The Parent's Nook(n) nook (a sheltered and secluded place)

When Your Child Falls Through the Cracks

Posted on Sunday March 15, 2015 in Education
Who would want this for their child?

Who would want this for their child?
(Creative Commons License Photo by Pimkie)

Every day millions of kids attend classrooms in towns like yours all over the world. Parents and children look forward to the first day of kindergarten — the excitement of making new friends, learning to read and write; enjoying the world of opportunity that comes with growing up.

Sadly, many families are running into a school system that has marched on with the times. This is a world of standardized testing and common core cirriculum, and if your child does not fit the mold right away, they run a real risk of getting marginalized and bowled over.

Not Fitting the Mold

Our son has had a rough go with school from the very beginning. At 3 years old we put him in a morning preschool intended to expose children from English families to a French environment. What we didn’t know was the other children in the group came from French families. Instead of creating a comforting learning environment the teacher ignored our son whose French was not as good as the other (native speaking) children, going so far as leaving him in his wet clothes an entire morning because he didn’t know - because he wasn’t taught - how to ask to use the washroom in French.

That’s how our son ended up with “selective mutism caused by trauma” at the age of 3. Imagine a toddler bottled up afraid to speak to any adult because he’s been made to feel less than human at what should have been a safe and enriching environment. It took two years of play-based preschool and speech therapy, but by five our little boy was once again happy and chatting away, looking forward to Kindergarten and making friends.


We did what every nervous parent should do when we met his teacher at the welcoming meeting: we explained everything that our little boy had been through and we were reassured he would be in good hands.

He wasn’t.

A five-year-old cannot express fear and frustration but as a parent you know when all is not well in your child’s life. Our shining boy was losing his light; we didn’t know what was going on but knew it was bad. We made appointments with the teacher and support staff but felt stonewalled with stories about discipline problems and fighting in the classroom. When a substitute teacher came for a few days everything cleared only to pick up again when the homeroom teacher came back. We knew that whatever dynamic existed in the classroom was not working and was affecting our son in a big way.

Knowing we had tried all that could be done to resolve the situation on our own we escalated to the principal and asked for him to be changed classrooms. The school would not accomodate our request so we pulled him out and enrolled him in another across town.

I don’t know why the next teacher acted the way she did. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt; maybe she was reacting to having another student added to an already large class. Regardless, her actions crossed the line. On his first day in the class she told our son that was already failing to meet the group’s expectations and he would not be making friends that year. Who talks to a five-year-old like that?!

This time we went all the way up to the top of the schoolboard and harassed the superintendant until he assigned a beauraucrat to our cause. We had a little boy who wanted nothing more than to go to school and be with his friends, but had been out of the classroom because the adults in his life who should know better had deemed him somehow deficient. Finally we got what we knew and advocated for in the first place: he was placed in a different classroom in the first school.

His new teacher was absolutely fantastic. Our son had a lot of catching up to do from his time away from school, but his love of learning came back. The new teacher felt the same way we did about kindergarten: it should be a time to get a feel for school and learn to enjoy the learning process. This was a huge difference over the first teacher, who favoured seatwork over educational play: our five-year-old was not yet ready for hours of seatwork each day.

The rest of the year went absolutely smoothly; all of the “issues” that were present with the first teacher just didn’t exist. We are so grateful we ended up with the second teacher who was able to salvage what started as a horrible year of kindergarten.

Grade One

Honestly the poor little guy has been through enough that I really wanted this year to go off without a hitch. The school year started late because of a teachers strike so instead of starting in September we started school in October. The kids were beyond ready to get back to school and at the time I was ready for them to go back too.

Pretty much as soon as school started so did the issues. My son was coming home not wanting to go back to school. He was being bullied by another child and on top of that he was struggling academically. We had a parent teacher interview and they told me my son was behind in certain areas which I wasn’t surprised about since he had been struggling, but although the school determined he was in need of extra help he wasn’t at the point to get a resource teacher. We kept getting the spiel about cutbacks and not having enough resource teachers so the spots were very limited and only once he got worse could they get him the appropriate help.

