from the teacher. In any case, it is important to keep your eyes out for notes from the school or teacher communicating important details. Many students these days utilize a school-provided “agenda” or small planning calendar in which they write down assignments and upcoming dates for projects or tests. Teachers also often write notes home to parents in the agenda. Sometimes parents are asked to review the child’s agenda daily and sign off that they did so.

In sum, consistent, positive, and respectful communication with your child’s teacher is an essential element to ensure your child’s motivation and success in school. Parents and teachers must work together as a team to create the best educational experience possible for their children and students.

© 2013 Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD

Ready or Not? Here Comes Kindergarten!

By Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD

Happy friends

Today’s parents likely remember kindergarten as a year they learned to share toys, separate from their caregivers, and sit on the floor for weekly show-and-tell sessions. They probably also learned the names of all the letters, as well as the sounds some of them make. As the standards for public school curriculum have become more and more rigorous across the country, however, five-year-olds are now expected to master a variety of literacy and arithmetic skills that were once not taught until first grade. Today, being “ready” for kindergarten means that a child already possesses the behavioral, emotional, and academic skills that they were once taught during this first crucial year of formal education.

Most children in the United States are eligible to enroll in kindergarten if their fifth birthdays occur before state-specific “cut-off” dates that typically fall sometime in the month of September (Saluja, G., et al., 2000). Some enter school after having attended a high-quality preschool with its own strong pre-academic curriculum, but some do not. Some children’s parents have been reading to them nightly since they were infants; some have not. Some children have been raised in a household with several siblings, or in a very large extended family. These children have more than likely learned to take turns, share, and socialize effectively with others. The “only child,” in contrast, might have had very little interaction with the world outside his or her parents. Despite these differences, all five-year-olds are all expected, more or less, to enter a formal education environment, sit quietly at a desk or table for an extended period of time, and listen attentively to a relative stranger as she or he teaches literacy and numeracy skills. Obviously, the playing field is not going to be level for each and every child.

Since kindergarten teachers are the ones who will be molding and shaping the minds of our budding students, it makes sense to ask them what characteristics they believe makes a child “ready” for kindergarten. Hains, et al. (1989) asked teachers almost two decades ago what characteristics made a child “ready” for kindergarten, and the following were deemed most important:

  • Being able to identify at least four colors
  • Being able to identify major body parts
  • Being able to respond to one’s first name
  • Being able to respond appropriately to essential warning words

A few years later, 75 percent of kindergarten teachers polled felt the top 3 “readiness” characteristics were for a child to be in good physical health, to have the ability to verbally communicate wants and needs, and to be curious and enthusiastic about participating in new activities (Heaviside & Farris, 1993). Fifty percent of the same group of teachers felt that behavioral control, empathy, and being able to take turns and share were also important skills for students to possess prior to entering kindergarten. Academic skills, such as holding a pencil, knowledge of the alphabet, and ability to count were ranked as less important “readiness” skills, both by teachers in these earlier studies as well as more recent ones (Dockett & Perry, 2003).

Parents can help foster these non-academic kindergarten readiness skills via the following guidelines and suggestions.

  • Have a structured, daily routine for your child, including morning wake-up times, meals, playtime, and naps.
  • Encourage your child to dress him or herself independently, as well as take care of his or her own needs in the bathroom.
  • Encourage your child to listen quietly while others are speaking.
  • Involve your child in activities with other children that require sharing, following rules, and/or taking turns.
  • Give your child the freedom to play by him or herself with minimal supervision from you, as long as he or she is in a safe environment.

While teachers might view academic skills as less essential to readiness for kindergarten, the bottom line is that in this era of increasing rigorous standards in public education, no child can be “too prepared” for kindergarten. It is therefore essential that parents engage in as many activities that promote academic readiness in reading and math as they can (Rafoth, et al, 2004). Most reading experts these days agree that developing a skill called phonological awareness is the most important predictor of later success with reading. Phonological awareness is the understanding of the way words sound, including identifying beginning and ending sounds in words as well as words that rhyme.

The following activities can help facilitate this skill, and can also be fun for children.

  • Read nursery rhymes.
  • Sing songs and clap your hands along with the rhythm.
  • Draw his or her attention to words that rhyme or “sound the same” in everyday life.
  • Play games where the object is to find items that begin or end with the same sounds.

The push for reading readiness tends to overshadow math skills during kindergarten; however, students are still generally expected to be able to verbally count, recognize numerals, and understand quantity.

