7 Ways to Develop Focus

A child doesn’t have to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD in order for you to experience that exasperated feeling when he just won’t pay attention. While this is a common theme and underlying driver for why parents and educators investigate the possibility of something more than an inability to pay attention, there are many more criteria that must be met in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made.

Whether your child has definitively been diagnosed with a condition such as ADD, or you just keep finding yourself begging your child to pay attention or just focus, the following resources and activities can help you and your child develop the tools needed to build attention spans.

Tips and Tools for Building Attention and Focus

As a mom of 4 kids I’ve accumulated more than 50 years of parenting when all of those years of kids are added together – and I’d be ready to retire and buy my own island if I had just a penny for every time I inwardly begged for my children to pay more attention. So when I find great resources that help me build my children’s attention spans and squelch the begging to just please focus, I want to share those ideas with other parents and educators. Building attention and focus skills is sometimes taken for granted as an ability that comes with age. However, there are great ways we can increase the amount of “focus energy” our kids can harness.

1. Attention Games, by Barbara Sher 101 Fun, Easy Games That Help Kids Learn to Focus

Trickling my finger along the library shelves one day I came across this parenting tool. Broken down by games targeted to age groups infant through teenager, this book is a collection of sensory-rich games and activities. The premise of the book is that if we want to help our children focus their attention, we need to get them interested. Sure – doing chores and listening to our instructions might simply not be interesting to our kids, but by using some engaging attention games we can help them build their capacities for focusing. Each age section lists games by title, and then includes the following:

  • A brief description of the game
  • A description of the types of attention that are the focus of the game
  • Materials needed
  • Directions for the game
  • Ways to vary the game
  • A synopsis of what is being learned

2. Where’s Waldo? – And Other Great Concentration Tools

Books like Where’s Waldo and hidden picture books require kids to concentrate on finding certain characteristics within the page – building those every-important focus skills.

3. Puzzles

Stock a bin or basket at your house with crossword puzzle books, word searches, Soduku, or any other type of puzzle you can find. For kids who are really struggling with attention spans – steer clear of 1000 piece puzzles, or consider setting up a puzzle table where anyone in the family can stop by and work on finding a few pieces whenever they have time.

4. Sequencing Games

Take any three or more objects and create patterns with them that your kids can recreate – but add in the dimension of timing them to encourage them to stay on task. Everyday household items work well for sequencing, and you can use these games as fillers while you wait for dinner to be ready or before leaving for an activity.

  • Paperclips
  • Plastic spoons and forks
  • Buttons (you could create a sequence completely out of buttons, just differentiating by color)
  • Coins
  • Small toys like LEGOs or building blocks

Other Tools for Developing Attention Spans

5. Chore charts – Implement these to help your kids stay on track, and keep you from becoming a repeating parrot doling out the same instructions to your child over and over again.

6. Bubble timers – Staying on task is often required in life, and these gentle bubble timers can help kids who struggle with timing issues.

7. Better Directions – Break activities into small chunks of time or smaller levels of responsibility. Yes – it would be wonderful to tell a distracted child to Go clean your room, but you are much more likely to see progress if you instruct him to Put away your laundry, pick up toys from the floor and put them into the toy bins, and replace the books onto the shelves. Breaking tasks down into manageable pieces increases the chances for success and decreases your frustration levels.

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Does My Child Have ADD or ADHD?

The Challenging Questions and Answers Facing Parents

Does my child have ADD, ADHD, or another attention stealing disorder like Central Auditory Processing (CAP) Disorder? If you have ever asked yourself this question – you are not alone. Everywhere we turn in the news and in our education systems we hear that ADHD is on the rise. More children than ever are diagnose with ADD. And if your child does tend to be the squirmiest one in the classroom or the most forgetful one of his friends, you might also be subject to well-meaning family and friends suggesting their own diagnoses. But before you are ready to fill a prescription or sign your child up for special education classes at school, consider all of the information.

Attention! Is Your Child Distracted?

Our kids are silly putty. They are pulled and stretched in every conceivable direction. The seemingly endless distractions of over-the-top schedules, technology at every turn, and constant hum or noises in our environments can take a toll on our children’s ability to focus. This lack of ability to focus, however, does not mean that kids necessarily have a disability.

According to teachers and doctors from the Oxford Learning Center (an organization that helps to treat people with learning and behavioral disabilities):

It is time to stop making kids into victims. Using the most modern tests and checklists, competent professionals are identifying kids with ADD at an alarming rate. Once this diagnosis has been made, these kids are identified as having a deficit! When we are confronted with a child who does not seem to be able to pay attention, our first assumption should not be that they cannot pay attention, but rather that they are just not paying attention.

The above statement is so powerful for parents. It helps to give us back some responsibility and even control in an environment where society is fairly quick to diagnose and label. It seems that too often it is easier for classroom control or to ease the frustration of worn out parents if there is a label disability or behavior because then a professional treatment plan can become available – and that can be very comforting. However, it might mask the real, underlying issues.

