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Monday, January 30, 2017


Sunday Review


The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read

My children need to read this summer. They’re in the middle of a long vacation from school, and I want them to enjoy it — but I also want them to be able to pick up their education where they left off when school starts again in the fall.
Kids who read over the summer lose fewer skills than kids who don’t. This is especially important for children from low-income families and those with language problems, like my younger daughter. When reading is difficult, so is almost everything else. As new readers move from decoding text to fluency, every subject from math to history becomes more accessible, but practice is the only way to get there.
My kids (15, 12, 10 and 10) have an enviable amount of time to read, and plenty of books to choose from. Yet it’s already clear that beyond a late August dash to fulfill their assignments, very few pages are likely to be turned unless I do something. But what?
The answer many parents fall back on is bribery. If I want my children to read, and they’d rather do something else, an incentive seems like a simple solution. In a survey by a British educational publisher60 percent of parents of 3- to 8-year-olds admitted offering their children rewards for reading. An even more informal survey of my friends and acquaintances (as in, I asked on Facebook) revealed parents paying per book, minute or page in currencies that ranged from Shopkins toys to screen time to cash.
Research, though, suggests that paying children to do things they once enjoyed can backfire. Study after study shows that kids who are rewarded for activities like coloring or solving puzzles set the books or puzzles aside when the reward dries up, while those who aren’t rewarded carry on with the activities just for fun.
“If you pay kids to read you’ll get them to read,” said Edward Deci, the author of “Why We Do What We Do” and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “They’ll continue to read until you end the experiment, and then they’ll stop.” Rewards encourage children to think of reading as something you have to be paid to do, not something that brings pleasure in itself, he says.
But if offering an incentive for reading is such a terrible idea, why does it still seem so common, even among parents who are aware of the pitfalls?
Perhaps my peers and I are too prone to valuing short-term wins over long-term learning (witness our tendency to “help” our children with homework). Or perhaps we just know how important reading is — and care more that our kids are good at it than that they love it.

Some experts actually agree that rewards can be useful, especially for younger learners. “I think we underestimate the power of extrinsic motivation,” said Rahil Briggs, director of pediatric behavioral health at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “You want your child to be naturally fascinated, and some are, but some children can benefit from a little bit of a jump-start.”
That doesn’t necessarily preclude the development of intrinsic motivation later, Dr. Briggs said. Although some children love a challenge, for many, it’s hard to find pleasure in reading until it comes easily.
And when it comes to developing reading fluency, timing is important. Fumiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, has found that the growth of particular neural pathways when children are young is critical to reading success. “Learning to read requires that we integrate the auditory, speech and visual processes,” she said. In evolutionary terms, it’s a new skill for humankind, and not one we perform instinctively. That kind of learning requires repetition.
What if, instead of focusing on developing a long-term love of literature, we focused on the short-term act of reading itself? That might change the calculus for parents, Dr. Briggs said. Some research suggests that external rewards work well for short-term interventions. “One of the downfalls of extrinsic motivation is that you just have to keep upping the ante to get the same result,” she said. But summer has a natural end, and then school takes over.
If parents do want to offer rewards for reading, Dr. Briggs said, they don’t necessarily have to be money, treats or toys: “It could be that it’s a special thing to go to the library with Dad, and that the alone time is part of what’s rewarding about it.”
Such nonmaterial rewards may be the most effective. Dr. Deci of the University of Rochester and his colleague and collaborator, Richard Ryan, suggest that if reading is something parents value, then it’s the value, rather than the practice and the skill, that we should emphasize. The “bribe” of an excursion with a parent, or of special time reading together or discussing a book, conveys the importance of reading, said Dr. Ryan. “When we set aside time for reading, or set limits on other activities, we’re showing our children that we support them in developing an important skill.”
When I talked further with the parents who told me that they offered rewards for reading, I found that what looked like bribes were actually closer to what Dr. Deci and Dr. Ryan sought. Payments came with lengthy book discussions. One family went from offering rewards one year to running a book club the next. Parents reflected on years of star charts and prizes, along with years of family trips to the library. Bets were made over who could read the most, and late-night reading under the covers with a flashlight was indulged and encouraged. What I saw — when I really looked — were external motivations to read accompanied by powerful messages about the internal joy to be found in books.
“I think intrinsic motivation is a bit of a learned skill,” said Judi Fusco Kledzik, a friend and learning sciences researcher who initially surprised me by saying that she offers her daughters (now 14, 12 and 10) a penny a page for summer reading and has done so for five years. “So is regulating how you spend your time.” This way, she says, her daughters are inspired to find new books (the books must be grade-level ones they haven’t read before) and to sit down with them. The family spends considerable time, she said, setting goals and talking about the books the girls read.
None of which sounds as easy as just handing over that penny a page. Does it work?
“I would read more books without the program,” said Dr. Kledzik’s oldest daughter, “but easier books, and more comic books.” Her 12-year-old sister doesn’t think she reads more or different books than she would on her own, but the youngest girl does. “Money is motivating,” the 10-year-old said.
Money may be motivating, but so is living in a home where books and reading are part of family life — and it’s that, rather than the various reward programs, that I plan to focus on at our house. Bribes, Dr. Briggs noted, are relatively easy, and many children know it. Reading together, choosing books, talking about words and stories, or even going to the library is “a lot harder than taking a dollar out of our wallets,” she said, and ultimately worth a lot more.
Correction: July 25, 2016
An earlier version of this article omitted the results of a British survey about children’s reading habits. Sixty percent of parents of 3- to 8-year-olds said they offered their children rewards for reading.

