Friday, January 29, 2010

Reasons to Find a Way to Get Your Toddlers to Eat Many Foods

I taught a four year old child who refused to eat any fruit or vegetables. His parents were extremely frustrated with his stubbornness, but they were also worried that if they pushed too hard, he’d become even more anxious about food, and potentially develop emotional or psychological problems. Of course, they recognized that his diet was less healthy than it should be, but they hoped he’d grow out of it. While I understood their concerns, there are many reasons why they needed to nip this problem in the bud, and find a way to get their toddler to eat a variety of foods, especially healthy ones.

These parents believed that his refusal to eat fruit and vegetables was a control issue. What he put in his mouth was an area he could control. Unfortunately, that is a red flag right there. Kids with eating disorders generally get into trouble because that is an area they alone can control. At four years old, I believe that his parents needed to find a way to encourage him to get over his issue of control.

Before seeing a psychologist, nutritionist, or other health professional, there are things parents can do first. Involving the child into decisions about his food will also give him control. Take him to the supermarket and let him choose one fruit or vegetable that he will eat. Maybe he’ll choose something exotic, like a pomegranate or artichoke. Tell him that he must taste this food. If he likes it, fantastic! If not, he doesn’t have to eat it, but he has to choose something else.

Also let him help you prepare his meal. Cook a food like carrots in several ways. Let him taste them raw with a veggie dip or dipped in peanut butter. Also, steam them or add them to chicken noodle soup. Let him help you use cookie cutters on other foods, like apples, to make the shape interesting. Wilton 101 Cookie Cutter SetApples can also be dipped in honey or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Children should also be given choices, though limited ones. He can choose between string beans and corn, or cucumbers and red peppers, but he must choose one. Of course, you must be willing to eat varied foods, to show him the importance of it. If he sees you turn your nose up at vegetables, that is the example he will follow. Always use positive reinforcement and not punishments. If he eats his vegetables for a week, he can choose a special dessert or you will take him to a movie or playground.

Also, try foods repeatedly. Just because he doesn’t like something once, doesn’t mean he won’t develop an appetite for it another time. You can also encourage him to have dinner at a friend or relative’s house where he might be too embarrassed to balk at a food. Once he tries it, he might actually like it.

Getting your child to eat a variety of foods, especially healthy ones, is important. Getting off to a good start will make his life much healthier as he gets older.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

If Your Child is Diagnosed with Autism, Early Intervention and Complimentary Support Help

It is so hard to believe when you first find out that your child has a disability. Yet, getting that diagnose early is vitally important in providing you with the most effective way to help your child. There are many available services provided free of charge or through insurance that give you the support you need.

At sixteen months old, Maya Gordon gradually stopped speaking and suddenly wasn’t responding to her name being called. Concerned, her parents sought early intervention and Maya was diagnosed with autism. To supplement the early intervention that her township provided, the Gordons also immediately enrolled Maya into a children’s rehabilitation hospital program for autistic children.

“We definitely see some improvement in Maya,” says her mother Lakisha. “I see the benefit in the therapy. “The more, the better, so contracting the rehab hospital in addition to early intervention has helped Maya,” Gordon insists.

That therapy includes two hour-long visits each week, one for speech and the second for occupational therapy. The hospital also provides physical therapy to children who need it.
Children with autism are treated with therapeutic listening, sensory integration therapy and a play-based approach. All three are designed to improve the child’s engagement, interactions with others, play skills, self-help skills and fine motor development.

Maya enjoys her visits to the rehabilitation hospital, which include a lot of swinging, climbing and jumping. Through these activities she is learning to increase eye contact and engagement, and she has further developed her fine motor skills.

“It’s like play to her, so I don’t feel that I’m subjecting her to anything too grueling,” Lakisha adds. “I love their staff. I feel very fortunate in the people who Maya is working with. I like the therapy she’s getting and also the support from the other parents who are bringing their children there. My husband calls it my support group.”

For the Gordons, the hospital has helped the entire family. In addition to the therapies provided at the hospital, the staff creates a complimentary program for families to follow at home.

“It’s also educational for me,” points out Lakisha. “I didn’t know much about autism before Maya was diagnosed. She’s home with me most of the time, so they’ve taught me ways that I can help her at home while she’s still young. There’s a greater chance of success when you start when they’re young.”