ADD or Something Else?

There are many causes for the symptoms that lead to the diagnoses of ADD, ADHD, or similar disorders. Anxiety, unidentified learning styles such as kinesthetic learning, and even allergies and medical conditions can cause children to have some of the most common symptoms of attention deficit disorders.

If you’re struggling with concerns about whether or not your child has ADD or ADHD, you’ve probably heard of some of these warning signs.

  • Difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty completing assignments
  • Difficulty organizing activities
  • Challenges with time management
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Fidgety behaviors and trouble remaining seated
  • Interrupts regularly and seems to lack a verbal filter

These and so many other symptoms often send parents to the pediatrician, looking for answers and help. The truth is that according to medical specialists, many children do have legitimate diagnoses of attention deficit disorders, and many children are also misdiagnosed. I’ve played the wonder-game. It is draining and emotionally exhausting. But it is worth it to dig as deep as you can go and then dig a bit deeper.

Testing for ADD and ADHD

If you are searching for direction and struggling with a child who just can’t seem to focus or pay attention and you have been led down the ADD or ADHD path, there are many tests and tools that are available to you, your child’s school, and medical specialist. No one, two, or even three tests should be used to confirm a diagnosis. Keep digging and use as many tools as available to make sure the path you are on with your child is his or her reality.

  • ADD-H Comprehensive Teacher’s Rating Scale – This scale helps to differentiate between ADD and ADHD.
  • Conners Teacher Rating Scale – This is what your child’s teacher probably used if you received a recommendation to follow-up with a medical specialist.
  • Conners Parent Rating Scale – This is similar to the teacher scale and the two can be used to make sure that the situations that are observed in school are the same as those at home.
  • Child Behavior Checklist by Achenbach – Another tool for teachers that consists of 112 questions.
  • Home Situation Questionnaire (HSQ) – There are more than a dozen categories included and parents are asked to judge the typical behaviors of their children.
  • Tracking Lists – Behavioral lists that parents use to monitor behaviors over time.

Accurate and thorough diagnoses of attention deficit disorders cannot typically be made in an afternoon after marking a few boxes and answering “yes” to certain questions. Evaluation of several skill areas is essential to making sure that parents are headed in the right directions with their kids.

  • Oral language
  • Non-verbal intelligence
  • Cognitive skills
  • Auditory processing capabilities
  • Academics
  • Building Attention and Focus Skills

Building Attention and Focus Skills

There are many things our developing children can’t do. They have to grow into their abilities, and some need more direction and teaching than others.  Focus and attention skills are so infinitely imperative for our children that when we are faced with situations where they clearly lack these skills, it can be frustrating and even frightening. We begin to ask ourselves if we are missing something – if something such as ADD and ADHD could be the cause.

If this is your struggle as a parent, find resources that help you filter through the jargon and the rhetoric. A wonderful comparison I found through the Oxford Learning Centre is this:

Consider the following: You would never say, “My child cannot play the piano! He must have piano disability!” If your child cannot play the piano, the reason is usually that he has never learned how! Why then, when a child cannot pay attention, do we first assume that he must have a deficit? We need to adopt a major paradigm shift. A change in our thinking keeps paying attention in the realm of the possible. It assumes that, before we panic and turn to medicine and other drastic measures, we will attempt to teach the child how to pay attention. It assumes that the child has something to do with this, that the child will be, and has to be, a willing and major participant in the process. It is an active process, not a passive one.

Whether your child has a solid diagnosis of ADHD, ADD, a processing disorder, or another similar condition, or you are just struggling to teach your child the skills needed to focus and pay attention, there are great resources and easy steps we can use in the home. Next week I’ll have a list of resources, games, and activities you can use with your child to build focus skills and increase attention spans. The road is not always easy – but if we wear the right kinds of shoes we can walk it more smoothly.

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Printables to Encourage Reluctant Readers

Printables to Encourage Reluctant Readers

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Setting Reading Goals and Reaching for the Stars

Are you a bookworm but you are raising a book-balker? A child who balks at most of the books you suggest from the shelves and who would rather shovel the snow and clean the toilets before willingly grabbing a book to devour? Many educators and parents are now using the term reluctant reader to describe these kids – the ones we so desperately want to expose to the joys of reading – but who we sometimes turn away from reading because we are trying too hard. Try these printable reading activities and goal trackers with your reluctant or struggling readers, or even with your emerging readers you are trying to keep motivated.

Beginner BookmarksThese printable bookmarks are divided into 10 minute chunks – when your child has finished reading 10 minutes, he can put a check in the box, place a small sticker in the box, or even use a hole punch to mark his progress. You can decide together what the reward will be when he has completed one bookmark (equivalent to 1 hour of reading). For some kids the completion of the bookmark is the reward, but others might need extra encouragement, such as a coupon to choose the movie for family night or a trip to the local park.

