Don’t Leave Your Kids in the Car…No Matter the Weather

 

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Another child died yesterday after being left unattended in a parked car on a sweltering summer day.  This time in an affluent town in Connecticut.  This isn’t the first story of child vehicular heat stroke to make headlines this summer and, sadly, it probably won’t be the last.

According to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit child safety organization dedicated to preventing injuries and death to children in and around vehicles, an average of 38 children die each year as a result of vehicular heat stroke.  44 died last year.  There have been at least 15 confirmed reports so far this year.  That is far too many lost lives in hot cars.

Reports indicate that 51% of child vehicular heatstroke deaths between 1998-2013 can be attributed to children being “forgotten” by parents or caregivers.  29% occurred because a child (or children) played in an unattended vehicle.  In 18% of the cases, the child was intentionally left behind in the car.

Have you seen this video yet?  I cried from start to finish.



But still, children are being left behind.  This has to stop.

Life is busy and people have a million things to do…believe me, I know.  You know what’s more important than everything on that to-do list?  The safety and well-being of little kids everywhere.  So what do we do?  How do we make it stop?  I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that increasing awareness and taking a proactive approach to helping little ones can make a difference.

  1. Call 911!  If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle on a hot day, don’t hesitate.  Every moment counts.
  2. Don’t leave your child unattended in a car.  Ever.  Not to run for in for milk.  Not to get a few groceries.  Not to buy stamps.  Just don’t do it.
  3. Write reminders on sticky notes that say “check for kids!” “look before you leave!” or “check the carseats!” and place them on your steering wheel, near the radio, near the rearview mirror, and near your door handle.  Reminders can save lives.
  4. Place the things you need the most – your purse, your briefcase, your beloved phone, on the seat next to your child.
  5. Lock your car when it is not in use.  Kids can climb into cars to play or check things out and get stuck.  Cars heat up quickly in the sun (up to 40 degrees warmer than the outside temp).  Lock your car for safety.
  6. Keep car keys away from little kids.
  7. Talk to older children about NOT climbing into cars alone.  They can get stuck, too.
  8. Look in all windows before you walk away from your car.  Sometimes little habits can make a big difference.

Talk to friends and family members.  Share tips and tricks.  Increase awareness not by sensationalizing the stories, but by engaging people in meaningful discussions and brainstorming ways to decrease these tragedies.

Summer is heating up.  Be safe.  Be attentive.  And always check the backseat.

 

Common Core Stress? Advocate, don’t argue

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I admit it:  I was in hysterics when I read the answer that dad provided for the math question on the second grade test.  The question was not a good one – I think we can agree on that.  The fallout, of course, is yet another argument about the role the Common Core Standards play in these scenarios.

The Common Core Standards are just that – a set of standards.  There is not a “Common Core Curriculum”.  However, school districts across the country are in a big transition phase as they seek out the best curriculum to help our children thrive and meet the standards.  The math that my daughter comes home with in her backpack each week is not necessarily the same as the math homework of a first grade student in New York.  Long story short:  The district calls the shots on the curriculum.

In some districts, kids are thriving.  Katie Sluiter works in a school district seeing great results.  But others are struggling.  That’s not to say that one district is better than another, but implementation has not been smooth  in every district.

So now we have one group of people yelling out, “Don’t blame the Common Core!” and a second group of people screaming, “Common Core math (or fill in the blank) is insane!”  And somewhere in between is a sea of confused and slightly stressed out parents trying to make sense of the changes.

My personal views on the matter are immaterial.  The fact is that parents do seem to be under stress as the changes occur, as do children when the intensity of the work becomes too much to bear.  It’s natural to want something (or someone) to blame, but the truth is that finding a scapegoat won’t actually help the second grade boy with the needlessly complicated math problem.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating:  Stress is contagious.  Change is HARD and can potentially trigger stress, but we need to cope with our own stress so that it doesn’t trickle down to our children.  Our kids watch us.  They take their cues from us.  If, each time we sort through the homework, we become inflamed over math problems or reading logs that appear time consuming and headache inducing, we send a very negative message to our kids.  You might think you’re empathizing, but what you’re saying is this:  This is too hard for you.  You’re not capable.  This will stress you out.  This will give you a headache.  This is wrong.

Is that how you want your kids to approach learning?  Do you want them to feel defeated before they’ve even had a chance to try?  Of course not.  You just don’t want added stress, and that is understandable.  Surely you know me well enough to know that I think homework grounded in busywork holds little to no value, but my daughter doesn’t know that I feel that way.  She knows that I support her learning, and advocate for her when stress creeps in.

So what can parents do?  How can parents help their children through these transitions without piling on additional stress?  Two words:  Support and advocate.

Advocate:

I am the first to admit that I scratch my head at some of the math problems that come home and the reading log made me want to run for the hills.  But you know what?  My daughter rocks those math problems!  She feels confident and capable and she’s learning to look at a problem from more than one angle.  That will help her later on in life.  And while the reading log is intense and the boxes are too small for first grade handwriting, the questions on the log are good.  It’s full of thinking questions.  And I want my daughter to think.

When she broke down into tears at the sight of one more thing to fill out, I emailed the teacher.  Within an hour, the new plan was for me to ask her the questions and fill in the log on her behalf.  Advocacy works.  When writing spelling words over and over and over again triggered stress in my otherwise free spirited child, I asked the teacher if she could type the words instead.  Done.  Advocacy works.

