Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tips for Successful Potty Training

The mother of a three and a half year old little boy was upset because her son still wasn't potty trained. He didn’t even seem to have any interest in getting rid of his diapers. I promised her that he would be potty trained by his wedding day! Seriously though, for most every toddler, this is a problem that seems huge at the time, but will quickly be settled.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says there is no set age when toilet training should start. They suggest that the right time depends on a child's psychological and physical development. Children between 18 and 24 months often start showing signs of being ready, but there are some children who may not be ready until 30 months or older. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advises parents that if their child resists strongly, they will be better off waiting for a while.

Don’t be discouraged if you have a head-strong 3 1/2 year old, because there are some things you can try. Take your child to the local store that sells underwear with characters on it. Visit the underwear aisle and explain that he is a big boy now, and big boys are very lucky because only they can wear big boy underwear. Tell your son that he is especially lucky because you brought him to Target, or whatever the store is that you chose, where they have lots of underwear to choose from. He can pick whatever he wants.... Batman, Power Rangers, Spiderman, Bob the Builder, etc.

When you get home, let him try on his new underpants. If he can stay dry for an entire hour, he can wear them all day. Be sure he uses the potty first, to help him stay dry for the full hour. At the end of that hour, remind him to use the toilet again, and try for another hour.

He can also help you create a sticker chart that you hang on the refrigerator. Each time he successfully uses the toilet, he can help you place a sticker on the chart. When he reaches ten stickers, he has earned a special treat, such as a trip to the movies, a small toy, lunch at a restaurant, etc.
If he isn’t successful at first, try to understand his state of mind. What do you think happened? Was he involved in a TV show or other activity? Is he just really not ready, in spite of the new cool underwear? If it's the former and he really wants to try again, let him. Maybe shorten the time frame to a half hour, reminding him at that point to try to use the potty. If you sense that he just really isn't ready, don't push it. Explain that you'll wash the underwear and put it in his room, and you'll try again in a week.

Odds are that some of his friends are already trained. Try to encourage a play date where he'll see them use the toilet. That alone might be enough to spark his interest. By 3 1/2, when he decides he's ready he will probably catch on very quickly. He most likely does not have a bladder control issue, it’s just that he needs to decide for himself when he's ready.

When the weather is warm, take advantage of it as a great time to train, because you can be outdoors where it's easier to clean up accidents. Potty training is hard work but you have to be consistent.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Summer Car Safety

Along with warmer weather, longer days, and more lazy time spent outdoors, comes safety concerns for our children. Here are a couple of tips related to cars:

Hot Cars – Never leave a child unattended in a car, especially in the summer. The temperature inside a car can reach dangerous levels, even in moderate weather with the windows slightly down. Besides the risk of heat stroke, a child could place the car in gear, get caught in a closing power window, or even be abducted. Warn your children about playing in or around cars, including the trunk. If your car isn’t equipped with a trunk release, you can install one, to ensure that a child can’t get stuck inside the trunk.

Car Seats – More than half of all U.S. states require kids to use child safety or booster seats through age 8 to reduce the risk of injuries in car crashes. A new poll by C.S. Mott children’s Hospital finds that while nearly all parents report their kids, ages 5 and younger, use booster or car seats, the number drops sharply to 40 percent by age 8. To keep your child safe, reduce the risk of injuries to the spine, head, and abdomen, be sure to follow these guidelines.

Have an enjoyable, and safe, summer with your kids!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lawn Mower Safety for Kids

Whether you have a teenager who is ready to earn some bucks mowing lawns this summer, or toddlers who play outside in the yard, it’s important to be aware of important safety tips around lawn mowers.

To keep younger children safe when the lawn is being mowed, make sure that they are a safe distance well away from the area that is being mowed. Be sure that no toys are left out on the lawn while it’s being mowed. A child might run to grab the toy, and at that moment something could fly from the mower and hit the child. Or, the person mowing the lawn could inadvertently run over the toy, sending bits flying out of the mower. Never allow children to ride as passengers on ride-on mowers or garden tractors. It may look cute to see your little guy on dad’s lap atop the big mower, but there’s a risk the child could fall off and get hurt.

Deciding the appropriate age for your child to begin mowing the lawn can be subjective. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should be at least 12 years of age to operate a walk-behind power mower or hand mower, and 16 to operate a riding mower safely. You need to determine your child’s maturity, good judgment, strength and coordination for the job at hand. Show your child how to mow the lawn properly and safely and supervise until you are sure that he or she is able to do it alone.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Keep Kids Safe Around Swimming Pools

Each year about 250 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If you own a pool, install physical barriers, such as a fence or wall, at least 4 feet high completely around it. Be sure that the gates are self-closing and self-latching, and position latches so that they are out of reach of small children. Many children wear swimmies or other floatation devices in the pool, yet those can never replace adult supervision. Also, do not assume that young children cannot drown because they have had swimming lessons.