Reach for the StarsThis dot-to-dot printable can be used with the goal that works best for your child. The goal might be to read for 10 or 20 minutes each day, or even just to read 3 pages of a book. Decide that with your child, and then use this printable sheet to track her progress. Each time she reaches a goal she gets to connect a dot.

Recommended Reading – Empower your reader by giving him a voice in regards to the types of books he likes to read. Use this printable sheet for him to share with others the books that he would recommend. Just yesterday I watched as one of my sons handed the local librarian a new hardcover book that he received for Christmas, read once, and told her he would like to donate the book to the children’s collection because it was not one that he really enjoyed but wasn’t available yet on the shelves. The empowerment he felt because he was able to share his recommended reading with other kids was enormous – and he can always check it out again if he wants to re-read it.

Basic Book Report – If your reluctant reader (and maybe writer) hears the words book report, he might recoil in distaste. Sometimes just lightening the load and the expectations alleviates the pressure to not only read the book, but then write an amazing report about the book. Use this basic book report form to help reluctant readers focus on the basics of the book – recognizing authors and illustrators, main characters, settings, and the overall idea.

Reading can be one of the most enjoyable activities for some children, but for others it is a chore and a source of frustration. But we can keep plugging along and trying every trick in the book. As long as we keep trying to expose our kids to great stories and opportunities to listen to and read varieties of books, we keep the reading door open in their lives.

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Recess Makes for Better Grades

Recess Makes for Better Grades

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The Many Benefits of Physical Activity During the School Day

If you ask my nephew about his favorite times of the school day – he doesn’t hesitate to answer recess, gym, and lunch. And he is not alone in this category of kids who just can’t wait to get away from their desks and face fewer restrictions on their movements and conversations. This doesn’t mean that my nephew (or any of the kids like him) isn’t academically inclined. It means that he knows something that was recently published as a new policy statement for the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Recess is essential for healthy development.

Dr. Robert Murray, co-author of the policy which was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics goes on the record to say that recess is a “crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.”

Recess is about more than four-square, tag, and shouting across the playground. It is essential for children who are regimented to spend hours behind a desk or seated in a circle each day. Children not only get to wiggle out those ever-present wiggles, but they are also exposed to important opportunities.

  • A more unregulated opportunity to develop communication skills
  • Cooperation and sharing opportunities
  • The good old fashioned need to move and release physical energy

In fact, pediatricians are pushing for school districts to keep recess as important as any other class period during the day. A teacher wouldn’t consider keeping a boy out of math class because he was goofing off during assembly, and pediatricians say that children shouldn’t be denied recess as a punishment or because they are struggling academically and need to use recess as study time. The time that children spend sitting in classes and through lectures is counteracted by things like recess and free play time. They are needed to help balance each other.

Murray goes on to discuss how valuable recess is, comparing it to the breaks we need while at work during the day. The difference is, however, that most of us work in environments where we have some control over our movements. We don’t need to ask for permission to use the bathroom, stand and stretch our legs, or to go get a drink of water. We do these things because our bodies tell us that they need these mini breaks. During the day, kids who are behind desks aren’t able to move as freely, and recess is the time they need to decompress from the rigors of academics.

Recess Not a National Priority

Research has shown that children who are allowed to move throughout the day in the form of recess and other opportunities actually perform better academically. They are able to pay closer attention to their studies and assignments. The research also shows that when emphasis is placed on physical activity it can help lower the climbing obesity rates.

However, even though the research clearly shows that recess is a positive part of the school day, because there aren’t scores to be measured on a standardized test, recess is not a priority for far too many school districts. Recommendations by the American Heart Association include 2.5 hours of physical education each week, and 20 minutes of recess every day. But even in the face of all the research and at the urging of health officials,

  • Only 8 states suggest or require 3rd graders get daily recess.
  • 23 states (less than 50%), have any laws requiring schools to offer PE classes, and only 6 of these states require the minimum amount of 2.5 hours/week.
  • About 70% of schools surveyed report offering 3rd graders recess every day, but only 18% were given the recommended amount of 2.5 hours each week. However, those schools that offer the recommended amount of PE were less likely to fulfill the recommended hours of recess, and the reverse was also true.
  • Schools within states that mandated or encouraged PE or recess were more than twice as likely to meet these recommendations.
  • Schools with mainly minority populations are least likely to have the recommended PE and recess times.
  • Research also shows that recess should be scheduled before lunch time for the maximum benefits for the students, so they don’t rush through eating to get to the coveted recess.

What Can You Do About Your Child’s School?