No parent wants to believe their children has a disability, yet, when they acknowledge the possibility and seek early intervention, they are giving their child the help he or she needs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How to Raise Well-Adjusted Kids after Divorce

Nobody wants to get a divorce, especially when kids are involved. Yet, sometimes that outcome is inevitable, and the parents' job is to help the kids remain well-adjusted in the aftermath.

A few years ago I taught a young boy whose parents were going through a very messy divorce. It was a tough year for everyone in the family. The parents hated that they were putting their children through the process, but they recognized that they didn't want to stay married. Now, several years later, the divorce is final, the parents have created new lives of their own, and the kids are flourishing.

It is sad when young children have to face their parents' divorce, but kids are resillient and they will be healthier if their parents are happy. I grew up in a home where my parents fought constantly and they didn't divorce until I was 16. I think I would have been better off had they made the split sooner, as there was always tension hanging over all of us.

As much as we’d love to shield our children from pain, they do deserve to know about things that will affect them. Sadly, there are parents who get divorced while their children are in preschool. It is very hard for parents to know what to say to their children or how to behave in the presence of their spouse. How do you talk to a very young child about divorce?

Jean Thomas, MD, MSW, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at both The Children’s National Medical Center and The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, who is internationally known for early childhood diagnosis and treatment strategies, shares her point of view. She points out that parents cannot hide their true feelings.

“The feelings that they think they’re hiding are shown to the child by their facial expression and body language," she explains. "Let’s say they are putting on a pretty face every time they are with the child and the spouse. But, the child sees through that and absolutely knows when the parent is having a hard time, despite the false face that the parent presents.”

She suggests that the parents tell the child that Mommy and Daddy have been arguing and have been unhappy. “The problem with not telling the child what’s going on is the facial or body language information the child is reading,” explains Dr. Thomas. “The child thinks that it’s something he’s done. They have very strong little super egos so they blame themselves. That can lead toward a long-term depressive process if it’s not reversed. I think it’s very important that the child understands that there’s a problem.”

Until you are sure that you are going to separate or divorce, you don’t want to suggest to your child that separation is a possibility. “You don’t want to put ideas into their head that are then going to be reversed or fixed,” says Dr. Thomas. “If it’s a done deal and somebody’s moving out this weekend, I would make sure that there is no blame put on one or the other parent. Say something like, ‘Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting along very well and we think we would do better living in different places. We both love you and you know it’s not your fault.’” She says that kids are going to believe it’s their fault even if nobody is blaming them. They might think back to the night before when they were in trouble for spilling their milk as the reason for everyone’s unhappiness today.

So don't beat yourself up if you find yourself in this situation. But, you do need to work hard to keep your children well-adjusted through the process.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gardening at Home with your Kids Encourages Tasting Healthy Foods

Michelle Obama is teaching families about the benefits of growing your own vegetables in a garden in your yard. Of course, you don’t have to live in the White House to share her vision that growing your own food is important today. There are many benefits to enjoying a home garden with your kids. For one, they are more likely to taste foods that they have watered and nurtured. Additionally, it’s a fun shared experience that you can enjoy together, as well as a way to teach your kids about nature and the environment.

I asked Meredith Melendez, Horticulture Consultant at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Burlington County branch, for tips on how to get the most out of your garden. For starters, I wondered if home grown vegetables are, in fact, healthier than ones bought at the supermarket. “That’s debated a lot, but I like growing my own vegetables because I know what I’ve done to them,” she explained. “I know my comfort level when it comes to dealing with pests and disease and so I treat my plants accordingly. I think control over what you’re putting in your mouth is comforting to people.”

When planning your garden, Melendez recommends that you take time to think about why you want a garden. There are so many different reasons. It might be because you want to grow your own food or it could be that you want to expose your kids to the natural environment. The focus with the White House has really been producing food, but in terms of kids in the garden, it’s just great to create these outdoor environments for them to experience nature on their own, and in a supervised setting.

There are plenty of free catalogs that you can look through to figure out what piques your interest and start in that direction. Next, choose your garden’s location carefully. Your plot is really important in terms of how much sunlight it’s going to get and how the soil’s been treated. There’s a lot of information now on shade gardens, but when it comes to getting fruit and vegetables out of a shady area, that’s where it gets really tough.