Let me tell you something: I don’t care about cutbacks. If I am going to put my child in the school system where I am told I need to trust and let the teachers do their work, then if we know theres a problem I want it fixed as soon as possible - not when he gets more behind!

Sadly while he was going through this he was also being bullied. My son would come home with ripped collars, bruises on his back from his bully hitting him with a stick, a mark on his face from being pushed down a hill, scratches that still haven’t healed and more. I tried working it out with the other childs parents but my words were falling on deaf ears. They believed that it was all normal behaviour and that they could handle it.

The week before halloween my son started really acting out and crying when it was time to leave him at school. He would hold on to my jacket and cry mommy please don’t leave me I will be a good boy please don’t leave me here. By the end of that week his bully had told my son that he hated him and was going to bring a gun to school and kill him. That’s when we decided to get the principle involved.

That morning we were trying and failing at getting our son to stay in his classroom so he ended up coming to the principle meeting with us. What happened next broke my heart. When the principle asked our son why he was crying he first said it was because he missed me and wanted to go home and play with his toys. When then principle then said well you miss those things everyday why are you crying so much today. He stood up and looked at her and told her he didn’t feel safe.

It took all I had not to break down and cry at that moment. Hearing your 6 year old doesn’t feel safe in a setting that you put them in is gut-wrenching.

That Was The Final Straw

After that meeting our son did go to school for the day but it would be the last day he attended school. I made up my mind that whatever it took I was going to go home and find my son a form of education where he could get the academic help and make my son feel safe again. That’s when I stumbled upon a website for a distributed learning program and decided that I was going to homeschool our son.

Once he was away from the school he started eating better, he started sleeping better and it was like life was coming back for him. Instead of struggling academically he is now at grade level; even excelling in and discovering a great love for math and science. Homeschooling isn’t always a walk in the park. He does try and test boundaries and get to see how much he can push my buttons to get out of doing his school work.

All in all the stress in both my son and my life has gone down. He goes to the learning centre once a week and has to do classes from 9-1. He gets to make friends that are being homeschooled just like him. He also gets to do extra curricular activities during the day while the other kids are in school. So his swim class is five kids including him instead of the 10 he use to have to swim with. He gets to do his school work in a couple of hours and pick what we will be learning in the afternoon. I am so grateful I found this program for him and that I did take the plunge.

There are many great teachers going to work every day to inspire and educate. We got to work with one, for a few months. Unfortunately the happy school life that gets sold to us on TV and from grandparents was not our experience; what we ran into was more like the bureaucratic underbelly of what could have been any generic, cold government service. Some have asked if I was nervous about taking the plunge and I have to say I wasn’t after everything my son has had to deal with in the school system I was relieved.

Stay Safe this Halloween

Posted on Tuesday October 28, 2014 in Costumes and halloween
Stay safe this halloween

Stay safe this halloween
(Creative Commons License Photo by KOMUNews)

Kids all over are preparing for the yearly ritual of knocking on strangers’ doors for candy and treats. What could be more fun than dressing up and getting free sugars?

Of course during regular life we would never let our kids knock on random doors of people we don’t know, but this is a special occasion! Isn’t it nice that we can put aside our media-fuelled fear of everything and interact with our neighbours? This is the only time of year many people interact in their community; we think it’s great!

Even though we live in a pretty safe world (despite what the news and your grandmother watching it might want you to believe), we still need to take care to protect ourselves and our kids from danger so we can enjoy the holiday to the fullest.

  1. Adult Supervision Always: It goes without saying, but we should never let our kids out of our sight. Even if you don’t go up to each door with them, follow along the road as they go about their revelling.

  2. Plan The Route in Advance: Before going out trick or treating with the kids, discuss the route you will be taken in advance. In case someone does get separated, this will help you regroup faster.

  3. Mind Your Visbility: Make your kids wear a reflective costume or glow stick so they are easily visible on the dark roads. Motorists should be watching more carefully since there will be lots of people on the roads, but be extra-vigilante to stay on the correct side especially where there are no sidewalks (walk on the left side of the road toward oncoming traffic so you and the vehicles can see each other coming and move out of the way).

