Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Good Times for All: 10 Thanksgiving Family Activities for All Ages

November 24, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Good Times for All: 10 Thanksgiving Family Activities for All Ages | How can you spark that good energy early and ensure everyone makes the most of the holiday before and after that meal? Encourage your kids to take advantage of their family time this year with these activities for all ages. | A family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner.

Sitting down to the table on Thanksgiving is a great feeling. The cooking is done, the food smells delicious, and everyone is eagerly awaiting that first bite.

So how can you spark that good energy early and ensure everyone makes the most of the holiday before and after that meal? Encourage your kids to take advantage of their family time this year with these activities for all ages.

Kids 3-10

  • Get crafty. Prepare Thanksgiving-themed art projects for your kids to do with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Use our Pinterest board to find cute project inspiration.
  • Sing a song. Rent a karaoke machine for the kids to sing their favorite songs after dinner. The adults can sit back and digest while the kids put on the show.
  • Perform a play. Speaking of shows, if you have a group of future Tony Award winners in the house, ask them to put on a play at the end of the day. They’ll spend the afternoon working on the script and rehearsing, and they’ll be so excited to share their talent with the family after dinner.

Ages 11-13
Middle school kids are sometimes difficult to please. If yours like playing with younger kids, encourage them to help with the play or karaoke show. You can also try these conversation starters:

  • Make it a game. Before guests arrive, challenge your child to talk to each member of your extended family by the end of the day. Give them a few questions to ask everyone throughout the day and invite your child to talk about their common threads at dinner.
  • Cook together. Task your tween with a recipe and encourage them to ask an aunt, uncle, or grandparent for help. It will give them a project to work on together and spark more conversation.
  • Have a deck of cards handy. Playing cards can bring the family together, as games encourage us to be competitive and rely on each other to teach and learn the rules.

Ages 14-18
Just like kids in middle school, teenagers might need a little prodding to make the most of the holiday with family. In addition to cooking together and playing cards, try these activities with your teen:

  • Give them talking points. Encourage your child to ask aunts, uncles, and grandparents about their first concert, the first album they bought, or other things that interest your child. While the answers may highlight the age difference, they can also spark conversations about what it was like to live through certain decades that your teen missed out on.
  • Start a new tradition. Ask your teen what kind of holiday tradition they would like to see every year. Assuming it’s doable, have your teen explain their idea to the family at dinner and start right away.
  • Give your teen something to look forward to. If your teen is more focused on seeing friends, host a dessert party after dinner. Your teen can invite their friends over and the family members who are still there can meet the friends and share in that experience.

College students
Your student coming home from college for the holiday will probably be grateful for a home cooked meal and a comfortable bed, so take advantage of that gratitude and encourage them to learn more about their other family members.

Once a person starts college, they start to see the world a little differently. Their studies are more focused on what they want to learn, not what they’re required to learn.

Embrace that shift by encouraging your student to talk to their grandparents. They have lived through a different time than your child and might shed some light on topics your child might be more interested in now.

For instance, did a grandparent serve in Vietnam? What were politics like when the grandparents were growing up? What types of shows were on television?

Not only will the grandparents want to share about their past, but your child will gain great perspective and learn something about their family that they might not have known before.

Do you have tried-and-true activities that foster family bonding over the holidays? Share your secrets below so we can try them this week!

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Save Your Child’s Immunization Records

September 1, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Save Your Child’s Immunization Records | How long should you save your child's immunization records? Until they finish their doctorate. Once your child graduates from high school, they will need those records to apply for undergrad, graduate, and post-graduate school, so keep them just in case. | A doctor fills out an immunization form.

You know you need to save your child’s immunization records for a while, but just how long should you save them?

The short answer? Until your child finishes a doctoral program.

I know it seems extreme, but the reality is that pediatricians aren’t in business forever. While high schools keep records for some time after students graduate, if you or your child moves away, it’s hard to track those records down.

