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>>Female Presenter: I'm very excited to welcome Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum to Google
today. Nancy and Ellen met about 30 years ago. They were neighbors in a New York apartment
and happened to be pregnant expecting boys. Nancy, her first. Ellen, her second.
And were due within a month of each other. Needless to say, this chance meeting led to
a very long friendship. They not only became life-long friends, their children grew up
together. Their boys are still very close friends. Coincidentally, they also were both
working in Early Education when they met.
A few years into their friendship, they soon found themselves working side by side at one
of the most admired nursery schools in the country--the 92nd Street Y--where they worked
together for about 20 years building the school and supporting families during the very special
Today, Ellen is the director of the 92nd Street Y and Nancy has recently joined the Avenues,
the World School, to head their early education program, which is opening next September.
I'm sure 30 years ago, neither one of them thought that they would end up writing a book
giving parents like themselves wisdom and sharing their insights as they raised their
If you have not read their book, "Practical Wisdom for Parents," I highly encourage you
to check it out. We're selling copies in the back. Drawing from their 50 plus years of
early education experience, they cover topics in the book like selecting the right preschool
for your child and family, discipline, potty training.
The book talks about play and activities that are supportive and encouraging child's early
development. They even address topics like talking to your child about moving, death,
divorce, and sex--something I really didn't think would end up in a book about preschool
So, I'd like to just welcome Nancy and Ellen to share their insights on the preschool years.
Throughout their talk, please feel free to ask questions, share your insights, and we'll
have questions in the end as well. So, thanks for being here.
>>Nancy Schulman: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Faith, for inviting us. We're very excited to be here. This is our first time
at Google. So, we're excited. But the most exciting part is to see--. I can't believe
how many fathers are here. It's really cool.
I mean, mothers we always see. But dads, this is really cool. I'm Nancy.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: And I'm Ellen. I think it's very clear to both of us, since we've been
doing this, the role of fathers has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. And there
is so much more hands-on parenting from dads.
And we've seen a shift in the nursery school. Fathers always came to parent conferences,
but when Nancy and I started having parent conversations, we started to see increasing
numbers of dads over the years. And we're so happy to see that because it's the consistent
messages that go from both parents to children that are so important.
>>Nancy Schulman: So, we really think that the preschool years--. And we're talking about
two-year olds through five-year olds-- is the most important time in the life of a family
and in the life of parents.
This is an amazing period of time and it's the time that's very exhausting and overwhelming
as new parents are moving into this phase, but it is by far the time when parents have
the most influence on the life of children. You're there. You're spending a lot of time
with your children, too.
And you're really laying the foundations for who you're gonna be as a parent at this time.
You define what's important to you, what's important to your family, what the rules are
in your home, thinking about all of those. How to create children who are decent and
good and compassionate and cooperative and respectful.
All of those things really happen during these preschool years.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: And the most challenging part of being a parent of a preschooler is
the transition from the infant/toddler parent to the preschooler parent. And you can see
we have an infant on the floor and you have to keep your eye on them all the time because
there's no end of trouble that they're gonna get into because they have no idea about limits
And as you transition into the parent of a preschooler, you need to take a little bit
of a step back so that you can support their independence from you because that's your
goal in life. It's to care for them so that there can be a person in the world without
>>Nancy Schulman: So, the first thing that really starts to happen, and if you have two-year
olds, you probably heard, "I want to do it myself." That's the first thing that they
start to say when they have this growing independence. And one of the greatest things that parents
can do for children is to really allow them the time and the ability to do things for
It's the thing, probably more than any other thing, that helps build a feeling of confidence
in children. When they feel competent that they can handle their own needs, do the things
that they need to do for themselves, you see this incredible puffed out feeling of competency
and confidence that comes from just doing basic things for themselves.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: So, in an early childhood classroom, children are taught this wonderful
Maria Montessori coat flip. Have you ever seen a child--? You put the coat in front
of your toes, backwards, with the collars facing you. And the child digs their hands
in and then they flip the coat over their heads.
And you see this incredible "Aha, I did it" moment. And that's the beginning. But children
also in classrooms will put that coat on their hook each day. They will come to the table
and eat and sit in a chair and have a conversation in there and pour their own water.
They'll throw their things away in the garbage. They're expected to clean up the classroom
materials. So, all of those things fostering this great sense of pride and independence.
>>Nancy Schulman: One day in the nursery school, we saw parents coming in and there was a father
who was bringing their two and a half-year old daughter to the classroom.
And I was just watching from afar and she did this thing that was so funny. She just
took her coat and let it drop behind her very dramatically in that way. And I just watched
to see what he would do. And he did what most of us would do-- the expedient thing. He picked
it up and he put it on her hook for her.
And later on, we were telling this story to a group of parents and a mother looked and
said, "Oh, that was my daughter for sure, and my husband for sure." And we said, "Yeah,
we weren't gonna tell, but yeah. It was."
Because it's those little moments of thinking about what to do and how to support a child
that means you have to raise the bar a little bit at each stage--every few months as they
get greater and greater capability of doing things, to have the expectations grow at the
same time their skills are growing in that way.
So, that father in that moment, because he was probably in a hurry to get to work or
doing whatever he was doing, picked up the coat and did that. But as soon as he left,
when the teachers came out, they were gonna expect this child to do that for themselves.
So, it's always a confusing message. So, parents need to keep pace with children as their development
>>Ellen Birnbaum: So, right now there seems to be an emphasis from parents and from the
culture for children to assume skill sets that they don't really need. I mean, a child
doesn't really need to learn to play tennis when they're three, or join a soccer league
when they're two and a half.
But they do need to be able to do all these other things. One day, we have an after school
program at the nursery school and one of the four-year olds was taking a tennis lesson
up on the racket ball courts on the top of the Y. But he had left his backpack on the
sixth floor where the nursery school is.
So, I went up with it and his caregiver was there and she was spoon-feeding yogurt to
him. Tennis lesson, couldn't feed himself. It was a little confusing to me, so I went
downstairs and I called his mom. And I said, "I thought you should know that your caregiver
was feeding him and I was a little confused."
