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9 Ways for Your Child to Be Physically Fit & Healthy

July 11, 2017

By Jessica Vician

9 Ways for Your Child to Be Physically Fit & Healthy | Being active and eating well for life is such an important lesson that it needs to be practiced in and out of school.

Did you know that the President Physical Fitness Test—the gym class staple that you might have loved if you were athletic and loathed if you weren't—ended in 2016? Without those annual check-ins to see how your elementary student did in comparison with their peers, how can you gauge their level of physical fitness and health?

The good news is that the President's Challenge has been replaced with the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, which better assesses a student's overall health instead of only athletic fitness. According to the Health and Human Services website, this program focuses on helping students stay fit for life—not just for an annual test. This means that your child is learning to be active and eat well for their lifetime instead of only focusing on athletic competitions.

Being active and eating well for life is such an important lesson that it needs to be practiced in and out of school. As you know, healthy decisions and patterns you start now can stay with your child throughout their lifetime, so use the tips below to make healthy decisions for your family.

Get 60 minutes of physical activity every day
Your child needs 60 minutes of physical activity five days a week. You need at least 30 minutes. Try these small activities to reach those goals:

  • Walk to a neighborhood friend's house instead of driving. Let your child bike, skateboard, or scooter while you walk.
  • Wash the car by hand together. Let your child wipe down the interiors while you start on the exterior. Then switch and vacuum while your child soaps up the exterior parts they can reach.
  • Start a vegetable garden and tend to it daily. From watering to weeding, you and your child will gain activity points while reaping healthy vegetables to eat once they've grown.
  • After dinner, head outside to the basketball hoop (in your driveway or at a nearby park) for a few rounds of Horse.

Ensure meals & snacks hit all the food groups
Each meal should offer a lean protein, fruit or vegetable, and a whole grain.

  • Focus on one food group per snack, like a hard-boiled egg for protein in the morning, and an apple and peanut or almond nut butter in the afternoon for a fruit and protein.
  • Switch from sodas, juices, and sports drinks to water. For flavor, make an herbal (non-caffeinated) iced tea or add strawberries and cucumbers to water.
  • Get creative with your grains. Instead of regular pasta, try farro, bulgar, barley, or quinoa. You can even find quinoa pasta at the grocery store for a healthier option in your favorite shape.
  • Find a recipe for your family's favorite restaurant or take-out meal. Cooking it at home will eliminate a lot of extra sodium, sugar, and fat.
  • Reroute your family's sugar cravings away from candy bars, cookies, and other processed sweets and satisfy them with lots of fruits. The natural sugars are a healthy way to feed the craving.

What tips do you have for establishing healthy practices for your kids in the early years that will stay with them for life? Share in the comments below.

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Guide Your Teen's Emotional Development

May 23, 2017

By Jessica Vician

Guide Your Teen's Emotional Development | Parents must be present to guide their teenager's emotional development in different ways depending on their age and needs. | A teenage girl talks to her mother.

As you probably remember, the teenage years are taxing on everyone involved: the teenager, their parents, and brothers or sisters. Hormones are in flux and drama follows teens everywhere. Parents must be present to guide their teenager's emotional development in different ways depending on their age and needs.

In the first few years, it's important to focus on developing a positive body image. As mentioned by Dr. Denise Witmer in her article on Very Well, girls who develop early are often uncomfortable with their new, more mature bodies, but boys who develop early are often more confident.

Pay attention to your teen's physical development and that of their friends. Ask questions to understand how they are feeling. Are they developing earlier or later than their friends, and does that concern them? Assure them that in a few years, everyone's bodies will catch up to each other. Share an anecdote about what you went through, or a story about their favorite aunt or uncle or family friend.

Help build your teen's body confidence by complimenting them when they look nice or try a new look. As your teenager starts to express themself through fashion, embrace the change and show them that you notice—compliment a new hair style or their experimentation with jewelry. This mom shares more tips on how you can accept and embrace your teen's new style.

As your teen gets older and moves past the awkwardness of puberty, they will start focusing on independence and more privileges. Parents will need to set boundaries and stick to their rules, as they will be tested during this time. Teenagers will challenge the rules, argue about fairness, and desire more private time and time with friends, making it difficult for parents to know how to guide them.

First, remember that this behavior is normal and your teen doesn't hate you (even if they say they do). They are simply becoming more independent, which means you're doing your job right! You will question yourself and your rules often, which is okay—try to step back and look at situations objectively to see what rules are working and what rules aren't working. Then figure out why. You and your teen might even be able to compromise on some of the rules if you both understand the other's concern.

For example, let's say the issue is curfew. You might set curfew at 10:00 PM on weekends, but your teen's friends have a later curfew. Your teen feels left out having to leave early and wants an extension. You are worried about safety coming home late at night. To compromise, why don't you let your teen start heading home at 10:00 PM. That way, they don't have to leave too early or rush to get home on time. They can text you at 10:00 PM when they leave (even sharing a photo if you prefer), and you know they're on their way and will be home shortly.

