Only 4% Of U.S. Kids Live In Counties Where Schools Should Be Fully Open

A New York Times analysis of the CDC’s guidelines for reopening elementary schools posits that very few U.S. counties even meet the CDC’s thresholds for in-person learning

In the last few weeks, the CDC, along with many states that previously barred in-person classroom learning, have been making a concerted effort to get kids back in classrooms, however, by the CDC’s own guidelines, only 4% of our nation’s kids live in areas that actually meet their thresholds to safely reopen schools, leaving everyone to utter a big “huh?”

Despite Biden’s push to reopen schools and the CDC’s own recommendations that seemingly encourage school reopenings, The New York Times reports that, according to the CDC’s own guidelines on what COVID-19 metrics a county needs to hit before they can be safely encouraged to fully reopen classrooms, “only 4 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren live in counties where coronavirus transmission is low enough for full-time in-person learning without additional restrictions.” The CDC is essentially like, Okay basically nowhere in the U.S. meets our guidelines to reopen classrooms, but here are the guidelines anyway, so good luck?!

According to this map, only the green areas meet the CDC’s thresholds for weekly coronavirus cases and test-positivity rates to safely reopen in-classroom learning. All the yellow areas (i.e. basically everywhere) would only meet the threshold for hybrid learning.

Full in-person learning is only recommended by the CDC in areas that report fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in a week and a seven-day positivity rate of less than 8 percent. According to the Times‘ analysis, “only about one-sixth of America’s counties qualified as of late last week — mostly in more sparsely populated areas.” And this criteria is just for elementary schools. Based on the CDC’s guidance, the majority of middle and high schools across the country only meet the criteria to remain at remote learning (in red in this map below).

Many schools are, and have been, ignoring the guidance completely — like Florida — which has basically had schools open throughout the pandemic. However, if Florida wanted to follow the CDC’s guidelines, the CDC would say that only three Florida counties meets the requirements to offer 100% in-person learning.

New York Times

Weirdly, Jasmine Reed, a CDC. spokeswoman, told The New York Times that these are only “recommendations” and they don’t want the strict guidelines to be the reason some states are keeping schools closed, which leads many to wonder… what are the guidelines for then?

Though, considering how deeply allergic Americans are to the government “telling them what to do,” (**eye-roll**) it makes perfect sense that the CDC would release sensible and science-based guidelines and then tell Americans “but honestly just do whatever you want because we know you’re going to anyway.”

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Why I’m So Grateful For My Kindergartener

Dear Kindergartener,

This year, in the words of Alexander Hamilton in a musical that we both love, “the world turned upside down.” But instead of sitting here and focusing on what we’ve had to wrestle with, I am sitting here being filled with gratitude.

You have been hit with a burst of what can only be described as Kindergartener Energy. This past weekend, when I wanted to relax a bit, this Energy would not allow it. By the end of the weekend, buried under piles of YouTube-tutorial drawing pages, a heap of dirty dishes from food experimentations, and at least three layers of costume makeup, I wondered how I would survive the upcoming winter with limited opportunities to leave the house. I had once used the Nintendo Switch or Disney+ as temptations to allow your tiny caboose to sit still and my much larger backside to take a quick 20-minute snooze or a lightning-fast cleaning session, but now, even those don’t hold your attention for long. So there I was, at 8:30pm on a Sunday night, snoring on the couch while you were still singing to your unicorn stuffy in bed after your final goodnight kiss.

But then Monday came, and you returned to your dad’s house. And that was it. Immediately, I started to ache for your return.

There is a quote that I love from a movie called Friends with Kids, in which the merits of being a divorced parent are discussed: “Actually, divorced people have it kind of great. They get all of the toxic, unsexy stuff out of the way with the first person, then when they meet the person they really want to be with, they only have to be with the kid half the time…they get all kinds of time together when the kid’s with the ex, then they get QT with the kid because it’s special.”

This is a quote that I think about often. I think about it when you are at your dad’s house, and never when you’re with me. Why specifically then, you might ask? Because it’s a coping mechanism. When you grow up and start to experience hard times that you have no control over, you have to find the bright side or those hard times will consume you. And the truth is that, with only having you half the time, I get some fantastic bonding time with the boyfriend, and I get some much needed rest after a hard day’s work or an active weekend. And those are insanely great bright sides.

