When Do You Talk About Drugs?
Many parents ask themselves this question over and over, but the answer never seems obvious. Probably because we don't really want to have this discussion at all…ever. But you should and you'll be more comfortable if you're prepared.
So, when do you start talking to your child about drugs? The first time he takes medicine is the perfect place to start a lifelong discussion about the safe use of drugs. A child should know why he is taking medicine and learn to follow instructions according to the doctor and pharmacist.
Teaching your child responsible use of medicines sets the stage for later discussions surrounding recreational/non-medicinal drugs. Teaching drug safety leads to a healthy respect for the potential power of drugs and establishes a clear right way and wrong way to use a drug.
Somewhere around third grade parents are often questioned about their own habits. Your child may begin to question you about misuse of drugs and what happens to people when they "break the rules" of drug safety. For instance, a third grader asks why her mother smokes when she just learned in school that smoking is dangerous. This is one of the toughest questions a smoker has to answer. The only answer is that Mom isn't making the best decision for her health. But, that is Mom's right as an adult to choose whether she smokes or not. Do not expect the issue to go away with this explanation, but realize that a child's fears about his parents' health are very real and require attention. Similarly, the same child might ask about his parents drinking alcohol. Your answer should include a discussion of moderation versus overuse/abuse. Most children at this stage aren't looking for the latest information about street drugs. They are more interested in the consequences and impact on those closest to them.
Schools are utilizing substance abuse prevention programs in a variety of forms. Find out what your child's school plans for drug education programs and align your responses with what your child is learning in school. If you disagree with what is planned, talk to your child's teacher or principal. Working together, you should be able to respond to your child's curiosity and concerns fairly and with good information.
For more information about talking to your kids about drugs: http://www.health.org/features/family/
What You Need to Know About Bullying
It is a sad but true fact that our children are all potential victims of bullying at school. Starting with the earliest grades, children will be faced with the classroom bully whose aggressive or threatening behaviors put other children at best ill at ease and at worse in harm's way.
While schoolyard bullies are not new phenomena, the frequency and intensity of bullying behavior appear to be on the rise. Schools around the country are putting together anti-bullying campaigns and programs aimed mostly at reducing the victimization by bullies. That is, children are being instructed on how to avoid the bully, defuse the bully or otherwise take precautionary steps to remain safe. While this is an important first step towards a safe school and one all schools can take.
Each bully is acting from very individual motives. For some, treating people harshly is a learned behavior resulting from harsh treatment at home. For others, bullying perceived weaker children is usually the result of the bully being the weakest, therefore most bullied, generally by siblings and without adult "protection". Others are seeking status by demanding a leadership role among his or her peers. Please be aware that bullies come in both genders. Boys are not the only culprits. Girl bullies are often more difficult to manage because they seek to use the peer group to act as a unit by ostracizing another girl. This frequently is seen in junior high or middle school but actually can begin in the intermediate grades. Since social isolation is especially painful from early adolescence on, the social bullies are most damaging during these years.
Research shows that bullies frequently move on to severe criminal behavior as adults. One of the most dangerous impacts of bullies during school years is the frightening fact that many teen suicides and homicides are directly related to bullying. It's not the bully who is pulling the trigger: it's the victim of the bullying (also called the bullied). These young people reach a point of such hopelessness that they strike back either at themselves or at the victim. Often those around who are perceived to have been part of the process simply because they did nothing to stop it are targeted, as well. This applies to other students and adults.
This is why there are many programs and increased attention aimed at reducing bullying and creating a safe school environment. It is imperative that relationship building programs are offered beginning in the elementary years in order to bring about effective change by high school when motive and means too often come together to create tragedy.
Click here for a study of third graders and bullying
How To Make Friends
Do children need help in making friends? If you're a parent of a youngster who seems to walk to the beat of a different drummer, you may already know the answer to that. Not all children come into this world wired for friendship and social graces. In fact, few are. Social behavior requires just that: a social world in which to develop. We know babies learn to smile when they are smiled at by loved ones. Imitated behavior is the key to social progress. During the preteen years, peer relationships begin to take on more and more importance than the family relationships. The opinions of peers supersede the opinions of parents. This period of time often brings to light a child's social deficits. Happily, most are easily overcome through understanding and a little help along the way.
When a child seems to have difficulty making friends, they may be shy around strangers and unwilling to be the first to approach someone they haven't met in the safety of their family. That's when class parties and outings with parents or other family members along can help the shy child to make new friends. When these friendships prove successful, the shy child will begin to take more independent steps towards relationships.
When a child seems unable to keep friends, the issue is likely one of the child's lack of experience in sharing, compromise or waiting for a desired outcome. Sometimes an only child will have had the happy experience of having all needs at home met without feeling distress or "want". When in a social group where expectations include sharing, waiting for a turn, etc. this child may have no experience to draw upon to guide his or her behavior. The result is often a child who is ostracized by other children because "he won't share", or "she won't let anyone else have a turn". The only child especially needs parents to model sharing, compromise and delaying gratification. Even in multiple child families, it is important to guide the sharing process so that children experience fair treatment, thus understanding how to treat others fairly.
