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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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How can we start a holiday tradition for our own family?

December 6, 2016

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can we start a holiday tradition for our own family? | A young girl helps her mother make holiday cookies.

Question: My 6-year-old daughter wants to start a new holiday tradition. She said she wants one that's just for our family. I'm stumped on ideas. Can you think of an activity we can start that will grow with our family as we get older?

Answer: It's wonderful that your daughter takes pride in your family and wants to do something that will bring you closer. Her request reminds us that even though the holidays are busy, it's important to dedicate some time or an activity to your immediate family, and in this case, your daughter.

We have a few ideas for traditions that will hold up as she matures—they might even stay with you if you become a grandparent one day!

Ornament Exchange
Choose a date during the holidays for an ornament exchange. Each family member can spend the week prior making or buying an ornament. After a special lunch or dinner, put the wrapped ornaments in a pile. Draw numbers, and let the person who drew number one choose the first ornament. In order of their number drawn, each person unwraps an ornament, keeping it for him or herself or trading it for another one. Then, the family puts their new ornaments on the tree together.

Holiday Market Visit
Set a date each year, like the first Saturday in December, to visit a holiday market as a family. It might not be the same market each year—if you have a lot of options in your area, you may want to make a rule to never repeat. While your daughter is young, choose a market with activities or shops for children. The activities might change as your daughter grows up, but the warm feeling of being surrounded by holiday traditions, smells, and your family will stay the same.

The Nutcracker
See a performance of The Nutcracker every year together. There are many performances in various price ranges, from professional ballets in big cities to college performances to dance school recitals. Choose one in your budget and expose your daughter to a dance form not often shown on television or YouTube these days.

Borrow Traditions from Other Cultures and Religions
Do you celebrate Christmas? Borrow the candle-lighting tradition from Hanukkah and teach your daughter about why Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah. Do you celebrate Hanukkah? Borrow the principals of Kwanzaa to teach your daughter about community. SheKnows has a great list of global traditions that you can incorporate into your new family tradition while teaching your daughter about other cultures and religions.

Do our readers have suggestions for fun family traditions that grow with your kids? Share in the comments below.

For more family-focused holiday fun, read our 5 Must-Do Holiday Family Activities article.

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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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Parent Engagement in the Early Years

November 15, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in the Early Years | Several examples of how you can practice parent engagement throughout the early years—from day one through kindergarten. | A father reads with his young children.

When raising a child, it’s hard to know when parent engagement begins. With a baby, you’re doing your best to meet the baby’s needs and fit in sleep when you can. Once the baby becomes a toddler, you’re working on small things, like motor skills and reading. But when should you start actively being an engaged parent?

The answer is at the very beginning, but the shape of parent engagement changes as your child grows. Here are several examples of how you can practice parent engagement throughout the early years—from day one through kindergarten.

Infancy and Stress
Raising a healthy and secure child starts in infancy as you hold, soothe, and interact with your baby. That nurturing helps the child develop a healthy sense of self that will allow him or her to better cope with stress when he or she gets older.

In addition to that nurturing, you can further help your baby by keeping your stress away from him or her. When you are stressed, your body produces toxins that affect your major systems. Babies and children can sense your stress as well, so keep the stress away by taking deep breaths, practicing yoga and/or meditation, and seeking therapy if necessary.

Toddlers and Vocabulary
Help your child develop his or her vocabulary by experiencing new things together.

For example, if you live in the city, take a day trip to the country. Your child will see new things and ask about them. If you see a silo on a farm, explain that it is used to store grain. Once your child seems to understand, point to the silo and ask what it is. Help your toddler continue to learn these vocabulary words by taking pictures and looking through them at home, asking him or her to name the things seen during the trip.

Early Childhood and Preschool
When your child is around three years old, you might consider sending him or her to preschool to start the formal learning process and prepare your child for kindergarten. Attending preschool can provide your child with many benefits, such as:

  • Learning concepts and skills, like colors, shapes, numbers, and letters.
  • Learning to play, share, and cooperate with others.
  • Learning to talk and listen to others, along with new words and proper grammar.

Starting Kindergarten
When entering kindergarten, it’s important that your child starts making his or her own choices. You can encourage making smart choices by giving your child healthy options. For example, ask your child if he or she wants yogurt or an apple as a snack. Does he or she want to play t-ball or basketball today? These options allow your child to eat healthy and exercise regardless of the choice, while it also empowers your child to have control over something in his or her life.

It’s not difficult to practice parent engagement. It’s as easy as nurturing your child, encouraging him or her to learn new things and meet new people, and slowly helping him or her learn to be independent.

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