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Learning from Our Children

Submitted By: Leslie Dinaberg

Big Wisdom From a Little Person

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My 8-year-old son came home on Saturday with a giant trophy in his hands, and an even bigger smile on his face. He had won second place in a chess tournament for grades K-3 (or as I like to call it, Nerdapalooza). He couldn't have been happier if he had won the lottery. Unlike his father and I-who can read each other's minds at this point in our marriage-it had never occurred to Koss that as a third grader and one of the oldest kids competing, he had a very good chance of winning that tournament without exhibiting any actual aptitude for the game.


But rather than second guessing the competition, or doubting his own skills, as I probably would have, winning that trophy made Koss happy, and that was all there was to it. As his mom I've spent most of his life teaching him things-how to cross the street safely or how to cross his eyes-but that Saturday I realized that he has a lot to teach me as well.


Here's what I've learned recently:

When you do something well, be happy about it.  It's easy to forget to feel proud of yourself. While Koss is not going to be challenging Bobby Fischer any time soon, he learned how to play chess this year and he loves it. The look of pure satisfaction on his face when he gets to say "checkmate"-which is pretty often when he plays against me-is so much fun to see. We should all take such delights in the pure pleasure of doing something better today than we did yesterday. It's all about perspective.


Our house is not exactly a showpiece. We live in a shack. Literally, the embroidered pillow on our couch that says "Unabomber Shack" is not an exaggeration. But Koss loves our cozy little house and can't imagine living anywhere better. When friends come over after school, he brags to them that, "this is probably the smallest house you've ever seen," and he can't wait to show it off. Life would sure be a lot easier if I felt that way.

Eat until you get full, then stop.


Sometimes Koss eats a ton. Sometimes he has a bite of everything on his plate (usually at my insistence) and then he's outa there. Unlike most adults, he actually eats when he's hungry and stops when he's full. He's lean, he's active and he likes to eat his vegetables. Except of course when he doesn't like to eat his vegetables, because he's not hungry.


There's nothing to be gained from being shy.


From the time that he was teeny, Koss has made new friends almost everywhere we go. He never hesitates to walk up to someone and say hello or ask questions if there's something he wants to know. He never worries about looking stupid or being rejected. "If you want to know something you've got to ask, mom." No kidding.  Good trying is sometimes even better than good results.


I burned his bagel the other morning. When I apologized, Koss said, "That's okay, it was good trying, mommy," then proceeded to eat around the burnt parts.


Whatever you're doing, don't forget to make it fun.  Koss has a way of making a game out of just about anything he does. Why? "It's more fun that way, mom." Even in the midst of the most mundane task, like putting recycling into our bin, he's juggling plastic bottles, shooting baskets with them, never missing the opportunity to make the most of every minute.  What a great lesson. I think I'll go play with him right now!

Triple P - The Positive Parenting Program

Submitted By: Urmila Schmit-Cohen

"Parenting is the hardest job we have and when you really find something that makes it easier, it's a relief for parents." -Urmila Schmit-Cohen, Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency Triple P Practitioner


Parenting is very rewarding and enjoyable but it can also be challenging and exhausting. There is no one right way to be a parent, but the Positive Parenting Program, Triple P, offers information, support and practical answers to everyday parenting concerns.

Three local funders - First 5 Santa Cruz County, Health Services Agency and Human Services Department have partnered with several agencies to make it easier for parents to get the information and support they need through the evidence based Positive Parenting Program.

With Triple P, parents can expect a range of high quality parenting services that are consistent across all agencies, and easy to access through a central phone number and website.


Triple P has been successful with families all over the world. Susan True, Executive Director of First 5 Santa Cruz County, states that local families are also finding success with the program, "Triple P is a parenting program, supported by 30 years of research. It is an approach that promotes good communication and strong relationships between parents and their children. Parents are successfully using new strategies to promote children's development, create a positive relationship with their children, and gain the knowledge and confidence to encourage positive behavior and solve future issues with their children."


Parents are always given the opportunity to select which strategies they would like to try at home. The goal of Triple P is to help parents create positive, caring relationships.


Experienced providers have recognized the importance of Triple P on our community's families. Deborah Vitullo, Triple P Practitioner at Families Together and private family therapist, states, "As a Clinician it is my responsibility to provide evidence based programs to my families. Triple P is one of the most comprehensive parenting programs. I have been doing this for over 25 years, this one (Triple P) covers everything that you would want it to cover. It is state of the art. It is a good solid, tried and trued parenting program. They did their homework and their research. It is an amazing program."


