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Scroll down for Questions from Readers. Let us know your questions and opinions:

  • My son is bullied. Should he hit back? New
  • New Baby;" How do I Keep the Older Kids from Feeling Left Out?"

    What to do if My Son Wants to Quit Music Lessons?

    How Can I help My Child Learn Vocabulary When We Don't Speak English at Home?

    College Acceptance - How Will We Handle Disappointment?

    How Do I Get an 8 -Year- Old to Focus in School

    How Do We Get to School on Time "We're always late"?

    Should Kids be Forced to Practice Piano?

    "My son is being bullied. What can I do?"


    My son just turned 6 and he is very sweet, tender hearted, well behaved, and easy going. I have always tried to instill in him “ be kind to others, treat others the way you want to be treated, if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say it, if you can’t share then don’t play.”

    I watch him play with other children who are more aggressive and he is always the one to be picked on. Within the last year we’ve had 2 kids push him down, hit him, or pinch. I finally told my son to hit this last boy back if he hit him again. My son broke down in tears and told me “no” he couldn’t do that, that he would get in trouble. I told my son that he would not get in trouble because his teacher and I had already talked about it, that this had gone on long enough and it was time for him to take up for himself.

    I don’t want him to lose his sweet disposition. And maybe telling him to hit the other person wasn’t the right thing to do either. But he does need to take up for himself. What should I do or say to help my child to protect himself and still maintain his honest and sweet disposition? Thanks for your help!


    Dear Reader,

    Continue to enlist the help of the teacher and school principal. All the kids need to know that there are adults ready to enforce “no bullying” rules. This is not just for the benefits of kids who get bullied. The bullies sometimes test the limits to see when adults will step in, and surprising as it sounds, actually want to be stopped.

    There are a number of ways you can help your son stand up for himself without his resorting to pushing or hitting back.

    Help your son develop sayings like “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what you say to me sticks back on you” to disarm name-callers.

    Encourage your son to align himself with a group of classmates who find the bullying unacceptable. There’s safety and support in numbers.

    If he continues to be the object of physical bullying, consider signing your son up for a self-defense class that will give him the strategies and confidence to deflect physical threats.Your local Y may offer such a program.

    At the same time you encourage your son to maintain his kind disposition, also help him to find ways to defend himself verbally so he will feel less surprised and vulnerable
    when other kids are unkind. Help him understand that, underneath it all, bullies are weak and use threats and violence because they don't have other resources.Some of the funniest comedians say they developed their sense of humor as a way to defend themselves against bullies – with words.

    There are also books that give kids confidence in their ability to deal with bullying and help them feel empowered. The Story of Charles Atlas Strong Man by Meghan McCarthy is a wonderful book for kids your son's age which describes how a once bullied young man became a national role model for fitness and strength.


"We do not speak English at home..."


I have a 3- year- old daughter. We do not speak English at home. She reads English books all the time and asks me read to her. How can I make sure that she will understand the meaning of words like “disguise” etc? I do not want to translate them in our mother tongue. I would like to show her instead what that means. Is there any source where I can find small dramas based on stories they already know (for 3-5 year old)?

She goes to a proper school and speaks good English for her age. Her teacher says that she has a very good vocabulary.

Thank you.


Dear Reader,
Your family is one of many that speak a language other than English at home. (In fact, according to year 2000 census data, almost 50 million people in the U.S. age 5 and older speak a language other than English at home.)

It’s great that you are reading aloud to your daughter in English. I understand your wanting to be able to explain new English words to her when you both come across them in a book. However, I would not worry about translating every unfamiliar word that you and your daughter encounter. Children are very good at figuring out new words in a context – and you can do some pantomime without enacting an entire drama. It sounds as if your daughter is doing very well understanding and speaking both English and the language you speak at home. The more English your daughter is exposed to and the more vocabulary she develops, the better she will be at understanding new words and phrases.

Having exposure to two languages will benefit your daughter. If you enjoy drama, and want to make that a shared experience, you certainly can write some plays together. Why not take some of the stories you and she read and turn them into plays, with each of you speaking some of the parts. You might also translate into English some of the stories or plays for young children that are part of the culture of your childhood.

