Friday, October 30, 2009

Fruit Snacks are not Fruit, and they are Awful for Children’s Teeth

A five year old student was told by his teacher that he had to eat the healthy parts of his lunch before he could eat his treats. The child insisted that his fruit roll-up was the same as fruit, which is very healthy. In fact, fruit snacks are among the worst things children can eat when it comes to dental health.

“There are hidden dangers in kid’s diets, things that you wouldn’t consider as being a bad snack but are actually pretty bad for your teeth,” points out Dr. Stacey Yandoli, a pediatric dentist at Your Child’s Very Own Dentist in Sewell, NJ. “Fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups are sometimes advertised as being healthy, like fruit, and maybe have Vitamin C in them. But, they are so sticky and high in sugar that they don’t come off the teeth, even with good brushing.”

Juice is another problem for children’s teeth, as it’s so high in sugar content. Parents think that by diluting juice with water, they are fixing the problem, yet, by sipping even diluted juice out of a sippy cup all day, the kids are still bathing their teeth in sugar constantly. “Your mouth never goes back to a good environment to fight decay,” says Dr. Yandoli.

There are so many choices we can give our kids when it comes to treats. Sweets like chocolate are easily brushed away, which makes them better than sticky candy for your children’s teeth. Some candy companies point out the vitamin C in fruit snacks, but there are many sources of vitamin C that won’t cause tooth decay.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stop Drop and Roll: Effective Fire Prevention That’s also Fun

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) children ages 4 years and younger are among those at highest risk for residential fire deaths and injuries. So, it’s our job as parents and teachers to teach them what to do in case of a fire.

I heard a story recently about an older child whose clothes caught on fire. There was a swimming pool in the backyard, so he ran and jumped in the pool. While the water seemed like the best idea at the time, in fact, the time he took running to the pool, actually helped the fire burn stronger. Instead, had he stopped, dropped, and rolled, he would have ended up with less severe burns.

It is a scary thought to talk to our toddlers about fire, yet we must. In our three year old classroom, we talk about fire safety in a non-threatening way that the kids actually enjoy. First, the teachers model for the children a scenario, and then the kids take a turn. We say, “Oh, no, there is fire on my pants. What should I do? I need to stop, drop, and roll.” We act it out repeatedly. Each child gets to stand up and tell us where the fire is on their clothes, and what they will do to put it out. They stop, drop, and roll around the floor.

We also talk about the loud bell that goes off if there is a fire. Yes, it can be very loud, and scary, but it is an important bell. It tells us that we must stop whatever we are doing and get out of the building. We don’t stop to clean up toys. We don’t stop to finish our snack. We don’t worry about turning off the TV. What we have to do is line up at the door and together walk outside of the building. We practice this with the kids, encouraging them to help us make the loud noise of the fire alarm.

Our school has fire drills monthly, so we try to do this right at the beginning of the school year so the kids aren’t freaked out the first time the alarm unexpectedly goes off. Some kids will be afraid no matter how much you try to practice, but safety is the most important thing. Don’t assume that your toddler won’t understand. Teach him and he will know what to do in an emergency.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ways to Help Your Preschooler Enjoy Healthy Foods

Deb Janove is the mother of a 5 year old kindergartner, who makes healthy eating a priority. Here are some of her tips, from Parent’s Magazine.

All of us who are parents of preschoolers or Kindergarteners know that getting our children to eat a nutritious snack or meal can sometimes be a challenge. However, I have discovered a few secrets on how to accomplish this that I would like to share with you…as long as you promise to keep it between us parents!

Here are some “tricks” that can start your child on the right path to healthy eating:
• Make your kids little helpers in the kitchen: Studies show that when your child helps prepare the meals they are more likely to eat what is served. Let them select the vegetables at the supermarket, let them toss the salad, decide what the entrĂ©e will be that night etc., just get them involved!
• Give your vegetables fun names: Kids are twice as likely to eat more vegetables if you give them fun and creative names – Broccoli is now “Dinosaur Trees”, Carrots are now “X-ray Vision Carrots, Peas are now Super Power Peas”, etc.
• Children respond better when given the power to choose: Give your child three healthy food choices and let them decide what they wish to eat. This gives them a feeling of empowerment and you know that no matter which one they choose, it is healthy!
• Cut the juice, cut the cavities: By simply offering milk or water instead of juice, the chance of your child having cavities is cut in half, if not more. Not to mention, think of the empty calories they can do without!!
• Food Presentation: A cookie cutter is a powerful tool! Children tend to eat the healthy food presented to them when it is in a fun shape. Take a plain turkey sandwich on multigrain bread alone…boring! Now cut it into a heart or dinosaur shape and BINGO…now it is fun and before you know it, it is eaten!
• Colors: Studies also show that if you present foods with lots of color (yellow, green & orange peppers, green broccoli, yellow squash & purple eggplant, etc.) children are more interested and more likely to eat them.
• It is never too early to educate: If we start teaching children the importance of nutrition at an early age, it will last them a lifetime. Teach them about making the right choices, why certain foods are better for them than others, the old “you are what you eat” rule, etc. Reinforce these messages by example. We must be good role models and practice what we preach!
Childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise in epidemic proportions – two thirds of the population in now either obese or overweight. This leads to many health problems down the line!! Let’s all do our part to make our little ones healthy eaters!!

