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4 Tips for Backpack Safety

September 20, 2016

By Jessica Vician

4 Tips for Backpack Safety | AOTA's National School Backpack Awareness Day: Pack it light, wear it right! The AOTA dinosaur wears his backpack right.

Did you know that your child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight? Think about that for a moment: 

  • A 50-pound child’s backpack should only be five pounds.
  • An 80-pound child’s backpack should only be eight pounds.
  • A 120-pound teen’s backpack should only be 12 pounds.

How heavy is your child’s backpack with all of those books, notebooks, and supplies?

September 21st is the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) National School Backpack Awareness Day and a great opportunity for teachers and parents to ensure students are carrying the lightest loads possible and in the most efficient manner.

Here are four tips to packing and wearing a backpack to evenly distribute weight and prevent injuries:

  1. Pack the heaviest items to the back and center of the pack.
  2. Keep sharp tools away from your child’s back.
  3. Use both shoulder straps to evenly distribute the weight on your child’s back.
  4. Keep the straps tight so the backpack is even with your child’s shoulders on top and doesn’t droop below the hipbones on bottom.

Read through AOTA’s infographic for more backpack fitting tips.

If you notice your child has back pain, see his or her pediatrician or doctor. Bring the backpack to the appointment so the doctor can see how your child wears it and how heavy it is. If the backpack is more than 10 percent of your child’s body weight, talk to his or her teacher about bringing home fewer books each night.

How heavy is your child’s backpack? Weigh it on the scale and tell us in the comments below.

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How can you practice parent engagement this school year?

August 30, 2016

By Jessica Vician

How can you practice parent engagement this school year? | Parents and teachers chat happily in a classroom.

You’ve prepared your child to start school by getting him or her into the back-to-school routine, buying school supplies, and sharing how to make a good impression on his or her new teacher(s). But have you thought about your role in the process once school starts?

Parents need to be just as prepared as students for back to school, making an effort to have a positive and open relationship with teachers and administration and practicing effective parent engagement at school and at home.

Parent Engagement at School

  1. Introduce yourself to teachers and administration.
    At the beginning of the school year, attend any parent-teacher meeting opportunities to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher(s). If there aren’t any formal opportunities, arrive at school early in the first week to introduce yourself to the teacher and administration.
  2. Share contact information and ask how the teacher prefers to communicate.
    Taking this initiative demonstrates to the teacher that you are proactively open to communicate about your child’s successes and/or concerns.
  3. Volunteer in the classroom or at the school.
    If you have time to volunteer as a classroom aide, to help at a classroom party, or chaperone a field trip, you can demonstrate to the school that you are an engaged parent while also demonstrating to your child that you are invested in his or her education.
  4. Request parent engagement training.
    The YOU Program, which is the parent engagement program upon which YOU Parent is based, offers various forms of training so that parents can learn how to best practice parent engagement with their children. You can learn the basics in a parent workshop and become a parent leader and train other parents at the school after attending a parent leadership training workshop.

Ask your principal about offering these workshops in your school, as they can boost student achievement by enlisting parent support.

Parent Engagement at Home
In addition to practicing parent engagement at school, you must also practice it at home by attending to your child’s needs while building the foundation for academic success.

A child requires all four of his or her core needs to be met in order to live a successful life, so parents must nurture a child’s social well-being, emotional well-being, physical health, and academic development.

You can do that by practicing these eight parent engagement activities and asking yourself:

  1. Are you paying attention to your child’s social and emotional well-being? 
  2. Are you making sure he or she is living a healthy life? 
  3. Are you coordinating with your child’s teacher to foster academic success outside of the classroom? 
  4. Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your son or daughter outside the home?

By asking these questions and making a good impression at your child’s school, you’re already on the path to parent engagement success. Get involved and support your child’s needs to make this school year a great one.

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How to Emotionally Prepare Your Teen for High School

July 26, 2016

By Jessica Vician

How to Emotionally Prepare Your Teen for High School | How your teen handles this new adventure will have a big impact on his or her academic success, so use these five points to guide your support. | A group of teens preparing for high school pose in front of their lockers.

When it comes to preparing for high school, academics seem like the easy part. After all, starting high school means multiple middle schools merging, old friends meeting new friends, teenage emotions and hormones clashing, navigating the delicate dance of high school dating, and finding out what makes everyone tick.

While you will want to establish academic expectations, study habits, and routines with your teenager before high school starts, you will also want to help him or her prepare emotionally and socially. How your teen handles this new adventure will have a big impact on his or her academic success, so use these five points to guide your support.

Encourage them to find themselves.
Your teen can get a sense of the school before he or she starts by attending plays, concerts, and sports games at the high school. He or she can evaluate which of these activities, if any, interests him or her and can plan to audition, try out, or join clubs or groups associated with the activities.

In addition to finding his or her interests, your teenager should prioritize finding friends who promote happiness and even some who challenge your teen to be a better person. Encourage your teen to make friends who make him or her happy instead of being popular. While popularity is usually important to teenagers, his or her happiness is more important.

Use orientation to reduce first-day jitters.
Your teenager should attend orientation to get a better understanding of his or her new school in preparation for a smooth first day.

To make it more fun, encourage your teen to attend with a good friend from middle school. Let them figure out their locker combinations, find the fastest route from class to class, and learn where their friends’ lockers are.

Be friendly and avoid gossip.
PBS Kids has a great explanation of rumors and gossip and how both can be used to hurt others. Familiarize yourself with these scenarios so you can discourage your teen from gossiping.

