5 Tips for Raising Positive Thinkers

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Some kids are naturally more optimistic than others.  Some kids just seem to approach all tasks, no matter how difficult, with a smile and a can-do attitude,  But others…others might seem a little more pessimistic or quick to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.  That doesn’t mean that those kids are quitters.  What it means is that they need a little help along the way.

It helps to consider why some kids immediately start chanting, “I can’t…” or “I’m not good at…” when things aren’t working out as planned.  For many kids, it comes down to a few issues:

Fear of failure.

Perfectionism.

Fear of disappointing others.

Low self-esteem.

And/or…

Low frustration tolerance.

It’s not easy to be a kid, and some kids have huge ideas…the kind of ideas that might be just out of reach when it comes to developmental level.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.  Sure, you want your kids to set age-approriate goals so that they can succeed along the way.  But you also want them to reach a little so that they can begin to understand the importance of practice, patience, and learning from mistakes.

So how can you turn an “I can’t” kid into a can-do kid?  With a little bit of patience and a lot of positive energy.

Reframe it first:

If you have a kid who regularly declares defeat before even digging into whatever project takes center stage at the moment, chances are you have a little perfectionist on your hands who can’t stand the thought of failure.  And the only way to truly avoid failure is to quit before you actually give it a try (in the mind of a child, anyway).

Teach your child to reframe his negative thought immediately.  When my little perfectionist musician-in-training (not really, but in his five-year-old mind) throws up his hands in defeat the minute he forgets a song lyric, I give him a simple task:  “Flip it.”  The first few times I needed to be a little more specific, as in, “Let’s say something positive about what you can do instead of giving up right away.”  But now we’re down to two words.  Before we even discuss the issue at hand, I help him flip the negative thought into a positive.

Reframing negative thoughts helps break the cycle of giving up in frustration.  It retrains the mind to find one small positive to keep you going.  When there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you will fight to get to it.  If you all you see is darkness, you’re more likely to curl up and hide.

Look for obstacles:

Kids have a lower frustration tolerance and are more likely to become sad and upset when they are sleep-deprived, hungry, or sick.  Assess your child’s physical and emotional state before launching into a speech about following through and trying harder.  Major life lessons are often lost on exhausted, starving, and/or sick kids.

Often, a little snuggle time with mom or dad and a comforting snack can bring back the positive.

Empathize:

Remember that time that you cried for three hours after you struck out three times in one game?  Your little baseball player needs to hear that.  Or how about the time that you froze during the school play and completely forgot your lines until someone whispered them to you?  Your little actress might need to hear that one.  You get the point.  Empathize with your child.  Share your own childhood stories and talk about times that you felt the very same way.

When parents empathize with their children, their children feel understood and less alone in their frustration or sadness.  They also see that their parents survived those very big feelings and overcame whatever failure caused the negative feelings in the first place.  That can be very eye-opening for little kids.

Celebrate failure:

Ok, maybe don’t throw a party with balloons and streamers and cupcakes…but learn to find the positive in failure.  You know what the best part of failure is?  Learning something new.  Finding a new path.  Exploring a different option for the next time.  Have you updated to the iOS7 yet?  New path necessary.  They’re probably not sobbing in frustration at Apple headquarters, but you can bet they’re working on something better.

Kids need to learn that failure isn’t the end of the world.  But that’s not an easy task, so they need you to help them get there.  Remain calm.  Let them cry and yell and vent their feelings, but then help them find the silver lining.  Ask questions about what might have gone wrong in order to kickstart the problem-solving process.

And learn to laugh about, own up to, and share your own failures along the way.  We all make mistakes and we don’t always get it right on the first (or second, or third) try.  When we show kids that we also struggle at times, they learn that it’s ok to get back up and try again…that perfect doesn’t actually exist.

Model it:

If you want your kids to have a positive attitude, you have to have one, too.  Watch your words, body language, and mannerisms around your kids.  You might think they’re not paying attention when you’re venting to another mom at school before the bell rings, but they usually are.  Save the venting for a time when the kids aren’t around, and rely on a positive attitude in front of your kids as much as humanly possible.

When you keep your emotions in check and use adaptive coping strategies to work through difficult tasks (deep breathing, taking a quick walk, frequent breaks, asking for help, a cup of tea) your kids learn the importance of learning to work through their feelings while tackling difficult tasks.

How do you help your kids stay positive?

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Wisdom from a 6 Year Old: How to Make Kids Feel Good About Themselves

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The other day my daughter found my to-do list.  It wasn’t a long list, but it included a few upcoming freelance deadlines.  Including one that would need to be completed that night.  Scanning the list of tasks before her, she asked about the one with the star.