The bottom line is that young children are generally pleasers by nature and won’t advocate for their needs for fear of disappointing a teacher or parent.  Also?  It’s just a lot to ask of an elementary school child.  If stress related to your child’s learning is overwhelming (stomachaches, headaches, excessive tears, behavioral changes, etc.), it’s up to you to communicate with the teacher and work out a new plan.  All kids are different.  They have different strengths and weaknesses, and cope with stress in different ways.  Advocate for your child to find the best learning style and the stress will decrease.

Support:

Homework isn’t always fun.  Sometimes it is – my daughter just completed a long-term project in four days because it was an animal report and she just couldn’t wait to learn about the colossal squid.  But often it’s more of the same…because the point of homework is to support the learning (or so they say).  It can be frustrating for parents when kids dig in their heels and fight homework.  Believe me, I get it.  Instead of fighting back, we have to support them.

Empathize with your child.  Talk about your own homework as a kid.  Find ways to make it fun.  Plan obstacle course breaks every 10 minutes.  Throw in a dance party.  Take the assignment and make it into a game show.  And before you tell me that you don’t need extra work on your plate just to get the homework done, arguing is extra work.  And it leaves everybody feeling miserable.

Be there for your child.  Arguing with your child or imposing consequences for unfinished work only increases the negativity.  Just be supportive.

Get involved:

I recently attended a meeting at my daughter’s school.  It was an evening meeting scheduled to help parents understand changes to the curriculum as the school implements the Common Core Standards.  In a fairly good sized elementary school, only a handful of parents showed up.  Yes, it can be difficult to arrange childcare or tweak schedules to get to meetings at school, but it’s important to get involved.

Sitting back and listening to the chatter will not increase your understanding of the changes happening in your child’s school.  You have to get involved.  Volunteer when you can.  Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to express your concerns and problem-solve together.  Make the choice to be informed.

Cope with stress:

Teach your child to cope with stress.  Relaxation breathing and guided imagery are incredible tools for young children.  Talk about how you manage your own stress.  Try family yoga or make family exercise a priority to help relieve pent up stress (a hike is fun, healthy, and has the added benefit of fresh air/nature – very relaxing).

Childhood stress is serious.  It affects mental health, physical health, learning, and social/emotional well-being.  Be mindful of your own stress level so that you don’t project it to your child, and keep an eye on your child’s stress level so that you know when to intervene.

We can sit back and complain about the changes to education, or we can think locally and do something about it.  We have to put our kids first as the changes roll out, and the best way to do that is to be involved in your child’s education and support your child along the way.

 

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Facebook Free for 40 Days…

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This is the sound that feeds my soul…

I gave up Facebook for Lent.

I know, right?  How will I get the most important news stories?  Do I really have to scroll through the CNN app on my own each day?  What about the cute pictures of kids and the funny updates that give me a laugh?  And oh, the Buzzfeed quizzes.  How will I ever crack the code now????

It’s only been one week and I feel like a different person.

Here’s the thing:  To some degree, I need Facebook.  I’m a freelance writer and the expectation is that I will share my articles on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else that people might listen.  Facebook is how I keep people updated on the progress of my book, and find a little cheerleading when I feel like I can’t possibly write one more word.

And on a personal level, Facebook keeps me connected to my friends in other cities.  I like seeing the cute little faces of kids in my feed that I wouldn’t ordinarily see and I enjoy the funny status updates from my friends.  It’s an easy way to keep in touch, and who doesn’t love easy?

I love my Facebook friends, I really do…

But I don’t love the white noise.  I don’t love the days when it seems like people argue simply for the sake of arguing.  I’m pretty tough and I can take a fair amount of criticism, but I don’t like it when people leave negatively charged comments on my Facebook updates containing parenting articles.  That’s what the comment forms are for on each website where you might find my work.  There is absolutely a place for that and I would love to hear what other people have to say, just not on my personal Facebook page.  In fact, I actually love when the comments appear on my Practical Parenting Facebook Page – when comments appear there (positive or negative), parents engage in meaningful conversations.  They share their own stories, concerns, and victories.  They help each other out.  That’s why I didn’t give up my professional page for Lent.  I want to to hear those thoughts and engage in those conversations.  We are all different, and meaningful conversations are good.  But arguments on my personal Facebook page?  No way.

But alas, sometimes the lines are blurred when it comes to personal and professional on Facebook, and sometimes you just need a break.  I’ve never been particularly good at white noise…perhaps it’s the introvert in me.  Perhaps not.  Either way, I took a break.

I’ve always prioritized being present with my kids.  I fought long and hard to have them, and I don’t let anything get in the way.  I let text messages go unanswered, I ignore email for days, and I am known to silence the phone when both kids are with me.  The only person who gets through is my husband.

The flip side of that, of course, is that my poor husband has to bear the brunt of me playing catch-up when the kids are asleep.  I quickly scan for priority email and other things that I should respond to in a timely manner before I cook dinner and focus on him for the night.  It’s ok.  He gets it.  We both work.  We both have things that need doing.  But still, the white noise crackles in the background – and the white noise doesn’t need doing.

I thought I would miss it more when I bid Facebook farewell for 40 days.  I thought I would feel disconnected and miss the small moments with my friends in other cities.  I thought I would worry about my work and disappoint my editors with my lack of social media activity.  But the truth is…I feel relieved.