At the same time, you can encourage your child to look at high school as a fresh start. While he or she will keep some or many friends from middle school, eliminating previous animosities toward other classmates and giving everyone a clean slate will help your teen make new friends and stay on good terms with as many people as possible.

Give them more independence.
As teens form stronger friendships, start dating, and move into adulthood, they will distance themselves from their parents and families. That’s okay in moderation. Just as you let your child start feeding him or herself as a toddler, you can let your teenager work out problems and manage his or her life with little guidance.

Ensure your teen knows you are always available to talk, and make sure he or she spends enough time on homework, eats healthy when at home, etc., but give your teen time to spend with friends, join clubs and sports teams, and more. Part of high school is preparing to live independently in college, so teens need to earn gradual independence from their families at this time.

Pay attention to their friends.
Just because you encourage your teenager to spend time with his or her friends doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep an eye on those friends. Invite them over for pizza and offer to drive them to the movies or the mall. By spending even a little bit of time with your teen’s friends, you will learn more about them and identify potential bad influences. You will also be relieved if your teen’s friends are great kids who make your teen happy.

Starting high school can be stressful for teenagers and their parents, but by practicing these support tips, you both will be better prepared.

Has your teenager already entered high school? How did you help him or her prepare? Share in the comments below.

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How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude

July 12, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude | Gratitude is a learned behavior. If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. | A child holds a chalkboard sign that says, "Thank you."

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No one is born grateful?”

Gratitude is a learned behavior, which can be tricky with toddlers as they are a bit selfish by nature. Instilling gratitude in young children will help them remain grateful as they age, but it’s not too late to influence your teenagers, too.

If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. In fact, according to a Harvard Health Publication study, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

So, how can you teach your children gratitude?

In Early Childhood and Elementary School
Children model their behavior after their parents’ actions, so it is important to lead by example. 

  • Are you are saying please and thank you when you are around your child?
  • Are you reminding your child to say please and thank you to others?

The earlier you model gratitude with your child, the more successful your child will be at both demonstrating and feeling it.

  • Practice daily.
    To teach my son the concept of gratitude, I started asking my son what he was thankful for before we went to bed every night. He won’t necessarily say, “I am thankful for blah blah blah” because he is young, but he will express what made him happy that day. For example, he will say, “I liked my popsicle,” or “My cousin came over to play,” or “Mommy made pizza for dinner!”
  • Point out gratitude in action.
    When your child is watching a TV show or reading a book, point out when the characters show gratitude. “Did you see how Big Bird said, ‘thank you?’ He is grateful to Elmo for helping him.”
  • Include in playtime.
    Another great way to get children to acknowledge gratitude is to include it in their role-playing or imagination time.

In Middle School and High School
Teaching a teenager gratitude can be a bit more difficult. As teens embrace their individuality, they also distance themselves from their parents. Sit down with your teenager and discuss the difference between a person’s rights and privileges. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have what we do.

For example, you can explain that in our country, your child has a right to a public education, but it’s a privilege for him or her to participate in afterschool programs, events, and social functions.

Here are some other ways to introduce gratitude to your teenager:

  • Encourage volunteer work.
    Whether it is participating in community service through the school or volunteering through a local church or community center, the opportunity can teach your teenager to be thankful for what he or she has and to give back to the community and help others who are less fortunate.
  • Thank their teachers.
    Is there a teacher who goes the extra mile for your child? Ask your teen to write his or her teacher a thank you note. Explain to your teenager that the extra effort the teacher put in was out of the kindness of his or her heart to see your child succeed.

Regardless of the age of your child, be patient. Children are constantly growing and changing, but the investment you make now will be worth it in the future.

Do you have a routine, approach, activity, or conversation topic that has helped instill gratitude in your child? Please share what has worked for you in the comments below.

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5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Preschool

July 5, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Preschool | Start preparing your child for preschool about a month before the first day of school. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure you and your child are ready for the big day. | An empty preschool classroom is filled with small tables, colorful plastic chairs, and artwork taped to the walls.

They say time flies when you’re having fun. Parents know that time flies faster once you have a child. Whether you are transitioning from daycare or from home, preschool marks a new beginning in both the child and parents’ lives.

Start preparing your child for preschool about a month before the first day of school. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure you and your child are ready for the big day.

1. Establish a routine.
A new schedule or routine may take a few days or weeks to truly stick, as transitions in a child’s life take time. Create a bedtime routine and a morning routine so your child knows what to expect every night and day.

Be patient and stick to the routine you establish, no matter how difficult it seems at first. Your child will adjust and soon come to expect and need that routine.

2. Visit the school.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of preschool, visit the school with your child and meet the teacher(s) who will be involved in his or her schedule. Becoming familiar with your child’s new classroom will reduce his or her anxiety in the weeks leading up to school.

3. Read books.
There are so many children’s books about starting school. Read a variety of these books together so your child can learn what to expect in the first few days and months. He or she will also start to look forward to the fun activities and new friends illustrated in the books.

4. Get organized.
Nothing excited me more as a child than getting new clothes and school supplies. Get your child excited to start preschool by letting him or her choose a special backpack and new clothes. Check with the preschool for a list of other classroom supplies your child might need.

5. Talk with your child.
It’s normal for your child to be nervous before starting something new like preschool. Talk with him or her about the school, the fun activities, and the new friends your child will make. Ask questions, like how your child feels about starting preschool or what he or she is most excited about or scared of.

By learning how your child feels about starting preschool, you can figure out how to best address any fears, answer questions, and prepare him or her for a structured classroom environment. Establish school-year routines in advance and the whole family will be ready to go on Day One!

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