“What do you have to write about?”

“Helping kids increase their self-esteem.  That means helping kids feel good about themselves.”

“I can write that one for you, Mommy!  I know all about that!”

And with that, she got to work.  The article that follows was written by my six-year-old daughter, without help or input.  I daresay that she did a better job than me!  Sometimes less is more, my friends.  Sometimes less is more.  She’s very excited to see her words on Practical Parenting…please feel free to leave her a little love in the comments.  I know she will appreciate it.

How to Make Kids Feel Good About Themselves”

By Riley, Age 6

This is what helps kids feel good about themselves:

1.  When they try new things and they get success.

2.  When people tell them they did a good job.

3.  When they do something in front of a crowd, like soccer or something, and the crowd cheers for them.

4.  When a sister or a brother or moms or dads tell them that they love them and that they think they’re really great.

5.  When they stand up for each other or when they are nice to a kid who was teased or doesn’t know that many kids.

That helps kids a lot.  And hugs and kisses, too!

There you have it, my friends.  Raising self-esteem from the perspective of a six-year-old.  Kids give some pretty solid advice, don’t you think?  

I know I’m very proud of my little writer…and I truly enjoy telling her that I love her and that I think she’s really great.

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Take Back Your Kitchen! (Tips for Raising “Fearless” Feeders)

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I get a lot of questions from parents struggling to feed their, um, let’s say “selective” eaters.  Some kids eat everything and some kids eat four things.  Literally…four things.  And it’s hard.  Even when you think you’ve done absolutely everything to make eating happen…sometimes you just get one who digs in his heels and says, “Not me.  I’m not eating that!”  Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen have an AMAZING new book out that addresses this common childhood issue.  It’s packed full of interesting information and useful tips and strategies.  Plus…it’s entertaining.  I was introduced to Jill through our fantastic literary agent, and I love, love, love this book.  It’s a must read for all parents!  Jill is here today to share a few tips on ways to take back your kitchen.  Please give her a warm Practical welcome and leave her any follow up questions in the comments – she will be checking!

Are You in Control of Your Kitchen?

By Jill Castle, MS, RDN

“The kitchen is closed,” I said to my son, age eleven, who was heading in for a one o’clock snack, right after lunch. “Ahhh,” he moaned, “but I want a snack.”

“I’m sorry but the kitchen is closed, buddy. It’ll be open for afternoon snack at three.”

This dialogue happens quite often at my house. Even as a childhood nutritionist who knows a lot about nutrition and feeding children, my four kids are no different than most kids—they want to eat what they want to eat, and when and where they want to eat it.

Staying in control of my kitchen is a daily juggle. I’m really no different than most parents who juggle feeding, food and the kitchen. But, since I have worked with loads of families, I know that many parents struggle to stay in charge of their kitchen. It’s no wonder! With 23% of kids and 83% of teens snacking daily, more and more parents are trying to assert some control over their kid’s eating.

I’ve got the answer: reclaim control of your kitchen.

I wish I had a statistic to show you how many parents have lost control of their kitchen, but I don’t. What I can say is this: if you have a 24/7 kitchen (open for consumption all the time) or are struggling with your child’s appetite or eating, then you may have lost control of your kitchen.

But I bet you’d like to get it back.

When parents try to reclaim control, they may go about it the wrong way. Some will restrict portions, second helpings or access to all desirable foods in order to control how much their child eats or what they eat, while others will reward their kids with sweets to get them to eat the healthy food, or finish their meal.

You don’t have to use these unproductive methods.

The answer isn’t to strong-arm children to eat this or not that, but rather to reclaim the positive control and leadership that is part of parenting and feeding. Research on childhood development and education tells us that children thrive with routine, structure and boundaries. Just visit a preschool and it’s easy to see teachers showing kids the day-to-day routine, which helps them develop self-control and trust. Employing structure and boundaries to eating does the same, optimizing self-control, hunger management, and ultimately reinforcing the family diet.

Start with Food

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When I was growing up, my mother only bought soda for a party, and purchased one bag of Lay’s potato chips and one package of Oreos for the week. Today, parents purchase two to three bags of chips and cookies, plus more snacks. I remember my mom saying, “Go ahead and eat it now, but you won’t be getting any more until the next shopping trip.” Today, parents run back to the store when they run out.

