May 29, 2013

10 Tips For Traveling With Baby

Traveling with children under three is a challenge. Here are some thoughts to help your entire family have a good time with as little stress as possible.

1. Start Small. Start with a visit to a homey destination only a few hours away from home. Traveling to Grandma’s works fine but you can also choose a hotel with a kitchenette. Bring along that movie you’ve been wanting to watch and lovely snacks for you and your partner, since you might not get out on your own after baby goes down for the night.

2. Choose Electricity. A trip out with baby might work best with all the comforts and resources you’re used to.  While some hardy parents take their babies camping, you might find this works better when the kids are a bit older, more able to say when they’re too cold, and less likely to eat sticks and rocks.

3. Consider Trains. If you don’t want to drive, see if Amtrak can get you to a good get-away. Some advantages over car travel are that both parents are available to help with the child and there’s more room to move around – especially lovely at the squirmy toddler stage.

4. Take Only What You’ll Need. Every town has a place to buy diapers, formula, juice boxes and snacks. While you’ll want to have a day’s supply of everything, you probably don’t need to take a week’s supply even for a week-long adventure.

5. Take Only What You Can Lose. Of course you’ll need to take your child’s security object but try not to take anything else that can’t be replaced or is easily broken.  Be sure to take an extra hat, pair of shoes, and spare jacket for your child, since these are the things that tend to fall out of a stroller without making a sound.

6. Don’t Worry Too Much About Crying. If you’re traveling by air, there’s not much you can do if your baby starts crying at takeoff and keeps it up long into the flight. Apologize to your seatmates but let their snide comments roll off you. Ditto for crying in the hotel room.

7. Keep Your Toddlers Under Control. While babies can cry on an airplane, toddlers cannot wander the aisles, kick the seat in front of them, or generally carry on. Bring along whatever sure-fire toys, DVDs and snacks will keep your little person happy. Make keeping her happy your mission on the flight – you didn’t bring along anything you wanted to do, did you?

8. Remember Naps. Plan your sightseeing and visiting around a reasonable nap schedule. But your child may find napping difficult when you’re away from home, so a stroller or child carrier and a long walk through the countryside might need to become a daily pleasure.

9. Choose Destinations Wisely. There is plenty of time to take your child to your personal-favorite theme park or that big city restaurant you’ve heard so much about. If your child is too young to have a good time there, then you won’t have much fun either. Better to wait.

10. Be Determined To Have Fun. Your mother said it best: you have to make your own happiness. A good attitude will ensure you have a good time. But make certain before you go that you’re on the same page with your child’s other parent, especially about who gets to wrangle the kids.

Babies are wonderfully portable and toddlers nearly so. There’s no need to wait until your children can run away from you to take them on vacation. Just think ahead a little bit and the whole family will have a lovely time!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved. Read more in Parenting: A Field Guide and in Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, both available now from your favorite book seller.

May 27, 2013

8 Ideas to Try - At Least Once! - With Your Kids This Summer

It’s right around the corner… that glorious time for staying up late, kicking back, and doing nothing at all. Make certain your children get all the summer that’s coming to them by including some of these ideas, even just once.

