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What is your pledge for 2017?

December 27, 2016

By Jessica Vician

What is your pledge for 2017? | Pledge to encourage your child to do one small thing each day to make his or her world, and in turn, the greater world better. | Two kids sit on their parents' shoulders as they happily watch fireworks.

As we embark upon a new year and say goodbye to 2016, it's important to focus on small things we can do everyday to make the world better. Sometimes it's hard to believe that one person can make a difference in the world, but if each person does one small, kind thing—for him or herself or for others—the effect can snowball so that more people will be affected by those small acts.

Before focusing on larger resolutions, make a pledge to encourage your child to do one small thing each day to make his or her world, and in turn, the greater world better. You can also pledge to do small things that make your life and your family's life better. Here are some ideas:

Be patient and teach kindness.
When you've had a hard day but your child wants to talk or play, resist the temptation to walk away. Take three to five minutes to listen to your child and watch his or her face light up when sharing a happy story or playing with his or her favorite toys.

By doing so, you are practicing parent engagement and modeling positive behavior, and it will probably make you feel better!

You can also teach kindness to your child by using small teachable moments throughout the day to show your child what kindness, acceptance, tolerance, and common niceties look like in practice.

Smile every morning.
When you see your child for the first time in the morning, no matter how old he or she is, smile and greet them happily. Ask your child to smile back. This small action puts everyone in a better mood and helps them start their day positively. If it's hard to keep a 2017 pledge for you, start with this one.

Eat together away from the screens.
If your family doesn't share at least one meal a week together, or if meals are shared in front of the television or with phones in hand or on the table, start this ritual once a week. If you already do it once a week, try for two times a week, and so on.

Coming together over food is a happy, comforting tradition all over the world. Who knows what you will learn about your partner and your kids when there aren't any distractions?

One fruit, one vegetable per meal.
When you or your parenting partner prepare meals, do you actively plan at least a serving of each food group? Personally, I tend to focus more on vegetables than fruits, and recently realized that my lack of fruit might be responsible for craving less healthy sweets like cookies or cupcakes.

If you or your child doesn't like vegetables, try one of these tricks to incorporate them into your meals. Take an apple, banana, or cup of washed berries with you for a morning or afternoon snack, and give the same to your child. It's an easy way to make sure you and your family get the nutrition you need.

Spend 15 minutes talking about homework each night.
Let your child explain the homework that he or she has already done. It reinforces your child's learning and gives you an opportunity to understand the lessons. Take it further and tell your child a story about a real-world application of the lesson.

Not only is this activity great for parent engagement, it also keeps you on top of your child's homework without seeming too strict and allows you to determine your child's strengths and opportunities for improvement so you can engage those with activities outside of school.

What pledges are you and your family making for 2017? We'd love to hear your ideas, so please share in the comments below.

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A Lesson for Each Holiday

December 20, 2016

By Jessica Vician

A Lesson for Each Holiday | An illustration depicting a dreidel, pointed start piñata, Kwanzaa candles, Christmas tree, and more.

This is a big week for December holidays. We're in the middle of Las Posadas, Hanukkah begins on the 24th, Christmas Day is on the 25th, and Kwanzaa begins on the 26th.

Each holiday has many lessons worth sharing with your child for better understanding of other cultures, religions, and a common goal to be kind and respectful to others. I have identified one for each holiday, but invite you to share your favorite lessons in the comments below.

Las Posadas
When you're in need, ask for help. Not everyone will help you, but the people who do are worth remembering and thanking.

Las Posadas honors the journey of Mary and Joseph the night Jesus was born, when they asked many strangers for shelter. While most could or would not help them, the people who allowed them to stay in their manger showed the family great kindness.

Teach your child that it doesn't hurt to ask for help, and to never give up if in need. Always thank those who show him or her kindness and offer help. In return, provide help to those in need whenever possible.

Hanukkah
Patience and faith will be rewarded.

Families light one candle each night for eight days during Hanukkah, which commemorates the Maccabee miracle when one day's worth of oil lasted eight days. After those eight days, the Jewish people were able to rededicate their holy temple.