But the reason I have to fixate on this quote is because if I don’t seek out the positive, the fact that I will only experience half of your childhood by your side will consume me. It still happens anyways sometimes, even when I try my best to keep those thoughts away from me, and it is too much for this anxious lady to handle. I wouldn’t change it because your time with your dad is just as important as your time with me, but fuck, to say it hurts just doesn’t do it justice.

But QT is absolutely right. Every time I see you again, it feels like Christmas did when I was your age. Like I have been waiting excitedly for this time and I get exactly what I was hoping for: you.

Today, we woke up early (mostly because you ran into my room and demanded snuggles and a showing of Bluey), made some eggs together, and laughed as the puppies tried to lick the peanut butter and banana topping from our toast. We put fancy dresses on and we danced along with Spotify in the family room. We had a blast.

Because, though I only see you half the time, I am eternally grateful for the time I do have with you — and that I’m the one who gets to be your mom.

Love,
Your Adoring Mama

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Teaching A Kid To Wipe Their Butt Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

From potty training toddlers to independent big kids, we’re always worrying about their hygiene.  But what do you do when your kid won’t wipe their butt? You can wipe their butts for them, but you can’t do it forever and honestly, who wants to wipe someone else’s butt?  It’s time to take a stand and just say no! Subscribe to Scary Mommy on YouTube:  https://bit.ly/3bBD9VI

It doesn’t seem like a big deal. Washing your hands, brushing your teeth and wiping your butt. This is just part of the daily routine but for kids, this task seems nearly impossible. Can we be surprised? My eldest kid still can’t remember where he put his shoes. And he’s 20 years old. Come with us to the Butt Wiping Support Group, where moms like you and me can vent about this phenomenon and figure out a solution to this age old problem. Because who wants a dirty B?

We’ve all looked into our children’s eyes and asked “Did you wipe your B-hole?” Time and again, they’ll stare right back and say yes when we know they didn’t. They’ll lie as if we can’t figure it out. As if we don’t know the telltale signs of skipping a butt wipe. We were kids once too. From the butt scratching to the underpant skidmarks, the clues are abundant. So, what do you do? Trust them? Of course not! 

It’s time to institute Random Butt Checks! That’s right because our kids better have some class and wipe their ass!

 

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I Used To Write My Kids Little Notes — And I Miss It

I wish that young-mom me had listened more carefully to the wisdom of aunts, cousins, and grandmas. “You’ll miss this one day,” they said. “All of it. Even the things you didn’t realize were things.”

As my not-so-tiny-anymore kids age at what seems like lightning speed, I am starting to feel the absence of them in tiny flashes. No more LEGO injuries, fewer toys to put away, quieter mornings. All good things, but with that calm and quiet also comes an odd sense of loss.

Before I actually became a mother, I envisioned I would write letters to each of my kids once a month (or at the very least once a year) and that I would show them the letters when they were old enough. It would be such a special moment and forever treasure.

Somehow, though, in the midst of running through life, writing hundreds of resumes for clients in between carpools, doctors’ appointments, practices, games, and dance recitals, it just never really materialized.

During my pregnancies, I assumed that I would create beautiful baby books documenting all my kids’ milestones in books that they would treasure like I did the one my mom created for me. I picked out beautiful books and brought them to the hospital to get their newborn prints.

My daughter’s baby book was in great shape until about month 16, when my son joined the party. At that point, taking a shower became a small victory and leaving the house was a full-on miracle. Baby books were no longer even in the realm of possibilities. Spoiler alert: my son’s book has tiny finger and footprints and the rest of his milestones are saved in iPhone notes and on an old Blackberry I keep in my junk drawer.

Somehow, writing lunchbox notes became my thing. From the first day of preschool, before my kids could read, I started writing little notes on scrap paper with hearts, stars, and lots of XOXOs.

When my kids were really little, I wondered if they even noticed. Often, my notes, which typically read “I love you. Love, Mommy XOXO” came home wet, crumpled, or in the same pocket I had lovingly folded and placed them into that morning.

I Wish I'd Paid More Attention To The Tiny Moments of Childhood Before They Were Gone
Courtesy of Rebecca Henninger

One day, I came into my office (downstairs and laundry-room adjacent of course) to find a perfect post-it in my daughter’s chubby toddler writing: “I love Mommy love Alaina.”

