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5 Ways to Bring Back Your Child’s Sleep Routine

December 16, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

5 Ways to Bring Back Your Child’s Sleep Routine | A boy sleeps while tucked into his bed.

The holidays are an exciting time for adults and kids. Families go out-of-town to visit relatives, host visitors, go on vacation, or simply take time to stay home to relax. With so much going on during the holidays, it’s hard to keep a consistent schedule, let alone a consistent sleep routine. But don’t stress if your child wants to stay up a little late to catch up with family over school break. Here are some tips to help your child get back into his or her sleep routine before school starts up again in January.

Keep the Bedtime Routine.
Stick to a pre-bedtime routine throughout the holidays, like taking a bath, putting on PJ’s, and reading a book. This helps your child predict what's next and know that there will be no negotiation. 

Slowly Return to A Set Bedtime.
As you get closer to returning to school, slowly start moving up bedtime. Try moving it up by 15 to 30 minutes each night the week before school starts, and keep the normal school night bedtime for at least the weekend before school starts again.

Begin turning off all media devices one hour prior to your child’s bedtime routine. It will help him or her wind down and signal that it’s almost bedtime.

Turn Down the Lights.
Dim lights around the home and play classical music or white noise sounds. Use a dim lamp or night-light to promote security.

Bedtime Snacks.
Offer honey or cheese and crackers as a last snack (this combination has been proven to be effective to bring on sleep.) For more food ideas that help bring on sleep, see this article.

Above all, remember that you are the role model for all habits and routines. According to the CDC, your toddler should be sleeping 11-12 hours a day, while your school-aged child should sleep at least 10 hours a day. Model positive behavior for your child by valuing sleep, too. Try these tips with your child and you’ll both feel more rested in no time.


Quick + Healthy Toddler Dinners – Recipe Included

December 10, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Quick + Healthy Toddler Dinners – Recipe Included | Fruits and vegetables on forks.

If you are a working parent like me, the last thing you want to do when you get home from work is cook an elaborate dinner. And if you are a working parent with a child like my son, you need to have dinner ready ASAP to avoid a total meltdown (him, not me). In the limited time between daycare pickup and bed time, it can be tempting to just zip through the drive-thru for some chicken nuggets or pick up a sandwich at the nearest sub shop. While this is fine for an occasional treat, it might not be the best way to introduce healthy food habits to your child (never mind the effect it has on your wallet).

Here are a few tips and tricks for getting a healthy, balanced meal on the table for your demanding toddler in no time:

The key to cooking meat is to plan ahead. Buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and carve it into toddler-sized portions. It will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days or two to six months in the freezer. You could also buy some ground sirloin and form it into toddler-sized hamburger patties that you can quickly cook on an indoor grill. Uncooked patties can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days and in the freezer for up to four months. Cooked patties will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator and up to four months in the freezer. (Check out for additional information on food storage.)

Your freezer can also be your best friend when it comes to vegetables. Buy bags of frozen peas, carrots, corn, or beans and heat in the microwave. Many brands offer “steam in the bag” packaging for convenience. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days, so you can use the entire bag over the course of the week. Alternatively, you could buy a simple microwaveable steamer at any kitchenware store and use it to steam individual portions of fresh or frozen veggies in half the time it takes to steam them on the stove.

Grains and starches
The main trick here is, again, to plan ahead. Roast and mash one to two sweet potatoes on Sunday night, and you have three to four servings that you can reheat during the week. Cook an adult-sized serving of whole-wheat pasta or brown rice and toss with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese. This will be enough for three to four toddler-sized servings. For an extra dose of veggies with your starch, try Dr. Praeger’s pancakes (available in the frozen aisle at most large supermarkets)—an absolute favorite of my son’s!

