Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Remember Your Spouse During Family Vacations

We just returned from a family beach vacation. One night my kids, now 22, 19, and 16, asked if my husband and I planned to have a night alone without them. That's a natural question on our family vacations, because in the past, we always reserved one “alone night” for mom and dad. We would either hire a babysitter from the hotel when they were little, or as they got old enough to stay alone in the room together, we’d let them rent a movie.

I’ve been married 29 years, happily, and I think part of the reason is that my husband and I always made time together a priority. Whether it was date night once a week throughout our years together, or a night alone on the family vacation, we found time for each other.

I believe this has been a wonderful example for our children. They recognize the importance for us in maintaining a strong relationship, and frankly, I think they always enjoyed their time together without the parents. As more and more of our friends are separating and divorcing, I can reflect on the value of our time together.

On this particular trip, we opted out of our night alone. Now that the kids are older, we spend less time with them on a regular basis and treasure the time we have together as a family. They have grown into wonderful, enjoyable people and we are blessed that they still want to spend time with us.

Enjoy your family all the time, but don’t forget that you need to also nurture your relationship with your spouse.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Importance of Toddlers Using Scissors

Scissor skills are important for children to practice, though some parents do not allow their toddlers to use them at home. Concerns over the child harming himself or cutting something that he shouldn’t be cutting, make parents wary of even introducing their kids to scissors. We encourage the use of scissors in school for a couple of reasons. For one, this is an important, though difficult skill, for children to master. It takes a great deal of practice for most children to even learn how to grasp a scissor correctly. Cutting is also a skill that they will need by the time they get to kindergarten, and it takes quite a bit of practice. It is also an excellent way to help develop fine motor skills.

We have three types of scissors in the classroom. For children with very weak fine motor skills, we have a pair that actually has four finger holes. The child puts his fingers into the bottom two holes while the teacher puts her fingers into the top two holes. I find them a bit awkward, but for the very beginners, it helps children learn the proper grasp and the motion of opening and closing the scissor. After that, the child can use a pair that has a spring so the scissor can open itself. The student needs to use the proper grasp, but he only needs to squeeze the scissor shut and then it will open back up automatically. Once the child is successful with this pair, he is able to move on to a regular child’s scissor.

In all cases, the scissors have rounded edges and can only cut paper. They can’t cut a child’s skin or fabric. We place a dot with a magic marker at the base of the thumb hole. This dot serves as the scissors’ ‘eye’ and must point up to the sky. That helps the child understand the way the scissor needs to be held. We then help him put his thumb into the top, smaller hole, and two or three fingers into the bottom hole. Next, we practice opening and closing, opening and closing the scissors.

Even before introducing scissors, we encourage the children to rip pieces of paper. Ripping can be a difficult task before fine motor skills are strongly developed. Some children have trouble with the ripping motion. Once they are able to rip with their hands, they have an easier time cutting with scissors.

When the children do graduate to scissors, we start by having them fringe paper as opposed to cutting it. The fringing motion is a quick opening and closing of the scissor without having to navigate moving the scissor fully across the paper. Once they can fringe, we give them straight lines to cut. Finally, they are encouraged to actually cut out shapes.

I am always amazed at how persistent children are when learning how to cut. Very few children can cut instantly. It’s a skill that takes practice. Yet, even children who have trouble cutting are willing to persevere until they find success.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hero Kids

I am constantly urging parents to demonstrate charity to their children through their actions, so it always impresses me when the kids see the lesson and carry them forward. Congratulations to thirteen year old Jenny Silver who has given over 5,000 stuffed bears to children in need over the holidays since starting Bowling for Bears at the ripe young age of nine. For her efforts, the eighth grader at Rosa International Middle School in Cherry Hill has been chosen as one of 12 award winners in the Build-A-Bear Workshop Community Service Program.

Though only nine years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, Jenny was touched by the disaster. “I wanted to make sure the kids who were affected would still receive holiday gifts, and would know that they weren’t forgotten and that people were thinking of them,” she recalls.

Seeking out the “fun” in fundraiser, Jenny and her family held a bowling event and invited guests to seek out sponsorships in order to play. Each year, in early December, enough money is raised to provide $8 bears to hundreds of children in need. “We have t-shirts, food, and it’s a really fun event,” says Jenny.

