Monday, August 31, 2009

Guest Blogger: Back-to-School Tips for Boys

Please welcome guest blogger Alexandra Mayzler today. Alexandra is the Founder and Director of Thinking Caps Tutoring, a comprehensive tutoring company dedicated to developing innovative and individualized approaches to teaching. She participates in the coordination the New York Dyslexia Association’s annual conference, is a curriculum consultant for independent and public schools, and the author of study skills book to be published in September 2010. Alexandra spends her free time thinking about how to make studying easier, more interesting, and potentially even enjoyable! I believe you'll find her tips helpful, whether you son is five or fifteen, homeschooled or conventionally schooled.

Bounce Back to a Great New School Year

With the school year starting it is time to set up solid routines for your sons to get back into homework-mode. Here are a few suggestions to keep your sons not only on top of their schoolwork, but also maintain balance between homework and fun activities:

Time to Recharge
After a long day of school, sitting down to homework and studying is likely to be the last thing on your son’s mind. Set aside a “time out” for him to have a snack and do something he enjoys so that he can recharge his battery. Once he has had a break, he will be more able to sit down and remain focused on completing his homework.

Energizer Bunny
Help your son to stay focused on the assignments by breaking up assignments into smaller parts and setting aside breaks. Because many boys have what seems like an endless amount of energy, encourage active breaks such as shooting hoops or taking a 10-minute run. The study breaks should be pre-planned activities and not something that will be too engaging or distracting. Also, keep in mind that it is harder to bounce back after lazy activities such as watching TV or surfing the internet.

Make it an Event
It is always more fun to do things with friends. For middle school students it could be inspiring to study with a group of peers. Gather a small study group of 3 – 5 boys and allocate a consistent study space. Help the group schedule time to work and time for breaks. By working together and seeing others doing work, boys will be encouraged to complete homework. Emphasize the importance of homework and encourage the boys to spend time together not just in the backyard, but also with books.

Keep tabs on assignments (such as big projects and upcoming tests) while fostering a feeling of independence and ownership by asking your son to let you know of important upcoming dates. Rather than maintaining a calendar of events for your son, encourage him to fill-out a test calendar and let you know when things are coming up. A family calendar keeps the nagging to a minimum because everyone can see what is going on and nothing comes as a surprise.

Parental Control
Technology is a big part of your son’s life. The TV, computer, and cell phone are his portals to information, entertainment, and communication. Teaching him about the boundaries of these technologies and when it is appropriate to use the technologies goes beyond simply putting on parental controls on the television. Have an open dialogue about the internet and phone/texting use and set expectations about times when the TV and computer can be on and also when they need to be turned off.

You can also visit TCT on Facebook. Join the new Thinking Caps Tutoring group for helpful suggestions and study tips.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Now THIS Is Love

A couple months ago, I blogged about showing love. I'd asked Boy #1 how he knows his Mom loves him and his answer was, "Because she takes me fishing."

I thought of that at 6:15 this morning as I sped across a lake, cool -- no, make that cold -- mist spraying in my face. It was the last morning of our Up North vacation and I was huddled inside two sweatshirts and a jacket, sitting on a not-quite-wet-yet-towel in a motorboat piloted by my 11-year-old son. Trust me when I say this is not how I would normally choose to spend a morning.

By nature, I am more of a night person. By nature, I am more of an indoors kind of girl. By nature, I will choose my warm bed and a book over almost anything.

But there I was, out on the lake, wind whipping at my back, prepared to spend one-and-a-half hours casting lures into a lake that hadn't yielded anything to me but weeds (and an excellent encounter with a loon.) Why? Because I love my son and my son loves fishing.

It was not the morning he wanted it to be. He was dying to catch a musky, the elusive fish of 10,000 casts that had eluded him all week. He never did catch a musky -- but I caught my very first Northern, an 18 1/2 inch fish that was the biggest fish I'd ever caught. (It was also the first fish I've ever held. Boy, are those things slippery!)

I never would have caught that fish without my son. He guided me to the site, put on the bait and showed me how to cast and retrieve my lure. He also netted the fish, removed the hook and helped me release it safely into the water.

Most importantly, though, he got me out on the water. Never in a thousand years would I have seen the mist over the lake at sunrise, or felt the strength of a fish at the end of my line, if not for my son. If not for my son -- my sons -- my world would be a much poorer place, in so many ways.

Boy #1, I love you. Thanks for showing me the world.

How have your sons expanded your world?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guest Blog: From Freeways to Flip-Flops

I’m honored to be a guest blogger on “Blogging’Bout Boys.”