'Cause he was able to play tennis. He should be able to feed himself. "Oh, I'm gonna talk
to her. I told her not to do it anymore." And of course, the next day, the caregiver
came up the elevator and threw her arms around me and hugged me and she said, "I told her
I shouldn't be doing that anymore."
So, she knew clearly that the bar should be the same for all of that. If you're expecting
your child to be able to do that kind of thing, they should go to the bathroom on their own
and wipe themselves and be able to do the basic stuff.
>>Nancy Schulman: It's interesting because when you think about what children need from
parents at this age, all those things, it can't be done with small bursts of high-quality
interaction. I think the idea of quality time was a really bad thing because the definition
of quality time means there can be no negative interaction if we want it to be high-quality.
So, small bursts of high-quality time with children, or large bursts of low-quality time
with children are not gonna--. They need both from parents. They need to be able to spend
time doing fun, focused activities together, playing together and doing those kinds of
And they also need to get ready for the bath and to have a conflict over who's gonna eat
your peas. And all of those kinds of things are what children need from parents. It can't
be just one way or the other way. They need to know. They need to know when you disapprove
They need to know when those things are happening and they only get it when it comes from the
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Nancy was talking about having the courage of your convictions. If
you think what they're doing-- whoever is telling you right or wrong--isn't right, you
need to be able to stand up to them and for them. Wendy Mogel, who wrote this wonderful
book called "Blessing of the Skinned Knee," talks about assuming a mantle of authority
with your children.
You need to be in charge. You're all in business. You have a certain authority in the workplace.
Children need that from you as well.
>>Nancy Schulman: My daughter used to say to me when I perfected the look--. You know
the look, the disapproving look? Every parent should have one of them. And she used to look
at me when she was about three-- 'cause I had to do it a lot with her-- she used to
say, "Stop yelling at me."
I never said a word. And I thought, "Good. She gets it. She knows." They need to know
your approval and they need to know your disapproval. It's how they take on their own sort of moral
development in that way, too.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: When Nancy and I first got the opportunity to write the book, we were
struggling with what should come first. Should we talk about home or should we talk about
school? School was the thing we were most comfortable with.
And then we thought about the children who were so happy at school who were really successful
at being at school. And we said, "If parents understood the expectations of what we were
doing here and they could mirror it some way at home, we could have this wonderful consistency
which works so well with children."
>>Nancy Schulman: So, the thing that works so well with children in school that's easily
translatable to home is certainly consistent expectations. When you're managing a group
of 16 children, you have to have consistent expectations every day.
When you're a parent at home where there's two parents or a caregiver and two parents,
or one parent and a grandparent-- whatever your dynamic is at home--the consistency of
expectation is essential.
And if that consistency can match the consistency of what teachers expect at school, you see
children coming to school with a level of comfort and confidence about "I get this.
I know what they're expecting of me. It's similar at home. I'm asked to put my toys
away at home.
So when they ask me to put my toys away here, it's not an unfamiliar concept." We have a
movement class where children have to take their shoes and socks off. Well, taking your
shoes and socks off is very easy for a three-year old and a four-year old.
Putting them on--another story. It's a little more difficult. So we always tell parents
and we laugh at class because at the end, you can always tell children who have never
had the expectation of doing that for them. They sit at the end of the movement class
with their feet out like this.
It never occurs to them to attempt this. And it's hard to put socks on. That's not an easy
skill. But you need some time and you need to break it down. And you need to support
it as they're doing it. I'll do a little. You do the rest. And give them that time.
But it takes time to do all that, too. And it's not easy.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Predictable routines. Children are creatures of habit. They love the same
routines. Start, first we're gonna do this and then we're gonna do that and then we're
gonna do that. And that's how classrooms are organized. They come in in the morning and
there's free play.
And they know the Play-Doh is gonna be on one table and can have toys and manipulatives
on the rug. And then there's a signal and a transition to come together as a group.
And most classrooms will have a little bit of a group time. And there's no conversation
or discussion about it because every day, the teacher's gonna do the same schedule for
And they have internalized it. We now have a visual schedule in every classroom of what
comes next. They don't have that little agenda book, which I use-- 'cause I'm still a Luddite--
or a little a little PDA that you can go into your calendar to see what's happening that
So for them, it organizes them. It makes them feel very comfortable. And on top of things,
when they can predict what's happening next. They don't tell time by looking at a watch,
but they know after snack there's outdoor time and after outdoor time, we're gonna have
story and then we're gonna go home.
And the organization of that from the outside is internalized in them. And it really gives
them that executive functioning that we're all looking for.
>>Nancy Schulman: So, things like routines at bedtime and routines in the morning where
there's the most conflict--they don't wanna go to bed, they don't wanna get dressed to
go to school. The times when you're rushing out you need them-- anything that can be put
into a routine is so helpful.
We've had parents tell us that they've taken this concept of a visual schedule before bedtime
and they'll do a little thing where they'll actually take a picture that they'll post
on the child's wall of "first, there's bath time and then teeth brushing and then story,"
and then they'll actually take a picture of them in their bed.
And instead of having a fight over "come on, it's time to brush your teeth. Come on, it's
time to take your bath," it's just there. OK, this is the thing. And it works. And it
works because children know exactly what to expect and it's the same every time. If you
change it up from day to day--.
Children have this incredible sense of knowing where to zone in on the weak spot on parents.
It's kind of radar-like. It's like, "Well, if you say the answer is yes today and the
answer is no tomorrow and it's maybe the next day," they're gonna zone in right where you
really aren't sure of yourself.
And that's where the conflict arises. So, the more you can put into a routine and a
sense of order for them, the easier it is for them to respond to something like that.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Nancy and I, a few years ago, realized that there were a whole group
of other people involved in the lives of children that we were not including in the messaging.
And that was the caregivers who are watching children when they weren't at school, or they
weren't with their parents.
So, we started having meetings and including them into what the self-help skills we were
using, what the children were learning at school every day. And we noticed a change.
