Monthly Archives: February 2019

Want to Raise Smart, Kind Kids? Science Says Do This Every Day.

– Kelly

As parents, we have big dreams for our kids.

We want them to be smart so they can go after what they want in life and have a reasonable chance of getting it. We want them to grow up to be kind, caring members of the community. And it would be nice if they also turned out to be the type of people who remember to signal before turns.

And yet, now is the time to set our kids up for success in life. So how can we raise smart and kind kids?

As it turns out, we have one magic “keystone habit” as parents that will help us raise smart, kind kids.

If you haven’t heard of keystone habits before, they’re an elite category of habits that kick off a chain reaction, influencing several areas of your life at once. In other words, you can focus on just one keystone habit, and you’ll experience several positive impacts.

The best thing about this particular “keystone habit” for raising smart, kind kids is that it’s completely free, it takes just 10-15 minutes a day, and anyone can do it.

All you have to do is this: Read to your child. Even if they already know how to read to themselves. Because research shows reading aloud is the powerful keystone habit that will raise smart, kind kids.

This is what happens when you read aloud to your child every day:

  • Your child will hear a wider variety of words. Here’s why this is important: The one pre-kindergarten skill that matters above all others, because it is the prime predictor of school success or failure, is the child’s vocabulary upon entering school. Yes, the child goes to school to learn new words, but the words they already know determine how much of what the teacher says will be understood. And since most instruction for the first four years of school is oral, the child who has the largest vocabulary will understand the most, while the child with the smallest vocabulary will grasp the least.
  • You grow your child’s brain, literally. The more you read to your child, the more the neurons in their brain will grow and connect together.
  • You put them on the path to be a lifelong reader. Reading is essential for the learning process, and kids who struggle with reading tend to struggle in school. But you have the power to give your child this one key to success in school and life because the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
  • Your child’s behavior will improve. When you read aloud, you increase your child’s ability to pay attention and concentrate – skills that definitely help your child in school. Also, reading aloud to a child can even decrease aggressive tendencies in the child.
  • You build a stronger bond with your child. Kids love when you read aloud to them because of the physical closeness and emotional bonding it offers. In our busy modern lives, how often do we stop everything we’re doing, put down our phones, and just enjoy time with our kids? A strong connection with your child leads to better cooperation from them, and that’s something pretty much every parent could use more of.
  • You increase your child’s capacity for empathy. When you read fiction to your child, their brain is “literally living vicariously through the characters at a neurobiological level.” In other words, you’re exposing your child to different types of people and giving them the ability to put themselves in their shoes while you read. Growing your child’s empathy muscle will teach them to be a friend who empathizes, a partner who can see their partner’s side in a disagreement, and a compassionate person who helps others in need.

The moral of my little research project? The one single habit of reading aloud to your child kicks off a chain reaction of all these positive outcomes, and more. If you’re looking for the secret to raising smart kids, reading aloud is it.

How to teach your child to say “sorry” and mean it.

– Valerie Reiss


There’s nothing like the sound of your kid’s hand smacking another kid’s face — followed by the horrified reaction of the other kid’s mom — to drag your aspirational parenting style back down to earth. “Say you’re sorry,” has come out of my mouth much more often than I’d like. I try to intersperse this with other supposedly empathy-inspiring tactics like, “See that kid crying? Your hitting did that.” I’ve also tried not-so-subtly prodding, “Is there anything you want to say to him?”

I want what most parents want — to raise a kid who’s compassionate, takes responsibility when he’s not, and can forgive others’ lapses in kindness. But I don’t have a clear map for doing that. For example, I have some idea that going through the motions of an apology will help toward the goal of raising a kind, caring kiddo — and it certainly seems to help appease the parents of the other kids. But the experts say a forced apology does not actually teach any of the above. And even a real apology often isn’t enough.

Instead of soliciting an apology, Faber, a parenting teacher, suggests helping a child to make amends. “When milk spills we need a sponge, we don’t need a sorry,” she says. “Even if the kid says, ‘I’m sorry,’ you might say, ‘I hear you’re sorry that you bopped your friend on the head, what should we do to help him feel better?’”