My name is Sonia Marsh and I write the blog Gutsy Writer. In 2004 we left our comfortable life in Orange County, California, and moved to an island in Belize. WHY? We had 3 reasons:

1. To rescue our 16-year-old son from some bad choices he’d made in high school.

2. To escape the OC rat race.

3. To teach our kids gratitude instead of entitlement. We moved from a large 5 bedroom house, to a hut on stilts. We learned to live with less and to appreciate each other more. ( We stayed in Belize for one year.)

I’m currently working on my memoir: From Freeways to Flip-Flops, and would like to share an excerpt from the middle of Chapter One, when I started noticing defiance in my oldest son, Spencer. He was nine at the time, and his two younger brothers: Austin six, and Jordan, almost three. My husband’s name is Duke, and our rat terrier is Cookie.

Photo taken in January 2008, Austin 18, Sonia, Spencer 21, Jordan 14.

When Spencer turned nine, his assertiveness no longer seemed attractive. “Wake up Spencer,” I said placing my right hand on his back. Spencer remained flat on his stomach. “It’s time to get ready.”

I figured he’d get dressed in a minute, so I headed upstairs to wake Austin up for Kindergarten. I found him dressed, sitting on his bed struggling to turn his sock inside out. “Can I have waffles for breakfast?” he said.

“Not today, sorry, we’re running late. Maybe tomorrow.”

During school days, I let Jordan sleep until it was time to strap him into the car seat. One less child to deal with, while the other two got ready for school.

Austin liked school. He was a morning person like Duke.

Austin followed me downstairs and I poured him a bowl of honey-nut cheerios. The TV was already on a cartoon channel with Spencer gripping the remote in his hand.

“Spencer, get dressed, we’re late.” I jogged down the hallway, opened his drawers and flung a set of clothes on his bed to speed up the process. “I expect you dressed by the time I get my shower,” I said. “Your cereal bowl’s on the counter.”

After my shower, I could hear Austin brushing his teeth. I headed back down and found Spencer, still in pajamas, wiggling his bare toes on the coffee table. “Why aren’t you dressed?” I asked in a firm tone.

“I’m not going to school,” he said with teenage attitude.

“Well then,” I said, trying to remain calm like they recommended in parenting magazines. “I guess you’ll have to explain to your principal why you’re wearing pajamas today.”

I grabbed the remote from his tight grip and turned off the TV. Spencer stared at me with such cruel eyes, that for one second, I hated him. How could my baby do this to me? He refused to get off the couch, and I felt Austin’s eyes peeking through the staircase railing, scared to come down, yet interested in the unfolding scene.

I yanked Spencer off the couch with both hands under his armpits, and started dragging along the floor backwards. He already weighed more than I could lift. He wrestled himself out of my grip and stampeded down the hallway and hid under his bed sheets. “Are you going to dress or not?”

Spencer didn’t move. I hauled him out of bed and towed him to my van. He tried negotiating a compromise which involved letting him skip school, but I refused. Spencer finally caved in and changed clothes, but not without shoving me into the van’s side mirror first.

Grabbing his wrists, I dug my short nails into his pulse points and stared straight into his angry eyes, “Don’t you ever do that again. Do you hear me?” He continued showing no remorse. An alarm went off inside me. If I can’t get him to respect me at nine, what will he be like at thirteen?
This prompted my first ever appointment with a therapist. Duke had a thing about therapy. He believed it was a waste of money, and that people should be capable of solving their own problems.

“Well I need advice from someone other than you,” I said. “Go ahead,” Duke said. “I’m not stopping you.”

I longed for reassurance from a professional, that all boys go through aggression at some point, and that as an early bloomer, Spencer started showing defiance sooner than most. Instead the therapist warned me, “Respect isn’t automatically given to you, it’s earned. You have to be more firm and consistent. You also need specific consequences with kids like him.” What did he mean, kids like him?

I didn’t understand why respect had to be earned by being firm. Why couldn’t it be earned through love and caring? That was how I’d learned to show respect towards my own mother and father.

Our life changed two months after Spencer turned thirteen. The day after Christmas, a large truck pulled up on our driveway. It was a typical Southern California winter day, the kind of day when December gets confused with August, and you end up wearing shorts and a tank-top, with a decorated Christmas tree in your living room.

I had just opened the garage door, leaning down to clip the leash onto Cookie’s collar, when I saw the man. A short, dark-haired male with tattooed biceps stepped down from one of those cranked-up trucks with oversized tires. Cookie hurled her body towards his ankles, and I managed to reel her in on the retractable leash, inches before she could nip at his sneakers.

