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Resolutions: Physical Well-Being

January 20, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Resolutions: Physical Well-Being | New Year's Resolutions: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, academic success

This month, YOU Parent is featuring a series on making resolutions that address a child’s four core needs for success in life: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, and academic development. Visit us next Tuesday for the final article addressing academic development.

Children mimic so much of our behavior it’s sometimes a little unnerving. Do you remember how bad you felt the first time your toddler said a cuss word, without even realizing what he or she had said? What about the pride you felt the first time your child voiced an opinion that sounded like something you would do—something so unique that it linked the two of you together?

Whether it’s good or bad, our children model our behavior. That’s why it’s so critical to behave the way you want your children to, from watching your language to living a healthy lifestyle. We live in a challenging time for health—teen obesity has quadrupled in the past 30 years and anorexia and bulimia are prevalent in the teenage years and beyond. How you choose to behave around your children can make a big difference in their physical well-being in childhood, through the teenage years, and beyond.

This year, try one or more of these resolutions to promote a healthy lifestyle with your children.

  1. Eat healthier.
    Load your plate with vegetables and fruits of all colors. A colorful diet of whole foods will give your body more nutrition and energy to tackle anything that comes your way. Do some research online to find out which foods keep your immune system ready and have the most vitamins and minerals, and talk to your kids about why those things are important. Need inspiration? Read how this mom teaches her kids about nutrition in the foods they eat every day.
  2. Exercise more.
    Some people love to exercise and others loathe it. But exercise isn’t just about going to the gym. Find weather-appropriate activities you can do with your family to get the blood flowing and your bodies sweating (try dancing, playing in the snow, or indoor jungle gyms this winter). Sign up for a 5k race with your teen and train together. Whatever you do, you’ll be releasing toxins and kicking those endorphins—which help you fight pain and stress—into gear. You’ll feel better immediately and your body will thank you.
  3. Speak positively about your body.
    Most of us have something (or many things) we’d like to improve with our bodies. Whether it’s a trimmer tummy, losing the stretch marks, or bigger goals, it’s okay to want to improve within reason. But be careful how you speak about your body in front of your children.

    Instead of looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m so fat,” find something you like about yourself, and share it with your children. “I love my tiger stripes because they remind me of when you were born,” or “I like that my body curves in at my waist and back out again like an hourglass.” Ask your children what they like about their bodies. Your child will pick up on your attitude and message, regardless of what you say, so why not make it positive to promote better self-esteem?

These resolutions seem small and simple, but they may be more challenging than you expect. That’s okay. Take the challenge and choose at least one of these resolutions for 2015. Not only will your body and mind thank you, your children will benefit from the important lessons you’re teaching them.


How to Balance School + Extracurriculars

January 15, 2015

By Noralba Martinez

How to Balance School + Extracurriculars | A boy throws his arms up excitedly in front of an illustrated green background with alarm clocks.

My mother always tells me that life seems faster nowadays and that we are all too busy. I want my children to be busy enough to be involved in our community, learn, be fit, and stay out of trouble. However, I do not want them to be so busy that they lack time in their day to study, be creative, relax, and be kids. My daughter is 12 years old and my son is 14 years old. You can imagine how many school activities we have in one month, but then add to that soccer practice and games, Bible youth group, and church volunteering. We have at least six extracurricular activities after school in one week. It’s important to know when to decrease or increase the amount of activities your child is involved in. The key is keeping a healthy balance. Here are some simple ways to keep that balance.

Keep a visual calendar of all activities to avoid scheduling too many in one day and to allow your child time to study or prepare for another event. Mark the calendar with important dates like special events, test days, and presentations.

Make a contract with your child before he or she joins an extracurricular activity. Set realistic expectations, talk about the rules of the activity, and discuss consequences if the activity affects your child’s academic progress.

Check Grades
A big trigger to look for when you are worried that your child is doing too much is a decline in his or her grades. Check your child’s grades at least twice a week. If your see a drop in the grades, talk to your child about how to best help him or her. Remember to value school and make academics a priority over activities. Many schools have the “no pass, no play” rule, which does not allow a student athlete to play a sport unless he or she is passing all classes.

Power of Choice
Allow your child to choose the extracurricular activities and sports that he or she wants to be involved in. This choice will increase the motivation and effort your child devotes to that activity.

Extracurricular activities are great. Enjoy them with your child. They will help him or her learn valuable life lessons like team work and will help build a well-rounded child. For more information on extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities, contact your school district and your city’s park and recreation department.


Resolutions: Social Well-Being

January 6, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

New Year's Resolutions: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical health, academic success

This month, YOU Parent is featuring a series on making resolutions that address a child’s four core needs for success in life: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, and academic development. Visit us each Tuesday in January for the latest article addressing each of these needs. 

Just as important as tending to your son or daughter's physical needs is the need to nurture their social and emotional lives. Being conscious of our own reactions and interactions with others is the first model of discipline that he or she will see. That's why among any of the other New Year's resolutions we can make as parents, one of them should be to monitor our own behavior so as to educate our children to become better communicators by being aware of their emotions in different social settings.