When your child is impatient or struggles with doing the right thing because it is more difficult, remind him or her that patience and faith will be rewarded and it is better to have faith than lose it.

Christmas
Giving to others is the best gift for the world.

Christians exchange gifts on Christmas just as the three wise men brought gifts to Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus. They also give to emulate Jesus' charity throughout his life and death.

Teach your child that giving to those you care about demonstrates love and thanks, and giving to strangers in need demonstrates a caring and charitable spirit.

Kwanzaa
Celebrate your heritage.

As families and cultures merge, hold on to traditions from your family's past and teach them to your child. Just as each day of Kwanzaa focuses on a principle that is part of the African heritage, you can focus on your family's culture and history, whether it's an African, European, Asian, South American, or Native American. Teach your child about his or her ancestors and what they overcame to live their life and have a family that led to your family today.

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4 Family Activities to Celebrate Las Posadas

December 13, 2016

By Jessica Vician

4 Family Activities to Celebrate Las Posadas | A pointed star piñata waits to be hit by children on Las Posadas.

What is your family doing to celebrate Las Posadas this year? We have four ideas for family activities that range from educational and fun to delicious and filling.

Las Posadas Learning Activity
Teach your toddler or early elementary student about Las Posadas by sharing the symbolism of the poinsettia, the story of Las Posadas, and the traditional way of celebrating in Mexico.

This Las Posadas activity from Scholastic is designed for a classroom but would be fun at home or at a party.

DIY Nativity Scene Toys
A nativity scene can be found in many Christian households during the holidays, but often, the pieces that make up the nativity scene are fragile and not to be touched.

Encourage your child to learn Mary and Joseph's story on the night of Jesus' birth while letting him or her play with a kid-friendly nativity scene that you make together. Mommy Maestra has a great DIY tutorial on making your own nativity scene.

Gather the Kids for a Play
Tap into their inner performer and encourage your kids and their friends to put on a play that tells the Las Posadas story. Gather the adults for an audience and share your parent pride with applause!

Recipes for Las Posadas
Celebrate Las Posadas with traditional Mexican recipes that will warm your family's hearts and bellies. Latino Foodie has recipes for chile verde pork tamales, chipotle-glazed ham, Oaxacan pollo almendrado, and pan dulce. ¡Que rico!

Ask your children to help prepare the meal by giving them age-appropriate tasks. Young ones can stir or set the table, while teenagers can do prep work like cutting vegetables. Let everyone help to keep the family close and the holiday spirit alive.

How does your family celebrate Las Posadas? Share your traditions in the comments below.

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Parent Engagement in High School

November 29, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in High School | Parents can facilitate discussions about a healthy lifestyle, including character, self-esteem, and relationships to help them become a well-adjusted adult and a strong candidate for college. | Two teenagers walk to class with books in tow.

High school is a big test for parent engagement. While it can be a time for parents to relax as their teenagers become more independent and take on more responsibilities, it’s also important for parents to facilitate discussions about a healthy lifestyle, including character, self-esteem, and relationships. As your teenager becomes an adult, these important skills and traits will help them become a well-adjusted adult and a strong candidate for college.

Emphasize Character
Since your teenager was a baby, he or she has learned the values and morals that are important to your family, which have shaped his or her personality and character. Now, your teenager is exposed to new ways of thinking and behaving every day. While it’s important for your teen to think for him or herself, you can reinforce those strong values and emphasize the importance of having a strong character.

For example, if your teen wants to quit a sport or a club because it’s too hard, discuss the importance of overcoming challenges and working hard. If he or she is challenging curfew, talk about responsibility. As you apply the concepts of these values to your teenager’s life, he or she will learn how his or her character influences everyday decisions.

Promote Healthy Relationships
As your teen develops stronger friendships, he or she may also start dating more seriously in high school. While you don’t have as much control over who your child dates or spends time with, you still have the power to encourage healthy relationships.