Researchers and health advocates both agree – parents need to demand that states require schools to offer adequate PE and recess times. Unless and until this happens, schools will likely continue to forgo what has been proven to be beneficial because PE and recess aren’t covered directly on standardized tests. Parents can also push for more frequent and smaller breaks throughout the day if PE classes aren’t possible. Even if your child is not a kinesthetic learner, research has shown that exercise and free play provide academic and health benefits – which probably explains why my nephew is so smart!

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What is Your New Year’s Resolution, Mom?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

What is your New Year’s Resolution, Mom? This is the question my 9-year-old posed to me yesterday – which made me pause to even wonder why a 9-year-old would contemplate this goal-setting tradition. So I did what any parent who isn’t prepared with an answer might do – I turned the question to him: What is your resolution for the New Year?

To have less greed in my heart.

Well – that makes my original answer that was floating around in my head of keeping caught up on laundry seem pretty low on the priority pole. Anything short of saving the world was going to seem pretty petty in comparison to my 9-year-old’s resolution. So now I tried what any homeschooling parent might do – turn this into a lesson for both of us about goal setting and goal keeping. It is probably the biggest failure for resolutions (any time of the year) that we don’t have a plan for keeping the goal. So when I looked into the cherub face of my son, I wanted to find a way to help him keep his goal, as well as to help me set some goals – and keep them – even if they are just about the laundry.

Printable Tools for Helping Kids (and Moms) Set and Reach Goals

Making S.M.A.R.T. Goals

For a small community college, the Maine Community College System has some big ideas about goal setting. They use an acronym for goal setting – SMART – that is easy for adults and kids to remember.

Specific – Our goals should be about something specific – an action or an event.

Measurable – There should be a way to measure the success of the goal.

Achievable – We should be able to achieve the goals if we have enough resources.

Realistic – Our goal should have a realistic likelihood of success.

Timely – There should be a specific timeframe for reaching the goal.

Using this SMART model, I developed this worksheet for my son and me to work through together for our goals. It is one thing to want to have less greed in our hearts, or just to keep the mountain of dirty laundry to a maximum height above sea level, but it is another all-together to actually plan ways to succeed. He can’t just summon the powers that changed the Grinch’s heart, and I won’t be sending children out in 10 degree weather in just shorts and tee-shirt because it involves smaller loads of laundry.

More Steps for Reaching Goals

Teaching kids to set and reach goals can be both one of the most challenging things for parents, and one of the most rewarding. It is why we sometimes turn to behavior and goal charts, why we are constantly striving to teach them to plan ahead, think about their futures, and make positive choices.

When it comes to the youngest ones in our family, goal setting and reaching can be a difficult concept to convey. They live on dreams of becoming an astronaut who will travel to all of the planets (in a week) – so making and keeping a goal of learning how to play the guitar can seem almost mundane to them. However, for our kids, these goals are just as reasonable as any other they could set. We don’t have to rain on their parades with constant doses of reality checks, but we can help them learn to break down their goals into reasonable steps. We want them to reach for the stars, but we need to make sure they are equipped for the ride.

  • Help your kids shoot for the stars with this printable worksheet. They can use small star stickers to mark each step their rocket achieves until they reach their ultimate goal.
  • Print this simple ladder worksheet and have your kids label each step they need to reach their goal.
  • Acknowledge the steps your kids are taking to reach goals. I can see you are working hard to reach your goal of finishing that book because I see you reading 10 pages each day.
  • Remind your kids that it is OK to readjust goals when you realize you might have missed some important steps along the way.
  • Use this printable visual reminder for your kids about what their goal is, and the steps they need to take along their way.

To have less greed in my heart. Somewhere along the way one of my parenting goals has been coming true – raising children with purposeful hearts. Somehow, though, that mountain of laundry is the bane in my housewife existence! I’ll be reviewing those SMART guidelines for goals to see if I can achieve my resolution of controlling the laundry. Whatever your life, parenting, and personal goals are, I wish you and your family the energy to see those come true in 2013 – Happy New Year!

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Scream Free Parenting

Parenting – it’s not about the kids. This is the ironic message that is delivered in Scream Free Parenting, by Hal Edward Runkel. According to Runkel we are too focused on our kids, too ready to help them, control them, mold them, and be with them. We scream because we are anxious that our kids do better, have better, be better than we were and perhaps are. It is time to quiet the screaming.

Screaming might refer in this book to literal screaming, where parents meet the challenges of parenting with throat scratching and ear-splitting screams. For other parents screaming might mean disconnecting from our kids or overcompensating for their misbehaviors. Creating a scream free environment then means parenting through calm, nonreactive authority. The temper tantrums of your two-year-old and the talking back from your tween won’t be calming, so this is where Runkel’s message rings true – parenting is about the parents.