Monday, January 23, 2017


I was listening to WKSU NPR today and they were interviewing Andrew Bird. His new album, ARE YOU SERIOUS with Fiona Apple just came out. I'd never heard of him and I can't say I liked all of his singing, but it grew on me.  I loved Chemical Switches. He played it live with whistling (which he is unbelievable at doing) and plucked violin (which he is also unbelievable at doing). The sound was so amazing that if I buy it, I'm going to be furious if it's not the same. Bird voiced "The Whistling Caruso" in THE MUPPET MOVIE. You won't believe someone can actually whistle what he did. And if you think whistling in sappy, he'll change that feeling forever.

Monday, January 16, 2017


How to raise kinder, less entitled kids (according to science)


Maybe it was that time you took the kids to the amusement park, and on the way home — their adorable faces still sticky from the slushies you’d sprung for, their little wrists adorned with pricey full-day passes — they asked to stop for ice cream. You declined, and they yelled, “We never get to do anything!”
Or the time you asked them to dust the living room after you had vacuumed the house, cleaned the bathroom, mowed the lawn and shopped for groceries, and they wailed, “Do we have to do everything?”
Nearly all of us have bang-our-head-against-the-wall stories about our kids acting entitled. We’ve tried what feels like everything to stop it, and we still feel as if we’re not quite getting it right.
But there’s a young and fascinating field of research called behavioral economics that explores the sometimes irrational ways we all make decisions and think about the world. Maybe if we understand a little more about the instinctive, irrational quirks of our kids’ minds, we’ll be better equipped to raise kinder, less-entitled kids.