Other ways to enrich your daughter’s knowledge and appreciation of English include reading nursery rhymes (such as those found in the Mother Goose books, available in all libraries) and books of traditional children’s songs. Nursery rhymes and songs present word patterns, such as rhymes, that will help her develop an ear for English and its rhythms. Your daughter’s teacher may have some suggestions as well.

It sounds like you are a very devoted parent and that your daughter is doing very well.

Enjoy these precious years and your time reading together,

"My son is objecting big time to practicing piano ...and is about to quit!"


My brother had a teacher just like Dennis Anderson back in the seventies. He is still playing and improvising beautiful music, while I who had suffocating traditional lessons rarely sit at the piano.

I now have a nine- year -old son who has natural talent. He is taking traditional lessons from a very nice talented young man who believes in the old ways. Where can I find a teacher like Dennis Anderson? My son is already objecting big
time to practicing--like the article says he is being "numbed" out of his natural motivation to play. Help. I believe and have been told by others
that my son is quite talented but he is about to quit!


ANSWER: This is a response from Dennis Anderson, the innovative music teacher who was interviewed on

Dear M -
Your situation both as a former student and, currently, as a parent is very common. I don't know anyone in your area but I do have some suggestions which may help.

First, you need to speak with your son and find out what, specifically, he is unhappy with regarding the lessons. What would he like to be playing and what does he think it will take (practice time, technique, etc.) to play it. Also, find out what he likes about the current situation: the teacher, materials, drills, practice time etc.

Second, you need to speak with the current teacher and be honest with how you think it's going with your son. Share with him how your son feels (without breaking any confidences). Let him know what happened to you as a student and your brother's experience. I have always encouraged my student's parents to be open with me and it's very helpful in forming a cooperative relationship which always helps the student in the long run.

Third, ask the teacher how he feels it's been going - both pros and cons. Then see if he's willing to work with your son to develop a program that will realistically meet his needs as a budding pianist as well as giving him the opportunity to play music that is stimulating to him.

The key is to get them to form a "team" rather than a "do as I say" teaching style or an "I'm only going to play what I like" student attitude - both are deadly. In all honesty, it took me a while to realize how important the "team" concept is and that it doesn't just happen, it has be cultivated and worked on. The results of this kind of student/teacher relationship are amazing.

The three of you may have to sit down at the same time discuss what to do - this will allow everyone to be there as things are being discussed and avoid misunderstandings.
If the teacher is unbending in his style and not willing to cultivate the kind of "team" spirit I've mentioned, put your son first and find a new teacher. It's better that he not be studying at the moment than to be in a bad lesson situation.
I hope this helps. Good luck in resolving this.
Dennis Anderson
Read interview and Mix Music with Motivation article (about Dennis' approach to music lessons.)



"Teachers can say anything they want to kids when they have a bad day..."



Do you have any advice or people/places I can go to get support on handling teachers and student personality problems. In my case I believe that the teacher is the one with the behavior problem, I have already talked to the principal and the teacher and feel like they treated me like a pain in their day. The easiest solution would be to take the child out of the class, but this does not solve the real problem. The real problem is that teachers can say anything they want to kids when they have a bad day and get away with it. I know this sounds really stupid, but so many parents have these stories. Please help if you can,


Dear P.L,

Your letter touches on several important points. No parent should be treated as a "pain in the day," and it is understandable that you are annoyed about how your child was treated and then how you were treated when you spoke to the teacher and principal.

Without knowing your child's age, what was said to your child, or the circumstances, it is hard to give specific advice. That being said, here are some thoughts that may be helpful. What is your goal? It sounds as if you mainly want this particular teacher to stop saying things that are hurtful to your child -- and want ALL teachers to know that the things they say have an impact on their students.

In any communication, it is important to try to look at the situation from the other person's point of view. This is not to condone behavior that you think is inappropriate, but to try to figure out what is going on. What is the teacher's perception of what occurred? How does the teacher perceive your child? Is the teacher aware of how your child was affected by what was said? What were the teacher's intentions?

In looking at the situation from the teacher's perspective, remember that teaching is a hard job that requires tact, patience and insight as well as stamina and knowledge. Is this teacher young and inexperienced? Burnt out? Dealing with some problems that should not be carried into the classroom? You may never know where the "bad day" is coming from. However, thinking about these questions may help you get a better handle on how to approach the teacher in a way that is effective in achieving the goal of getting any hurtful talk to stop.