How to Parent with Calm Integrity

Runkel continues to remind the reader that effective parenting occurs when we are calm – when we give ourselves room to cool off before we react, and when we make conscious choices about how we are going to react to our children. Some of the advice Runkel promotes includes:

  • Don’t react with emotion to your child’s misbehavior. “Your emotional responses are up to you. You always have a choice.” Runkel says we give our children too much emotion-draining power when we claim they can push us over the edge or push all of the right buttons to drive us crazy. We need to own up to our reactions to them – and try to take it down a notch or two.
  • Don’t micromanage our children’s lives. If we helicopter parent our children, we can’t expect them to grow strong wings of their own.
  • Let natural consequences rule the world. Runkel reminds us to consistently seek to balance protecting our kids from true dangers and allowing them to experience life’s lessons (even the ugly ones).

The sooner we can expose our children to the universal law of sowing and reaping (at whatever age they happen to be right now), the less they will need to have the larger consequences teach them as they get older.

  • Perhaps my favorite lesson from Runkel – the kind that I have on my refrigerator as a reminder – is about remaining consistent in our parenting.

Don’t ever set a consequence that is tougher for you to enforce than it is for them to endure. Choose only those consequences that you are willing to enforce.

The Crazy Points I Just Can’t Embrace

Yes – there are many lessons for parents in Runkel’s book that are really worth embracing and attempting to implement. However, there were several points in Runkel’s book where I just wanted to bang my head on the floor and scream – the kind of points that I just can’t ever fathom even attempting to use in my home. One specific point has to do with respecting the space of our children.

According to Runkel, my kids’ rooms are their spaces and I should respect my children by allowing them to use their rooms as they see fit. If they don’t want to clean it – fine. Runkel even goes on to say that:

If it is “their” room, then let them keep it the way they want to. Whenever you feel anxious about their mess, go clean your own room.

How much did children pay Runkel to write this chapter? Sure – the advice sounds like something that might be dished out in a psychologist’s office and somewhere there might be a grain of truth in the giant sand castle of parenting. Runkel claims that it is our parenting anxiety that makes us want our children’s rooms to be clean. Yep – I’m anxious. About the fire safety hazard of allowing a teenager take over a 14X14 space, and the policies of the CDC against allowing unknown substances to regenerate themselves in the corners of children’s bedrooms. I’m anxious, too, about the carpet I paid to have installed, the window treatments I invested in to help reduce the heating or cooling costs I have to pay for each month. But according to Runkel I need to stop being anxious about bedrooms because we want our children to feel that they are responsible for their own spaces.

The idea proposed by Runkel might sound – liberating – for children. But there are other ways to allow children to learn how to embrace their spaces.

  • Let them choose the color schemes, posters for the walls, etc.
  • Mandate a monthly room cleaning for all in the house, including Mom and Dad
  • Give them tools for keeping their rooms clean – bins for sorting, baskets for hiding, and under the bed Ikea treasures to store their treasures

They are responsible for their own bodies, too, but if we don’t insist their teeth get brushed, their underwear be changed, and their faces occasionally washed of the mystery goo, we would probably be held on charges of child endangerment. You can’t teach a child to respect himself, his belongings, and those people and things around him by only setting a good example and giving him ownership of the rest. If children didn’t need us to help guide them and lead them, we would be like sand tiger sharks that are born as independent swimmers ready to take on the world. Sand tiger sharks also eat their siblings before they are born – only the strongest survives. I’m trying to stay away from adelphophagy [eating one’s brother] and work toward the kind of harmony Runkel promotes. But the bedrooms need to be clean enough to pass health inspections.

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New Year’s Eve – Family Style

New Year’s Eve – Family Style

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Champaign, horns, music, dancing – does this sound like the New Year celebrations of the years before kids? While you might not be able to throw the big bash anymore between diapers and the sheer exhaustion of parenting young children, you can still celebrate the New Year family style. I think there have only been one or two New Year celebrations my husband and I experienced without the kids with us in 16 years of parenting, and I know that the nights we have spent ringing in the new have created wonderful memories. If you’re looking to celebrate New Year’s Eve with the kids in tow, here are a few easy and fun ideas (even if you only make it up until 10:00 p.m.).

Easy and Fun Recipe Ideas

Bring a little of the Big Apple theme and the ball dropping into your menu planning.

  • Sliced apples with caramel dip or other fruit dip – Go with the Big Apple theme and serve some fruit – it’s easy and healthy, especially if you use a yogurt based dip.
  • New York style cheesecake – You can get an easy mix and make mini ones in muffin tins, or do as I’m going to do this year and make one from scratch using this favorite recipe of mine.