“Are you Spencer’s mom?” the man asked, angling his neck upwards, so we could make eye contact. This did not feel like the start of a pleasant conversation and I debated whether to say, “No,” just to get rid of him, or at least postpone the rest of the conversation until Duke returned from Home Depot.

“Yes,” I said followed by a quick, “Why?”

“Your son broke into my house at 2 a.m., on Christmas Eve to see my daughter.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blogging at the Speed of Life

Ever have one of those weeks where there just seems to be more life than time?

This week -- the third week in August -- is always my most challenging week of the summer. It's County Fair week here, and if you've ever had kids in 4-H, you know what that means. If you haven't, it means this: pressuring/assisting your kids to finish up their Fair projects, transporting said projects to Fair, listening to a lot of whining while your kids wait for Fair judging and spending approximately 50 buckson Fair food and midway rides.

The third week in August -- AKA, The Most Stressful Week of My Summer -- is also the week before The Most Relaxing Week of My Summer. Which means that that I must somehow find a way to cram two weeks of work into one. I do not always do this successfully.

Week 3 of August is also birthday week: two of my brothers, my Dad and my second son have birthdays this week. So add in party planning and cake baking. (Too bad none of my boys are in the cake decorating project in 4-H!)

In other words, my head is spinning too fast to impart any boy-raising wisdom today. Somehow, though, I think you know exactly how I feel. Somehow, I know that if you're raising boys, you've had days and weeks just like mine, days that fly by in such a flurry that you don't even know which end is up, much less what you're doing.

Those are the days it's easy to lose track, easy to feel overwhelmed by all the to-do-ness that comes with boys. Who has time to worry about the big picture when there are dirty socks on the floor and exactly one empty milk jug in the fridge?

Those are the days, though, when we need to remember that it's all about the big picture. I haven't been doing a very good job of that lately. Lately, my boys have been the obstacle, not the purpose.

Days like this, I need to remember to refocus. I need to remember to take a deep breath to quiet all the voices in my head. ('Cause yes, I am that crazy.) I need to reach for a pencil, start jotting down my to-do's and tackle them, one at a time. Then I need to tear up my to-do list and look at what's right in front of me: four boys, eager for my love. It's hard to see it sometimes, admist all the bickering and fighting, but it's there.

So tonight, I laid with my three-year-old and watched him drift off to sleep. I stroked his still-smooth skin and relished the feel of his little boy body, snuggling closer to mine. I enjoyed the moment -- then got back up to tackle the to-do's.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jesus Was a Boy Too

I'm not exactly a Biblical blogger. In fact, we might go years and years without me ever mentioning the Bible again. And yet....

Last night a certain passage caught my eye. Even if you're not a religious person, you've probably heard the story. It's the story of Jesus in the temple, the time when 12-year-old Jesus stayed back in Jerusalem while he parents went on. Mary and Joseph were, of course, frantic when the realized that Jesus wasn't with their family group. They returned to Jersusalem to find him.

For three days they searched. (I never remembered that part before. Can you imagine searching for your son for three days?) They found him in the temple, preaching.

Of course, his earthly parents basically asked, "What do you think you're doing, young man?!?" and Jesus, being Jesus, responded, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"

That part of the story I knew. That part mystified Mary and Joseph, at least in the moment, but I've attended enough Catholic school to know exactly what he meant.

It was the next sentence that got me: "Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them." (Luke 3:51)

So let me get this straight -- their twelve-year-old son stayed back in Jerusalem to preach in the temple. Then headed home and was obedient for the next 20 or so years?? This is what the Bible has to tell me about Jesus' teen years?

My oldest son is 11 1/2 and quite precocious. If we'd lived back in BC, I could see him lingering at the temple, hanging around and talking. (OK, since this is my son and not the Son of God, it's more likely that he would have been hanging out at the Sea of Galilee, chatting it up with the fishermen.) And I could see him giving a relatively smart-ass answer when we found him again and asked what he was up too.

I can NOT see him coming home and being obedient. Maybe it's because my boys are going through some kind of annoy-Mom-and-each-other-stage right now, or maybe it's because I just can't see any boy going home and being perfectly obedient after being that independent at the age of twelve.

Suddenly, the Bible seemed all too vague. What was Jesus really like as he grew? How did he handle peer pressure and shaving and voice changes? How did Mary reconcile her need to love and protect her son with his need to blossom? How did Jesus grow up to be, well -- Jesus?

Someday, I think, Mary and I need to chat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dog Safety

Did you know that young boys are at the greatest risk of dog bites?