For the first two years, Jenny donated the bears to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and the surrounding area. In the third year she gave her donations to The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and other local kids in need in Philly and Camden.

“It really meant a lot to me to be recognized with so many amazing kids who have done such great things,” says Jenny. “It was an honor to be a part of it.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Allow Children Creative Expression

I’ve had students over the years whose parents wanted perfection. Yet, the way three year olds learn is by experimenting. The more they try new things, the more they learn. Even when they create things that seem wrong to you, it is important to allow them creative expression.

One of our projects each year is a self-image picture. The child looks in a mirror and tells us what color his eyes and hair are, and how many eyes, eyelashes, nose, and mouth he has. We then give him an oval shape to serve as his face, and he creates his image. One mother approached me after viewing the self-image pictures that were hanging in the hall.

“My son put his eye where his mouth should be,” she said. “Why didn’t you fix that?”

I explained to her that the process in making the picture was more important than the finished product. To make his picture, her son, Bobby, had to cut out the circles for the eyes, use scissors to fringe the eyelashes, glue them onto the face and then draw the nose and mouth. He then chose the color yarn that he wanted for his hair and attached that to his head. There were many skills involved in this, including correctly grasping a scissor and cutting, holding a crayon, gluing and coloring. I did ask Bobby to look in the mirror one more time.

“Is that where your eyes are?” I asked him.
“They are today,” he said laughing.

For whatever reason, Bobby was in a silly mood that day. He knew where his eyes belonged, but he felt like putting one eye near his mouth. Maybe we had a budding modern artist on our hands! Because Bobby did all of the cutting, gluing, and coloring, we allowed him to be creative and complete his own interpretation of his face. By that time, he was much more interested in playing with the toy truck.

His mother felt that we should have made him fix it.
She said, “But compared to all the other pictures hanging in the hall, Bobby’s looks stupid.”

“Maybe you have the next Picasso on your hands,” I replied. “What is important in this project is the process of cutting, coloring and gluing. These activities all use fine motor skills and you can see that Bobby did an excellent job. I am sure that he knows where his eyes belong on his face, but if he wants to be creative, we prefer not to discourage him.”

I do remember years earlier when I was the mother in the hallway comparing my children’s artwork to that of their peers. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the finished product. Does my child cut as well as the others? Is my son behind the curve?

Yet, the more I have worked with different children, the more I value their individualism and creativity. In preschool, kids are experimenting with different mediums often for the first time. Sometimes, just peeling a sticker off its backing is a difficult task in itself. To observe children using their imaginations in their artwork is a beautiful thing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Family Meals Form Strong Bonds

It’s certainly logical that spending more time with family members should strengthen relationships, and now there’s proof that family meals keep kids healthier on many levels. Of course, carving time out of your lives to find a common hour when everyone can sit at the dinner table is a challenge. Yet, it’s worth the effort.
Kids who eat family meals do better in school and are less involved in dangerous behaviors. Research shows that the time spent talking, debating, and even arguing over the dinner table, helps forge stronger relationships. When parents show that they are interested in what their children have to say, the kids are more likely to share more about their lives.

There are many positives that come out of family meals. For one, parents will learn more about their kids, and visa versa. You also get the chance to demonstrate that you value other family member’s opinions. Find out what’s happening in your children’s lives, what matters to them, who their friends are, etc. etc.

Studies also show that parental influence and involvement is an important tool in preventing substance abuse. Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who rarely have family dinners are three-and-a-half times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or an illegal drug other than marijuana.

Family meals also encourage healthy eating. By eating with your children, it is more likely that meals will be more balanced. Girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, which can range from skipping meals to full-fledged anorexia or abusing diet pills.

With religious classes, sports, classes, jobs, and other activities, finding time for family meals is difficult. But do your best to try to make this a priority. Your family will enjoy the benefits.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Guide Your Children, Don't Manage Them

When your kids are very young, you need to manage them. You must plan when they eat, nap, bathe and go to bed at night, and you must help them with these tasks. But as they get older, children need to begin making more of their own decisions. At that point you will become more of a guide than a manager.