Between physical and emotional changes that come with puberty and the desire for greater independence, the teenage years are tough on the whole family. Remember that you are your child's first teacher, even when they forget that. As their teacher, try to keep a cool head and take a step back for perspective on what they're going through. If they know you're hearing them and you're willing to compromise when possible, you will earn their trust and can help them through these emotional times.

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How to Guide Your Toddler’s Emotional Development

April 11, 2017

By Jessica Vician

How to Guide Your Toddler’s Emotional Development | The ultimate goal in raising a child is independence, and that goal is the same in guiding your toddler’s emotional development. | Two toddlers play with their mother in the sand.

As your baby enters the toddler phase, he or she will go through many emotional highs and lows—which may put you through the same emotional rollercoaster. Guiding a child through emotional development can be taxing on the parents since the emotions and behavior can change quickly and finding the right rules and approach to managing the behavior can be trial and error.

The ultimate goal in raising a child is independence, and that goal is the same in guiding your toddler’s emotional development. Each tantrum you manage and victory you celebrate gets you closer to the goal: an independent person who behaves appropriately for the situation.

That means teaching your toddler when to be quiet and sit still (at church or in the pediatrician’s waiting room) and when it’s okay to scream with joy and run around (on the playground). Your toddler will test limits, which might drive you crazy when he or she does so at inappropriate times, but that’s when you have the opportunity to teach him or her the proper behavior.

According to Healthy Children, toddlers act out more around their parents than others because they trust their parents to protect them. Your toddler will test the limits—let’s say by going toward the street when playing outside. When you set and enforce those limits, he might react by crying, screaming, or huffing and puffing. In this example, your child might cry out of anger when you grab him before stepping into the street and telling him firmly to stay in the yard. Depending on your toddler’s age, you might want to explain the limit—playing is only allowed in the yard, not the street, because there are cars in the street that can hurt him if they hit him.

Toddlers also become more independent as they learn to live without their parents for short periods of time. That’s right—it’s good for your child to get a babysitter and have a few hours to yourself! Your toddler might become quiet and withdrawn or even cry in anticipation of you leaving, but reassure her that you will be back in a few hours and playtime with the babysitter will be fun. I recommend trying a few babysitting sessions while your child is awake so that she witnesses you coming home. Praise her for being good while you were away. After a few times with the babysitter, she might feel more comfortable with a nighttime session, feeling safe and familiar enough with the routine to go to bed while you’re away.

In this case, both you and your toddler are testing limits. She is learning how to let you leave and enjoy time without you, and you are learning how she deals with the separation.

Zero to Three offers an activity you can do with your toddler to see how she feels when you are gone. When your toddler is role-playing with friends or toys, see how he or she behaves as Mommy or Daddy. Some kids will pretend to be the parent and wave goodbye. If you’re playing with your child, remind him or her that while the doll or action figure misses Mommy or Daddy, it knows they will be back. Your child might even instruct a friend or doll to “be sad” or “have fun” once “Mommy” or “Daddy” leaves. That will give you great insight into how your child feels when you leave, and give you the opportunity to address those feelings.

These are just a couple of examples of how your toddler may test limits on his or her quest for independence. He or she is learning the rules, how to behave, and how he or she feels about being given limits. As you guide your toddler’s emotional development, it’s normal for tears, screaming, and tantrums—sometimes from both of you.

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Socializing Your Baby

April 4, 2017

By Jessica Vician

Socializing Your Baby | Just as you are your child’s first teacher, you are your child’s first friend. Taking his or her social cues from you, your child will slowly learn which faces and noises elicit reactions and how to mimic your facial expressions. | A dad smiles with his daughter.

Just as you are your child’s first teacher, you are your child’s first friend. Taking his or her social cues from you, your child will slowly learn which faces and noises elicit reactions and how to mimic your facial expressions. Eventually, he or she will start interacting more frequently by babbling, smiling, and crying around you to communicate. Those early communication skills are your child’s first steps toward socialization.

Since so many of your baby’s social skills are the result of interacting with you, it’s important to communicate often with him or her. In the first month, you can encourage these skills by making exaggerated facial expressions—raising your eyebrows, opening your eyes and mouth wide, sticking out your tongue—while speaking to your baby.

As he or she grows, keep talking to your baby as much as you can. Talk through your chores, as you change diapers and dress your baby, even as you prepare meals. These verbal cues slowly help your baby learn to talk and build the bond between you.

This Baby Center article details the monthly social developmental milestones for babies, which can help you know what to look for as your baby grows.

Every baby is different, and every parent has different expectations and needs for their child. The socialization skills and activities outlined above are easy to do at home, but what if you want to get out and expose you and your baby to other youngsters and parents?

There are plenty of options, from play dates with friends and their babies to classes at socialization centers like Gymboree. This mom, Brittany, wrote about her experience taking her eight month-old to a class, saying it helped her daughter interact with other youngsters and improve her motor skills. As your baby gets older, he or she will start taking an interest in other babies and you can begin nurturing those social skills, too.