Often, parents don’t realize how powerful the grocery list can be, as it is the key to setting the first boundary: the food that is available to eat. Remember, food that is brought into the home will be eaten. If it’s uncomfortable to watch kids snack on cookies, ice cream, chips or soda each day, then bring them into the home less frequently. Or, eat them outside of your home.

Kids need to see daily examples of nutritious foods, offered in varying patterns. Strike a balance of food that favors plenty of fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and lean sources of protein, whole grains and healthy fats, and low fat dairy items, and make sure to set a limit on sweets, fried foods and soda (but don’t exclude them). There is room for all kinds of food!  Balance is the key.

Build in Structure

Adopting a structure with eating is the best way to ensure children get the nutrients they need each day for optimal growth and development. With over forty daily nutrient requirements, children need to eat every three to five hours, depending on their age (younger kids eat more frequently than older kids), and in smaller portions than adults. Schedule meals (three a day) and snacks (one to three a day) at regular times, so kids don’t get too hungry or too full to eat. Close the kitchen between meals and snacks (no eating).

That’s right, I said close that kitchen. Today, many families have an open-door policy when it comes to the kitchen. Kids are able to help themselves any time of day, to almost anything. Even I tried the snack shelf in the refrigerator when my oldest was a toddler, but I quickly learned that she was hitting up the fridge every hour, on the hour, and not finishing anything she chose to eat! Grazing, which is what an open-door kitchen policy and similar approaches will encourage, sabotages a child’s appetite for meals, setting them up for eating poorly or selectively.

Add in More Boundaries

Set a consistent location for most eating. This helps children focus on what they are eating, and teases out distraction, which can abbreviate eating. Don’t cater–serve one meal for the whole family, and avoid meeting special requests for picky eaters. Make sure to set a menu that represents at least one or two things each family member can eat (milk counts!). Introduce new foods regularly, and make sure there is a food item or two that will be accepted by even the pickiest of eaters. Being a little bit unpredictable with the menu keeps interest up and allows you to be adventurous with food variety—a key to healthy eating.

While this may be an old-fashioned, common sense approach (remember how your grandmother fed the family?), it works. How will you take back control of your kitchen?

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Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert and mom of four. She is the co-author of the new book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (LINK: www.fearlessfeeding.com) You can also find her over at her blog, Just the Right Byte (www.justtherightbyte.com) or her website (www.JillCastle.com

Isn’t Jill great??  Now go ahead…leave her some questions below!!!!

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Happy Moms, Happy Kids

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Want happy kids?  Of course you do!  Stop by The Huffington Post to read 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children!

We’ve known for quite some time that maternal and/or parental stress trickles down and causes stress for children.  Numerous studies have shown that even infants can sense stress and react with a stress response.

But a new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the journal Developmental Science found that a mother’s perceived social status predicts her child’s brain development and stress indicators.  In this particular study, children whose mothers saw themselves as low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels and less activation of their hippocampus.  What does that mean?  They’re stressed.

It seems like the hidden dangers of stress are all over the news these days, and yet we live in a society that thrives on stress.  Clearly this isn’t working for our children.  It’s time to work on finding happiness, so that the trickle down effect sends happiness trickling down to our little ones.

Happy moms raise happy kids.  And all moms deserve to be happy.

Tips for prioritizing happiness.

Surround yourself with positive:

Any mom knows the power of the tribe.  Parenting is hard work and having a supportive network of friends and family truly makes the difference between feeling like you can handle just about anything and feeling utterly alone in this thing.  But it’s important to make sure that your tribe is a happy one.

Negativity is contagious.  So is stress.  On the bright side…happiness is too.

Surround yourself with people who will lift you and help you through the hard days without bringing you down along the way.

Keep the venting short:

It’s important to vent those overwhelming feelings when life is hard, and it’s really important to have a supportive ear on the other end of the line.  But it’s essential to keep it short.  You can get stuck in a negative cycle of constant complaining and venting that increases your stress and potentially leads to symptoms of depression.

People love to joke that a long talk with a friend is akin to a therapy session.  The truth is that a therapist won’t just sit back and let you spin a cycle of negativity for 45 minutes.  A therapist will step in and help you through those feelings to get to the other side.

Set a timer.  Get it out.  Then move on to the happy stuff.

Get your me time:

“I can’t find a single second to just sit down.”

It’s a common refrain in mom circles.  And for good reason.  No matter the ages of your kids, there is always something that requires doing.  Being a parent is a full time job and a lifelong commitment.  But you have to find some time for you.