1.       Have at least one real picnic. You know, the kind where you spread a blanket on the grass and eat food with your fingers. It doesn’t have to be fancy – in fact, the best picnics are not fancy at all. The best picnics are casual, fun affairs.  Be sure to have at least one this summer.
2.       Watch fireworks at least once. Maybe it will be on the Fourth of July, maybe sometime else. But make sure you and your kids watch one professional fireworks display sometime this summer. Yes, I know, it makes the kids stay up late and, yes, I know, these events are crowded and buggy. But take a blanket to claim your space and some bug lotion and have a great time.
3.       Get back to nature at least once. Take a walk on the seashore, row across the lake, explore the woods, or hike up a mountain. You don’t have to go far – with small children you might not get very far at all. But take time to really look at things, especially things down at your child’s level. Bring along a baggie for the pretty rocks and interesting sticks that will need to come home with you.
4.       Enjoy outdoor entertainment at least once. Maybe it’s a ball game or outdoor concert. Maybe it’s a drive-in movie or a Renaissance fair. Sometime this summer, get out with the crowds and have a good time. Many of these events are free or low cost if you check around for what’s happening in your community.
5.       Take at least one road trip. Go by car, by bus or even by bicycle, but get out on the open road and travel from here to there.  Use a map to plot your route and be sure to stop at historical markers and roadside lemonade stands. Remember it’s not the destination that matters but the getting there.
6.       Camp out at least once. Even if it’s just in the backyard, sleep outside (or let your children sleep outside) sometime this summer. If you can have a campfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows, even better! If you can stay up long enough to see the stars, double-good! Listen to the night noises and enjoy the peacefulness of the dark.
7.       Play in water at least once. Go swimming, run through the lawn sprinkler, toss water balloons or shoot squirt guns. Be ready for the first really hot day of the year with whatever you need for water play.
8.       Just once, do something you’ve never done before. Maybe you’ll go panning for gold or gems. Maybe you’ll visit an archeological dig. Maybe you’ll watch a demolition derby or a horse race or a dog show. Find out what’s happening in your area and do something new-to-you.

Anchor your family’s summer activities with just one simple event every week.  Don’t be too busy or too sophisticated for downhome summer fun. The more you do, the more fun you’ll have and the more memories you’ll make.

Good summers are full of good memories.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 23, 2013

Moving Away: How To Help Children Move To A New Home

Our family made a cross-country move the year our younger son was three. He left a best buddy who lived next door, a familiar preschool, and a backyard creek full of crayfish. He told me with all sincerity, “You’ve ruined my life.” 

If a three-year-old can feel this strongly about moving to a new home, it’s easy to see how older children and teens can feel equally done-to. Clearly, my son blamed Mom and Dad for his forced removal. Moving is difficult enough for a grown-up, who at least chose to make the move or knows the reasons behind it. How hard it must be for a child who can never really understand. 

But you should try to help him understand. It’s never a good idea to announce a move to a new home suddenly or casually. You don’t want your child to feel like just a piece of furniture that can be packed up and hauled off without explanation. The more time your child has before the move, the more included he will feel in the process. You can include him in finding out about the new town or neighborhood and maybe even take him along on house-hunting or apartment-hunting trips. Older children can research their new schools online and use maps to figure out the closest playground or sports center in your new location. 

At the same time, your child doesn’t need to be privy to the ups and downs of your dealings with a mortgage lender, to family debates over money, or to arguments about the best neighborhoods and schools. Bring your child into the process over the fun parts, not the stressful parts. Bring your child in only after you know most of the details.

Once you’ve signed a rental contract or had a purchase offer accepted, make frequent visits to the new neighborhood if you’re moving somewhere nearby. Get out of the car and walk around, visit the grocery store you’ll like use, attend services at what will be your new church. Do what you can to make the new place seem familiar.

At the same time, help your child before the move to assemble memories of the old place. She can take digital photos of her favorite people and her old house. The family can make a sort of farewell tour of well-loved haunts before finally packing up and moving away. The places we’ve lived stay with us. Make your child’s final memories of her home happy ones. If your family moved during your own children, you know some of the emotions your child will feel.  

Once you’re in your new home, move quickly to help your children get established.
·         Strike up conversations with other parents in the neighborhood and be proactive in hosting get-togethers with other kids.
·         If you move during the summer, when there’s no school, children can be especially lonely. Think ahead and line up team play or a class for your child so she is assured of at least some kid-interaction each week.
·         It’s okay if your child wants to maintain connections with his friends at his old home. Use Skype or email as a free way to keep in touch with old friends, particularly if the distance is too great for a visit. If an old friend is not too far, invite him to your new home; your child will enjoy showing him around.
·         Take these steps yourself: get involved, invite moms over for coffee, volunteer to host your neighborhood Christmas party, get involved in the neighborhood association or school. If you are active in the new location, it’s easier for your kids to get acclimated too. 

Moving is a leave-taking but it’s also an arrival. Help your child see the silver lining and the new opportunities hidden in the move. 