  4. Take Photos: Before and after your child puts on their costume, take their photo with your digital camera or phone— preferably something you will keep on your person. Not only is this a great keepsake for a fun night; but if your child gets lost in the crowd, you will have an up-to-date photo of them to show people so you can find each other fast.

  5. Choose Practical Costumes: Long princess dresses can be tripping hazards while superhero masks can hinder the wearer’s ability to see obstacles or cars on the road. Be mindful of how your child is able to manoeuvre while wearing their costumes and make alterations as necessary to keep them comfortable, mobile and safe.

What are you doing to stay safe this halloween?

Scream-Free Discipline

Posted on Thursday October 23, 2014 in Costumes and halloween
Everyone loses their cool sometimes

Everyone loses their cool sometimes
(Creative Commons License Photo by Vic)

Do you yell at your kids sometimes?

Over the past few weeks I ran across a number of magazine articles and blog posts declaring how harmful it was for your children when their parents yelled at or in front of them. According to the Wall Street Journal, one in four parents do not yell at their kids at least once a month. Really? I’d like to meet one of these parents who never yells at their kids. In our family we have a word to describe these kinds of super parents — liars.

Everyone Fights

Conflict is a natural and inevitable part of the human condition. Right from birth, your needs and desires have to be met by or denied by other people - as long as you are alive you will not always get your way, and you will clash with other people over ideology, resources, attention and any number of goals.

Most of the time, we can and should “use our words” and talk through our differences to resolve problems. We do this all the time without ever realizing it. We teach our kids to put down their fists and “work it out” with their friends - who gets to play with that toy, use the swing, whatever.

Sometimes talking doesn’t work right away. Sometimes we can’t compromise because we feel passionate about our position, we’re in danger, or we need to be heard. We yell. We stomp around.

Learning how to deal with conflict constructively defines us as people and separates us as adults from children. Teaching kids how to handle their emotions so they can interact with the world in a positive way is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of parenting.

Fighting in Front of Kids

Some parents believe that when a child sees their parents fighting, they feel less secure in their home. This can undermine their emotional development because we count on having a strong home to retreat to for recuperation and support.

We don’t subscribe to that belief. I try my best to speak my mind and confront issues right away before they can fester. Sometimes that means we bicker in front of the children. So yes, the kids see us “fight”. But when the fight ends, we don’t storm off angry, we make up and solve problems together.

We model to our children the reality that people disagree and people fight. More importantly, we are teaching them that arguments, while unpleasant, lead to positive outcomes. We want our children to embrace the reality that uncomfortable/stressful moments will happen in life, but this can be manageable stress. Life goes on.

Fighting With the Kids

Modelling constructive arguments with adults is one thing, but dealing with kids is an entirely separate category of nastiness. We want our kids to express themselves but they don’t yet know the difference between advocating for themselves and talking back. Children are manipulative in the sense that they learn to get want they want by crying, lying, throwing tantrums and acting up long before they master vocabulary and learn to express themselves with words.

Because they live with you and have spent their whole life getting their needs filled through you, they are in a great place for knowing which buttons will set you off. I don’t care what anyone claims; your kids are bound to push you over the edge and turn you into a screaming maniac. And if you’re like most parents you will probably feel terrible afterward. This kind of screaming is inevitable but it definitely isn’t healthy, which I assume is where the “perfect parent who doesn’t yell at their kids” lie comes from.

Problem Yelling

We contend that losing it and yelling at your kid once in awhile doesn’t make you a bad person; but it does become damaging if it becomes a pattern. Yelling functions like a fire alarm - it gets attention fast. If you are having a difficult time getting your kids to listen, but yelling at them gets results, you’re likely to yell again. And again. When parents resort to shouting too easily, children learn to ignore the parent’s initial calmer requests as “less important”. This becomes a perpetual cycle of aggressive and loud yelling that has less and less effect.

