Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breakfast and School Performance

A very important component of your child’s school success is breakfast. In the morning, energy levels are low and need to be kick-started. Healthy breakfast foods help replenish these energy levels and provide nutrients, like calcium and iron, that often are low in children’s diets.

Eating breakfast increases cognitive performance in children, especially tasks that involve processing complex thoughts. Other benefits of breakfast include the increased ability to concentrate, stay alert, solve problems, and memorize. Some studies have linked a good breakfast to better moods and improved performance on tests.

A healthy breakfast should consists of whole-grain bread or cereal combined with a calcium and protein source, such as low fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese. A piece of fresh fruit is a good way to round out the meal.

Consider the atmosphere in which your children eat their breakfast, too. Do they have enough time to sit and eat what you or they have prepared or do they feel rushed? Planning enough time for a sit down breakfast is a great way to start the day at a low stress level.

It may take some planning ahead to make a healthy breakfast part of your child’s morning routine, but it can yield benefits related to academic performance as well as nutritional status and health. And that is certainly worth the effort.

Hillsborough County school children are provided a free breakfast, so if your morning routine just doesn’t allow breakfast at home, be sure your child gets to school in time for breakfast in the cafeteria.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sexualization of Girls - What Parents Can Do

In its recent report on sexualization of girls in the media, the American Psychological Association reported numerous negative impacts of the powerful message that what matters is “how hot you look.” The pressure to be thin, beautiful and sexy can have devastating results on developing girls.

According to the APA research, when combining television, Internet and video games, children use media an average of 6 ½ hours per day. Girls now equal boys in video game use as well as Internet use. The researchers explain, “Massive exposure to media among youth creates the potential for massive exposure to portrayals that sexualize women and girls and teach girls that women are sexual objects.”

However, parents can still have a powerful influence on how their children interpret media messages and make healthy choices for themselves. For example, the APA recommends teaching girls to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look; and teaching boys to value girls as friends, sisters and girlfriends rather than sexual objects.

They also suggest that parents “tune in and talk.” Watch, listen and read the same media your children are using and talk to them about it. Ask them what they think and listen carefully to what they tell you. Also speak up if you don’t like a TV show, video, music lyrics or even a doll. Let your children know what you object to and why.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Teaching Teens about Money

In 2002 teens spent over 170 billion dollars - an increase of almost 40% in five years. Nearly 50% of today’s college students have four or more credit cards. I remember when my oldest child got her first job. She was barely 16 years old, but the credit card offers came pouring in! Although teens are controlling more and more money, studies have shown they have less and less financial understanding. How can we help our teens be more money smart?

University of Florida researchers recommend that parents introduce pre-teens between the ages of 9 and 12 to spending plans, savings and bank accounts. A teen’s income sources might include allowances, gift and/or employment. If you chose to give an allowance to your kids, determine the amount of an allowance they will receive based on how much her or she actually needs for school or other expenses, and how much the teen can spend as he or she chooses.

Encourage them to open a savings or checking account to begin managing their own money. Once teens have experience managing a checking account, they should be introduced to debit cards or pre-paid checking cards. They gradually become ready for credit cards. As a parent, we need to teach them to keep track of their purchases and to pay off balances each month.

Begin planning for the future with 16 to 18 years olds. Explain taxes and other with-holding that appear on their paychecks. Also, encourage them to open an investment account, placing whatever money they can into the account each pay period. By teaching financial dos and don’ts at an early age, researchers say we can reverse the trend of over-extended college students and personal bankruptcies later in life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What parents can do to fit their child's temperament

Some babies have regular sleep patterns and cruise serenely through the day, while others wake up often during the night and during the day, demanding seemingly constant attention. Some children make friends easily and others have difficulty making friends. Just as babies are born with different combinations of physical characteristics, they also have certain patterns of behavior, or temperament, which make them unique.

Sometimes parents and children have different temperaments, and in that case, parents may need to adjust. How can you, as a parent, create a good fit between your own temperament and your child’s temperament? First, be aware of your temperament and how your child’s temperament is similar to or different from your own. Keep these differences in mind when you don’t see eye to eye on things, when your youngster pushes your limits, and when you have trouble understanding your child’s behavior.

