Raising Successful Sons

Is your son failing? That was the question I posed yesterday, and it is the question that author Richard Whitmire believes is answered all too frequently with a resounding “Yes!” by parents. He writes in his book, Why Boys Fail, about the reasons that our sons are failing as they flounder in an educational system that is not created and formulated for the male gender. While success isn’t just measured in academic performance, research has shown that when kids fail t0 thrive in school they become more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and dangerous and detrimental activities.

Understanding Why Boys Fail

The case Whitmire makes about the levels at which our sons are failing is compelling. In order to adequately help our boys succeed, it is important that we thoroughly understand why our sons are failing. Two of the main reasons why our boys do not find success in the American public school system include

  1. Curriculum shifts in schools (ones that align more closely with typical female learning strengths)
  2. Testing pressures that leave boys behind

How Can We Help Our Sons Succeed?

As the mother of 3 sons and 1 daughter I see firsthand the differences that genetics can play in the learning styles, motivations of, and energies of children. Whitmire also writes about the value of acknowledging these differences, and quotes children’s author Jon Scieszka about the fears that politicians and school officials have over recognizing these differences, especially when it comes to literacy.

“They need to start thinking of this the same way we went about doing something for girls with math and science. We just recognized that girls need to learn math and science in a different way. Why wouldn’t we do the same for boys?”

Whitmire makes several suggestions for ways we can help our sons succeed.

Implement research-based tutoring programs. Research shows that boys who have positive academic role models will do better in school. Programs like Book Buddies target the reading challenges of boys and pair them with mentors who help them overcome these.

Intensify literacy education, especially in the middle years. It seems there is such a huge push to get kids reading, that schools are failing to keep kids reading. If your son didn’t catch on in the early years, he is at risk for never catching up with his peers.

Make high school more relevant for students. Three cheers for this one! Schools have been finding that when they incorporate hands-on, vocational style classes, that their students are more engaged and motivated to succeed (this goes for the girls as well as the guys). Teaching real-world career academics, where students understand why they need to know what they are learning is gaining momentum, even showing up as more than 300 “career academies” across the country with intense learning programs with goal- and career-focused outcomes.

Consider single-gender classrooms. The jury is still out on the benefits versus the losses on this one, but some students do perform better in single-gender classes. Because boys and girls learn differently, the successes and failures of one gender or the other can make successful teaching coed classrooms more difficult. Perhaps the solution lies in certain classes being offered as gender-specific. My oldest attends a book club just for boys, and the positive atmosphere and results of such a class would definitely change if their teenage female counterparts entered the mix – that’s just how kids are.

Restructure community colleges. The pendulum has been swinging when it comes to male versus female enrollment in higher academia. Where men used to dominate schools of higher learning, women are now surging in numbers. Some community colleges are finding success in bringing in marketing that targets the male population, and programs that appeal to their needs. The goal isn’t to swing the pendulum back to a male-dominated population in college, but to strike a balance.

Experiment with reading programs throughout education, not just in the early elementary years. Educators and parents are noticing an increase in interest in reading among boys when it comes to good old fashioned comic books and new fashioned graphic novels. While it might not be Wuthering Heights, these reading selection are doing their jobs – getting boys reading.

Pay attention to the numbers. Schools need to assess their progress not only in race and socioeconomic categories, but along gender lines as well. It is OK – in fact necessary – to acknowledge that overall, boys and girls learn differently. Once we get over ourselves and the need to have everything the same, we can help our sons become their own unique successful selves.

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Is Your Son Failing?

Is Your Son Failing?

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As the mother of three boys my eyes were drawn to the title of the book, Why Boys Fail, by Richard Whitmire. Parents do not want to assume that the gender of their child will play a part in his or her success or failure, but as Whitmire points out time and time again, boys are different from girls and girls are different from boys. However, those differences are not accounted for in the educational system of the United States, leaving our sons to falter just as they reach one of the most pinnacle points in their lives as they transform into young men.

Boys Are Failing in Schools

Whitmire makes a strong case for the fact that boys are failing in our educational system, and draws a connection between those failures and drops in literacy skills for the male population. The U.S. Department of Education does not focus on gender differences like it does race and family income factors, but gender clearly plays a role in the success/failure rates of our students.

  • At the end of high school nearly 25% of white sons of college educated parents scored “bellow basic” on reading, compared to 7% of girls from the same socioeconomic and race group.
  • 40% more boys than girls failed the Washington state reading test.

A 2006 survey of 11,500 students in 129 schools across 26 states demonstrates the stark differences between boys and girls in their education. Of those students surveyed:

  • 55% of girls reported earning A B grades, but only 41% of boys
  • 49% of girls reported working hard to meet assignment details, but only 35% of boys
  • 29% of girls reported revising essays to improve the quality, but only 16% of boys
  • 68% of girls reported doing their best in schools, but only 50% of boys

The 9th Grade Bulge

Many of these failures can be seen at the 9th grade year for boys – known as the “9th grade bulge” – where schools see a peculiar rise in the number of 9th grade students. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) out of Atlanta found 9th grade populations were larger in

  • Georgia by 16%
  • Florida by 19%
  • Maryland by 17%, and
  • Texas by 17%

Why Are Boys Failing in Schools?

