When Will My Child Be Ready For Harry Potter?

A dear friend of mine just asked me for advice on what age group is ready to read/watch Harry Potter, as I love giving parental advice and have read/seen all the Harry Potter stories. For some quick background, her nearly 5 year-old expressed strong interest in reading suspenseful stories when her grandfather was recently visiting. This sweet girl is very precocious and the parents have done a fabulous job helping her to develop an early love of reading. They have already read the first 2 books together and seen the corresponding movies. Before embarking further down the Harry Potter path, mom wanted to check with me because she had heard the later stories are geared toward an older audience and was worried that she may have introduced the series too soon.

The short answer is yes, it’s too early for Harry Potter, even for an advanced reader with an interest in thrilling stories. The series becomes markedly more mature in books 3 and 4 and is really quite intense in books 5, 6, and 7 – lots of tension and sorrow. I suggested to my friend that they might read book 3 if they’re not ready to take a break yet but to definitely wait to watch the movie. Dementors are the stuff that nightmares are made of. A Harry Potter lover will definitely want to read the entire series at once, so plan ahead with your kids and suggest the first book only when they’re old enough to read the seventh book. That probably means around age 10 or 11. That may seem ridiculously old if you think of this as a children’s book but remember that Harry is 11 years old when he first goes to Hogwarts and he ages 7 years during the series so if you wait to introduce your child to the character until he’s closer to that age, he’ll probably enjoy the series even more.

How can you possibly know what books are appropriate for your kids without having read them all previously? I rely on commonsensemedia.org as a reference tool for age appropriate media.  Having objective data is really helpful when your kids want to watch a movie that you think is too mature; I just check this website with them and show them the age recommendations and they understand that they have to wait. Common Sense Media has a whole page on the Harry Potter series: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/harry-potter-age-by-age-guide

The good news I offered my friend is there are so many other amazing series for her daughter to read now. The book Some of My Best Friends are Books by Judith Wynn Halstead is an excellent resource for advanced readers which provides all sorts of good book ideas.  Librarians at your child’s school and public library will likely have great ideas for your child’s age range, in addition their teachers. My kids loved The Chronicles of Narnia; there are a few scary elements but it’s more of a fantasy world (the beloved humans all turn out fine).  Boys in particular love the Warriors series about rival cat clans. My girl loves the Thea Stilton adventure series (companion to the Geronimo Stilton series).  That one is neat because it has these wild fonts interspersed throughout the text so it’s fun for parents to read and have early readers jump in to read the fun font words without being overwhelmed by reading the entire page.  The Percy Jackson series is really entertaining and has two books called Greek Gods and Greek Heroes that were quite educational and we all enjoyed.  There are some gruesome elements but it has a lighthearted tone and again is fantasy with gods and goddesses, being set in the past so it’s more removed for the kids, but there is some mature language. The A to Z Mysteries and Milo & Jazz Mysteries series have been big hits here and are very benign for younger children.  So far nobody in my family has loved Nancy Drew but that’s an option along with Hardy Boys. So, I told my friend to blame it on her psychologist friend and objective data from Common Sense Media but that Harry Potter should wait while one of these other series will have her daughter captured in no time!

On a side note, I strongly believe that the Harry Potter books, and all books for that matter, should be read before any movies based on the books are watched. Especially for children who are endlessly creative, let them envision the characters in their own unique way for the entire lifespan of the story, then superimpose Hollywood’s version of the characters by watching all the films together. It’s fun to ask the kids how the actors and actresses differed from or were similar to their own image of the storybook characters. Happy reading!

Community Matters Interview

It was such a treat to be interviewed on the radio show Community Matters on KZUM 89.3FM on 1/29/17.  The show has a focus on positivity and building stronger communities, and the host Nick Hernandez was remarkably well-versed on psychology terms and theories.  We covered topics like what motivated me to start this blog and where I see it going in the future, as well as subject matter including the 5 C’s, friendship, and even how personality traits can be used to help guide our career paths.  Thank you to all my supporters who listened to the show!  Here’s the direct link if you missed it: https://kzum.org/communitymatters/

Understanding Reinforcement vs. Punishment

I simply cannot blog another week without covering reinforcement and punishment. These are terms you have probably heard before and you may have a thorough understanding of them or an inkling about what they mean, but they are critical to parenting so let’s spend some time refreshing your memory. The quick psychology history lesson is that these terms are part of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory that developed in reaction to John B. Watson’s classical conditioning theory (think Pavlov’s dogs) and spawned the behaviorism movement in psychology. We’ll talk more about Pavlov and Watson another time. We now know that both forms of behaviorism are valid in different applications, and from the later cognitive psychology movement we know that thoughts and attitudes clearly cannot be ignored as influences on behavior. For today, let’s focus just on how parents can use reinforcement and punishment to improve their parent-child interactions. To understand these concepts, it is simplest to look at them in a grid:

