Talking with your kids

An article that I want to keep for reference. It’s such an important read that I had to share it with all of you.  

Good Talk: Raising Smart Learners Through Rich Conversations

 | September 30, 2013 | 5 Comments

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Flickr: Renato Ganoza

 When it comes to children’s learning, are we focusing too much on schools—and not enough on parents?

“There is, quite rightly, a cacophonous debate on how to reform schools, open up colleges, and widen access to pre-K learning,” notes a new article, “Parenting, Politics, and Social Mobility,” published by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “But too little attention is paid to another divide affecting social mobility—the parenting gap.”

Given all the roiling debates about how America’s children should be taught, it may come as a surprise to learn that students spend less than 15% of their time in school. While there’s no doubt that school is important, a clutch of recent studies reminds us that parents are even more so. Astudy by researchers at North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California-Irvine, for example, finds that parental involvement—checking homework, attending school meetings and events, discussing school activities at home—has a more powerful influence on students’ academic performance than anything about the school the students attend.

Another study, published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, reports that the effort put forth by parents (reading stories aloud, meeting with teachers) has a bigger impact on their children’s educational achievement than the effort expended by either teachers or the students themselves. And a third study concludes that schools would have to increase their spending by more than $1,000 per pupil in order to achieve the same results that are gained with parental involvement (not likely in this stretched economic era).

So parents matter—a point made clear by decades of research showing that a major part of the academic advantage held by children from affluent families comes from the “concerted cultivation of children” as compared to the more laissez-faire style of parenting common in working-class families. But this research also reveals something else: that parents, of all backgrounds, don’t need to buy expensive educational toys or digital devices for their kids in order to give them an edge. They don’t need to chauffeur their offspring to enrichment classes or test-prep courses. What they need to do with their children is much simpler: talk.

But not just any talk. Although well-known research by psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley has shown that professional parents talk more to their children than less-affluent parents—a lot more, resulting in a 30 million “word gap” by the time children reach age three—more recent research is refining our sense of exactly what kinds of talk at home foster children’s success at school. For example, a study conducted by researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health and published in the journal Pediatrics found that two-way adult-child conversations were six times as potent in promoting language development as interludes in which the adult did all the talking.

Engaging in this reciprocal back-and-forth gives children a chance to try out language for themselves, and also gives them the sense that their thoughts and opinions matter. As they grow older, this feeling helps middle- and upper-class kids develop into assertive advocates for their own interests, while working-class students tend to avoid asking for help or arguing their own case with teachers, according to research presented at American Sociological Association conference last year.

The content of parents’ conversations with kids matters, too. Children who hear talk about counting and numbers at home start school with much more extensive mathematical knowledge, reportresearchers from the University of Chicago—knowledge that predicts future achievement in the subject. Psychologist Susan Levine, who led the study on number words, has also found that the amount of talk young children hear about the spatial properties of the physical world—how big or small or round or sharp objects are—predicts kids’ problem-solving abilities as they prepare to enter kindergarten.

While the conversations parents have with their children change as kids grow older, the effect of these exchanges on academic achievement remains strong. And again, the way mothers and fathers talk to their middle-school students makes a difference. Research by Nancy Hill, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, finds that parents play an important role in what Hill calls “academic socialization”—setting expectations and making connections between current behavior and future goals (going to college, getting a good job).

Engaging in these sorts of conversations, Hill reports, has a greater impact on educational accomplishment than volunteering at a child’s school or going to PTA meetings, or even taking children to libraries and museums. When it comes to fostering students’ success, it seems, it’s not so much what parents do as what they say.

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Best Way to Talk About Problems with your Partner

Loved this article and had to share it here with all of you.

What is the Best Way to Talk About Problems with your Partner?

When problems arise in a relationship, couples are often told they need to “communicate” – or talk to each other.

In many cases, however, couples do not know how to talk about problems and communication only makes the situation worse.

For the most part, there are two basic ways of talking about problems: Direct Accusation versus Problem Identification (described below). Unfortunately, most couples use Direct Accusation rather than Problem Identification when trying to resolve conflict.

The idea that Problem Identification is a better way of solving problems draws upon Gibb’s work on defensive communication and Cupach and Canary’s work on conflict management. Cupach and Canary’s book is a great resource for dealing with conflict management.

Direct Accusation – Focus on Partner’s Behavior

When upset or angry, many people confront their spouses by focusing on their partner’s behavior. These accusations can be made directly “I am upset because you…” or even in the form of a question “why did you…?”

The motivation behind making such accusations is typically to change a spouse’s or partner’s behavior. People believe that if they get upset and point out their partner’s mistakes, things will change. This rarely works.

If you accuse a partner of wrongdoing, partners typically:

•get defensive – fight back or withdraw (stop listening)
•offer an (insincere) apology designed to stop your attack
•hide and conceal similar behavior in the future
The long term outcome of directly confronting a partner is:

•increased distance
•less understanding and greater dissatisfaction
•the lack of a genuine resolution
•increased future conflict
A more effective approach involves focusing on one’s feelings, not a partner’s behavior.

Problem Identification – Focus on One’s Feelings

A better way to resolve relationship problems involves focusing on one’s feelings, rather than blaming a partner for what happened (even if, your partner deserves blame).

It is easier for a partner or spouse to hear what you have to say when you focus on your own feelings and not dwell on his or her mistakes. For example, if your spouse has a habit of coming home late – rather than make a direct accusation – “I hate when you’re so late – why do you do that?” – it helps if you can focus on your feelings instead “I am feeling sad and a little frustrated. I sometimes feel lonely when you are not home.”

When trying to discuss a problem – it’s important not to assign blame. Even saying something as simple as “It makes me feel uncomfortable…” can come across as an accusation – leading to a defensive response. Phrasing a concern as “I feel” rather than “It makes…” is a more effective way of solving problems.

Your motivation for dealing with problems this way should be to get your partner to hear what you have to say. If you can get your partner to understand your point of view, you are much more likely to create a meaningful and lasting resolution.

By focusing on your feelings instead of your spouse’s behavior, partners are more likely to:

•listen to what you have to say
•empathize with your position
•discuss the problem in a constructive manner
And there are many benefits of approaching relationship problems with this way:

•increased closeness, satisfaction and understanding
•greater potential for resolution and change
•less future conflict
Simply put, directly confronting a partner often leads to greater resistance, more conflict and deception. Of course, it is easier to get angry and make accusations, but doing so rarely leads positive, long term outcomes.