Finding a good time to talk to the teacher is key -- not when he or she is tired, rushed, with students, or colleagues. Being specific about your concerns is also important. Explain what your child has told you and why you are upset. If there are things that you like about this teacher's approach you may want to share those as well. It will make it a lot easier for the teacher to hear your concerns if there is some balance in what you say. Also make sure the teacher knows that you are willing to do your part in helping to create a better relationship between the teacher and your child.

If you aren't already, you may want to get involved with the PTA to try to find constructive ways for the parents and teachers in your child's school to get along better.

Here is a link to an excellent article on "Preventing and Resolving Parent-Teacher Differences. "

P.S. At one school the parents proposed a "Teacher Appreciation Party." The principal said it would never work, that the parents wouldn't show up. I guess he spent his days hearing all the complaints and didn't realize that parents really did appreciate the good teaching. The parents invited the teachers, and parents brought in food. Not all of the teachers came that first year, but many did. One teacher said that in her 25 years in the school nothing that wonderful had ever been done for teachers.


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How do I keep my older kids from feeling left out?



What is the best way to help children through sibling rivalry so they don't feel left out or feel the new baby is taking away mommy's time from them? Claudia


Sibling rivalry seems to occur whether the big brother or sister is 2, 6 or 15.! Babies, by their very nature, require enormous amounts of attention. And in addition, they get presents, people want to hold them, and everyone goes around saying how cute they are!! It's almost impossible for older sibs NOT to feel left out.

Here are some tips for helping older siblings feel less left out -- and giving them a sense of their own unique importance within the family.

1) Get out those photos of your older kids as babies.Talk about what they were like when they were the same age as the new arrival. Through anecdotes and pictures, make sure they know that they received just as much attention as the new baby is getting now.

2) Encourage family and friends to "ooh" and "ahh" about the older siblings as well as the new baby. Grandparents and other close relatives can be encouraged to spend quality time reading stories, listening to riddles, playing a board games, appreciating art work . When people bring gifts to the new baby, it 's helpful if they bring something small but special for the older sibs, so they too can share in the bounty.

3) Involve the older sibs in some age-appropriate helping. Give them specific tasks (getting the bottle; reading a story, singing a lullaby) and praise them amply for their help. Choose small tasks that older kids will be able to do competently, so that they can be successful in their efforts.

4) Give your older kids a positive sense of their own development and emphasize the things THEY can now do (eat with a spoon, skip, read, whatever skills they have recently acquired.) Sometimes older kids want to lapse into babydom (return to bottle, diapers, etc.) since it appears to them like a surefire way to gain attention . So instead, let your older kids see you recognize how special it is to be growing up.

5) Spend quality time with older siblings whenever possible.. Of course it 's hard to find time with an infant in the house, but it is worthwhile. If two parents are around, try to alternate so that each parent has time with the older kids. Once you're comfortable getting a sitter to stay with the baby, do some of the things that you used to do as a family with your older kids -- a trip to the zoo, library or a movie.

When older kids get plenty of time and attention, they sometimes become remarkably solicitous of the new baby, loyal advocates, defenders and protectors, championing the new baby's cause!

But none of this is easy. Good luck.





Help! I need some advice to help my eight year old focus in school. He's very smart, but he would rather fool around then do his school work in a timely manner or neatly or the best that he can.


It is not at all unusual for a boy your son's age to want to fool around rather than focus in school. Schools sometimes expect kids his age to sit and concentrate on school work for unrealistically long stretches. The kids become distracted, restless and disruptive. You need to approach the question from two sides -- looking at both your son and the school. Here are some suggestions:

1) Make sure your son has plenty of physical exercise when he's not in school. If he doesn't, that pent up energy can interfere with his concentration.

2) Also make sure that your son has enough opportunity for free-play and play with kids his age when he's at home so he's not using school time to pursue such hobbies such as drawing cartoons instead of writing spelling words, or talking about video games to a classmate instead of doing math.

