Monday, January 31, 2011

Who's Watching the Kids?

When my children were young, dealing with childcare was one of the most difficult tasks we faced. Making the decision of who would watch our children when we were at work was extraordinarily difficult. Even today, a scene from the 1980s movie, "Baby Boom" strikes close to home, as when Diane Keaton interviewed potential nannies. Those interviews can be an exercise in patience, frustration, humor, and hope. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to end up finding some wonderful women to watch our children, and they remain our friends today.

According to the U.S. Census, almost 13 million of the 18 million children under five years of age in the U.S. (2002) are in some form of regular childcare during a typical week. In a study of childcare arrangements published in 2005, the Census Bureau reported that 40% of preschoolers are cared for by a relative, 23% of whom are cared for by their grandparents, and 14% of whom are cared for by their father (when dad is not considered the primary or secondary caregiver). Siblings cared for 3%, and less than 1% (or 39,000) were found in self-care situations.

Almost one-quarter of children 5 and under are in non-relative care, including day care centers, nursery or preschools, and family day care.

Working parents are choosing from a variety of child care options. As my children reach the age now where they begin families of their own, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll be watching the kids….

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Childhood Stress

As a parent, perhaps you've heard, "You don't know what it's like to be a kid these days!" Unfortunately, they're probably right. Many children today face stressors and experience trauma that are different than those endured by their parents' generation. Today's children are pushed to make above-average grades and excel in extracurricular activities and athletics. Additionally, they endure exposure to their parents' stresses in the home, as well as school violence and terrorism.

Most theorists agree that the responses children have to stressful situations is an innate reaction; however, the susceptibility to stress-related behaviors in children can be linked to several factors, such as environment, genetics, modeling stressful behavior after anxious parents, or through rewards or punishments for displaying anxious behaviors.

How do you know if your child or teen is experiencing stress? Dr. Suzanna Smith from the University of Florida explains that the signs of stress may include children expressing that they feel afraid or scared, or their grades may drop suddenly. Perhaps they are extra-clingy or needy; they may go back to behaviors they've outgrown, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking, and they may withdraw from others.

There are many actions parents can take to assist their children with managing stress. For example, spend time together. Follow daily family routines and work together. Children thrive on predictable patterns. You may find that helping children manage their stress can be good for the grown-ups too!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Social Roles and Women's Health

When my children were younger and I was working full-time all while juggling classes and volunteerism, I often had people tell me they just didn't know how I did it all. And, while "doing it all" was certainly challenging, according to a new study published in England, it may also result in better health. Researchers found that women who occupied multiple social roles over the long term generally reported better health and were less likely to be obese than mothers who were full-time homemakers.

Researchers from University College London found that of the 53- and 54-year-old women in their study, mothers who were married and working were significantly more likely to report better health than homemakers, single mothers, or women with no children. The researchers tracked the health of more than 2,000 women from age 26 to 54 and found that prior health, mental health, and childhood social class did not seem to make a difference in the increased likelihood of being obese at all.

Most important, where prior research couldn't determine whether work made women healthier or healthier women were able to work, the researchers suggest "good health is more likely to be the result, rather than the cause, of multiple role occupation" What they want to better understand now is "what it is about particular work and family roles that influences people's health" (McMunn et al., 2006, p. 488).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Toilet Training

When is a child ready to be potty trained? Most children are ready sometime between the ages of two and three, although all children are not ready at the same time. A child will be ready when she or he is developmentally ready—when her or his body has matured enough. Children who are ready show certain signs, including an interest in wearing underpants instead of diapers, the ability to stay dry for at least two hours at a time, an interest in being clean and dry, and the ability to undress and dress themselves, as well as a sense of independence. They may also show an interest in a potty if it's presented to them. Avoid pressuring your child into toilet training before he or she is ready. Child development experts offer several suggestions to make toilet training easier for you and your child. For example:

Let the child choose some of the needed equipment, such as underpants, a potty seat, and a book or video about toilet training.

Put the potty in a place your child can get to easily.

Be aware of times when your child may need to go and encourage him or her to try to use the potty.

You can expect toilet training to take several weeks for the child who is ready. If it is taking longer, your child may not be ready, so just try again in a few weeks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Second-hand Smoke

Great amounts of media attention have been given to laws that ban smoking in public areas and the consistent warnings that second-hand tobacco smoke is especially harmful to children's health. Studies have consistently shown that environmental second-hand smoke is increasing the incidence of respiratory infection (such as bronchitis and pneumonia), middle ear diseases, and aggravation of asthma. However, a recent study found many parents still fail to limit children's exposure to tobacco smoke.