Think about what a healthy relationship means to you. Model that behavior with your parenting partner or significant other. Talk to your teenager about what makes a healthy relationship: open communication, mutual respect, trust, etc. Also discuss what makes an unhealthy relationship: constant fighting, feeling small or unimportant, and violence.

Learn to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and how to help your teen get out of it here.

Facilitate a Healthy Lifestyle
Teenagers are busy. Between school, sports, extracurriculars, and spending time with friends, it’s hard for parents to keep track of them. It’s also difficult to monitor their health, as they likely eat more meals and snacks on-the-go. Here are some tips to keeping them healthy during busy times.

  • Sit down for breakfast together every morning to ensure your teen starts the day with a nutritious meal.
  • Keep healthy grab-and-go snacks at home, like granola bars, apples, bananas, and oranges.
  • Ask your teen to sit down for a family dinner a few days a week if his or her schedule allows.
  • Take evening or weekend walks together to catch up while getting exercise.

Prepare for College
You have been and always will be an advocate for your child’s education. When it comes to preparing for college, ensure your child is taking the right steps and meeting with the right people from freshman year registration day.

  • Meet with the school counselor to determine what classes your child should take each year to qualify for college admission, including courses that count for college credit, like Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
  • Save your child’s best work for a portfolio, should he or she need it for college admission.
  • Encourage your child to get a well-rounded education by participating in extracurricular activities and clubs.
  • Stay on top of college testing deadlines, like the PSAT, SAT, and/or ACT.

You have spent your teenager’s life preparing him or her for adulthood. High school is a critical part of the race, as your child will take what he or she has learned and apply it as he or she moves toward independence. Use these best parent engagement practices to keep your teenager on track.

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Parent Engagement in Elementary School

November 22, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in Elementary School | How to guide your child through school, encouraging good study habits and healthy friendships while providing emotional support. | A father plays cards with his son and daughter.

As your child begins elementary school, your role as your child’s primary teacher transitions to his or her official teacher at school. While the school will now lead your child’s formal education, you still need to guide him or her through school, encouraging good study habits and healthy friendships while providing emotional support.

Here are some ways you can practice parent engagement while your child goes through elementary school.

Encourage Friendships
As your child starts spending most of the day at school, he or she will primarily be socializing with peers. According to Sunny P. Chico, author of YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher, “These early friendships teach your child how to interact with the world.”

Encourage your child to develop friendships with classmates and children from the neighborhood by arranging play dates outside of school, like inviting a classmate over on the weekend. Teach your child what being a good friend means: being kind and considerate of each other’s feelings.

Listen to Your Child
Think back to your childhood. Are there times when you tried to tell your parents something but they didn’t listen or didn’t understand the severity of what you were telling them?

Sometimes when our children reach out to us about problems, we dismiss them as trivial childhood quarrels or tattling. But it’s important for your child to know that he or she can express an issue and you will hear it. Listen to what your child is saying, ask questions about how he or she feels, and think about whether it might be a symptom of a greater problem, like bullying. If so, contact the teacher and work together to resolve the situation.

Eat Healthy
What are the typical breakfasts, snacks, and dinners your family eats during the week? If your refrigerator and pantry have healthy foods and limited junk or processed foods, your family is more likely to eat healthy, have better nutrition, and perform better at school and work.

Make slow transitions to healthier food. For example, the next time you’re at the store, instead of buying potato or tortilla chips, buy crunchy carrots and hummus to dip them in. Small changes can help your child transition to a healthier diet over time.

Address Struggles and Developmental Delays
If your child struggles with learning in any capacity, speak with his or her teacher about being tested for special education services. These services can range from speech therapy to additional help for disorders like autism or dyslexia.

By working with the teacher to determine what struggles your child is having in school, you will find out if there is a greater issue that you and the school can address to help your child learn and succeed. If so, start the process for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that defines what services, programs, or accommodations your child will receive from the school.

For a mother’s story about her son’s experience with an IEP, click here for Part I and here for Part II.

As your child grows, you will still nurture his or her social and emotional well-being, physical health, and academic development. Your role will change, but you are still your child’s strongest advocate.

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