Tag Archives: children

Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control

Last week I posted a story about media, play, and kids development that was first aired on Morning Edition. At the end of that program, a follow up program was referenced, so here’s the link to Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control. The bottom line: free unstructured, imaginitive play is VERY healthy and important. In fact, it’s probably more important developmentally than all of the structure and outcomes that we use. Sure, we need to use the planning and testing for some of our assessments, but in a PERFECT world, those activities won’t take too much time away from the real “work” of childhood: PLAY.

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Posted by on December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Boys, Kindergarten, & ADHD

Barry MacDonald started a buzz when he published his summer Boy Smarts News on the topic of boy’s development and if the start of kindergarten should be delayed for boys to give them a more equal start. The response about that topic came back strongly that it really depended on the individual boy. No big surprise there, but what grew out of it was a surprising discussion about ADHD diagnosis and boys who start kindergarten early.

Teachers and staff are stretched very thin and don’t often have the resources needed to adequately assess the educational needs of children. Very few have had adequate training in holistic, effective, positive behavior guidance. Without this, it’s difficult or impossible to address the normal and often challenging behaviors of children.

ADHD has become the “go to” diagnosis for boys when there’s a challenge in classrooms, daycares, and school-age care programs. However, misdiagnosis often has tragic consequences. Karen Elkins, a consultant to parents of children suspected of having learning or behavioral problems, has this sto say: “Too often children who can’t keep up or exhibit disruptive behavior become loosely labeled  with ADHD or some other behavior or learning disability. Sadly, once kids get labeled this way, it’s often very difficult to get them un-labeled. over time, unless core issues are addressed, these children suffer and get left behind.” This doesn’t even mention the unknown and possibly very negative long-term effects of stimulant medication for children. Karen recommends that parents seek a thorough assessment to understand root causes before jumping to conclusions or solutions. Often ADHD diagnosis can be very subjective, especially when teachers are comparing children in the same classroom or learning environment.

But is all of this fuss just an attempt to get more press attention? Is it really much ado about nothing? Not according to Todd Elder of Michigan State University who did research that clearly shows that ADHD misdiagnosis is more common for children who are younger than their kindergarten classmates. This study takes care to avoid downplaying the existence or significance of legitimate ADHD in children, but indicates that similar students have significantly different ADHD diagnosis rates depending on when their birthday falls in relation to the school year. Elders study is soon to be published in the Journal of Health Economics. A pre-publidshed version is available to read online on the website. There’s also an article about it in the Vancouver Sun Times: One in five kids possibly misdiagnosed: study.

The behavior guidance techniques that I coach parents and educators in at Fiddlehouse are very effective at helping kids with ADHD as well as many other diagnosed and undiagnosed challenges. In fact, many children who were well on the way to an ADHD diagnosis no longer displayed the behaviors that got them there after parents and educators used the techniques that I teach. Be sure to get in touch if you would like to talk more about anything in this posting: or 651-274-0031.

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Posted by on September 18, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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Electronic media: magic or madness?

I’m teaching EDUC 1000 Careers in Education at Minneapolis Community and Technical College right now, and last night the topic on the syllabus was 21st century learners and the media. We watched two videos on Youtube.  

One video talks about the importance of engaging kids using electronic media for the purpose of education. Kids are growing up with almost unbelievably more media knowledge and understanding than their parents did. The way that technology in the last ten years has changed the world can only be compared to the invention of movable type, the industrial revolution, and the protestant reformation.

The other video talks about how the brain develops and the power of media to influence the brain. Connections that wire together fire together, and if kids are getting a lot of screen time and not much face time, it significantly affects the neural pathways that get formed and reinforced. There is growing research linking childhood screen time to ADHD and obesity.

Recently I’ve been learning about how using computer technology in learning can help visual spatial learners, especially boys, increase their academic performance and learning effectiveness. The National Center on Media and the Family recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day. If a children is use technology in school, have a little computer or video-game time at home, and watch a T.V. show with Mom or Dad after their homework is done, they will almost certainly exceed that. And what if their homework also requires time on the computer?