(And I think my editors understand…)

I’m still working during my office hours and sharing my articles as necessary, but then I’m shoving my iPhone to back corner of my desk and moving on.  A sense of calm washes over me each time I water the plants the four of us planted last weekend without a hint of distraction.  A sense of strength courses through me when I run with my phone on DND.  And a feeling of connection keeps me focused when I engage in more meaningful connections with the people I encounter face-to-face each day.

(Incidentally, you NEED to read this article in Time.  Seriously.  I love this research from Boston Children’s Hospital…partially because I find myself conducting similar “research” often.)

The truth is that my friends know where to find me and when to text me if they want me to respond.  They know the best times to call to chat and the best times to leave a quick message.  They know that I am there for them 100% day or night when they need me.  And they understand the importance of stepping back and enjoying the present instead of looking to the virtual for feedback and connection.

I will return to Facebook when spring is upon us. I will continue to share my work and smile at adorable pictures.  I will make jokes that only some people understand (thank god for my brother…and Sondra) and post pictures of my own little cuties.  I enjoy the connection in bits and pieces, and I enjoy the old friends that have popped back into my life simply because someone had a really good idea…

But for right now, I’m taking time for me, my husband, and my littles.  Because even though I do my very best to keep my phone out of sight when I’m with my people…the only way to truly silence the white noise is to shut it down and walk away.

Until next time, my friends…

 

Addiction, Mental Health, and Parenting: Why You Need to Connect the Dots

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I can’t pretend to know what fighting addiction truly entails.  I have friends who fight for their sobriety every day.  They never miss a meeting…because to miss a meeting is to risk a relapse.  I have worked with young adults and adolescents who have fought for their sobriety.  They never missed a meeting…because to miss a meeting is to risk a relapse.  I have worked with children of addicts.  I’ve listened to them cry, yell, and ask the same question repeatedly.  Why?  Why is my existence not enough to keep my father/mother/fill-in-the-blank sober?

Addiction is complicated.  It might seem like a choice when you break it down to this-or-that, but then you have to travel the road of mental health, environmental stressors, and family history.  This-or-that fades into the background when you begin to peel the onion.

I’ve heard addiction referred to as “selfish”, and I can understand where people are coming from.  When you’ve sat across the office from a young child with giant sad eyes and an obsessive need to understand what role he or she might play in the addiction, you start to see the “selfish” angle.  You want to say to that parent, “Stop everything!  Look what you’re doing to your child!”  But you can’t say that.  Because that parent isn’t being selfish…that parent is fighting addiction.  That parent isn’t seeing the big sad eyes and cries for attention.  That parent is stuck in the vortex, and that isn’t selfish.

It’s same with depression and other mental disorders.  Would you call a person “selfish” for being depressed?  Would you tell you a parent to stop “being Bipolar”?  Of course not.  That would be ill-informed and inaccurate.  And yet, people do it.  They try to break it down to this-or-that.

The fact is that we can’t ignore the comorbidity factor when it comes to addiction.  We can’t pretend that addiction exists in a vacuum, and we can’t pretend that a single choice would alter the life of a family.  We can’t ignore the genetic components, the environmental factors, and the lack of resources available to the many people fighting (or losing the fight to) addiction every single day.

And we can’t pretend that our children are immune.

Every time an addict loses a battle, someone in this world is left behind.  We put celebrities on a pedestal and celebrate their amazing careers while we mourn the loss of the actors who music makers who touched our lives in some way.  But behind those celebrities are partners, children, and extended family who are left to pick up the pieces and somehow make sense of the loss.  They are the ones who suffer the most when the light goes out.

And that’s not all…

Kids (yes, KIDS) are using alcohol and drugs at an alarming rate, sometimes beginning in middle school (on average, boys start at age 11 these days, while girls, on average, wait until 13).  I won’t bombard you with statistics, but I will say that we need to change the way talk to kids about drugs, alcohol, and sexuality right this very moment.  Kids are taking unhealthy risks and making very poor choices, thereby setting themselves up for addiction, teen pregnancy, STD’s, and worse.  Because yes, drugs and alcohol can even take the lives of kids.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check in with the CDC and SADD to arm yourself with information.

Remember that bit about comorbidity an genetics?  That applies to kids, as well.

So what can parents do?

Talk early and often:

Don’t wait until your child encounters alcohol and/or drugs to start the conversation.  Talk about it early on, and revisit it regularly.

I hear the parents joking about “mommy juice” (there is even a product by that name) and the like when they want to have a drink in front of the kids.  It’s a joke (most of the time) and it’s even a little cute (sort of)…but it sends a mixed message.  It’s not juice.  It’s wine or some other kind of alcohol and it should be identified by name.  It should be stated that alcohol is ok for adults (in moderation) but not for kids.

Instead of distracting or hiding, tell it like it is.  That sends a clear message to your kids.

Be honest:

Talk about addiction.  Talk about the effect that drugs and alcohol can have on your brain, your body, and your life.  Resist the urge to use scare tactics.  Remain calm, open the discussion up to questions, and provide information about the risks.

Talk about any family history you might and connect the dots between depression and other mental health concerns and alcohol and/or drug use.  Fill in the blanks so that your child can get a clear picture of addiction.