Little love notes started popping up around the house and I kept writing mine to them, confident that my kids would always remember notes from mommy and would, as a result, write them for their kids. Notes started to build up in outside pockets, saved for weeks at a time and then moved to other special places.

My notes began to be little pep talks on days with big projects or exciting events, stand-ins for my presence on field trips when I wasn’t a class mom, or an invisible kiss on the cheek after a long morning of standardized testing.

Like most things in childhood, I wish I had been more aware of how finite it was. As moms, we move so quickly through the days and, just like that, things that we never contemplated having an end are over. Without notice, the opportunity to savor that very last one slips away.

Similar to the last time my son napped in my lap and the last time my daughter wanted me to lay with her at bedtime, I never thought about it being something I would miss. In fact, many mornings I cursed the note and was tempted to just reuse yesterdays, just like many days I would silently stress about the things I could get done if I didn’t have a sleeping baby on me.

On an otherwise uneventful Thursday, my daughter dropped the bomb. I could stop writing notes—if I wanted. Casually, she said, “Mommy, you don’t have to write notes to me anymore if you don’t want to.”

It wasn’t a big deal to her, but I could see (and hear) the meaning behind it. “Mommy, I’m a little too old (and way too cool) for notes in my lunchbox. My friends see them, and I feel embarrassed.”

Foreshadowing many more moments to come I’m sure, this was a window into a future of dropping at the corner, far enough away from the crowd of friends, and being way less fun, funny, or needed that I used to be.

I hope I can hold on to more of these lasts, that I can be slightly more present in the moment and more consciously grateful for the whispered “I love you,” the tiny forehead kisses, or those sweet, not-so-chubby-anymore fingers that almost imperceptibly slip into mine when no one is looking.

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The Best Kids YouTube Channels? We’re Reviewing ‘Unspeakable’

Searching for videos on Youtube for kids? Never fear, we are here with a mom YouTube review of the kids YouTube channels your kids are obsessively watching, so you don’t have to watch it too. You’re welcome. Today’s channel – Unspeakable.

Scary Mommy TV is your official roadmap to determining which YouTube channels are appropriate for your kids by rating cursing, mature messages, product pushing and, of course, how hard it is on parents’ ears.

Nathan Johnson Graham, a 22 year old, is Unspeakable. This YouTube Channel has insane challenges and crazy pranks and should come with a warning that says, “Hey kid! You cannot do any of the shit he does!”

The YouTube channel Unspeakable acts out the dreams of our little ones by filling a living room with packing peanuts, snow and even sand. I don’t want to know who cleans these messes up, but it better not be a mom!

There is no cursing. There is no violence. There is no mature content. It’s safe for the kids – IF they don’t try to copy these crazy stunts.

The sound level was ok for most of it. They yelled, sure, but it was bearable.

Were there lessons learned? No. Were there good messages? No. Were there three silly guys without a care in the world? Hell yes.

Do you want your kid watching other people have fun? Normally, I’d say no. But when a mess is involved, I’d say yes. And apparently, the packing peanuts? Recyclable and biodegradable.

For more, check out our reviews on FGTeeV and Collins Key. Until then, happy watching!

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Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much For Brain Development

If your five-year-old is anything like mine, he or she has made you question something you thought you knew. For instance, whenever we go someplace, my kids ask me, “Are you going the right way?” They know I get lost often, and they think they’re going to tell me the way to go. They sometimes think they know everything — and while we know they absolutely do not, this age is actually the best time to teach them as much “everything” as we can. Because as the five-year-olds that they are, their brain development matters immensely right now.

There are critical periods in a child’s development which happen in spurts; during these periods, the connections between brain cells double, giving our children between the ages of 2-7 the ability to learn faster than any other period in life. Our kids’ brain development matters immensely both before and after that span, of course, but it’s especially important in those years between 2-7.

It’s during these critical years that we can help our kids develop a growth mindset: the belief that their abilities can improve over time and with effort, rather then the black-and-white belief that they’re either good at something or they’re not. This kind of mindset can help them for the rest of their lives. To help foster a growth mindset, we can praise the process instead of the result — telling them we appreciate the way they worked to solve the problem or learn the skill, whether the outcome was success or failure. We can let them know that failure isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but something we can learn from that can help us improve.