These bulges in 9th grade population have twice as many boys in their numbers than girls, and researchers point to two specific reasons why there is a larger population in 9th grades for so many schools.

  1. For schools across the country, 9th grade is the time when curriculum shifts to preparation for college prep classes. Students who have not been academically prepared to deal with these more rigorous classes up to this point (often the boys) flounder and even lose motivation to complete high school at all.
  2. For schools across the country, 9th grade is also the time to begin more rigorous testing schedules, and schools need their students to score well. Students who are identified as those who might lower overall test schedules in the future might be forced to repeat 9th grade instead of risk failing test scores.

Boys at Risk for Failing Verbal Skills and Literacy

Whitmire cites research that shows that since 1988 the gap between the reading skills of boys and girls grows each year. Part of this is the transforming of standards, beginning in just the preschool years. Where reading readiness used to be taught in kindergarten and 1st grade, it is now a part of the criteria for Head Start and preschool programs, but our children are still children, and boys are no more genetically prepared to be early readers than they were 50 years ago.

Several other reasons are noted by Whitmire that contribute to the failing verbal and literacy skills that contribute to boys falling behind in schools.

  • Boys tend to need phonics instruction more when compared to girls, but schools are moving more toward a whole language approach to reading (immersion in literature that will hopefully result in learning sounds and meanings naturally).
  • There is a lack of reading instructions in the upper grade levels. Much beyond 3rd grade the tools needed to improve reading skills are not taught any longer. Students are required to read more and more, but there is a lack of actual attention paid to improving reading skills. If your son was one of many boys who didn’t develop language skills until later, he might be shortchanged for literacy education.
  • Boys don’t have as many academically inclined role models. Their heroes are in the fields of sports, physical power, and machinery. They don’t see the daily connection between things like reading and success, and they are at higher risk for not having a positive academic role model in their lives.
  • There just aren’t enough great books for boys. Some authors are trying to target that trend and turn it around, but for now the library shelves in many schools are filled with books geared toward girls.
  • Literacy is pushed too soon, especially for boys. In my own microcosm example of my family with 1 daughter and 3 boys, I definitely saw a distinction between the boys’ readiness to read and my daughter’s. When they were 3, they boys wanted to run, climb, yell, and explore, but my daughter wanted to sit and look at books, before she could read all of the words. Whitmire shows that this is typical for boys everywhere, yet schools still expect boys to be ready before kindergarten to grasp reading skills.
    • Science backs this premise. Brain scans of 3.5 year old girls are similar to those brain scans of 5.5 year old boys in the areas of language. MRI studies also show that girls have 11% more neurons in the brain areas devoted to language processing. However, boys and girls are still taught the same way at the same time.

How Can We Stop Failing Our Boys and Start Helping Them Succeed?

Our boys are worth our time and effort to help them succeed. They are not deficient – we are unprepared to help them learn in ways that meet their specific needs. Join the conversation tomorrow as I share some of Whitmire’s and others’ advice and findings about raising successful sons.

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Surviving Bed Rest During Pregnancy

I was working full-time, had recently moved into a new home, and unsuspectingly went in for my monthly pregnancy appointment with my OB. Suddenly my blood pressure was too high, there was protein in my urine, and I was on bed rest for preeclampsia. It is frightening to hear your physician tell you that for the health of you and your unborn baby that you need to stay off of your feet and lie down on your left side for at least 20 out of 24 hours each day. Then reality sets in and you wonder – how will my baby and I survive bed rest?

How to Handle Bed Rest

While each pregnancy and recommendation of bed rest is different, if you are prescribed bed rest or modified bed rest at home, there are several things you can do to make sure that your pregnancy is as healthy as possible.

Get the Facts from Your Physician

Before you leave your doctor’s office, make sure you ask as many questions as possible, but don’t hesitate to call with more once you get home. Ask questions about the following:

  • How many hours each day do I need to spend lying down? Does my prone position matter? (i.e. I had to be on my left side for blood pressure benefits.)
  • What minimal exercises can I do to help prevent blood clots from forming (a risk from remaining in one position too long)?
  • If my symptoms or condition improves, will my bed rest be modified or lifted?
  • Can I shower, bathe, and use the bathroom as usual?
  • Can I drive?
  • Are there any light household chores I can do? (folding laundry, cooking meals, etc.)
  • Do I have restrictions on lifting weight?
  • What about sex? (the burning question from every husband…)
  • And any other question you have

Create a Bed Rest Haven

Bed rest, especially when it is unexpected, can take the wind out of your pregnancy excitement sails. I was envisioning the last months of my pregnancy shopping for baby items, preparing the nursery, and walking throughout my new neighborhood to encourage limber muscles for labor. You might feel emotionally deflated, scared, or frustrated. Creating a haven for your period of rest will go a long way to helping you through the feeling of being frozen in time and helpless.

