Last Minute Labor Day Plans

Celebrate the Holiday with Easy Ideas

Where did summer sneak off to during the night? The unofficial end to summer is upon us. If you are caught with a 3-day weekend and no plans for how to enjoy it with the kids, try some of these easy (and inexpensive) ways to enjoy a last hurrah.

What is Labor Day, Anyway?

Seems to me if my kids are getting a 3-day weekend, they should know a little bit more about this holiday than just the fact that it means school is about to start. Labor Day, celebrated in the United States on the first Monday each September, marks the contributions of the American workforce. (I remember once as a child bemoaning the fact that we had to stay home on Labor Day and help chop wood for the winter – and my dad said to work with honor of those who work for our country – hard to argue with that logic).

Teach your kids about the meaning, and value, of Labor Day.

Learn about the history of Labor Day by going to the United States Department of Labor.

Print some Labor Day coloring pages for younger ones to help reinforce the idea of the holiday.

Have the kids play an online game like this one that includes vocabulary associated with Labor Day.

Last Minute Labor Day Party

If you have found yourself with Labor Day here, and no plans for a grand neighborhood barbeque, you can still whip up some end of summer fun with a last minute party. Don’t worry – this one doesn’t involve you inviting hoards of people to your home and backyard. Instead, plan a party that doesn’t require a lot of effort (for anyone).

  • Pick a local park, hiking trail, or nature center, and invite friends and family to meet for a hike or to play some outdoor games.
  • Encourage everyone to either bring their own picnic lunch, or go potluck style (and everyone brings their own picnic-ware).

This Monday my family will be meeting with a dear friend we haven’t seen in years to have a group hike and picnic. No fancy pre-planning involved, but we are looking forward to a wonderful way to cap off our holiday weekend.

Honor the Workers

I’m all about teaching my kids the deeper meaning, and Labor Day is a great time to do something a little extra that is rewarding and memorable (as well as a teaching moment). Take stock of your community and some of the “unsung heroes” who work to make your neighborhoods or town a better place to live (but who rarely get recognition for it). These might be those who assist the elderly or disabled, the firefighters down the block, or the teachers who are getting ready to head back to the classrooms. Work with your kids to find a way to honor these individuals on Labor Day.

  • Make patriotic decorations with your kids and deliver them to a nursing home for the employees to brighten their offices (people in the healthcare industry don’t get a 3 day weekend).
  • Help your kids make cupcakes and deliver them to the fire station (again – safety workers don’t get holidays off of work).
  • Work with your kids to make care packages for new teachers in your school area. These can include a healthy breakfast bar item, some fun pencils and pens, small bottles of bubble bath or hand sanitizer, and notes of thanks for all of their hard work they are about to do.

Neighborhood Parade

If your city doesn’t have an official Labor Day parade, let your kids come up with their own and invite their friends to participate. Encourage all of the kids to dress up as different professions – doctors, teachers, mailmen, construction workers, etc., and have them parade down the sidewalk. The kids can invite neighbors to come out and watch at a given time, and can even play their own music, decorate their bikes and wagons, or roller blade down the row.


Yes – I know that sounds about as lame and boring as I thought it was when I was a child. I really wanted to be at the lake with my friends that Monday decades ago. But my parents knew I was starting school the next day and should probably hang out at home a little more and get ready. They also knew that putting in a few hours working around the house would not only benefit our family, but teach me a lesson that has stuck with me all of these years. We want to take 3-day vacations and run with them like they are prized doses of fun in a bottle. But if we forget their original intentions, we aren’t doing our kids any favors in the long run.

Work together as a family on Labor Day – and top off the day with a special meal, dessert at the ice cream parlor down the road, or an outdoor movie with the neighbors. Your kids might moan and groan through the labor part of it, but you will teach them lasting lessons in the process, and you can still have a little fun on the last hurrah of summer.

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Protecting Kids’ Digital Identities

The biggest privacy issue my parents had to worry about was whether or not I gave out personal information over the home phone (from the rotary dial antique). Now I, and parents around the world, have to deal with technology at the tip of nearly every fingertip, and the vulnerability our kids have to the videotaping and photo-snapping whims of anyone and everyone – and the limitless sharing of those images in the viral world.

Do Laws Protect My Kids Online?

Yes – there are laws protecting children from sexual predators and even cyber-bullying. But what about those grey areas – can anyone post images and videos of my children online, without my consent? According to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998), there are laws regulating the participation of children under the age of 13 in online activities. This is the law that inhibits Facebook from accepting page creations from those younger than 13, and why online marketing tools will ask users to verify that they are 13 or older. COPPA is an effort to protect children from providing private information (names, birthdates, etc.) to websites. However, this law does not prevent people from posting photographs and videos of minors without their consent, especially when taken in public settings. This is the grey area that can leave our kids vulnerable. This law is also extremely outdated (1998), and should be revisited in light of growing technology.