Source: “Teach Healthy Eating at Home,” by Karen Cicero, Parents Magazine, October, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Parents and Teachers Must Work Together for the Benefit of the Child

Though it seems so obvious that parents and teachers should be partners for the child’s sake, too often there is a clash. With open communication, parents and teachers should be able to settle any misunderstandings. Both have only the child’s best interests at heart.

Sheila, at three years old, had an extremely difficult time separating from her mother. Each day, she’d cling to her mom, crying uncontrollably. One of the teachers would need to peel the child off her parent, and carry her into class. It would take a good twenty minutes for Sheila to calm down.

What made matters worse, was that Sheila came to school fifteen minutes late every day. By that time, the class had already begun circle time. Not only did Sheila’s arrival disrupt the class, but it took one of the teachers away from the rest of the group as she calmed the child down.

During the third week of school, there was clearly a pattern that had developed. Sheila arrived late and she needed the teacher to help her calm down. On one particular day, the teacher who typically took care of Sheila, was leading a cooking lesson. When the other teacher greeted Sheila and her mother at the classroom door, the mother said that only the other teacher could calm her daughter. As that was not possible, this teacher took the child, and had a conversation with her mother.

She pointed out that Sheila would benefit by getting to school on time. When she comes in fifteen minutes late each day, she misses out on the time the children get to settle into the classroom and talk among themselves for a little while. By the time she arrives, the lesson is already in full swing. The teacher felt that allowing Sheila to be part of the morning routine with the other children would help her separate.

For whatever reason, this mother did not appreciate that advice. In fact, that was the last day Sheila attended our preschool. Maybe the mother couldn’t physically get there any earlier. Possibly she had another child who had to get on a bus, and that was the earliest she could arrive. If that were the case, she needed to explain that to the teacher, so they could work together on the best plan for Sheila. Instead, she became offended by the teacher’s suggestion, and pulled her child out of school.

Remember that teachers and parents both want what is best for every child. Together, we can make their preschool experience great.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Truth about the H1N1 (Swine) Flu

I received an email from a distraught mother who is unsure of whether or not to give her 3 year old the H1N1 vaccine.

This is her e-mail:
I'm a mother of a 3 year old baby girl, & we mostly stay at home all the time. Every now & then we go out like to Wal*mart or out to eat, but not often. I am very scared of hearing about all this N1H1 flu, & I'm also kinda scared of the shots that are supposed to prevent it. I'm worried & confused - should I get my baby the shot right away? How dangerous is the N1H1? I have heard that it is killing tons of people (mostly babies.) Is this true?

I guess my real question is if she did catch it would she die? How concerned should I be about this flu?

Here’s my response:
I understand and appreciate your worries. I think we all are a bit unsure here. The first thing I would do is speak with your doctor to get his or her advice. This flu is mostly hitting young people. The doctor I interviewed felt that children should get the shots.

First, it is not true that the flu is killing ton of people. I pulled this off the CDC website for you. I'm not sure what state you live in, but it is the most up to date info. available as of Oct. 23rd:
Monday, October 26

Key Flu Indicators from the CDC
Each week CDC analyzes information about influenza disease activity in the United States and publishes findings of key flu indicators in a report called FluView. During the week of October 11-17, 2009, a review of the key indictors found that influenza activity continued to increase in the United States from the previous week. Below is a summary of the most recent key indicators:
• Visits to doctors for influenza-like illness (ILI) increased steeply since last week in the United States, and overall, are much higher than what is expected for this time of the year. ILI activity now is higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons.
• Total influenza hospitalization rates for laboratory-confirmed flu are climbing and are higher than expected for this time of year.
• The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) based on the 122 Cities Report has increased and has been higher than what is expected at this time of year for two weeks. In addition, 11 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported this week; 9 of these deaths were confirmed 2009 H1N1, and two were influenza A viruses, but were not subtyped. Since April 2009, CDC has received reports of 95 laboratory-confirmed pediatric 2009 H1N1 deaths and another 7 pediatric deaths that were laboratory confirmed as influenza, but where the flu virus subtype was not determined.
• Forty-six states are reporting widespread influenza activity at this time. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. This many reports of widespread activity are unprecedented during seasonal flu.
• Almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remain susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.
I hope this information helps. Their website is Check it out to stay informed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Preschool Teacher's Role

In preschool, a teacher’s primary role is to teach. Of course she will love, nurture, serve as a role model, and even change diapers for her charges, but first and foremost her goal is to teach. At times, parents lose sight of this.