‘My excuses are totally legit’
The cobalt-blue sports car roars up beside me, swerves into my lane, then races ahead. “Seriously?” I grumble. “Idiot!”
Just then, he hangs a quick left, right by a big sign that says, “Hospital Emergency Room Entrance.”
Oh. Right. (Well played, Universe. Well played.)
When someone cuts us off in traffic, shows up late or otherwise offends us, we often reflexively attribute it to an intrinsic characteristic of the person, yet when we inconvenience others, we generally blame outside forces (e.g., he was in my blind spot). This Scrooge-like tendency is so universal that behavioral scientists have a name for it: the fundamental attribution error.
How can parents use an awareness of this tendency to their benefit? The next time we’re at a restaurant and the kids are moaning, “Where is our food? This waitress is terrible!” we can point out that maybe the kitchen is backed up and she’s doing her best. Maybe she’s covering extra tables for someone who called in sick, or this is her second job and she’s been up since 4 a.m.
“Just talking about ‘How do you think that person is feeling?’ is so important,” says Amy McCready, a mother of two and author of “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World.” “It’s a way of un-centering our kids’ universe and getting them thinking outside of themselves.”
The curse of the chocolate-chip pancakes
It’s Saturday morning and you’ve just set fresh pancakes on the table. Your sweet kids take a bite and then stop chewing. “No chocolate chips?!” they say, affronted.
Behavioral research shows that humans can become acclimated to almost anything if they’re exposed to it frequently. It’s called “hedonic adaptation,” and it’s why Justin Bieber is always buying more outrageous cars, why the kitchen we just remodeled suddenly needs a new backsplash and why lottery winners, after the initial thrill of winning, end up about as happy as they were before.
What does this mean for kids and parents? Anything we provide or do regularly will become the new norm, whether it’s postgame milkshakes or a certain brand of clothes. And not doing things can also become a norm: If our kids have gotten used to having their beds made or dinner table set, they’ll come to expect that, too.
“I really think about it as ‘What’s the default that I’m setting up?’ ” says Tess Thompson, a mother of two in Webster Groves, Mo. “My kids’ summer day camp is set up for their nonstop entertainment, so naturally they thought summer Saturdays would be, too.” Thompson had to reset their expectations. “Once the special outings weren’t every Saturday, they actually felt like treats.”
‘You know this isn’t normal, right?’
Six-year-old Allison McElroy invited a friend over to play, but her playmate kept peering around the house. Finally, puzzled, the friend spoke up. “Is this a mini-house?” she asked.
Allison’s mom, Cheryl, tried to keep her voice level. “Uh, no, this is a real house. We live here.”
“Her tone was like, ‘Is this all there is?’ ” recalls Cheryl with a laugh. Her daughter’s new friend lived in a neighborhood of soaring foyers and echoing great rooms, different from the lovely ranch house the McElroys live in. “I really think she’d never been in a one-story house before,” Cheryl says.
The little visitor was experiencing what behavioral scientists call the “availability bias,” which causes us to overestimate the prevalence of something if we see many examples of it. So if everyone at our kids’ school wears $120 sneakers, our kids are going to think that’s normal, not because they’re spoiled monsters, but because it’s what they see every day.
“It’s really challenging, because we’ve chosen to send our kids to nice private schools, and the other kids are coming back from spring break saying they went skiing in Aspen or Jackson Hole, and our kids start to get the impression that’s the norm,” says Josh Wright, a father of three in Takoma Park and executive director of behavioral consulting firm Ideas42. “So we’re always telling them: ‘You know that’s not normal, right? It’s just one little slice of the world.’ ” To give his kids a sense of the wider world, Wright regularly takes them to volunteer at a local soup kitchen; he also chose to live in a socioeconomically diverse neighborhood so his kids would be exposed to a broader range of experiences.
‘Girl, age 6. Wants: Undershirts.’
The paper angel in my daughter’s hand read, “Girl, age 6. Wants: Undershirts.” The angel in my son’s hand read, “Boy, age 7. Likes: Dinosaurs.” My lectures about faraway starving children had previously fallen on deaf ears, but on that December day, my kids, then age 5 and 8, eagerly dashed around the store to find just the right gifts. “I think she’ll like these! They have princesses on them!” “Can I get him a sweatshirt, too? I don’t want him to be cold!”
Of course, it wasn’t my fabulous parenting that finally got them thinking. It was what behavioral scientists call the “identifiable victim effect” — the human tendency to respond more empathetically to the plight of a single individual, rather than a large group.
For instance, as behavioral economist Dan Ariely illustrates in his book “The Upside of Irrationality,” you might consider sending a few dollars to victims of a tsunami far away. But if you were walking through a park and saw a little girl drowning in the river right in front of you, you wouldn’t hesitate to plunge in to save her. The vivid, nearby individual always trumps the vague, faraway many.
An awareness of this tendency can help us choose more effective ways to engage our children with those in need. “For kids to internalize it, it needs to be about individual people,” Wright says.
Quid pro who

Sunday, January 15, 2017


           Here's an example: The other day, I told a restaurant worker I see often, that he looked tired. He laughed and said, "Last night I woke up because I heard running water. When I got to the bathroom, my two-year-old was standing in the sink, with the water running full blast, brushing his teeth. It took me two hours to clean up all the water. Yes, I'm tired." But he was still laughing. 
            Long time funny paper cartoon, Family Circus, gets children. And the quotation "A day without laughter is a day wasted," offers what parents need to remember when they want to rip their hair out by the roots. Life as a parent is more fun with a sense of humor.  
            The quote commonly attributed to Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, was actually created much earlier by French author, Nicolas Chamfort, famous for his wit, And to think, he didn't even have children.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


In teaching youngsters eighteen to thirty-six months old in Mommy and Me classes, one experience stands out in my memory. The particular little boy's mother was desperate to get her son, about 2, interested in books. His father didn't and wouldn't read, not even the newspaper or Sports Illustrated, not even to help his son's development. I didn't know why or ask. That's none of my business. I just helped with ideas to solve the mother's problem. The mother thought because her husband didn't read, that this was the reason her son wouldn't even sit in her lap for the cozy experience of reading together suggested by most reading authorities as the way to interest a child in books. Let's face it the little boy's main male roll model wouldn't read.

