Friday, July 30, 2010

Tips to Avoid Obesity in our Children

With Michelle Obama leading the charge to end childhood obesity, this serious topic is getting more attention. A new study on the subject revealed what most parents already know – there are three easy steps to keeping our kids healthy and avoiding obesity. According to the US Preventative Service Task Force, eating together as a family more than five nights per week, sleeping at least 10 ½ hours on weeknights, and limiting television and video watching to no more than two hours on weekdays, will give your child a 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity.

While these recommendations are fairly obvious, finding the time in our busy, hectic schedules to actually make these things happen isn’t easy. But, it’s necessary. The study points out that since the 1970s, childhood and adolescent obesity has increased three to six times. Approximately 12% to 18% of 2- to 19-year-old children and adolescents are obese (defined as having an age- and gender-specific BMI at 95th percentile).

Obesity can lead to other health problems for your kids, including diabetes and heart disease. Getting them on track now with a healthy lifestyle will set them on a positive path for their entire lives. In addition, all three routines also provide other benefits. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, by eating with your children, it is more likely that meals will be healthier and more balanced.

They also point out that teens 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. 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. Regularly sitting down for a meal with your children is one way to connect with them and be involved with what is happening in their lives. They are more apt to tell you when they face difficult challenges or temptations.

The second recommendation, getting enough sleep, can also be easier said than done. By the time everyone gets home from work and after-school activities, has finished the family dinner and homework, getting 10 1/2 hours of sleep can be tricky. Yet, kids who get a full night’s sleep are sharper during the day, have more energy to enjoy physical activities, and stay healthier overall.

The final recommendation, limiting television and video watching, will allow your kids to spend time doing other, more productive activities. Playing a family game, exercising, Hop 66 Ball and reading, will all promote a healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ways to Manage Your Time and Help Your Kids Manage Theirs

Last week I talked about managing your time with a newborn in the house. Today I want to talk about kids as they grow into new stages of development. Teaching them how to properly organize themselves and manage their time is an important lesson that will make them more successful throughout their lives.

• Use timers – if your child needs to practice an instrument for 20 minutes, use a timer to help him understand how long that is.
• Keep the bedroom TV free – combining a TV with a developing sense of what time is can create conflicts between the parents and children. It’s better to remove the temptation.
• Create visual calendars – make a picture calendar to show school days, activities, and other events that your child will be expected to attend.
• It’s okay to say no – be careful not to over-schedule your child with activities. Allow him some free time to read, color, watch TV, and just relax.

• Use a planner – teach your child how to use a daily planner to write down all of her homework and other assignments every day.
• Utilize a home/school folder – have a pocket on one side for things to go ‘to school’ and another on the other side for things to come ‘from school.’ Along with your child, be sure that she has done each of her assignments and that all of her homework is ready to go the next morning.
• Renegotiate expectations – set age-appropriate bedtimes, expectations on the amount of homework your child should do each night, free time on the computer and phone.
• Take the computer out of the bedroom – avoid free time spent on the computer from sabotaging homework time. Your child may not have the internal skills to censor herself.

• Take advantage of access to your child’s grade and attendance on-line – most schools provide parents with a website and password to view your children’s progress. Be sure to keep track of how they are doing to catch any potential problems before it’s too late.
• Help your child multi-task – there will be long-term assignments that must be carried out over time, along with nightly tasks. Help your child understand how to balance all of her work.
• Help your kids avoid over-scheduling themselves with school work, jobs, extracurricular activities, and a social life. They need to understand how to prioritize demands on their time.
• Kids are more independent, but let them know they can ask for help when needed. Even if they want a sounding board, reassurance helps.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time Management Tips for Parents with Newborns

I spoke with Maryanne Bourque, MS, RN, Community Education Coordinator at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE about time management with new baby in the house. Here is what she said:

Having a new baby can be overwhelming for even the most organized woman. A few tips:
• Keep it simple and keep it realistic! Although there are supermoms who seem to have it all together immediately upon leaving the hospital with their new bundle of joy, the reality is it takes some organization, some realistic goals and some help to manage your time.
• For the first few weeks, remember your body is healing. Try to limit visitors' time in visiting you and number of visitors. If they ask what they can bring, tell them to bring lunch (a small rotisserie chicken, a bagged salad and a baguette from the grocery store can be a real treat!) If family members offer to help, let them come and hold your colicky baby one afternoon while you try and take a quick nap. Let Daddy feed, bathe or put the baby to sleep for the evening - it helps him bond and gives Mom a break. In other words, let people help you - it doesn't mean you can't do it by yourself and people like to feel as if they're truly helping.