The study, published in Families, Systems and Health, involved more than 1,700 parents and guardians who were surveyed while waiting to meet with their child's pediatricians. Researchers from University of Missouri found that children are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in 40% of homes and in more than 50% of family cars. Additionally, less than half of the parents or guardians choose to sit in non-smoking sections of restaurants or trains when available. Likewise, less than half ask others not to smoke in the presence of their children.

The research also concluded that, as expected, the higher the income and education, the more likely families were to have home smoking rules. Families with an annual household income of more than $41,000 were more likely to report having an entirely smoke-free home and to limit exposure outside the home

The researchers believe these results support the need for greater public health efforts to protect children from the effects of second-hand smoke.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baby Sleep Safety

Making the announcement to friends and family that you've got a baby on the way is usually cause for celebration. Expectant parents can often become overwhelmed by the good-natured advice that friends and family are so willing to share. However, what was considered a good practice when our mothers were raising us, like putting a baby to bed face down, was really a very bad choice.

One of every parent's greatest nightmares is SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the leading cause of death for infants one month to one year old. With greater awareness of safe sleeping practice, SIDS has declined by more than 50% since 1994, yet continues to claim approximately 2,000 babies each year—90% of which occur before they're six months old.

According to The National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center, there are a number of things parents can do to prevent SIDS, suffocation, or strangulation. For example, place your baby on his or her back and remove all soft bedding from the crib. Also, make certain the crib meets the safety standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Likewise, never allow your baby to sleep in an adult bed, as tempting as it may be to cuddle up in the middle of the night.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Long Distance Caregiving

Do you take care of an older family member at a distance? Long-distance caregivers are those who help older family members who live at least an hour away. Whether you care for a loved one who lives in another state or just an hour's drive away, you probably spend quite a bit of time in caregiving. Like other caregivers, you may find yourself thinking about the services the older person needs, making arrangements for their care or checking on the care they receive, or you may be planning for what you need to do when you see the family member next.

A recent survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving found that despite the distance, three-fourths of caregivers help with activities like transportation, shopping, managing finances or cooking. They spend, on the average, 22 hours a month on this. Most caregivers are able to visit their loved ones at least once a month, although budgeting for these trips may become difficult.

Long-distance caregiving can be complicated and demanding. Almost a quarter of the long-distance caregivers are the primary or only caregiver. Eighty percent of distance caregivers work full- or part-time.

This kind of workload affects both home and work life. A third of caregivers missed days of work to take care of these duties. About 44% changed their work schedules and 25% come in late or leave early. Both men and women caregivers were likely to re-arrange their work schedules, take an unpaid leave, or consider changing employers, although women are more likely to miss work or go from full time to part time work

How do long-distance caregivers manage? Usually with support from others, particularly a spouse, as well as other family members, friends, and neighbors. Support from employers is also very helpful. Not surprisingly, about half of long-distance caregivers are helping another family member who is providing daily care (National Alliance for Caregiving and Zogby International, 2004).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Adolescents and Weight Loss Diets

According to a nationwide study, 50 to 60% of girls ages 12 to 17 have tried a weight-loss diet. Although child obesity is on the rise and has become a concern to many, teens and their parents should know that weight gain is normal during adolescence. Boys tend to gain weight before a growth spurt, and girls often gain weight before the onset of menstruation. In fact, puberty is a process that requires a certain amount of body fat.

Most active young people between the ages of 11 and 18 need to consume at least 2200 calories per day. Weight-loss diets that restrict calorie intake to1200 calories per day or less can create large energy deficits in adolescents. This lack of adequate calories and nutrients may inhibit growth and cause delayed puberty. In addition, dieting can be the precursor to more severe eating behaviors or disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

If a child’s weight is a concern, the family as a whole can engage in healthier eating habits and more physical activity. This is a positive approach that does not single out the child. In extreme cases, it may be appropriate to place a child on a weight-loss diet. However, this should be discussed with a physician and a dietitian familiar with youth development and nutrient needs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reacting to Child's Swear Words

I will never forget the first time my pre-schooler said, “Damn it.” When I recovered from the shock, I almost started to giggle because it was kind of cute. However, this wasn’t something I wanted to hear her repeat, so I figured it was time to nip-it. What’s a parent to do?

First, remain calm. Don’t reward this talk with any kind of reaction – good or bad. Next, explain to your child that the word is not appropriate and that we don’t talk that way - in language he or she can understand. Recognize the reason why your child uses that word or words and teach him a better way to express himself. You might even want to come up with an alternative word he can use. Some parents use the word “sugar, “rats,” or “golly gee.” We made up a silly word that my girls were allowed to say instead. Make it something that sounds like fun for them to say.