It begins when they are just infants. You may have heard how important it is to hold your baby, and the positive effects of a caregiver's affectionate touch. It lets the baby know he or she is in a safe and nurturing environment, providing stability. As a parent, you can begin to instill social skills as well. One way is to use real words and not "baby talk" when responding to your child. Using appropriate tones and corresponding facial gestures are important, too. For example, if you are asking a question, your words will ring a certain way, and your face will show the expression.

As your son or daughter achieves other milestones, it is important to integrate valuable social lessons into daily interactions. Instead of avoiding situations where you know he or she will have a difficult time such as sharing a toy or eating at a restaurant, create these opportunities to point out why he or she should behave a certain way. Also, tell him or her it is alright to feel emotional at times, and that there are constructive ways to express themselves. My youngest daughter's kindergarten teacher created a "feelings wheel" where she can turn the dial to a face to express her emotions such as happy, sad, scared, and so on. We can then talk about the emotion and find a way to move the dial back to "happy" together.

Modeling Positive Behavior
In some families it may seem acceptable to yell at each other. Some disagreements may escalate into screaming matches where no one wins, and everyone involved feels worse. As parents, this is another behavior we can resolve to change. By yelling, we are communicating that we are not in control of a situation. Many times it also makes the person being screamed at feel threatened or humiliated. These are all emotions we would never want our children to feel outside of the home, so this social skill is definitely one to pay close attention to. In recent years, there have been more reported cases of bullying, which may be the result of a volatile home environment that involved yelling.

As part of a parent's resolution to show more positive behaviors in social situations, we can take a step back during a conflict and reflect on how to react. Children are keen to their surroundings even if it appears they are not paying attention. They can pick up on cues such as tension in your voice and certain behaviors. If your body language expresses calm and contentment, your son or daughter will mirror that. The same goes for when you are anxious and angry. Keeping your cool also keeps your head clear. For children, decluttering the mind is vital when learning new concepts at school.

Paying attention to the types of words you use is also critical. If you are used to saying things like, "I hate when..." modify it to "I prefer when…" Instead of just stating a problem, which the world is full of, try providing an alternate solution instead. Your son or daughter will understand that they too can resolve problems instead of just sit around and complain about them.

Social Media and Friendships
Although the name "social media" implies a large network of friends all discussing fun topics, it is a far cry from that. Let your son or daughter see your positive online posts and refrain from going on rants about people. Show them that putting people "on blast" is the equivalent of yelling and that it will not make him or her feel any better nor will it resolve any problems. Let your behavior model a respect and appreciation for different cultures and people.

Resolve to nurture your friendships this year. Show your son or daughter what a friend's behavior is supposed to look like. Be kind and thoughtful. Call your friends to see how they are doing. Visit a friend who may be experiencing a tough time. These actions will encourage them to foster friendships, and not just on social media, but at school and in the neighborhood.

The social skills and emotional behaviors you model for your son or daughter today carry over to their early schooling to their college years, and finally, to their workplace tomorrow. You will be proud to see your son or daughter as a successful, well-rounded person who appreciates differences and is kind to others.

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.


7 Cultural Winter Festivities to Explore

December 17, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

7 Cultural Winter Festivities to Explore | A dreidel, star piñata, a moon and snowflake, three crowns and a wrapped gift, a red lantern, and a Christmas tree

Stretch the holidays over those long winter days by engaging your son or daughter in activities that honor multicultural traditions. Although your family’s customs are part of his or her identity, teaching your child to recognize different cultures instills a sense of community that he or she will carry on for years to come. It is also an excellent opportunity to touch on some fundamental principles such as being thankful, cherishing family time, and giving to others.

Although it is not possible to honor all traditions, it is possible to learn about the different customs and teach children to respect how others may celebrate certain holidays. Following is a brief list and a short, although not thorough, explanation of the basic ideas and aspects of each holiday.

Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew is also known as the Festival of Lights. The holiday lasts for eight days on the Hebrew calendar. In 2014, Hanukkah will begin on the evening of December 16, ending before the evening of December 24. This Jewish holiday is in remembrance of the rededication of the Temple according to religious tradition. The celebration includes singing carols around the menorah, which is a special candleholder for eight candles. One candle is lit each day of Hanukkah. Children play with a dreidel, a spinning top, and are given gelt, which are chocolate coins covered in shiny gold paper. Traditional Hanukkah menu items are latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), and as a main course, brisket.

Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a traditional Latin American celebration. Many Hispanic communities in the United States celebrate Las Posadas. The festivities last nine days, from December 16 to December 24. The nine days represent the nine months the Virgin Mary carried Jesus in her womb. Each evening, a home hosts a celebration where families get together to sing songs and eat together. Children receive bags of treats such as peanuts, cookies, and candies. The nightly procession is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in the days leading up to Christ’s birth. On the final night, children break star-shaped piñatas, and everyone enjoys traditional foods such as tamales, warm punch, or hot chocolate.

Christmas is the Christian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Families who celebrate this holiday will usually set up a Nativity scene in their home. This consists of figurines depicting Christ’s birth in a manger, with Mary, Joseph, the angels, and the three kings. A Christmas tree is also part of the celebration, with ornaments and lights. Each family has a different tradition for Christmas breakfast or dinner, but most children will make a list for Santa Claus and open gifts on Christmas morning. Reconnecting with family and giving to others are central themes throughout the Christmas season.

Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is celebrated on the first day of winter, December 21. It is also the shortest day of the year. Winter Solstice has been celebrated all over the world for centuries, from Peru to Poland. And each culture has different practices for their tradition. Overall, the purpose of the festivities is the celebration of light and life. Festivals are held with feasting, dancing, and singing. A bonfire is usually part of the celebration. Today, many of the aspects of this pagan, midwinter festival have been enveloped into Christmas.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1. It is a holiday that reconnects people with family, community, and their African-American culture. During this time, it’s important to reinforce values and emphasize the spirit of unity, responsibility, and collaborative work. There are three colors associated with the holiday, each with a symbolic meaning: black represents the people; red represents the struggles; and green symbolizes the future and the hope that sustains it. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa know it is important not to mix its customs with other celebrations. Gatherings are celebrated with colorful African art, fresh fruit and vegetables, and exchanging meaningful gifts, which are usually hand-made to encourage creativity.

Three Kings Day
Three Kings Day, or the Epiphany as it is known by the Christian church calendar, is celebrated on January 6. This holiday is the remembrance of the arrival of the three kings who greeted Jesus Christ at his birth. Each wise man or king, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar, came bearing gifts. Likewise, in today’s tradition throughout Latin America, Spain, and in some Latino communities in the United States, children await this day to receive gifts. According to tradition, gifts were left inside children’s shoes. Nowadays, it is more common to find them under the Christmas tree. A traditional food for this holiday is the Rosca de Reyes, which is bread in the shape of a wreath decorated with dried fruits and nuts, made especially for this holiday.

Chinese New Year
Each family celebrates Chinese New Year or Spring Festival differently, but essentially the element of good fortune is fundamental. We celebrate the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year by praying for good fortune and participating in activities that bring good luck.

The next Chinese New Year will begin on February 19, 2015, and will last for about two weeks. It is traditional to have a New Year’s Eve dinner, which is a great time for a family reunion. Families cast away bad luck with fireworks and welcome good luck by cleaning their houses and decorating them with red lanterns. The festival also entails parades with dragon and lion dances. Gifts are exchanged, usually in red packages for good luck.

Remember, making the most of your time with your son or daughter is most paramount, whether you celebrate these traditions or not. The winter months, when children may spend more time indoors, is a great time to learn about these cultural celebrations and just spend time together.

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.


Paisanos: 3 Tips To Help Your Child During the Holidays

December 9, 2014

By Ana Vela

Paisanos: 3 Tips To Help Your Child During the Holidays | A mother buckles her children into the backseat of the car.

When we think of the holidays, we think about being with family. Well, what if your family is in a different country? You then travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to be with your loved ones. That’s what paisanos, about 2 million people, do every year. Paisanos (countrymen) are Mexican citizens who live and work in the United States and travel to Mexico to visit family. For paisanos, this migration can start as early as one week prior to Thanksgiving, returning to the U.S. after New Year’s.

When I was growing up, we were considered paisanos, as my father would drive us from our home in Virginia to spend the holidays in Mexico. I recall other paisano families leaving before the school holiday break to get a head start on the long drive to Mexico and to spend as much time with family as possible. While it’s wonderful to spend an extended amount of time with their families, taking children out of school before the designated break can have a serious impact on them as students.

Schools who serve students from paisano families understand the setbacks these students experience when they return to school. El Valor, the second-largest provider of early childhood education programs in Chicago, plans for this every year. “Sometimes families leave for a whole month,” says Clara Lopez, vice president of El Valor. “It’s important to build awareness around the importance of attendance so families can make better decisions. Routines are everything for a child.”

The Mexican government established a Paisano Program to help make travel to Mexico during the holidays as smooth and safe as possible. Yet, there is no information regarding the impact to U.S. students during this migration. Here are some tips to help your child have a successful return to school:

Value attendance
Do not take your child out of school before the holiday break. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, attendance is an important factor in student achievement. Each day your child misses class is a day that your child misses an opportunity to learn and may fall behind, making it more difficult to catch up. If you have no other option, then at least notify the school and your child’s teacher of his or her planned absence so you can work together to ensure your child does not fall behind academically.

Keep up the routines
Although it may be challenging during travel, try to keep some level of consistency for your child such as bedtime, meals, reading, and learning activities. This will help your child have a smoother transition when he or she returns to school. Contact your child’s teacher for ideas to help him or her continue to learn while traveling. “At El Valor, we hand out educational goody-bags to families filled with books and activities to provide some level of comfort for the children,” says Lopez.

Take advantage of the quality time
Life can get busy. Use the substantial travel time to catch up with your child. Ask about school, friends, and how he or she is feeling. It’s also a great time to discuss your child’s cultural identity and encourage practicing his or her native language. According to an article in The New York Times, “Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” Being bilingual also prepares your child to succeed in a globalized job market.

Enjoy your travels and family, and remember to make every opportunity a learning experience for your child. I myself still hold on to the fond memories during our paisano travels.

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