The social and emotional health of our children, especially during the age we’re living in, is also important. In addition to promoting a strong growth mindset, we must also introduce our kids to a wide range of possibilities no matter their gender or interests. Since kids’ brains are so malleable during these years, allowing them to “sample” all kinds of different experiences with music, art, math, sports, and language will lay a broad foundation that can be narrowed down in later years.

And while we’re all at home these days, it’s a great time to let them discover. My daughters, who just turned five years old, are chemists scooping cups upon cups of flour and mixing it with any liquid they can find while making a complete mess in my kitchen. By night, they are coloring and enjoying quiet time with their books. The pandemic has practically given them free rein of my kitchen and the ability to make a mess any time of day, which ultimately allows me to get shit done — and helps develops their brains, to boot!

Young girl looking in microscope
MoMo Productions/Getty

When my girls turned five, along with their gifts, they received a calendar of daily chores and a mason jar with their names on it. They also received a little bit of a lecture about the importance of chores and the importance of saving money. For each day they complete their chore, they receive a quarter to put into their save jars. This is also important for their brain development, as they are learning to be helpful to their family members and that everyone has a role to play in our home. When their chores are not finished, we talk about what happened and how their actions may have hurt our family in some way, like forgetting to give everyone a fork at dinner as they set the table. Ages 2-7 are a prime time to develop emotional intelligence, and chores (and talking about them) help them hone those important interpersonal skills like teamwork and empathy.

In her newsletter Confident Parents, Confident Kids, social and emotional learning expert Jennifer Miller shares plenty of tips and tools to strengthen our kids’ social and emotional health during this all-important stage of brain development. Whether it’s at the dinner table, or in the car driving to the grocery store, or in the grocery store itself, every bit of what we are teaching our kids gives them the opportunity to grow as little beings. 

Recently, my daughter asked me to sign her up for Chinese lessons so she can speak to her bestie in Mandarin. Who am I to hold this little girl back from learning Chinese? So, I’ll look for a Chinese tutor — but not because I want to dole out money to simply make my kid happy (though that’s definitely part of it). I want to foster her love for learning, her desire to want to speak with her friend in her native language. And I want to show my daughter that she can try anything (within reason) … right now, while her brain is the most receptive it will ever be.

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YouTube For Kids: We Watched FGTeeV and We Have Thoughts

Are your kids watching safe content on YouTube?  Whether it’s FGTeeV, Collins Key or Unspeakable, we are exploring kids YouTube channels and reviewing the ones your kids are obsessively watching so you don’t have to watch it too. You’re welcome. Today we’re reviewing FGTeeV!

Scary Mommy TV is your official roadmap to determining which YouTube channels are appropriate for your kids by rating cursing, mature messages, product pushing and, of course, how hard it is on parents’ ears.  Subscribe to Scary Mommy TV so you don’t miss an episode. 

You’ve heard of FGTeeV. If you haven’t, tell us your secret because I can hear it from a mile away in my house! FGTeeV is the gaming channel of the very famous youtube family, Funnel Vision – there’s funnel dad, funnel mom, Lexie, Mike, Shawn and Chase. Funnel Dad is the star of the show. He scores serious dad points with the kid viewers with his silly humor, gaming and funny rap songs that he writes and performs with the kids. 

Okay, so what what do we think of the FGTeeV YouTube channel. Is there cursing? No. You’re safe there. The worst that comes out of this channel are poop and fart jokes.  Is there mature messaging? Absolutely not. In fact, if anything it’s very immature messaging. Is there product pushing? The family does showcase birthday gifts, family vacays, new video games and lots of candy eating. And now for the noise factor. Get some ear plugs. Funnel Dad is loud and can scream at high pitched levels that will both shock and impress you. The noise level is pretty intense. 

If you thought this review was helpful, subscribe to our channel to get our upcoming reviews on Collins Key, Unspeakable and more YouTube Channels your kids love. Have a channel you want us to review? Let us know by leaving a comment on our youtube video. 

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My Daughter Is An Emotional Martyr And I’m Concerned

My daughter is what I call an emotional martyr. She sacrifices her own feelings, her own wants, to make other people happy or to avoid conflict. Granted, she doesn’t do this all the time. If we’re trying to decide where to go to eat, and she wants pasta and everybody else wants wings, we will probably end up at Olive Garden.