Melendez recommends that folks get their soil tested. In New Jersey you can do that through Rutgers Cooperative Extension for a $15 fee. Check out Master Gardener Programs where you live for a similar testing service. That will tell you your soil Ph which is really important for the types of plants that you can grow in that soil, and it will also tell you the nutrients available in that soil. From that information you can get tips regarding fertilizer, lime, and ways to get the soil at the right composition for what you want to grow.

Whether or not growing your vegetables will actually save you money is debatable, in terms of the money you spend to create and sustain your garden. But, Melendez sees other benefits in growing your own. “I know we eat more vegetables because they’re coming out of our garden than if I had to go to the store to purchase them, so it’s a great way to get my family involved in growing these things,” she points out.” It certainly helps with my kids. If they pick it, they tend to eat it more than if we just bought it at the store.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Warning Our Kids About Predators, Sex Offenders, and Strangers

We’ve all heard the gut-wrenching stories. Just imagining your child being pulled into a moving van, getting lured to the home of a convicted sex offender, or being molested by a family friend, is every parent’s worst nightmare,. Unfortunately, we can’t always prevent bad things from happening to our children, but as parents, it is our job to warn our children of potential dangers, including predators, sex offenders, and strangers, to keep them as safe as possible.

I spoke with Sergeant Brian Randazzo of the Voorhees, New Jersey Police Department about how parents can talk to their kids about such a scary topic. “The age to begin talking to your child depends on their maturity,” he says. “You don’t want to scare the heck out of the kids but you really need to make sure they understand what you’re talking about. It’s important for kids to understand that strangers are people who you do not know. What comes into play is if a stranger becomes a dangerous stranger.”

What makes a dangerous stranger is when someone tries to trick or harm a child, often with lures. Make your children understand that if a grown-up needs directions, is looking for a lost puppy, or wants to ask for help, he will ask another adult, not a child. Tell your child that if someone he doesn’t know tries to offer him candy, a game, or something else, that is a sure sign that he should run away.

“It’s important for kids to know it’s a dangerous stranger if they are offering you something,” explains Sergeant Randazzo. Give your child a plan if they do find themselves in this situation. If they are approached by someone in a car, they should run in the opposite direction. If a person tries to grab them, they must kick, scream, and cause attention to the situation so someone can help. The police rely mostly on witnesses accounts when searching for abducted children. Pay close attention to the vehicle, it’s color, license plate number, and anything else that can help in the search.

What’s scariest is that in many cases child predators are people our children do know. In that case, kids need to understand right from wrong, and how far to trust someone. “You need to make it clear that only Mommy and Daddy have the right to help you wash your private parts, which are the parts covered by a bathing suit,” explains Sergeant Randazzo. “If anyone ever touches you there, tell an adult right away. Say no and try to get out of the situation. Always tell your parent or someone you trust what happened.”

Registered sex offenders are required to list their current home address, and that information can be accessed by visiting If you discover that there is a registered sex offender in your neighborhood, it is important for you to explain that to your children. While you would prefer that your kids completely avoid that person’s home, that’s not always possible. If not, they shouldn’t enter the home or engage in conversation with the sex offender. Whenever possible, they should not be alone when they are in that area.

“Up until a certain age, we hang on close to our kids,” points out Sergeant Randazzo. “We want to keep them close and we want to keep them safe. But at some point in time we have to let go.” Arming them with information of how to stay safe is vital.

The Voorhees New Jersey Police Department visits third graders using the McGruff Crime Dog series. Their website, can provide parents with tips to help them broach these sensitive topics with their children.

Speak with your kids to keep them safe from predators, sex offenders, and strangers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting the Most out of Sick Days

When our child gets sick, it’s a problem on many levels. First and foremost, we hate to see our son or daughter suffer. Beyond that, there are the practical issues of taking care of him. Can we take a day off work? Can a grandparent of babysitter fill in? Will his siblings catch the illness? Will I?

You have to answer all of those questions and the logistics can be a nightmare. But, there’s another to side to sick days. If you are able to spend the day home with your child, think of all the positives that can come out of that. Most sick kids love to curl up in mommy’s lap. As your child gets older, he will be willing to do that less often. There’s no greater feeling than him needing you and wanting to snuggle with you.