It’s critical for moms to learn the art of self-care while parenting.  We need to de-stress.  We need exercise.  We need an hour (or a few) away here and there to rejuvenate and just enjoy some quiet time.  Sometimes you have to get creative, but me time can be done. I have one mom friend who worked out a running schedule with two other moms on her street so that each mom gets to run alone a few days a week.  Many moms alternate child care to give each other some time to be alone.

Your mental health is important – for you and your kids.  Find your time and feel happy.

Get organized:

Bottom line:  Lack of organization leads to unnecessary stress.  Find a system that works for you (ask around and check online, there are some very creative moms out there with amazing ideas) and prioritize de-cluttering your home and your mind.

When you feel more control over the day-t0-day stressors that sometimes get you down, you will begin to feel more confident.  This leads to greater overall happiness for moms.

Weekly stress assessments:

Choose a day to check your stress each week.  Start with a list of your most common triggers, and add and delete as necessary.  Find a quiet moment to sit down and review how the week went.  Were you less stressed?  More?  What helped?  What didn’t?

Self assessments help people gain some control over their own well-being.  Assessments can help you shift from feeling completely overwhelmed to confident in your ability to thrive, no matter the circumstances.

Final thoughts:  When you feel confident, you feel happy.  When you let go of stress and take some control, you are more likely to experience more positive feelings overall.  And that’s the stuff that you want trickling down to your kids.

Don’t forget to stop by The Huffington Post for 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children!!!!

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Coping with Childhood Stress

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Childhood stress is on the rise.  It might seem like childhood is a breeze (they don’t have to worry about the big things in life, right?), but often it is full of stressors big and small.  Many children just keep swimming until they finally sink because they truly don’t know how to cope.  They don’t know what stress is, how it affects them, or how to ask for help.  And they definitely don’t know how to help themselves.

It can be difficult to spot signs of childhood stress, as symptoms of stress are often physical in nature.  That headache that just keeps coming back for more probably isn’t due to dehydration or allergies – it’s probably a function of stress.

Some common signs of childhood stress include:

  • Complaints of stomach aches or headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Behavioral changes (short temper, increased anger, excessive crying, clinginess, etc.)
  • Nervous habits like nail biting or hair twirling
  • Refusal to participate in normal daily activities (school, camp, sports, etc.)

Childhood stress can be triggered by any number of reasons.  Sometimes it’s something external, such as big life transitions or world events, and other times it’s internal, such as the pressure to do well in school and make friends.

Some common triggers of childhood stress include:

  • Transitions (new schools, new teachers, a new baby in the family, moving, etc.)
  • Family problems (divorce, illness, death in the family, fighting between parents, etc.)
  • Over-scheduling (too many activities = stress and exhaustion)
  • Internal pressure (wanting to fit in, wanting to get perfect grades, fear of making mistakes or disappointing parents)
  • School stress (test anxiety is very real and very stressful, bullying, poor relationship with teacher, learning issues)
  • Bad news (major world events can really shake kids up)
  • Scary stories, books, movies, TV shows, games, etc.

It’s essential to teach kids how to cope with stress.  Simply telling them not to worry goes in one ear and out the other.  They need to practice stress relief strategies that they can use anywhere at any time.

Stress relief strategies for kids:

  • Deep breathing exercises:  Teach your child to breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold for three, and release for a count of four.  Deep breathing relaxes the central nervous system and helps reduce stress symptoms such as a racing heart, feeling dizzy, or sweaty palms.
  • Exercise:  Adequate daily exercise helps reduce overall symptoms of stress and anxiety.  Aim for at least 45 minutes of kid friendly (riding a bike, shooting hoops, etc) daily exercise.  Taking a 15 minute walk or kicking a soccer ball when under stress can also relieve the acute stress reaction and help your child open up and talk about it.
  • Worry journal:  Writing down their daily stressors can help kids get their feelings out.  Leave a journal by the bedside table and encourage your child to record her daily stressors and the things that made her happy.
  • Self-talk:  Talking your way through a stressful event can help restore a feeling of control.  Teach your child to talk back to her worried brain and take control over the situation in the process.
  • Consistent sleep:  Consistent sleep helps reduce stress.  Prioritize bedtime and set a good example for your kids by making sure that you get adequate sleep (10-12 for them, 7-8 for you).
  • Adequate nutrition:  A balanced diet helps keep stress under control.  Help your child learn to make the connections between food choices and behavioral reactions.  Be sure to stock your kitchen with plenty of healthy options and teach your kids to cook!
  • Hug it out:  Never underestimate the healing power of a hug.
  • Calming stones:  My DIY Calming Stones over on moonfrye are a great way to help kids feel calm and remember that good feelings are just around the corner.