At three years old, Colleen’s parents hadn’t started potty training her yet. Every day she would move her bowels at one o’clock, and you could almost set your watch to it. The girl was very regular. Her teacher spoke with her father, and suggested that they work together to begin to toilet train Colleen.

Her father became instantly offended and told the teacher that he would train his daughter when he believed it was time and it was not her place to make that suggestion. He went on to say that changing his daughter’s diaper was the teacher’s job and she shouldn’t complain about doing her job.

This was a disheartening conversation. To begin with, changing diapers is not in the teacher’s job description for a three year old. In many schools, children who aren’t potty trained aren’t even allowed to enroll. While in our school teachers willingly change children out of love and caring, the teacher’s job is to teach, not change diapers. Potty training can be very difficult, and this teacher was willing to help Colleen’s parents with the task. Her father should have not only appreciated her desire to help out, but also her willingness to change his daughter’s soiled diapers so many times. Face it, a three year old’s bowel movement is very different than that of an infant. It is not a pleasant job for anyone.

Some parents have personal reasons for waiting to potty train their children until they are older, even four or five years old. They believe that if they wait until their child is completely ready on his own, it will be a far easier process. If that is how you feel, at least say thank you to the teacher who needs to clean and change your child while she is at school.

And please don’t lose sight of the teacher’s primary responsibility, which is teaching.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Dad’s Efforts to Promote Self-Esteem in His Children

Yesterday I gave the expert’s view of how parents can help promote self-esteem in their children. Today I’d like to share the comments from a dad of two boys, ages 4 & 2.He views helping his children develop a strong sense of self-esteem as one of the most important things he can do as a father. He admits he’s learning as he goes, but he may be on to something.

According to well-known family therapist Daniel Gottlieb, best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart, “Research shows that kids coming out of college are self-absorbed, less resilient, more narcissistic, and the depression rate is going up. Kids should grow up thinking they are human, they are loved, they are similar to everybody else, they have the ability to make a contribution to the world, to help other people. That’s where the gifts are.”

This dad agrees. “I've heard it said that praising children repeatedly helps kids feel good about themselves but this has always felt hollow to me,” Dad points out. “I just don't see how I can create self-esteem through praise alone. I really think for the most part, a child has to have self-esteem grow from within. My job is to help it grow and I guess I try to do this in many ways.

“Most importantly, I want my kids to know that I love them unconditionally just because of the people they are. I want them to have the security in life that no matter what, Dad loves them for who they are. I also don't want my kids to ever feel that I have too high expectations of the. Sure, I have certain fundamental expectations, but I want my kids to be who they are, not who they think I want them to be.”

This father is hoping that as his kids feel confident to try more and more things in life, there will be a natural cycle that develops. As they learn new skills and master new activities, from riding a bike to learning to swim, he hopes they'll naturally begin to feel good about themselves and their abilities, and in turn they'll gain more and more confidence. That will allow them to try to master more and more.

“My job in their journeys is to make sure that the inevitable failures along the way come with lessons: be optimistic, seek help and be resilient,” he suggests. I want them to know that any problem can be solved and that they are never alone. If they have these qualities, then the failures along the way are merely stepping stones to developing new skills and increasing self confidence.

“Finally, I also want to teach my kids that they are an integral part of something larger than themselves - their family, their teams, their school, their society. I'm hoping that if they feel connected, they'll naturally want to do right by these groups. At the end of the day, if my kids can look in the mirror and know they are moral individuals, I think this will also help them feel good about themselves.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Promoting Self-Esteem in Children: Why Parents are Getting it Wrong

When talking about promoting self-esteem in your children, there are different schools of thought. The pendulum swings back and forth from one generation to the next in the belief that you must constantly build up your kids to make them feel special and important. The opposing view suggests that kids must fit into society, and if you make them believe they’re too special, they will become narcissistic and have trouble surviving in the real world.

I sat down with Dan Gottlieb, well-known family therapist best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart. What he said surprised me. He believes that parents shouldn’t pursue self-esteem for their children - that should be a byproduct of the love and support you give them.

“Kids don’t have to know that they’re great and wonderful, they have to know that they’re loved,” he points out. “Research shows that kids coming out of college are self-absorbed, less resilient, more narcissistic, and the depression rate is going up. Kids should grow up thinking they are human, they are loved, they are similar to everybody else, and they have the ability to make a contribution to the world, to help other people. That’s where the gifts are.”

Dr. Gottlieb urges parents to find what their kids do well, and have them do it over and over again. He related a story of a parent who talked about his seven year old daughter who loved dance and gymnastics. He told her it was time to choose one of the two, in order to take it to the next level. Dr. Gottlieb responded, “She’s a seven year old girl. Why does she have to take it up to the next level?”