11 years after graduating high school, I decided to go to graduate school and needed to provide proof of certain immunizations. At that point, I had no idea where those records were. My pediatrician had retired long ago, and my undergraduate school wasn’t able to provide them. Luckily, my high school still had my records and my parents still lived nearby so my mom was able to pick them up for me.

However, most high schools won’t keep these records for more than a few years after graduation. To avoid your child needing to repeat vaccines or have extensive blood work done to prove immunity, keep these immunization records until your child is ready to take them for safe keeping.

The vaccines required may vary by state and school, but generally your child will need proof of the following:

  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
  • Meningococcal meningitis
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria
  • Hepatitis B

While your child might not have plans for graduate or doctoral studies right now, keep those immunization records in a safe place for many years after he or she graduates from high school, especially if you move. It might not seem like a big deal now, but your child will thank you if he or she ever pursues an advanced degree.

To learn more about college and career readiness and supporting your child’s health, read the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 3-book set, available on Amazon.

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Scholarship Hunting: 3 Places to Find Them

March 26, 2015

By Judy Razo

Scholarship Hunting: 3 Places to Find Them | Don't go through a complicated maze to find scholarships for your teen. Try these three easy tips and remember to apply for both big and small scholarships. | The illustration shows a "find the tuition" maze.

Did you know that students should start applying for scholarships as early as eighth grade? That’s right, from ages 14 through 21, your child should be applying to about 10 scholarships for every $1,000 of college tuition that you would like paid regardless of how much Financial Aid you think your child will receive.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. But graduating from college with no debt for either one of you will make it all worth it.

So where can you find these scholarships? I’ll warn you: you will need to dig for them. But don’t worry; I can teach you where to look.

Local Organizations
Many community organizations and local business in your town offer scholarships. Ask your employer and have your friends and relatives ask theirs. Some of these scholarships may be smaller, but there are fewer people competing for them and every dollar counts.

National Searches
Start looking for scholarships from around the country. Simply search for “scholarships” online or have your child sign up for scholarship search services such as College Greenlight, BigFuture by College Board, or Fastweb. These services are free and will match your child with scholarships for which he or she qualifies, taking some of the legwork out of having to research the scholarships one by one.

Skilled Competitions
Many talent competitions offer cash prizes or scholarships to the winners—all money that can go toward paying for college. Encourage your child to participate in contests and competitions using his or her talents, like writing, singing, dancing, and sports.

Always try to apply for smaller scholarships along with large ones. As I mentioned, competition for larger scholarships is a lot steeper than for small ones so the chances of winning a smaller or lesser-known scholarship is greater. However, don’t shy away from big ones like from Coca-Cola or Dell either; you never know what scholarships your child will win unless you try.

Lastly, remember to let your child do most of the work when applying to scholarships, but be available to guide him or her through the process, help with research, and proofread his or her applications. These tactics will help your child learn the application process so he or she can take initiative and apply alone once in college.

Find out everything you need to know about choosing a college, financing it, and college and career readiness in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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Deal a Royal Flush of Family Fun

March 19, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Deal a Royal Flush of Family Fun | Playing card games is a great opportunity for family bonding with kids of all ages. Try it this spring break and see what you learn about your kids. | A photo shows a father playing cards with his daughter and son.

It’s spring break time, and you know what that means: lots of time with your kids. Whether you’re taking a vacation or a staycation, there’s probably a lot of down time and the kids could quickly be complaining, “I’m bored!”

Fret not. I have the solution to all of your problems. Okay, maybe not all of them, but to the boredom problem. Card games. That’s right. That simple deck of 52 cards or a box of Uno can go a long way. The genius of playing card games with your kids lies in the process.

You start by trying to teach them a game. Explain the rules and try a few practice rounds to help each other learn. This first part makes everyone a little uncomfortable, because you’re trying to remember the rules. And if you’re playing with teenagers, they’re getting over the fact that this is so uncool but also kind of fun.

Then the real game begins. Each person is strategizing, using his or her brain, reading other players’ faces and interpreting their strategies, and the competitive drive to win is building. You’re getting to know each other in a different way—seeing how each of you learns, how you act when frustrated or happy, and how competitive each of you is. You’re bonding.