How do you teach your kids to cope with stress?

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Play More, Stress Less

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When I was in college, I spent a glorious summer on the North Shore of Boston as a live-in nanny.  The job was easy and fun.  I loved playing with the three kids, aged 9, 7, and 5, both at home and at their country club swimming pool.  At age 19, I truly enjoyed being around kids, and it was a great gig for me to be working on my tan while keeping them happy and entertained while their mom was able to play golf or tennis.  I recall thinking, however, that it was too bad for the kids that they didn’t get to play with their own mom.  If she happened to be around, they would call for her to watch them, interrupting her conversation with the other club moms on the lounge chairs poolside.  She would pay attention on occasion, but more often than not, I stepped in with the attention.  After all, that was my job!

 

Now that I am a mom of kids the exact same age this summer, it is interesting to see how times have changed.  I am now the mom sitting by the pool sunbathing and chatting with friends, while my kids are calling for me to “Look, look!” and begging for me to jump in with them.  Most of the time, I don’t.  I am dying for a break, a chance to chill and enjoy the fact that they are occupied in the pool.  But sometimes, I take the plunge.  I forget about the fact that I’ll have to redo my hair, or that I’ll be cold, or whatever the concern might be.  I take the risk to just have fun, to play.  And boy do they respond.

 

My girlfriend who was hanging here with me did the same thing the other day, bringing pure joy to her kids’ spirits, and it made me think about what we as moms need to do so that we can be ready to jump in and play with our kids.

 

Make Time for Yourself

Face it, if you have children, you won’t have time to yourself unless you make it happen.  You need to figure out when and how it can happen, and make sure it does.  Whether it’s a coffee date with a friend, a manicure, or even just alone time with a good book while the hubby does the bedtime routine, you need to do this for yourself.

 

Know What Matters Most to Your Kids

For my kids, it’s time with mom in the pool. What is it that your kids desire to do with you?  Some recreational activities kids seem fine to do alone, but for others they are just yearning to do it in relationship with Mom or Dad; it all depends on the individual child, their interests and hobbies, and what matters most to them.  Discovering what type of quality time your child values most is the key to maximizing your quality time together.

 

Just Jump In

Once you have figured out what it is your child is craving, and you’ve met your own needs (even if it’s just a small bit–be honest), it’s time to take the plunge.  Put down your work, forget about the call you were about to make, the dishes that need to be done.  These things can wait.  Time with your precious child simply won’t.  You will never regret the moments you carve out to spend time with the ones you truly love, and chances are, you will end up enjoying it as much as them!

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Tips for Getting Started with Homeschooling

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As the school year draws to a close across the country, many of us are already thinking ahead to the fall.  Whether your first child is entering Kindergarten or you’ve had kids in school for years, you may be thinking about your expectations and hopes for the upcoming year.  Perhaps you are even considering not going through with the “school thing” at all.

That was me, a few years ago.  I began to explore homeschooling when our oldest was in preschool, but ultimately decided to send her to school, where she, followed by her younger brother, remained until our family began a relocation odyssey where the final stop was TBD.  Changing schools is not easy on kids, and until we knew for certain where we would settle, we decided to give homeschooling a try prior to what would have been the children’s third school in as many years.

 

Thinking about homeschooling?  Here are some tips to get you started.

 

Talk to Friends

First, if you haven’t done so already, talk to people you know who homeschool, or use your social network to find someone who does.  Chances are, it won’t be very hard to do since homeschooling is rising in popularity as a schooling option.

 

Ask Questions

Don’t be shy about talking to a friend or a new acquaintance you have found who is willing to share their homeschooling experience with you.  Most homeschoolers are proud of what they do, have tremendous knowledge about it, and are eager to share with interested families.  Ask questions such as:

– Which curriculum do you use?

– Are you using any outside programs, co-ops, or online schools?

– How much does (that curriculum or program) cost?

– What social or support groups are in our area, and which (if any) are involved with?

– What has been the most challenging aspect of homeschooling for you?

– What has been the most rewarding?

 

Be a Fly on the Wall

Ask your friend or contact person if you can shadow them for a day.  Visit their home to see what their “school” looks like.  All families are wonderfully different!  Some have a dedicated “school room,” while others spread their work on the kitchen or dining room table between meals.  Getting to see multiple homeschool families in action is a great way to glimpse what your day might be like.