Our job as parents is to demonstrate to our kids what our values are, and hopefully they will follow in our footsteps. To think that we can do things for them and run their lives is short sighted. What will happen to them when they have a decision to make and we aren't around to make them?

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, believes that parenting styles have to change as our children change. "As children reach grade school, they need more gentle management," he asserts. "And when they hit puberty, now they need guidance more than management."

It is important that parents lay the groundwork early on for open dialogue with their kids. That becomes most critical when a child hits puberty. Managing a child too tightly does not open a door for dialogue. "Then the only dialogue is right and wrong, obedient and disobedient or those type of simplistic black and white dyads," he explains.

Instead, by keeping communication open as your children grow, they will feel comfortable coming to you when problems get bigger. That will open the door for child to say, 'Mom, Dad, I'm suffering,' or 'I'm feeling depressed,' or 'a kid offered me pot.' These are the dialogues we desperately need to have with our children. If we're busy managing, it's not going to happen.

Keep that in mind as you parent your toddlers. They will demonstrate when they are ready to take on more responsibility. Don't be afraid to give it to them. A three year old can certainly put his toys back on the shelf with your guidance. A four year old can help put groceries in the pantry (preferably the non-breakable variety) and a five year old can determine if she'd prefer to try ballet or gymnastics. Help your children make decisions and discover new things that they can achieve on their own. Be sure that they know you will always be there to support them and their choices, and help them when things don't go according to plan.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Potty Training Doesn't Have to be Miserable

I’ve had a lot of questions about potty training, so I’m re-running an earlier post on the subject. A young mom was lamenting the fact that her three and a half year old son still wasn't potty trained. He had no interest whatsoever in shedding his diapers. I assured her that he would be potty trained by the time he walked down the aisle! Seriously though, for practically every toddler, this is a short term problem.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no set age at which toilet training should begin. They advise that the right time depends on a child's physical and psychological development. Between 18 and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready, but some children may not be ready until 30 months or older. They also advise parents that if their child resists strongly, it is best to wait for a while.

In the case of a head-strong 3 1/2 year old, there are some things you can try. For starters, go to Target, or wherever you and he generally shop together. Take him to the underwear aisle and tell him that he is a big boy now, and big boys are very lucky because they get to wear big boy underwear. He is especially lucky because you brought him to Target where they have lots of underwear to choose from. He can pick whatever he wants....Power Rangers, Batman, Bob the Builder, Spongebob, etc.

As soon as you get home, he can try on his new undies. If he can go a whole hour and stay dry, he can wear them all day. He needs to use the potty first, to help him stay dry for a whole hour. At the end of that hour, you'll remind him to use the toilet again, and try for another hour.

If he can't make the first hour, try to understand his state of mind. Why do you think he didn't make it? Was he engrossed in a tv show or game? Is he just really not interested, even with the new cool underwear? If it's the former and he really wants to try again, let him. Make the time frame a half hour though and remind him at that point to try to use the potty. If he just really isn't ready, don't push it. Tell him that you'll wash the underwear and put it in his drawer, and you'll try again next week.

If his friends are already trained, encourage a play date where he'll see them use the toilet. Sometimes that's enough to spark interest. By 3 1/2, when he decides he's ready he will likely be very successful very quickly. It's probably not that he has bladder control issues, more that he needs to decide for himself that he's ready.

Summer is the perfect time to train, because you can spend a lot of time outdoors where it's easier to clean up accidents. It's hard work but you have to be consistent.

Please hit the comment tab below to share any tips that have worked for you.
Good luck!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remember That You Are Your Child's Primary Teacher

We all want what’s best for our children so we enroll them into the right school, sign up for the greatest classes, and get the them the best educational toys. Yet, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that parents are your children’s primary teachers and every moment you spend with your children is valuable.

Keep in mind that your children watch you and learn from your examples. If you drive a hybrid, use cloth reusable grocery bags, and recycle your trash, your children will learn how to be environmentally conscious. You don’t need to sit them down and give a speech, they can see from your actions that protecting the environment is important to you.