That was a tough question to help Mom solve. And I'm guessing many children have one or two parents who never loved to read. I suggested she pick up a number of board books, ones for babies and older. That she needed a variety of what many people call toys, not books--flip and find what's under the flap, press the button and get a sound, books with wonderful illustrations and so on.. I told her to put the books in containers like plastic baskets and place the book baskets in a number of rooms. Then, she had to tell her son that the books in these baskets were his books and only his books. 

You might think, Oh yes, he'll pick one of those books right up and try to read it himself. Not necessarily. He might put it in the bath tub and drown it, He might chew on it etc. Remember children at this age are exploring.. Let them explore. Children this age want to feel powerful. Remember, 'I do it.' and 'Mine." So, no matter what the child does, don't punish him. Use a sense of humor. If you find a book he's been eating, say,"Wow, I'll bet this was good! Can I have a nibble?" and drop it back in his basket. If the book went in the toilet, you can pick it out, dry it and put it back in the basket or if you're worried about germs, just drop it in the waste basket and say, "I'll bet the germs are going to enjoy reading that book."Then. forget about it. Your child is testing you.

The problem is it's very difficult for a small child to respond to stress from the parent, even if the parent doesn't realize he's somehow pressuring his toddler. If you're making your child anxious, he's probably not going to do what you want him to. He needs to feel relaxed and loved and motivated on his own to learn to love to read and many other things too.

Do you wonder what happened to the little boy in the beginning of this post? He learned to love his books and eventually brought them to people to read them to him.  

Friday, January 6, 2017


I've been having a hard time with Restrictive Airways lately, so I've been researching differences in lung function diseases. I've always thought I had asthma, but this time in spite of horrible coughing and lung congestion slapping me into bed, there wasn't any wheezing. So now I'm confused. The best article I've found so far, although long, seems to be in the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3488995/.   From the information on asthma, the most interesting feature was that the Western lifestyle of high standards for extreme hygiene did not give kids the chance to be exposed to allergens and therefore, desensitize them to those allergens. I heard on the radio today that especially meant infants. Now I'm not a good housekeeper. I have lots of allergens in my house--two dogs, four cats, a hamster and lots of dust. Maybe it's to late for me, but hopefully my kids will benefit. My mother's house, however, was so clean you could eat off the floors and I'll bet I did. She made my dogs live in the (heated with Radiant heat) garage and NOT in my bed. At any rate, if this can help any of you, that'd be a good thing. When it's our own kid whose sick, we'll do almost anything to make them better, including cleaning until the house until it shines. Apparently, NIH thinks that leaving a bit of dirt around is a better idea.

Monday, January 2, 2017


Building Resilient Families
A free employee health education program open to all!

Healthy families are characterized by the capability to adapt and thrive in changing times and circumstances.  Proactive factors, such as adaptability, effective communication, expectations and acceptance will be discussed along with many other factors all contributing to the development of resiliency within contemporary families.  Emphasis will be placed on family traits and practices which promote resiliency such as communication, organization, and stress management.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016, Noon – 1 p.m.,

Classrooms D & E (near Chapel on Third Floor), Akron Campus

Presented by Alan Kurzweil, LISW, Carebridge EAP Provider

Bring your lunch or a snack along, if you’d like!

Seating is limited so sign up today by contacting Mary Lynne Zahler
at ext. 34708 or at mzahler@chmca.org
To register, leave or send your name, extension, department, and the name of the program you plan to attend.

Note: If you cannot attend in-person, most of our health education programs are videotaped and posted online within a couple of weeks afterwards at www.akronchildrens.org/wellness.

About our presenter...

Alan Kurzweil is a licensed clinical social worker in practice at the Summit Center for Behavioral Health in Fairlawn, Ohio.  With over 30 years of experience, Alan provides comprehensive evaluations for the treatment of adolescents and adults with psychiatric disorders, problems of mood and functioning, relationship issues and family disruption.  Alan is affiliated with several employee assistance programs and managed care organizations.  Alan earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Allegheny College and his Masters of Social Science Administration degree from Case Western Reserve University. 

From: Judie Ryan.  This program is offered locally at Akron Children's Hospitall. Although, it is local to the Akron/Cleveland Oh area, you can check out the Note: above about the hospital's health education program videotapes and see it anyway or may be able to find some published information from the presenter, Alan Kurzwell. If you're local, come on down!