But her assertiveness ends with her love of carbs. Her willingness to subvert her own wants and needs shows up most in her interactions with her older brother. He has ADHD, and, because of his impulsivity, he’s often reprimanded. If we’re running late because he’s dragging his feet, if he forgets to do chores or doesn’t complete them the way they’re supposed to be completed, if the kids get in a fight, somehow my daughter always ends up being the one apologizing. She hears me yelling or lecturing, becomes anxious, and makes excuses for him or tries to take the blame onto herself. She’ll say we’re running late because of something she was doing, she was going too slow, she couldn’t find her shoes — even when it’s not true.

And sometimes when the kids have a list of chores, they’ll announce to me that they have finished, and I’ll come to check over their work, like I always do. One time recently I lavished praise on them because they’d done such a good job completing their chores. Even the family room had been set up as if we had company coming over, the blankets folded, the pillows in place, the MP3 remotes charging in their docks. I hadn’t even asked them to do those things. And when I checked under my son’s desk in his room, which is usually a mess of dirty socks and guitar picks and food wrappers, I discovered it was perfectly clean — a first. I gave my son a huge hug because I was so proud of him.

But a couple of days later, it somehow came out that my daughter had been the one to clean underneath my son’s desk. She was worried he would get in trouble if it wasn’t clean, and she saw he wasn’t doing it, so she did it for him. She’d also cleaned the living room by herself. In fact, she had done most of the work for my son because she was worried he would get in trouble. He did clean the bathroom by himself, which my daughter hates doing, but it was clear to me she’d done way more than half the chores.

I had to have a long talk with both of them, with my daughter about not doing other people’s work for them, and with my son about how awful it is to take advantage of his sister that way. I grounded him for a day over it and gave him extra chores to do on his own. But then, of course, my daughter felt guilty. I feel like I can’t win.

Girl covering face with hands
PhotoAlto/Anne-Sophie Bost/Getty

My daughter’s emotional martyrdom goes beyond that of a sister sticking up for her brother. I’ve witnessed her doing this in other environments too. If we’re trying to decide what game to play for a family game night, she often gives up what she wants to avoid conflict. She has told me stories about how she avoids conflict on the playground too. Her friends will be trying to decide what to play and she abdicates to avoid confrontation. If an argument breaks out, my daughter will often give up what she wants to keep the peace, and she’ll try to smooth over any disagreements within the group. I’ve witnessed this happen a few times — I see the panic in her eyes, the tension in her shoulders. She really doesn’t want to witness conflict, much less be a part of it. She just wants everybody to be happy. Which wouldn’t be so awful if she didn’t subvert her own wishes in order to make that happen.

Her behavior tips just past the point of people pleasing. I wouldn’t want her to be a people pleaser either, but this propensity she has to give up what she wants, or even to take blame when she shouldn’t, worries me. In a culture where women still aren’t quite seen as equals, where we’re still told we look prettier when we smile, where we’re seen as aggressive if we speak directly, where a wage gap still exists, where women so frequently carry the bulk of the emotional labor in their families, I want my daughter to let go of this inclination she has to avoid conflict. Or at least, to channel it in a way that doesn’t put her own needs last.

But how do you convince a kid not to take the blame when that’s her knee-jerk reaction? I try to build her up as much as I can, to make it clear that her wants and needs are as important as anyone else’s. I tell her not to apologize when she hasn’t done anything wrong. When I see her being quiet, I ask her to speak up, assert herself, make her voice heard. I’ve bought her books about strong women, and I try to model what strong looks like, even though I worry her anxiety over confrontation was inherited directly from me. I’ve struggled with avoiding conflict for much of my life, and my anxiety still shoots through the roof anytime I think I’m going to have to face confrontation.

I don’t want this for my daughter. I want her to stand up for what she wants and what she believes in. I don’t want her to apologize when she hasn’t done anything wrong. I don’t want her to smile just because it makes other people more comfortable. I don’t want her to take on the emotional burdens of others simply to keep the peace.

I do see her starting to absorb these lessons. I see her showing strength in little ways, when she feels safe enough to do so. I’m trying to be stronger and more assertive, too. I suppose the two of us will just have to grow together.