Take your spring-form pan (it won’t bite!) and spray with non-stick coating.
Smash graham crackers – enough to coat the bottom of your pan. I think I use just slightly less than one plastic pack from a box. Combine these crumbs with about 1 Tbsp. of butter and press into the bottom of the pan.
Take 4 8-ounce boxes of softened cream cheese (I use the kind with 1/3 the fat) and combine with 1 cup of sugar and 1/4-1/2 tsp. of almond extract using the electric beaters/mixer. Gradually add in 2 whole eggs, one at a time and beat on low.
Add 3 egg whites, one at a time, as you continue to beat on low.
Pour the mixture over the crumbs and bake at 325 degrees for light/silver pan, 300 degrees for dark pan. It usually takes about an hour to be soft set – slightly wiggly in the middle. Take it out and cool, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
After pouring it in the pan, add several large dollops of raspberry jam/jelly and cut through the mixture with a knife to swirl. Then bake as usual.
OR Make as the original recipe and as soon as you take it out to set drop chocolate pieces on top, swirl caramel topping on it, or chocolate syrup. Then chill as usual.
OR substitute lemon zest for almond extract and serve with lemon zest on top.

  • New York pizza theme – Let the kids make their own on flour or corn tortillas using pizza sauce and any of their favorite toppings.
  • Soft pretzels – We like to buy the big boxes of these and toast them in our oven. Some of the kids opt for cinnamon, and others want to dip them in cheese. You can also try using flavored popcorn salts instead of the large rock salt that comes with the pretzels.
  • Fortune Cookies – Nothing says New York like a little Asian cuisine, and fortune cookies are a great way to ring in the new year. The kids love to see what special note they have in their cookie, and they don’t mind eating the sugary crunch, either.

If New York isn’t your style, just get the kids in the kitchen and let them whip up some recipes that are sure to please!

New Year’s Games

The kids like to play games that keep them moving – the more they move the less likely they are to accidentally fall asleep while waiting for the ball to drop.

  • Twister
  • Wii games (last year we jammed with friends to LEGO Rock Band – always a fun memory maker and confidence crasher)
  • Dance pad
  • Treasure hunt throughout the house
  • Hide-n-seek with the lights out and the kids wearing glow sticks around their wrists and ankles

Easy Activities for the Kids

Part of the magic for the kids is waiting – the anticipation they feel as they wait for the clock to turn and a new year to begin. Let the kids dress up in their party clothes – and you can probably get out of your comfy PJs long enough to wiggle into a New Year’s dress. Help keep them busy and anticipating the fun with these easy activities.

  • Homemade Noisemakers – Take empty toilet paper or paper towel tubes and cover one end with paper and duct tape, then have the kids add dry beans, rice, popcorn seeds, or even pop can tabs. Then cover the open end with paper and tape and let the shaking begin!
  • Firecracker Craft – Use this easy (and safe) firecracker craft with your kids. They can decorate the outside and leave little trinkets for the family on the inside.
  • Print these New Year Word Search puzzles for a bit of quieter family fun – just when you are getting ready to doze at 9:30 p.m.

Don’t forget to spend a few minutes reflecting on 2012 and planning with your family for 2013. Now is a good time to talk with your kids about your favorite, most memorable, and most forgettable moments, as well as how you can work together to form a brighter future. Use this printable book to create a family memento, or work together and create a time capsule to open next year.

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7 Reasons Why You Should Not Be a Work-at-Home-Mom

After more years than I can count, I think I finally consider myself to be a bonified work-at-home mom. And I love it. But that doesn’t mean that this gig is for everyone, or that there aren’t days when I consider what a “normal” life might look like if I wore a business suit to work and carried a briefcase. [Nope – the slippers work much better for me than heels.] Working at home is not for everyone – if it is for you – it can be one of the most wonderful opportunities. However, there are reasons like these 7, that might mean the boardroom is a much better fit for you than the home office.

1. You don’t think you’ll do the paperwork.

You don’t have to like the paperwork that goes along with it, but things such as keeping paper trails and receipts for taxes are going to be on your shoulders. Even if you come to a wonderful point in your stay-at-home career where you can hire someone else to prepare your taxes, you are still going to be responsible for making sure that you provide your tax preparer with the specific details he will need to know – which is more than just a running total of income. You’ll need to know and provide paperwork for:

  • Business related expenses. Make sure you understand the fine print when it comes to whether or not your new desk chair qualifies.
  • Receipts for things like paper, office supplies, and other things directly related to your work-at-home business.
  • Invoice statements for all income. If you are selling items, make sure you provide proof of taxes you charged or didn’t charge. If you have clients for whom you work, you will need invoice statements for both the clients who filed W-9 forms and those who didn’t (you are still responsible for your income either way).
  • Your work portfolio. Paperwork for the WAHM is about more than tax preparation. It is about building your business from the inside out. If you keep a growing portfolio it helps your future business prospects.

2. You can’t make yourself shine.

There is a difference between bragging and letting your qualifications and expertise shine. In order to become a successful work-at-home mom (or dad) you are going to have to find a way to highlight the assets and talents you will provide – you have to be willing to be your biggest fan, which can be a hard pill to swallow. When I first started writing and editing as a freelancer, I found it very uncomfortable to tell a potential client how my skillset could be valuable to him or her. Now, however, I realize that especially in the cloud commuting world, I have to be willing to prove myself each and every time – I am competing against thousands and thousands of other people – and we are all virtual strangers.