There are over 80 other Santa Cruz County Triple P accredited practitioners who agree with Ms. Vitullo. These practitioners are ready to tailor Triple P to suit the needs of every parent. Parents may choose from a variety of Triple P services including: seminars for parents of children 0-12; workshops; group courses and individual consultations.


Triple P services have already had a positive impact on local families. Velma Biddlecome, parent of an 8 year old states: "Triple P helped me get to a place where I am not so frustrated. Now I can deal with the everyday things out there. It also gave me the opportunity to talk to someone without feeling like I was going to be judged. There is so much focus on the positive things that you do as a parent and building on that. It is more of an empowering approach".


Pediatrician Dr. Salem Magarian, who has also seen positive results in families, says ""Here at the Dominican Pediatric Clinic we have found the Triple P program tremendously valuable for our families. This program has been extremely effective. Parental stress has been reduced. Parents are demonstrating improved communication and strategies for positively shaping their child's behavior. We are seeing improved child behavior at home and in the schools. Triple P is making effective positive changes for the families in our clinic."


Every parent can benefit from the advice and information available at and at free Triple P Seminars now available through-out Santa Cruz County.

I enjoy watching my kids play together...but it hasn't always been that way

Submitted By: Susan True, Executive Director First 5 Santa Cruz County

"I enjoy watching my kids play together...but it hasn't always been that way. My children fought over their toys constantly. It became so difficult that we couldn't have their friends over for play-dates. Then I learned a few simple things from Triple P that helped me teach sharing and playing nicely to my kids. Now the kids play well together and we are back to having friends over at the house." Triple P Parent


"That's mine!" are the words that parents of toddlers have probably heard too often.  Possession and ownership are new concepts for toddlers, which makes sharing an important but difficult social skill to learn at this stage of life.  Children may grab toys, push another child away, or simply refuse to share their toys with other children. 


Whether it's between siblings or with friends, if sharing is an issue in your home, you are not alone!  Here are some Triple P tips you can try right away to encourage sharing in your child or children.


Teach your child how to share.  You are your child's first teacher. Show him how to share by demonstrating it. For example, offer him some of the snack you are eating or let him have a turn at something you are doing such as looking at pictures in a book.  Often an older child will mimic these behaviors with a younger sibling or friends; giving him an opportunity to practice sharing.


There are activities that are more conducive to sharing, turn taking and cooperation, such as dressing up and playing new roles, building blocks, and working on puzzles. Engage in these activities with your children and demonstrate by showing them how to take turns.


When you notice your children taking turns and playing cooperatively, praise them for their behavior and be specific about what it is that you like seeing. For example, "You are playing really well together and showing cooperation. You are sharing your blocks with each other and taking turns stacking them."


Help Children Develop Their Own Strategies to Resolve Conflicts.  Often as parents, we want to solve our children's problems for them. However, children will develop sharing skills, if we help them learn to use their own strategies. For example, when two children are arguing over turn taking, involve them in the resolution. Rather than jumping in, parents can stay calm and ask "how do you think we can resolve this problem of you both wanting the toy at the same time?" As the children learn strategies, you may need to suggest a few things, "how about if one of you writes (draws) a list of the toys to play with and who gets the next turn? Or, maybe you can make a deal about how much time you will each have the toy?" It is often surprising how many ideas children can come up with on their own.   You might want to put together this list of ideas for the next time a sharing conflict comes up.



Explain sharing expectations to your children and visitors.  Clear expectations and consistent responses will make these new skills predictable for children. Explain and demonstrate how sharing during play can take place and describe some of the strategies that your children have developed.

  • Asking to take a turn; "Can I play with that ball when you are done with it?"
  • Responding to a request to take a turn; "Yes, but I want to finish playing with it. I will give it to you in 5 minutes"
  • Offer a new toy to the other child; "Do you want to trade that ball for these blocks?"
  • Finding another activity while the other child is finishing up playing

It's important that siblings and visitors understand these play expectations.  Allowing a younger child to grab toys because he is younger will only frustrate the older child.  On the other hand, if an older child is taking over and not allowing a younger child to take a turn, he will learn that it is not important to take turns and share. 