 

Explore Your Options

Today’s homeschoolers have a myriad of options for home learning.  If you knew anyone when you were growing up who was homeschooled, chances are you have a certain presupposition of what homeschooling is like.  Wipe that idea from your mind as you explore options that take homeschooling out of the home and into the community through support groups, co-ops, and programs that offer peer learning opportunities in different settings.  These options range by state and region, so again it is important to talk to local homeschoolers to see what they are using, but you can also search online.  There are numerous websites, blogs, online support groups and Facebook pages, as well as national organizations devoted to sharing state-by-state information regarding homeschooling laws, groups, and other pertinent information.

 

Relax and Enjoy the Ride

All of the information out there can make exploring homeschooling an overwhelming experience, but do not fret!  Just as when you were an expectant mom and perhaps found yourself bogged down by information overload, you will soon find your way as you navigate the vast world of homeschooling opportunities.

 

Further Reading

For more information about homeschooling, check out the Homeschool Legal Defense Association at: http://www.hslda.org/hs/

 Have you ever considered homeschooling?

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The Feelings Thermometer

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You know what’s hard when you’re little (and sometimes even when you’re big)?  Verbalizing feelings.

We tell kids to use their words.  We want them to say what they mean.  We want them to use a calm voice to describe what’s going on, even when what’s going on feels extremely urgent and fills them with anger or stress.

Kids need help learning to verbalize their feelings.  That’s where the “Feelings Thermometer” comes in handy.

Even really young kids can understand that your temperature rises when you have a fever and goes down when you are healthy.  Explain that when you’re angry, worried, or under stress, your temperature rises.  You feel uncomfortable, your muscles are tense, and you might even have a headache or stomach pains.  But when you’re happy…you feel cool.  Your body is calm and feeling good.

Draw an example for your kids to visualize the metaphor.  Little faces and different colors for different feelings can help.  Describe each feeling in detail – from how you might act to how your body might feel.

Have your kids practice with one when they’re calm.  When they’re sad or worried, revisit the thermometer and fill out a new one.  And when they’re angry – have them color it red, red, red!  Both verbalizing their emotion and the act of coloring it in can provide some relief from the big feelings, and help your child calm down enough to talk about it and think about some solutions.

What are you waiting for?  Go ahead and get those thermometers up on the fridge!

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Tech Time for Kids: Setting Limits

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We all know that we live in a tech savvy world.  Toddlers can navigate tablets and smart phones with alarming ease.  Sometimes that’s a really good thing, like when you have to take a very long flight and there’s a delay…on both ends.

 

If we choose to see the positive, and there are many, kids are learning some valuable tools with early exposure to technology, we can keep track of them when they are off with friends, and searching for a payphone in the case of an emergency is a thing of the past.

 

For the most part, I’m a fan of moderate use of technology for kids.  Moderate.  That’s the keyword.

 

The downside, of course, is that kids are becoming dependent on games, instant communication, and feedback.

 

Remember when you actually had to dial a phone number (fine motor skills), wait for the phone to ring 19 times (patience) before your best friend’s mom answered, had a five minute conversation with your best friend’s mom first because that was the polite thing to do (social skills), and then spoke to your friend?  Ah, the good old days.  Those days are gone.

 

Today kids text each other to make plans, they text each other during said plans, and they text each other in the dark when their parents think they are fast asleep.  They create secret email accounts to create Facebook accounts.  They create Instagram accounts (sometimes with parent permission) and secret Instagram accounts with those secret email accounts (you know, just in case they’re being watched).

 

And…they are addicted.

 

They are using Facebook and Instagram at all hours of the night.  They are posting pictures and status updates and checking every twenty minutes to see how many likes and comments they have received.

 

Instead of laughing and socializing and maybe even (dare I say it?) playing…they are wrapped up in technology and social media.  Their self-esteem is quickly becoming dependent upon how their “friends” respond to their pictures and updates.  They need to see it, so much so that they might very well stay up much later than their parents think just to check the results of the day.

 

It’s a dangerous game, this boundary-less use of technology for tweens, teens, and, in some cases, even school age kids.  It affects their social skills.  It affects their health (eye strain, anyone?).  And it affects their emotional well-being.

 

Below are a few tips for creating safe and healthy technology use in your home.

 

Set Limits:  Would you give your 16 year old the keys to your car and simply wish him well as he drove away without even asking where he was going or setting a curfew?  Probably not.  So why hand over a smartphone or tablet without setting any limits?  For preschoolers and young children set a timer (10 minutes in my house) and give warnings.  Some kids don’t transition well.  I usually say, “Finish what you’re doing” when the timer beeps.  Make sure they can see the timer.  For older kids and tweens have a specific window of time during the day when technology use is available.  Taking the guesswork out of it means fewer battles.  For teens – it’s not theirs to keep.  It’s on loan from you.  Make sure they hand it in at night and follow the rules in their school handbook if they take it to school. 