Breaking the Cycle

If you’ve fallen into the yelling trap it’s up to you to get out as fast as possible. Slow down, turn off the TV, and start to use positive language to re-establish a calm environment.

Calm Discipline

So we don’t want to yell at the kids. What’s the alternative? Certainly we don’t “let the inmates run the asylum”. As adults we make rules to protect our children, and when they break those rules there have to be consequences. So depending on the severity of the problem behaviour, there are a lot of tools at our disposal.

  1. Quiet Discourse: Sit down next to your child, explain what your expectations were, and what they did to fail those expectations. Make them a part of the discussion and have them repeat in their own words the correct course of action. When kids feel like a part of the decision process they are more invested in “doing the right thing”.

  2. Time Outs: The single most effective tool we’ve used is known as the time out. As we’ve written before, time outs are not meant to punish, they are a way of separating the child from the stressful situation so they can disengage from their emotional behaviour and see things in a logical “grown up” way. Once our kids are calmed down, they are almost always ready to get back into the thick of things in a much more behaved way.

  3. Praise Good Behaviour: It’s really easy to pick on bad or irritating behaviour. Often we don’t make as much time as we should to stop and appreciate our kid’s good behaviour. The problem, of course, is that taking two seconds to notice and praise them when they behave well is more effective than hours of handling bad behaviour. Everyone wants to do well and be recognized for their achievements and children are no different - close the laptop and compliment your kid for playing nice with their siblings.

  4. Look at me, I’m a diversion!: Our kids constantly have what I call “flare ups” - they go from playing really well, to screaming and throwing toys because someone has something that the others want. Often the situation can be diffused by putting another toy into play or redirecting the action to a different activity. In these cases it doesn’t take long to restore calm.

  5. Ignore: When the kids are doing something that is extremely irritating, like making noise or bickering with their siblings, we want to step in and change the behaviour. This is a classic case of “pick your battles” - instead of imposing order from above, let the kids self-organize and practice their social skills. This is how they will learn to conduct themselves when you’re not around - it’s great to be around for the extra support.

Try to Relax

It is said that the days are long but the years are fast. Try to take a moment to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. Nothing causes more joy than a well-timed joke and a bit of laughter. It won’t be long before the kids want to spend more time with their friends than with you; or worse, before they move out to start their own lives.

I’m trying my best to separate the really important things from the “right now” things, and like everyone else I’m not perfect, but I do the best I can. We created a calm inclusive environment that we want to maintain, even though having kids means it will never be truly quiet.

What strategies do you have for keeping the peace in your household? How do you feel about having scuffles in front of your kids - is it helpful, or should it be avoided? Have your say in the comments!

Movie Inspired Halloween Costumes

Posted on Tuesday October 14, 2014 in Costumes and halloween
Spiders, witches and ghouls are upon us!

Spiders, witches and ghouls are upon us!

Are you ready for halloween this year?

Full disclosure: We are so not ready. Not even a little. No decorations, no costumes, and no plan for going out and getting it. We seriously have to get our game on if we don’t want to scramble at the last minute.

Last time I wrote about Hallowe’en on this blog, my oldest was just learning how to crawl, so our festive options were limited. This year all three kids are not only ready to go door-to-door, but are demanding the finest (although different each day!) costumes.

The biggest hangup for us is the maturity level of some of the “must have” costumes this year. The kids are growing up fast enough on their own; I won’t be allowing mine to wear “sexy” anything or represent television programs that are clearly above their ages (they are between 3-6).

So if you have small kids, here are the Parent’s Nook’s choices for best costumes of 2014!

Boy Costumes

Superheroes are in this year, just like every other year. You may think you know a thing or two but there have been a lot of changes since the good old days! The characters my son finds out about from his friends at school are a far cry from what I remember.

Captain America

A noble and principled hero with a generous helping of physical enhancement

A noble and principled hero with a generous helping of physical enhancement

A classic and one of the best. Kids still love “the original Avenger” and the latest movie reinforces his stature for today’s audiences.