Rally the troops – Call your mom, your girlfriends, and your neighbors and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The reality is that you may be on bed rest until you deliver this child and the more you can be prepared through the help of others, the better off you and baby will be. You can assign friends and family to do some of the jobs you know need to be completed.

Gather supplies (or have someone do this for you) – Take a basket or plastic tote and use it as your own bed rest emergency kit. Stock it with things like

  • Tissue
  • lip balm
  • cell phone (and charger)
  • iPod or other music source
  • hand sanitizer and wet wipes
  • prenatal vitamins
  • notepads and paper
  • baby book – great time to start filling in some of these memories you are experiencing
  • books and magazines
  • hair brush and basic makeup to make yourself feel like you are still doing your normal routine
  • camera (why not take a few snapshots from the view of the bed to include in the baby book?)
  • mini-toothbrushes (great to refresh your mouth after an afternoon nap)

Have your husband or friend situate a high table near your new resting perch. Load the top of it with a laptop, a small cooler with water bottles and healthy snacks, and a stack of extra pillows and blankets.

Stay connected – Bed rest is one of those things that immediately takes away your independence and mobility, which is so vital for many women. Remaining connected can help you pass the time, remain emotionally positive, and even be productive.

  • Check to see if there is a possibility of telecommuting and using your laptop to work from home. I remember feeling like I was a 3rd grader with a note excusing me from gym class when I had to have my mom deliver my physician’s note to my human resource department to have on file. I wasn’t able to telecommute, but I did keep in contact with coworkers.
  • Find a supportive online forum of other moms who can support you emotionally and lift your spirits.
  • Invite friends over to watch a movie. I remember my dear friend coming over with a bag of Doritos and a chick flick in the middle of the afternoon – a wonderful respite from the boredom.
  • Text, call, and keep in touch with family and friends throughout the day. Write letters (yes, people still do that by hand) – you can even write letters to your unborn baby. I have a letter saved from when I was on emergency bed rest with my son for bleeding during the first trimester. One day he will read my prayers that he live and grow to be a strong person, and of how much I loved him already then.

Stay fit (within reason and under doctor’s strict orders) – Check to see if there are any light exercises you can do such as stretching that will help keep your muscles limber and your body prepared for the rigors of delivery.

Prepare for the baby with the help of online shopping – You can order everything from diapers to car seats online and have them delivered right to your door.

Mark the passage of time – One of the most challenging aspects of bed rest is the feeling that time is jumbled. You nap, you stare out the window, you knit, and you forget if one day moved onto the next. Create a ritual that will help you mark time. Maybe each morning you can look forward to your husband bringing you the paper and OJ, and every evening you get to Skype with your sister. Rituals are comforting and they help keep us on track (and sane).

Keep the faith – Many churches have ministries that will send people to visit parishioners on bed rest or in the hospital. If you are a person of faith, this contact can be especially uplifting.

Bed rest during pregnancy is not the easiest thing in the world, but the patience you must develop in order to survive it prepares you well for the patience you will need as a parent. Now if only my doctor would prescribe bed rest for me from the teenage years…

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Easy and Unique Graduation Party Ideas

Graduation is just around the corner for thousands of students – from kindergarten to high school to college – and parents everywhere are feeling the pressure to throw the perfect graduation party to commemorate the occasion. I am still one year away from the momentous marking of high school graduation for my oldest, but I already feel the occasional rise of panic in my chest. I’m planting more perennials in my garden so it is filled with fresh blooms next spring, and considering menu options for the day. Yep – I’ll be completely insane this time next year.

Unique Graduation Party Ideas

So my early scouting has uncovered some great graduation party ideas (and I’m counting on all of you to test them for me and let me know which works best!).

Rent a Tour Boat

If your teen wants to opt for a smaller gathering of close family and friends, find a riverboat you can rent for a few hours. Some serve complete meals and others offer snacks and beverages, or you can search for one that lets you plan and supply your own foods and drinks. Cast off for a few hours to celebrate graduation on the water.

Destination Graduation Party

Maybe your graduate wants a smaller, more intimate setting to celebrate the milestone of high school graduation. Take a family vacation, send your graduate on a special trip, or even invite guests to a local attraction like an arboretum, zoo, or even a park that has special meaning for your child. A destination celebration can take the spotlight off of the graduate and still help create wonderful memories.

Themed Parties

By the time July rolls around graduation party attendees have had their fill of ham sandwiches and seen their fair share of baby photo boards. Try a new twist on your graduation party with one of the following ideas:

Hawaiian Luau – Provide leis for guests, have a hog roast, and set up some tiki torches around the perimeter.

College Theme – If your graduate has already chosen a college, decorate with the colors and emblems of the university.

Career Theme – Maybe your graduate is joining the military or planning to study nursing. Use these career plans as inspiration to decorate for the party.

Time Capsule – Have guests write a note to the graduate when they arrive and add it to a time capsule. This capsule can be opened at college graduation, in 5 or 10 years, or another future date.

Graduation Party Supplies

Your child’s graduation from high school is a momentous occasion, and making the plans to commemorate the milestone can seem overwhelming. There are a few easy, small things that can help add the right touch to the special day.