I didn't either -- and I probably should, since my parents got a dog this year and I have two boys that fall smack-dab in the five- to nine-years-old age group, the group most at-risk.

Young kids are vulnerable simply because of their proximity to animals; most children are at mouth-height to dogs. And young boys, in particular, tend to be loud, impulsive and physical. (I bet you already knew that.)

Keep your boys safe by teaching some basic dog etiquette:
  1. Always ask a dog's owner if it's OK to approach or pet the dog
  2. Slowly hold out your hand when meeting a dog
  3. Never try to reach into a crate, yard, or fenced-in area to pet a dog
  4. If the dog starts growling, showing teeth or holding back his ears, stay back
  5. Never tease a dog
  6. Remain quiet and still -- like a tree -- if a dog chases or jumps at you
  7. Stay away from sleeping or eating dogs

For more great info, click here and here.

Have you boys ever gotten into trouble with a dog?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Boys Can Do Anything

Equality is usually a world we hear in relationship to girls and women. The assumption is that boys and men have ruled the world for so long that there's virtually nothing they can't do.


Rigid role expectations still confine far too many boys (& men) to less-than-fulfilling lives. The Boy Code is still going strong, and boys who stray from the norms of standard male behavior risk being called queers and fags.

So it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the Dazl Diamonds all-boys peewee cheer squad:

The boys from Leeds are believed to be Europe's first all-male cheerleading squad. These young lads have looked the stereotypes square in the face and decided to do what they love, regardless of whether it's a "girl thing" or a "boy thing."

They're getting healthy while they do it, too. DAZL is a community dance and health project designed, initially, to improve the mental and physical health of young women through dance activity in the disadvantaged communities of south Leeds.

According to their 2006-2007 annual report, "DAZL targets young people who lack access to positive activities or who are at risk of sedentary lifestyles and those not involved in regular sports activity. " In other words: It's OK if you're not a jock. Just shake your groove thang.

Too many boys today are limited to football, basketball, baseball and soccer. Physical fitness, though, is much more than that. The key to long-term fitness is finding an activity you enjoy, because if you don't enjoy you're "chosen" sport or activity, you're probably not going to keep it up for long.

So let's expand our notions of what boys can do and support our sons, no matter what they choose.

Even if it involves pom-poms.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Up, Up and Away!

Is there anything worse than traveling cross-country by air with four small boys? Well, yes -- not traveling and deadly disease come to mind -- but when hubby and I traveled to California two summers ago, kids in tow, for my brother's wedding, we both agreed that traveling via covered wagon might be a more appropriate means of transportation for four active and rambunctious boys.

Our youngest was just a year-and-a-half at the time. If you've even had a toddler, you know they have exactly one purpose in life: To Move. A four-hour plane ride is not exactly conducive to moment.

We drew up and plan, and not suprisingly, our plan looked remarkably similar to our road trip plan. The essentials? Snacks and diversions.

So here, then, are my Top 5 Tips for Surviving Air Travel with Boys:

  1. Prepare. Have each boy pack a backpack with a simple change of clothes (at least clean underwear) and whatever toys, games, books he thinks he'll enjoy. It's a lot of fun to see what each boy chooses -- and it might not be what you'd expect. (Boy #2 can have a ball pretending with cheap McDonald's toys.)
  2. Bring the car seat, even if you haven't purchased a ticket for your youngest. When you check in, ask if there are any extra seats on the flight. If so, you may be able to strap in the seat and your youngest, at least for a portion of the flight. We were able to do this on the return flight and thank goodness! Strapped in, our youngest was able to settle down and sleep, at least for a couple minutes.
  3. Embrace electronics. I don't care how opposed you are to Playstation and the Disney channel at home. On board an airplane, electronic diversions can be a lifesaver. Think Leapfrog, Nintendo DS and laptops equipped with DVD players. But don't break out the electronics right away. Wait. And then wait some more. Wait til the kids are completely bored and antsy and you're about to lose your mind. Then plug in a DVD. Any former objections to electronic babysitters will immediately be erased.
  4. Play with your kids. Rock, paper, scissors, Hangman, cards -- whatever. Engaging with your kids in a meaningful way will help keep their minds off the fact that their butts have been in a chair for over two hours.
  5. Expect meltdowns. I'm not saying that your toddler will wail for hours on end, or that your usually-polite grade schooler will kick the seat in front of him for the entire flight. I'm just saying that if you expect some hitches, the entire trip will go more smoothly. Your boys will not be perfect angels for the entire flight, despite your proximity to the heavens. And you won't be the perfect parent. So when glitches occur, take a deep breath and move on.