I think there is certainly a difference between active screen time and passive screen time. Active screen time could include interacting with others on social media and doing research for school. Passive screen would be sitting and watching T.V. Video games are a different category, because the fast, high impact images and quick reactions required to play video games are very overstimulating to the brain and release stress-related chemicals like cortisol when they are played. I say that I THINK there’s a difference because I’ve not seen any research done on active vs passive media.

So what’s a person to do about their kids and screen time? Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

  1. Most importantly, be present and engaged with your kids during screen time. Know what they’re doing and watching. Let them know what you’re doing and watching (with appropriate boundaries). Talk to them about what’s on the screen, and teach them to be smart and critical thinkers about what they see and do.
  2. Make sure there’s a balance of screen time, active play time, outdoor time, and face time with you. It won’t always be equal, but if we’re mindful of it, we can use our best judgment to manage it.
  3. Do family activities like playing games, telling stories, reading books, playing sports and getting out into nature. This helps kids learn to find enjoyment in non-screen activities.

My best advice is: Use media; don’t let it use you, and teach your kids to do the same.

For more information about anything in this post, please contact me:

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Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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Downloading positives with extended family

Over the last month, my boys got to spend a lot of time with their cousins at the family cabins. There was fun and games in abundance as well as all the foibles and fumbles that happen when families get together for extended periods of time. Even slightly differing values around parenting and guidance approaches can make for interesting dynamics.

If things are getting a little crazy and you’re feeling the need to intervene but don’t want to make things worse by correcting another parent’s children, there is something you can do that almost always has a positive effect. Begin to download positives into the situation using “When you _______ I feel _______ because” as a script.

Here are some examples:

  • “I really appreciated it, Jeff, when you were careful to with the little kids during that game. It made them feel safe and they had a lot more fun.”

You can say this to Jeff even if it would be good for him to be a little more gentle, because it will help reinforce in him his prosocial skills.

  • “Jane, it was nice of you to give your older cousins a break. It helps them have more energy to play with you later when you give them a little space.”
  • “Steve, it made Buddy feel really special when you took special time to do that activity with him. Thanks a lot.”

It’s important to download the positives especially when things are getting tense. It helps to refocus the situation and bring a breath of fresh air. Grab the smallest possible positive thing you can find and maximize it. Sometimes we need to “create” a positive by mentioning one that isn’t quite manifesting yet. It’s amazing how powerful this can be at transforming situations.

One thing that was really important for Braden and I over the 4th of July weekend was to take regular father-son breaks. For us, these were imaginary hunting trips with his toy bow and arrow. It gave him a break from the competition with his cousins for attention and status. When he came back from his safaris, he got to tell his uncles about the animals he had bagged. Great fun for both of us.

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Posted by on July 18, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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Play Ideas from Minute to Win It

I’d never watched Minute to Win It before today, but when I did I was thrilled with some of the great family play ideas I saw. One game I saw today was for a player to dip his nose in a spot of Vaseline and then pick-up cotton balls with the the tip of their nose and move six of them to another bowl without using their hands. Another game was to strap an empty Kleenex box on (using a belt) and put six or eight ping pong balls in it. The player has to get all of them out without using their hands.

We all know that one of the greatest things a family can do together is play. If you’re short on ideas, take a minute to watch the show or look at the show’s website for a great idea. If you’ve got kids who are reluctant to participate, let them watch the show, pick the game, and prep it for the family.

Have Fun!


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The Pastor is 50 Points

Today at church, when it was time to share the peace, Braden slipped out of the pew and walked the aisle until he could shake the hands of two pastors. It reminded me of a game that a guy in our Wednesday night small group played with his dad as a kid. They went to a very large Catholic church, and they had a game they played with each other when it was time to shake hands. Different people were worth different point values. Pastors were 50, nuns 25, and others had different values. When they were back in their seats, they would compare scores. Now doesn’t that sound like a really fun game to play with your dad! Who says church can’t be fun?