Identify the helpers:

Sometimes kids don’t want to talk to their parents about difficult topics, including alcohol, drugs and mental health. They might not want to disappoint them.  They might be afraid to admit that peer pressure is intense and difficult to resist.  They might fear that their parents will think less of them for wanting to fit in.

Identify the helpers.  Find a trusted uncle, aunt, or family friend who is willing to listen without judgment and provide a lifeline for your child.  Your child might not be comfortable approaching you, but that helping hand just might make a huge impact along the way.

Stop worrying about the stigma, and get the help that your family needs.  Inpatient, outpatient, individual, family…don’t wait until it’s too late.  Seek out the resources that can help you get to the other side.

Listen without judgment:

Listen to your children when they approach you with a problem, no matter how insignificant that problem might seem.  Hear their words.  Let them explain.

Listen for the sake of understanding, not for the purpose of crafting a response.

When we show our children that we are willing to listen, we open the door to future communication.  When we judge, snap, or reply too quickly, we risk shutting them down.  Open the door today, and don’t ever close it.

Stop glorifying Hollywood:

Get the magazines full of lies out of your home.  Stop putting celebrities on pedestals.  Listen to their music, enjoy their films, and laugh out loud when you watch their shows to decompress.  But stop pretending to know them.  They are people with struggles and they sometimes mess up, and that is more than ok.

Stop looking to the famous to act as role models for our children.  Taylor Swift isn’t really a role model for young girls.  She’s a young woman who sings her heart out and works hard, but how well do you really know her?  You don’t.  But you do know countless other people who can be role models…like that kindergarten teacher around the corner who dedicates her life to shaping young minds or that pediatrician who seems to make every child feel at ease in her office.

Look to everyday heroes to inspire your children.  They can truly make a difference…

For more information, or to make a donation to support research into drug abuse and addiction, visit NIDH.

 

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Distracted No More with Hands Free Mama

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I have a love/not-so-love relationship with technology.

There are times when I feel like I couldn’t possibly live without my iPhone.  When my husband is on the road or in the studio, text messaging connects us in an instant.  When the kids are sobbing because they want him home right this very minute, FaceTime comes to the rescue.  The fact that he can video chat with my kids while zooming down I-95 in New York when we are out here in California still amazes me.  And it makes the touring years just a little bit easier.

But there are also times when I feel like shoving my beloved iPhone in the trash can and leaving it there.  My freelance writing forces me to stay connected far more than this introverted soul would ever care to.  The distance from my family means all communication comes in the form of phone calls, text messages, and maybe a joke or two on Facebook.  Ring…ding…ping.  I despise the sounds of my phone and have silenced everyone but my husband at this point (it’s not you; it’s me).

Love it or not-so-love it, it’s here to stay.  And if current trends in education are any indicator, it will only become more prevalent.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to let it distract us.  We don’t have to let the constant sounds and interactions blur our experiences in the real world.  We don’t have to let distraction become the new norm.

Have you ever felt so glued to your virtual existence that you started to miss the beauty of the everyday?  You’re not alone – we’ve all had those moments at some point.

Rachel Macy Stafford had one of those moments (and then some), and, with what can only be described as raw bravery, wrote it all down.  In her new book, “Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters”, Stafford describes (in heartbreaking detail) her journey from a a distracted plugged in (and somewhat anxious) mom to a more calm and present mom.  The transformation is incredible.

Drawing on her personal experience, Stafford helps the reader learn how to find a better balance and live in the present while meeting personal goals.  It’s not about simply pulling the plug and giving it all up, it’s about learning to live with intention and learning to let go of unwanted (and unnecessary) distraction.

What is striking about Stafford’s journey is her brutal honesty, “Sometimes I don’t look away from my computer screen when my child enters the room.  Sometimes I pick up my children from extracurricular events or school while talking on the phone.  Sometimes the first thing my child sees in the morning is not my smiling face, but the top of my head as I send email messages or the back of my head as I watch the morning news.”  It’s not easy to confront those feelings, and it certainly isn’t easy to put them in writing.

In the beginning of the book, Stafford describes in great detail a sunset that she happened to catch while driving home from work one evening.  The sadness that she felt as she left her office that day was replaced with a feeling of hope as the sky opened up in front of her – the beautiful colors of the sunset restored her broken soul.  That particular sunset stayed with her for years to come, and she encourages readers to look for “Sunset Moments” in their own lives.

Stafford is keenly aware that it was pure chance that allowed her to witness that sunset on that particular evening, “By the grace of God, I was fully present and able to witness a once-in-a-lifetime Sunset Moment.  Because, truth be told, this extraordinary sight would have happened whether or not I’d taken the time to watch.”  And that is the key to appreciating life’s Sunset Moments:  Being present enough to take them in.

Providing a “Hands Free Weekly Intention” in each chapter, “Hands Free Mama” helps parents become less distracted and more present one small step at a time.  You’ll find inspiration in her stories and learn to let go of your own distractions as you work your way through her tips.

This book will change you, that much I can promise.  Whether you work through each tip week-by-week or revisit the nuggets of truth that grab your soul when you need to re-set, “Hands Free Mama” will help you refocus your energy on what really matters.

Buy your copy of “Hands Free Mama” on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble today, and be sure to check out her incredible Facebook community - where you can connect with other parents seeking a less distracted existence.  You can also follow Stafford’s blog for added inspiration.