“Parents need to role model for their children not self-esteem, but well-being, joy, equanimity, and balance. They already role model achievement, self-sacrifice, and accomplishments. The main mistake parents make is unexamined anxiety. When that father said that to me about his daughter, it was about his anxiety, it didn’t have that much to do with her.”

It’s important to tell your children that they did a great job with something, but not that they are the greatest in the world. They shouldn’t feel superior to other people, but should be productive, caring members of society who appreciate their peers. Praise is great, but don’t overdo it. Be realistic and point out failures along with successes.

“Over time, they’ll come to know that there’s something precious inside, and they’ll learn that by knowing that they’re loved and secure and they have successes and failures,” he says.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parenting Advice: Admit Mistakes, We All Make Them

There is no manual to teach us how to be parents. We have to make it up as we go along. Many times, instinct guides us and we do the right thing. But not always. As human beings, every one of us makes mistakes. Owning up to them, laughing at them, and apologizing for them is part of being a good parent. It shows your children that it’s ok to make mistakes, and important to admit them and apologize for them.

For example, Rachel’s mother picked her daughter up from preschool every day at 11:45. One particular day, she got involved in a phone call and completely lost track of time. When she hung up, it was 11:40 and she lived 15 minutes from school. She immediately called the school to say she’d be late, so they could prepare her daughter. That’s very important. You need to manage your kids’ expectations. Knowing that her mother would be late, Rachel’s teachers involved her in a project, and provided the comfort and assurance that would keep her happy until her mother arrived.

When her mom did show up, she first apologized to the teachers for keeping them the extra time. Then, she apologized to her daughter. She told her the truth that she got caught up on the phone and lost track of time. She said she was sorry and promised to pay more attention from now on.

Rachel’s mother could have just as easily made up an excuse to both the school and her daughter for her tardiness. But, really, what’s the point? Not only is honesty the best policy… but we all make mistakes. Rachel learned that mistakes happen and it’s ok. Everything turned out fine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

You Can be Friends with your Children but Parenting Comes First

I recently had lunch with my 21 year old son. We sat at a table next to two acquaintances, a 13 year old girl and her mother. My son and I were having a great time, sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. While her mom and I were getting drinks, the young girl said to my son, “I know that’s your mom, but you act like friends.”

He told her that I am his mom but I’m his friend too. She was fascinated by that concept. She said, “I’m not friends with my mom. She doesn’t even know anything about me. She brought me water with lemon and I don’t even like lemon.”

Still fascinated by the concept, she asked him when he and his mother became friends. He told her that it was probably when he got older. She told him that her sister is 21 and her sister and her mother are definitely not friends.

As I thought about that conversation, I realized that is possible to be friends with your kids, as long as you parent first. My husband and I were fairly strict parents, and our kids knew the ground rules. As long as they stayed within the boundaries, we appreciated them for the people they became. There were certainly punishments along the way when our kids definitely didn’t consider us friends. But, there were never surprises. They knew the rules and they were aware of the consequences for breaking those rules.

Now, I am proud to consider my children friends. At 21 years old, my disciplining of my son is pretty much over. I can still provide advice and guide him through new experiences, but I adore the adult he’s become.

So, in order to create the best relationship you can with your kids, remember that you are their parent first.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Special Needs Label Draws Common Misconceptions

It is difficult enough to discover that your child may have special needs, but it becomes even tougher when friends, family, and other parents seem not to understand. As you struggle to accept what is going on with your child, you must also work to change many common misconceptions.

It is easy to feel defensive when someone suggests that your child may need help, yet, early intervention is vital. “I wasn’t going to ignore it,” points out the mother of a five year old diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder– Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS) by a developmental pediatrician. “If he had any kind of need, I was going to get him help for it. That’s the job of a parent.”

Oftentimes it is a child’s teacher who first notices that a student may require extra support. According to Richard Selznick, PhD, Psychologist and Director of the Cooper Learning Center at Cooper University Hospital in Voorhees, NJ, and author of the book The Shut Down Learner: Helping your Academically Discouraged Child, “The teacher is the front line, seeing the child on a day to day basis, so those concerns need to be listened to. It’s not something parents should be overly sensitive about. Appreciate the fact that the teacher is highlighting some of the concerns.”

Once you accept the possibility that a problem may exist, as parents you need to fight hard to get the best services for your child. That shouldn’t be an adversarial situation, though many parents feel that it is a constant struggle. Some parents have a built-in mistrust about the process, and worry that their child will be labeled throughout his academic career, and that might put him at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think the schools are out to do anything wrong,” says Dr. Selznick. “The Child Study Team has their model of assessing. By classifying the child, they’re saying the child has a disability and parents have to remember that. I would encourage parents not to take it lightly.”