Once the medicine has kicked in and he’s feeling up to doing something, it’s a great opportunity to play games, watch a favorite video together, or just find a way to connect. Talking as you color side by side is a wonderful opportunity to find out what he’s thinking, how school is going, what is happening in his life. (And, coloring as an adult is awesome…try it sometime!)

Work will wait until you return but your ability to care for your child won’t come again so soon. When you do get back to work, you will appreciate it that much more.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Importance of Giving Young Kids Jobs

Most toddlers love to please their parents and teachers. When asked to clean up toys in the classroom, the students beam with pride as they take this responsibility seriously. They will be equally eager to clean their toys at home if they feel that it is their job.

As young as two years old, you can explain to your child that everyone in a family has certain jobs to do and these jobs are very important. His job is to put his toys away when he is finished playing with them. You can help him at first by showing him how to sort the toys (also a great learning skill) such as the action figures from the animals. Be sure your shelves are organized and there is plenty of space on a low shelf that he can easily reach.

When he’s finished, make a big deal about what a great job he did and how helpful he is to you. You might even create a sticker chart that you will fill up with a sticker each time he cleans up. When you reach ten stickers, he gets a special treat, such as an ice cream cone, small toy, special play date, etc.

There are many jobs that kids can do at very young ages. You will need to add more responsibilities as you believe your child can handle them. Helping set the table, putting laundry away, and putting non-breakable groceries in the cupboard are all jobs that toddlers can handle. They will gain pride in helping you and will learn the value of becoming a responsible member of the family.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Use Realistic Punishments with Kids

Nobody ever said parenting was easy. It isn’t fun to discipline our kids, but that’s our job. Even though it’s sometimes easier to just give in than have yet another battle, children need limits and it’s our job to be sure they know what these limits are. That is often done through punishments when the kids stray outside the boundaries we have set.

It’s important to make sure that a punishment fits the crime, and that whatever we threaten, we must follow through. Otherwise, your message will be lost. Consider the story of Trevor.

Trevor was a child in our class who figured out very quickly that his father’s threats were usually idle. One day, we went to the grocery store on a field trip. Trevor was very excited and just wanted to touch everything he saw. First, he grabbed an apple from the shelf, which caused several more apples to roll to the ground. His father reminded him that he wasn’t allowed to touch the food. A moment later, Trevor grabbed a cucumber. This time, Trevor’s father raised his voice and told his son that if he touched one more thing they were going home. Five minutes later, Trevor nabbed a candy bar off another shelf. Again, his father told him to stop touching things or they would go home.

And yet again, Trevor took another item from the shelf. Though his father got angrier, he continued to threaten to leave without having any intention of doing so. There was no incentive for Trevor to stop touching things because he knew there would be no consequence.

Trevor’s dad had two choices. He could have threatened to leave and then actually left, or he could have used another punishment that he could follow through on. For example, he might have told Trevor that if he touched something else, they’d have to sit for five minutes and miss out on the class visiting the lobster tank in the seafood department. Once he followed through on that threat, Trevor would be disappointed to miss seeing the lobsters, but he would know that his father meant what he said.

Parents need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. You have to let your children know that you mean what you say. If you follow through the first time, the kids will be less apt to challenge you the next time.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Making the Most of Parent Teacher Conferences

When my kids were in preschool, I couldn’t wait for parent teacher conferences. This was a chance for an objective observer to fill me in on how my children were doing. Were they playing well with their peers? Did they enjoy learning? Were they developing appropriately?

Now that I sit on the other side of the desk, I feel the weight of the importance of these conferences. In most cases, I get to be the bearer of wonderful compliments about a child and the great parenting that has made him so successful. I’m able to point out the child’s strengths and why he is an important part of our class. What parent doesn’t want to hear good news?!

Sometimes, that good news is sprinkled with comments about a student’s weaknesses. These conferences are designed to also point out things that the parent can work on with their child. For example, if he has weak fine motor skills, we make recommendations of activities the child can do at home to strengthen his muscles. If he is struggling with numbers, we suggest games they can play to help him learn.