Embrace what makes her or him unique, without comparing your child to others or trying to change your child. For example, you may have been painfully shy as a child and when you see your young child being shy, you might want to “force” your child to be more outgoing. Be patient, and actively work to change any negative reactions you have to your child’s behavior. Also, avoid situations that might set your child off. If your child becomes anxious around crowds and commotion, having a large birthday party at a busy play center may ruin the day for everyone.

When we can adjust our parenting methods so there is a good fit between our own temperament and the child’s, time together can be more enjoyable.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Understanding Your Child's Temperament

When a second or third child is born, many parents immediately know that everything they thought they had figured out about parenting had just gone out the window. While siblings come from the same parents and environment, there is often little about each of their personalities that are in common. Each child has a different temperament and every parent learns this quickly. Learning about their temperaments and how to manage children’s differences can be quite an adventure.

All children are born with their own style of interacting with or responding to the world. In a groundbreaking study in the 1950’s, researchers identified nine temperament characteristics, or behavior traits, that clinicians and researchers continue to use today. The researchers found that these nine traits were present at birth and continued to influence development throughout life.

The nine temperament traits include a child’s activity level, their rhythm or lack of rhythm in sleeping and eating habits, and approach or withdrawal (for example, does the child shy away from new people or make friends with every stranger). Three additional temperament traits include adaptability, intensity, and a child’s typical mood.

A child’s persistence and attention span are also examined for temperament, as well as their sensory threshold, or their ability or inability to tolerate external stimuli, such as loud noises or bright lights. The final trait is distractibility; the child’s ability to shut out external distractions and stay with an activity.

As parents understand and embrace their children’s temperaments, they usually have better responses to their children, hopefully making the adventure of parenthood a more pleasant ride. More on temperament to follow on another day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preventing Holiday Exhaustion

To control your stress during the holidays, it’s important to have a balance of socializing with others and being by yourself. Give yourself time to reflect on the past year and time to think about what you want for the coming year. Set one or two goals for next year. This doesn’t mean a lengthy New Year’s Resolution list, but a few things you want to accomplish.

Keep a positive attitude. Find something you enjoy in each activity and event. Limit time with negative people as much as you can.

It’s important that you take care of yourself throughout the year and especially important during the holidays. This means watching what you eat and drink, getting enough rest and exercising. Take care of your own needs and pace yourself.

If you are getting together with relatives or returning to your parent’s home, anticipate what might happen and be prepared with a non-defensive response. Be realistic about your family and don’t use holiday celebrations to settle old conflicts. Plan on taking a quiet walk when people get to be too much.

Remember to engage in fun activities that aren’t costly so that you can focus on the true meaning and essence of the holidays. As a family, plan an event which involves helping the less fortunate.

Spend time individually with each child so they get the attention they need during the busy holiday season.

Practicing stress management exercises will help control your stress, too. For a free on-line stress management workshop, go to: http://hillsboroughfcs.ifas.ufl.edu/Stress-Management.html

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Realistic Holiday Expectations

As wonderful as holidays are, they can also be a time of stress for individuals and families. Some of this stress comes from the expectations we each have of the holiday season. The difference between our expectations and our reality can be disappointing. Here are some ideas to maximize the pleasure of the holiday season.

Look at the difference between your expectations and your reality by assessing your current situation (including time and money) and acknowledge the limitations you and your family might have. Is it reasonable to expect that you can put on a holiday dinner just like grandma used to make? Is it reasonable for your children to expect the same amount of gifts under the tree this year if you have been out of a job for the past three months?

Adjust your plans and budget to be more realistic. Aim for reasonable and reachable goals. Be honest about your situation and your feelings with family members. A good start to a conversation might be: “I need to stick to a tighter budget this year and would like to adjust our holiday spending.” Or “I would like to cut back on the number of gifts we exchange this year, would you be willing to do this?”

Discuss gift giving in advance – Thanksgiving is a great time to talk about the December holiday plans. Offer a gift of time or help instead of a purchased object. In fact, I would love a home-made coupon book for car washes, window cleaning, weed-pulling or a back massage in my stocking! Children might like homemade coupons or gift certificates for one hour of Monopoly playing, a bike ride together, or one day free from chores. Remember to include fun activities for your family!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Re-evaluating Your Holiday Traditions

Traditions are important to families. They reinforce meanings in life, bind us together and provide continuity of the past and present. It’s fun to pass down traditions we remember from our own childhood to our children and grandchildren.