One mother shared a story that points out a common misconception about families with a special needs child, which is the idea that they are too rigid with eating, bedtime, and other rituals. When a doctor suggested that her son stay away from foods containing food dyes, they worked hard to follow that advice. When the child visited the dentist, his mother brought along her own lollipop that didn’t have food dye as opposed to giving him the sugar free lollipop that the dentist offered. The hygienist was disturbed by the fact that she was going to give him a sugar lollipop that was going to stick in his teeth. She couldn’t understand why they would choose the one without food dye.

Dr. Selznick also urges parents to trust their own instincts if they feel their child may need extra help. There are services available and early intervention is vital.

For more on this story, read the next issue of South Jersey Mom Magazine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Preschoolers’ Language Skills Develop at Different Rates but Practice Makes Perfect

The rate at which every child’s language skills develop differs, with some two year olds barely speaking while others are using full sentences. From the time they walk in the preschool classroom door at two, until they move on to elementary school at five or six, children learn not only how to articulate their needs, but they can also express their feelings to others, and feel comfortable speaking in front of a group.

There are many opportunities in preschool to practice these skills. In our three year old class, the children have several chances each week to practice public speaking. Every Monday during circle time, we pass our class mascot, Mr. Bear, from child to child. While a student is holding Mr. Bear, it is his turn to speak. He can tell us what he did over the weekend, or something else he’d like to share. Most children love this time, as holding Mr. Bear is a treat. Any child who is not holding the mascot understands that he needs to be quiet while another student is speaking. That helps the other children develop good listening skills. For children who are especially shy and not comfortable speaking to the group, they can give Mr. Bear a hug and pass him on to the next student without feeling the pressure to speak in front of the class.

The children have another opportunity to speak in front of the class when we have Show and Tell. Here again, we tailor the questions to the child. Some kids love to talk and are happy to go on and on. For those students, we try to ask more thought provoking questions. For example, if the Show and Tell theme was ‘something I used as a baby,’ and a child brought in a rattle, we might ask why he thinks babies enjoy rattles. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. The point is to help them become comfortable speaking in front of other people. The children who are unable to speak in front of the group when the school year begins, almost always become comfortable by the year’s end.

If your child is especially shy in these instances, practice with him at home. Role-play what he might say when it is his turn in class. That little bit of practice goes a long way. Take advantage of mealtime to encourage your child to speak to you. Ask him what he did in school, or why he likes to play at his neighbor’s house. The more he practices speaking, the more comfortable he will feel. And don’t forget to listen to his answers. You will learn a great deal about your child through casual conversation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dress Your Preschooler Appropriately for School

Part of your school planning process involves having the right clothing for your child to wear to school. Be sure to choose comfortable clothes for school days. The children should be able to play freely, without worrying about what they are wearing. One year, we had a little girl, Carly, whose mother made all of her clothes. She operated a cottage business making and selling children’s clothing. Every day, Carly came to school in an outfit cuter than the day before. Her barrettes or hair bands matched the cuffs of her pants, and the way her mother combined fabrics was unusual and unique. Unfortunately, many times Carly’s pants or skirts were too long, and she was constantly tripping over them. We’d have to roll them up just to keep her safe.

Her mother told us that Carly hated getting dressed up, but her daughter was her “sample size.” She needed the other mothers, her potential customers, to see Carly’s outfits. As soon as she came home from school, Carly would rip off her clothing and put on a pair of jeans or sweatpants and a t-shirt, usually her brother’s soccer shirt. She felt much more comfortable in loose fitting clothing.

Carly’s mother had a specific reason for sending her daughter to school dressed as she did, and I always marveled at her mother’s seamstress prowess. She was lucky that her daughter was willing to wear the outfits she created. Fortunately, she didn’t mind if her daughter spilled juice on her shirt or got paint on her sleeve, which are inevitable outcomes for preschoolers.

When buying your child’s school clothes, keep in mind that they will be getting dirty. If you bristle at the thought of scuffed knees from a fall on the playground, or dot marker on a collar, find another outfit that can get dirty. Smocks are not foolproof and snack time is often an adventure in drips and spills.

As for shoes, most preschoolers go on the playground almost every day. Typical school playgrounds have mulch, recycled tires, or some other material that can get into open shoes. While sandals seem perfect for warmer days, having mulch constantly stuck in your shoes makes for a miserable playground experience. Sneakers are way better. It is also necessary to have your child wear tennis shoes on gym days, to be able to take advantage of all the activities.

When choosing shoes for two and three year olds, I find that Velcro closures are best. Once the children reach four or five, ties are important so the kids can begin learning how to tie. But for the very little ones, having to deal with untied shoes is annoying. Many shoes come with rounded laces which seem to be perpetually untied. Flatter laces tend to stay tied longer.