• Once you're a few weeks out from the delivery and you're ready to venture out more often, try to get and stay organized:
o When putting clean laundry away, put a clean outfit or two right into the diaper bag. Make sure there's a good supply of diapers, wipes and pacifiers.
o If you're going back to work, try to get ready the night before by laying out clothes for you and the baby (and siblings if this isn't your first!) pack your lunch the night before and keep it in the fridge till morning, throw anything related to errands in the car (dry cleaning, grocery list.)
o Make and keep two essentials: a calendar and a "To Do" list. On the calendar, plug in all appointments, work meetings, social functions so that you'll be able to plan your day, week and month. In keeping this calendar, though, remember flexibility is key - if neither you nor the baby slept the entire night, you may need to reorganize your day. Concentration on tasks may suffer from lack of sleep and being focused on your new baby, a “to do” list helps keep things top of mind.
• Other tips that may help:
o Keep things where they belong (keys by the door, coat hung up, purse and diaper bag in the same place)
o When scheduling things on the calendar, schedule time for yourself (even if it is only 30 minutes a couple times a week) to do something just for you (read a book, take a bath, get a pedicure). When you're comfortable leaving the baby for an hour or so with a trusted family member or sitter, schedule a date night with your partner - it's important to stay connected and communicating. Even if you just take a walk together for 30 - 60 minutes, the time spent alone together is very important.
o When cooking, try to keep to healthy things as much as possible: buy pre-cut veggies, when cooking a meal, double the recipe and freeze half so that you'll have a meal already made to pull out on a busy day.
Thanks to Maryanne for some important and practical advice. As the mom of three kids, I remember those days fondly, even though it was difficult at the time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meet NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams

While these pages are generally devoted to parenting advice, today I will digress and share some of the interesting things NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams shared with me. He’s traveled the world to cover virtually every breaking news story in the last decade, and is passionate about explaining these stories to his viewers. He is also very proud of his own children, who are now young adults.

Here are some of the things he told me…..

Williams gained attention as the first and only network evening news anchor to report from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, arriving even before the hurricane struck. He followed the story from the epicenter, reporting from inside the Superdome. Williams stayed in New Orleans for the aftermath and still visits the region to report on the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

He continues to spend a lot of time on the road, going where the news is. “I’m the representative,” he explains. “Most of the people in my audience are never going to get to Mosul, or Fallujah, or even Grand Isle Louisiana. So, I’ve got to be the guy telling them.”

Williams admits that these stories touch him personally. Returning recently from the Gulf where he covered the oil spill, he still has oil stains on his clothing. “I have some oil on my shirt that has been washed a couple of times – it ain’t coming out. This stuff is as permanent as ink from a pen. You put that in terms that people can understand and that helps to paint a picture.”

“I have a cup of oil from this oil spoil that I got out of the water,” he says. “It’s on our kitchen window sill and everyone who comes in our house looks at it. They take a knife and they dig into it – it’s solidified now. They want to smell it, they want to touch it, they want to see if it stains their skin. They want to experience it. On a larger level, that’s what I’m doing by going to these stories.”

He says that every story he covers affects him profoundly, especially getting to know the people whose lives are touched. Yet, he must remain objective in spite of his personal feelings. “I’ve got to turn around and give you as straight a version of what I’ve found as I can,” he explains.

Balancing Family with Work
With a wife, 22 year old daughter and 19 year old son, Williams has made a concerted effort to spend quality time with his family. “It has not been easy, but now it can be told that when my kids were young I managed to cut a lot of corners, drive real fast, and take an occasional slow afternoon off!” he says.

When his kids were young he worked at MSNBC at night, which allowed him to spend time with his children during the day. “I was the only Dad at a lot of daytime assemblies at school,” he recalls. “My son told me recently that his favorite thing was getting out early on Wednesdays and knowing my car was going to be outside the school waiting to pick him up. In a job where people assume I’m estranged from everything at home, you find a way to make the time you have, quality time.”