  • Make a list of your accomplishments – your education, years of experience, awards or recognition received, etc. – from which you can grab supporting evidence of your qualifications.
  • Use the words of others. If you have reviews written on your work, even if they are just comments or compliments in an email, use those words of others to demonstrate your capabilities to others.

3. You don’t have emotional support from your family.

It can be emotionally draining to wear so many hats at home – wife, mom, writer, editor, teacher, chef, laundress, gardener, etc. – that without the support of my family on those bad days, I don’t think I would enjoy the different roles quite so much. There will be days when you need to vent or rant or have a mini-breakdown. If your family uses these moments to say, “See – I told you this work-at-home think wouldn’t work!” then your struggles are only compounded.

  • Tell your husband what you need to hear when you have a bad day – even if it is just to agree with you and say, “That sucks – I hope tomorrow is a better day.”
  • Give yourself a 15 minute fake drive-home. If you were working outside of the home you would have a commute where you could gather your thoughts before unleashing any frustrations. Give yourself a fake commute – do a load of laundry, walk around the block, just do anything that helps you gain perspective before you launch into your bad day. It will help to reduce the spillover into your family life.

4. You don’t have customers or clients who know the truth.

The truth is that you are a work-at-home parent and that sick days are not optional (one of your other hats is a nurse hat), and there is not a full-time IT person to deal with your technical difficulties.

  • Be upfront and honest with clients about your schedule, even if that means telling them that you really work best after 9:00 p.m. when the kids are in bed, and that 4:00 is the worst time for a conference call because you want to hear what is going on and that is impossible amid the chaos of after-school noise.
  • Find others who can help fill in those gaps. I have had to become adept at technology trouble-shooting in order to survive as a cloud commuter, but I also have a back-up plan and people who I can call when technology fails me.

5. You don’t like spending time at home.

Working at home is not for everyone. You have to be content to spend a lot of time at home – often with the kids and in dual roles of parent and employee. You will have less face-to-face contact with co-workers, you won’t have physical around the water-cooler conversations, and your meetings often won’t be over lunch with friends.

  • Make sure your workspace is comfortable and reflects your work, not just your home. I have my own music, a chair that doesn’t have finger-paint covering it, and my books on the shelf behind me. There is also a dry erase board on the door where I can scrawl notes that help bridge the memory gap as I transition from role of mom and teacher to role of writer and editor.
  • Find ways to get out and work in other spaces. Nothing beats a cold winter day at the library with the kids. I can take my notebooks and my laptop and we all spend time reading and exploring – and I get some work done in a new environment.

6. You can’t balance family time and work deadlines.

This is one of the most difficult things to do as a WAHM, but it is also one of the most necessary. It is also an opportunity for your children to learn from your work ethic and responsibility. I was reminded of just how much my children see and to what they pay attention when my son wrote a letter about me. In it he said:

“My mom is also a very determined person. When she decides to do something, she sets her mind to it and does it. This shows up in her work, where her deadlines are always met.”

Hmmm. Maybe I can add that letter to my portfolio… I know I already have it added to my mental support – that thing that I can call upon when I am struggling through a day and wondering if my kids will be all right if I keep working and let them do the lunch dishes.

7. You don’t feel good about what you are doing.

At the end of the day, whether you are working at home, in a cubicle, on the road, or in a top-floor office, your work should bring your joy and satisfaction. This year, as I reflect on my busiest work-at-home year ever, I have the realization that even if I didn’t need to work for a paycheck to contribute to my family’s needs, I still want to do the work I do.

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Coping with Tragedy

Coping with Tragedy

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Resources for Children and Parents in the Wake of the Connecticut School Shooting

Like so many parents across the country, and the world, I wept today for the children and teachers lost in the unfathomable shooting tragedy in that Connecticut elementary school. My heart aches for the parents, the siblings, family members, and the entire community of those directly affected. At Better Parenting the topics usually include anything from potty training to teenage dating, but today there was a sorrow and a reminder that these topics seem insignificant at times like this.

As I sat and cried, prayed, and talked with my own children, we had conversations that shouldn’t have to be held in a cozy country home just before Christmas. But we did – and I reached out for my own resources to help my children and my family learn to deal with the emotions and the pain that encompasses such a day.

Resources for Children

It seems ironically and sadly appropriate that many of the wonderful resources available can be found in the children’s section of your local library or book store. These books might help ease some of the fear and worry that your own children might be having about returning to their schools on Monday morning.