In the end, our trip was worth every minute of whining and in-air struggle. (On the plus side, my arms were in great shape from wrangling my one-year-old!).

Have more great tips for air travel with boys? Share them here!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

EC, or Diaper-Free

We've talked a lot about potty training here lately. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce today's guest blogger, Christine Gross-Loh, mother, author and blogger. She's the author of The Diaper Free Baby and a mother of three who blogs about her adventures crafting with children at Origami Mommy.

When I first became mother to a boy, I heard a lot about potty training boys and how difficult it was probably going to be, especially compared to training girls. I have 2 boys now (and a girl) and in my experience, helping my boys to independently use a potty was actually a lot of fun!

There are many toilet training methods out there, and each family will find a path that is right for them, but for us, going diaper-free made the most sense and resulted in each our boys being fully out of diapers before they were a year and a half. Most importantly, our boys always felt positive about their own bodies and the toilet.

Doing EC (another term for gentle infant pottying) is in some ways the ultimate child-led way to begin using the toilet. It has parents look to a baby's natural cues and intense physical sensations to help him to remain aware of elimination, rather than having him become used to eliminating in a diaper and then having to teach him a few years later to switch gears and eliminate in a toilet.

It's a different concept than the popular readiness theories out there, but to me, it makes a lot of sense. Think about how babies learn to eat solids. We don't have them wait to eat solids until they can do everything themselves - hold a fork, cut up their food, prepare their own snacks, etc. It's a gradual process that follows their natural development and leads parent and baby on a continuing and gentle journey.

If you think about EC'ing a baby in the same way and potty your baby or young toddler while he is still so aware of the sensations of elimination, then you may very well experience what many EC'ing parents do - a toddler who takes using the toilet for granted and is out of diapers rather effortlessly.

This can be done to any degree that works with you. Some families potty their babies infrequently, but keep up the communication, while others do it more regularly. This doesn't mean you'd constantly be taking your baby to the bathroom, though! Usually a baby who is used to pottying will have strong sphincter muscles and won't be going that frequently. Another plus is that you'll be communicating with your baby and learning to read his cues about elimination just as proficiently as you read his cues about sleep or hunger.

Some people shy away from EC because they misunderstand it as pressuring a boy before he is ready. On the contrary, I think that applying the principles of EC to toilet training, if you have a young toddler boy, gives parents a unique opportunity to be alert to windows of opportunity that may occur earlier than traditional toilet training experts talk about. If you are open to these earlier windows of opportunity, then EC can give you an chance for you to work with your boy and his development and avoid power struggles.

For instance, a toddler just learning to walk is often keenly interested in imitating the adults around him in all that they do, and is also excited by so many of his newfound large motor skills. His attention to the world around him and his increased facility with his own body and his quickly developing communication skills may make it a perfect time for him to begin to figure out how to eliminate in a toilet even if he's not all the way there with his ability to dress himself.

Incorporating some fun routines in toileting - reading books, washing his hands, using toilet paper, flushing - can be very motivating for a one-year old. In some ways, this can make for a more seamless transition to toilet independence than with a two-year old who might be at a very different developmental stage and testing the adults around him.

The most important thing is to get to know your boy well, to be responsive to him, and to follow your own natural instincts. This will help you and your family to figure out the best path for you - not just with toilet learning but with all other aspects of parenting too!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Otis Knows Respect

I'll admit it: I did not know that Otis Redding sang Respect. An anonymous commenter did, though.

Anonymous had a couple other interesting thoughts about boys and respect. Listen:

Among boys, respect is earned by testing each other by irritating, teasing, hitting, competing, etc. These interactions between boys (of all ages) determine the amount of respect earned. This masculine pecking order is constantly being challenged, sometimes in an effort to change positions, other times to confirm your slot, always to define identity.

So what earns the respect of young boys?
  • Physical Build
  • Confidence
  • Power
  • Defiance
  • Bravery
  • Athleticism
  • Success
Hopefully (not always) maturity eventually has an effect and things like intelligence and treating others with dignity and kindness make their ways onto and up the list.

As a mother -- and sister -- of four boys, I sense the truth in his words. And yet, as a Mom, I'm confused. How do I help my young sons earn respect, while also teaching them to show respect? Defiance may be very important in the world of young boys, but I don't exactly want to encourage it in my sons. Same thing with teasing and irritating.

Even things like physical build and athleticism, while important in the world of boys, are to some extent of out boys' hands. As a parent, I can work with my son and encourage his athletic ability and interest, but only if he's interested. I can serve healthy foods and model an active lifestyle, but that's about it.