Remove toys from in and around the pool when it is not in use, as toys can attract young children to the pool. If a child is missing, always look first in the pool. Seconds count! Keep rescue equipment and a phone by the pool, and learn CPR in case of an emergency.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Summer Sun Safety for Your Kids

Summer has finally arrived with lots of promise for fun in the sun with the kids. As you enjoy spending more time outdoors, be sure to keep your kids safe from the potential dangers that can be caused by the sun. We now know that childhood sunburns are the ones that cause skin cancer later in life. Be smart now to avoid potential problems later.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents dress infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn. If that isn’t possible, apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) to the infant’s face and back of the hands.

For young children, apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and use sunscreen even on cloudy days. The SPF should be at least 15 and protect against UVA and UVB rays. Have older children wear a hat with a three-inch brim or a bill facing forward, sunglasses (that block 99-100% of ultraviolet rays,) and cotton clothing with a tight weave. Try to limit sun exposure during the peak intensity hours, between 10 am and 4 pm, and use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. You should apply about one ounce of sunscreen at a time and repeat every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Helping Teens With Cancer

The way we choose our friends usually happens randomly. They are neighbors or our kids go to school together, or there is some common connection that binds us. That is how we met the DiNatales, a family who faced tragedy, and then found the strength to make life better for others who share their pain. Today, teenagers with cancer and other serious illnesses can still enjoy things that healthy teens experience, thanks to Alicia DiNatale, a 17 year old who tragically passed away in 2002.

While Alicia was spending long stretches in the hospital for cancer treatment, she realized that there was very little for people her age to do to pass their time. More than 50 hospitals nationwide are now equipped with Teen Centers, created by the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation (ARVF), to carry out Alicia’s legacy.

When Alicia was in the hospital, she noticed that there was a place for little kids to watch TV or color, with tiny chairs and cartoon character decorations. Yet, there was no place for teens who often spent countless hours and days alone in their hospital rooms. She wished there was a space for teens to go to use the internet, watch movies, and just hang out with friends. “Alicia just wanted to live, have fun, create and make a difference,” explains her mother, Gisele, Co-Founder and Executive Director of ARVF.

After Alicia died, her parents fulfilled that wish for others. The Foundation’s mission was to create such a place in hospitals throughout the country. The space is equipped with computers, movies, video games and a place to socialize with other teens. With the help of hospital staff, many young patients can take part in pizza parties, movie nights and other events. Here, teens are able to find relief from the stress of their treatment while spending time with friends and family members in a comfortable environment.

For more information of ARVF visit

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Death by Texting

It appears that the high school student who died recently in a tragic traffic accident was texting at the time. The newspaper report included a quote from her dad that he had a bad feeling about his daughter’s well-being, so he texted her. She never responded. I can’t imagine his horror if it turns out that she was reading his text when she got into the accident that killed her.

Texting while driving has become a problem for parents and teens alike. It seems so innocent to text a quick note while you're sitting at the traffic light. It's even likely that you are so good on your keyboard that you don't even have to look at it any more. As tempting, and time saving, as texting while driving may seem, it's a dangerous habit to get into. Sadly, this teenager’s death is proof, but there are plenty of studies that also give the facts.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute used cameras to continuously observe drivers for more than 6 million miles. It found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. This compares to dialing a cellphone and using or reaching for an electronic device, which increased the risk of collision about 6 times in cars and trucks.

Our lives are stretched and we are in constant search of time saving techniques. Yet, think of your kids. There are two possible consequences that should cross your mind every time you text while driving. The first is that you might cause an accident, hurting or killing an innocent child or his parent. How could you possibly live with that? The second is that you might harm your own child or yourself. Again, something you can't live with.

So, please put the phone down, and do not allow your children to text while driving. You make rules about drugs and alcohol – texting while driving can be equally dangerous. If a message is that urgent, just pull over. You're quick enough on the keyboard that you can make a pit stop in no time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let Your Kids Do Messy Activities

Some parents have trouble allowing their youngsters to create a mess in their home. We specifically encourage the use of play dough in the classroom because we recognize that some children aren’t allowed to play with it in their own houses. I understand that it can get into their children’s shoes and end up trekked throughout the house and I know that it is virtually impossible to remove dried play dough from a carpet. Yet, I encourage parents to find some contained place either inside or outside their homes where kids can enjoy messy projects.