Photography – Even though you have just spent 2 weeks combing through baby pictures for a bulletin board, your photography job is not complete. Ask a few photography loving friends to help capture the graduation party memories by acting as paparazzi for the day.

Videography – Have a tripod and video camera ready, inviting guests to leave recorded messages for the graduate to watch when she’s homesick after her first month away.

Music – Consider light background music to have at the party. It can put people at ease (including you!).

Games – If you’re planning a backyard graduation party, don’t forget the lawn games. Ladder ball, croquet, bocce ball, and even a basket of Frisbees, bubbles, and foam footballs can help guests feel in the party mood. Young kids (and their parents) will appreciate the activities and the opportunities to avoid sitting and smiling nicely while the adults talk.

Backup Plan – If you are planning an outdoor party, make sure you have a backup plan for weather emergencies. Renting a tent ahead of time is a good idea, and it can be used as shade if not for rain.

Thank You Notes – After the party don’t forget the thank you notes (but make sure they come from your graduating teen). If your graduate is moving out, either to college or an apartment, have him send his new address information along with the thank you note.

Yes – I’m planning ahead in a compulsive manner – even watching the sales for all of the graduation paraphernalia that will be going on sale soon so I can stock up for next year. These milestones of graduation are important for us as parents, too. They mark the time in our lives when we can maybe breathe a little easier, knowing we have survived the first major journey of parenting. Come to think of it, parents should throw themselves a graduation party – good thing I can start planning now!

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Communication Tips for Work-at-Home Parents

Life as a work-at-home mom (WAHM) is filled with unpredictable moments of chaos and unexpected moments of peace. When you have to communicate with clients and co-workers through email, chatting, Skype, or phone calls, it can seem more chaotic than calm, but there are a few things you can do to create the best chances for clear communication that help you get both of your jobs done – WAHM work and mom work.


This is probably my favorite method of corresponding with clients as a work-at-home mom, because it is also the safest. The kids can interrupt with squeals of joy about a new discovery or cries of sibling angst and it won’t infiltrate my communication with my client. I can receive all of the messages I need, and respond to them between Band-Aid applications for skinned knees and knock-knock jokes. A few extra tips will help you keep your sanity when it comes to working-at-home and emailing with clients and coworkers.

  • Keep separate email addresses, or at least separate folders within one main email for work related items.
  • Don’t become a slave to the email, unless it is in your job description. Just like a ringing phone, there will be times when you just can’t answer it, and the world will still revolve.
  • Keep up with your email etiquette. Make sure that you are professional and keep things like emoticons to a bare minimum.
  • If you read an email but don’t have time to respond, mark it with a flag so that it doesn’t get pushed to the bottom of your email list and you forget about it entirely by the time you’re reading bedtime stories.

Chatting Online in Real Time

If you have clients and co-workers with whom you chat, make sure that you don’t leave the chat feature enabled when you step away from the computer. Thirty seconds too long on your bathroom break could have your 6-year-old responding to your client’s question.

I have developed a few key phrases I can say to my kids when I jump into a chat with a client so they know that I’m not just idling typing at the computer (when does idling typing ever happen anymore?):

  • I’m talking with a client now so my fingers need to concentrate.
  • I need 5 minutes while I finish my chat with my client, then you can have double that.

They immediately realize that is my signal to them that my fingers, my ears, and my mouth can’t coordinate between the conversation I’m having with the client about editing guidelines and the one they want to have about what is for dinner and which friends they want to invite to eat over with us.

Skype and Video Conferencing

When you work from home Skype and video chat features can be extremely beneficial in communicating, especially for people who are better at communicating through voice inflection and body language. However, when you’re a work-at-home parent Skype can be scary. You never know if your toddler might streak through the background naked or your teen might walk through the door with a herd of friends all singing “Stronger” at the top of their lungs.

  • Schedule your video chats for times during the day that fit your children’s schedule. I avoid the rising crescendo just before lunch and the mid-afternoon energy level.
  • Take 15 minutes before your video chat to quiet the kids and get them involved in an activity.
  • Remind them that your video chat is just like any other adult business meeting.
  • Give younger children time parameters they can understand that have end goals. Maybe you can let them know that your business chat will last about 15 minutes, and after that you will get to go outside and play together.

The last time I used Skype was of course the day I had given myself permission to stay in my “comfy clothes” and get some household chores accomplished. Then a client from Spain requested a meeting within the next 30 minutes. I ran to the bathroom and did my best Superman impression, whirling out of the door assembled in a business shirt (and cut-off sweats – what he didn’t know wouldn’t scare him – too much). My oldest son looked at me and said, “You put on make-up for a Skype call?” First – I didn’t even know he paid attention to make-up, but more importantly it did make me laugh at myself in my cut-off sweats and artificially long lashes. Then I took the laptop, turned the screen to avoid catching the last of my children’s science experiment in the background, and made my chat time before my client left for tapas – happy hour treats in Spain.

Telephone Calls

Children have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when you’re on the phone. It is when every inquisition, emergency, and dilemma unfolds. If you’re a work-at-home parent and need to communicate by phone with clients, there are a few things you can do to survive the phone call.