Yet, sometimes there are gray areas in terms of what a teacher can reasonably say. In one conference, I had to tread lightly in encouraging a parent to work harder to potty train her daughter. This child was four years old, yet still wore pull-ups. Her mother admitted that she was still too afraid to let her child go “unprotected,” in underwear. Yet, the child was bright, verbal, and a quick learner in all areas in school, and I was sure that she could be trained quickly and easily given the opportunity. In school we encouraged her to use the bathroom regularly, but without her parents following up at home, it couldn’t work.

During this conference I could feel that her mother didn’t appreciate my suggestion. In truth, when to potty train is a parent’s prerogative, and she didn’t like my suggesting that she wasn’t a good parent in this respect. Did I cross the line? I don’t think so. It is my experience that by four years old, a child should be trained unless there are other underlying issues. I felt it was my responsibility to encourage her training, and I was very willing to help out.

We compromised that she would place the child in underwear, and then put the pull-up over top of the underwear. In this way, if the child did have an accident, the pull-up would keep it from leaking out, but the child could feel the discomfort of being wet. If several days passed and the underwear remained dry, her mother could feel confident in getting rid of the pull-ups altogether.

Unfortunately, there are also conferences where we have to broach the subject of red flags that we see. Possibly the child isn’t processing information appropriately, maybe she needs help with her speech, or we are seeing something that is unusual at this age. These are never easy conversations to have, yet they are vitally important. Given early intervention, many issues can be resolved or dealt with before too much time passes.

When you have your parent teacher conference, come armed with any questions or concerns you might have. If the teacher makes a recommendation that you don’t agree with, take a deep breath and listen to what she has to say. Once you’ve had time to digest the information, you can choose to handle it in your way. But remember that she only has your child’s best interests at heart.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness for Mothers

Though this blog is typically devoted to preschool and toddler issues, today I'm going to repeat a previous post because it’s so important. This one is about Mom. I am now three and a half years cancer free, and I need to periodically share my story in hopes of reaching other moms who face a similar ordeal.

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 Little Gym class and you take a look around the circle of 8 women, one of you will likely get breast cancer. Please don't think it can't happen to you.

My cancer was detected through a routine mammogram. I never felt a lump or any pain at all. In fact, after the doctors knew exactly where the lump was, they still couldn't feel it. Believe me...they tried! 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.

I'd love comments from other women, especially those who for some reason refuse to get a mammogram. I want to try to change your mind before it's too late.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teaching about the Environment by Example

My 22 year old son was recently home from college. He went with me to the grocery store which is always a delight. Watching him choose healthy foods, including humus, pita bread, cottage cheese and fruit, reminds me that my husband and I did something right in his upbringing, because he chooses to eat a healthy diet now that he is an adult. I also discovered that he learned the lesson of caring for the environment.

As he helped me load my cloth bags filled with our food purchases into the car, he jokingly commented on what I had become. “Aren’t you cute, mom,” he said, “with your hybrid car and reusable bags.” Without ever thinking about it, I have made moves to be more environmentally conscious. I didn’t sit down with my children and preach the importance of caring for our earth. Instead, through my actions, my children can see the value of taking care of the world.

There are many things that each of us can do to protect the environment. Using a refillable water bottle and recycling the trach are really simple things that our children can witness every day. You won’t have to give them a verbal lesson when they see that these things are merely part of your everyday life.

I am always preaching “lead by example.” It’s the little things we do that our kids notice, and these provide the most forceful teaching moments of all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Extraordinary Measures for an Extraordinary Family

I had the great fortune to interview John Crowley, the inspiration behind the new movie Extraordinary Measures. He seems like a regular guy, though he is clearly anything but. If you haven’t seen the commercials for the trailer, the story is one that began with sadness and frustration. Yet, due to the fortitude, strength, and determination of John and his wife Aileen, it is a story of inspiration, happiness, and admiration.

The Crowley’s daughter Megan was fifteen months old when they got the diagnosis that she had Pompe Disease. At the time, their baby Patrick was only seven days old. A few months later they had Patrick tested, to discover that he also had the disease. The Crowley’s oldest son, John III, born in 1995, is not afflicted.