Waivers for Minors

Many organizations that work with youth, such as church groups, scouts, and 4-H, ask parents to sign waivers when they register their children that allow for pictures and videos of their children to be taken and shared in a public forum.

  • If you are asked to sign a waiver, look for these specifics:
  • The images and videos will be shared online in a public forum.
  • The images and videos could be used for advertising and promotional purposes.
  • Your child’s name and general address location (city) might be associated with certain videos or images.

If you’re not OK with these parameters, make sure that you speak up. It is also important, though, that you make your child aware of the restrictions you are placing on their digital privacy so that they can learn to protect themselves.

Teaching Kids to Be Safe Online

Like anything, there are extremes when it comes to parents and the privacy of their children online. Some parents don’t allow a single name or photo of their child to be posted anywhere, and others share and encourage the online documentation of every second of their kids’ lives – almost like a mini version of Kate Plus 8. I’m somewhere in between – raising teenagers who have Facebook pages, cell phones, and use You Tube. We use guidelines in our home that we hope will teach our kids how to navigate the internet, utilize opportunities the digital age provides, and stay safe in the process.

  • The kids don’t get Facebook until they are at least 13. It’s about respecting the rules, as well as waiting until they are mature enough to handle situations that might arise.
  • We utilize privacy settings.
  • My husband and I have access to all social media accounts and passwords, and I was their first friend on Facebook.
  • The kids know that we reserve the right to check their cell phones at any time, without notice.
  • We utilize internet safety software, especially strict on the kids’ laptop that gets used for schoolwork.
  • They know not to post any picture they wouldn’t love to have blown up to life-size and presented to their grandparents as a gift.
  • We don’t allow “random strangers” to become social media friends. If they haven’t met in person, we need to approve online connections.
  • We respect their rights, as well. I don’t post pictures or tales of their most embarrassing moments. Even in my writings about family, I always ask for their input before I write about situations we have encountered or experiences they have had.

Striking a Balance – Kids’ Pictures and Videos Online

We do allow our kids to have their basic personal information (i.e. name and city) images and videos posted online, and for our family these guidelines work for us. The technology infused age in which our kids live can be scary for parents, but if we give them the tools with which to navigate the information highway, we are helping them live in their time.

Just yesterday my teenage son gave a Performing Arts presentation at the state fair, and was videotaped by people in the crowd, as well as photographed by 4-H and published online. Members from the audience even approached him after his performance and asked him where he was from (to which he has learned to give a general “city” response), and one person that we know of (but whom we don’t know) videotaped him with the plans to post it to her personal Facebook page.

While these will make marks on his digital identity, the trade-offs are acceptable for our family. He is learning composure and powerful public speaking skills well beyond his years, and he is meeting people with similar passions and gaining opportunities he might not otherwise have if we kept his digital identity closed. While I might not like that I don’t have control over the images and videos people take of him when he is performing in public, as I watched him interviewed on the news I saw that his ability to present himself safely online means letting him experience the digital world. It is, after all, the world in which he lives (not the imaginary one that is so much more comfortable for us as parents!).

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Teenagers are Lazy

Teenagers are Lazy

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And Other Myths About Teens

Myth #1 – Lazy teens just want to sleep.

Get a roomful of parents of teens together and most will probably agree – their kids like to sleep. Actually, their kids like to sleep in – meaning that they are no longer the early morning risers they used to be when all they wanted to do was jump out of bed and race to watch cartoons. Teens, however, don’t usually tend to sleep late because they are lazy, but because their natural circadian rhythms are changing so that their bodies naturally gravitate toward later bedtimes and later mornings. Teens are also going through enormous hormonal changes and body growth, and their bodies usually require at least 9.25 hours each night (which most teens don’t get).

  • Discourage electronics after 10:00 p.m. to allow your teen to unwind and unplug.
  • Help your teen plan ahead for the next morning to save time and wasted energy looking for missing track shoes.
  • Watch the snacks your teen is consuming before bed – they should be limited in or free of caffeine, sugars, and heavy carbohydrates (which can disrupt sleep patterns).

Myth #2 – Teens don’t want to talk with their parents.

