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ADHD or Lack of Movement?

June 23, 2015

By Jessica Vician

ADHD or Lack of Movement? In an article published on WashingtonPost.com, a pediatric physical therapist found that many children in the classroom aren't moving enough. | A girl plays hopscotch.

You’ve heard the stories, or maybe you’ve experienced them yourself—children are having trouble focusing and sitting still in school. Teachers are having trouble holding students’ attention and are recommending that some parents have their children tested for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).

There are many valid reasons for recommending these tests. From a parent’s perspective, it’s important to know if your child is struggling in the classroom so that you can help identify and address the problem. Once your child learns to manage whatever the issue may be, he or she will be better prepared to learn.

WashingtonPost.com recently featured the article, “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today,” by a pediatric occupational therapist who has been fielding frequent calls regarding childhood ADHD.

But what this therapist found through a day of observation in a fifth grade classroom wasn’t a bunch of kids with ADHD. She found kids who had poor core fitness—their abdominal muscles weren’t strong enough to support proper balance. That’s right—the same reasons adults go to the gym to exercise our abs and use stability balls as chairs at work are just as important for our kids. Because of the students’ restricted movement throughout the day, they weren’t ready to sit still and learn.

You can read the article in its entirety here. This therapist’s experience isn’t unique—it’s likely happening with your kids, too. There are many questions we should be asking:

  • What can parents do to address this lack of mobility inside the classroom?
  • How can you spend this summer helping your child build core strength and improve his or her fitness
  • What will you do when your child starts school in the fall to keep him or her active and fit for the classroom?

Help other parents and share your ideas in the comments below or in the forum. We want to hear your solutions.

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Father’s Day for the Modern Dad

June 18, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Father’s Day for the Modern Dad | This year, avoid the cliché gifts for Father's Day and give dad an experience he really wants based on the type of dad he is. | A dad works from home on his laptop while his daughter naps on the couch next to him.

We know the Father’s Day cliché gifts: the ties, the money clips, the cuff links. But today’s American father is very different from the father who might enjoy or need those gifts. Our idea of what a father is and should be has changed, and we can reflect that change with how we celebrate Father’s Day.

Back in the old days (which are as recent as the 90s), men were usually the primary breadwinners. They worked all day, so when a father’s children saw him, it was often at dinner and on the weekends. To his kids, those impersonal Father’s Day gifts seemed to be perfect for the man they didn’t really know. They knew he wore a tie to work or was responsible for the money, so those gifts made sense.

Now, defining fatherhood is just as complicated as defining motherhood, so buying a tie and saying “Happy Father’s Day” isn’t enough anymore (and thank goodness—who wants a generic gift anyway?).

Tradition suggests that dads should spend time with their children on Father’s Day. But isn’t it a day to celebrate and thank dads for all they do? This year, instead of a tie or a new shirt, think about the kind of father he is and help your child plan accordingly.

  • Is he a stay-at-home dad: hands-on, working hard every day to keep his son or daughter healthy, on time, and constantly learning? 
  • Is he the breadwinner: working long hours but trying to see his kids as much as he can and shape their lives in a positive way?
  • Is he a dad who works from home: balancing conference calls with playtime?

Whatever version of a father he is, he deserves a fitting Father’s Day celebration.

  • If he’s hands-on all the time, maybe the perfect gift is a day to himself. Let the kids make him breakfast in bed and thank him for everything he does, then let him be—whether that’s getting the kids out of the house so he can nap or sending him to a game with friends.
  • If he works long hours in a job where he’s on his feet, treat him to an affordable foot or body massage, let the kids make him lunch or dinner, and give him control of the remote for the day.
  • If he works from home during the week, get him out of the house. Head to a nature preserve or a park and organize an activity where he can watch the kids play while taking in the sunshine and smell of nature.

On Father’s Day, thank him for everything he does for the kids and show him he is appreciated. Gifts don’t have to cost money, but thinking about the type of dad and person he is and giving him an appropriate experience (with or without the kids) is a great way to say thanks to the modern dad.

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Preparing Your Child for the Arrival of a New Sibling

June 16, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

Preparing Your Child for the Arrival of a New Sibling | This mother shares five tips for preparing your child for the arrival of a new sibling. | A girl kisses her baby sister.

Just over a year ago, my husband and I learned that we were expecting our second child. While we were overjoyed to be adding to our family, Rob and I were also anxious about how our 18-month-old son would react and adjust to the new arrival. As a first child (and only grandchild on my side of the family), Bobby was used to being the center of attention. The upcoming change was going to, in the words of my mother, “turn his world upside down.”

Naturally, I scoured the Internet in search of advice and found tons of it. Many of the articles I found supported each other, and just as many contradicted each other. While every child is different in terms of situation and temperament, the following strategies seemed to work well as Rob and I prepared our Baby No. 1 for the arrival of Baby No. 2.