I learned a trick from a shoe salesman. If you loop the string twice when you make the initial knot, before you start the bow, it tends to hold longer. Then make a double knot and it should last for at least the morning.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Should Parents Do if Their Child’s Teacher Thinks Their Child may Need Special Services

Since I began teaching 13 years ago, great progress has been made in identifying potential learning and socialization issues at a very young age. Today, educators and parents can seek early intervention for children needing special help. In just the last five years, our school has taught preschoolers with delays in speech and hearing, children who have been diagnosed with processing and other cognitive deficiencies, and kids who have been identified as having Asberger's Disorder, or have fallen somewhere on the Autism scale. I have also taught students who were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and other learning and behavioral issues. Some students have exhibited problems in socialization, including a child who bit others and a student who refused to speak.

A teacher’s job is to recognize that there is a delay, deficiency, or other issue. However, most of us are not qualified to say exactly what is wrong or to provide an appropriate educational plan that would be best suited for that child. It is wonderful when qualified professionals are able to intervene early on, to diagnose and then carry out a plan that will help that student learn and interact successfully.

For many parents, accepting that their child may have an issue can be devastating. The first step is to listen, even if you don’t agree. Teachers take their time when presenting potentially bad news to parents, it isn’t something we take lightly. In understanding the importance of early intervention, we recognize the need to tackle a problem as early as possible.

I advise parents to take the next step, and follow through with whatever testing your child’s teacher recommends. Oftentimes this is done free of charge through the Child Study Team at the public school system. Other times, the teacher may suggest that you have a child psychologist or educational specialist evaluate your child, and these people typically charge fees, which vary. Get recommendations from the school and neighbors. Solicit and accept feedback and be honest about the information being presented. You can address any issue once you have expert advice.

Also, understand that you are not alone. I have taught many children who needed some extra help, and I have learned that the sooner that help is given, the quicker the child can get on track. Fortunately, once most parents get over the initial surprise and disappointment, they are eager to seek the help their children need.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Teach Your Toddler How to Dress Himself

Teaching your toddler how to get dressed by himself is an important lesson. The child learns many skills, including how to navigate sleeve holes, buttons, and even which shoe belongs on which foot. But, it also teaches him independence, and a sense of accomplishment that he got dressed by himself. The icing on the cake is the time that is freed up in your morning routine, not having to dress him yourself.

Part of this process involves allowing him to choose his own clothes. That’s not always easy. We had one little girl in our class who wore the same pink dress to school every day for two months. She insisted on wearing it because it was her favorite, and her mother chose not to fight that battle every morning. Eventually, her mother took her shopping and allowed her to pick out several new outfits. That at least expanded her repertoire.

If you want some control over what your child wears, you can offer her choices.
Before she goes to bed at night, let her choose between two outfits that you have selected. Giving her the choice makes her feel more independent, and by doing it the night before, she can take her time in making the decision. But, if your daughter hates to wear dresses, having her choose between two different dresses will probably not fly. You must take her tastes into consideration, as well. As much as you might wish she’d wear a dress, the choices will need to be pants outfits.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Encourage Children to Experiment and Give Them Time to Get Comfortable With a New Experience

Our classroom is extremely hands-on. In the fall, we go pumpkin picking at a nearby farm. When we return to class, we cut the pumpkin open to show the children the seeds and pulp inside. Each child is encouraged to stick his hand in and pull out some seeds that we will later bake. While most kids are willing to explore the pumpkin’s innards, some are hesitant. Many of them have never seen the inside of a pumpkin before and they are leery of the gooey, moist texture.

Lily was afraid to even peer inside the pumpkin. We talked about what she thought was inside but she was hesitant to even discuss it. She simply wanted no part of the pumpkin project and merely watched as the other children took their turns. A couple of kids only poked one finger inside, while others stuck their entire fists way down in and scooped out a pulpy handful. Lily watched them all.

After the kids who wanted a turn were finished and had washed their hands, we moved on to free play. We kept the pumpkin accessible in case the children wanted to look at it. About 15 minutes later, we noticed Lily gingerly poking first her finger, than two fingers into the pumpkin. She grabbed a seed and quickly pulled it out. That was huge for Lily and we were so proud of her. She was also clearly proud of herself.

When Lily’s mother came to pick her up at the end of the day, she showed her the pumpkin and the seeds we had salted and baked. “I made these!” she said beaming.

After that, whenever Lily was afraid to try something new, we reminded her about her pumpkin adventure. That experience gave her the confidence to try other new things. If your child is hesitant to try something at first, give her the opportunity to try again. Sometimes, it just takes time to warm up to a new idea.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What To Do When Your Child Has Trouble Transitioning From One Classroom to Another

There is a little girl in my three year old class who loves school. She walks in with a big smile and participates in every activity. It isn’t until we go out on the playground that she begins to get upset, and her little world starts to crumble.

This child goes to an afternoon program called Mini-Day, which begins at 11:45, as soon as our morning class ends. Her parents work, and they need her to be in school until that program ends at 2:00. It isn’t that she doesn’t enjoy the activities she does in Mini-Day. Her problem is that she sees other parents picking their children up at 11:45, and that makes her anxious for her own mother. Knowing our routine, she realizes that our last activity is usually going on the playground, so that’s when she starts getting upset.