According to surveys, teens do want to hear from their parents. They just might not show that they are listening, and they might not return the conversation (especially if cozy conversations are new between parents and teens). Even when it comes to those tougher topics to handle, like intimate relationships, teens want to hear what their parents think – 62% of teens wished their parents would talk with them more about relationships, and only 20% of teens said that friends most influence their decisions.

  • Talk with your teen about situations that other teens are experiencing. This takes the heat of off them, but still allows for meaningful conversations.
  • Make it a point to have at least a few calm and easy conversations each day that have nothing to do with homework, household responsibilities, or curfew.
  • Keep talking – even if they are rolling their eyes. Their ears are still open and your words will be heard.

Myth #3 – Teenagers are too spoiled to get part-time jobs.

A few decades ago it might have been commonplace for teens to be the ones taking orders at the drive-thru or assisting customers at the mall. The faces of employees are changing, though, for several reasons. The economy has forced many people who are post-high school age to go back and either seek new employment at what were once jobs considered to be for teens, or to go and get a part-time job in additions to their lower paying full-time jobs. High school students have rigorous demands on their time schedules. Sports schedules, extracurricular activities, and homework have students available to work fewer hours, and parents are increasingly concerned about their kids’ abilities to juggle it all.

  • Encourage your teen to look for a job with fewer than 20 hours each week (more than that and studies show a decline in grades).
  • Consider just having your teen work on weekends or during the summer.
  • Encourage your tweens and teens to volunteer at young ages – it helps build character and gives them a leg up in the job market.
  • Help your teen create a resume that will give him the best chance at a job that works well with your teen’s schedule.

Teenagers are unique creatures. One minute they are confident and know everything there is to know in the world, and the next they are stressed over which shoes might look better. Even though it can be tempting to just chalk all of those sleepy mornings, eye rollings, and overworked sighs up to the hormones of teenage-hood, sometimes we need to give them more credit. Today’s teens are facing enormous changes and challenges, and still have less than 2 decades of life experiences with which to deal with those situations. Time to sit back and encourage them and understand life from their perspectives – even if we walked uphill to school each way back in the day.

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5 Ways to Build Fine Motor Skills

5 Ways to Build Fine Motor Skills

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There is something so simple in the pride a child feels when he can finally hold a pencil and write his own name – those combinations of letters scrawled on the page that represent his identity. But getting to the point where your child comfortably uses a pen or pencil is a far cry from rolling the jumbo sized crayon across the page. Fine muscle dexterity gradually builds in children, and can be the source of frustration for kids who aren’t yet able to master these skills.

As the mother of 4 children I’ve watched all of them succeed at different rates with their fine motor skills, and can relate to the studies that report boys tend to be slower at developing dexterity. My guys were always ready to run and kick the ball, while my daughter seemed more likely to sit and work on puzzles or crafts. By the time kids move into early and middle elementary years, these differences dissipate. However, parents can go a long way to helping all of their kids reach their full potentials when it comes to motor development.

Fine Motor Skill Development Guidelines and Activities

If you’re not sure where your child is when it comes to typical motor skill development, check out these guidelines put together by – realistic and reasonable milestone for all kids.

1. Puzzles with handles or knobs

These types of puzzles offer practice for fine motor skill development and eye-hand coordination, without bringing the kind of frustration traditional cardboard puzzles can. Some of my favorite puzzles for the preschool years are:

2. Finger puppets

Nothing beats making characters come alive with the wiggle of a finger, and finger puppets are easy ways to encourage fine motor development. You can create your own or invest in a few simple puppets to get your child’s imagination and fingers dancing.

3. Clay and Play-doh

There is a reason why Play-doh has been around for decades. This toy feeds the imagination and helps children develop their fine motor skills. If you want to create your own sculpting clay for the kids, try this recipe my boys still use.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Mix all ingredients in the pan and cook until thickened on low heat (add food coloring if desired for different colors). Cool and let kids use – will keep in an airtight container for a few months.

4. Finger songs

My kids were all fans of simple finger songs when they were toddlers and preschoolers. You can use these to entertain while waiting in the doctor’s office, in line at the grocery store, or as a bedtime ritual.

  • This list has some easy to remember finger songs and poems that also help build counting and memory skills while getting those fingers moving.

5. Finger paint

Kids love to feel the squishy sensation of the paints through their fingers, and finger paints help build dexterity and can be calming for those kids who need sensory play. You can make your own special version of a puffy finger paint by following this recipe.

  • Mix equal parts of flour, salt, and water.
  • Add a liquid tempera paint or food coloring until the mixture is the desired color.
  • Pour into a squeeze bottle (the picnic kind for ketchup and mustard work well).
  • Let kids squeeze onto paper and explore.