Now get out there and catch a Sunset Moment!

 

And then there was a book…

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I have wanted to be an author since I was eight years old…

I remember sitting in my pink and green room, colors chosen for (not by) me, with a legal pad (borrowed from my dad – not a lawyer) and a pencil sharpened down to a nub writing one page stories about ghosts (always a topic of morbid fascination), friendship, and family.  I wrote until my hand began to ache, the words spilling out of me at an alarming rate.  It was never planned.  I don’t remember sitting around thinking about stories.  The words just came to me.

As I grew, my goals changed.  By my sophomore year in high school, I was determined to help kids.  A dear friend of mine had been through more than I could ever even begin to process.  I lived a fairly sheltered life during that time.  My parents were married.  My grandparents were alive.  Problems were hidden from the kids.  We were tasked with simply being kids.  But this friend of mine…she lived a different, far less sheltered life.  Although she didn’t know it, I worried about her a lot.  I wanted to help.  I wanted to erase her sadness.  I wanted to make it better.  To this day, she probably doesn’t know that she is the reason that I do what I do.

But I never stopped writing.  In high school, in college, and even in graduate school…I never stopped writing.  I wrote unfinished novels, unfinished nonfiction, and words meant only to heal my soul.  I wrote my way through my grief when my father died without notice.  I wrote my way through infertility, pregnancy loss, and just about everything else.  I just kept writing.

And then, one day, I started a blog.  Relying on my knowledge of child development and my expertise in parenting, I just kept writing.  You read it.  You shared it.  You asked for more.  So I kept writing.  With that, I revisited that lifelong goal of becoming a published author.  That little voice somewhere deep in my soul just kept whispering, “You can do this.”

I’m pleased to announce that dreams do come true.  I’ve worked hard.  I’ve worked late into the night and early in the morning.  I’ve fought hard to balance my writing, my clients, and my family, with my children always in the lead position.  And it all paid off.

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I’m committed to helping parents raise happy kids.  One topic at a time, I help parents focus on the positive and enjoy the parenting journey (that’s my goal, anyway).

What you don’t know is that I’ve been busy writing, editing, and, with the help of my incredible literary agent, submitting a proposal for a parenting book on this very topic.  “The Happy Kid Handbook:  How to Raise Cheerful Children in a Stressful World” will be published by Tarcher/Penguin!

Check out this amazing announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace:

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There will be countless thank you’s in the months to come…but for today I want to keep it simple.  A HUGE thank you to the following:

Lauren Galit at LKG Agency:  Lauren has believed in me from the very first moment we spoke on the phone.  It was an instant connection.  She has cheered me on, pushed me, and helped me find my way in this giant world of publishing.  Thank you seems insufficient…we did this together and I can’t even describe the gratitude that warms my heart every time I think of her, see her name pop up in my inbox, or laugh out loud at a text exchange that occurs at the perfect moment.  Lauren is so much more than a literary agent.  She is a visionary.

Sara Carder at Tarcher/Penguin:  Every writer dreams of finding the perfect editor for any given project.  I am lucky enough to have that particular dream come true.  Sara believes in the Happy Kid message.  She is full of positive energy and she genuinely wants to help me get this message to the world.  I am so very grateful for her support right out of the gate, and look forward to working with her along the way.  I do believe that Happy Kid is in the best possible hands with the best possible publisher.  For that, I am beyond grateful.

Sean Hurley:  I am not only lucky enough to be married to my best friend, but I am lucky enough to married to a man who believes in big dreams, love, and happiness.  Sean has supported me from the very first moment that I announced my intention to finally become a published author, almost three years ago.  He has cheered me on, held my hand, and pushed me when I need pushing.  He is the dream catcher of the universe, and that positive energy helped me find my way.

My kids:  I am lucky enough to have two incredible children who fill my soul with happiness each and every day.  That, above all, inspires me.

My readers:  YOU have made this blog what it is today.  You read, you share, you ask questions, and you come back for more.  What began as a tiny little blog in a huge blogging world has grown into a community of incredible parents – for that, I am grateful (and humbled).  Happy Kid is written with all of you in mind.

Stay tuned for updates and, of course, more articles and posts in all of my usual places.  And now…please excuse me while I chain myself to my laptop and finish writing this book!

Have a HAPPY day!

 

TIC Holiday 101: The Babysitter Checklist

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Holiday season is officially in full swing (we even have some cooler temperatures out here in SoCal to show for it), and today I have some important tips when it comes to leaving your kids with babysitters or other caregivers during holiday time.  This Target Inner Circle Holiday 101 post is written in support of Target’s My Kind of Holiday campaign, but the information is written specifically for all of you.

The holiday season brings endless to-do lists, multiple parties, and presents to purchase, wrap, and hide.  Chances are the you will need a babysitter a few times to give you some much-needed space to do all of that purchasing, wrapping, and hiding…and maybe even to attend a party or two without bringing the whole crew along.

Whether you rely on family, use a trusted babysitter who knows the kids well, or bring someone new into the mix (holiday time can make it difficult to book your favorites), it’s important to have a very specific plan and list of numbers at the ready.  Holiday season is also flu season, sleep deprivation season, and overstimulation season.  The more you prepare your caregivers, the better off your kids will be.  And it will also give you peace of mind.