If you spend time playing outdoors, hitting the gym, and enjoying physical activities, your kids will learn that exercise is important. You won’t have to urge them from the couch or computer because they will have learned the importance of physical activity.

If you serve healthy meals and eat what is served, your kids will learn to try those foods. By refusing to make other meals specifically for a picky eater, they will be forced to eat what the rest of the family is eating, and will recognize that healthy eating is a family priority.

The car is a great place to spend time looking at the world outside the windows and talking about what you see. Discuss your day, your child’s day, the big yellow bulldozer you see, and even the music playing on the radio. These discussions will show your children that you care about them, and will teach them many lessons about the world around them.

Classes and toys are fine, but never forget that you are your children’s most important teacher.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Hereditary?

My husband’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease, and my Mother-in-Law has always been concerned about the disease being passed down to her. I asked Dr. Robert Nagele, a researcher for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, if the disease is hereditary.

He explained that there is a hereditary form of Alzheimer’s Disease that is inherited, but it is a mutation that is passed on from one generation to the next and it only accounts for four percent of the total Alzheimer’s patients. Ninety-six percent are considered to be sporadic. But the disease does run in families. It ran in Dr. Nagaele’s mother’s family. There were six children in her family and of the six, two of them died of Alzheimer’s Disease and the other one had dementia which was leaning toward Alzheimer’s Disease.

Research has demonstrated that people typically suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years before their symptoms are worrisome enough to visit the doctor. There are signs you can look out for if you suspect that a loved one may be suffering. Maybe Mom is starting to be unable to balance her check book, she’s forgetting where she’s placing her keys, or there are unusual behaviors such as her keys showing up in the refrigerator. Eventually it’s alarming enough that it causes you to bring her into the doctor.

Dr. Nagele points out that the disease is ongoing for about five to eight years before a person ever comes to see their doctor for the first time because the brain doesn’t take it lying down, it’s fighting back very hard. The symptoms can arise anywhere in the brain, and different parts of the brain control different functions, which makes it hard initially on the neurologist to say it’s clearly Alzheimer’s. There are tests that can be given to try and discern what’s going on.

Whatever your family history, we all know that exercise is good for our overall health, and now researchers believe that exercise and healthy eating habits will also help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. As parents, you need to get your kids into good habits from birth. Be sure they eat healthy foods and that they spend time playing every day. Physical activity is important, and building that habit in them when they are young is essential.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Exercise Now to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

I spoke with a researcher who has devoted the last nine years to studying Alzheimer’s Disease, and his advice to everyone is “get off the couch.” Dr. Robert Nagele is a researcher for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. We all know that exercise is important, but now researchers are finding that it can help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, a debilitating disease that causes memory loss in older people.

Dr. Nagele says that at the age of 65, the incidence of getting Alzheimer’s Disease is four percent, and at the age of 85 it’s fifty percent. He believes that everybody has Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s just a question of degree. The people who come into the doctor’s offices just have more disease than other people.

It turns out that we have a blood-brain barrier which is very important. It’s intact in people when they’re healthy, and its purpose is to keep things in the blood. When those vessels travel through the brain, they make sure that nothing leaks out into the brain that shouldn’t. As we get older, we experience aging associated changes in our blood vessels, including the integrity of the blood-brain barrier. You begin to spring leaks in your brain, and they wreak havoc on the ability of the brain to function. There’s a material called amyloid that characteristically accumulates in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s Disease. You have it all over your body but not in your brain. When your blood-brain barrier breaks down, the deal’s off and the gates open and the amyloid now begins to flood out in the brain. The accumulation of amyloid is one of the hallmark characteristics of the disease.

There are things healthy adults can do to help stave off this disease. First, get off the couch. When people retire, they stop working and get a little more lethargic, eating less healthy foods and spending too much time being inactive. These bad habits are harmful to their blood vessels. The blood-brain barrier breakdown is an early step in Alzheimer’s Disease process so you should do all you can to keep your blood-brain barrier intact and healthy. That means maintain your cardiovascular health, and a fringe benefit is that it’s also good for your heart. Get a gym membership, walk on the treadmill, keep your weight down and watch what you eat. The worst thing that has happened to our society is the fact that we spend six and a half hours a day on average watching television.