So my question is this: How do we, as parents, help our boys navigate the boy code, while teaching them to behave respectfully in the wider world? Are there behaviors we should ignore because that's just "part of being a boy?"

Let's see what Otis had to say.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


With all, ahem, respect to Aretha Franklin, this post is about respect.

My good friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Ludwig (remember her from the blogathon?) is running a wonderful contest on her blog, Parenting By Trial and Error. She's giving away a book called The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight Keys to Building a Lifetime of Connection and Contentment.

Today she has an exceprt on her blog, and it's all about -- you guessed it -- respect: "It’s only natural that as individuals spend more time together, they will find things that irritate, annoy, or otherwise rub them the wrong way."

That's only the first sentence, but it definitely caught my attention! My boys are pros at irritating, annoying and otherwise rubbing each other the wrong way. And despite multiple conversations about the importance of respect, the concept just doesn't seem to be sinking on. As I told Sarah, my boys don't seem to understand why anyone, ever, would want to respect their brother. (Especially if he can hit him on the head instead.)

But this is the lesson I need to get through to my boys: "Respect doesn’t mean you have to like all aspects of any family member’s behavior...Respect [means] that you always treat all family members with dignity and seek a way to understand the world through their eyes."

Sound like a lesson your boys could use? Pop over to Sarah's blog and enter her contest.

I did!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Boys & Depression

Have you heard about this study yet? Seems even preschoolers get depressed these days.

Our national mythology tells us childhood is a happy time, but that's just so not for a lot of kids. (Take these boys, for instance.) Is it possible that some of these kids need medical intervention?

According to study author, Joan L. Luby, MD from the Washington University School of Medicine, "this research... demonstrates that preschool depression is not clinically insignificant and does not spontaneously resolve."

That does not necessarily mean that all depressed kids need to be treated with anti-depressants. I recently talked to a number of experts about boys and ADHD, and to a person, each and every one said that meds should be a last resort, used after or in conjuction with behavioral and environmental interventions. I'm guessing that the same will hold true for preschoolers and depression. (Another just-published study found that teaching resilience can temper depression and improve grades.)

What it does mean is that we need to watch our kids for signs of depression, symptoms that go beyond normal episodic sadness. Possible symptoms include:
  • Intense &/or sudden loss of interest in play
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Sustained decreased joyfulness
  • Intense shame and guilt
  • Decreased energy
  • Changes in school work
  • Changes in socialization
  • Healthy child complaining of illness
  • Change in appetite
  • Over-reacting to criticism

Keep in mind that boys may have different symptoms than girls. In a study of teens, boys were more likely to exhibit loss of pleasure, depressed morning mood and morning fatigue. (Hmm...note to self: Watch Boy #2). Among second grade boys, behavior and attention problems are linked to depression.

The good news here is that researchers seem to believe that if depression is caught and treated early, it may be possible to weaken depression's grip. Dr. Luby again: "Applying an intervention at a time when the brain is more changeable or neuroplastic — just like introducing speech therapy as early as possible for children with speech problems — [leads to] the hope or possibility that treatment might be more effective and actually change the trajectory of the disorder."

Very good news indeed.

What do you think? Is it possible for preschoolers to be depressed? Is treatment ever warranted? Or are we simply medicalizing childhood?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Road Trip!

The reason for no post yesterday? I was on the road, four boys in tow.

While I was looking forward to our destination (a scenic town by the Mississippi River), I was not looking forward to the trip. Just one day before departure, I loaded all four boys in the van for a routine, half-hour drive to the orthodontist and Walmart. (I know -- I lead a completely glamourous life, don't I?) It. Was. A. Disaster!

Boy #1 argued with Boy #3 who picked on Boy #2 who tried to make things better for Boy #4 but instead made him shriek. By the time we got there, I wanted to strangle all four of them. The trip home was no better.

So it's safe to say that I loaded the sleeping bags and snacks in the van with a little trepidation. After all, this was to be the longest trip I'd ever taken, solo, with the boys. Usually, I'm the Mom/Activity Director in the passenger seat. This trip, I was Mom/Activity Director/Driver.

My plan? Snacks and diversions. I let each boy pick out a special snack at Walmart: Doritos for Boy #1, sandwich cookies for Boy #2, Swiss Cake Rolls for Boy #3 and Goldfish crackers for Boy #4. For me, Twizzlers.

Then I sent Boy #1 to the library for some audiobooks. On previous family vacations, I'd managed to entertain the family for hours at a time by reading Harry Potter aloud. This time, I wouldn't be able to read aloud -- but I reasoned someone else could.