3) Discover what subjects truly interest your son and see how they tie in with what he is studying in school. For instance, if he's a sports fan encourage him to read some of the sports page in the newspaper and look up words he doesn't know up in the dictionary. Or even better, create his own sports page. Let him see first hand how reading , writing and math are related to areas he sees as interesting.

4) Help your son get organized so that he can be neater and prompter. Eight year old boys are not known for their neatness or sense of time. Help him find places for his notebook and papers, learn to sort through his backpack, and make sure he has his pencils, erasers and other supplies ready for school. Get him a calendar, assignment book and inexpensive watch and show him how to use these tools to plan, not just school work but other activities as well. A few years will likely do wonders foreverything from his penmanship to his planning skills.

5)Help your son structure his homework so it doesn't feel overwhelming. Show him how to make a list of what needs to be done and check an item off when it is completed. Help him connect what he's learning in school to other areas of interest. Encourage him to take set breaks between subjects and have something fun to do when he's finished. Remember that he's only eight.


Now for the school...

Ask your son's teacher for specific advice on how you can help. The teacher may refer to your son as "disruptive," "underachieving," or "disorganized" but try to get a more concrete sense of what is actually going on.

Discover whether your son is most distracted at a particular time of day
. Before lunch is a popular time for kids to get antsy. If he gets hungry early, he may need a bigger breakfast or a mid-morning snack.
If he fidgets during a particular class (math or reading) it may be that he is having trouble following the lesson and needs some extra help in that area.

Learn if there are particular kids with whom he gets distracted in class
and see if the teacher can find ways of either separating them or harnassing their enormous eight year old energy into some productive activities.

Get a sense of the school's and teacher's expectations for the third grade. Are kids expected to sit for very long periods of time and listen ? How active are kids in class, both physically and mentally? If kids feel like active participants in discussions or projects they are more likely to stay engaged. If you think the school has unrealistic expectations for young children, you might want to raise that issue in a constructive way.

Many parents and parent organizations have spoken up about the amount and type of homework assigned to children in elementary school. When homework becomes oppressive it is counter- productive. But that's a whole other topic...






Any suggestions for helping my son deal with the anxiety of waiting for his college acceptance letters? The next few weeks feel endless. How will we handle things if the outcome is disappointing?
Parent of a High School Senior

Dear High School Senior Parent,

For many kids this is a really tense time as they await April 1 (April fools day!) or April 15 when letters from many of the most selective colleges are mailed out.

It's great that you're empathetic to your son's tensions during this transitional time. He is probably dealing with a number of sources of stress.

Of course, one factor is that your son can't picture where he'll be next year, or the next four years for that matter. It's hard to deal with uncertainty at any age,but especially when you're 17 or 18 years old and want more than ever to feel sense of control. (It's not until we get older that we realize that much of our sense of control is illusory.) Once he knows where he'll be, even if it's not his first choice, he can start planning, meet future classmates and buy a mug.

Another source of tension has to do with leaving home, his parents, siblings, friends and the familiar world of high school. While a lot of kids feel very ready to get away (and many parents are more than ready to have their boisterous, moody, willful kids under a different roof) facing the new challenges of the unknown can be scary. And for kids who may feel a little less ready, the prospects are more daunting.

All these feelings are probably adding to the anxiety of being accepted or "rejected," or wait listed, by a group of judges who will be deciding on his future based on some mysterious formula in which test scores, a possibly so-so interview and grades (including that unfair grade he got in history from Mrs.J ) all get thrown in the mix.

Keeping perspective helps. Without getting into a "when I was your age" speech, encourage him to think about how many kids even have the opportunity to go to college, let alone a selective college. It may seem like every kid in the world is applying to the same 12 schools, but that's not true. Remind him that no place is "perfection," and that in any school kids have varied experiences. There are always trade-offs; pros and cons.

There are plenty of kids who end up loving their "safety schools" and others who are unhappy at their first choice. (And if he has already "gotten into" some possible places, even if they are not his first choice, play up their positive attributes.) Discuss how change is possible and that he can transfer. Encourage him to take all this one step at a time rather than looking way into the future.

Provide reassurance that life has a way of working out, and that plenty of people have gone on to lead fulfilling lives without getting into ------ (fill in the blank.)

Ultimately, help him remember that what's important is not where you go, but what you make of it once you get there.

copyright 2002, Istar Schwager, Ph.D.