  • Triumphing Over Tragedy: Overcoming Adversity, by Brittany Elizabeth Tew – A colorful book for young children, the author draws upon her own experiences with tragedy to bring about comfort to children and encourage them to “dance in the rain” despite all of the pain.
  • A Terrible Thing Happened, by Margaret M. Holmes – Young children can benefit from this story that demonstrates the anxiety and even anger that people can experience at times like this.
  • Students in Danger – Survivors of School ViolenceThis resource is recommended for older children who might be affected by the tragedy of school violence, letting them know that they are not alone in their worries.
  • Rachel and the Lion, by Stephanie Lainez – This book is about a young girl in Africa whose community is struck by the tragedy of malaria, and how she grows and uses her inner strength to overcome the heartache and pain.

Resources for Parents and Caregivers

  • School Shootings – How to Empower Kids in the Face of Armed School Violence, by Irene Van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director – A tool for parents and caregivers, giving advice for helping children feel secure and empowered in their own schools.
  • Children and Grief – Helping Your Child Understand Death, by Joey O’Connor – This book takes parents through the steps of helping children cope with death and loss.
  • Parenting in the Midst of TragedyThis guide written by Glenn Lutjens, M.A. and available through Focus on the Family, is a wonderful resource for parents struggling with helping their children cope with the overwhelming emotions tragedies cause. It gives direct, focused, and practical steps that we can take to help guide our children through what we are having a hard time comprehending.

There don’t seem to be enough resources in the world to help ease the pain that a tragedy such as the school shooting in Connecticut today has caused. These are only tools to help us get one step closer to a peace we want our children to feel – and a safety we want them to have – always. As we gather as a nation in pain, we are also gathering as parents who mourn with the parents who lost their children today. We are hugging our own kids a little tighter, smiling at them a little longer, and praying a little harder.

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7 Holiday Travel Survival Tips

Printable Activities and Easy Games to Keep Your Kids Busy

The gifts are getting wrapped, the cookies are being baked, and the kids are dancing across the ceiling with excitement for the holidays, the travels, and seeing Grandma and Grandma on Christmas Eve. But how are you ever going to remain sane in the process? Try some of these activities and projects for busy kids who are confined to small spaces – the car, plane, or even Aunt Sally’s tiny living room that is adorned with ceramic kittens.

The first thing to remember is that you are much more likely to remain sane if your kids are given outlets for their energies and their sense, even amid the Christmas hustle and bustle. Most kids need some way to release their inner childhood crazy monsters through tactile activities that use their sense of touch, opportunities to use their senses of hearing, and through being able to use their muscles.

7 Easy Games and Printables

Printable License Plate Game

Use these printable lists of all 50 states (plus a bonus personalized license plate) to keep your kids busy scanning the roads for other travelling families. You can work on one sheet together, or print one off for each passenger.

String Tricks

My kids still play with string in the van on long trips, keeping their hands and often their humors busy. There are great string tricks you can do on your own, or play the traditional Cat’s Cradle game with 2 people. All you need is yarn – or a Chinese Jump Rope like this one. If you never mastered the art of string tricks as a child, check out this great video for easy tutorials!

Printable Travel Games

Print this page and cut apart the game sheets on the dotted lines (each page will give you 3 game sheets) for even your non-readers. As you travel along, have the kids keep their eyes open for the signs and objects on the game sheet, and either circle them or put an X through them. You can play together or make it a friendly competition to see who can complete their game card first.

Who’s In That Car?

This classic game uses the imagination and helps keep everyone focused on something other than “How many more minutes?”. Simply take turns making up stories about the people you drive by who are in their cars or trucks. Perhaps you see a car with a travel case strapped to the top – maybe you will make up a story about the travel case containing sauerkraut because the family in the car is headed to a German family reunion. Get creative and have fun – no supplies needed!

Homemade Sock Puppet or Brown Bag Buddy

Use an old sock or a brown paper lunch bag and help your little ones create puppets who can ride in the minivan with them. Come up with a storyline, including how excited your child’s Brown Bag Buddy is to be heading to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. The puppet will help divert heightened excitement, and also be an outlet for hands that just need to be busy.

Disappearing Coin Motivation

Buy a roll of coins for each child – the value of coins will probably be determined by the age of the child. The rolls of coins stay up from with you, and you lay out the ground rules for travel. Perhaps you have a How-much-longer-whiner in your van. For that child, every time she whines about how-much-longer, you remove a coin from the roll and add it to your own stash. If you have a sibling-picker – the one who always is poking, teasing, taunting, and making travels a bit testy – make the rule that every time those behaviors appear, another coin will disappear. When you have reached your destination, your child gets the remaining coin in the roll for souvenirs or trinkets at the hotel.

Lace ‘Em Up Cards

Turn cardboard into portable, learn-to-lace activities for preschoolers. Simply take one side of a cereal box or the lid to a shirt box, draw a basic shape (fish, candy cane, Christmas tree, flower, etc.). Then use a paper punch and punch holes in the cardboard at about 2-3 inch intervals. Grab an extra pair of shoelaces and your little one can practice lacing on the go.

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