Pompe is a very rare genetic disorder which causes a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks down glycogen. A “cousin” disease of muscular dystrophies, the build-up of glycogen causes muscle weakness throughout the body, affecting the skeletal muscles, diaphragm, nervous system, liver, and heart. Neither John nor his wife Aileen had ever heard of the disease, or had any idea that they were both silent carriers.

There was no cure for the disease and the pace of scientific research was excruciatingly slow. The Crowleys started to research Pompe themselves, but felt constantly frustrated with the slow pace of results. They were running out of time as Megan and Patrick became progressively sicker. As the children’s muscles weakened, swallowing, chewing and breathing grew more and more difficult and they were soon put on ventilators. They also couldn’t walk.

John and Aileen knew they could no longer sit back and wait. Though John had limited experience in the medical world, he allied himself with numerous scientists and doctors. He knew he was in a race to develop a treatment to save his children. At the time he worked at Bristol-Meyers. “It was a wonderful place to work with great people and great benefits including health insurance,” explains Crowley. “I envisioned I would stay there a long time. Only out of a sense of frustration that science wasn’t moving quick enough, did I take the step and the risk of leaving the security of that job to start a company from scratch and raise money.”

He became CEO of the start-up business, Novazyme, a biotechnology company that conducted research on a new experimental treatment for the disease. They were acquired a year and a half later by Genzyme Corporation, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies. John served as Senior Vice President of Genzyme’s worldwide Pompe Disease program, where they found a drug that showed positive, promising results.

The children joined the clinical trial for the drug seven years ago. Today, Megan, 13, and Patrick, 11, have beaten the odds. “The medicine that we developed saved their lives in that it fixed their heart, and the heart was the most life threatening aspect of the disease. Before they received the drug, their heart was two to three times normal size. It’s now normal – you couldn’t tell it from another kid,” explains Crowley.

The goal now is to find a drug that will keep making Megan and Patrick stronger. His current company, Amicus Therapeutics, along with other biotech companies, are working on these drugs. “There are a lot of exciting technologies on the horizon,” Crowley points out. “Megan and Patrick may hopefully live many more decades. It’s one day at a time, and we appreciate every day we have together.”

To learn more about the Crowleys, visit

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mom’s Clubs are Great for Mothers and Tots

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with moms at the Mom’s Club in Voorhees, NJ. These women get together once a month to chat with each other and watch their children interacting with one another. They share problems, questions, solutions and the trials and tribulations of being a mom at every stage of development.

These women also meet on other occasions to enjoy a girl’s night out at the movies, a shopping spree, or other events without the kids. Coming from different places, backgrounds, and walks of life, they bond over motherhood.

It was great fun to see how the children enjoyed each other. At varying ages, the older toddlers took great interest in the babies, and visa versa. They sent cars flying across the floor to other kids, built block towers, colored, and enjoyed using their imaginations. They rarely even acknowledged their own mothers with so much stimulation around them.

It is often scary and confusing to encounter something with your child for the first time. Whether it’s as simple as questions relating to breast or bottle feeding, or more serious, such as wondering if your child is reaching an appropriate milestone, having a network of people to talk to is invaluable.

Check to see if there’s a parenting group in your town. If not, it is easy to start one. Inquire at your local library or go on-line. The friendships you make will help you navigate the uncharted territory of motherhood, and your kids will enjoy their new friends.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Parents and Teachers Must be Vigilant about Kids’ Allergies

At my school, parents must fill out many forms at the beginning of the school year, all designed to keep the students as safe as possible. One of those forms is dedicated to allergies. It is vitally important that parents take the time to be thorough with this information, and that teachers take the time to read it and follow it strictly.

Many years ago I taught a student who suddenly broke out in a horrendous rash. We immediately called her mother, who came to school right away. We explained that the kids had just eaten their snack, and when we spoke with the children, we found out that the child had eaten another student’s peanut. It turned out that she was allergic to them. The unbelievable part of the story is that this mother hadn’t informed us that her daughter was allergic to peanuts.

This couldn’t happen today because our school is peanut free, and the awareness of the dangers of peanut allergies is high. Yet, there are so many new allergies that children have today that as teachers, we must be vigilant that children aren’t eating anything they shouldn’t have.