This is a mature, reasonable child so we have tried to reason with her. We explain that her mother has to work, and her mommy feels good leaving her in a place that’s safe and fun and where she can play with her friends. So far, that hasn’t worked. We just instituted a sticker chart and she gets a sticker every time she walks into Mini-Day with a smile. We are optimistic that this will work.

We have asked her parents to continue to talk to their daughter about her fears and reservations. They need her in that program, so we must persevere until it works. Soon, I expect, she will realize that she is there to stay, and she will allow herself to relax and have fun. In the meantime, it is difficult for all of us.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remain optimistic. Ask your child what you or her teachers can do to make her feel better about her extended class. Assure her that you will always be there to pick her up the minute your work and her class are over. Ask her a lot of questions about what she did that afternoon, and be sure to remind her how proud you are of her.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sportsmanship Must be Taught by Parents

I am horrified to share what I just witnessed at a high school junior varsity soccer game. Within the first few minutes of the game, a member of my son’s team caused a penalty and the ref awarded the opposing team an indirect kick. Despite getting that call, that coach felt his team should have received a penalty kick, not merely an indirect kick. He loudly voiced his displeasure.

Not surprisingly, the ref gave the coach a yellow card. Undeterred, the coach continued to berate the ref, and then began making his comments personal. He was loud, obnoxious, and completely out of control. Like the energizer bunny, he was on an unstoppable roll.

Again, not surprisingly, the ref gave him a red card, which meant he had to leave the game. With that, he pulled his team off the field and forfeited the game. Though he had no assistant coach, I believe the ref told him he could get a parent to fill in, though I’m not positive about that. I’m not sure it mattered. It seemed he chose to make this his personal stand and took his players with him.

There are so many things wrong with this incident, that I can barely decide where to begin. This was a junior varsity high school soccer game. While that is clearly important to the kids who play and to their parents who drove the half hour to the hosting school, in the scheme of life it is pretty insignificant. It wasn’t brain surgery. The coach clearly needs some anger management, and it’s hard for me to imagine how his school’s Athletic Director will allow him to continue coaching. My understanding is that he pulled a similar stunt last year.

Coaches, like teachers, are there to help instill values in our kids. Athletic events provide a wonderful opportunity to teach kids the value of competition and sportsmanship. Maybe the coach had a legitimate gripe and should have gotten the call he sought. But his utter disrespect for the refs, his team, the opposing team and all the parents who witnessed his outrageous behavior, certainly wasn’t the appropriate way to handle disappointment with a call.

What made the situation even more depressing was the support a couple of the parents gave the coach. They applauded his actions and were proud the coach stuck up for his team. That certainly wasn’t the way I saw it. To me, standing up for your team means teaching these young men that you don’t always get the call you seek in life. Sometimes things don’t go your way, fairly or unfairly. It would have been a far greater lesson to pull the team together and encourage them to prove their point through strong play. It is likely that they would have scored the goal on the penalty, which meant they’d have been in the lead. Instead, everyone ended up as losers.

I urge parents to teach your children good sportsmanship. They will have many knocks in life when things don’t go their way, and it will likely be about something way more important than a soccer game. It is your job to teach them to handle these disappointments appropriately, so they can work through them in the most positive way possible.

I am not sure how this coach can look himself in the mirror. What did he gain by his brutish behavior? Certainly not respect from his players. These athletes worked hard to make this team and they deserved far better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teaching Your Kids to be Decision Makers

One of the biggest surprises I discovered when I became a parent, was that my children had minds of their own. Somehow, I had always imagined that I would mold my kids into mini versions of my husband and myself. What a shock it was when my two year old had her very own ideas. Try as I might, I discovered quickly that my job was to raise her with strong values, but her personality was solely hers in spite of me.

With that in mind, it is very important to teach your children how to make decisions for themselves, and that can start when they are as young as two years old. Allowing them to choose their favorite color lollipop, or one shirt versus another, is an important start to building the foundation for decision making. It can often be easier to make decisions for your kids because you certainly know more than they do. But that’s the point…teaching them how to make choices. When they start with small things as toddlers, they will have the confidence to make more important and difficult decisions as they get older.

There will be times when your children may not make the best choice, but that is all part of the learning process. Certainly, the goal is to get them to the point where they are not only confident making choices, but they have the foundation to make smart and informed decisions. When they are in high school and are faced with drinking or smoking, they will be more assured to make the right choices based on the foundation you provided throughout their lives.

I once taught a student whose parents usually told her what to do, when, and how to do it. In class, she struggled to even pick her favorite color crayon. We had to constantly reassure her that there was no right or wrong choice, and she could pick whatever she wanted. She was always hesitant when faced with any decision because she hadn’t been taught how to do this on her own. Though she knew our classroom routine, she would constantly need reassurance that she was doing the right thing. We encouraged her parents to persuade her to make decisions on her own, and over time, she became more confident.