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My First Grader Was Diagnosed With Dyslexia

About this time two years ago, my sweet six-year-old son decided he wanted to hand-make Valentine’s cards for his first grade classmates. I was surprised and pleased that he passed up the lure of all the commercial cards, so we got some construction paper and got crafty.

I gave him a printed list of his class roster and he dutifully copied their names onto the cards in his oversized handwriting. He worked so hard on each one.

I volunteered to help with the class party and when it came time to distribute the cards, the kids zoomed around the room in excitement—but not my son. He tugged on my shirt and when I leaned down to him, he quietly said: “Mom, can you help me pass out my cards?”

“You can do it yourself, buddy! Everyone else is,” I replied.

He shook his head “no,” and said: “I can’t, Mom. I don’t know how to read their names.”

It hit me in that moment just how much my son was struggling to learn to read, and just how helpless I felt to do anything about it. I had to hold back tears.

My son is exceptionally bright. At the end of a year in public pre-K, he ranked in the 99th percentile on the screener for our school district’s gifted program.

I was so excited for him to start elementary school. I had loved school as a kid. Learning came easy for me, and I was certain it would for him too.

When he struggled to learn “sight words” in kindergarten, I was surprised. I had been reading to him every day since he was born—literally. He loved books. I was confident we had done everything necessary for him to be “ready to read,” as they say.

family posing for photo in front of mountains
Courtesy of Janel Lacy

So I was beyond frustrated that when I started having meetings with school administrators about what could be done to help him, the conversation always turned to what we were doing to support him at home.

It took every ounce of self-restraint and decorum in me not to scream: “We’ve done it all! Stop putting the blame on me and teach my kid how to read!”

I went outside our school district for help. We talked to our pediatrician. She gave us a referral to a specialist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital here in Nashville, and we finally got an answer: My son has dyslexia, along with about one in every five kids.

The prescription of sorts from the Vanderbilt physician was structured literacy, which is systematic phonics instruction. Repeated exposure to words, like the daily reading we did together as a family, wasn’t enough; my son needed to be explicitly taught how to connect letters and groups of letters to the sounds in our spoken language.

Before I knew about structured literacy, I can remember practicing his reading with him and coming upon a word that didn’t seem to follow the rules of basic letter sounds. I had no way to explain it. I just thought some words don’t follow the rules. But in reality, I just didn’t know all the rules.

As my son’s reading skills and confidence began to grow, I started to question—why aren’t we teaching all kids systematic phonics? After all, our written language is just a code for spoken sounds, and how can kids “decipher the code” if they’re not taught?

After researching on my own, I came to learn about the science of reading, how our brains associate letters with sounds and that statistically about 40 percent of kids do learn to “decode” on their own. But that means 60 percent don’t, including kids like my son who struggle the most.

As I have reflected on this fact, I believe it’s no coincidence that about 65 percent of kids in the United States are not proficient in reading, based on the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. The same percentages bear out here in Tennessee where I live.

For the majority of kids who aren’t able to pick up the skill of reading through osmosis, the rest of their education is hampered as a result. Their very potential in life is hampered. This is a national crisis.

This is not the fault of parents. It’s not the fault of teachers either. It’s our systems at large that need to change—from the colleges of education that prepare our teachers, to the companies that make reading curriculum, to the school districts that adopt it.

Our state just made a big step in the right direction—proposing legislation and funding to ensure early elementary grade teachers have training in the science of reading and curriculum that supports it. I hope the legislation is passed. I hope our school districts embrace it. They must, if they truly want all kids to succeed.

If your child is struggling to learn to read, ask the instructional leaders at your school how they are teaching reading. If the instruction is not based on systematic phonics, tell them that’s what your child needs. It’s actually what all children need.

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I Let My Kids Express Their Big Emotions, But With One Major Caveat

“You’re a bad mom! I HATE YOU!”

My driver’s seat bulged into my spine from the impact of my 9-year-old’s foot. Did it sting a little when she told me she hated me? Honestly, no, it didn’t. I know she doesn’t hate me. I know it now and I knew it when she said it. She was furious because she’d come with me and her 13-year-old brother to his annual well visit and the doctor had suggested that as long as both kids were in the office, they may as well both get their flu shot. Mari had thought she’d get to sit in the corner reading her book but instead ended up having to get stuck in the arm. She felt blindsided and betrayed, and she totally, completely, all-the-way-down-to-tantrum-town, lost every last bit of her chill.