Originally created during the second world war as a patriotic hero who fought against the Axis powers, Captain America is the alter-ego of Steve Rogers, a frail young man whose poor health prevented him from enlisting in the armed forces. His determination earns him a spot in an experimental program that results in his becoming a super soldier and hero with the moniker “Captain America”.

My sons love this character and although it was never a favourite of mine, I approve for a lot of reasons.

First, Rogers’ follows a (sometimes outdate) code of ethics. Chivalry, respect and a sense of duty are important to him. He sees the world in very black and white terms, good versus evil. This simplified outlook is accessible to children.

Second, the comic (generally) frowns upon the Captain’s use of weapons. At the end of the day he is a soldier and will not shy away from their use, but he is consistently seen looking down upon guns and ordinance. His shield is his primary weapon, which is a good metaphor for the playground – kids should know how to defend (shield) themselves, and should look for non-aggressive solutions to inevitable conflict they will face.

Iron Man

Depending where you look, not the best role model

Depending where you look, not the best role model

This is who my kid wants to dress up as, and frankly I’m not convinced.

After billionaire engineer Tony Stark is kidnapped and suffers a catastrophic chest injury, he creates a practically invincible suit of armor to save his life and escape to freedom. Later he becomes Iron Man, and uses his suit to fight various evil-doers, especially (in modern incarnations) terrorists.

In the comics Tony seems genuinely driven by a desire to improve the world; he uses his engineering brilliance to try to bring free power to everyone, and in recent storylines is even trying to build the model utopian city (which he of course has to protect from his powerful enemies).

In my kid’s case, the interest in the character doesn’t come from reading the comic books (since he can’t), it comes from the TV and movie appearances. On screen, Tony is presented as a Han Solo-like bad boy who eventually does the right thing. The focus is on action and being cool, not on the character’s engineering brilliance or struggle to walk the fine line between protecting the world and running a huge enterprise that supplies weapons to it.

Overall if this is the costume my kid wants to wear then he will, but there are going to be a lot of teachable moments where we will need to stop and explain why the character behaves as he does and challenge the kids to think about right versus wrong. One thing Tony has going for him is he is one of the most human of the superheroes, and real people can’t be lumped into “good” and “bad”. It’s an important distinction, but it feels a bit advanced for the age we’re at.

Ninja Turtles

Raphael, always the brooding one

Raphael, always the brooding one

Did you watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kids? Have you ever watched those old cartoons again as an adult to see if they stood up to the test of time (spoiler alert: they do not).

I was excited when Nickelodeon decided to take a stab at a new Ninja Turtles series. It has everything our parents hated in the version we had as kids - violent ninja battles against robots, enemies that give up immediately when their plans don’t work, the girl’s presence as a plot device.

We let our kids dress like this one year but I’m glad they’ve moved on to more sophisticated interests. The kids are enamoured by the fighting and violence, and this isn’t something I’m thrilled to promote. The turtles are intended for an older audience and smaller kids can miss out on the subtleties of the distinct personalities - Leonardo the leader (kid takeaway: bossy), Michelangelo the free-spirit (kid takeaway: goofy or stupid), Donatello the scientist (kid takeaway: weak/nerdy), and Raphael with his brooding angst (kid takeaway: rude/jerk).

Girl Costumes

When our daughter was born I was determined not to peg her into gender stereotypes. She and the boys have the same access to toy cars, superhero stories, Ghostbusters films, and Disney (everything). We never once pushed her into liking “girly” things but she’s drifted that way herself. She’s not afraid to be rough and tough with the boys but she does it while wearing a tiara.

Elsa and Anna

Our household is 3 days free from singing Frozen songs

Our household is 3 days free from singing Frozen songs

Who can see Frozen and not be reminded of the appeal Disney movies held when we were kids? It has it all - based on a classic story (with many embellishments of course to fill hours of screen time), songs that worm their way inside your head, whimsical characters with no end of merchandising potential. Plus not one but two princesses for girls to dress as for halloween.