So, it's very important whether it's grandparents, whoever your children are spending time with
to have those conversation about what your expectations are, what are the rules in your
What do you feel comfortable with in terms of language with your child? What is that
schedule? When my daughter went off with her husband and left her two-year old with us,
I got a very detailed schedule of what his day should be like. And I kind of played around
it--don't tell her--but I tried to stick to it to a certain extent because I knew that
would make him feel more comfortable.
He was in my house and it was unfamiliar to him in the way his own routine might have
been. And it was very helpful to know what times of day certain things that happened.
>>Nancy Schulman: Another thing that's really important that we are aware of in classrooms
and it's great to have at home is the time the children need to make a transition from
one activity to the other.
Classrooms use great techniques of you play a musical instrument, you sing the clean-up
song. You sing a million different songs to get them from one activity to the other. You
have little techniques to get children to say a warning. Every child needs a warning.
They need a five minute warning. "In a few minutes, we're gonna start cleaning up and
then come over to meeting, getting ready for lunch." Whatever it is. Because they can't
move from one thing to the other. They're really intensely involved in play when they're
And they really can't move from one to the other. So, it's great to give them the warning
so they can get themselves ready. It doesn't mean they'll pay attention to you, but they
get themselves ready. I always have this image in my head of a child sitting in their room
and they're playing with their Lego and they're making this incredibly imaginative world and
they're doing that.
And someone's yelling from the other room, "Come on in. It's dinner." And the child is
hearing, "Wa wa wa wa." And then, the second time. Again, "Come on. I called you already.
Dinner." And they're hearing, "La la la la la." Something out there. And the next thing
they do is they look and there's some kind of lunatic adult standing at their door yelling
at them, "I told you five times to come in."
And 'cause they just didn't have that direct contact, if you walk in and you get on their
level and you look in their face and you say, "Andy, it's time to start cleaning up. We're
going to have dinner in a few minutes. Why don't I help you?" And then get them ready
and transition them to the next activity.
It enables them to really do that for themselves and incorporate that kind of ability to move
along in their day.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: The other thing is to really understand a child's pace. They're not in
the same hurry we are to get to that next thing. And they really like to finish what
they're playing with. They have this unfinished like, thing that they--.
So, putting whatever they're doing aside or saying, "We can come back to that," is often
the thing that gets them able to move forward. Or, planning in your life time so that they
can get dressed by themselves, or time enough to travel to where you need to get to.
We had one parent at one of our lunch talks say she was rushing to work. She had to get
her daughter to preschool. And she was wearing a cardigan sweater. And she wanted to button
it herself. And you know how many buttons are in a cardigan?
And she looked at her watch and said, "Well, I can either get to work a little late, get
to preschool a little late, but she's gonna be able to do this." And she allowed her child
the time to do that. So, it was very satisfying for the child. You have to be a little bit
aware of their temperament and their timing and pacing.
>>Nancy Schulman: One of the hardest things for parents to deal with is discipline because
none of us wanna feel like we're being bossy with our kids and whatever, but discipline
I think is often misinterpreted as punishment. And discipline is not punishment.
Discipline is the external order that children need to have and have repeated in order for
them to internalize a set of rules and a set of understandings for them to really get what
it is that's really important about behaving. And unless they've had the external part of
this really defined for them, they can't really internalize all of it and with its consistency.
I always like to think about like, the job of the parent is to hold a limit here. And
the job of the child is to press up against that. They will press wherever they can press.
And they're gonna keep pressing. And sometimes it's exhausting 'cause it'll take 15 times
of saying no about the same thing in order for them to get it.
But if you keep pressing and the expectation is a moving target, they don't know when to
stop pressing. So, if you really believe something is important, if you really want to establish
a set of clear limits in your own household, you have to just be consistent about it. I
My daughter, when she was three, was a child who needed limit-setting because she was always
pushing the boundaries. And one day she looked at me and she said, "Can I have ice cream
for breakfast?" And I said, "No." And then Day Two came and she said, "Can I have ice
cream for breakfast?"
And I said, "No." Day Three, Day Four, Day Five. "Can I have ice cream for breakfast?"
And I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, what's the big deal. It's milk." [laughs] I'm rationalizing
why I don't have to keep saying no to a child. She not asking for anything so off on then,
the light bulb went on and I said to myself, "Oh, God. If I don't say no to her now, this
conversation is going to be really impossible at seven, thirteen, and seventeen. We're gonna
have so many big issues."
And that's why it's important to think about the tone and setting those limits at this
age because you can't start doing it when suddenly, they're 13 and they're asking you
to go to a really big party where there's going to be nobody there disciplining, or
nobody there supervising.
And so, you have to start from the beginning and you have to know your child and what they
need and decide what's important to you in your life 'cause they absolutely need to know
where those limits lie.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: And your children might be different. My, our--we didn't have these
children together--but my older--
>>Nancy Schulman: [ laughs and comments inaudibly ]
>>Ellen Birnbaum: child and Nancy's older child were very self-regulating. They were
the kids who always put their things away, knew when it was time to get ready for bed,
and brush their teeth.
Our second children were both much more challenging. And one day, my daughter, who was five years
older than my son, looked at me and she said, "You know, Charles thinks he's in charge of
us." And I said--I had my "aha" moment--and I said, "Oh. I guess I better set some more
limits for him than I'm already doing because I did not need to do that the first time around."
So, they may be different. And you may have one of those marvelous, self-regulating children,
but you have to be the parent to each of your children in the way. But children do love
rules. They crave them. They need them. And in every classroom at the nursery school,
beginning of the school year, the teachers brainstorm what are gonna be the rules of
the room that year.
And so, we include it in the book. We included some of those rules.
>>Nancy Schulman: OK. This is rules from four-year old children they made. Now, if you give a
four-year old an unlimited set of time, the rules will be endless. You will have 50 rules
because they're craving the rules. So this is a short list of four-year old rules: Play
nicely with your friends.