  • Use sign-language with your kids. My kids know my look and my hand gesture (no – it’s not anything inappropriate – it just gets the point across).
  • Take 15 seconds to explain to your client that he might hear background noise, but that you are fully participating in the conversation.
  • Have a paper sign or door knocker you can use to signify that this phone call must be taken. Just don’t abuse that quiet luxury by spending too much time on the phone.
  • Schedule return phone calls during times when the kids are napping, reading, or occupied with a quiet activity.

My kids are my favorite, top priority clients. They get all of the best treatment, the red carpet in my life. Some days it is really a challenge to communicate clearly and effectively with clients amid the swirl of activity my children bring, but without their swirls, my days at home would be boring in black and white.

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Does Self-Esteem Reduce Respect?

Increased Self-Esteem Can Decrease Respectful Behaviors

You hear it from older generations all of the time – these young kids just don’t have respect for their elders. I’m one of those people who agrees with that sentiment. I expect my own teens to test their independence with me and their father, and I expect their teenage friends to test their own parents. What boggles my brain are those kids who disrespect adults in general. It turns out that all of those wonderful lessons on self-esteem we’ve been pushing on our kids can backfire if we’re not careful.

A study reported on by Heidi Bright Parales in Why Do Adults Hold Teenagers and Children in Such Low Esteem? reveals that there is a “stunning level” of antagonism toward teens and tweens. The national study, Kids These Days: What Americans Really Think about the Next Generation, reports some interesting figures.

  • 90% of people responding feel that youngsters have not learned important values.
  • Just 12% of respondents feel that children commonly treat people with respect.
  • Adults strongly feel that children need to learn integrity, ethical and respectful behaviors, and basic civility.

How Does Helping Kids Develop Self-Esteem Reduce Respectful Behaviors?

Children are being taught to be self-assured, confident, and resilient, but aren’t sure how to reconcile those teachings with respecting others. Researchers from the University of Kentucky see this and other underlying causes to the increased levels of adult antagonism toward children and the beliefs that children today display disrespectful behaviors more often than not.

Children, even teenagers, haven’t yet developed the social sophistication required to understand the subtle differences that most adults possess, especially between the differences of self-determination and respecting the ideas of others. When kids are taught to stand up for themselves and be true to themselves, they aren’t necessarily taught how to meld that with respecting others.

Children also get away with disrespectful attitudes. They have parents who often either model the behavior or accept the behavior (sometimes both). Just like any habits our kids learn, they learn so quickly from us – even when we aren’t trying to teach them.

Other Reasons Why Kids are More Disrespectful

Children today do not have the same boundaries that generations passed might have experienced. The researchers from the University of Kentucky point to these changing roles and the influence these changes have on respectful behaviors.

  • Children are more present in daily life. They travel more, are involved with their communities, and spend more time away from their own parents. Normally we might think this is all good – but it can give children a skewed reality and confuse their relationships roles with adults. There are just some things that kids don’t understand until they have lived long enough to experience them.
  • Children are taking on roles once reserved for adults. They are in the job market, in clubs and organizations, and the social lines are blurred between childhood and adulthood.

The comments from the researchers at the University of Kentucky really struck a chord with me. I know a young man who was teased as a young child, and whose parents have worked very hard to encourage him to be strong, self-assured, confident, and have high self-esteem. He now really holds himself in very high esteem. However, he is one of the most disrespectful teens I know – to other children and adults. His parents let him get away with it for the most part, wanting him to assert himself, but not being able to help him distinguish between self-awareness and respect.

Kids need to know how to act respectfully toward others – or they will never survive one month at a job, in a college classroom, or in future relationships. Respect doesn’t mean giving up your own ideas and values. We need to strive to teach our children how to balance the sometimes battling issues of self-respect and respect – they don’t have to just choose one.

In my day, we didn’t have self-esteem, we had self-respect, and no more of it than we had earned. ~Jane Haddam

Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners. ~Laurence Sterne


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10 Summer Vacations for Families

I can almost feel the sand between my toes – summer is approaching that quickly. If you are hoping to make some summer vacation memories with your kids, but are struggling for a plan, consider these flexible and memory-making ideas.

1. Houseboats – Take a mini-cruise by renting your own houseboat for a lazy week on a river or lake. Several states across the country offer houseboat rentals. Depending on the size of boat, you could even share the trip with other family members to reduce the cost and increase the fun. There are usually suggested stops along the way for outings, swimming, and sight-seeing, and you can specifically search for houseboats that offer great fishing or bird watching opportunities.

2. Music Festivals – From local concerts in the park to major artists gathering for a weekend of summer songs, music festivals can be great for families with kids of all ages. The babies can boogie while Mom and Dad get to relax and enjoy the surroundings. If you go for an afternoon, pack a picnic lunch or see if the music festival has vendors. For weekend music festivals, plan to pack the tent and have some late nights – probably best for older kids and parents young at heart.