Let’s ignore the fact that the princesses, despite their high station, live entirely uneventful lives until a man becomes the catalyst for their adventure. The somewhat clumsy storytelling eventually gets around to the point that the bond between the sisters is both stronger and more important than the affections of men.

This movie continues the trend that seems to be Hollywood discovering that girls (especially princesses) are people too and not just damsels in distress. They really appear to be trying to make characters who can fit the hero role and still be feminine.

While my daughter still likes Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, she role plays as Elsa and Anna. Dad approves.


What happened to the classic witch?

What happened to the classic witch?

This year the classic witch has had the branding makeover, and kids are asking to be Maleficient, the evil antagonist from Sleeping Beauty. Thanks to the new film, she is being recast as the hero of the story.

This one isn’t particularly kid friendly, but apparently enough parents are taking their children to see this. Apparently fairy tale films are this generation’s version of cartoons. Remember when your parents let you watch The Simpsons without screening it themselves because it was just a cartoon, they could never see it as a serious program? Same deal.

At any rate fashion designer Stella McCartney partnered with Disney to create a collection of kid-sized costumes to cash in on the film, so if you have the money to spend and your kid likes this thing, go for it.


No more 'pirate lass' - girls are full-fledged PIRATES

No more 'pirate lass' - girls are full-fledged PIRATES

The theme in our house this month is pirates, and our daughter is right in the middle of the action. They are watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates, singing along to all the songs by Sharky and Bones, and wearing out the PVR we recorded The Pirate Fairy on. This week the kids all got eye patches and have been ruling the playground like a bunch of “arrr”-spewing thugs.

I love that we’ve finally reached a point of enlightenment where a girl can be a pirate, and not just a pirate’s “lass”. Seriously, girls are just as qualified as boys to be bloodthirsty criminals!

Cut Out TV, Get Your Life Back

Posted on Friday October 10, 2014 in Parenting
No more screen zombies here

No more screen zombies here

We don’t believe in letting the kids watch a lot of TV, but after a series of back-to-back illnesses Disney Jr slowly became a fixture in our house. It bought us a bit of quiet time so we could recover, but it definitely came with a cost.

Detoxing was tough. Breaking habits is always hard and requires a lot of strength to continually redirect activities.

Now that the TV is gone from our lives, our night time routine is better. By 8pm we have uninterrupted grown-up time, something we haven’t enjoyed for months! The kids are all calmer and listen better throughout the day, and are once again more interested in playing than sitting in front of a screen.

Why To Cut Back TV

Are you thinking about cutting back on TV time in your household? There are a lot of great reasons why you should!

  • Kids who watch violent television programs are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour themselves, and are tend to feel more insecure or less safe overall

  • Television programs can re-enforce negative gender and racial stereotypes

  • Children who spend a lot of time watching television struggle more with understanding the difference between fantasy and reality

  • Screen time negatively impacts childrens’ verbal intelligence

  • Watching television leads to inactivity, weight gain and sleep issues

How to Cut Back

Cutting down on something the kids enjoyed while giving us a bit of a break was tough but worth it. Our kids know how to push our buttons so like anything else this requires willpower to overcome the whining and bargaining. It’s worth it!

Are you looking to cut back on the screen time in your home? Here are some of the tricks we used.

  1. Adults cut back too - We model behaviour for our children so if we want them to stay away from the television we need to lead by example and find other activities ourselves.

  2. Fill the time - We enjoyed spending time with and reading to the kids, playing card games and doing extra homework. When they were occupied the television never even crossed their minds.

  3. Resist temptation - When our kids cry for things we have a natural desire to give in. Don’t! This is the hardest part, and the most important to get through because it means you are close to breaking the old habit. In other words, when things are at their toughest you are almost through to the other side!

  4. Enjoy quality time - The average family watches upwards of 4 hours of TV every day. Every day! Imagine how much quality time you can spend together if those 28 hours per week were suddenly available instead of wasted staring blankly at a screen.

We’re spending more time making our own entertainment and love every minute of it. Everyone is more full of life, and the creative storytelling and laughter is back in our house.