The following activities are simple things parents can do with their children to get their minds ready for math:

  • Working with puzzles
  • Identifying basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, and rectangle)
  • Counting to 10, including counting objects (one-to-one correspondence)

Of course, many of these skills, both academic and nonacademic, are covered in preschool and daycare settings. Many large-scale research studies have shown that high-quality preschool experiences positively influence children’s kindergarten readiness. Parents who choose to enroll their children in preschool should look for the following characteristics when choosing a center:

  • Children stay engaged in a variety of hands-on activities throughout the day.
  • Children receive both individual attention and group instruction.
  • Children produce work that is frequently sent home or put on display in the classroom.
  • Children are allowed time outside for unstructured playtime.
  • Children are frequently exposed to pre-academic skills such as the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors.
  • Children are read to by their teachers daily.

Kindergarten is an important first year in a student’s educational career. These days students are expected to come to school ready to learn, and those who have been taught some of the skills discussed above will clearly be at an advantage over those who have not. Whether parents choose to enroll their child in a high-quality preschool or do the legwork themselves, it is certainly possible to get a child “school ready” prior to their first day of school.

© 2013 Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD
References
Dockett, S., & Perry, B.(2003). The transition to school: What’s important? Educational Leadership, 60(7), 30-33.
Hains, A. H., Fowler, S. A., Schwartz, I. S., Kottwitz, E., & Rosenhoetter, S.(1989). A comparison of preschool and kindergarten teacher expectations for school readiness. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,4, 75-88.
Heaviside, S., & Farris, S.(1993). Public school kindergarten teachers’ views on children’s readiness for school. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Rafoth, M.A., Buchenauer, E. L., Crissman, K. K., & Halko, J. L. (2004). School readiness – preparing children for kindergarten and beyond: Information for parents. NASP School and Home. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/schoolreadiness.pdf.
Ramey, S. L., Ramey, C. T., & Lanzi, R. G.(2004). The transition t school: Building on preschool foundations and preparing for lifelong learning. In E. Zigler & S. J. Styfco (Eds.), The Head Start Debtes. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Saluja, G., Scott-Little, C., & Clifford, R. M.(2000). Readiness for school: A survey of state    policies and definitions. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 2(2). Available at http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v2n2/saluja.html

Understanding Your Child’s Sleep: Bedtime Tips for Parents

Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.

To follow up from previous two posts, here are tips to help ensure that your child gets a good night’s sleep:

  • Stick to a regular bedtime.
  • Develop a calming routine each night to help your child relax. This may include a warm bath or a relaxing bedtime story.
  • Don’t keep a TV in your child’s room. Also, don’t allow him to watch intense or scary movies or shows late in the evening.
  • Make the bed for sleep only, rather than activities like texting or phoning friends, reading, or doing schoolwork. This will help your child to associate his bed with sleeping.
  • Don’t let him exercise late in the evening, as this can disrupt his sleep.
  • Don’t allow your child to eat or drink anything that contains caffeine late in the evening.
  • Limit beverages two hours before bedtime so your child won’t need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and as dark and quiet as possible.
  • Teach your child about reasons why we may awaken sometimes, such as when needing to go to the bathroom.

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© 2011 Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.  All rights reserved.

Understanding Your Child’s Sleep: Nightmares and Night Terrors

Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.

It is important to know the difference between night terrors and nightmares. Since their origins are different, the ways in which you approach them will be very different. Night terrors in children usually occur during the early part of the night, as they transition from stage 3 to stage 4. Night terrors are not dreams; rather, they are a highly aroused state in which the child is very frightened[2]. It is almost as if the child’s body is awake, but his mind is not. Nightmares, on the other hand, are bad dreams that may be quite vivid. They are more likely to occur in the wee hours of the morning, during REM sleep. A child usually won’t remember having a night terror, whereas he may remember a nightmare.

With nightmares, you can gently awaken your child to comfort and reassure him. But with night terrors, it’s best not to try to awaken your child. If you do, not only will he be very confused and disoriented, but he may also have a harder time getting back to sleep. He will not be responsive to reasoning or consoling. Typically, even your presence might frighten him, as he may mistake you for a figure who is trying to harm him. Remember, your child may look awake, but he is not. If you are concerned that he might hurt himself while crying and moving too harshly, stay with him until the night terror passes. Since your child may thrash or try to get out of bed during a night terror, you may need to use gentle restraint to prevent him from injury.

Understanding Your Child’s Sleep

Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.

Getting restful, adequate sleep is crucial to good health—both physical and mental. We spend approximately one-third of our life sleeping, yet experts still don’t know exactly what happens when we sleep. But we do know that we can’t function well without it.
If you have children, you know that they need much more sleep than adults do. In fact, on average, a newborn baby needs between 12 to 18 hours of sleep per day. Toddlers require between 12 and 14 hours of sleep, and older children require an average of 10 to 11 hours per night[1].  Most adults need only 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep for optimal health and functioning.

Sleep Stages

As you sleep, you go through five different stages. These stages are dictated by your brain. Understanding the stages of sleep will help you better understand the effects on your child if he or she is awakened during a particular stage.