While his children aren’t directly following in Dad’s footsteps, they are interested in careers in entertainment. Williams’ describes his daughter as a performer, actress, vocalist, and improv comic. His son hopes to get into sports radio.

Williams is thankful that his daughter has a college degree and his son is in the midst of earning his. Not receiving his own college degree is probably the anchor’s biggest regret. “I didn’t even get a two-year Associates Degree,” he points out. “It’s a regret because you want to say to everybody ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ I happened to land in the one occupation where a degree, that piece of validation per se, isn’t really necessary. But I’m also in a very freakishly unique circumstance.”

He does, however, love to read and believes that his job is a master’s degree in itself. He enjoys Presidential history and American history and is sure to learn about the places he covers in the world. He is also a Bruce Springsteen fan, and recently filled in as a guest DJ for E Street Radio.

Read more in an upcoming issue of SJ Magazine (

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Take Advantage of Local Events

Now that my kids are older, I don’t take advantage of our local township events as much as I used to. Yet, there are so many opportunities for free family fun, right in my own backyard. In the town where I live, free concerts are offered a half-dozen times throughout the summer, in addition to a town picnic, Halloween Parade, and Movies in the Park.

There are many advantages to bringing your family to these events. For one, they are free. Grab a blanket or beach chairs, some snacks, maybe some bug spray, and off you go. You will likely bump into neighbors you haven’t seen in a while and your kids will probably introduce you to their friends’ parents who you’ve maybe never met.

Watching all of the children dancing to the music is sweet and fun. Some of the music is actually pretty good, but even when it isn’t, it’s fun to dis it with friends and neighbors. Summer is a great time to slow down the pace, avoid the car, and chill out with your kids.

Most towns have websites that advertise all of their events. Google your town’s name and you should find their site easily. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Be a Parent First, Friend Second

Summer is a wonderful time to spend fun, quality time with your kids. You aren’t rushing to get to school, or trying to fit a million activities into each day. Take advantage of this time to really get to know your children. Take the time to discover what they love, what they really don’t like, and what makes them tick. The more you and your children talk now, even about mundane topics, the more they will feel comfortable talking to you when the topics get stickier.

Yet, never forget that you are the parent, not a friend, and your children must understand that line of distinction.

This brings to mind a lunch I enjoyed with my 21 year old son. We sat at a table next to two acquaintances, a 13 year old girl and her mother. My son and I were having a great time, sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. While her mom and I were getting drinks, the young girl said to my son, “I know that’s your mom, but you act like friends.”
He told her that I am his mom but I’m his friend too. She was fascinated by that concept. She said, “I’m not friends with my mom. She doesn’t even know anything about me. She brought me water with lemon and I don’t even like lemon.”

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Managing Family Finances

I spoke with Steve Cordasco, financial wizard and host of the radio show The Big Money on 1210 AM radio in Philadelphia. Here are a few of the tidbits he shared:

How can a family calculate how much money they should keep in savings?
I usually suggest keeping at least six months of your income in savings. If you have a job that’s vulnerable, keep one year of income in savings.

For someone with a job that may be at risk, how should they prepare in case the worst happens?
Cut their expenses down big time. Areas where you can do that include eating out less – food is your major component. Work hard to try to get your insurance costs down without giving up coverage, by shopping around. Reduce energy costs in your home by adjusting the thermostat. If you’re driving a long distance, get a carpool or take the train. Pack a lunch – you’d be surprised how much that cuts out.

If you have lost your job, what should your priorities be if you are unable to pay all your bills?
You should definitely communicate with the companies you have bills with and let them know what your situation is. Ask if there’s a way to negotiate an easier payment system. It’s never going to be one phone call. You need to be relentless. Today more and more companies are open to that, especially if you are proactive in doing it. Life necessity items must be paid – your health premiums, shelter, the things you need to live day to day, you need to pay first. They can turn the cable off and repossess the car, and you’ll still find a way to manage.

Part of the American dream is that each generation strives to be more successful than their parents. Is that changing for today’s young generation?
Ultimately, it may not be that the generation coming out of college has to have as much stuff as their parents. Maybe their quality of life will be something that’s much more simple than this craziness that you’ve got to have more. Maybe the mindset of letting people borrow and continue to buy even though they don’t have the money will shift with this generation. In the end, are they not doing as well as the generation before them? I would say they are probably going to be in a better place.