Establish reasonable consequences, such as playing alone for ten minutes, a quarter in the “Bad Talk Jar,” or time out for a few minutes. Remember, giving them too much attention when they are “bad” may only encourage more of the same behavior. Some parents even find that the words stop when they don’t respond at all. You know your child best.

Teach your child more acceptable ways to express his or her emotions and that words can hurt or offend. Involve older children in making a list of acceptable behaviors and in setting the rules and consequences. Four-letter words provide a teachable moment for parents.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Four-letter Words

The first time you hear your child let loose with a whole string of unacceptable words can be quite a shock! While inappropriate language is more evident with school-age children, even pre-schoolers repeat objectionable words they may hear. Before becoming worried or frustrated, remember that children are constantly learning.

Four-letter words have a magical quality to most children. At a very early age, they learn that these words are different. They make adults react! Children become fascinated with this idea and may try it out in different settings to see what kind of reactions they get.

Parents who never or rarely swear themselves blame television, their children’s friends and other adults for influencing their child’s language. Even parents who often use profane language wish that their child would not follow their example.

This is a good time to check your own speech habits. We sometimes use four-letter words without even realizing it. Listen as you speak. You might be shocked to hear your toddler using your expressions and words in exactly the same way. Next, ask yourself why your child might be using inappropriate language. Some of the reasons include: To be accepted by their friends, because the words are used at home, to express negative emotions, to hurt someone’s feelings, to shock adults and get attention, or to simply find out what the words mean.

Tomorrow I will give you some ideas for how we can keep these four-letter words under control.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Is Your Child an Underachiever in School?

Some children simply don’t perform in school nearly as well as they could. Every child, family and school is different, but these young people often tell counselors the following; “My parents expect too much.” “I can’t achieve their standards.” “I won’t try.” “I won’t play your game.” How parents can help:

· Adopt an attitude of love, support, caring and understanding. Build your child’s self confidence.

· Schedule a conference with teachers, counselors, principal and your child – permit the principal to act as an advocate.

· Consider a written agreement with consequences and periodic progress reports.

· Cooperate at home by helping your child get organized and providing agreed-upon rewards.

· Let your child be responsible. Don’t nag.

· Expand your relationship with your child.

· Be patient. The extra effort will be worth it!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Grandparent Distress

Today, more grandparents are raising their grandchildren than at any other time in U.S. history. These grandparents face challenges in almost every part of their lives, such as strained relations with the child’s parent, unexpectedly caring for a family on a limited income, and grandchildren’s emotional and behavioral problems from a history of abuse, neglect or abandonment. As a result, many grandparents experience poor health, and psychological and emotional distress.

A recent study conducted by sociologist Terry Mills and colleagues at the University of Florida and published in the Journal, Marriage and Family Review, found that younger grandmothers raising grandchildren were more likely to be depressed than their older counterparts. Using data from the National Survey of America’s Families, the researchers found that the younger the grandmothers were, the more likely they were to experience depression.

They reported that younger grandparents may be distressed because at middle age they are trying to balance suddenly functioning as a parent again along with work responsibilities and personal interests. They may also feel that they failed as a parent. However, when younger grandmothers received support such as social service help with child care and health care, they were no more likely to be distressed than older grandmothers.

The study’s authors point out that because grandparents raising grandchildren are at risk of depression and isolation, it’s important that they have access to psychological counseling. In addition, social services, child care, and easier access to health care are important in giving grandparents the support they need.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Step Siblings and Academic Outcomes

Today’s children are growing up in any number of family structures including biological-, step-, and single-parent families. Even though there has been a lot of research on these diverse families, not much of it has focused on sibling relationships in non-traditional families.

However, research published recently in the Social Science Research journal analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to explore how living with step- and/or half-siblings impacted teenagers’ academic performance. A number of studies have shown that children in step families are at a greater disadvantage academically than even those children living with single parents.

Yet, step-parents are often only part of the new dynamic children must face when they become blended with a step family. So, what roles do siblings play in children’s academic lives?

This research found that youth who live with step- and/or half-siblings experience greater school-related behavior problems and lower GPA scores, and boys were more negatively affected than girls. The researchers suggest that siblings in these nontraditional families may expect less financial support for post-secondary education and may be less motivated to do well in school. Also, the ambiguity in their family relationships may motivate them to become independent earlier.

Living with step relationships can be difficult. Parents in non-traditional families may need to find ways to foster sibling involvement and emotional closeness to help create supportive family environments.