 

Never at the Table:  Not you.  Not them.  Meals are for talking and eating and being a family.  Put all technology on a counter out of eyesight and just enjoy mealtime together.

 

Model Healthy Habits:  I see more jokes on Facebook about toddlers and preschoolers referencing Facebook and Twitter.  Little kids don’t need to know about Facebook and Twitter.  And they certainly shouldn’t be looking over your shoulder!  Take a break.  Step back and check your own habits, and then move forward in moderation.  I’ve had to do that at times.  What I always find is that I don’t miss it.  Set limits for you.

 

Be Tech Savvy:  You have to stay one step ahead of your kids.  That’s your job.  Get your own accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Stay ahead of the learning curve.  You can’t bury your head in the sand and let your kids wander off into this brave new world without you.  If you hand over the iPod, it’s up to you to know what you’re kids are doing with it.

 

Establish a Contract:  Be honest.  Let them know that you will be checking their usage, what they’re doing on the computer, iPod, iPad, etc, and that, ultimately, you are in charge of tech usage in your house.  Keep the lines of communication open, but be willing to set up a contract with your child.  You can’t protect your child from every little thing, including cyber bullying, but you can be aware of what’s happening when your child logs on to her various accounts.

 

Check-in Basket:  Keep a basket in your kitchen with a sign indicating that all friends coming by to hang out should leave their technology in there.  Some people like to argue that texting gives kids a new, less threatening, way to socialize.  But when a group of kids are sitting around a room texting other people, they are missing a huge opportunity to socialize in real time!  So what if it makes you the most unpopular mom on the block?  Tip:  There is no award for most popular mom anyway, and votes swing continuously.  Make them some brownies; they will love you again in an instant.

 

Central Charging Station:  Most kids won’t just turn in their electronic devices at night; you need to set the limit.  Choose a time (at least one hour before bedtime – 8pm is good) and have your kids turn in their technology.  The central charging station should be in the parents’ room to avoid temptation.  Prolonged screen time at night can cause eyestrain, sleep disturbance, and anxiety.  Establish the limit and stick to it.

 

Above all, remind your kids of the simple pleasures of life.  Too often we get wrapped up in what’s happening everywhere else and, in doing so, we miss out on the beauty right in front of us.  Practice enjoying the here and now.  Your kids will thank you for it one day.

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Tragic Talk – The Connecticut School Shooting

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Bad things happen.  Terrible things happen.  Unspeakable things happen.  Things that no child should ever have to face happen.

 

As parents, we try our best to shield our little ones from the horrors of this world.  We protect them to the best of our abilities.  We teach them to look both ways, to yell no, to avoid strangers, and to hide under a table when the earth shakes.  We try to keep them safe and sound.

 

But then we send them out into the world.  We throw caution to the wind and trust that they will be safe at school, at dance class, during religious education, and even at the mall.  We trust one another.

 

Sadly, we live in world where a 24 year old man woke up this morning and killed his parents.  He then proceeded to the elementary school in Newtown, CT, where his mother was a Kindergarten teacher, and shot his way through the school.  He killed 27 people in that school today, 20 of them students under the age of 10.

 

Tomorrow morning, 20 families in CT will wake up with one less child.  20 families will not race around the house in search of their Elf.  And 20 families will no longer look for signs of the magic of the holiday season.  All because of one man…

 

This isn’t the first time tragedy has entered our classrooms, and it won’t be the last.

 

While some of you will simply to hold your kids close and avoid any discussion of it, many of you will have to talk about this very tragic event.

 

***While this event has us all in tears (and many of us in a panic), it is important to note that, according to the CDC, less than one percent of all homicides among school-age children happen on school grounds or on the way to or from school.***

 

Overall, the best thing you can do is to remain calm and reassuring in the face of your children.  While adults tend to react to events of this magnitude with shock, empathy, and then fears about their own families, children often jump straight to fears.  They are egocentric little beings, as well they should be, and this kind of event can strike fear into even the calmest child around.

 

AVOID media exposure:  The only information your children should have about this terrible tragedy should come directly from you.  Media exposure can, and will, increase anxious responses.  **Avoid discussing the events with other adults when your children are nearby.  You use much different language when talking to adults and children hear everything.  Save the debriefing for post bedtime.