1) Acknowledge the feelings that preceded the harmful action. Say something like, “You knocked over your brother’s tower. That’s really upsetting because he worked hard on that.” Showing your child that you understand that he isn’t a bad person — just aggrieved and low on impulse control — can help calm him down.

2) State the problem. “The thing is, we can’t have you hurting your brother.”

3) Find a way to make amends. “What can we do to make him feel better?” Make suggestions. Faber likes a tangible, token offering — chocolate, a small toy to share, etc., or rebuilding the tower with him.

Faber says this process often leaves kids feeling empowered and even excited to help fix things. A parent in one of her workshops had a child who was constantly destroying things in the house with markers, crayons, even scissors. One day she spotted her son snipping the fringes of an heirloom carpet. She applied her workshop lessons, and instead of yelling, she said, “I don’t like to see that. My mother gave me that rug. That makes me very upset.”

“She talked about her feelings instead of attacking the child,” Faber says. Then, instead of punishing him or forcing a sorry, she told him, “The edges need to be evened up so they’re not so messy.” She held the fringes while the boy snipped them straight. Then he said an unprecedented, “I’m sorry.” The next time he spilled water he said, “The water spilled, can we fix it? What should I do?” He was never as destructive again.

“It changes the whole mentality,” Faber says. “He can think about a mistake instead of just feeling this blast of accusation. ‘Maybe I can fix this, maybe I can make it better.’ It’s a great way to think.”

8 great chores for elementary schoolers.

– Diana Hembree


While toddlers and young kids are excited — even delighted — to help out, once kids reach school age, you’re likely to get a few grumbles when it comes time to take care of household chores. So keep the tone light and fun, and emphasize that chores are something you do together.

Luckily, first through fourth graders like to show their independence. If it appeals to your child, a chore chart or app can help him keep track of his areas of responsibility. But cleaning up together whenever possible will reinforce that you’re all in this together as a family. Keep in mind that participation is the goal, not perfection. Above all, don’t turn chores into a power struggle that involves tears, scolding, or arguments.

“Chores shouldn’t be set up as a dictatorship,” says Rona Renner, a parenting expert and the author of Is That Me Yelling? A Parent’s Guide to Get Your Kid to Cooperate Without Losing Your Cool. “You can have family meetings to talk about what’s needed and how you’re going to get it done. If one child hates sweeping the kitchen, maybe find something else for him that’s more enjoyable, like watering the plants.”


Here are some age-appropriate chores to try

  1. Setting and clearing the table

    Kids can count and distribute plates, silverware, and napkins and then help clear the table when the meal is finished. Just don’t let them carry too many plates at once.

  2. Helping prepare meals

    Kids can help by getting things out of the fridge, measuring ingredients, rinsing produce, and doing safe meal-prep activities, like shucking corn, using the can opener, and draining beans.

  3. Picking up and putting away

    The endlessly ongoing task of putting away toys, games, and art supplies and reshelving books is easier when there are clearly designated places for your child’s belongings. Learning to put things in their places is an organizational skill that will help your child keep track of schoolwork, too.

  4. Helping take care of pets

    While not yet old enough to take full responsibility for a pet, your child can feed animals, and help in other ways, like brushing the dog, changing the papers in the bird’s cage, and fishing out the goldfish while their tank is being cleaned.

  5. Sorting and helping fold laundry

    Younger kids can match socks and stack underwear, while older kids can learn to fold simple things, like pants and, eventually, shirts, too.

  6. Dusting

    Armed with a feather duster or a dusting sheet, your child should be able to make tables, chairs, bookshelves, and other surfaces shine. To make the chore a bit more meaningful, talk to your child about what dust is, and how it can affect people’s health.

  7. Gardening

    Working side-by-side with you, your child can help pull weeds, rake leaves, and plant new things in the garden. Tending to plants they’ve put into the ground is an especially rewarding “chore.”

  8. Tidying their rooms

    Your child is now old enough to make their bed every morning, put their dirty clothes in a hamper, and either fold their clean clothes and put them away or lay their clean clothes flat in a designated spot so that you can put them away. Praise and positive reinforcement can help make these two things into a routine that your child ceases to think of as a chore!