I should note here that our 1999 mini-van is electronics-deprived. No DVD player, no CD player and a cassette player that broke years ago. Not that I'd have it any other way. Strapping kids in and hitting play somehow doesn't seem quite right. Well, except for the audiobooks. Son #1 duct-taped some batteries into an old boom box and loaded it into the van.

Each boy also got to pack his own backpack: a change of clothes and whatever he wanted to keep busy. Boy #1 packed a bevy of WWI books, #3 brought books to look at, #2 had his baseball card collection and I threw in a magnetic face making kit and some machine books for Boy #4. (The face making kit ended up being a hit with all the boys.)

I'm here to say that my plan worked! We listened to Holes half of the way there, then stopped for lunch at Pizza Hut. The boys ran off some steam (read: tossed berries at each other and climbed a tree) while I made phone calls and scheduled a couple of work interviews. After a great lunch -- and a fun time spelling names forward and back, thanks to Holes -- we loaded back in the van, cued up Aliens Ate My Homework and drove the rest of the way to our destination, incident free.

My sanity, I'm pleased to report, is still intact.

How do you survive road trips?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why Won't Boys Read?

Richard Whitmire has a great post about boys and reading on Why Boys Fail.

Basically, he says video games and peer pressure are not the cause of boys’ poor reading skills. Poor teaching is.

I think he’s onto something.

I don’t mean to imply that teachers are bad, or even that the sole responsibility for educating a boy should lie with schools and teachers. Most teachers are dedicated, compassionate individuals who put a lot of time and energy into helping their students. And clearly, family environment has a lot to do with reading skill. If a boy grows up in a home with books and parents who read, he has a lot better chance of reading later in life than a boy from a house devoid of books.


Too many teachers are unaware of the biological differences between boys and girls, real differences that affect how boys (and girls) process information and learn. Too many teachers are tied to reading lists and lessons that ignore the fact that boys prefer non-fiction books or action adventures. Too many teachers fail to relate reading to boys’ real lives. Most boys I know would rather work their way through a video game manual than The Secret Garden.

Boys, Whitmire says, don’t lack reading skills, "because the power of World of Warcraft sucks away their academic interests. Parents, your boys got lost in school because teachers failed to engage them. Then they turned to World of Warcraft."

What do you think? Are schools, teachers, parents or society to blame for boys’ poor reading skills?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The No-Cry Potty Training Solution

As you know, I'm leery of any potty training method that promises too much. I don't believe you can train your child in a day or three days, and I don't believe that a miracle intervention is all that stands between you, your son and a diaper-free household.

So I'm naturally leery of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley, author of the popular No-Cry series, including the original No-Cry Sleep Solution. Any book that promises no tears seems just a bit too good to be true.

But Pantley does offer some good ideas. Check out this excerpt:

Potty Training - Get Ready, Get Set, GO!

If your child is near or has passed his first birthday, you can begin incorporating pre-potty training ideas into his life. They are simple things that will lay the groundwork for potty training and will make the process much easier when you're ready to begin.

During diaper changes, narrate the process to teach your toddler the words and meanings for bathroom-related functions, such as pee-pee and poo-poo. Include descriptive words that you'll use during the process, such as wet, dry, wipe, and wash.
If you're comfortable with it, bring your child with you when you use the toilet. Explain what you're doing. Tell him that when he gets bigger, he'll put his pee-pee and poo-poo in the toilet instead of in his diaper. Let him flush the toilet if he wants to.
Help your toddler identify what's happening when she wets or fills her diaper. Tell her, "You're going poo-poo in your diaper." Have her watch you dump and flush.
Start giving your child simple directions and help him to follow them. For example, ask him to get a toy from another room or to put the spoon in the dishwasher.
Encourage your child to do things on her own: put on her socks, pull up her pants, carry a cup to the sink, or fetch a book.
Have a daily sit-and-read time together.
Take the readiness quiz again every month or two to see if you're ready to move on to active potty learning.

Get Set
Buy a potty chair, a dozen pairs of training pants, four or more elastic-waist pants or shorts, and a supply of pull-up diapers or disposables with a feel-the-wetness sensation liner.
Put the potty in the bathroom, and tell your child what it's for.
Read books about going potty to your child.
Let your child practice just sitting on the potty without expecting a deposit.