  • Stage 1 – Thisis a transitional stage between being fully awake and asleep. The heart rate and body temperature begin to decrease, and the muscles start to relax. During Stage 1 sleep, which lasts only a few minutes, the brain is producing very slow waves known as theta waves[1].  If something were to awaken your child, he would probably say he had never gone to sleep.
  • Stage 2 – This stage of sleep is very light and lasts for about 20 minutes. Your child can still be easily awakened, so if a dog barks or someone honks a car horn, he’ll likely wake up. Heart rate and body temperature continue to slow down slightly. Quick bursts of rhythmic waves, called sleep spindles[1] , are being produced by the brain during this stage.
  • Stage 3 – Stage 3 is another transitional stage, taking the body from a light sleep to a very deep sleep. This stage is also known as the slow-wave sleep because the brain begins to produce slow, deep waves known as delta waves[1]. During this phase of sleep, blood pressure begins to drop. It will be much more difficult to wake your child during this stage. Some children (as well as adults) talk or walk in their sleep during this stage.
  • Stage 4 – Like Stage 3, this stage is also regarded as slow-wave sleep, as the brain continues to produce delta waves[1]. It is the deepest stage of sleep and lasts for about a half hour. You’ll find that it is very difficult to awaken your child during this stage. If you do, expect him to be quite groggy for the first few minutes. Sleepwalking and talking often occur as people transition from this stage to a lighter sleep stage. If your child is prone to wet the bed, it will typically happen toward the end of this stage.
  • Stage 5 – This unique, active stage of sleep is known as REM sleep because it is when rapid eye movement occurs[1].  Breathing is often irregular, and the heart rate is faster. This is the stage of sleep when dreaming takes place. Your child is most likely to remember a dream if he is awakened during this stage. The brain is very active during REM sleep, but the muscles in the arms and legs are essentially paralyzed.

The Sleep Cycle 

Everyone repeats stages 2 through 5 several times throughout the night. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes, so on any given night, your child will repeat this cycle several times until he wakes up[2]. Although the length of the cycles is the same, the majority of deep sleep takes place during the first part of the night, whereas the REM stages are longer during the latter part of the night.

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© 2011 Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.  All rights reserved.

Reference:

  1. Epstein & Mardon, 2006. The ABCs of Zs: What Happens During Sleep? The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. Ch 2.
  2. Nicholi, 1988. The New Harvard Guide to Psychiatry

Traveling with kids?

Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.

Vacations are fun…for most people. For those who have young children, it can be a bit stressful to think about how to prepare and what to do while traveling with your little ones. Just explaining the situation won’t work with young children. Kids at this developmental stage are in the middle of toilet training or at the tail end of it, have a strong desire to be independent, and have an abundance of curiosity and a desire to explore. None of these qualities are bad if you’re in your typical surroundings. However, add in the security line, “random” searches, being strapped in seat belts, changes in air pressure, and limited access to bathrooms, and it can turn ugly. Just imagine a child not wanting to separate from her “blankie” being told it has to be put into a container and scanned by a security camera.

With children at this age, it is not only helpful, but crucial, to share a simple overview of what is going to happen during the day. Since it is not a typical day, it helps them to have a sense of what to expect. Here are some tips to help with the process:

  • Use children’s natural tendency to want to be in charge and be independent. Make your child your traveling helper. (You can even make him or her a little badge out of one of those “My name is” stickers or a blank label.) Explain some of the rules beforehand, such as needing to take off jackets and shoes. You’ll find that kids at this age LOVE knowing the rules and especially telling others that they’re not following the rules.
  • Remember that kids, like adults, function best when their physical needs are met, including their needs for food, sleep, and bathroom. Gauge and assess what your child might need physically. If there is a physical need, try to fill it for him or her. If you’re unable to provide it, however, such as when sleep is interrupted due to a delayed flight, try to soothe your child by sitting and helping your child to calm his or her body down. When children are extremely tired, their bodies go into overdrive, and instead of sleeping, they might appear to have lots of energy. Do not wait for them to crash. Although there is a widespread belief that kids will crash if you let them work out their overactiveness, it is actually more helpful to assist them in calming their body down. Sit with your child and perhaps sing his or her favorite lullaby softly. This will calm your child’s senses, which his or her body needs when in overdrive.
  • Roughly plan out your child’s elimination needs. Whenever you think he or she needs to go, you go, too. Tell your child that it’s potty time for everyone.
  • Have a little emergency food bag with your carry-on so you’re prepared for possible travel delays.
  • Create a story or use a storybook to help you during your trip. Books such as Fly with Kai offer kids knowledge and models to know about in-flight experience.

With some preparation and planning ahead, the process of traveling doesn’t have to be so stressful.

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© 2011 Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.  All rights reserved.