Mom and dad’s leftovers
Finally, if you eat dinner after your toddler goes to bed, simply make extra of whatever you’re having and reheat it for your child the next day. The following recipe is a staple in my household and is enjoyed by grown-ups and kids alike:

Pasta Dish
(serves two adults with leftovers for two to three toddler meals)

8 oz. whole grain penne or rotini pasta

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 red bell peppers, chopped

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 9–12 oz. package sun-dried tomato & basil chicken sausage links, sliced and then cut in half (good brands are Sausages by Amylu or Trader Joe’s)

¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions (eliminating salt and fat). Drain. While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add peppers and Italian seasoning and sauté for five minutes, until peppers begin to soften. Add chicken sausage and cook until lightly browned. Stir in the drained pasta and Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.


8 Ways to Address Struggles at School

October 28, 2014

By Maureen Powers

8 Ways to Address Struggles at School | A child cries at recess.

It is 5:30 PM and you are rushing to pick up your three-year-old. When you get to the classroom door, the teacher greets you and says, “He had another rough day today. He hit another child and left a mark.” You read the incident report and sign it. You begin to wonder if this is the right center for your child.

You sit across the breakfast table from your kindergartener and she whines for the fourth day in a row that she has a stomachache and doesn’t want to go to school. You suspect she isn’t really sick and have made her go to school all week but you are still concerned. What could be making her not want to go to school?

Do any of these concerns sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Children often tell us what they are experiencing through their behavior. In both of these situations, contact the classroom teacher in order to get a well-rounded picture of the situation. Then use these eight tips to address your child’s struggle and help him or her overcome it.

The first thing to remember is to stay calm and be objective. If you are angry or defensive, it will take longer for you to get answers. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts. Make sure you can discuss exactly what you are concerned about: “Matthew has been getting two or three incident reports per week,” or “Kaylee has been saying she does not want to come to school and is complaining of stomachaches.”

Approach the teacher at a good time. Teachers are busiest at pick-up and drop-off times. These are not the times for an extended conversation. Call and leave a message, or tell the teacher you would like a meeting and leave your phone number and e-mail as well as the best times to reach you.

Prepare your questions ahead of time. Be direct and specific. What happens before and after the hitting? Have there been any major changes in the classroom? Does your child ask for frequent passes to the bathroom or the nurse? Does your child often ask for help?

Work as a team. You both want what is best for your child.

Share your child’s likes and dislikes. You know your child best. You know what motivates your child, what he or she enjoys or detests. In-depth knowledge about your child may be the key to supporting him or her at school.

Be open to suggestions. Allow the teacher to share with you how your child is at school. Children can behave differently in different situations. Be open to new ways of looking at your child.

Ask for ways you can help your child at home. If you don’t understand a concept, ask the teacher to show you how the concept is taught at school. What words are used?

Make a plan. Be sure you leave the meeting with a clear idea of what each of you will be doing to support your child at school and at home.


Early Intervention: Part II

October 14, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Early Intervention: Part II | A young boy sits on the floor, reaching up.

Last month I wrote about the early intervention program that is required by law in every U.S. state and territory to provide services to qualifying infants or toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. After going through the intake and evaluation process with my son, my husband and I learned he had a 33 percent delay in expressive language, and we opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.

After attending several therapy sessions, I have the following advice for parents who want to get the most out of their child’s therapy sessions—whether they are for speech or any other type of developmental delay:

Recognize that therapy is “play.”
According to my son’s speech therapist, many parents go into the sessions expecting worksheets and an intensive drilling of skills. They may be a little surprised when the therapist pulls out a variety of toys and starts to play with the child. However, each toy and game serves two specific purposes: it grabs the child’s attention, and it relates to a specific skill.

For example, one toy my son’s therapist used was a simple coffee can with holes punched in the lid. My son was entranced as he spent the next five minutes putting different-colored straws through the holes in the lid. However, he also practiced making d-sounds as the therapist guided him to say “drop” each time a straw went in the canister and then “dump” when he poured them all out again.