Fighting isn't nice. Running around playing monster is dangerous. Absolutely no punching,
pushing, kicking, hitting, choking, pinching, pulling hair, and biting. Try to figure out
a way for everyone to play. Always tell the truth, even if you don't want to.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: I love this one: Listen to your teachers all of the time. Don't tattle.
Work it out. Don't laugh at someone's mistake. Speak in a medium loud voice. No guns. Ask
for things. Don't grab. No teasing anyone. Don't knock other people's buildings down.
>>Nancy Schulman: I think these are good rules for all of us to live by.
[Ellen Birnbaum laughs]
I think this works. But it's very funny. I was in a classroom last year with a group
of parents and we were walking around. And on the board, there were the classroom's list
of rules. So, I said to the children in front of this group of parents, "What is that?"
They said, "It's our rules."
And I said, "Who wrote it?" And they said, “We did." And I said, "What's Number Five?"
And they said, "Hands on your own bodies." I mean, they all knew it. They didn't know
how to read. They just knew this was their rules. Therefore, they could really use them.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: The other thing that comes up a lot is watching how adults handle children's
frustrations. I think our first instinct is to swoop in and fix things for children and
smooth the way for them. You don't want to see them frustrated and struggling through.
But the best thing you can do is to stand back and allow them time to work through problems.
It is the child in the classroom, or in life, who is going to tenaciously stick with something
until they've accomplished it. And in order to do that, they have to experience frustration
along the way.
When the building falls down, we're gonna build it back up. If things aren't exactly
right, what can we do? How can we brainstorm? How can we work together to make that problem
>>Nancy Schulman: Even at the youngest level, when your toddler, near 18-month old, who
are the most dangerous things on the planet--you just have to keep them alive every day. That
should be your goal with a toddler. 'Cause they get into all kinds of stuff and they
don't know any danger.
You watch what happens when they fall down. The first thing they do is look at your face.
They look at the face of the parent to check out if they're OK or not. It's like a titration
for pain. And if you look at them and go like, "Oh, my God. What's in my baby?"--they're
gonna cry automatically, whether they hurt themselves or not.
But if they look at you and you say, "OK. Let me help you up. Let's go." You see a whole
different mental set for the child. And they're looking for you to say, "It's OK." And when
it is OK to help them be resilient in that way, they learn that it's OK--. When you think
about what people need in the workplace when they grow up, they need to be self-regulated.
They need to be also resilient. You need to figure out how to solve a problem when things
don't go well. That's really important. How to help children move towards that starts
really, really young. And parents can set the tone for that in every interaction that
you have by doing that over and over, saying, "It's OK. We're all OK."
And giving them the OK message all the time.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Another thing we've been talking about so much is--you're all in a
cooperative, creative kind of work here--and when we're watching children in classrooms,
what we want to encourage them to do is to take some risks and to experience success
sometimes and failure other times and to be able to tolerate not having things go exactly
right all the time.
And so, we're commenting on their attempts. "I can see you really took a long time with
that." Or, "That was really difficult and you really stayed with it." And we're encouraging
parents to do the same thing as opposed to praising them for accomplishments. It's a
very, very different kind of message.
>>Nancy Schulman: One of the things that we've observed, obviously, over the last number
of years is the pace of life for children and for adults. I think all of us are very
pushed to be moving in a very fast-paced kind of world that we live in. And as a result,
We, as adults, we manage our own paces of what we need, but children are being pushed
through in terms of over-scheduling and through paces really, really quickly. It is not healthy
for children, in any way, to be over-scheduled.
And I think for us, we're feeling really the pressure that parents are feeling to make
sure that they're getting as early as possible every advantage into life and every opportunity
to, what we were talking about, playing tennis at three or being on the soccer team or playing
the violin, or whatever it is.
You have to accomplish so much. JoAnn Deak, who is a fabulous brain researcher, says "an
overloaded brain does not grow well." It's a great thing to understand how children learn.
And children learn by playing and being involved and having hands-on experiences of all kinds--digging
in the dirt, doing the things that probably, hopefully you really imagine and remember
from your childhood of the things that really made you happy and the things that really
gave you satisfactions.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: So we know because we both are committed and believe that a play-based,
early childhood, nursery school, or school, is how children learn best. And they learn
best from doing. Children cannot learn virtually. They can't watch something and learn it.
They have to manipulate real things in real time to understand them. That's how children--.
They learn through all of their senses. They learn from touching and tasting and moving
their bodies through space. I mean, in a classroom, if a classroom teacher wants to teach the
children about the color orange, they're gonna mix yellow and red at the easel.
They might eat oranges. They might go on an orange hunt throughout the classroom and find
things that actually are that color. They're gonna sing a song about it, 'cause there's
gonna be an auditory learner in the group. And they might do it in lots of different
But that's how children learn everything. And we cannot deprive them of that. You can't
make up the zero to five time. They can only learn between those years. That's when the
brain is most opened and fluid and all those synapses are taking place. The other thing
JoAnn Deak talks about is the need for the time for a child's brain to process that information.
And that only happens during down time. You know that time where you think they're bored
'cause they're not doing anything? That's when their brains are regrouping, like a computer.
They're consolidating the information. They need sleep to be able to do that.
Sleep is when all of that happens. And quiet time is when all of that happens. And they
can't do it without it.
>>Nancy Schulman: It's interesting. We see definitely the impact of what happens when
children have too much going on in their lives in the classroom. When they have too much
too soon, or too many things that go on, you see children who lack focus, who talk about
It's very interesting that boredom doesn't mean that at all. They need a lot of direction.
They're not very creative because they can't really think for themselves because they've
gone from one structured activity to the other. And everybody's telling them what to do--line
up here, do this, let's kick the ball, let's do this.
And they can't really think for themselves about the kinds of things that creativity
really comes from. And they often say--. It's very sad to see a three- or four-year old
in a classroom looking around a wonderful classroom with a lot of wonderful things and
great activities going on saying, "I don't know what to do."