3. State Park Pass – Visit a new state park every weekend and enjoy hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, bird watching, picnicking, and even camping. You can go for just the day or arrange to stay for several days. Check to see if your state park system offers a junior naturalist program. Our state gives kids passports with activities to do at each state park they visit. They can earn badges and certificates for completing certain tasks.

4. Ghost Town Adventure – Teens might be more enthusiastic about a family vacation if you throw in a little drama. You can visit a ghost town or take a scenic ghost train ride that travels by various “haunted” locations.

5. Road Trip to Anywhere – My kids love it when we travel with no particular destination. When they were younger (before they had iPods with map aps), they would just shout out directions as we drove, and we would end up where we ended up. We always managed to find something new and interesting to see. Just pack a cooler, an atlas (or a teen with an iPod), a tent (just in case), and a sense of adventure. You can go for just a day, or really travel far – setting a time limit of perhaps 4-5 hours of travelling to reach your spontaneous vacation destination.

6. Train Ride – One of my favorite memories as a child was a train ride my family took. You can take an excursion for one afternoon, take a sleeper train for an extended scenic tour, or use a train to travel from one destination on your vacation to another. Check out the National Railroad Museum for some fun ideas and destinations.

7. Horseback Riding – Again this is probably for the older kids, but horseback riding can be a great way to get the family outdoors together. You can just take an afternoon of riding lessons or go all in on a week-long trail ride. My daughter spent several days with her grandmother on a trail ride – a great experience for them both.

8. Bloom Where You’re Planted Vacation – Make the most of wherever you have to be this summer – family reunions, business trips, or even staying at home. This summer will be a calendar full of baseball tournaments for our family as our son plays on a travelling team – none of games in particularly noteworthy cities across the region. We, however, are going to make the most of these weekend excursions and bloom where we’re planted. For each city we will visit for baseball games, I am compiling a list of sight-seeing adventures from local Chamber offices. None of the sights will include Disney or theme park adventures, but we will see some unique and interesting attractions – making the most of our travels.

9. Beaches – Sand between the toes and the smell of suntan lotion always make me smile. The kids giggle as they hit the waves, and spend just as many hours swimming as they do building castles and creations in the sand. If a beach is on your to-do list this summer, check out the listing of America’s Best Beaches, released Memorial Day weekend by “Dr. Beach” that details his recommendation for the best beaches to visit.

10. Water Adventures – What’s a summer vacation without water? Visit a local water park, tube on a lazy river, or go whitewater rafting. One of my favorite childhood memories was whitewater rafting with my best friend’s family. We camped, swam, and had the adventure of a lifetime rafting a river. For your younger kids, consider renting a canoe, kayaks, or even a peddle boat for an afternoon. Maybe this will be the summer your kids tube behind a boat or learn to waterski (thanks to Uncle Jim for making sure all of us as kids knew how to water ski as soon as we knew how to swim!).

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Help Your Child Overcome Fears and Phobias

Spiders, thunderstorms, and the dark – kids of all ages have worries and fears. These natural experiences, however, can become interruptive and almost debilitating for some kids who don’t develop tools to handle their fears and eventually move beyond them.

A report published in the Journal of Child Psychology, Fears, Worries, and Scary Dreams in 4- to 12-Year-Old Children: Their Content, Developmental Patterns, and Origins, distinguishes between the differences of fears, worries, and scary dreams and addresses the unique characteristics of each.

  • Worry – a fearful thought process (absence of actual danger)
  • Fear – an unsettling emotion that is a response to danger (potential for actual danger)
  • Scary Dreams – occur during sleep and are separate phenomena for anxiety (even though kids might then worry about their dreams – they are two separate anxious feelings)

The authors of this report also published the data from extensive studies regarding kids and worry, fear, and scary dreams. The results show that in children between the ages of 4 and 12, these emotions are quite common.

  • 75.8% of kids reported fears, most often of animals, followed by imaginary creatures, being kidnapped, and social threats.
  • 67.4% of kids reported feelings of worry, most often about physical harm, death, test performances, separation from parents, and anxiety over scary dreams.
  • 80.5% of kids reported experiencing scary dreams, most often involving imaginary creatures, physical harm to self or others, being kidnapped, animals, and death or dying.
  • An interesting trend shows that fears are most prevalent in the 4- to 6-year age range, while worry tends to set in as kids grow older.
  • The worries also change in scope, with increases in social acceptance and performance worries as kids age.
  • The types of fears and worries also change with their ages – from monsters ranking high for younger groups, but physical injury scoring higher for older age groups.

Does My Child Have a Phobia?

Phobias, compared to these other anxiety filled emotions and situations, tend to become debilitating to certain degrees. The American Psychiatric Association defines phobias as:

“…irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. In most cases, the phobia involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm.”

Phobias vary in type and severity, but are generally broken down into three broad categories.

  • Social phobia (fear of social situations – which can be extremely life-altering)
  • Agoraphobia (fear of being trapped)
  • Specific phobia (of which there are 4 main types)
    • Natural environment (i.e. storms)
    • Animals (my daughter’s phobia of spiders – also known specifically as arachnophobia)
    • Medical (i.e. fear of seeing blood or getting shots)
    • Situational (i.e. fear of bridges or heights)

How Can I Help My Child Overcome Fears, Worries, and Phobias?