How can we get out of the house and to school on time? I walk my six- year- old daughter to the local school, a few blocks away and then go from there to work. Even though the school is nearby, we are always late. It takes forever to get out of the house. Any suggestions?


Dear Lynn,
Ah, yes. The old getting- out-of- the- house- in- time question . There are two factors to consider in figuring out what to do. One is practical, the other emotional.

Let's start with the practical. The key is planning. It helps to take some time each evening for the two of you to prepare for the next day. Lay out clothes,organize the backpack complete with signed notes, pencils and whatever will be needed for the next day's afterschool activity. You can make it into a game. Look in the newspaper together for the next day's weather forecast to decide what clothes will fit the bill.

Of course all that planning is easier said than done. Chances are, after a day of work and helping your daughter with her homework, which these days may be excessive even in first grade, you are both probably very tired. Try to limit the time you take to do this advanced planning so it doesn't seem cumbersome. Make it into a routine that fits into other activities. For instance, your daughter might help make lunch for the next day while you are making dinner. Or set out the next day's clothes while she is putting on her pajamas. It may help to create a checklist so that you don't have to rethink the steps anew each evening.

Emotional factors may come into play because your daughter, and you too, may feel you don't have enough time to spend at home doing the things you like. You may both long to hang out and putter, she with her toys and you with your plants, pets or newspaper. You linger because it is hard to leave the comforts and interests of home to face the demands of the outside world. If you recognize yourself here, try to get up earlier or make time in the evening for some unpressured activities at home. Both you and your daughter may find it easier to get of the house on time if you create more time to do the at-home activities you enjoy.



"It kills me forcing these kids to practice as I was."

As a piano student, traditional, no less, I have come to realize that to motivate children to practice daily is almost impossible. I started when I was 16 and it was difficult even then. Reading your article hit something in me. This may be what I need. I started teaching piano this year and it kills me forcing these kids to practice as I was. Can you tell me more, or can you put me in contact with your piano teacher.

I'd be forever grateful,

Kenny Wollmann



Dear Kenny,
Lots of teachers and parents are faced with the same question. How can kids develop skills if they don't practice?

Most of us are best at learning the things we WANT to know or feel we REALLY NEED to know.

Learning skills before you have a good idea of WHY or HOW you are going to USE them is much less effective than learning when you have a good idea of how the skill fits into a MEANINGFUL CONTEXT. It's much more interesting practicing the F sharp scale when you have a fabulous piece of music in that key.

We talked to master piano teacher Dennis Anderson about your question and he commented on how our education system doesn't take into account what individuals WANT to learn.

Here are some specific tips.

1) Think back to what motivated you to take piano lessons at age 16. Ask your students why THEY are studying piano. Each student may have a somewhat different answer.

2) Find out what music your students like. We live in a music-rich world. Help your students see the links between music they love to listen to on their own and the more classical music you are teaching. (Watch Mr. Holland's Opus for some inspiration and ideas.)

3) Encourage your students to listen to different kinds of music. Help them hear differences in style (for instance, if you have recordings encourage them to listen to two master musicans play the same piano piece and think about the differences. )

4) Start developing a repertoire of pieces that have appeal to your students. Individualize as much as possible. Jot down notes so you remember your conversations with individual students . Listen to recordings of pieces they like . Let them play their favorites for you and figure out together what is appealing and WHY.

5) Be realistic and patient. The described approach is process-oriented. It is focused on helping kids really appreciate music, become savvy listeners and develop the ability to produce music with pleasure and passion. If parents object, you can explain to them that this approach is more likely to produce a life-long musician than the more traditional approaches. That's the point, isn't it?

Note that reading teachers have been grappling with similar questions for years. Now interesting literature has replaced the old drill-oriented basal readers in many classrooms. Teachers talk about a "language rich enviroment" that includes rhymes, poetry, stories, language games, and other activities and experiences that bring reading to life. Music teachers could learn a lot from changes in how reading is being taught.

Let us know about your experiences as a music student, teacher, or performer.

To refer to the articles mentioned and read more about Dennis Anderson go to Music and Motivation and Hear it From the Music Man.


--If you have comments on the questions or the answers, please, let us know .

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