Enter the babysitter checklist. A specific list of phone numbers, schedules, mealtimes, and other activities can truly east the transition and help keep your home happy and healthy.

The Babysitter Checklist 

  • Your mobile phone # (don’t assume it’s stored and/or easy to locate).
  • Your plan (where you’re headed, even if it includes multiple stops)
  • Pediatrician’s phone number including an after-hours line or procedure for paging
  • Your nearest PREFERRED urgent care center (include the phone number and directions)
  • Phone # for the nearest friend or relative who can be there in ten minutes or less.  Let them know they’re on call.
  • Phone numbers for poison control, local police department, and local fire department.  (Did you know that calling 911 from your mobile phone means the call bounces off the nearest tower and might not get to the nearest police station or fire department?  Program local #’s into your phone for faster response time.)
  • Medications your child needs (or might need) with SPECIFIC instructions
  • Location of medical items:  Thermometer, fever reducers, nebulizers, inhalers, etc.  Make it easy on them!
  • FOOD ALLERGIES!!!!!  List ALL food allergies, even if you think that your babysitter already knows them.
  • Approved snack list. This is particularly important for parents of children with food allergies.  Take the guesswork out of snack time by preparing the snacks ahead of time or posting an approved list on the fridge.
  • Bedtime routine:  Be specific here.  If your child likes three renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star before bed, say that.  Exhaustion and overstimulation can trigger separation anxiety.
  • Favorite hiding places.  Some kids hide when they’re sad or worried.
  • Meal schedules.  Help reduce hunger-related meltdowns by sticking to a schedule.  Plan meals ahead and the time that your kids normally eat.
  • Downtime activities.  Babysitters and caregivers can be fun.  But when the fun never ends it can result in overstimulation and exhaustion.  Provide a list of quiet time activities and transitional activities to help the kids decompress.
  • Screen time rules:  Leave a list of approved TV shows and length of TV time allowed.

When it comes to downtime activities for the kids, Target has you covered with crafting kits and other art supplies.  Everything from gingerbread house kits to foam Santa’s Workshop kits will keep your kids crafting and calm while mom and dad are away!

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Time spent crafting and creating and having fun at home?  Now that’s #mykindofholiday!

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Little hands having fun always make a holiday merry and bright…

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What did I miss?  What’s on your babysitter checklist?

Disclosure:  As a member of the Target Inner Circle (TIC), I am given exclusive access to the brand and promotions so that I can get the information to you.  I was given crafting materials to get my kids in the holiday crafting spirit.  As always, all opinions in this post are my own.  



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My Kind of Holiday: The Kid Detective (Giveaway!)

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Many kids write a holiday list sometime around the beginning of December.  They tend to have certain “must have” items in mind.  But you might find that those must have items change as the holiday approaches.  It can be hard to figure out what they really want versus what they want because someone else has it right now.  And once you do figure out a specific list…then you have to figure out where to hide everything.  What’s a mom to do?

That’s where Target comes in.  The first thing you want to do is look through Target’s Kids’ Gift List to find the perfect gifts for your little (and not so little) ones.  Then you need to think about storing the gifts in sneaky spots and creative presentation.

This year Target teamed up with retired CIA intelligence officer Jonna Mendez to help moms determine what gifts their kids want the most this holiday season – and how to possibly store those gifts when the kids seem to be just about everywhere…

Jonna is both a mother and a grandmother, too, so she knows a thing or two about preparing for the holidays!

I followed a few of Jonna’s tips on hiding gifts around the house, and I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful hiding places that I never even considered prior to this little exercise.

Check this out:

 

Target Kids’ Detective Tips: Clever Storage Phase

Shopping and finding the perfect gifts are only half the battle, now you need to find clever ways to hide the gifts without the kids finding them!  Since Santa visits my house, looking for hidden gifts isn’t really an issue…but still, you have to find the best spots (birthdays require gift storage, too).

  • Kids’ Gift Detective Tip #1:  Hide the gifts in plain sight.  Parents often go to great lengths to hide gifts in what tend to be the most obvious places for kids to look (or they lose them – I wouldn’t know anything about that, though).  Try hiding gifts in boxes that are always stored in the garage or laundry room, under the sink behind the “do not touch” cleaning products, or in the linen closet behind the guest towels.  Kids expect gifts to be completely hidden and not easily accessible.
  • Kids’ Gift Detective Tip #2:  Disguise the gifts as everyday items.  For smaller gifts, try hiding them in your sock drawer…inside the socks.  Or consider hiding them in a healthy box of “mom and dad” cereal that the kids won’t touch.  For larger gifts, hide them in suitcases that are rarely used.
  • Kids’ Detective Tip #3:  Hide the gifts at someone else’s house.  If you have older kids or kids that are sneaky, ask a relative or friend to store your top gifts.  Or how about at the office?

Be sure to visit ABullseyeView for more great Kid’s Detective tips! (Seriously, though, that post is super cute and includes great ideas – like invisible ink, just saying.)

I had a great time finding sneaky hiding spots around my house (even if I almost dropped a really expensive bass on the hardwood floor…oops!).  The holiday season can be a bit overwhelming and stressful – playing Kid Detective will snap you right out of it and bring back the holiday magic!

I hope you’ll track me down on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and play along using the hashtag #mykindofholiday.  The nice people at Target are having a great time with this and truly enjoy seeing your pictures.