They can't initiate play for themselves. They can't really think for themselves. And they
can't really make choices because the choices keep being made for them. And so, they haven't
practiced the skill of making a choice and making a decision and then finding they don't
really like that or they do really like that.
And those are the things that really push children to really be creative thinkers and
>>Ellen Birnbaum: You know, in the book, when we went to research toys because our kids
were pretty old by the time we wrote the book, and we went into a toy store. And there was
actually a video on digging, as opposed to like, going to the park and taking a shovel
A child would be actually--. The idea of a child sitting on a sofa at home watching somebody
dig? It was horrifying.
>>Nancy Schulman: It was horrifying.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: It was a horrifying moment. But one day, one of the teachers was showing--trying
to show--a film on the VCR and it was broken. And we had this old-fashioned TV at school
>>Nancy Schulman: VHS.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: VHS. And Nancy said, "I'm gonna replace it." And what? What happened?
>>Nancy Schulman: I went to every store on 86th Street to replace this thing to watch
the end of this stupid video tape. And I walked into the store--
>>Ellen Birnbaum: They were laughing.
>>Nancy Schulman: and it must have been the moment in time when there were no more TV
sets and everything was a flat screen. And I walked in and I looked at them. I said,
"I need a TV with like a--."
And they looked at me like I landed from another planet. And I said, "No, no. I really need--.
It comes in a box and it's kinda square. You may have seen them. I'm sure you might have
one in the back corner of a dusty store room." They actually found me the last TV on the
planet, which I brought back to the classroom, told the children the story.
And I left the box in the room with this. And the guessing game that just happens around
"what's in the box?" Now of course, we took the TV out of the box. And you know what the
end of the story is. They played for the rest of the day with the box because the box was
so much more interesting than anything else that you can imagine playing with.
But I think that a great reminder in looking at toys for children is that a toy should
be 90 percent kid, ten percent toy. If it has a battery, it's not a good toy. If you
can't play with it in more than three ways, it's not a good toy. You need to have something
that you can play with in many, many different ways and that the child can determine how
the play needs to go, as opposed to the toy determining how the play needs to go.
[Ellen Birnbaum clears throat]
>>Ellen Birnbaum: I was gonna say that one of the best class trips that our children
go on each year is they go to Central Park and they dig for worms in the Spring. You
can't imagine the joy of finding your first worm and putting it into a jar.
Then we have to tell the parents to pretend they're having a good time, too. But they
do because they're children are. But there's so much about nature that is important for
children. And if you live in New York City, you still have lots of access to parks and
playgrounds and going along the waterways and talking with your children and experiencing
nature with your children.
And it is a very important part of life. They need to be connected to this planet, to this
world that we live in. And there's nothing like a first-hand experience with real things.
It's also a great way to talk about death with children. It fits into the cycle of life.
You know, this plant is green and this plant is brown.
What's the difference? But there's all of this. And the Academy of Pediatrics, the American
Academy of Pediatrics, really stresses the importance of outdoor play and moving their
bodies as well. You get that opportunity, too.
>>Nancy Schulman: The other thing that the American Academy of Pediatrics says, has come
out recently with the position on is no TV, video, or computers for children under the
age of two. And it is almost--. It is the most natural thing in the world for a child
to pick up their parent's technology and just, they just do it.
And they just obviously can do it, but there's nothing in it that they can really learn that
they really need at that point in time in their lives. And I think that the National
Association of Education for Young Children has come out with a position paper on technology
and media with children from birth to age eight.
And it needs to be limited. It can be used in very effective ways, but it really needs
to be limited. And the time spent using it needs to be limited. And it's very hard for
parents, and for children, who find it very seductive to be working on computers and to
be doing games with children on computers.
They're so into it, but children really learn only by doing and being involved in interactive,
three-dimensional real things. And they must have time for play. And computers absolutely
have a role in their life and will continue to. But it must be on a limited kind of basis.
And children need time to do things like every day stuff--doing the laundry with you, going
shopping at the supermarket, walking down the street. In terms of technology--I just
wanna mention one other thing-- it also means that parents have to turn off, too.
We asked parents a couple of years ago to say, "If you can think about how many minutes--'cause
it really comes down to minutes--in a day that you spend with your child that's undivided
time when you're not distracted by looking at something else, texting on something else,
working on the computer, making dinner, reading a book, reading the newspaper, looking through
your mail, whatever it is, checking email constantly, whatever that time is, is time
that children do not understand you're focused on them."
Children only think you're focused on them when you're actually making eye contact with
them--when you're on their level and looking at them. If you're doing this and you're using
your thumbs and you're doing this and talking to them at the same time, they do not know
that you are actually listening.
They need you to--. You should tell the story about the car.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Well, I was getting dressed for work one morning and there was a wonderful
program on NPR about this couple, who were going on trip with their children. And the
mom left her device, her cell phone, Blackberry, whatever, in the trunk of the car.
And she was forced to have this interaction with her children. So they were playing games
and they were looking for punch buggies along the highway. And then she realized that it
was such a wonderful opportunity to actually converse and play with her kids.
It was more relaxed. She wasn't distracted. So, she and her husband, after that experience,
took turns leaving--. You know, because it's very irresistible. If you have it, you're
gonna use it. So, putting it away is the only way to control that.
But I was thinking we had a language specialist also in our last conference and talked about
how the technology is affecting language acquisition of children who came from homes where the
parents were at a certain level of education, always had a distinct advantage of acquiring
language and vocabulary at a much more rapid rate than people who are less well-educated
because we naturally go into a narration of the world.
From the time our babies are born, we're talking about them and what we're doing. But that
has decreased with all the distraction of devices. And there is a risk for a child not
to hear the language, not to be interacting. When they're two, you're supposed to have
two back and forth conversation--.
You know, a child should be able to answer back two times, a three-year old three times,
four-year old. Back and forth conversation should be at a flow. But a child's not gonna
be able to do that if they're not made eye contact with and they're not being talked
So, that's a big risk. And what Nancy's saying is that you have to put together some kind
of diet for yourself with the technology, both for the child and for the parent.