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Posted by on April 26, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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“You know better!!” Direct Teaching with Kids.

A few weeks ago I posted The Triad, which introduced the idea of three ways to teach kids in order to make the learning stick. This post expands on the first kind of teaching: Direct Teaching. I’ll start out with a story.

I was at a family gathering a while back with a bunch of my cousins and their kids. Everybody was trying to keep their kids in line and make sure they weren’t taking more food than they should, getting in other kids’ space, hurting anyone, or doing anything else that might be impolite. I heard parents say two things over and over again:

  1. “No, that’s okay, he can learn.”
  2. “She knows better.”

Here’s an example. I’m standing with another parent. My son snatches the last treat from a table right in front of another child and takes off with no intention of sharing any of it. The other child starts to pout and cry. I apologize for my son and start to look around for another treat. The other kid’s parent, in typical Minnesota nice fashion, says, “Oh, don’t bother. It’s okay. He [meaning her son] can learn.” To which I might reply, “Yeah, but he [meaning my son] knows better.”

After watching this scene play out a few times, my brother-in-law, who frequently calls the bluff, leaned over to me and said, “What do they mean by ‘he can learn?’ He can learn what?”

It’s a good question. Often we expect kids to simply “pick up” learning without giving them a lot of assistance. We also sometimes assume that they already know information, which causes us to sometimes say, “They know better than that.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly times when all of us (kids and parents) know better and still do something that we shouldn’t. By the time we become adults, we’ve usually learned how to keep it a secret. Kids aren’t as good at hiding as we are, so they get caught more often. There are also times, however, when, if we really stopped to think about it, we expect kids to know social rules and have social skills that we have never taught them and that we might not even live up to ourselves.

This is where direct teaching comes in. Direct Teaching is best done outside of the moment. It’s not a good idea to try to teach a kid about sharing at the moment when they are running across the room with the treat in their hand. Kids brains aren’t ready to learn when they are trying to get away and hoping they don’t get caught. That’s when we take a deep breath and say, “I’ll have to remember to talk about sharing with him tomorrow.”

When we do take the time to talk about sharing, either at a family meeting or during a prearranged one-on-one moment, we can use the ESP method. ESP = Explain, Show, Practice. We don’t want to make this too long. Short and sweet is best.

“Braden, guess what. I’ve got a really important skill to teach you. It only takes a second. Come on over here. I’ll make it a story.” (Kids of all ages appreciate stories. For older kids, we make them personal stories about at time in our lives when…).


“Can you tell me what sharing is?”

“Yes, it’s when you give something to somebody else.”

“Right, If we have something, we give some of it to somebody, or we let somebody use something that’s ours.”


Here’s where we can tell the story of sharing. Another way to show that works great is acting it out with a mini skit. It might seem cheesy at first, but kids of all ages actually really get into skits. For older kids, sometimes just a monologue. Making it funny always helps.


For practice, we have the kids do it. Again, a skit works well, but we can also let them think of or share a situation where they might use the skill.

Now, this might seem like it’s only geared for younger kids, but nothing could be further from the truth. We use the same steps with older kids, but we treat it in an age appropriate way. Think of talking to a teen about how to get up in the morning for work, keep their schedule, or doing some other job around the house. Better yet, think about resisting peer pressure, saying NO, or getting out of a situation that has gone bad. Explain, Show, Practice is very important, because in the middle of a critical moment, youth do much better if they’ve actually practiced the words and actions they will need to use.

When direct teaching is combined with integrated and situational teaching, parents, kids, and families really experience powerful changes.

Of course, making it real for you might is what my work is all about. For more applications or ideas about applying this stuff to YOUR kids, get in touch with me. 651-274-0031

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Posted by on April 21, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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