Obviously phobias will be more challenging to overcome, but the same techniques can be used for all of these issues that arise from anxious feelings (extreme phobias are best addressed with your medical practitioner).

Gradual exposure – My daughter used to scream if she opened a magazine and even saw a picture of a spider. It was so bad that she asked her brothers to preview reading materials so there would be no surprises. We gradually encouraged her to look at photos of spiders, finding that once we took the element of surprise out of the equation that she was better able to handle the situation. We also talked about spiders when there was no immediate concern over them.

Positive modeling – I had to be careful not to even flinch if a spider dropped down right in front of me. At the pet store I would practically fake a love affair with the tarantulas in order to encourage a better view of these creatures. Modeling calm emotions that show you are at ease with the object of the fear helps to tone down the fear factor.

Security objects – We recently had our first storm of the season and my son calmly went to his room and produced his favorite stuffed animal and pillow and announced that when we needed to go to the basement that he was ready with his “comforts”. Help your kids identify simple objects they can use as tools to calm themselves.

Counter-conditioning – This technique involves helping your child replace his response to the fear or phobia with a relaxation technique. The newer, calmer behavior takes perseverance, but can be very beneficial.

Exposure treatments – Some physicians and patients swear by this approach, but I just can’t wrap my head around doing this with a child. It can sometimes involve a technique known as flooding, where the person is confronted with her worst fear, but is unable to escape the situation. The goal is to teach the person that there is nothing to fear. Sounds like I’d be signing myself up for family therapy and lots of resentment if I used that approach!

We saw giant leaps today as my daughter who used to feel physically ill when she even saw a picture of a spider disposed of one that was running across the costume room floor at her dress rehearsal for a play. A few years ago the play would likely have been interrupted by her screams and she would not have re-entered the room, but gradual exposure and calm responses have helped her to overcome her phobia so it is now only a worry she sometimes feels. She can recognize the changes in herself, and has a good sense of humor about it – she’s OK with spiders now if she sees it first (and we joke about how the spider has a greater chance of seeing her first because it might have many eyes).

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Too Much Baby Proofing

Too Much Baby Proofing

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Are You Surrounding Your Child with Too Much Care?

You’ve been anticipating the arrival of your precious child and need to make sure your home is a safe and secure place for her to grow and thrive. But can there be too much baby proofing – too much of a good thing?

Yes – when it involves parents bubble wrapping their infants and toddlers in a world of blandness and artificially controlled environments. Have you seen the latest craze? Safety helmets for kids learning to walk – and these kids have no known medical conditions or concerns. Products like Thudguard are designed to protect your children’s heads as they learn to walk from the inevitable bumps and bruises. We had those falls in our home – and have the scars to prove it – but it didn’t impede their ability to learn to walk, it only made them more aware of their coordination (or lack of it). Safety helmets for walking – when you’re only 2 feet tall – is like a seatbelt for the sofa (yes, mine fell off of that, too).

Another example of this extreme baby proofing – putting window decals on sliding glass or French doors so that your child doesn’t accidentally walk into them. Really? If you have a house with a toddler living in it, how is it that your glass stays that clean, anyway? Give it 3 hours and the glass surface will be covered in drool and snot – instant window decal. Even if you have a cleaning woman or are OCD about your glass, it probably won’t take too terribly long for your child who is living in your home to figure out where the glass doors are located.

Baby Proofing That Makes Sense

So sometimes we go a little bit too far as loving parents, pulling out the bubble wrap and the foam padding. However, there are several practical and necessary precautions we need to make to help our children safely explore and grow in our homes.

Beware of the Batteries

A report from 2009 showed that every 90 minutes in the United States a child goes to the ER because of battery injuries. Dr. Gary Smith says that in less than 2 hours of ingesting a battery the results can be severe medical injury or even death. Many of these are the result of those small circular batteries – button batteries, which can be found in

  • Key chains
  • Ornaments
  • Music boxes
  • Remote controls
  • Musical cards
  • Even baby and toddler toys

Be aware of which items in your home contains these button batteries and either keep them out of reach or secure the battery cover (we resorted to duck tape as an extra line of defense on our remote cover).

Prevent Poisoning

There are on average more than 1.2 million possible poisonings of kids under 5 years of age in the United States each year.

  • Keep the Poison Control Center number near every phone – 1-800-222-1222.
  • Keep all cleaning products, medications, and even some cosmetics or beauty products, out of reach and secure the doors and drawers that contain them with safety latches or locks.
  • Be aware of the toxicity of any houseplants in your home.
  • Pay attention to those lead warnings, especially on toys and games designed for children. Our pediatrician runs a lead level check with typical physicals.

Manage the Magnets

Those fun and engineering toys that older siblings love can pose serious risks to young children. Magnets, when ingested, can perforate the intestines of your child and causing life-threatening medical emergencies. Building sets and refrigerator magnets might be the more obvious concerns, but there are also magnets in jewelry and craft sets.