>>Nancy Schulman: And you have to give permission to yourself to play because children really
wanna do that. So, being outdoors, running, climbing, jumping, throwing, drawing, pretending,
reading, telling stories. They love to hear stories about you when you were a child, too.
Playing games, solving puzzles--those are the ways in which interacting with children
on their level at this age is the most wonderful kinds of interactions that you can have.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: One of my favorite memories of playing with my kids is creating tents
in my house. You know, you take the big blanket and you have a flashlight and you put it over
the chairs. I think every child-- you can remember doing this when you were a child.
It was just a lot of fun.
>>Nancy Schulman: So, one of the things that we did when we wrote this book--. We were
talking before we wrote the book. We were talking about why it is that certain children
seem so comfortable in their own skin and why they come to school feeling like, really
able and capable and confident in all those ways.
And we said, "No one reads anymore. Let's see if we can figure out what are the commonalities
that are in the lives of those children that make them feel so good in their own skin."
So we came up with a page of bullet points of all the things that we could discover about
these children and their families.
And we said, "All right. We can do this on one page." Which we did. And we put together
bullet points that were on one page to give to parents. And then we wrote 352 more pages
about all of those things and a few more things, too. [chuckling] But we thought we'd just
close with sharing with you some of the things that really parents--.
Parenting is definitely not a sprint. It's a marathon. And there's an awful lot of things
that you can do a lot of mistakes in your life. But if you can incorporate as much of
this stuff into your lives with your children, it makes all the difference in the world.
So, some of those are establishing clear routines, encouraging age appropriate self-help skills,
sharing family meals whenever you can, allowing children to experience frustration and cope
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Helping children problem solve and be resilient, teaching respect for
others, the difference between right and wrong and the importance for taking responsibility
for actions, insisting on basic manners, especially saying "please" and "thank you," thinking
about the family as a team and understanding that all of a child's developing skills are
important, not just their academic skills, setting aside unstructured family time.
>>Nancy Schulman: Giving children time and space to play, limiting after-school activities,
understand that though school is important, the most important influence in children is
>>Ellen Birnbaum: I think we end with the two most important things that, as a parent,
if you do nothing else, you need to do these two things. You need to love them unconditionally.
Love the child that you have, not the child that you wanted to have.
>>Nancy Schulman: And also to set limits. There's a lot of things that you can make
mistakes in, but when you do this and you set limits and love your child unconditionally
and know who they are, they grow up as healthy, secure children.
If you do one and not the other, it's not enough. You have to do both those things.
Anything else of these other things that you can layer into your life as parents makes
all the difference in the world. It also means to have fun, to have a sense of humor, and
to know that there's no such thing as a perfect parent.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: And if the days seem endless, the years fly by. And the one thing you can't
get back is that time. So, worry less and enjoy it more.
>>Nancy Schulman: Thank you and we would love to hear some questions from you.
So what are some of the things you guys struggle with? Yeah?
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: In my case I have two things that are regarding the attitude
of my two and a half year old. I'm worried about patience.
>>Nancy Schulman: Yours or your child's?
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: A little bit of both. Not of both, but his. He actually
thinks patience is the rainbow circle on the iPad. He calls that patience. And so, you
read the M&M story--the famous M&M story--and I'm just wondering, are there ways that parents
can teach that in this on-demand world?
We'll listen to the radio and he's like, "Play Lady Gaga again." And I'm like, "I can't.
It's on the radio." But they just assume, in this on-demand world that can happen. So
I'm just curious kind of in this digital world, how do we teach about patience? And the other
one is entitlement, especially for these New York kids.
They have nannies. They are going to preschool and have somebody hovering over them all the
time. I try to go out of my way to try to ignore them sometimes.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Good for you. I think the fact that you're thinking about it at all
is going to make a difference. I think we set an example in terms of patience, too.
I think if we're so fast-paced and New Yorkers talk so fast.
It's so hard to keep up sometimes for children. So, I think just the fact that you're slowing
down and you're setting a different pace will help them.
>>Nancy Schulman: It's also, I think, nature has a really great place. You know what? Plant
a seed. I was just thinking about like, as an opportunity for learning. You plant a seed.
The seed doesn't come up the next day.
You have to water it. You have to check it. You have to keep going back and checking it.
Having things that are not obviously instant gratification in their lives, to give as many
examples of those things that are possible. I think it' a hard thing to fight against.
It's great that you're thinking about it.
I think in terms of the caregiver piece of this, one of the things that we started doing
a number of years ago, was really including caregivers in our conversations at school
because when you think about it--. I think when you have someone who is helping out,
taking care of your child, you're paying them to do something that's for your child.
And I think that what is really important is that they understand and include as many
conversations as you can have with your caregiver about your expectations. And that it's OK
for them to struggle getting dressed by themselves and that it's OK for them to figure something
else out by themselves.
I think that doesn't happen naturally unless you set the tone for that and explain that's
really important. And we've started to do that with caregivers because they're such
an important part of a child's life that you wanna make sure that that consistency of expectation
is there for everybody who's interacting with your child.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: I wanted to speak to your point about entitlement because I think if
you're fortunate enough to have the ability to send your children to these quality programs
and you're living your life in that way, you've set an example for your children in the way
you give back and allowing them to participate with you.
We just had Thanksgiving, so at the nursery school, we have a bake sale, but part of the
bake sale was to bake things for--. Goddard Riverside has Feeds the Homeless, so the children
from some of the classes bake baked goods for Goddard and then we have them make cards
You can do that with your children in whatever way that you can teach them that part of being
a responsible person is to give back and to help take care. And that could start in the
home. Just having them help you take care of things in the house and making them feel
like they have some responsibility back to the family team that we were talking about.
>>Nancy Schulman: I think doing things like helping make the salad, doing things where
it's really like doing something that helps everybody else--cleaning up your toys, doing
that thing. There's a great story that Wendy Mogel tells also.
