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5 Ways to Avoid Unsafe Toys

July 31, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

5 Tips to Avoid Unsafe Toys | Photo of a toy with a close up of the warning label that reads: Warning: Choking hazard. Small parts. Not for children under 3 years.

Buying toys is so much fun. I love to buy toys for children’s birthdays and usually stay away from gift cards or cash. While it’s fun to buy gifts, I am very careful when purchasing toys for children. There are many things to look out for when purchasing a toy. Here are five tips to avoid buying unsafe toys.

  1. Consider Age. Always look for the recommended age on the toy’s packaging. Remember that a child under three years old continues to have a tendency of putting objects in his or her mouth. Make sure that you purchase a toy that is intended for your child’s age.
  2. Look for Small Parts. Inspect the toy and see if it contains parts that can easily come off. If they are off the toy, can these parts fit through a toilet paper roll? The diameter of a toilet paper roll is similar to the mouth and esophagus of your child. The loose part is a choking hazard if it goes through the roll.
  3. Buy BPA-Free Plastic. BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been used in the production of certain plastics since the 1960s. Some research experts found that exposure to BPA may cause health effects on brain development, behavior, and the prostate gland of a child, even in infants and fetuses. Look for BPA-free labels on toys you plan to buy.
  4. Avoid Batteries. Battery-operated toys are fun, but there is always a risk of shock, battery acid leakage, or choking. Make sure you inspect the toy and ensure that your child cannot get to the battery (these toys should have a safety door that requires a screwdriver to access the battery). Button batteries are smaller, more powerful (most are made of lithium), and therefore dangerous. If swallowed, they can send an electric current through the body that can cause a severe burn if not treated quickly. Try to especially avoid these batteries.
  5. Natural is Best. Look for labels that indicate organic or natural base dyes/coloring. Stay away from heavy-painted toys, toys containing glass, and fragile toys. Simple wooden blocks are still fun—kids use their imaginations and build amazing structures and stories to go with them.

Remember to consider these and other tips for finding safe toys. There are different concerns depending on the age range of the toy, so do some research before you buy.

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Back to School Shopping Tips & Ideas

July 30, 2014

By Jose Garcia

Back to School Shopping Tips and Ideas | Back to School graphic with painting palettes, colored pencils, rulers, and basketballs.

All good things must come to an end, and summer break for our kids is no exception. Back to school usually means being bombarded by ads and commercials that feature all of the must-haves for your child, including school supplies, clothes, shoes, and haircuts, just to name a few. The biggest concern for most parents or guardians is how expensive this yearly tradition can be, especially if you have more than one child.

Fortunately, many states across the country offer tax holidays, which can help you save money. Tax holidays are specific days on which consumers are not required to pay sales taxes on certain items. The month of August has proven to be a month where you’ll most likely find a tax holiday for back to school items.

Here is a list of tax holiday states, tax-free items, spending amounts, and dates.

There are other savvy options you can use in those states that do not offer tax holidays. A personal favorite of mine is to shop online. Many times you’ll find much better deals on the same items that would cost you more at a retail store. Additionally, the majority of sites will offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount (usually $50, but it varies per site).

If shopping at a physical store location is an absolute must, take note on what sales are going on where. All stores want your business during this time of year and will lower their prices for the sake of having you walk through their doors. To find out about these sales in advance, sign up for email lists, look through coupons in the mail, research online, and simply ask around. Keep in mind that when making your purchases, generic versions of leading products are usually equal in quality but much less expensive.

Finally, remember to have fun with your children! Bring them along on your shopping trips. You’ll be surprised with the quality time you get to enjoy with your children while teaching them valuable lessons in smart shopping and responsibility. These experiences will remain with your child throughout their lifetime, and they’ll thank you for it.

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Nursing Troubles

July 29, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Nursing Troubles | A baby nurses from his or her mother.

Before my son was born, I had his feeding regimen all planned out: I would nurse exclusively for the first few weeks and then introduce a bottle of pumped milk so my husband could participate in nighttime feedings.

Of course, nothing went according to plan.

Because I had gestational diabetes during my pregnancy, my son had to drink a bottle of formula right after birth to regulate his blood sugar. A few hours later, he started having breathing problems and had to be rushed to the NICU where he was hooked up to all kinds of machinery.

In the meantime, I started pumping to build up my milk supply and tried to nurse during my visits to the NICU. Every time I tried to get my son to latch on, the poor little guy would get tangled up in wires and howl. Frustrated, I’d give up and feed him a bottle of pumped milk instead. I quickly realized that this most “natural” activity was a skill that both my son and I could not grasp.