While your baby is young, enjoy the bonding time as you teach him or her to socialize through interactions with parents, grandparents, siblings, and close friends. The parental bond will be the strongest social bond in the first year, so enjoy it!

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Fame-seeking on Social Media

March 28, 2017

By Sunny Chico and Jessica Vician

Teenage Fame-seeking on Social Media | As parents of teenagers, social media is always on our minds. It's a communication and social outlet that we didn't have growing up and we must consider it in our parenting strategies.

As parents of teenagers, social media is always on our minds. It's a communication and social outlet that we didn't have growing up and we must consider it in our parenting strategies.

There are many reasons we need to pay attention to our teenagers on social media, and a prominent one is bullying. There have been multiple times when criminals have aired their crimes on Facebook Live, like the recent rape of a 15-year-old girl and a the torture of a special needs 18-year-old man.

What made these people—some of whom are teenagers—want to broadcast it for friends and strangers to see? 

Social and Emotional Development
Social media plays a strong role in teenage social and emotional development.

Unlike television, where you just sit and watch, social media is an active medium. Teens are chatting, sharing, liking, commenting, etc. They're having unsupervised conversations with each other, which can have a lasting effect on their development.

Knowing what teens are doing on social media, we have to ask, "What could motivate these kids to broadcast rape and torture of teenagers?"

Fame
The answer? The need for fame.

I read a great article that talked about teenagers and the value of fame. The researcher noted that in the past 50 years, popular television shows have promoted friendship, family, and community. Think about Friends, Happy Days, and The Cosby Show.

But in the past 10 years, television has changed. Now popular television promotes fame. It's reality TV—American Idol, The Voice, Real Housewives, the Kardashian's. Even Hannah Montana, which your kids might have watched when they were younger, is a normal teenager by day but a pop star by night.

The value of fame is everywhere for our teens, so it's only natural that they seek it in a place that is very public and yet very private—social media.

Internet fame is the most accessible fame that teens have access to. A well-hashtagged Instagram post, a YouTube video or tutorial that goes viral, even a smart, witty tweet might get retweeted by someone famous.

It feels great to have someone—let alone hundreds, thousands, even millions—recognize and appreciate you, what you said, or what you did. And in some cases, just getting noticed is enough—like in the example of the teens and 20-something who broadcast the torture of their 18-year-old peer on Facebook Live.

Those kids were noticed for doing something horrible. But they were noticed, which might be all that mattered to them. For kids who aren't getting enough attention from their parents, often times negative attention is better than no attention at all.

How to help
So how do we prevent our kids from seeking negative attention or seeking fame online?

We don't need to keep them off of social media. After all, when used well, it's a great communication outlet for them and a way to connect outside of school with peers they might not spend time with in school.

But we do need to nurture our kids offline—in real life—to make sure they are receiving the attention, the understanding, the love, and the pride from us that they need so they don't go seeking it online, and especially in a negative way.

Share affection
You can start by showing your kids love. If your daughter plays basketball, go to the games and give her a specific compliment afterward, like, "You did a great job finding teammates who were open and passing to them. I'm really proud of you—you're a great team player."

If your son is on student council, ask about the meetings and if he is on a committee. Compliment him on his leadership skills and being brave enough to speak up to help shape the school.

Even if your kids aren't involved in extracurriculars, compliment them on what you love most about them. Maybe it's their compassion for their peers, or how they help you clean up after dinner. Specific compliments, aside from "I love you," go a long way to help them feel loved and truly noticed.

Our kids learn from us. They learn to speak, smile, even frown from watching us at a young age, and that continues as they get older.

Be respectful
Treat your friends with respect, and avoid talking poorly about others, especially around your kids.

Refrain from engaging in negative posting on your social pages as well, as you want to continue to model positive behavior.

Watch better TV
Watch television shows that promote friends, family, and community—not fame. If you must watch shows that promote fame, watch them together and talk about what the people are doing. If it's The Voice, focus on the talent instead of criticizing. If it's the Kardashian's, focus on their familial bond, or talk about why negative behavior is good for TV but not for real life. 

Talk to the school
If you're worried that your teen is spending too much time on social media, is being a bully online or is being bullied, think about what you can do to help. For example, if your teen is spending too much time on social media, find a school sport or club that your teen would like and encourage them to join. Reroute their need for socialization to offline activities.

If your teen is being bullied, talk to the school about how to address the bullying. Teachers and counselors can help you take action.

It starts with you
Remember, you are your child's first teacher. Just as you taught them how to talk, you can teach them how to find confidence and pride in themselves in the real world. By nurturing their emotional needs, they won't be as likely to hurt others in social settings—whether that's in person or online.

And while everyone seeks a little bit of fame, if you show them your love and pride for them, they might be less likely to seek it online from strangers. All it takes is a little extra love. 

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