As parents, you will teach your children appropriate values and they will hopefully make their choices with that as their foundation. You must give them the confidence to make choices for themselves.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Parent’s Role at Back to School Night

I already addressed the teacher’s role at back-to-school night and what parents can learn from that session. Now I want to address the parents’ role. Of course, this is not the night to have a personal conference about your child. That opportunity will come during parent-teacher conferences, or if you feel it is necessary, you can make a private appointment sooner.

Back-to-school night is the chance for you to ask your child’s teachers what the children will be learning, and what you can do at home to compliment what is taught in class. Should you read to your child every night? Should you practice his letters and numbers? Should you try to teach him how to read? Depending on your child’s age and stage of development, the answers to these questions might differ, but your child’s teachers will have basic rules of thumb that they are happy to share with you.

As a teacher of three year olds, I would encourage parents to follow their child’s lead on what he is ready to learn. For example, if you are in the grocery store, ask him the number of each aisle. If he has no clue and is way more interested in playing with the packages in the cart, don’t push it. He will let you know when he is ready to begin recognizing numbers. If he does show an interest, give him more difficult tasks to see what he is capable of learning. If he recognizes numbers, begin asking him simple math problems, such as, “if I have one green apple and one red apple, how many apples do I have all together?” If he knows the answer is two, you can make the problems more difficult.

Another opportunity you have at back-to-school night is to find out how you can help out in the classroom. Can you provide a healthy snack? Maybe come in to read in the library, or talk about your job? Teachers love having parents help out in the classroom, and your child will be thrilled to have you also. If you are able to plan ahead, that might make taking time off of work or other responsibilities easier. It will also help the teacher with lesson plans.

In our class, we ask each parent to bring in a disposable camera so we can take advantage of photo ops as they occur. Once the camera is full, that parent has the pictures developed, and gives them to the parent who is in charge of putting the yearbook together. Ask your child’s teacher if you can contribute any supplies.

Finally, this is your chance to meet your child’s peers’ parents. When my son was two, he spoke constantly about two little girls in his class. My husband and I made a special effort to meet their parents, and we ended up becoming family friends who enjoyed watching each other’s children grow. It is wonderful to find people who are in the same situation as you, and can share your questions and concerns.


Friday, October 2, 2009

The Pink Party: A Celebration for Women who have Survived Breast Cancer

While this blog is intended for parenting advice for parents of preschoolers, it’s also my mission to help moms remember to take care of themselves. As a breast cancer survivor, I can’t stress enough the importance of mammograms. My cancer was detected through a routine mammogram and even after knowing exactly where the cancer was, neither my doctors nor I could feel the lump.

So, moms, PLEASE take care of yourselves for the sake of your children. Get your mammograms annually, do self exams, pay attention to your body. According to the most recent stats from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35.

Ladies, that means that when you're in your tot soccer class and you take a look around the circle of 8 moms, one of you will likely get breast cancer. Please don't think it can't happen to you. Remember, my cancer was detected through a routine mammogram. I never felt a lump or any pain at all. Because my little lump was detected so early, my oncologist dubbed it an "excellent little cancer." As cancer goes, that was a nice diagnosis to have. It was excellent because it was found early was extremely susceptible to treatment.

I went through a few surgeries and a summer of daily radiation and have been in tip top shape ever since. There is little history of breast cancer in my family - it just happened and no one knows why.

So, to be the best parent you can be, you must take care of yourself. The ACS recommends that women without a family history of breast cancer get their first mammogram at 40. If you have a history, you need to talk to your doctor about the appropriate age to begin. A mammogram is a walk in the park compared to breast cancer treatment. Take a girlfriend, build in a lunch out at a real restaurant to celebrate your health.

Susan G. Koman is one of the wonderful groups of people who dedicate their lives to cancer research and education. There are events in every state, but one I want to point out is the Pink Party coming up in Atlanta. For more information, visit

Don’t forget, to be a great parent, you have to take care of yourself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prepare for a Safe and Fun Halloween for your Preschooler

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and times have certainly changed since my own kids donned pumpkins and Power Ranger costumes. Though parents need to be more careful today than previous generations, those precautions don’t need to ruin the holiday.

Though many families, blocks, and communities host parties, other families still enjoy trick-or-treating the old fashioned way. Just use common sense. Here are some recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Costumes: Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible. Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you and your children. Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it before bedtime to prevent skin and eye irritation. Lower your risk for serious eye injury by not wearing decorative contact lenses. Wear well-fitting masks, costumes, and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips, and falls.

Venturing out: Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups and be sure kids are always with a trusted adult. Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you. Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible. Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe. Enter homes only if you're with a trusted adult. Otherwise, stay outside. Never walk near lit candles or luminaries. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

Check your treats: Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat. Eat only factory-wrapped treats. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook well.

I hope you enjoy a safe and enjoyable Halloween this year!