When kids are developing their fine motor dexterity skills they need lots of room for mistakes, messes, and exploration. Even though the smeared and sketchy creations of the toddler years might seem like they are eons away from masterful cursive writing, these games and toys of your child’s early years are important tools to help them reach these other milestones. Don’t forget to save a few samples of their preschool masterpieces to display at graduation to show how far they have come!

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8 Tips to Get Your Teen Reading the Classics

8 Tips to Get Your Teen Reading the Classics

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Modern teenagers are probably more likely to be caught reading texts and emails than reading the classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird or A Tale of Two Cities. However, just because these classic books that teens really should be reading aren’t willingly and purposefully added to their backpacks doesn’t mean we should give up on them experiencing some of the most famous literature in print. Wanting kids to read the classics and actually getting them to do it enthusiastically can be two separate things entirely. Here are 8 ways to help teens reach for some good old fashioned tales and adventures.

1. Get involved with the school curriculum. If your child’s school is moving away from required reading, find out why and take some steps to encourage them to keep teaching the classics. Parents’ and community members’ voices are strong, so gather some like-minded people and petition to bring back titles like The Old Man and the Sea and The Count of Monte Cristo.

2. Set a good example. Read some of the classics you loved reading as a child or read some of them that you never had the privilege to be assigned in school. My husband recently read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time and was quite struck by the book – and the fact that he felt he should have read it years ago.

3. Make it a family project. I have the luxury of homeschooling my children and assigning them the classics as part of their school curriculum. We do, however, manage to squeeze in more reading by making reading the books a family endeavor. Your teen probably won’t show you too much appreciation if you just drop off a stack of books on his bed and tell him to read them before Christmas. Instead, bring one book into the house that you think might resonate with the kids – if you bring out Little Women for your 2 teenage sons, you might have to do some fast talking. You can tackle the book in two different ways, depending on the preferences of your kids:

  • Do it as a read-aloud, sharing a chapter or two a few nights each week.
  • Do it as a group read where everyone agrees to read so many pages, and then you can have a pizza party once a week or so to discuss what you think so far.

4. Start with developing a love for reading. Not every child seems naturally inclined to read just for the pure enjoyment of it. Find some ways to make reading come alive for your kids so that tackling the language of the classics isn’t as daunting. I also make sure that each of my children is reading every day.

5. Watch a movie. I almost always think that the book is better than the movie, but if you have an extremely reluctant teen reader, starting with a classic movie might be the key to getting him interested in reading a classic. Bring out the popcorn and maybe even turn it into a game of Who’s Movie is Best? and agree to watch one of the movies your teen really wants to see (even if it is a zombie-filled one).

6. Use technology. E-readers are becoming more and more accessible in price, and the titles available are becoming greater and greater. Even if you are reluctant to invest in an electronic reader, would you change your mind if you knew your child would then be more inclined to read historically significant literature? Sometimes meeting our kids half-way is better than standing on one side and waiting for them to reach us where we want to be.

7. Be sly. Teens are already at a point in their lives when they want to feel that each and every decision they make is their own. If you approach them with a book-list you might be asking for more than you want to handle in terms of rejection, so reach your child without overt attempts. Get a classic book on CD and listen to it in the house or while driving in the vehicle. Again, make sure it is a title or storyline that would be likely to appeal to your child.

8. Make it a party. Teens love parties, so combine your desire to have your kids get familiar with classic literature with your teen’s desire to have some fun with friends. Partner with your teen to get her and her friends reading a classic book, with the culminating event being a wrap party for the book. The kids can watch the movie, dress in appropriate vintage attire, and you can supply the ever-needed movie snacks.

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15 Must Read Books for Teens

15 Must Read Books for Teens

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Vampires, games of death, and teenage romance. If your tweens and teens are reading books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, or Matched, you might be thinking that these are idle chapters of teenage pop culture. That is probably just what our grandparents were told about some now classic books. Between cliff notes and online summaries for anything imaginable, there are increasing chances that our kids won’t pick up some of these dust covered classics unless they are a part of a high school curriculum plan (and even then it might be hard to actually get your kids to read these selections – and more schools aren’t requiring them). But these books are classics for good reasons – they get audiences to think, grapple, imagine, and wonder.

15 Books for High School Students

(and that’s just the start)

As I get ready for a year with one child entering high school and another child beginning her senior year, I am determined to make sure that amid the modern selections in their backpacks that they don’t venture out as adults without reading some historically rich, culturally significant, and socially insightful books.