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 21, 2013

Does Your Child Suffer from Cell-Phone Neglect?

Years ago, researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that there are vast differences in the sheer number of words young children hear every day. They found that in some families, preschoolers heard on average 600 words per hour. But in other families, preschoolers heard about 1200 words per hour while in a third group of families preschoolers heard over 2100 words per hour.

That’s a huge difference. It adds up to a difference of more than three million words by the time two-year-olds turn five. But the differences don’t end there. Hart and Risley found that children who heard fewer words had smaller vocabularies and knew fewer concepts. They were, in fact, less smart than other kids. A lot less smart.

This study was conducted before the cell phone era. But imagine if it were conducted today and the differences between families was not on parent education or household income but on how attentive parents are to their children and how attentive they are to their phones. The fact is, children who used to hear over 2100 words per hour probably hear many fewer these days. Most of the time their parents are busy, talking to someone else.

The key idea is that conversation matters only when it’s real and in-person. The talk that comes from the television or radio doesn’t count. The talk that is an overheard phone conversation doesn’t count.  It’s important that children be talked with directly and listened to. In order for conversation to contribute to children’s vocabularies and intellectual development is has to be about what’s going on. So when parents are distracted by their phones the child loses out.

Modern moms and dads should be aware of the hazards their own distractions can pose. Here are some suggestions:
  •  Turn OFF your phone when out and about with your child. Notice what’s going on around you and talk about it. Sing. Talk with other people you meet. Walk with another adult and talk with that person. All this conversation is real and it contributes to your child’s development.
  • Wrench your attention away from your phone when you are texting, surfing, and otherwise not engaged in a real-time conversation. The person you’re with is more important than someone or something you can check back with any time. If a text is of immediate importance, say, “I’ll be right with you!” and then DO get right back to the child and give him your undivided attention.
  • When you’re at home, uncouple yourself from the television, talk radio, the computer, and your phone. Yes, hanging around a two-year-old is boring when it’s not frantic. True, your child doesn’t need your full attention every minute she’s awake. But if you are uninterruptable for long periods of time, your child is missing out… and it’s easy to let long periods of time go by. 

Our devices have insinuated themselves into the fabric of our lives and they threaten to derail children’s development. This is such an unexpected idea that one might discount it. Don’t.

Your child’s preschool years create the foundation for her future success. Hang up the phone and talk with the little person next to you.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 20, 2013

Handling Others’ Envy When Your Child Is Just Perfect (and Handling Others’ Perfection Without Envy)

Here’s what happened. You got the letter that says your child was admitted to the Gifted Program (or the traveling team, or the best preschool in your town, or Harvard). You’re filled with pride, of course. But you know what will happen when your friends find out. Your bubble will be burst. Your joy will be overtaken by other people’s envy.

This doesn’t seem fair. Why can’t they be happy along with you? Why does their resentment have to ruin everything?

Well, of course, they could be happy along with you. This would be the noble thing to do. This is what you would do in their place, wouldn’t you? … Wouldn’t you?

Maybe not. Everyone wants his own child to shine. Everyone’s child deserves accolades. But there aren’t enough accolades to go around. And, quite frankly, most of the acclaim seems to go to the same kids, over and over.

The truth is that some children seem to attract awards like a magnet. The same kids who are in the gifted program win the science fair (of course!) but they also take the blue ribbon in the art show, land the leading role in the school play, are written up in the papers for their volunteer work, are voted the most-good-looking, and are the star on whatever team they play for. Some kids seem to have it all.

And that gets old after a while, for everyone else. Not only that, but there’s an odd thing going on: even if it seems like this is your child’s first award (finally!), other kids and their parents wanted it too. So even if it doesn’t appear to you that your child always wins, even one win can make others think he leads a golden life.