Provide concrete details versus abstract ideas.
With a young child, it’s better to wait until you (or your spouse or partner) starts showing. Pointing to a growing belly and talking about the baby “in Mommy’s tummy” provides some physical evidence of a change that’s about to occur. I’m pretty sure all Bobby thought about my bump at first was that it was a great shelf to stand on when in the swimming pool. But once he was able to feel the baby’s movement, he seemed to think my belly was pretty cool.

Strengthen the bond with Dad.
If your first child is extremely attached to Mom (or if Mom’s the primary caregiver), it’s going to be a bit rough once she’s busy with the new baby—especially if she’s breastfeeding. It’s a good idea for your child to spend a little more one-on-one time with the other parent before the baby arrives so it’s not such a shock when suddenly Mom’s not as available. Bobby has always been kind of a “Daddy’s boy,” so we accomplished this step pretty easily (a little too easily in my opinion).

Schedule big changes for before or after the due date.
The arrival of a new sibling is probably going to be the biggest change that has occurred in your first child’s life so far. It’s best to get any other changes (e.g., a new childcare situation, a new bed, potty-training) out of the way in advance, or you might want to hold off until things have settled down a bit.

For instance, even though we knew the new baby would sleep in a bassinet in our room for the first few months, Rob and I still moved Bobby out of the crib and into a toddler bed about a month before I was due. We figured that would give him plenty of time to get used to the new bed and not feel as if he was being “kicked out” by the new arrival.

Read books, but don’t overdo it.
Of course, we received tons of books from family and friends about new babies and becoming a big brother, but we used them sparingly. We didn’t want to shove the topic down his throat and cause resentment. One of my favorites was I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. It emphasized the positive aspects of having a sibling and the idea that the older child would continue to have a special place in his parents’ heart.

Bring out the baby gear early.
This was one of the best pieces of advice for us. We brought out the bassinet, car seat, rattles, mobile, etc., about two months before we needed them. This gave Bobby plenty of time to “rediscover” all his old stuff and get used to it lying around. At first he kept trying to use everything himself (including wanting to take his nightly bath in the baby bathtub), but eventually he chose one of his stuffed animals to be the “baby.” Every night, he’d pretend to feed his toy Glo Worm with a bottle and then lay it down in the crib to go to sleep. Rob and I were quite touched by the nurturing side we began to see.

Armed with all these preparation tactics, we felt we had done our job by the time Baby Henry joined our family in late January. As to how Bobby really did adjust to having a younger brother... well, that is the subject of a future article.

Learn more about preparing your child for big changes in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats.

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Our Love-Hate Relationship with Food

June 9, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Food | As the parent and your child’s first teacher, you have the power to set the tone when it comes to how you approach food and what your family eats. | A family of four sit at the dinner table, full of salad, roasted chicken, water, and tomatoes.

We can foster love or harbor hatred in a relationship. When we are hurt, we can choose to just walk away. Why then is it so difficult to turn our back on that slice of cake? Even when we know that eating unhealthy foods is harmful, we may fall into temptation for a number of reasons. Some of them are time-related. You may be running around in the morning and it is easier to pop a couple of waffles in the toaster than to make oatmeal. In the evening after a hectic day, you may opt for the microwave chicken nuggets for the kids instead of baked chicken.

Although these are quick fixes to the everyday problem of time management, they can easily become a way of life and a way of coping with stress. And if you’re modeling that behavior with your kids, they will likely do the same as they get older.

The good news is that just as bad habits are easily made, so are healthy ones. As the parent and your child’s first teacher, you have the power to set the tone when it comes to how you approach food and what your family eats. Expect to work hard at replacing the old with the new. Even if it seems like a struggle, it’s important to persevere. In time, you will be happy with the results, and much healthier, too! Here are some obstacles you may face, and some suggestions to get around them.

On the Run
Days, weeks, even months can seem to go by in a blur with the frenzy of activities that both parents and children are involved in. Your son or daughter is in an extra-curricular activity that requires him or her to go there right after school. You have meetings or other get-togethers after work. For both parents and kids, it is important to plan ahead and avoid the pitfalls of eating fast food because it is convenient or on the way to your destination.

Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks such as baby carrots, a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, and a banana. Also, make sure each member of the family has a water bottle they can refill throughout the day and take with them everywhere they go.

Special Events
Whether it's a wedding, a funeral, or a family reunion, the central focus is always the food. So how do we get around the obstacles “out there” when we find ourselves in those situations? If any of these events are potlucks, you are in luck. Bring a dish that is healthy and fun such as a fruit salad in a carved out watermelon or chicken kabobs with colorful veggies. Even if it is not a potluck, you can still eat healthy from what may be offered. Just make sure your plate is full of more leafy greens, crunchy veggies, and lean chicken or fish instead of fried, breaded, or processed foods such as potato chips or pizza.

Always opt for water instead of a soft drink. In fact, many times our body may “act” like it’s hungry when, in fact, it may only be asking for water. According to registered dietitian Sioned Quirke, "the same part of your brain is responsible for interpreting hunger and thirst signals, which can result in mixed signals.