I’ve read a lot about how important it is for us to allow kids to express their big emotions. I’ve even written in favor of it. So, when my daughter first started to lose it, I acknowledged how upset she was without shaming her or diminishing her feelings. She was reasonably upset, and the tears didn’t surprise me. Getting a surprise shot just kinda sucks. But when, even after the shot was over and done with, her crying continued to escalate, I tried to help her calm down. She wasn’t having it. It was during the car ride home that she kicked my seat and told me she hated me.

I’d had enough. I pulled the car over and turned around so I could look at her. “Enough. The shot is over and done with. You are no longer crying because you’re surprised and scared. At this point, you’re raging out of pure anger, and you’re making me and your brother miserable with your screaming and crying. If you can’t calm yourself down in the next couple of minutes, you’re grounded.”

She managed to settle herself down, and later that night we reconnected so we could talk more about why her reaction wasn’t okay and what to do differently next time.

Because, even though I am pro let-kids-express-their-feelings, I am very much anti let-kids-ruin-everyone’s-day-with-their-feelings. I’ve had this rule for as long as I’ve been a parent, and both kids know it. You’re allowed to feel all the things you need to feel, but you don’t get to totally annihilate the peace of everyone else in your environment. You can be angry, but if you scream and bang on the kitchen table, I’m sending you to your room to finish your outburst. And if the outburst in your room is so loud that it’s ringing through the house and stressing everyone else out, I’m going to shut that shit down too. Expressing our emotions is a skill we all must learn. But so is managing them and expressing them appropriately in a way that doesn’t infringe on other people’s well-being.

So much of the advice given to parents these days is to let children express whatever they’re feeling, to simply listen to them, never tell them to stop crying. (Saying “never” about just about anything to do with parenting is kind of ridiculous anyway, but that’s a whole other essay.) I agree that we should encourage kids to express how they feel, but we need to bring some nuance to this discussion. Children’s emotions and how they express them aren’t black and white, so the way we respond to those emotions shouldn’t be either. Anyone with a toddler and older knows kids are perfectly capable of using their emotions to manipulate their environment, to get what they want, or simply to escalate and vent their own white-hot fury.

I don’t want to send the message to my kids that their feelings are more important than the feelings of everyone else in the room. Whether we’re at home with just family around or out at a restaurant surrounded by strangers, I will not allow my kid’s emotional outburst to escalate to the point that it disturbs others. My son will often get so frustrated with homework that he’ll scream or slam his calculator on the table. Not okay. You can be frustrated, kid, but I’m over here trying to cook a nice pot of chicken tortilla soup and you’re harshing my mellow. Take a deep breath, walk away for a minute, ask for help, call a friend. You have plenty of available options for managing your frustration that don’t involve shitting all over my chill environment.

Explaining appropriate expressions for our feelings is just as important as giving our kids space to express their emotions. So I talk a lot with my kids about how to express or control frustration, anger, and fear. As adults, we are often required to tamp down intense feelings, to find a healthy outlet for them as opposed to, say, fighting a random stranger in an intersection because they cut you off in traffic. (I mean, we’ve all wanted to, haven’t we?)

So, after my daughter’s outburst about her flu shot, we talked about how next time she can ask to have a moment to collect herself and take some deep breaths until she can accept the situation. No one likes shots. We all sometimes have to do things we don’t like — it’s part of being human. So we have to have tools to help us settle into acceptance.

We also talked about how sometimes if you let your anger spiral out of control, you might say things you don’t really mean. I knew she didn’t mean it when she said she hated me, but one day she might say something she doesn’t mean and the person she says it to may not realize she doesn’t mean it. Sometimes you can’t take back hateful words. She said again and again how sorry she was and told me the next day that she’d had trouble falling asleep that night because she felt so guilty for saying she hated me, that she never ever wanted to say those words to me again. I told her that her apology was obviously sincere and I wholeheartedly accepted it.

I know that when it comes to managing big emotions, both of my kids are works in progress. Hell, I’m a work in progress. We all are. But I just want to make sure I don’t send my kids out into the world thinking that their emotions are always more important than everyone else’s right to a reasonably calm environment.

The post I Let My Kids Express Their Big Emotions, But With One Major Caveat appeared first on Scary Mommy.