And now for a little extra holiday magic courtesy of my friends at Target…

One lucky U.S. reader will win a $25 Target gift card!!!!!

How do you enter?  Easy.

Leave me a comment below telling me your BEST Kid Detective tip.  You have to leave a tip to be entered to win, so get crafty and share your ideas!

Contest closes on December 6, 2013 at 8pm PST.  Get your entry in now!

Disclosure:  I am a member of the Target Inner Circle.  As such, I am given exclusive access to the brand and upcoming promotions.  As always, the opinions contained within this post are my own.  Play along!  It’s fun!

 

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My Kind of Holiday: Baking with Kids!

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What’s my kind of holiday? (You know you have those catchy ads stuck in your head, too.)  One spent baking with my kids, of course!

All of my favorite holiday memories from my childhood involve time spent around our kitchen table cutting, baking, sprinkling, and frosting Christmas cookies.  Gingerbread cookies were carefully decorated with raisins and those little silver balls that didn’t seem edible but somehow were.  The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg wafted through the air as we waited for them to cool so that we could begin phase two of decorating:  Frosting them until the actual gingerbread was no longer visible.

The sugar cookie dough was dyed red and green for extra holiday cheer, and the sprinkles added just the right amount of sparkle.  We laughed, chatted, attempted to create new and different designs (my brother was always the master of the hand-rolled candy cane cookie), and spent time together. After months of school and time spent with friends, holiday time always brought us back together again.

It’s a tradition that I just can’t live without.  In my house, the holiday season doesn’t really begin until the very first batch of cookies goes into the oven.

My kids have been baking and cooking with me since they were old enough to stand upright in the “kitchen helper”.  Time spent in the kitchen means bonding, laughing, telling stories, and creating something from nothing.  It’s a time to stand side-by-side and simply be together.  We love every minute of it.

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And the holiday cookies?  Well…it’s always nice to end up with a delicious treat.

When Target asked me to share my favorite holiday tradition, I didn’t think twice.  Every time I bake holiday cookies with my kids I experience both happy memories from my past and beautiful new memories forming in my present.  I love to watch my kids create.  I love to listen in on their little conversations and answer their questions about my holidays as a child.  I love to share my stories and listen to theirs.  Sitting around the table making Christmas cookies with my kids leaves me feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for this amazing life and family that Sean and I have created.  Small moments like these always bring me back to simplicity.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

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Due to a very long list of food allergies and my own preference, we bake everything from scratch around here.  But you don’t need to be a baker to make your own holiday memories that involve tasty treats.  In fact, Target made it easy for you this year.  With an entire aisle dedicated to holiday baking (how cute are these “Ninjabread Men“?), you can pick up baking kits and all of the baking essentials in one quick trip.

Check out these fun holiday baking kits and tools:

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I picked up the Nordic Ware Petite Holiday Cookie Cutters just for fun (I have an alarming amount of holiday cookie cutters in my home and truly didn’t need more), and I have to tell you – they are by far my favorite holiday cookie cutters (seriously, I’m known to buy expensive cookie cutters from high end cooking stores).  The shapes are great and the cookies are the perfect size.  At $9.99 for a pack of fifteen, you really can’t go wrong.

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From recipe books to baking kits to baking tools and more, Target has everything you need to create amazing memories with your little ones this holiday season.

In case you do want to bake from scratch this year, I’m sharing my super amazing sugar cookie and cookie frosting recipes below.  Happy baking!

Practical Katie’s Super Yummy Sugar Cookies

Make ahead tip:  This dough needs to chill for at least two hours, but you can also make it the night before.  Plan ahead!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 Cups of butter, softened
  • 3 Cups of granulated sugar (Baker’s Sugar is kind of awesome, by the way)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 5 Cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon (completely optional, but adds a nice touch – especially around the holidays.  So does a touch of nutmeg.  Your call.)

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Stir (not beat) in flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. Form into a large ball, cover, and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Roll out dough on parchment paper (cover with flour, granulated sugar, or powdered sugar to avoid sticking) to 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick.  ***Bonus tip:  Only use the amount of dough that you need at any given time and let the rest continue to chill.
  7. Cut shapes.
  8. Bake on parchment paper for 6-8 minutes.
  9. Allow to cool and decorate using cookie frosting (below) and approximately 10,000 sprinkles!

Vanilla Sugar Cookie Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 4 Cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 Cup butter, softened
  • 5 Tablespoons of milk
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
  • Food coloring – optional (I use all natural food dyes)

Directions:

  1. Cream together the sugar and butter until smooth.
  2. Gradually mix in milk and vanilla with a hand mixer.
  3. Add food coloring, if desired.

*Note:  Apparently many people prefer to use shortening instead of butter in cookie frosting.  That’s not really my thing and I love the way this frosting sets, but don’t let me stop you if you’re a believer in shortening!  

Please share your holiday baking fun on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter using the hashtag #mykindofholiday…we’ll be watching!

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Disclosure:  Target sent me a box of baking goodies to get us in the holiday baking spirit.  As part of the Target Inner Circle, I have exclusive access to the Target brand and some promotions.  As always, the opinions contained within this post are my own.  I really did buy those Nordic Ware cookie cutters…and I just had an extra set shipped to Connecticut, where we will be spending the holidays!  Love them!

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Beat Holiday Stress with a Seasonal Toolkit

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Tis the season…for holiday stress.