  1. The Bible – No matter what religious foundation you might have, the Bible is the most known piece of literature in modern history. Read it. Get your kids to read it.
  2. OK – hard to follow the Bible, but The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank – This poignant and personal look at the life of a young woman during the Holocaust is a moving book that captures the essence of living, even in the face of death.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – This book deals with racism, social injustices, and the intricacies of family dynamics. Read the book with your kids, then watch the classic movie.
  4. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane – Set during the Civil War, this book exemplified human nature, including shame, fear, and courage among a descriptive narrative.
  5. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain – There is nothing like the language used in Twain’s books, so read this one with your teens, or choose another Twain title such as The Prince and the Pauper. Twain’s books hit the mark when it comes to human character and growth.
  6. The Giver, by Lois Lowry – I have to admit I found this book unsettling when I read it with my daughter a few years ago. However, the lessons that come from this book about society and the exploration of a utopian and dystopian culture are profound.
  7. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens – Again, just make sure that your teens read something by this author. This book is a favorite of mine because it demonstrates that although the dates might change, the relationships people have go through similar struggles. This is a great historical piece that examines social status and its relation to human nature.
  8. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe – This adventure story is a must read for my kids, especially the boys.
  9. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway – The stereotypical battle of age and wisdom over brute strength is exemplified in this classic story. The aging fisherman wars against a giant fish, but highlights the internal struggles and strength we all have.
  10. Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell – Based on a true story about survival and self-reliance, this book is touching and inspiring.
  11. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas – This classic story is steeped in the dangers of revenge, and is not only written well, but has a thought-provoking message that transcends the decades since it was written.
  12. The Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller – This story of family expectations and challenges might seem too far removed for high school students, but it is a classic representation of a well written play that resonates with “average” families.
  13. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean C. George – This classic story tells the adventurous tale of a young girl who rejects the traditional ways of her village and ventures into the Alaskan wilderness, where she forms new relationships – with a wolf pack.
  14. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott – I admit it was hard to get my boys interested in this one, just based on the title alone. However, if you present it as a family drama, it takes on a different tone than if you look at it as a romantic tale.
  15. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne – If you watch any of the teen dramas or “reality” shows, you might think that you are seeing chapters taken from this book. It deals with single parenthood, social shunning, and significant life challenges.

This very short list in the long line of classic literature are just some examples of the types of books we need to make sure we are reading to and with our kids. Exposing our children to various authors, styles of writing, and genres of books enriches their perspectives on the world, and themselves. Include in your list of “must reads” for your teens things by these authors:

  • Stephen King
  • J.R.R. Tolkien (I did The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a read aloud with my kids)
  • William Shakespeare (The language alone might drive kids crazy, but the tales behind the language are ones that kids usually love – such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Jane Austen
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Mary Shelley (Pop culture is infused with the zombie craze – introduce your kids to the classic Frankenstein.)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (My kids love to hear the dark poetry of Poe.)
  • Virginia Woolf
  • John Steinbeck (My husband recently read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time and wondered how he had gone all of these years without reading it.)

These lists could go on, and on, and on, and you get the point. The list of great works of literature awaiting our children (and us) is longer than the list of must see television or the upcoming releases in video games. What is on your list of must reads?

Even though you might agree that kids should be reading more than the instructions for their iPods, it is not always easy to get them interested in or focused on books that don’t have pop culture appeal. On Monday I’ll be sharing some ways to help your kids do more than just use these classic books as doorstops. Stop on by!

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Facing Frustration

Teaching Kids How to Deal with Emotions

“You should get frustrated more often, Mom. Your gardens look a lot better.” This was the accurate and poignant observation my teenage daughter made just the other day as she watched me pulling weeds from my flower beds – with vigor – as I blew off steam from a stressful situation. I had to smile at her ability to associate my emotions with my actions, and it made me reflect on the ways we teach our kids to deal with their emotions, so often simply just by how we deal with our own.

We’ve been dealing with a lot of stress and emotions in our household lately following the death of a close loved one. We’re grieving, family dynamics are changing, and extended family relations are strained. Our children are not immune from the emotions of this situation, and each day we deal with our emotions, our children are watching. They are learning how to communicate, how to deal with frustration, and hopefully, how to recognize their own emotions for what they are – natural, needed, and healthy.

Helping Kids Learn to Deal with Frustration

Dr. Jim Taylor, in an article published in Psychology Today, outlines for parents the significance of emotions like frustration, and gives tips for how to teach children to understand and react to their emotions in healthy ways. Frustration, according to Taylor:

“…arises when the path toward a goal is blocked. Most people think of frustration as a bad emotion, but it is actually more complex than that. The fact is that frustration is hard wired into us and has tremendous adaptive value. Frustration starts as a good emotion because when we get frustrated, we are motivated to remove the obstacle that is blocking our path toward our goals. We try harder and that extra effort frequently results in clearing that path enabling us to continue pursuit of our goals.”