In our busy world, however, it’s not always realistic to continue some traditions. If an old family tradition doesn’t work for your family anymore, recognize the need for change. Engage your family in the process of setting up new traditions that you can each participate in and enjoy together. Establish your own traditions while keeping the customs that mean the most to you.

Make a list of your traditional holiday preparations – from holiday greeting cards, gift exchanges, holiday meal preparation, to decorating and “clean up and take down” day.

Then gather your family together and ask what is important to each of them and see if they are willing to help continue that tradition. All family members must “buy into” the activities and at least lend a helping hand if not completely take over a task.

If a tradition has become unimportant to you, or not worth the time, energy and money you would spend on it, feel free to cross it off your list – at least for this year. You can re-evaluate it later.

Pare down your to-do list and write names of the people who will take responsibility or help out. Break large projects into several smaller steps. Then use good organizational and time management techniques to plan ahead, delegate or accomplish tasks necessary for each holiday tradition.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Honey and Infants

Many people find it difficult to resist the sweet taste of honey. New research shows it even contains antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds. But honey isn’t for everyone. In fact, feeding honey to infants less than 12 months old may have severe and sometimes deadly consequences.

While is may seem harmless to add a little bit of honey to your child’s pacifier, honey often contains spores of bacterium that causes infant botulism. Although these bacterial spores do not affect the digestive systems of adults, an infant’s digestive system is not fully developed, and can’t prevent the spores from germinating. When this happens, the bacteria produce a toxin that is often fatal.

Botulism toxin affects the neuromuscular system, leading to a weak and lethargic baby. An infected infant will first experience constipation, followed by a weak cry, poor feeding and sucking ability, droopy eyelids, and overall weakness. Noticing these warning signs and seeking medical attention is the best way to ensure a safe recovery if the baby is infected.

The most important thing to remember is that infant botulism is preventable. You can keep your baby safe by NOT feeding your baby honey, even in baked goods, and keeping honey away from your baby’s pacifier, water and medications. Once the infant is over 12 months old, you can relax and allow your little one some honey.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Setting Limits and Standing Firm

A toddler needs to learn quite early that he or she should not go beyond the fence or touch the hot stove. A teenager needs to have a reasonable, yet caring and protective curfew. Setting clear limits for children and teens can not only keep them save, but can help to give them boundaries for acceptable behavior.

Limits are at the foundation of parenting responsibility. They protect youth from physical and psychological harm, protect property, and promote respect for others. Limits also give children a sense of security. And usually, they like knowing an adult is in control.

It’s wise to keep the number of limits or rule to the ones that really count. It is important to set limits, but also allow children the opportunity to choose. Giving them a choice when you can, helps them develop independence, confidence and a sense of accountability for their actions.

Expecting too much can lower a child’s self-esteem and cause stress in your child. Parents should use limits consistently so children aren’t likely to get confused. Of course, as children grow older, their limits should change to reflect their developmental stage. In fact, as children grow, they often have wonderful ideas and opinions about limits. Parents can move from being caregivers to nurturers, to encouragers, then counselors. By involving them in discussions, parents are more likely to gain their children’s cooperation in following rules.

Children will try to test their limits to see how parents respond. It’s a crucial part of their development. In testing the limits, children are testing their parent’s love as well as their commitment to their word and rules. All children need the security of limitations to their behavior, while at the same time needing to grow and explore their world.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dieting Linked to Smoking among Girls

While watching a classic film recently, it seemed that all the characters played by the actors were smoking cigarettes. Then I recalled that was indeed the way it used to be. And, although there are some movies and television programs that have gone back to having main characters smoking, it still is less prevalent than in the days before we learned how detrimental to health smoking really is.

The good news is that in about the past ten years, the percent of high school students in the U.S. who smoked regularly has dropped from about 35 to 23 percent – according to the Centers for Disease Control.

However, there are some teens who appear to be more at risk of picking up the bad habit. Recent research published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that teenage girls who started diets were twice as likely to start smoking as their peers who did not diet.