And that, my friends, is the goal of the game. Card games can be simple or complex, but they’re inexpensive conversation starters for your family. They’re learning opportunities for young kids—building fine motor skills, learning math and colors, participating in social interaction—but can adapt as your kids age. You can learn new, more complicated games together as your kids grow, and by the time they’re teenagers, you’ll be aching for some good old-fashioned family fun.

As a teen, I played card or board games with my family when the power went out and we had nothing to do but hang out in candlelight. And even though I was always hammering to get out of the house to see my friends, I genuinely had a good time.

Even as an adult, card games remain a great opportunity for bonding. When I first met my now father- and stepmother-in-law, I felt awkward because I didn’t think we had much in common. Toward the end of our week-long visit, we started playing card games after dinner and I left that trip having a strong understanding of who they are as individuals, as a couple, and as parents to my partner. Everyone loosened up and I learned that we have much more in common than I had imagined. My only regret is that we didn’t play cards on the first night—I would have been much more relaxed if we had.

So during this spring break, or any future vacations or electricity-free nights due to summer storms, gather your kids around the dinner or coffee table and play a card game together as a family. Invite your kids’ friends if you want to get to know them better. You’ll all learn a little more and appreciate each other by the end of the game.

Find more ideas on spending quality time with your kids, no matter their age, in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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Choosing College: Where Your Friends Don’t Attend

March 3, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Choosing College: Where Friends Don’t Attend | For your child, choosing a college where their friends are going is probably high on their list, but there's a great opportunity to learn who they really are if they choose a college where a lot of friends aren't attending.

As juniors in high school are scouting potential colleges and seniors are choosing from the schools they were accepted to, a common deciding factor is where their friends are going. Many high school students go to one of the state schools, as it’s more cost-friendly and is usually a little easier to get into, which means a lot of friends will also be going there. But is going to a school where your high school friends attend the best decision?

Encourage your child to consider choosing a college where fewer of his or her friends will be attending for the following reasons:

Broaden horizons
Without an established group of friends to act as a crutch, your child has an opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, try different ways of thinking, and really find him or herself.

Find independence and strengthen character
It’s easier to learn who we really are in moments of solitude, and starting college alone would help facilitate your child’s journey to discover that person. At first, starting a new school without an established group of friends to fall back on will be difficult and lonely, but the experience of getting through that loneliness will strengthen your child’s character and prepare him or her for the more difficult life moments ahead.

Get out of his or her comfort zone
Getting out of one’s comfort zone helps strengthen character and encourages independence. It’s really hard to do, and as a parent, you might need to field a few phone calls from your child crying, but assure him or her that it will get better.

Encourage your child to go to a campus event alone, no matter how dorky it might seem. Worst case, he or she can always leave after 30 minutes if it’s insufferable. Best case, your child meets new people, learns a little bit, and feels more confident for taking that risk and feeling a little uncomfortable at first.

Find your true matches
One of the best parts of college for me was meeting entirely new groups of friends who I truly clicked with—people who grew up in different environments with different stories, but in the end, we were true friend matches. Some of them have ended up being the friends I’ve now had the longest in my life, and it’s truly wonderful to have people who have known and liked me when I was finding my way through college and my twenties. I never would have met them, though, if I hadn’t branched out, met new people, and learned who I really was and am.

Focus on academics
For many college freshmen, the first few months of school are really difficult. Learning how to balance class, study time, group projects, chores, and a social life is tough, especially when they suddenly have this newfound freedom and the ability to do whatever they want whenever they want. Without a built-in group of friends, your child will have a little extra time to focus on establishing good study habits so that when he or she starts socializing more, studying will be less of a problem.

Of course, it’s also possible to gain these benefits by attending a college where many of your child’s high school classmates are attending. Just encourage him or her to make an effort to meet new people in addition to strengthening high school friendships. The above reasons can still apply even with an established group of friends if your child branches out just a little.

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