Sometimes it feels like we are just knocking our heads against a brick wall (and sometimes that might be how we might want to deal with our frustration), but our kids are watching. Taylor warns parents to be alert to the risks of not dealing with frustration well – it can trigger what he refers to as a negative emotional chain. This chain is a series of events and emotions that take kids from frustration, to anger, to despair. As their emotions spiral downward, so do their abilities to make safe and healthy decisions.

The Risks of Negative Emotional Chains

Especially for teenagers this can lead to a series of unhealthy choices and reactions, and anger that makes it more difficult to focus on goals. Teens who don’t have the tools to deal with their emotions are more likely to

  • Drink alcohol
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Abuse drugs
  • Have lower academic scores
  • Have strained family relations
  • Suffer from depression

Helping Your Kids Handle Frustration

Taylor gives some practical tips for helping our kids deal with emotions such as frustration, and to avoid the negative emotional chain.

  • Don’t just tell your kids to keep at it. Doing the same thing over and over will likely just get the same results. This is one of the core issues of frustration – the inability to cause change.
  • Encourage your kids to step back. Have them get a snack, listen to music, or just relax. (I head to my gardens, my daughter plays the piano, etc.)
  • Help your kids find something at which they can succeed while they consider ways to impact the source of frustration. Pride, enthusiasm, and a sense of accomplishment not only feels good, but can give your kids the boost they need to feel they can overcome whatever is negative in their lives.
  • Go back and encourage your kids to talk about the source of the frustration and see if they can break down the larger obstacle to their goal into smaller, more manageable pieces.
  • Pay attention to how you react to frustration. Our kids watch us and take it all in – whether we want them to some days or not.

My gardens are looking a little better these days. More tended and managed – even though that is not how I might feel about my life all of the time. Even though my daughter was just playfully teasing me about taking out my frustration on the spreading weeds, I really took it to heart. I need to be conscious of how I react to stress, frustration, and all of those uncomfortable emotions. It’s a good thing I like to garden so much – life sometimes gets filled with weeds.


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Are Your Kids Healthy?

Healthy Kids for Life. That sounds like a wonderful future for my children. My kids haven’t lived long enough for us to know if they will always be healthy, eat well, and remain physically active, but I do know that I want to do what I can here and now to see that happen. Dr. Charles Kuntzleman, author of Healthy Kids for Life, claims that in order to raise healthy children, we need to do more than just send our kids to gym class and call it good. He outlines a specific program that he writes will help us as parents become the coaches of our children’s healthy lives. I feel like I need a whistle…

What is the Healthy-for-Life Checkup?

According to Kuntzleman, we need to first assess our children’s health by conducting a health-related physical fitness test. The test should include:

  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscle fitness
  • Flexibility
  • Body composition

Kuntzleman wants us to complete a step-by-step regimented test (we could even have a whistle and a stopwatch!) to determine our kids’ physical fitness. His book includes all of the tables we need for measuring our children’s scores, and we have to participate as well. Some of the activities to be measured include:

  • Running one mile
  • Walking one mile
  • Running one-half mile
  • Curl-ups
  • Push ups
  • Sit-and-Reach (Are you having flashbacks of high school? I know I am!)

Calculating Body Fat for Your Kids

You tally your results and get an accurate picture of where everyone in the family is, and where everyone in the family needs to be. Then it is on to the dreaded body-fat checkup (insert more high school shudders). A skin-fold caliper calculates the amount of body fat rating – and Kuntzleman even gives directions for making your own caliper out of household supplies. My family might be in the minority as we actually have a caliper, purchased after my health conscious husband got a body fat reading at the doctor’s office he didn’t like just by taking his height and weight and calculating it from there. Those calculations don’t account for things like my husband’s ginormously muscle infused biceps. Actually measuring your child’s body fat ratio shouldn’t be an uncomfortable thing to do, but in reality, kids just might not want Mom or Dad making these assessments. Leave this one up to the pediatrician if you think it stresses your child (just make sure the office has an actual skin-fold caliper).

Healthy Eating

Once you’ve blown your whistle and made it through the physical fitness testing, it is time for an eating assessment. There are quiz questions (still feeling like high school) that have you and your family rate your eating habits, and based on your scores, gives recommendations for improvement.