Experts have said for many years that exercise is good for us in many ways. Now we can add one more benefit to the list.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Parent’s Role in Parent-Child Classes

As both a mom and a teacher, I have always loved parent-child classes. This is a wonderful opportunity for the parent, most often the mother, and baby to spend quality time together. The mother gets to socialize with other mothers who are experiencing the same things she is, and the child gets to see other babies in action. It’s also a wonderful way for a family to test out a preschool, to get a feel for whether it might be the right fit the child when she’s ready to start preschool on her own.

In the school where I teach, there are two teachers in the room to facilitate these parent-child classes, though the point is for parent-child bonding. One year, I had a class where all of the mothers were very good friends. They couldn’t wait to come to socialize with each other and catch up on the latest gossip. My teaching partner and I would attempt to lead the one year olds in a rendition of Old MacDonald, but their parents would be so busy chatting with one another that getting them to join the circle seemed to be an intrusion. That year, I felt that I was constantly trying to engage the parents who seemed very uninterested in getting involved.

While I do believe that the social interaction between moms is vitally important, in that class, their children were definitely cheated. The teachers did the best we could to facilitate the activities, but it was impossible without cooperation from the parents.

By all means, take advantage of parent-child classes and enjoy the interaction with other moms, but don’t forget the reason that you are there.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Parents Must Say No

When children realize that they can always have their way at home, it makes it very hard for them to succeed in the classroom. Tanya knew that when she wanted something that her parents initially said no to, she only needed to throw a temper tantrum and she’d eventually get her way.

Very early in the school year, Tanya wanted to color at the easel, but there were already two children on either side. I told her that she’d have to wait. With that, she flung herself on the ground and started crying and beating her fists on the floor.

As it was early in the year and we didn’t know Tanya well enough yet to know if something else was wrong, I picked her up and tried to soothe her. I explained that she would have the next turn at the easel but in the meantime, she would have way more fun playing with something else while she waited instead of crying. Soon after, one of the children at the easel came over to Tanya and told her that she could take his spot. It was very sweet of him and it certainly calmed her down.

The next time a similar situation happened, we understood that this was Tanya’s behavior when she didn’t get her way. When the sweet boy tried to give in, we told him that while it was very nice of him, this was his turn at the easel and Tanya would have to wait. For the first two weeks of school, Tanya threw temper tantrums several times each week. We began making sure she was in a safe spot where she couldn’t hurt herself or someone else, but we let her cry. Sometimes while she was crying, we’d move on to another activity and Tanya realized that she had missed out on that activity altogether. It didn’t take long for her to recognize that her tears weren’t going to get her what she wanted.

At one point, I asked Tanya if she gave Mommy and Daddy a hard time at home like she was giving us at school. “Yes,” she admitted. “I throw temper tantrums at home all the time.”

“That might work for you at home,” I told her. “But it will not work for you at school.”
It didn’t take long for Tanya to figure that out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Develop Fine Motor Skills in the Kitchen

As the teacher of three year olds, I find that children’s fine motor skills are often extremely weak. One theory is that now we place our babies on their backs instead of their stomachs to help prevent Infant Death Syndrome, and that has prevented infants from strengthening their arms and hands. Whatever the cause, we must find ways to help kids develop their small muscles and the kitchen is a great place to start.

Let your children help you make a salad by tearing the lettuce. The act of ripping is wonderful to help develop fine motor skills. At the same time, they are learning how to make a salad and feel proud to have helped prepare dinner.

On spaghetti night, let your child break the strands of uncooked spaghetti that you will then put into the pot of boiling water. They can help you sprinkle the garlic and parmesan cheese on the garlic bread. If you enjoy baking, let your toddler help. Kneading dough for bread, holding measuring spoons and cups, and even stirring batter, all help strengthen their small muscles.

If you are nervous having your children take part in the actual meal preparation, have a special container of toys in the kitchen that they can play with while you cook. Play dough, puzzles, safety scissors, and balls filled with sand, are all activities that help develop fine motor skills. Even coloring with crayons and pencils is great.

All the while, you can talk about the meal you are preparing or just chatter about your day. It’s a bonding experience that is good for your child, and you, in many ways.