The truly "different drummer" child may always be seen as not quite fitting in. However, in the long run they usually seem to manage. Some of our most respected scientists and intellectual geniuses experienced difficult childhoods, but as they matured were able to blossom as their special achievements were recognized. Encouraging these children into social activities may be difficult, but explore the options of school, church, community and special interest activities.
Further Reading on Developing Social Skills:
An in depth article on social skills in children.
High Stakes Testing
More and more school districts across the country are using group administered tests to determine whether a student will pass or fail for the year. These tests, while not uncommon in high school, are being used more frequently in lower grades. While ensuring that our children have mastered certain skills is an unarguable goal of education, there are concerns surrounding high stakes testing.
Most of the opposition to this practice centers on the use of one test rather than multiple sources of data. Test anxiety and personal issues impact success on a test on any given day. Tying a pass or fail result to a test promotes an even greater impact. Certainly, re-tests can be given, but the damage is often already done. The younger child will have enormous difficulty confronting that test from that point on. Also at issue with using a single test is the question of whether the test is adequate to the task. Is the test a valid measure of the skill the district wishes to measure? Was it designed to answer the question of mastery for that grade level? Most test developers will admit that standardized tests are often misused; meaning that they are not used for the purpose for which they were designed. School districts must be wary of making this mistake when they choose the test. They must assure that the chosen test is designed to produce results consistent with what they want measured. For instance, a test is given to third graders to determine whether they can read well enough to pass to fourth grade. Is the test a valid measure of third grade reading? Is it designed to measure broad reading skills or a district's reading curricula? Those are two different tests by design and goal. Which do you think is appropriate to make that pass/ fail decision?
Are there other options ensuring mastery skills? Using multiple data sources is generally preferred but is costly and time consuming. Collecting a portfolio of work samples along with a regular benchmark (expected skills) testing program often produces better information for the pass/fail decision. Portfolios are rated/graded by trained teaching teams. After reviewing all of the data, there may still need to be a standardized test administered, but there should be far fewer students requiring the high stakes test.
Teachers and many parents also object to high stakes testing because of the enormous amount of classroom time devoted to that test. Arguments abound as to whether "teaching to the test" reflects true learning or focuses only on the types of questions found on the test. The loss of classroom time impacts non-tested areas such as social studies, science, the arts and physical activity classes.
And finally, there are a growing number of districts and/or states that use the results of the high stakes test as an accountability measure for the school and its teachers. There are various outcomes as a result of each school's scores. In some states, additional monies are offered to high scoring schools and these monies can be and are turned into bonuses to the teachers of students with high scores. School voucher systems are sometimes tied to school performance with "failing" school students offered vouchers to other schools.
Reading to Learn
Starting around third grade and certainly by fourth grade, the emphasis at school makes a change. You've probably heard the phrase, "learning to read then reading to learn". This is the shift that occurs during these school years.
Learning to read has always been the principle goal of the primary years (Kindergarten-grade 2). There are phonics systems, whole word approaches, whole language approaches, and even blended (or balanced ) approaches using both phonics and language approaches. All are aimed at acquiring the basic skills for reading the printed word. Spelling rules are memorized and practiced, practiced, and practiced. Books use more complex words, sentences and paragraphs. These changes prepare the student for reading textbooks for science, social studies and literature. Now students are reading primarily to learn new information. It's an exciting time.
It can also be a troubling time for poor or slow readers. These readers are the focus of much national and state attention. All eyes and many dollars are aimed at teaching all children to read. The assumption appears to be that all children will read equally well. That's an assumption. The reality is that children learn in different ways and reading fluency develops at differing rates. Some children will take more time to reach fluency. Some children will have limitations that will ceiling their reading level at some point. Functional reading skill is said to be sixth grade level. Many forms and documents are actually closer to fourth grade levels. This means that while just about all children will be able to read at a functional level, some will struggle mightily with textbooks from middle school and beyond. These children will require learning alternatives that should be made available to them by or during the intermediate grades. Most teachers will have identified the struggling readers by this time and offered alternative learning strategies of some kind.
What can a parent do for their child; especially of they're struggling in reading? Read to them; let them follow along with their finger on the words as you read. Read a short paragraph, and then ask him to read it and you follow along pointing to the word. Offer the corrections quietly, without comment. Move on to the next paragraph. When finished (5-10 minutes reading) ask her to re-tell the story or paragraphs you read together. Ask a few questions; try to elicit an opinion ("what do you think ...?"). Fifteen minutes of time spent like this once a day can open wonderful doors for both you and your child. And if your child already reads fluently, he will enjoy pending reading time together.
Updated June 15, 2008