Competition does strange things to people. And competition involving what matters most to us – our children and their happiness – makes everyone act strangely. What can you do? 
  1. Talk about your child’s accomplishments only if someone else brings them up. Don’t volunteer the fact that Suzette took first in whatever she took first in. Wait for someone to mention it. 
  2.  Be humble. When someone does say they read about Suzette in the papers,  join in on the admiration but only in a wondering tone. If your child is amazing, let yourself be amazed.
  3.  Avoid comparisons. The moment you even think, “My child is so much better than your child” you’re doomed. This thought will be obvious to everyone.
  4. Shut up quickly. Do not go on and on about how hard Suzette prepared for the competition, how things went against her early but she rallied, and finally how she pulled ahead and was bathed in glory. Don’t do it. Answer others’ questions and follow with a question of your own – about their children.
  5. Be honest. Your child’s success really isn’t something you did yourself. Don’t take credit for it or puff yourself up over it. Accept others’ admiration graciously and with sincere thanks.
  6. Be tolerant of others’ resentment. Be aware of others’ feelings. And if they never mention your child’s good fortune, it doesn’t mean they’re seething with envy. They might not even have noticed what happened for your child. They will have been caught up in their own children’s doings.

Finally, keep in mind that parenting really isn’t a competitive sport. Gold medals and letters of acceptance are wonderful but they don’t actually mean much in the long run. 

In the long run, it’s getting along with others that counts.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 17, 2013

Addicted To Technology: What To Do If Your Child Is A Victim

The jury is still out about technology being addictive – tech addiction hasn’t yet made it to the DSM-V, the handbook for psychiatrists and physicians. But we all know that games and the Internet can be habit-forming. We need only our own impulse to check our devices to see the truth of that.

If your child’s attachment to his tech toys is starting to seem excessive, then he will likely need some help to broaden his interests. He’s unlikely to be able to do this on his own. How you help him depends on whose idea handling this habit is.

If stopping the tech habit is your child’s idea, then your job is easier. You and your child can brainstorm ideas for substituting something else for video game play or cell phone contact. You and she can figure out a way to track her progress toward reducing her reliance on electronics. You can be part of the habit-busting team, but your child takes the lead. It was, after all, her idea.

It’s more likely that it’s you, not your child, who wants to pull the plug. If this is the case, then you have two tasks: first you must make the child aware of when and how much he is connected to his devices, and then, you must help him to make the choice to do other things. Noticing that he has a problem comes first.

If the child is old enough to talk about what he does all day, then have a heart-to-heart talk about his technology use sometime when both of you are in a good mood and aren’t in any hurry to do something else. Describe your concern about his usage and state clearly your desire that your child reduce it. If you get agreement, set clear goals for a gradual reduction over the next week or two. You cannot expect any habit to stop cold-turkey, but you can set up a time-and-place plan for daily reduction.

Of course, something has to take the place of the technology you’re reducing. So your agreement with your child has to include what that something will be – or what it can’t be. Most likely you don’t want to replace handheld game play with computer game play or game-system game play: the problems that triggered your concern will not be resolved just by switching platforms. But something has to fill the gap, so talk together about what that could be.

More likely, though, you will not get immediate agreement to reduce tech use. More likely, you’ll get loud resistance. If this is so, then you will need to exert your parenting authority while understanding the limits of your authority’s reach. You can forbid that your child connect to technology at home more than a set number of minutes per day and you can impound her devices to make your edict stick. Remove the TV and computer from her room, pocket her phone, lock up her tablet. Remember that your authority to do this comes from the fact that you are her parent (so don’t say your authority comes from who owns the house or who pays for the data plan; this isn’t about money, it’s about roles).

Don’t imagine that you can control what your child does when she’s away from home. Realize that she will undoubtedly use her friends’ devices the minute she’s out of your sight. There’s not much you can do about this, so don’t try to follow her around and monitor her every move.

Quitting a habit isn’t easy. It helps if the person who has the habit feels some positive result from quitting. Unfortunately, quitting a habit often leaves one feeling lost and depressed. There’s a period of withdrawal. Your child will need your support to get control of technology again.

Two quick words: First, if your child is not old enough to talk about what he does all day – if your child is a preschooler or young child and tech play has gotten out of hand – then you have a responsibility to simply take action. Get your kid away from the devices without much apology and get him doing other things.