Yes, the holidays are full of excitement, bright lights, pretty candles, and gifts of all sizes.  And while the actual celebrations tend to be fun in the moment (most of them, anyway), this time of year does tend to coincide with increased stress levels, decreased sleep, and just a little bit of irritability at times.

It doesn’t have to.  I’m not sure if it was always this way or if the pursuit of holiday perfection has increased over time, but it’s time to take a step back from holiday stress and get back in touch with the true meaning of the holiday season.

Randi Ragan, green living expert and founder of GreenBliss EcoSpa, agrees that stress takes away from the holiday season.  “We get so caught up in stress,” commented Ragan, “that we can’t see through the cloudiness.”  In that cloudy state of mind, we forget that the holiday season is about family, gratitude, and togetherness.  The rest is just stuff.

Common signs of stress include:

  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Changes in appetite (overeating is common)
  • Increased illness
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and back and neck pain

Randi Ragan and I discussed holiday stress at length and came up with a great seasonal toolkit to help your through this stressful time of the year, but the truth is that most of these tools can and should be used throughout the year.  When we take control of our stress levels, we take control of our lives.  And we also set a great example for our children.

Holiday stress toolkit:

Establish personal boundaries:

As Randi so thoughtfully pointed out, “We always make sure to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before we leave the house because that’s what we’re told will give us the best results.  It’s the same for stress.  We have to come up with a few strategies that work for us to combat stumbling blocks along the way.”

It’s important to set personal boundaries so that you don’t get caught up in obligations in an effort to placate other people.  When you’re always doing for others, your needs get left behind.  That can lead to resentment, exhaustion, and increased stress.

  • Decrease your obligations (do you really need to bake something for yet another bake sale?)
  • Reorder your priorities (take control of your to-do list and decide what’s necessary versus what’s not)
  • Learn to say no without excuses (there is no rule that you always have to say yes)

One other little (funny but true) tidbit from Randi:  “Potluck was invented for a reason – to stop everyone from losing their minds.”  Don’t cook the whole meal, mamas.  Assign tasks to your guests.

Be mindful:

Stress often causes us to lose sight of what’s happening right now.  People under stress tend to dwell in the past or project into the future.  Stress lends itself to thinking about regrets or worrying about what might or might not happen.  That kind of thinking distracts us from the present tense.

“We only have control over what’s happening right now,” says Ragan.  “This is your precious life – what are you going to do with it?”  Powerful, and also very honest, words.  We need snap out of the “what ifs” and live in real time if we have any hope of kicking stress to the curb.

  • Tape reminders to your car, your fridge, and your front door with notes that trigger you to stay in the present.  You know what keeps you grounded – those are the words that will bring you back to real time.
  • Schedule online and phone time and power down in between.
  • Have your kids create a “be present” box to hold all phones, tablets, and other items of distraction during family time.
  • Stop trying to document every single moment by camera or iPhone and allow yourself to actually revel in the moments instead.

Learn to breathe:

Deep breathing sounds like such a simple, and perhaps even silly, strategy, and yet many people don’t take the time to actually do it. “Deep breathing is miraculous,” says Ragan, “flooding your brain with oxygen calms you more than anything else.”

  • Practice deep breathing when you’re not under stress (just before bed and upon waking up in the morning are excellent times to work on deep breathing).
  • Inhale for a count of four, hold for three, and exhale for a count of four.
  • Practice yoga to work on mindful breathing.
  • Use visual reminders that simply say, “breathe”.

Keep healthy snacks in your purse:

You know what’s not good for stress levels?  Starvation!  Chances are that you always remember to pack snacks and water for your kids, but you rarely do the same for yourself.  Set up a grab-and-go system of healthy snacks in the fridge (string cheese, cut veggies, grapes) and in the pantry (mixed nuts, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, etc) so that you can throw a couple of snacks in your purse before you leave the house.  Fill that giant, reusable water bottle and stick it in the fridge before you go to bed each night to ensure that you stay hydrated throughout the day.

Decrease consumption:

“We have an obsession with consumption right now,” says Ragan, “but decreasing that consumption will help us carve away stress.”

Many families sort through toys, clothes, books, etc and donate gently used items before the holiday season.  This is a great way to give back and help others, and it teaches kids an important lesson.  When you have more than you need, you help those who have less.

But sometimes this simply makes room to fill with more things.  And while holidays gifts are fun and exciting, sometimes people go overboard (guilty as charged).  Consider scaling back and focusing on gifts with meaning instead.

  • Set limits with kids.
  • Have kids write the list early, and then revise it a couple of times.
  • Give the gift of time.
  • Make someone else happy – helping a neighbor or baking cookies for friends are gifts, too.

Factor in “me time”:

Me time doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.  It might be an hour alone with a good book or a manicure while the kids play with a neighbor.  Or maybe it’s a long, hot bath after the kids are in bed.

Many moms enjoy heading out with other moms for a night.  It’s great to get out with friends and decompress after a long week.

Or maybe you simply need a date night with your spouse.  Find what helps you recharge and bump that to the top of your priority list.  You deserve it.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, check out Ragan’s company, GreenBliss EcoSpa.  They will bring the pampering to you and a group of friends – doesn’t a “mom’s night in” sound amazing?

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For more on the importance of slowing down this holiday season, head over to Everyday Family.

Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season!  Just remember to stop and breathe….

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