Consistent with previous studies, the researchers found that dieting and weight concerns were not related to smoking among boys. Additionally, boys who were not overweight were more likely to try smoking, but were not as likely to smoke regularly.

The researchers suggested that health educators and practitioners should consider the link between initiation of dieting and regular smoking as they develop and use intervention and smoking prevention messages and programs. They also caution that parents need not panic if their child changes their diet. If, for example, your child begins eating healthier and more balanced meals, these changes should be celebrated as part of a healthier overall lifestyle.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Harry Potter- Good for Reading

Are you excited about the new Harry Potter movie? I am, but I usually read the books before I allow myself to see the movie. I’m a little behind on Deathly Hallows.

When you think of celebrities that are household names, you’re not likely to think of a fictional character – yet Harry Potter has certainly earned that distinction. And while the Harry Potter books and movies have catapulted to record-breaking success, even amid controversy, these books have also had another extraordinary effect on our youth. Harry Potter has stimulated an interest in reading among older children.

In a recent study conducted by the research firm Yankelovich and Scholastic Educational Publishers, children and their parents credited the Harry Potter series with getting more young people to read for fun and with helping them do better in school. Just more than half of the children between the ages of 5 and 17 claimed that they didn’t read books for fun before reading Harry Potter, and 65% reported they have been doing better in school since they started reading the Potter books.

Their parents were a little more enthusiastic, with 89% reporting their children showing an improved attitude toward reading, and 76% believing their children are doing better in school since starting to read the Potter books.

In the Kids and Family Reading Report, the researchers found that older children claimed that they don’t read for fun because they can’t find books that interest them. However, the Harry Potter books have garnered interest along all ages and have given many families books to enjoy together. This leads to improved attitudes toward reading.

Perhaps the magic of Harry Potter was equally powerful outside of the story, as the study shows that parents who want their children and teens to read may have found a spellbinding solution. Now I need to go find my daughter’s latest copy of Harry Potter!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teenager's Internet Use

In my home, everyone uses the internet to get information for reports, the news, to shop, and to communicate with friends. We are fairly typical of families these days – in fact, more than half of American families with children now have Internet access.

While the Internet is a useful tool, it also poses challenges for parents who want to protect their children from inappropriate content.

In a recent study appearing in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers used data from a national survey of online teenagers and their parents to develop a profile of parents’ internal rule setting. Sixty percent of American parents with Internet access said that they regulate their teenager children’s Internet use by limiting the time they can spend online and by checking the Web sites their teens use. Another option is to install software to block questionable Web sites, and about 44% of parents reported using this option.

Parents who use the Internet with their teens are more likely to regulate Internet use, although older teens are less likely to have many rules.

You might be surprised that the research revealed that fathers are more likely than mothers to check the Websites their children visit and parents with lower education are more likely to put monitoring software on their home computers.

More information is needed to better understand the challenges of the Internet for families. But, understanding the opportunities and the risks of the Internet may help parents make decisions about the access they allow their teens.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Protective Role of Grandparents

Being a grandparent today can mean many things. Many grandparents have a daily impact on their grandchildren because they live in the same household or they may be serving as surrogate parents. In fact, nearly 6% of children in the U.S. are now being raised by their grandparents.

These grandparents find themselves parenting their grandchildren when the adult child is unable to care for their own children and the grandparents step into help. Research tells us that grandparents are also the most willing of any family member to take grandchildren into their home.

Additionally, grandparents can affect grandchildren even when they don’t live under the same roof. Grandparents can make a difference “from a distance” by positively affecting a child’s development. Recent findings have shown that grandparents buffer the negative effects of high risk circumstances on children. For example, a grandchild’s sense of emotional closeness to, frequency of contact with, and their view of grandparents as a source of social support can buffer the negative effects of poverty and family stress.

The researchers also found that the closer grandchildren were to their grandparents, the less likely they were to be depressed as adults, particularly if their mother experienced depression during their childhood years.

As we can see, keeping children involved in their grandparent’s lives for the sake of Grandma and Grandpa is only part of the picture. These studies show that it certainly goes both ways! Grandparents are important in children’s lives, especially when facing difficult circumstances.