Begin dressing your child in training pants or pull-up diapers.
Create a potty routine--have your child sit on the potty when she first wakes up, after meals, before getting in the car, and before bed.
If your child looks like she needs to go--tell, don't ask! Say, "Let's go to the potty."
Boys and girls both can learn sitting down. Teach your son to hold his penis down. He can learn to stand when he's tall enough to reach.
Your child must relax to go: read a book, tell a story, sing, or talk about the day.
Make hand washing a fun part of the routine. Keep a step stool by the sink, and have colorful, child-friendly soap available.
Praise her when she goes!
Expect accidents, and clean them up calmly.
Matter-of-factly use diapers or pull-ups for naps and bedtime.
Either cover the car seat or use pull-ups or diapers for car trips.
Visit new bathrooms frequently when away from home.
Be patient! It will take three to twelve months for your child to be an independent toileter.

If your child has temper tantrums or sheds tears over potty training, or if you find yourself getting angry, then stop training. Review your training plan and then try again, using a slightly different approach if necessary, in a month or two.

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Potty Training Solution (McGraw-Hill 2006).

Check out those last few sentences: "It will take three to twelve months for your child to be an independent toileter." "If your child has temper tantrums or sheds tears...or if you find yourself getting angry, then stop training."

Maybe we simply expect too much of our sons -- and ourselves. Learning to use the toilet is a huge skill, requiring all kind of coordination, and teaching our sons to be civilized human beings is a massive undertaking. So for today, stop worrying about where he pees and poops and just love him. Love him for the wonderful little person he is, and love yourself for creating and caring for such an amazing creature.

Potty training will come. I promise.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Potty Training Poll

The results are in! It looks like most of our boys were trained by age 3 -- but also that there's a wide variation in ages for potty training.

christinemm had a question, though, and she brings up a good point:

A note on the poll on potty training. I wonder if people misunderstood your word "by"?I take it if my son was trained at age 3 yrs 1 month I'd vote "by age 4". Every boy I know was trained while 3 years old, or four and one older than that due to having severe autism and being nonverbal.I cannot believe that even 5% of boys were totally toilet trained when only one year old. Refuse to believe it.

She's right: I probably should have been more clear about "by." But I was one of the five people who voted for "by age 2," and I did indeed have a son who was potty trained by one-and-a-half.

I had no intention of potty training Boy #3 before age two, but he apparently had other plans. Maybe it was because he had older brothers. Maybe it was because he has fabulous motor control; he walked early and now at age six, is athletically coordinated beyond his years.

Whatever the reason, though, when he asked to sit on the potty at a year-and-half, I listened.

I broke a lot of the "rules" with him. He didn't have words to tell me he needed to go on the potty; at a year-and-a-half, he wasn't talking much at all. Instead, he used his own signs and gestures and sounds to let me know when he wanted to go.

He couldn't pull his own pants up and down yet either. And he was so small that I literally had to hold him on the toilet set. He woudln't have passed this quiz, designed to help determine whether your child is ready for potty training.

But I didn't look at the quiz or the expert advice. I looked at my child, and he wanted to try going on the potty. I had no expectations of him whatsoever -- my plan, after all, had been to wait until he was at least two before even introducting the potty -- but it turned out that he was ready.

Anyone else? Who else had a son who was potty trained by age two?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

It All Comes Back to the Boys

This week, I had the privilege of being a guest on The Morning Blend, a Milwaukee-area morning talk show.

I was there to talk about the Horicon Marsh, a 32,000 acre Wetland of International Importance that has been compared to the Florida Everglades. The Horicon Marsh, though, receives much less press and is much closer to my home -- just five minutes away, in fact.

For most of my life, the Marsh has been just five minutes away. And so, for most of my life, I took the Marsh completely for granted. Car loads of tourists arrive each fall to view the migration of the Canada geese, but I was unimpressed. Most of the cars had Illinois plates. Didn't the geese fly over Illinois on their journey south? Why couldn't those tourists just stay home and look up?

Beside, what's so special about geese? They're big, they fly in a V and they make a lot of noise. What more do you need to know?

Then I grew up and moved away. I had children. And slowly, I began to understand the attraction of the Marsh. Like most children, I took the wonder in my backyard completely for granted. As an adult, though, I'm beginning to understand how unique the Marsh is. People come to see geese congregate by the thousands, just as people flock to Mexico to see overwintering monarchs.

They -- the geese, the monarchs and the people -- come to these places because they're special, unique. The animals come because the land gives them what they need, and the people come to see a natural spectacle that exists at exactly one place in the world.

My boys taught me that. Through their love of nature, they introduced me to the outdoors. They taught me about the monarchs, which helped me understand the geese (and the tourists). Understanding the geese (and tourists) inspired me to write an article about the Marsh, which led to an appearance on a TV show. And that appearance may lead to a second one -- to talk about this blog.

All because of my boys.