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Barbara F. Meltz writes the Globe's Child Caring column. She is author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Understanding How Your Children See the World," and a frequent speaker to parent groups. Join her chat on the first and third Monday of the month at noon.
 
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« September 9, 2007 - September 15, 2007 | Main | September 23, 2007 - September 29, 2007 »

September 19, 2007

Here's the topic for tonight's dinner conversation

The high school cheating scandal in Hanover, NH, on page 1 of the Globe today by Sarah Schweitzer, is a tragedy for the students involved and their families. It's trauma for the town, which will be the subject of zillions of stories over the next news cycle. It's also a window into the times in which we live -- the pressure-cooker lives of our children -- as well as a golden opportunity for us to have some heart-felt conversations with our children.

Just as the so-called sex scandal at Milton Academy a few years ago afforded parents the teachable moment to talk about oral sex, this, too, is a teachable moment not to be missed. When was the last time you reminded your kids, flat out, that cheating is wrong? Or the last time you asked, point blank, "How much pressure do you feel to get good grades? To get into a certain college?" Or what about this one: "What would you do if some of your friends asked you to help them with something that you knew was wrong or illegal?"

Or this one: "Could you imagine something like this happening at your school?"

Just a friendly reminder. The best way to keep the conversation going isn't to ask the pointed questions that are practically falling out of your mouth on their own (you know: "Which kids?") but to be a reflective listener. That means not rushing in with commentary or judgement, but saying things like, "Tell me more," or, "That must have been hard."

And while we're on the subject of Milton Academy's sex scandal, you might be interested in the new book on the subject, reviewed here by my colleague, Bella English.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:21 AM
September 18, 2007

New purpose for Ferdinand

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On one of my recent chats, a writer wondered why there's such a gap in SAT scores between children in schools in middle-class communities and those attending schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Hello?

It's not exactly a dirty little secret that America has an education gap that runs along economic lines. Jumpstart, an effort to fix the problem, is less well known.

In 1993 at Yale, 15 students paired with 15 preschoolers in a New Haven Head Start to provide mentoring and skill-building. Today, Jumpstart operates in 20 states and serves more than 14,000 preschoolers, 1,500 of them in Boston. These are just some of the 33 percent of America's children who start kindergaraten developmentally behind their peers, lagging in preliteracy and vocabularly skills.

"There is a visible relationship between family income and the amount of one-to-one, adult-child interaction that takes place in the home, interaction that is crucial to children's cerebral and emotional development," says Jumpstart president James Cleveland. These kids enter school with one-fourth of the vocabulary of their middle class peers, he says.

Thursday is Jumpstart's Read for the Record day. Here's how it works: The kick-off begins on the Today show with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira reading "The Story of Ferdinand" (yes, that Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf) throughout the show. Meanwhile, at sites around the country, an anticipated 200,000 people will read the same book at the same time, hoping to break the record for the largest shared reading experience and raising $1-million for Jumpstart in the process. In Boston, the largest reading site is the Haynes Early Education Center.

Jumpstart isn't inviting you to show up there. However, here's how you can participate.

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Posted by Barbara Meltz at 02:50 PM
September 18, 2007

Colic is, well, no fun

My son had colic, so all you have to do is mention the word and I'm interested. Now, Jerome Groopman, of all people, is writing about the subject in the New Yorker (sorry, no link is available) in the Sept. 17 issue, and also in the Annals of Medicine. Here's a summary in the Wall St. Journal. Groopman links babies with colic to parental depression.

What's most amazing is that in the 19 years since I first began paying attention to colic, not much has changed. The definition remains the same: a baby who cries unconsolably for more than three hours in a row at least three days a week for more than three weeks. What happens, of course, is that the frantic parent tries everything to soothe the baby. Nothing works. The baby outgrows the colic, generally after about three months. But does the parent ever outgrow the feeling of incompetency?

If you have a story of colic to share, email me and I'll post some of them. Maybe even mine.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 02:37 PM
September 18, 2007

So where do you sit?

When you hear that Harvard, for the first time ever, is offering a course about mothers, you can't help but ask: What took them so long?

Aren't mothers just about the most important human beings on the planet?

Certainly they are the most blamed. Paula Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist, is author of, "Don't Blame Mother," and she'll be teaching the seminar, "Myths of Motherhood." In it, she expects to address such questions as, "Is mothering a natural instinct?" "What myths does our society inculcate about mothers?" "What social and political structures help mothers and which make their lives unduly difficult?"

Caplan's interest in the subject began by an experience she had in the 1980's at a clinic for families of troubled children in Toronto. She noticed that her colleagues had a way of labelling the mothers in the waiting room: Mothers who sat next to their children were "intrusive, controlling and overly emotional;" mothers who did not sit next to their children were "cold and rejecting." (If the child was a boy, the mother was "castrating.")

"Where does a good mother sit," she wondered. "On the ceiling?"

I can relate.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:48 AM
September 18, 2007

Kids + crocs = trouble?

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Yikes! Aside from the fact that crocs are ugly and I can't for the life of me figure out why they've become so popular, they can also be dangerous.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:26 AM
September 18, 2007

ADHD hotline available for 24-hour period

Questions about ADHD? All day tomorrow, there's a day-long hotline and on-line chat where you can get your questions answered by doctors, psychologists and other professionals. Here's the caveat: It's sponored by Shire, the leading manufacturer of drugs used in the treatment of ADHD. That doesn't mean the advice isn't good, but it does mean that all the professionals who are answering your questions are receiving an honorarium to participate. The PR contact assures me that questions need not have anything to do with medication, and typically are very general. This is the 9th year of the event, so it's obviously worked as a marketing strategy. For the live chat, go here, ADHDexpertsoncall.com, tomorrow between 8 am and midnight, or call 888-275-2343. Word to the wise: If you send in a question prior to 8 am it will go in a queue that will be answered after the event. Ditto if you leave a message on the phone hot line.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 10:45 AM
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