Molding clay, splashing paint onto a blank canvas, and even building castles in the sand, are all important activities for toddlers. They provide an outlet for creativity, and give the kids a sense of accomplishment and pride in their creations. These activities also help develop children’s fine motor skills which are essential to further learning. Once students advance into kindergarten, they are expected to be able to cut, write their letters and use their fine motor skills constantly. For most children, these things take practice. It is only through the repetitive use of their fingers that some kids are able to gain the strength they need to be successful in these skills.

“Kids need experience trying to engage in fine motor tasks, succeeding and sometimes failing, to develop those skills,” says Nathan J. Blum, MD, Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Kids need a variety of fine motor activities but some of them are more messy than others. It doesn’t have to be with finger paints and clay, but children need fine motor experiences and they need engaging activities.”
There are a variety of toys that help develop fine motor skills and don’t leave behind a mess. Working puzzles, manipulating pegs, lacing, and playing with marbles and jacks, all help work their small muscles. Of course, if your child puts things in her mouth, you need to avoid very small items. Many adults enjoy worry or stress balls which are balloon-like balls filled with sand. These, too, are great for children to squeeze to work the muscles in their fingers and hands.

Of course, crayons and pencils are always ideal. For younger children, up to age four or five, the fatter crayons are more appropriate than skinny ones because they are easier for the child to manipulate. And don’t feel that you need to buy a brand new box of crayons every year. In fact, when a child needs to work with a smaller, broken piece, it provides great work for his fine motor skills.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is Mommy Selfish?

I have seen the disapproving looks of teachers and other family members when Mom seemingly puts herself in front of her child. Maybe she would prefer to go to the gym than bake cookies in class, or she’d rather stay home to watch a favorite TV show than join in on a play date. While it’s easy for others to judge, a happy Mommy is a better Mommy.

I’m not suggesting that baking cookies in class isn’t important. It is very important and rewarding for most mothers and children. But for a parent who is stressed out, helping tots scatter flour and chocolate chips may not be the correct medicine. Instead, in that moment, hitting the treadmill may be much more effective in lowering her stress level.

When we have kids, there is no manual to follow. Each parent has to follow her own gut to figure out how to be the best she can be. Of course, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next. As a preschool teacher, I love when parents come in to volunteer. I enjoy watching the bond between the parent and child and it’s magical to see the pride that the child has when his mommy comes to school.

Yet, let’s all try to be a little bit more understanding and less judgmental of the parents whose choices may not be in line with our own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Can we Prevent Teen Suicide?

One in four teenagers thinks about committing suicide, says Dr. James R. Varrell, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Family Guidance in New Jersey. I asked him about the warning signs and how parents can ensure that their children do not become a tragic statistic. There is a much higher percentage of girls who will have suicidal behavior, such as cutting oneself or taking some pills – things that are not so aggressive. More often than not they are looking for help. When boys attempt suicide, it tends to be more of a true attempt and it tends to be much more violent, such as shooting or hanging oneself.

There are three reasons why teens want to kill themselves. One is that they are so demoralized and depressed and they think that nothing will ever change and nothing they do can make a difference. They feel helplessness and hopelessness. The second reason is that they want to get even with somebody. It’s a very immature way to punish someone else. The teen will believe that others will realize how important she was and they’ll be sad for the rest of their lives. In adolescence there’s still a strong belief in what we call magical thinking. It’s like believing in Santa Claus – something that’s out of reality but we take it as true. They’ll be visualizing people at their funeral and there’s some sense that they’re going to be there. There’s also a lack of a sense of permanence with suicide. The third reason is purely to avoid some kind of consequence of their actions. I’ve seen kids try to commit suicide because they got pregnant and they don’t want to tell their parents. They don’t know how to cope and they think there will be such humiliation, embarrassment and disappointment, that suicide is a better option.

The are warning signs that parents need to watch out for. The first is depression, when kids start to change their behavior or withdrawal. They keep to themselves, their grades fall, they are over-eating or sleeping or under-eating or sleeping. They stop smiling and laughing and seem sad. Usually, they don’t show their parents depressed moods, they show them irritability. Parents will sometimes think it’s teenage angst when it’s really a depression problem. There is a high level of stress and expectation on children these days, particularly in more affluent areas where there’s a real push to perform.

If you see any of these signs, first, you need to talk to the child about whatever your concern is. You might get resistance initially, but you need to be ready for that. Say, “Hey look, I know that you don’t want me in your business, but I want to be supportive and I want to be sure things are cool. I don’t need to know everything you’re thinking, but as someone who loves and cares about you, I’m going to need to know that you are okay.” If the child breaks down in tears or gives you an indication that there’s a problem, you should get them into therapy. Keep at it until they talk to you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Walk to Benefit Local Cancer Patients

After walking in last year’s Susan G. Komen breast cancer 3-day walk, Lisa Forman had a brainstorm. She knew so many South Jersey neighbors with cancer who she wanted to help. Combining her zeal for physical fitness with her determination to fund cancer research locally, she put her dream into action. Three short months later, Forman’s grassroots effort became the first Walk 4 Family & Friends with Cancer.