That’s not always easy to do. Room parents often bring in snacks for parties and special occasions. Parents bake cupcakes for their children’s birthdays to share with the class. It is always possible that there’s some contamination within a person’s kitchen. For example, maybe one of their kids ate peanut butter and a tiny bit was left on the counter where the cookies were placed to cool. No one meant for peanut residue to attach to that cookie, but it could happen. When you read the labels of most chocolate chip or M&M bags, there’s a warning that they were manufactured in a plant that also makes peanut products.

Allergies are very scary, especially in young children. Together we must all work to keep them safe.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Does Age Really Matter in Potty Training?

I find that more families are holding off on potty training their children. Years ago, most children were trained before their third birthday. Today, I have some four year olds who are just being trained. Does it matter? That’s a personal decision, but I believe that when a child is ready, it’s important to take those cues and get the job done.

Sonia was a four year child I taught who was bright, articulate, and strong willed. She was the only child in our class who still wore a diaper. When we would encourage Sonia to use the potty, she would, though reluctantly. She simply didn’t want to be bothered. Though we encouraged her at school, her parents didn’t reinforce this at home, so there was no consistency in her training.

In my opinion, Sonia should have been trained by this time. She understood and recognized how it felt when she needed to use the bathroom. It got to the point where other children would make fun of her for still wearing a diaper. She wore dresses a lot, and when she sat at circle, her diaper was obvious. The kids love to talk about the characters on their underwear, and Sonia seemed embarrassed that she was still in diapers.

Experts say that it’s easiest to potty train a toddler when she’s ready. Watch for those signs from your child and take advantage of the opportunity. Cleaning the bottom of a four year old is not a fun experience. By four, most children should be using the toilet.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Raising Good Eaters

There’s enough research now that proves that what we eat, even as babies, will determine a lot about our health as we grow. Getting your child to be a well rounded eater as a toddler is important in keeping her fit and healthy throughout her life.

Too often, a child says she doesn’t like something without ever trying it. I feel that parents do a great disservice to their children by not encouraging them to taste an array of foods. Some parents cook one meal for themselves and something else for the children because the kids will only eat chicken fingers, pizza or macaroni and cheese. Once the children get into the habit of demanding such a limited menu, it will be more difficult for them to want to try new things as they get older.

Also, those old standbys are not nearly as healthy as other foods, including fish, poultry that isn’t fried, and fresh fruit and vegetables. If you give your child the same meal that everyone else in the family is enjoying, and you refuse to make a separate dish for just that child, she will realize that she has to try it. Sometimes adding ketchup or another sauce that can change the food’s flavor will make it more appetizing. But, if you tell her she has to eat what everyone else is eating, and then if she refuses, you make her macaroni and cheese anyway, she will learn that she doesn’t have to try new foods.

Every Wednesday in our classroom we have healthy snack day, and one parent brings in a healthy treat for the class. We’ve enjoyed everything from fresh fruit salad to cream cheese on celery, to frozen yogurt. We try very hard to encourage every child to taste whatever the snack is. If they try it and don’t like it, we’ll give them pretzels, which is our old standby that everyone seems to like. But if we offer them two types of snacks and they refuse to taste either, they have made the choice to skip snack that day.

Here’s a story that happened in school. One day we made ‘Stone Soup’ in class after reading the story by the same name. Of course, we skipped the stone, but we put in carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, alphabet noodles and seasoning. Every child tasted the soup, and most of them enjoyed it. When Becky’s mother picked her up that day, she was certain that her daughter had refused to taste the soup. To her surprise, we told her that Becky had eaten every drop. Her mother insisted that Becky would never touch a vegetable at home, and wondered what we did to get her to eat vegetable soup.

Part of the appeal was the fact that Becky helped make the soup. We gave each child a plastic knife and we softened the carrots and potatoes enough that the children were able to cut through them. Every child also had a turn to stir the soup. But Becky also knew that we expected her to at least taste the soup. As the other children around her were enjoying it, she realized that it was okay to like it.

If you offer your child the foods that the rest of your family is eating, she has two choices – she can taste them, or she can be hungry. At some point, her hunger will force her to find something on the table that she’s willing to eat. But, if you give in and make mac and cheese and chicken nuggets for every meal, your child will never learn to eat new and healthy foods.