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately two-thirds of mothers who intend to exclusively breastfeed do not meet their goal. Many, like me, encounter nursing difficulties in the hours and days immediately after delivery. Thankfully, there are resources available to help a mother who desires to nurse but is having trouble:

  • Postpartum Nurses. Many of the nurses who care for you in the hospital after labor and delivery have additional training in breastfeeding support. They can show you different nursing positions and provide an extra set of hands to guide your baby to a proper latch.
  • International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). If you need additional help, consider seeing a lactation consultant. These health care professionals have the highest level of training in breastfeeding support and can help with a wide variety of breastfeeding problems. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, their services may be covered under your insurance plan. Most hospitals and even some pediatricians’ offices have a lactation consultant on staff. Or, if you’d feel more comfortable in a private setting, you can find a lactation consultant who will come to your home. Check out the International Lactation Consultant Association to find a consultant in your area.
  • La Leche League. Founded by a group of Illinois women in 1956, this international nonprofit organization strives to help nursing mothers through support, encouragement, information, and education. Accredited La Leche League Leaders lead breastfeeding support groups all over the world and provide assistance via online forums.
  • Other Mothers. Don’t forget this valuable resource! Mothers who are currently nursing or have recently finished nursing are full of strategies and techniques that worked for them.

As for my son and me, we ended up having a lactation consultant come to our home so she could work with us in our own environment. She was wonderful and also included my husband in the nursing process. For a while, nursing was a three-person activity. My husband would help support my son while I focused on getting him to latch. Eventually, though, my son and I got the hang of it and it became second nature.



Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.

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4 Tips for Better Positive Reinforcement

July 28, 2014

By Jessica Vician

Positive reinforcement.

It’s a great concept. When someone does something well, you praise them for it. Then they will know to repeat that positive behavior in the future.

When we trained our dog to sit, stay, then come when called, we gave her cheese when she obeyed. But you can’t give your child cheese every time he or she does something well. Not only is that unhealthy both physically and psychologically, but it’s hard to measure or recognize some of the most important traits that parents should reinforce.

Thanks to The Parent Cue’s advice, we can ditch the cheese and use the following techniques for praising our children’s positive actions:

  • Be Specific
  • Acknowledge Effort
  • Establish a Pattern
  • Stretch Your Vocabulary

Click through for their description of these techniques and learn how you can better reinforce your child’s positive behavior and improvements. Cheese might seem like a delicious option, but in the end, these techniques will help your child become more confident and will help you give better compliments. Everybody wins!

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Chores: 4 Tips for a Family Investment

July 23, 2014

By Beth Wilson

Chores: 4 Tips for a Family Investment | A tween girl cleans the house windows.

Throughout my past two articles, 4 Tips on Assigning Age-Appropriate Chores and Paying Allowance for Chores, I shared my family’s experience with chores, from the types my kids performed to the incentives my husband and I provided. As a parent, it’s always nice to hear that you’re doing something right, and I found many parallels between my own experience and the research reported in Liz Wolf’s article, The Value of Chores for Children. To summarize, an associate professor performed an analysis of data collected between 1967 and 1993 on parenting styles and found that doing chores positively affects a child’s ability to become a well-adjusted adult in a significant way.

Not only do chores help children become well-adjusted adults, but doing them can help reduce overindulgence and increase family bonding experiences even into adulthood. Here are four tips on the best ways for your family to start doing chores and what my and other families have learned in the process.

Start early.
To develop the community mindset that we’re all in this together, start children on doing chores early, before the age of five. While none of my children were overly enthusiastic about doing housework, the two oldest, who were older when we started, were the least cooperative and struggled even into high school with poor attitudes.

Develop basic life skills to reduce stress and embarrassment.
I can still vividly recall my second child’s comment to me shortly after starting college, “Mom, you won’t believe how many kids don’t know how to do their own laundry!”

Don’t give allowance for doing household chores.
Receiving a few bucks’ cash for chores paled in comparison when my kids’ classmates received $20 allowances for doing nothing. “Daddy Bucks,” our privilege incentive, turned out to be the key motivator when the kids were younger.

Once school, sports, and real jobs limited their time, we closed their bedroom doors and leveraged privileges or the lack thereof as needed. Learning to manage money came later. One of my children told me, “I think I learned more about managing money when I was older by watching Mom plan monthly meals and groceries, and Dad balance his checkbook.” Remember that your weekly “adult” activities provide a great learning opportunity for your kids if you take time to teach them what you’re doing and why.

Help them succeed.
Having a child participate in chores is a predictor of success in later life. Yes, you read that right. In the parenting style study, the analyst draws this bold conclusion based on his review of the outcomes and all possible contributing factors. He found that adults who did chores when they were children were more likely to complete their educations, start on a career path, have valuable and strong family and friend relationships, and were less likely to use drugs.

My children are now adults ranging in age from 27 to 34 years old. They have all described our family as close. Two are married and each has a network of outstanding friends. All four of my kids have college degrees; one is a lawyer, two are working on graduate degrees, and all are gainfully employed in their career paths. Needless to say, my husband and I are very proud of the women and men they are.

Although there are a few things I would do differently, I firmly believe that the time spent implementing and maintaining a chore system was well worth the investment for my family. In the short term, my children were able to participate in a wide range of activities while growing up and tried new things. Our family was able to do things that we wouldn’t have otherwise had time for had the kids not helped out with chores. In the long term and most significantly, they were better prepared for success as adults.


This article is part three of a three-part series. Read the first in the series, 4 Tips on Assigning Age-Appropriate Chores, and the second, Paying Allowance for Chores.

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