And second, model what you want to see. If you are never without your phone and feel you have to check it constantly, if your day moves from one device to another without much else in between, then now is the time to set an example of sensible technology use. Don’t make excuses. Turn the things off.

Finding the off button and realizing that the world really isn’t passing us by while our devices are off is a big step for many people. Help your kids – and you - to take that step.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 16, 2013

Kindergarten Again: What To Do If Your Child Needs A Do-Over

Your child’s teacher has made it plain: she’s not ready to move to first grade next fall and needs another year of kindergarten.  What now?

Probably you’ve been expecting this. You might have noticed that your child isn’t doing well and that she’s not performing at the same level as other kids in the class. If you haven’t – if the decision to hold her back a year comes as a surprise – then now is the time to ask some questions, in a nice way:
  •  What seems to be the problem?
  •  What did the teacher do this year to help?
  •  What will be done differently next year to move your child ahead? 
It’s important that you remain calm. Getting all worked up doesn’t solve anything. You need more information and to get that, you have to ask questions and then listen – really listen – to the answers.

You need to know if the issue for your child is simply one of maturation, so that another year of the same sort of instruction is all that’s needed. But you also need to know if the issue for your child is something more complicated, so the solution might include more intensive remediation.

The answers you get will show you what you should do next.

If the teacher can tell you what sorts of difficulty your child has had and why, and if she seems to have a clear plan for getting your child on track next year, and if what she says makes sense to you, then probably things are in good hands.

If the teacher seems fuzzy about the disconnect between your child and the expected level of achievement, and can’t really say clearly what the problem might be or why another year in kindergarten might help, or if she blames your child, or you, or the curriculum, or the principal, or the size of her class this year, then it might be time to find another school.  What you are looking for is professionalism. Your child’s teacher should be the expert. She should sound like she knows what she’s doing and takes responsibility for children’s success.

The kindergarten year is more important these days than it ever was. A good start in kindergarten reading, math and organizational skills sets the stage for success throughout elementary school and beyond. Kindergarten used to be optional. It no longer is. So if your child struggled in kindergarten this year, then making another try at it next year is probably a good idea, in the same school or a better one.

Being held back a year in kindergarten has fewer negative effects for children’s self-esteem and social skills than does being held back in any other grade. If a repeat will be needed, kindergarten is the time to do it.

Which brings us to the prospect of repeating a year in a higher grade. If you’re being told that your older child needs a repeat, then there is cause for concern. Certainly you want your child to be successful in school. You don’t want him to continue to fail, year after year. But being held back is a blow to just about every kid. The shame and embarrassment some children feel in being retained in grade can poison school for them. Even though they may benefit in theory from another year, in actuality they may never recover from the experience of retention itself. 

For an older child, then, the suggestion that your child should repeat a grade should mobilize you to get outside help, in the form of tutoring or other support. Try to arrange with his school to have another evaluation made in the early fall, before a decision for grade placement is made for certain. Then work hard to improve his skills in the meantime.

The possibility of repeating kindergarten – or any other grade – is a reminder to keep on top of children’s progress in school from the very beginning of the year. It’s easier to fix things when a problem is identified early. That’s why your conversation with your child’s kindergarten teacher matters so much.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2013

Preschool Dress Sense And Yours: Bridging The Divide

You want your child to look nice: coordinated colors, well-cared-for clothes that fit well, that sort of thing. But your preschooler wants to pick his own clothes – and his combinations and obsessions are odd, to put it nicely. The favorite shirt – a couple sizes too small – that he pulled out from under the bed and put on inside out. The striped pants he paired with a clashing shirt. The shorts in the winter time. The sweater in summer.

If your child looks like she dressed out of the lost-and-found box at her child care center and if this bothers you… you’re not alone! What can you do?

First, apply some perspective. Style is personal and despite your close connection, your child is not you and doesn’t even represent you. I understand you might think this is silly. You might believe that your child is indeed a walking advertisement for your parenting skills and your fashion acumen. But, believe me, the sooner you give up these notions the happier both of you will be. Your child is her own person whose individuality will only increase. Start practicing a bemused shrug now so you’ve got it down before she hits middle school.