Thresholds and Goals

One of my favorite parts of Kuntzleman’s strategy is his description of thresholds – they allow failure without causing you to turn away from your overall goal. A threshold is the point you set that reminds you to get back on track, instead of dumping you off the road entirely. It helps you to develop a plan to reach your goal. For example:

The overall family goal is to walk the dog together 3 nights each week. The threshold you decide that means you’re on the wrong track is when you get to Saturday and you’ve only walked the dog once together. Now you take corrective action and make your goal more specific, such as walk the dog on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and until you keep that goal for 2 weeks, there is no television on those days.

Kuntzleman also does a great job describing goal setting for the family, and includes sample goal charts you can duplicate and implement into your family. Goal setting for families is not just for physical health, but emotional and even spiritual health as well. Through it all Kuntzleman reminds us to keep it playful and fun with our kids, even though your job is as coach. The remainder of the book is filled with specific activities you can try with your family for healthy living, including

  • Exercise program ideas that encompass all of the different aspects of physical education,
  • Meal plans for healthy eating,
  • And ideas for how parents can increase community and school awareness of health issues for kids.

Why You Can Skip This Book

(or at least portions of it)

This book gives medically backed ideas for raising healthy kids, and is a strong advocating piece for community awareness. However, it takes the passion for health and turns it into one more thing for which we need to test our kids. It breaks down their health into test scores and numbers, and can trap parents into relying on calculations on the page. The truth is that all kids are different, and the tables in the book don’t really account for that. I’m also not a fan of parents relying on a book to tell them if their kids are healthy or not. Yesterday my son attended football practice for 6 hours, rode bike, then trained for a 10K. Even though he had a brownie for dessert, I’m OK with that. And I won’t be giving him the physical fitness test. We need to keep room in our parenting for knowing who our kids are, without pulling out the stopwatch and whistle (even though that could be fun…).

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The High Emotional IQ of a Turtle

The High Emotional IQ of a Turtle

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Teaching Emotional Literacy Using the Turtle Technique

Be the turtle. Normally as a parent I wouldn’t want to encourage my child to go into his shell. I would be encouraging him to reach out, engage with the world, and actively participate with those around him. But the concept of the “turtle technique” is one that I have employed and have seen great results. This technique for anger management and emotional awareness has been around for years and is part of a cognitive behavior intervention strategy that encourages kids to recognize their emotions – especially those uncomfortable ones like frustration and anger.

What is the Turtle Technique?

The turtle technique is a simplistic way to teach children how to manage their strong emotions that often lead to impulse control problems. Children who might express anger or frustration by yelling, stomping, kicking, or saying unkind things in reaction to their emotions can be taught the turtle technique as a way to slow down their reactions and increase their awareness. This behavior management strategy involves 4 basic steps.

  1. Something happens to make the child angry or frustrated. Tell him that emotion is OK, and it is time to think like a turtle when that happens.
  2. He needs to stop whatever he is doing and keep his body and voice to himself (no yelling, hitting, kicking, or lashing out).
  3. Encourage the child to go into his shell and take 3 deep breaths.
  4. The child then needs to think of a solution, or a positive way to react to the situation. The turtle (the child), can come out of his shell when he thinks he has a good solution.

Why Does the Turtle Technique Work for Emotional Awareness?

I’m sure you’ve heard it – a parent telling his or her child to just calm down. When our kids are upset that is exactly what we want, hope, and need they can do in order to gain perspective, but it is not really giving them the tools to actually do it.

The turtle technique

  • Gives children a tangible example they recognize – the turtle.
  • Helps them visualize a calm scene (turtles tend to be slow and deliberate – something we want our kids to be when they are upset).
  • Can be reinforced with kid-friendly stories and graphics for visual learners.
  • Reinforces to kids that their emotions are real and OK, but that it is important to react in kind and safe ways, searching for solutions to situations that upset them.
  • Helps teach emotional intelligence – a lifelong skill we all need.

How Can I Teach the Turtle Technique?

There are great resources available for teaching the turtle technique to your kids. The important thing to remember is not to emphasize your child hiding away from the world when he gets upset, but to use his shell as his quiet place to think and come up with a solution.

  • Begin by talking about emotions – anger, frustration, etc. – but do it at a time when your child is already calm.
  • Introduce the concept of the turtle technique by talking about how turtles go into their shells when they are unsure of things and it gives them time to react to things around them.
  • Share with your kids a story such as this one, created by Rochelle Lentini.
  • When you see your child become upset and demonstrate impulse control issues (yelling, hitting, lashing out at others), remind him to be the turtle.
  • Acknowledge your children’s efforts to be the turtle and develop solutions that might help ease their frustrations. You could even get turtle stickers and use them on a behavior management chart, where each time your child successfully uses the turtle technique he or she receives a sticker.