It's about buying things for your kids. I think as working parents, we overly worry
about the guilt stuff. Guilt is such a wasted emotion. And it really interferes with good
common sense. But in terms of thinking about things like what we buy for our kids, in terms
of that, she tells a great story about a little boy who loved his Matchbox car.
And everywhere he went, this Matchbox car came. So his father went out and bought a
whole case of Matchbox cars for him because, of course, more is better. And the child stopped
playing with the cars entirely. And the father said to the child, "Why don't you play?
I thought you loved your Matchbox cars. Why don't you play with them anymore?" And he
said, "I just don't know how to love this many cars." And it's such a poignant story
because it just is so easy to slip into that feeling of "it's coming from a good place
and I want to do more for my child," but in doing that, you're also doing something that
undermines the value of what they have.
If something that it breaks that's replaced right away, it's undermining that value.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on the difference
between a child that goes to a day care and a child that stays with a stay-at-home mom.
And what type of daycares actually do as good of a job or better?
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Well, I have a grandchild at a very high-quality daycare. His experience
is extraordinary and now, the nine-month old is there. It depends on the program.
I see a very healthy, well-developed child because the child's needs are being met over
the course of this long day. The pace of the learning and the pace of his day at each and
every age and stage was very appropriate. And I watch that my daughter and my son-in-law
were focused on their children when they were home.
And so, there was a very nice balance. So these children went off and they understood
what it means to be part of a group and could accommodate. So, I think you have to just
look for a program that you feel comfortable with that has trained teachers and is going
to be very good at communicating with you.
Because if you have your child in school from 8:30 to 4:30, or whatever your needs are,
you're gonna need a lot of communication from that school. And the school should want a
lot of communication from you. So that's a really important thing to ask.
>>Nancy Schulman: I think it's a hard decision because there's no right and wrong with this,
either. And you have to do what you think is most appropriate for your life and your
family, too. I would say that the one thing about putting your child in daycare or keeping
your child at home is that they do have, at least starting around age two, some group
experiences with other children.
So, between two and three, they become social for the first time. They're not parallel playing,
but they’re really playing with each other. And I think children really get a tremendous
amount from spending time with other children. You don't really learn to share [chuckles]
unless that truck is going to be battled over.
And you need to have those experiences to figure out what you need to do to negotiate
your way in the world. But there's not a right or wrong decision about--. I mean, you can
spend time at home and really not be doing some high-quality things. And a daycare can
go from being something really incredibly high-quality to also being not.
I would look at the track record of the teachers there. I would look at their qualifications
and the turnover rate at any daycare and talk to parents whose children go there to see
about their satisfaction with it.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: So, my 15-month old son is starting to make projectiles out
of an increasing number of things--
including food and books and you know, he just likes to see things go--
>>Nancy Schulman: It's fun. It's fun.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: and fly through the air.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Where are they gonna land?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Right. So, it's obviously difficult for him to understand
what is OK to throw and what is not. And we're starting to develop tactics for disciplines.
So, at what age do you think kids can understand "no" and at what ages are different forms
of disciplines effective and appropriate?
>>Nancy Schulman: Well, he can understand the difference right now of "yes" and "no."
And I think it's a hard thing 'cause you don't want him to not throw things, but you don't
want him to throw that thing then.
So, I think one of the things about 15-month olds that are wonderful is that they're easy
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Yeah.
>>Nancy Schulman: I mean, he's looking for your reaction. There's no question that you
know, you throw something and you get a reaction. And that's the fun part of doing that. But
it's really easy to say, "OK. Let's go in the other room and throw socks at the bed."
You can turn it so that you can make it an appropriate activity as opposed to saying
"no." And then, just turn it a little bit, too. But when you're picking up something
to throw that's going to break something or hurt someone, there's just this simple thing
is "no." You take it away.
You change the activity. Remove him from the room. And you say "no." And you say it very
clearly and very firmly. And you change the look on your face. It's not like, "No, sweetie.
We don't throw things." That doesn't get anybody anywhere.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Right.
>>Nancy Schulman: You have to change the look on your face. You have to change tone quality.
And you say "no" and you take it away. And then you can't expect them to be happy because
they're going to be really mad at you. And when they're about three, they'll tell you
they hate you because you've done it.
And they don't mean that, but they mean it in the moment. But you have to be clear. He
can understand it right now to do that. But distraction is the first round and then a
clear "no," removing the object, changing the activity.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: So, at what age do you certain time-outs and words--?
>>Nancy Schulman: The rule of thumb with time-outs is that this is a chance to take the temperature
down, change the activity. I don't think until three, probably, that's very effective because
they won't stay. [laughs]
They just won't. You can't get them to. You can't make them. And usually the rule of thumb
is time-out is no more than the age of the child. So, you would never have a time-out
more than two minutes or three minutes for anything. And sometimes, it just means you
have to stop the activity and move it elsewhere, or just to say--.
In school, we wouldn’t call it a time-out, but we would call it just like, "We need to
take a break. We need to just take some big deep breaths. Let's just do something else."
Sometimes, it's just changing your like, -- Their engines are running fast. You want to turn
the engine down a little bit.
And even describing it to them as an engine--for little boys, that's a great technique, too.
Let's see if we can turn it down.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: The other thing is when they're there, you need to be here. You need
to really keep your tone down. And we all talk too much at children when they're like
that. That's the other major no-no. So, moving them, we need time to think, calm down. It
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Thank you.
>>Nancy Schulman: Hope he didn't break anything.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: I have a question. It's probably my son's fault that your son
throws things 'cause they play together.
>>Nancy Schulman: Oh, let's blame it on each other. It's a great technique.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Setting a bad example, yeah.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: I have a question about TV watching. I'm gonna bring it up.
I'm totally guilty. My two-year old loves TV, loves movies. And for me, it's actually
a saving grace in the day.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Of course.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: I need that 30 minutes where he can watch a TV show. And
I'm trying to be careful about selecting what he's watching and making sure that it's age
appropriate. But I would say he's probably watching 30 minutes, sometimes up to an hour
And I know, I don't know. I guess I'm wondering how bad that is and am I really the only one
that's doing this 'cause it feels like--. I can't imagine--.