  • If you have children who are prone to putting things into their mouths, keep those items with small magnets out of reach.
  • Regularly check your toys to make sure the magnets are secure.
  • If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

Baby Proofing Basics

  • Turn your water heater down to 110 degrees to prevent burns when your child decides to experiment with the faucet during bath time.
  • Get down on your belly or hands and knees and explore the world from your child’s vantage point.
  • Use doorknob safety handle covers, especially on doors that lead to stairs or areas of the home, such as offices and work-rooms that are not baby proofed. We actually changed our lever door handle to a round one for the door that led to our basement stairs, and then added a safety handle cover when needed.
  • Use outlet covers.
  • Use baby gates that are installed correctly according to manufacturers’ guidelines.
  • Keep window blind cords short and out of reach – they pose strangulation dangers.

Helping your baby grow and develop doesn’t have to mean bubble wrapping every corner or bump. We had our fair share of cuts, bumps, and bruises as our children learned to coordinate their steps and the reaches. However, children need to learn in a real world as well. I remember vividly always telling my toddler daughter to stay back from the stove (a good idea) because the pans were hot, but then one day watching her thrust her finger right up to the pan as I stood only inches away and burn herself. She later told me (after she stopped crying and the ice helped to cool her finger) that she “just needed to see for myself” and later. “You were right.” I wish she had never burned her finger, but I am glad that she had enough sense of exploration and curiosity to learn from her experiment. At the end of the day nothing can protect our kids – even bubble wrap – like watchful, active, involved parenting.

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3 Things You Don’t Expect When Expecting

Changes and Challenges During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an amazing time in your life, filled with excitement and anticipation. You might read every book, shop in every baby clothing and supply store, and attend parenting and childbirth classes. However, there are some things moms-to-be just don’t expect while expecting. And there are some things that even your girlfriends might not have experienced (or shared).

Varicose Veins Where?

Varicose veins are those blue veins you can see just below the surface of the skin. They enlarge due to extra pressure on the circulatory system and the particular vein, and extra fluid can compound this problem. During pregnancy there is a lot of both pressure and extra fluid retention, and while you might expect a varicose vein on the back of your leg, many women also suffer from them on their labia – yep – down there where no one wants to think of this painful condition developing.

If you are having a lot of pressure and pain in that region, consider a belly binder – one of those belts that fits around your abdomen to help lift and support your growing belly. Your OB probably has one sitting in his office somewhere, or can give you a prescription to have one fitted. The good news is that these veins usually reduce in intensity after delivery.

You can also do the following to help alleviate the severity of varicose veins (no matter where they are)

  • Avoid standing for too long in one position.
  • Exercise as much as possible and recommended by your OB (swimming is a good, gentle exercise that will promote healthy blood flow).
  • Prop your feet up on a stool when you are sitting, especially if you have a desk job.

Skin Changes During Pregnancy

You’re expecting your insides to change, both physically and emotionally, but you also need to be prepared for your outside – your skin ­– to change as well. To top that off, your skin is a gateway for your baby as well, so whatever you put on the outside can eventually get to the inside. Always check with your OB for questions, but make sure you even do so for over-the-counter medications like rash treatments – many of these contain medications that are not recommended for pregnant women.

Check your cosmetics and lotions to make sure they don’t contain

  • Retinoids – While studies are inconclusive to the effects of topical use of this, doctors say it is still best to avoid, especially in larger amounts.
  • Salicylic Acid – Smaller amounts are OK, but when used in acne treatments on the face (where pores are more likely to have higher rates of absorption) it can be too much of a good thing. It is considered similar in effect to taking one aspirin.
  • Soy – In your moisturizer it can actually increase the dreaded “mask of pregnancy” symptoms.

You also might find yourself with a condition known as PUPP – pruritic urticarial papules and plagues. Yuck, right? This common (about 1 in every 150 pregnancies) condition is where itchy, red, raised bumps and patches develop on the skin of your abdomen. Fortunately this will go away after delivery, but until then

  • Try oatmeal baths to relieve the itching.
  • Contact your OB to discuss safe moisturizers and anti-itch creams that can alleviate symptoms.

Comments and Invasions from Strangers

Apparently pregnant women are a draw to the hands of strangers. It is endearing that complete strangers can feel so connected with and excited about your growing baby that they can’t help but reach out and give your belly a pat-down. However, there are creepy factors and too much of a good thing can get really annoying. Prepare yourself with a standard line that might not prevent the act (unless you plan to karate chop at the invading hand), but remind the stranger that in the future it is polite not to dive in with a belly pat-down before the first date. Usually only my husband gets away with patting my belly – when said with a genuine smile – can be a good reminder.

People also tend to freely hand out pregnancy advice and delivery horror stories – and no matter how many you hear, your own will be totally different and unique. To ward off some of those comments, go find some funny and appropriate t-shirts that say it all – check out this slideshow of shirts, including one for Dad.

Pregnancy is a time of change – some wonderful and amazing, and some as joyous as varicose veins on your labia. Embrace it all and use these tips to survive the changes and challenges as you get ready for the biggest change of all – that beautiful baby.

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