Saturday, 19 February 2011

Discipline, time-outs and privilege removal

After all those serious academicky blog posts about robots and gaming, I thought it was high time to do another one on useful practical things I could share about parenting. I'll try, similarly to the breastfeeding post, not to just re-tread familiar ground and restate the (generic) advice we all absorb from parenting books, websites, and forums, but fill in some more practical experience and my own views. Being me, I'm still going to wax philosophical as well though.

Discipline is hard to get right. On the one hand, we don't want to be overly controlling and turn our kids into suppressed frightened little drones. On the other hand, leaving them too free or being their 'friend' too much does not do them any favours. Apparently, according to research done by Nancy Darling on lying, children of very strict parents who enforce a lot of rules very strictly, are less likely to lie and misbehave, but they are quietly depressed. But children of lackadaisical parents with few rules and even less enforcement, lie loads, disrespect their parents, and get into trouble. They feel their parents don't really care, so why should they?

Children need boundaries and rules that are enforced. Most parents will agree on that. But opinions will vary wildly on which boundaries, which rules, and how to enforce them. So this is what I do.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Robot helper: features

Sleep little dumpling. I have replaced your mother.
In a recent discussion about the usefulness of robot nannies, I realised that my initial imagined future of social robots had a few flaws. Assuming a robot could be designed to have the emotional complexity and expressiveness to nurture children, that robot would probably be sentient and self-aware to such a degree that they were effectively a person, which raises ethical implications on the right to exploit their labour. Any robot that is still effectively a robot could not be the main carer for children because it wouldn't be human enough to form healthy attachments and be a rolemodel. So, in effect, a full-time robot nanny is out of the question, no matter how advanced and trustworthy the technology becomes. However, social robots can still have a bright future as part-time care providers, housekeepers, or remote avatars.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Stop praising your kids!

Praising our kids isn't actually helping them achieve more or have better self-esteem. In fact it's quite the opposite. Psychologist Carol Dweck's research shows that when we tell our kids they're smart, they become preoccupied with maintaining this reputation and avoid anything they might not be good at right away. They refuse to put in an effort because that proves they're not so smart after all. Their self-esteem actually lowers as soon as they encounter something that is difficult, because they think they've reached the limit of how smart they are.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Robots are your friend

When TED tweeted this video of a TED talk by Cynthia Breazeal about robots I knew this would be something I was going to blog about. Some of the first science fiction I ever read was Asimov and I've always felt particularly attracted to his I, Robot stories. Ever since childhood, I expected flying cars and robots, not to mention space colonization to be a part of my future. I'm still waiting. But I needn't be all that disappointed, because the development of robots is further along than I thought! I might not be able to get a dependable robot nanny for my children, but perhaps there will be one for my grandchildren, or maybe a lovely 24/7 robot carer in my old age.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Things I can tell people about breastfeeding

Breastfeeding, I'm told, is neither straightforward nor easy. It also appears there is very little useful information being communicated to mums-to-be, which means they have to try and get it right when they're sleep-deprived, hormone-ridden, and recovering from physical trauma. I can tell you that that is not the best state to be in when you're trying to learn a new skill! Not to mention all the other new things you have to learn at the same time. No wonder a lot of mums describe breastfeeding as hard, even though it's the most natural thing there is.

How to survive a zombie apocalypse... with Addison's

Like most sci-fi geeks, we have worked out a fairly detailed plan of action in case of zombie apocalypse, or possibly a more conventional sort of apocalypse such as a meteor strike or the collapse of civilisation. Or should I say, we had worked out a good plan. Post-apocalyptic survival becomes a lot more complicated when you have a dependency on life-sustaining medication. Not only do we have to worry about food, water, fuel and ammunition, we need to be sitting on top of a well stocked hospital pharmacy as well.

Any other tips?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

How PEGI isn't helping children game safely

A lot of parents think that as long as they adhere to the PEGI guidelines for games, their children will be 'safe'. This gives a false sense of security as they are handing over their responsibilities as a parent and making a simple yes/no decision based on a arbitrary number. They choose to remain completely ignorant about something that is a big part of their children's lives, and base their judgement entirely on a simple scoring system devised by a large institution. In my opionion, by not engaging with what their children are doing, they are effectively leaving them unattended in a potentially harmful situation.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Monopoly money

The last few days, we've been playing Monopoly Crazy Cash every evening. Bambam begs us to play it (might have something to do with his lucky dice throws). Unlike some other kids games this is one I really enjoyed playing and I'd certainly recommend it.

It says from 5 y/o on the box, but even Eeyore joined in and he's only 2,5 y/o. He loves having a pile of money and streets. Obviously, an adult has to help him collect his rent and count out the amounts, but he is keeping track of turns and shouting either 'one!' or 'two!' no matter what the dice show. Our 5 y/o airhead Pebbles keeps her attention firmly on the board to check for rent, and loves it when she owns 'Princess Gardens' and can put a hotel on it. And 7 y/o Bambam is proud to count out the money in as few as possible notes, as he's learned in school. He thinks carefully about the options on the Chance cards, and about whether he should invest in a hotel or keep his money. Of course, everybody loves the 'cash machine' that spits out notes when you put the bank card in!

We got this game as a birthday present, and I must admit, at first I didn't think it would be much fun.
I've been underwhelmed by kids' board games before. They often seem too simple (boring!), or quite contrived and surprisingly counter-intuitive. By which I mean you find yourself constantly checking the rule book because the board and the piece-movements just don't make sense on their own.

Now maybe it's because I've always loved Monopoly and I'm already familiar with the rules and game-play, but I am so loving this one. We've owned 'grown-up' Monopoly for years and I've just been waiting for the kids to be old enough to play it! This one is an almost perfect alternative. It is simplified just enough and the game play is speeded up, but all the fun and excitement is still there. If you're looking to buy a board game that's fun for young kids and grown-ups too, this is definitely one I'd recommend.

Chart of activities saves the day! (Part two)

As we've recently made some changes to the activity chart, it's time for another post about it. So far it has been working very well and has proved flexible and effective both on school days, weekends, and sick days.

Bambam has been spending a lot more time playing creatively and  with his siblings, which has benefited the whole family. Eeyore is becoming a lot more involved in the games the kids play and has also finally taken up a 'big brother' role towards baby Tigger. Whether all that has anything to do with Bambam taking more of an interest as biggest brother, may be a bit of an overstatement, but I do believe it contributes.

Bambam still concentrates on the more - let's call it - boisterous sorts of play. I dare say when he plays with the Lego there is a lot more demolition than construction involved! Favourite games still involve a lot of running and screaming, but they are more 'themed' now. He will be a knight, monster, Jedi, or wizard. His gaming has become more focused. Rather than just sit for hours playing and playing, he is more aware of the limited time he has, and tends to choose his games more carefully. He goes for the ones that are more challenging and more satisfying.

Regarding the chart specifically, we've made some changes to how we work it, giving Bambam more autonomy. While before, we would choose the number at the top of each type of activities, he has asked to be allowed to set the number himself. He had been feeling stressed out when he felt he did not have enough time to complete all the activities that were numbered. As long as he keeps his day varied and his screen time limited as a result, we are happy to allow him the autonomy to plan his own time. The ultimate goal of all these parenting strategies is to raise a child up to be an autonomous well-adjusted grown-up who can plan his own day and accomplish his own goals. We're very pleased he has suggested these changes himself!

We're also going to allow him to cross out completed activities himself, rather than one of us do it. This is a test of trust. Will he cheat? We'll have to wait and see!

Go to Part one.