At Home
Finally, at home base, it can be much easier to control what ends up on the table and on our plates. It begins at the grocery store when we choose foods from the outer walls of the store first (most fatty and processed foods can be found in the middle aisles). Always take a list of what you need, basing it on the meals you plan to make for the week, including snacks.

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables with plenty of naturally wrapped snacks such as oranges, bananas, and pears. Pick the leanest meats, avoiding sausages and hot dogs if at all possible. These can be for a special occasion, but as your habits change so will your cravings, so don’t be afraid to excluded these items from the table. Challenge your family to try new flavors and textures. You may be surprised at their positive reaction.

We strive for healthy relationships with our children, with our significant other, and with people at work. Rarely do we pay attention to our commitment to our bodies and the food we consume.

Per the Centers of Disease Control, “more than one-third of U.S. adults (34.9 percent) and approximately 17 percent (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged two to 19 years have obesity.”

With these statistics on obesity, we must make these changes with a sense of urgency in order to live happier and longer lives. In addition, a good attitude about exercise and physical activity in general (yes, even housekeeping) can make all the difference in how easy the transition will be for you and your family.

Learn more about modeling positive behavior for your child in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.

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Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood

June 2, 2015

By Ana and Mario Vela

Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood | Mario and Ana Vela talk about the best and most difficult parts of the first year of parenthood. | Mario, Ana, and Mariana Vela take a photo outside in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose a few topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s responses and the couple discusses their individual thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion with us in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Ana and Mario Vela, whose daughter Mariana will turn one year old next week, about surviving the first year of parenthood. Here’s what they said.

What’s the best survival tip you’ve learned in this first year?

Ana: My best survival tip is to trust your instincts. I have been so surprised to discover how well I know my own child, and how my instincts have helped me find solutions to comfort her, make her happy, and keep her safe. I think this is the hardest concept to grasp, but when you are in it you will know exactly what it means.

Mario: The attachment and care your child needs will offer you a drive you might not be aware you had. The new moments and experiences you gain will allow you to offer the care necessary to your child. Also, if your family and friends offer support, accept it. We’ve been very fortunate that our mothers have decided to take turns in living with us.

What was the hardest thing about the first year of parenthood?

Ana: The hardest thing about the first year of parenthood is trying to juggle everything. You lose sleep, your priorities change, it´s difficult to find time to spend with your partner—much less friends—keeping up with work, and finding time just for yourself. I´m most surprised about the strain it has caused on our marriage because we prioritized everything else and took our relationship for granted. It has taken me many months to start getting to a place where I feel I can start “handling my personal load” again, and I have had to make some major life decisions in order to achieve a good sense of balance. And that´s okay. After all, this new child is absolutely worth it!

Mario: Adjusting my priorities. I’ve been driven by my career and educational goals, and I had to adjust that amount of time since I now want to be with my daughter and support my partner. I previously attended several networking events per week, and now I have reduced to a few events a month. I’m also now involved in non-profit boards that require less time in the community, but make a bigger impact. I’ve even had to reduce the time we spend with our friends, which they understand. Now that Mariana is closer to a year old, we’ve been able to spend time with our friends again by having her join us at some Chicago summer festivals.

What was the best thing about the first year?

Ana: The best thing about this first year has been having fun! I never knew how much fun spending time with my daughter would be. Every new thing she learns is fascinating. Making her laugh is the best! And taking her out to the world and seeing her enjoy new experiences is so fulfilling. I am always looking forward to doing ¨the next thing” with her because everything is new to her. I couldn´t have ever imagined this feeling.

Mario: Seeing Mariana mature, socialize, and develop her own personality. I see myself in her.

What did you learn about your partner that you never knew in this first year?

Ana: The most surprising thing I learned about my husband has been seeing his inner child come out. It´s interesting to see how he sees the world through her eyes, and how he wants to make everything fun and memorable for her. I always knew he would be a good father, but didn´t realize how fun and attentive he would be to her development.

Mario: The type of love and care she offers our daughter. Ana wanted to have children, but I was surprised by how naturally it came to her. I was also surprised to see her moments of doubt. I believe she now feels capable and confident, but with new stages forthcoming. She also makes me a better father.

Reflection
Ana: When reading our answers to each other, we got very emotional. The first year has been demanding, and yet so wonderful. It’s the oddest thing. But we survived, and we both agree that we are so proud of where Mariana is in her development. We both contributed different things to shape her in to the person she is right now.

It’s interesting how we don’t want to waste any time in life anymore. Every moment is about her – giving her everything she needs and spending time with her and making it memorable. We’re looking forward to her first birthday party—having our family fly in from Texas, surrounded by our friends, and celebrating that we will have completed our first year as parents!

We can help you through not only your first year of parenthood, but through high school graduation and beyond. Check out our holistic approach to parenting in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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