  Positive Negative
Reinforcement Adding something good

Ex: Praise

Removing something bad

Ex: Stopping a nagging song

Punishment Adding something bad

Ex: Cleaning house

Removing something good

Ex: Taking away a toy

Reinforcement comes in two types, positive and negative. Positive reinforcement means adding a pleasant stimulus (adding something good) to increase the likelihood of a behavior. If your child says, “May I have the milk please,” you hand the milk and say, “Here you go Johnny, and I love how you used your good manners.” Johnny is happy to receive your praise and is more likely to say please in the future. Other examples of positive reinforcement are clapping when a child puts their shoes on by themselves, scheduling a play date when they show good behavior at home, or getting a lollipop at the end of the grocery trip if they sat nicely in the cart.

Negative reinforcement means removing an aversive stimulus (taking away something bad) to increase the likelihood of a behavior. A couple of my kids have gone through phases where they would get in the car and take forever to put on their seatbelts. After trying a few different approaches, I found the one that worked best for my munchkins is singing the seatbelt song, “The first thing you do when you get in the car is strap in, strap in” and simply saying that over and over again (with increasing volume if necessary) until they strap in. If you have a good singing voice, this technique may not work for you, but when I say those first few words of the song, they usually get to buckling up quite quickly now. More examples of negative reinforcement are a child putting away their shoes so mom stops nagging them, letting a child walk on the sidewalk without holding your hand when they agree to stay right next to you, or switching the radio station after a child adds “please” to their request.

Punishment also comes in two types, positive and negative. The term positive can be very confusing in this context but remember positive just means to add something (good or bad). Positive punishment means adding an aversive stimulus (adding something bad) but this time the stimulus is meant to decrease the likelihood of a behavior. For example, if my boys get too rough with each other, they are put to work cleaning the house. First they must “check-in” with the victim. In our house this means a sincere apology in a nice tone of voice and an inquiry as to how the guilty party may help to make it up to the victim (take a turn with a coveted toy, clean up the toys they were playing with, etc.). But if mom has to get involved because the roughness continues, they are off to wipe down the walls, doors, or table chairs. A little physical labor helps to get out that extra energy and deter further roughness. Other examples of positive punishment are speaking to your child in a firm tone, giving a disapproving look when you see your child behaving poorly, or having to say 10 nice things for every unkind thing they say to someone.

Finally, negative punishment means removing a pleasant stimulus (taking away something good) to help decrease the likelihood of a behavior. When one of my boys was 7 years old and regressed into biting siblings when he was angry, we tried a few approaches and ultimately had to step things up a notch by making the rule that if he bit someone, that person could choose any one of his Lego sets to play with for an entire week. This happened once and there were tears, complaints that the punishment was too harsh, and sadness when the Lego set was dismantled by a younger sibling, but we felt that this was a very serious behavior that needed to be stopped. It tugged on my heartstrings to see him so upset, but guess how many times he has bitten a sibling since then…zero! More examples of negative punishment are leaving a play date early for poor behavior, skipping dessert if you don’t eat your dinner, or removing toys if you don’t clean up after playing.

So there you go, four powerful tools in your parenting tool belt to help motivate your child’s behavior to be more in line with your expectations. Amazing parents use reinforcement throughout the day, every day. Punishment should be used infrequently after first attempting other options. Parenting can be very frustrating at times, and even the best parents sometimes loose their cool and yell at their children, but your goal should be to avoid that form of positive punishment. Physical punishment, such as spanking, should never be used. Now that you have a better understanding of these terms, take a look at how you interacted with your children today and see if you can fit examples from your own life into these four categories. If you’re heavy on the punishment side, make it your goal to focus on reinforcement tomorrow!

Keep Those Fingers Safe and Those Nights Quiet

You know I love problem-solving and I think good sleep hygiene (your routines and sleep environment that help you sleep soundly) is of the utmost importance (see Bedtime Routines from 2/14/17), and safety is of course a priority for all loving parents. So I must share with you the solution to two problems we used to have in our house that were easily solved with an inexpensive purchase. First, little kids love playing with doors and my body tenses every time I hear a door slammed during a game of chase for fear that one of the 40 little fingers in our house may have been crunched. Second, big kids who are out of diapers sometimes need to get up to use the bathroom at night. When they’re first getting into this routine, they may need your assistance but over time this becomes something you do not need to help with, nor do you need to have your sleep interrupted by this activity. You can coach your kids on gently closing doors or even just leaving them open at night but despite coaching, groggy munchkins used to sometimes wake us up with the clang of doors in the middle of the night. If you have ever dealt with these issues, I suggest you look for some foam door stoppers. They’re shaped like a U and sit upside down on the top of the door or on the side if you want the kids to be able to reach them. Ours have cute animal heads on them and come in fun colors. They’re practically silent if someone slams the door so I don’t have to worry about fingers and get a better night sleep!