Make use of "teachable moments".  Just like any new skill that children need to learn, conflict over sharing is a "teachable moment".  If a problem has arisen, for example your child has grabbed a toy from another child or he has pushed another child away from the toys, ask if they remember any of the ways they came up with taking turns. You can support them by walking them through it and reinforcing the strategy. You may have to stop them from doing something first; "Jack stop grabbing the blocks when Max is playing with them. I liked when you came up with the idea to have a time keeper. Jack, let's set the timer so that you know when Max's time is up. Until then, give the blocks back and let him finish his turn". If the problem persists and your child still struggles to wait his turn, you can go back to the list of strategies that the children came up with and choose another strategy that might work. These instances offer a great opportunity for children to learn problem solving skills.


Handling sharing problems when you did not see it.  Parents aren't always present when children are playing, making it difficult to determine how to handle a sharing problem. It's important to avoid asking the older child what happened (or what they did to upset the younger child). A toddler will not be able to tell you exactly what happened. Instead of focusing on who is at fault and what happened, you can once again guide the children in coming up with a resolution. You not being present during the conflict makes this a perfect moment to help them learn how to manage their own behavior.  Remember, this is a big accomplishment for children!


Learning how to share when you have just learned about ownership is a difficult task.  But with the right support and direction from parents, children will share and play well with their siblings and peers.  Remember, these small changes, can make big differences!


It is common for sharing problems to persist even when parents have tried these strategies. There are several other techniques to assist your child in developing good sharing habits. Local accredited practitioners can assist in finding the best approach for your family. For more information on Triple P services please visit or contact Stephanie Bluford at (831) 465-2217.


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The swing of things

The swing of things
(BUILT IN) (Photos) StarshinePhoto.jpg

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two.

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Playgrounds look like such innocent places. Coated in primary colors and plopped atop shock-absorbent tanbark, park equipment has no sharp edges. No pokey corners. What could be more liberating?

But anyone who's logged pre-nap hours there will tell you the freedom is pure illusion.
Like life, playgrounds are governed by rigid, unwritten rules that can puzzle and plague you until you learn how to work within them.
Or around them.


Upon entering a playground, for example, you're expected to smile at other mothers even if they don't look like people you could possibly be friends with. Though you never officially signed up, you are now part of a club: the Desperate to Get My Toddler Out of My House Club. By not acknowledging other members of said club with a "hi, how'd we get here?" sort of nod, you appear to be "too cool" for the club, which is not OK. The other moms will say rude things about your rump when you're bending over to retrieve a sippy cup from the sand, and who wants that, really?


While friendliness among females is encouraged, speaking to other women's husbands - even just to say "has your kid rented that swing for the day or can we get a turn?" - is strictly verboten and will only inspire more butt mockery. Don't grin at other daddies, especially the ones wearing "I Heart Hot Moms" T-shirts. And under no circumstances should you offer to be the "teeter" to a hunky dad's "totter," no matter how pathetic and lonely he looks sitting on the thing by himself.


If, in an effort to instill your child with respect for social rules and public safety, you insist that he slide down the slide rather that climb up it, you'll be labeled a micro-managing spirit-quasher.


If, in an attempt to encourage his creativity and curiosity, you allow him to climb up the slide, be prepared for your new reputation as a reckless scofflaw. (Also, have an ice pack handy for when his creative and curious teeth meet with the fast-moving feet of a child who comes bounding down the slide, the way God intended. And yes, you can tell which side of this argument I come down upon.)


Playground protocol is complex, as evidenced by the rarely verbalized but strictly observed Sharing Treaty: A parent is never (ever!) to offer another child a snack of any kind. Not a pretzel, a goldfish cracker or a single red grape. There are allergy issues. Ingredient anxieties. And the ugly implication that the child isn't being properly fed by her own mother.


Likewise will that mother blush and apologize if her daughter asks another mom to hand over a single Cheerio, even if she does it politely.
Whereas snacks are considered oddly personal, though, toys are treated as communal property the second they hit the sandbox. When another kid outrageously rips a truck, trike, ball or bat from your child's hands, you must demand that your child "share," which, in park lingo, means, "Let it go. We'll snatch it back later when he's not looking."


Real life is not like this, of course. As grown-ups, we are not required to share our cars with strangers who admire them in the parking lot. We are not obliged to pluck out our iPod ear buds and hand them over to weirdos at the gym who say "gimme."


But the playground is different. On the planet of parenthood, it's like its own sovereign nation with strange and stringent customs that feel as foreign to us as ... well, as trying to scurry up a slippery slide. Don't be fooled by the cushy padding underfoot. Bungle your jungle gym etiquette, mama, and you'll land with a painful thud.


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