This year, she hopes to double the number of walkers and the amount of money raised during the second annual walk, which will take place on April 17th. Forman’s enthusiasm for the cause began when she lost her grandmother to breast cancer at age 54.

“Living in Voorhees, I see cancer around me all the time,” she pointed out. “We have so much of it in our area. I wanted to do something locally. We came up with four miles and donating to the leading four cancers that seem to be the most common in the South Jersey area.”

Those include lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the US; breast cancer, which affects one in eight women in our country; skin cancer, which will be diagnosed in more than a million people this year; and ovarian cancer, which accounts for more deaths than any other female reproductive cancer.

“I really wanted somebody to focus on why it seems to be prevalent in South Jersey, but I discovered that it’s happening all over,” she explained. “After talking to a lot of cancer foundations they said it’s not any worse in Cherry Hill or Voorhees than it is anywhere else, it’s just that we have a lot more people in a condensed area.”

A portion of the money raised by the walk will provide support for other cancer patients in need. “We hope that this fund will enable us to help pay for non-medical expenses, such as rent, utilities, transportation, babysitting, and things of that nature,” Marjorie Dannenbaum, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Cancer Program Coordinator, said. “There’s an incredible, emerging need.”

This year’s walk will take place on April 17th at 8:00, leaving from Connelly Park in Voorhees. Runners and walkers can take part in the four mile course, which Forman said is “beautiful and challenging. We feel like we’re making a difference and doing something locally.”

For more information about the walk, visit If you have cancer and are in need of assistance, visit

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bathroom

I have two students who spent their week off due to snow potty training. Congratulations to them!!! What a great idea to spend time stuck inside in such a useful way. In honor of this achievement, I want to tell my favorite potty story.

At five years old, Tristen was able to go down the hall by himself when he needed the bathroom. One day, he came back dripping wet. His hair was especially soaked.
“Tristen, what happened to you?” his teacher asked.
“Nothing,” he insisted, eyes looking down at his feet.
“Tristen, your hair is all wet. It’s okay, just please tell me what happened,” she asked encouragingly.
“I just wanted to see how high my pee could go!” he stammered.

Please share your funny potty stories!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Preparing Your Toddler for a New Sibling

No matter how many children you already have, when a new baby enters the family, everyone is shaken up. Here are some tips to help you make the experience as positive for everyone as possible.

1. Timing is important. Choosing when to tell other family members about a pregnancy depends a great deal on each child's age. Your two year old will not understand what you are saying if you don’t look pregnant. Nine months is almost half his lifetime and way too long to be told you are pregnant. Wait until you are about five months along. At that point he can see where the baby is, and it gives him enough time to digest the news.

2. Be inclusive. It’s important to include your children in your pregnancy. Let them feel your belly, especially if they can feel the baby kick. That will help them understand that a real person is about to be born. When you begin to set up the nursery or buy things for the baby, let your children be involved. They can help you choose colors for the nursery, brainstorm names, and pick out bottles and rattles. It’s important that they feel part of the process.

3. Make them feel special. Be sure to spend quality time with your child leading up to the birth, making each child know how important he is to you and your family. Stress that because he is older, you will need his help when the baby comes. The new addition will have so much to learn from his big brother and you can’t wait to see what a loving, caring big brother he will be.

4. Ask permission to take your older children’s outgrown baby things. For example, if you plan to move your three year into a bed so the baby can have his crib, be careful about how you do that. Begin by telling your toddler that he is big enough now that he can get a big boy bed of his own. Let him help you choose special sheets, pillows, and blankets so that he feels ownership of his new bed. Be sure he is in the bed at least a month before the baby arrives. Then, you can ask him if the new baby can sleep in his old crib since he is a big boy now and won’t need it anymore. Make him feel special to be able to share something so important with his new sibling.

5. Continue to shower your kids with attention after the baby comes. While everyone’s focus will be on the new arrival, be sure to let your older children know how important and helpful they are during this crazy time. If company comes with gifts for the baby but not the siblings, have a stash of small items that will be special to the older kids. When the company leaves, give your older child a puzzle, coloring book, or similar item as thanks for being such an understanding big brother. Try to take some time when the baby is sleeping to spend quality time with the other kids.

6. Encourage the children to appreciate each other. As your family grows, it is even more important that your kids get along with one another, and truly love each other. Sure, there will always be sibling rivalry, but try to find ways to build their relationship as opposed to making them feel like they need to compete for your time and attention.

Congratulations on your new addition! When the baby comes you will be exhausted and there will be chaos for a while. The more you can prepare, the better off everyone in the family will be.