Second, all the clothes in your child’s closet and dresser should pass two tests: comfort and durability. Comfort comes first, since the preschooler who isn’t bothered by tight sleeves and itchy tags is less irritable himself. Preschoolers often insist on dressing themselves, so make certain that the clothes he has access to are easy to put on and with simple fastenings, especially for frequently-removed bits like pants waistbands. You want using the toilet to be unencumbered by zippers and snaps.

If your child is bothered by tags, cut them out. The impulse to retain tags so some future parent (or you with a future child) can know what size this item is sacrifices a child’s present comfort for an adult’s future convenience. This isn’t a fair trade-off.

Children grow fast and it’s hard to keep up with sizes. But all a child’s clothing should be roomy enough for active play without being so overlarge that the kid trips over his pants legs or can’t find his fingers in the sleeves. A larger problem is retiring favorite clothes when they’ve become too small: sometimes children have trouble giving up the clothes they like the best. Maybe these can become garments for a big stuffed bear or can be given away successfully. Sometimes these garments just need to quietly disappear.

Durability is the next requirement your child’s clothes have to meet. Your child’s everyday clothing should be
unfussy, easy to wash and not needing any ironing at all. Because children are hard on clothes – getting them muddy, dripping spaghetti sauce on them, coloring them with markers and paint – what they wear to childcare or preschool should represent as low an investment as possible. If you have clothes you treasure and want to keep looking nice, put these out of sight and dress your child up for special occasions. It’s not fair to let a child wear something you love and then get angry when she inevitably ruins it. Smart parents shop for kids’ everyday clothes second-hand. Smart parents also find special occasions to wear those fancy duds before a child outgrows them!

Finally, pick your battles. Set limits only based on practical concerns, like the weather or the sort of activities planned for the day. Slippers that are fun to wear to the grocery store might not be the best for running around the playground. Stock the dresser and closet sensibly so everything a child can see is okay for everyday use. 

Then step back and enjoy. Remember that dressing a child is not a competitive sport. There’s no need to apologize for the goofy outfit your child is wearing because everyone knows your child dressed herself. You and her teacher and passersby on the sidewalk can enjoy her style and appreciate what this says about what she likes and how comfortable she is just being herself.

That is the true reflection on your parenting… your courage and the pleasure in letting your child be who he is and dress the part!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

May 09, 2013

Picky Eater? It’s Hereditary!

A recent study at the University of North Carolina found that children’s distrust of new foods can be accounted for by their genes. In fact, a whopping 72% of pickiness appears to be inherited from Mom and Dad.

These findings mimic earlier findings with older children and adults. But the participants in this new study were kids like yours: children between the ages of four and seven.

So. This explains your everyday mealtime hassle quite a bit. However, as researcher Myles Faith explains, “genetics does not equal destiny…. This doesn't mean that we can't try to get children to accept new foods." It just might take a while.

It may take 14 or 15 exposures to a new food before a child accepts it – even longer if he or she is “neophobic,” or cautious of new things. Parents usually don’t give a new food that many tries before giving up on it. (And after 15 tries with a problem food, a child may be older and more adventuresome. As one of my nephews once said of broccoli, “Taste buds change!”) So simply continuing to present new foods and not making too big a deal about it when a child rejects it (again!) is part of the process.

At the same time, it’s important to simply present new foods and not apply too much pressure to try them. A study in 2006 found that preschoolers introduced to new soups ate more of soups they weren’t pressured about and less of those they were strongly encouraged to try.

In addition, the remaining 28% of pickiness is accounted for by what researchers call “environmental factors.” These include mealtime distractions, like the television being on, informal meals instead of sit-down dining, and other upsets. Controlling these may help children eat more at dinner time, even if they still reject some of what they’re served.

While you’re waiting for your child to grow into more reasonable eating patterns, just remember to serve as much variety as she will accept, including lots of fruits and protein, and as few sweets as possible. Eventually, she’ll become more accepting of new foods – or, like Mom or Dad, maybe she won’t!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.