>>Nancy Schulman: If anyone denies that they're doing that, they're lying.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Guess what. We both did that, too. I mean, you know what? There's
sometimes you just need the time and there's nothing like it. I think you have to think
about what they're watching and when they're watching.
One thing we did learn is before bedtime is a really bad thing to do because the images,
the flickering, gets the brain all--. They look calm, but it's getting them all like,
agitated. So, one of the things we discovered was doing it earlier in the day if you need
that break time. This would probably be better. And then the what.
>>Nancy Schulman: Yeah. I think you're being thoughtful about what's age appropriate. It's
always so horrifying when we have children come to school, and especially when you have
older siblings it's really hard to control, but one will tell us they'll have seen something
that you think like, "What could they be thinking? They let this child--," if you think about
the imagery on some of these things.
The other thing to add, so I think a half an hour or a little more, if you have to use
it from time to time, it is sometimes a parent's life saver. The other thing to be aware of
is that, at times, you putting TV--. I know I use TV in the background. My husband said
to me just the other day, "How can you do three things when the TV's on?"
I said, "'Cause I'm not really watching it. It's just like background noise." And what
happens is, is if you put on the news or some other thing and you have a child in the room,
they're not filtering it out. They're watching it and they're not understanding it. So, if
There's horrible things on the news that you gonna see. There's fires and earthquakes and
horrible things happening in the news. They don't filter that out and they also don't
know it's not happening near them or right now or whether they're in danger. And they're
very upsetting images.
And it's important to think about that aspect of your own TV. And monitoring your own TV
watching as a role model for your children's TV watching, too.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Do you have a son?
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: I do.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: I hate to be sexist, but--
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: Yeah.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: but my grandson watches these videos called Mighty Machines and it's
fabulous because it's about real things. So, one goes into a salt mine and there's farm
equipment and you follow them. And they talk and it's fabulous.
So I think there's a learning component in some way and there's something that's very
satisfying about watching things happening that are very real. Like, there's a logging
>>Nancy Schulman: And it's also not happening fast.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: No, it's very slow. You've seen it.
>>Nancy Schulman: It's not fast-paced.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: It's very slow-paced, which is quite nice.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: Thanks. That's helpful. Thanks.
>>Nancy Schulman: And hopefully you don't feel really guilty, too.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Don't feel guilty.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Hi. My son, my first son, is a two-year old and two weeks.
And he's a very good boy. He's very independent. He's very caring and sensitive. And usually,
when he accidentally hit us or hit something, I make the face that I was hurt.
Well, not make face when I'm hurt--when I'm really hurt or something. He will just immediately
come to hug me, to make me feel better. And he would also hug his animals. But one question
that I have right now is I wonder at what--. But there was one little issues that when
in the morning sometimes, when I need a little bit extra sleep, he just wouldn't give me.
He really wants me to get up and play with him.
>>Nancy Schulman: Sure.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: And yeah. I know that that's the thing that I should not really
force him to accept that, but a couple of months back, he was better when we told him
that Mama needs a little sleep, he would just go with Papa. But now, he's getting more attached
to me maybe. So he wants me to get up.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Well, you're pregnant.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Yeah, that's also why I do need more sleep sometimes.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Sure.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: I just wonder at what point is he gonna be more understanding
about other people's needs. He's only two. I understand he wouldn't be able to understand
it so much right now, but how to tell him little by little so that he can let me get
more time. Because we also need to prepare for the next one.
>>Nancy Schulman: I think the one thing you should be aware of is that your two-year old
being that sensitive and empathetic at this age is unusual. I mean, you already have a
very caring and empathetic child.
I think he's probably feeling a little more needy of you because he's aware of something
else that's happening in his life shortly. [chuckles]
>>Ellen Birnbaum: He can't fit into your lap in the same way. Just beginning with then,
what Nancy's saying, is they're incredibly egocentric at that period of their lives.
They are the center of the universe for them.
It takes really, all these years between two and five and six for them to really understand
and become that empathetic and understanding kind of person. So, you have to be a little
patient with him.
>>Nancy Schulman: And the truth is, after the baby is born, he's gonna need--. You're
gonna need more sleep and he's gonna need more of you, too. So, if you can carve out
some special alone time with him, that's gonna ward off a little bit of that, too.
But if he has some favorite toys or there's something that can keep him busy and you can
be sleeping, but have some toys in the bed with you and doing that, maybe if he can play
a little bit quietly, you might get a little more time, but probably not too much.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Yeah. I feel like he wants us to play together with him.
>>Nancy Schulman: Yeah. But I mean, I think you can say, "This is quiet time and you can
play these games near us, but we need to do that." But it's a little young for them to
be understanding that Mommy needs her sleep. Yeah.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Yeah. I sometimes try to tell him that you see when you need
to sleep or when you are tired, we wouldn't force you to do anything.
>>Nancy Schulman: Developmentally, he's not quite there. With children, until they're
at least five, really don't really put themselves in somebody else's shoes. Just as a psychological
understanding of that, they're not really able to do that. You know, "This is what I
They know what they need, but they're really not able to make that switch quite yet. So
developmentally, they're not really there yet.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Will it still be useful to find the opportunity to tell
>>Nancy Schulman: You can tell him and you can talk to him about it, but he's only going
to understand it on a very limited basis. He's definitely looking for more from you.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: So, basically I just have to find a balance.
>>Nancy Schulman: Exactly. And that's the secret of any kind of parenting issues is
finding that balance that works for you, works for him, trying to figure that out. That's
the hard part.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: I'll just make myself more time.
>>Nancy Schulman: I think that's gonna be your life for a while, I'm afraid to say.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Yeah, just kind of tough it out.
>>Nancy Schulman: It does get better eventually.
>>Female Announcer: So that's all we have time for. Thank you so much for coming.
>>Nancy Schulman: Thank you. Thank you.
>>Ellen Birnbaum: Thank you for having us. Thanks.