Be present at therapy sessions.
If at all possible, sit in and observe multiple therapy sessions. You will soon pick up on some of the techniques the therapist uses with your child, which you can then apply on your own. I was amazed by how many simple-yet-effective communication skills I learned. For example, instead of letting my son point to the sippy cup he wanted to use each morning, I learned to prompt him so he’d have to give me a verbal response: “Do you want the blue cup or the green cup?”

Communicate with the therapist.
If you are not able to be present for therapy sessions, ask your child’s therapist to call or e-mail you after a session to provide a brief progress report. Find out what specific skill your child worked on and what accomplishments your child made. Also keep the therapist apprised of any gains or setbacks you notice in your child. This will help the therapist monitor your child’s overall progress.

For instance, after he’d completed a few speech therapy sessions, I suddenly noticed that my son was becoming much more vocal in terms of repeating what my husband and I said—without any prompting. Communicating this information to the therapist helped her determine that our son had achieved one of the goals in his development plan—unprompted imitation of language.

Practice with your child.
Just like playing an instrument or riding a bike, the main way a child makes progress with developmental skills is through practice, practice, practice. Look for ways to incorporate the techniques you observe into your child’s everyday life. My husband and I have turned elements of our son’s daily routine into opportunities for practicing speech. During diaper changes, we sing songs with repetitive phrases that he’ll repeat. At bath time, we offer him two different toys and prompt him to verbally respond with his choice. At bedtime, we read books about animals and he mimics their sounds.

I am amazed at the amount of progress my son has made in such a short amount of time, and I am grateful that the affordable services of my state’s early intervention program are available to him. I would definitely encourage parents who suspect their child has a developmental delay to take advantage of this program. It is a valuable resource that, along with parental engagement, can be the key to a child’s success.

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.


Gender Neutral Parenting

September 15, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

Gender Neutral Parenting | A young boy smiles as he pushes a stroller with a doll inside it.

I was at my friend’s house with my 15-month-old son, Seth, when he stumbled upon a box of hair accessories in her bathroom. He sat on the floor, smiling, brushing his hair, and trying to figure out how to put a bright pink sequined headband onto his head. When he finally figured it out, he beamed with happiness and said “Ta-da!”

“So pretty!” I exclaimed.

But my girlfriend said, “No, Seth! That’s for girls!”

Her comment really irked me. He doesn’t know or understand what that comment means, and brushing your hair or putting a headband on your head isn’t only for girls.

Later I started thinking of all the other things I let Seth do that might challenge traditional gender roles and that my friend might frown upon. My son enjoys cleaning, from wiping down walls to vacuuming to sweeping the kitchen floor. He sees mama doing it and wants to learn. I recently bought him a kitchen set and he organizes his fake cans of food and plastic plates in the cabinets. He is learning how to put items away.

I am a more laid-back gender neutral parent (GNP for short). I believe there is great value in learning at a young age about cleaning, cooking, fixing things, being artistic, playing sports, and dressing up, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, some parents limit their child’s learning because they assign and reinforce the more traditional gender roles. Many of these parents don’t even realize that they do it.

There are a few approaches to gender neutral parenting. Parents like these from Toronto believe in genderless parenting and have yet to reveal their third child’s sex, who is now three years old. Sweden added the gender-neutral personal pronoun "hen" to the country's vocabulary to be more inclusive. Even McDonald’s is changing their language from asking kids if they want a boy or girl toy to just describing the toys that are available and letting them choose the ones that appeal to them most.

Gender neutral parenting is about expanding a child’s world through decision-making, independence, and finding comfort with the choices he or she makes without parents pushing toward a gender. As Paige Lucas-Stannard puts it in her article about gender neutral parenting, “The whole point of GNP is that is doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.”

Many parents fear that they are molding their child to be more feminine or masculine by not setting gender boundaries. In my opinion, your child is going to be who he or she is meant to be no matter the gender. The difference is that you are giving your child the opportunity and support to express and discover him or herself a lot earlier in life.

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