Use these five unusual tricks to get your teen to communicate.

-Christine Burke

It’s an age-old trope: teens, by nature, don’t communicate and it’s impossible to get them to open up once they turn 13. You hear rumours from other moms that raising a teen means accepting that he or she will clam up for the entirety their teenage years.  When my kids approached their teen years, I braced myself for having to talk to them through closed doors and learning to decipher eye rolling code.

Thankfully, I am happy to report that my teens, for the most part, are pretty good about communicating. Mostly. However, we do have our challenges as they are declaring their independence and spreading their wings. We have had our fair share of days where one of my teens sits sullen silence in the car and it’s impossible to crack the ice.

Luckily, I have figured out a few ways to break the sometimes seemingly impenetrable teenage communication ice.


When I was a teen and I was upset at my parents, I used to put pen to paper to sort out my feelings. Somehow, writing my anger out helped me more clearly tell them why I was upset. Though my teens occasionally resort to digging out an actual pen, more often than not, my teens will text me when they are hurt or annoyed. If we’ve had an argument or disagreement, inevitably, one of us will open the lines with a short text that leads to a bigger conversation. And, usually, after several texts, my teen will come out of his room with a cooler head and we can make up.



I know this sounds ridiculous but, the next time you are having trouble connecting with your teen, send her a funny meme on a topic you both enjoy. Memes have been a way for my teens and me to connect during the day.

Sometimes, out of the blue, my son will send me a meme that makes me laugh out loud when I’m standing in the grocery store. It’s his way of saying, “Hey, Mah, I saw this and I know it’ll make you laugh.” And, when he follows the meme with a heart emoji, it makes my heart smile.

Meme conversations aren’t deep and they won’t change the world but sending your kid a little bit of humour now and again is always a fun way to keep the lines of communication open.


Harry Potter (or any other book series)

Though I read the Harry Potter books years ago when they first came out, I had a renewed interest in the characters and wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling when my teens devoured the series. We shared the books, often reading them chapter by chapter together so we could discuss, and, to this day, my daughter and I love to discuss all things related to Hogwarts.

Though Harry and his friends are fictional, the connection my daughter and I have found is very much based in reality. And, on days when she and I are not in sync with communicating, sometimes saying, “Wanna watch a Harry Potter movie with me?” is just what we need to be on the same page again. 


Driving. (Even if it means taking the long way home or driving to another state if need be.)

I don’t know what it is about being in the car but my kids will unload all sorts of information when I’m driving them around town. I don’t know if it’s because our eyes are focused forward and the onus to look eye to eye is diminished or if my teens know I can’t really yell when I’m behind the wheel, for some reason, the car is where we’ve had our deepest, most eye-opening conversations. Whether on a quick trip to the school or an hours-long road trip, the car has been the catalyst for many a connection between me and my teens.

I am wistful about the days when my kids start driving because these days, the passenger seat is my gateway to their lives.


Washing The Dishes Together. (Yes, by hand.)

Let’s face it: when you live with teens, your kitchen sink is a disaster 24/7. You can never find cups or forks because they are all in your teen’s room and the number of plates they use in one day is mind-boggling. Not to overstate but, at the end of every day, my kitchen usually looks like an explosion at a mattress factory. And, of course, I could yell and scream at them to be more responsible about filling the dishwasher, but the truth is that a dirty sink is my best secret weapon when it comes to talking with my teens.

I turn on some music we both like and I ask one of my teens to choose a task: wash or dry. And then we tackle the pile of dishes together. Some nights, the conversation is terse or perfunctory because they want to get back to texting their friends but, other nights, dishwashing devolves into a full-on dance party, right next to the sink. And, just like with driving, when you are both focused on a task, honesty and forthright communication flows.

I’m certainly not an expert on communicating with teens (Lord knows my kids have slammed plenty of doors with teenaged angst around here) but, at the very least, I’ve managed to find some pretty hilarious memes to send to my friends when my teens ignore my texts.