 

Let them ask:  Resist the urge to begin firing off questions the minute you pick your child up today.  Let them come to you.  An event like this is very difficult for an adult to process, and nearly impossible for a child.  They need time.

 

Be honest:  The truth is that a child’s fantasy can often be more traumatic than reality.  What’s worse than a death toll of 27?  Step inside the mind of your child who only knows bits and pieces of the situation and you just might find out.  Be brief and stick to the facts when discussing a tragedy with your children.  Don’t try to lighten the language with the hope of skirting the issue.  They know the words “gun” and “death” and they are counting on you to help them through this.  Believe me, I know.  I would love to hide under a rock and protect my kids from the violence in this world too, but when it hits close to home you have to be honest.

 

Explain the crisis:  Give a brief explanation of what happened.  In this case, “a man entered an elementary school and used a gun to shoot people.  Kids and adults were hurt.  Some of them died.  We don’t know why he did it.”  Talk about how the school, the police, and the community are handling the crisis and helping the kids and families involved.  Kids need reassurance.

 

Provide reassurance:  Many kids will wonder about the safety of their own schools.  The truth is that we can’t make promises that we can’t keep.  But we can talk about protocol.  Get out your handbook and tell your child what your school does in the event of an emergency.  Explain that they keep the school locked, might have children sit under desks, and keep the hallways clear.  Remind your child of all the adults who work together in the school to keep kids safe.  And reference the statistics provided by the CDC (see above).  These events are large in our hearts, but infrequent in nature.

 

Discuss grief:  As adults we understand that grief comes and goes in waves and that it can include the following stages:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  That’s a lot for a little kid to process.  Get out some paper and markers and draw.  Draw waves and explain that sometimes they might feel sad or angry and other times happy and calm.  That’s normal.  Draw blank circles and have your child fill in faces to depict the various feelings they might be experiencing.  Fill in yours too.  Talk about your own shifting emotions and how you might feel each day.

 

Discuss coping strategies:  Did you pick up the phone and call your mom the minute you heard the news?  I did.  Tell your children.  Talk about what you do to cope with feelings like sadness, anger, and confusion.  Normalize their need to yell, cry, tear up papers, or stomp their feet and clap their hands.  Your children learn how to cope with difficult events by watching you.  Teach them.  Model healthy coping strategies.

 

Open communication:  Make sure you keep the lines of communication open.  This will not be a one-time conversation, that much I can promise you.  Reassure your child that he can ask as many questions as he needs to and that you will answer them every single time.  You might not have all of the answers, but you can always listen and provide reassurance.  And “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer right now.

 

Expect nightmares:  Scary events cause scary dreams.  Be prepared for some long nights ahead, and try to remain patient.  During the night, provide reassurance and extra hugs and kisses.  Go when your child calls out for you.  During the day, ask your child to try to recall the nightmare.  Retell the story with your child, adding a “helper” to help stop the bad event in the dream (i.e. Dad comes in and saves the child from the fire).  Nightmares will resolve over time, but can stick around for weeks and even months.  Seek help if disrupted sleep continues and affects your child’s ability to attend school and other activities.

 

Acknowledge fears:  All feelings are ok and fears are very normal after a child witnesses or hears about a tragic event.  Avoid the urge to downplay your child’s fears.  Use play, drawing, painting, and role-play to help your child work through his fears.  Be patient.  Healing is a process.

 

Expect regression:  The feelings that result from an enormous tragedy often lead to regressed behavior.  Bedwetting, thumb sucking, baby talk, and clingy behavior can all be expected.  Continue to provide reassurance and keep your routine as close to normal as possible.  Structure = safety in the mind of a child.

 

Hold them close:  What’s better than a great big hug from your mom and dad when you’re feeling scared and overwhelmed?  Nothing.  Hold them close.  Be grateful.  Tell them how grateful you are.  Snuggle up, read books, or watch family movies.  Closeness helps children feel safe and secure.

 

Just a note on emotions…

Sometimes children display opposite emotions when in distress.  This is a very difficult scenario for a child to process.  Laughter or silly behavior should not be dismissed as a child who doesn’t care or doesn’t get it.  Many children laugh when anxious or confused.  Label feelings and remain patient.  Other children might have no immediate reaction at all.  This is also perfectly normal.  Give it time and check in later.  Some children need time to process their thoughts before they attempt to cope with their emotions.

 

On a personal note…

As many of you know, I was born and raised in Connecticut.  My heart is broken for the families affected by this shocking and senseless tragedy.  And today my heart is back home in Connecticut, praying for those who have to face an impossible future:  A future without their children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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