Teaching Emotional Literacy using The Turtle Technique

Helping our children develop emotional literacy (often referred to as emotional intelligence or EI) is not always easy, especially in the fits of childhood frustrations. Tools like the turtle technique can help teach children not only to recognize their emotions, but how to turn that energy into a positive solution. While the technique won’t likely work all of the time with all children, it is an easy, free, and positive way to engage your kids in the lifelong process of emotional literacy. Slow and steady wins the race.

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Feed Your Kids Some Dinosaurs

Feed Your Kids Some Dinosaurs

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And Other Back to School Traditions

Two words – dinosaur pancakes. Since I can remember, my mom always started the first day of school each year by serving up pancakes shaped like dinosaurs for breakfast. That was the only time of year we delighted in such a breakfast menu, and I honestly have no idea what brought about this slightly odd tradition. But it stuck, and it meant something. And 30+ years later I serve my kids dinosaur pancakes for breakfast as they celebrate their first day of school each year. If you’re looking for some ways to send your kids off on that first day with an extra dose of “mom love”, check out these ideas (and please share your own!).

Dinosaur pancakes (or another slightly odd breakfast item)

I doubt my mom knew how trendy she was back in the day, but manufacturers now make pancake forms so you can shape your dinosaurs to perfection. My kids prefer to see how well my art skills are coming along and want me to wing it (and sometimes I just end up serving dinosaur eggs – slightly oval griddle cakes).

I have this dinosaur set, but you can also find flowers, cars, trains, hearts, and for the really precise pancake eaters – circular pancake forms. Kids can decorate the pancakes with fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, or whipped cream.

Back to School Scrapbook

I just saw my cousin’s post this morning on Facebook of her grandkids heading to the bus stop on their first day. Some looked excited and some looked like they wished they were still sleeping. Even as a homeschooler I take “first day of school” pictures with my kids. Take this common tradition and add some extra special touches to create a back to school scrapbook, adding to it each year (imagine how awesome that will be for graduation!).

  • Take a “good morning picture” of your sleepyhead before he has had his dinosaur pancakes and put on his new clothes. (warning – some teenage girls are not fans of this tradition…)
  • Take a family picture, and get Dad in on it before he heads to work.
  • Get the pictures developed or print them yourself during the day, then as a bedtime activity add them to the scrapbook with your kids.
  • Have your kids write down a memory from that first day – good or bad – and add it to the scrapbook.
  • You can include other items, such as receipts from school supplies, price tags from gym shoes, or the headlines from the morning paper.

Hopes and Worries in a Jar

The first day of school represents more than new classes and fresh notebooks. It is the start of new goals, dreams, fears, and challenges. Kids often have mixed feelings about starting a new year of school, and even as parents we have our own trepidations and excited emotions. Help keep the family in check by trying this activity (usually a good one to work through together the night before the first day of school).

  • Take a mason jar, vase, or even an empty coffee can and decorate it with your kids. (Back to school sales often include school related stickers, or you can just have your kids paint the jar as well.)
  • Get everyone in the family together and spend a few moments talking about the next day (and the next year that lies ahead). If you have younger kids, read a book together such as

David and The Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety

Don’t Worry Douglas

A Boy and a Turtle: A Children’s Relaxation Story, Helping Young Children Increase Creativity While Lowering Stress and Anxiety Levels

  • Talk ith your kids about worries, plans, goals and dreams. Reiterate to them that worries are natural, but that they don’t have to stop us from reaching our dreams.
  • Write down on a notecard one of your own worries for the next day. Maybe it is that you won’t be able to make it to your meeting on time. Then share with your kids how you hope to still reach your goal (plan for an earlier lunch, take 10 extra minutes in the morning to gather your paperwork, etc.).
  • Write down one of your hopes for the next day, and again share with your child how you plan to make your “hope” into a reality.
  • Add your worry and hope notes into the Hopes and Worries jar.
  • Encourage your child to do the same for his or her worries about school the next day. When you know what your child’s worries are, you can help him find ways to make them into smaller obstacles.
  • Have him add his worries and hopes to the jar.
  • The next evening after the first day of school, go back to the jar and pull out the notes. Talk with your kids about whether or not you were all able to set aside the worries and bring the hopes to life.

Back to school time is one of my favorite times of year. The dreams, plans, and goals for the year are new and exciting, reminding me of how I felt each time I brought one of my children home from the hospital after they were born. Keep that joyful excitement in your house as you try some back to school traditions – and please share what you do in your home to make this a special time of year.

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