Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Teaching kids how to make and keep friends

Kids who know how to make friends tend to be happier throughout their lives. Research shows that children can learn the skills they need to make and keep friends. Some kids need more help than others learning these skills.

First, teach your child to use common courtesy. Kids who have a lot of friends are thoughtful of others. They say things like “Excuse me” or “Thanks” a lot.

Kids who make friends easily are also willing to cooperate with others. If other children are playing a game, they are willing to join in and follow the same game rules. They don’t always have to get their own way.

As a parent, you can serve as a role model for your child. Let him see you spending time with your friends. If you are helping a friend, say’ “Friends help each other when they need it.”

You can also help your child learn to consider his or her friend’s opinions, likes and dislikes. You might say, “What is Tom’s favorite subject in school?”

Help your child learn how to disagree with someone while still respecting them. You do that when you calmly correct your child. You do it when you insist that your children talk about their disagreements, too.

For more information on helping children to develop friendships download:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pleasant Family Meals

If you’re frustrated because your family members are headed in different directions at meal times, you’re not alone. In fact, recent research published by the American Medical Association said that less than half of children 9 – 14 years old reported having dinner with family members every day and almost 20% said they never had dinner with family members.

Most families find it increasingly difficult to sit down together over a meal. Demanding work schedules, band or softball practice and evening study dates can take up so much of everyone’s time.

But eating together plays big dividends for both parents and their children. According to Dr. Linda Bobroff at the University of Florida, shared family meals not only contribute to a healthful diet, they give children a sense of belonging, which is so critical in our world today.

There are several ways parents can ensure that the mealtimes are pleasant and relaxing. First, make a family agreement that mealtimes are for pleasant conversation. Hold discussions about difficult topics such as a child’s poor grade or marital problems for another time. Second, get rid of distractions. Turn off the television and cell phones, and let the answering machine take telephone messages during the meal.

Encourage discussion by asking each family member what he or she liked best during the day. Give each person, even the youngest, a chance to contribute to the conversation with everyone paying attention.

What a nice change from the fast food line and what a great time to spend together as a family!

Monday, March 28, 2011

When to introduce solid food to baby

If you've ever been responsible for feeding an infant, you'd probably recall the struggle to know when was the right time to start feeding the baby solid foods. I remember both my mother and mother-in-law urging me not only to start my baby on formula, but to also put a little cereal in that formula, certain that my baby couldn't possibly be getting enough to eat. Apparently, this is common, although not so wise, counsel.

According to experts, most babies aren't ready for solid food until between four to six months of age. Some of the benchmarks to look for before starting babies on solids is that they can sit up, they drool when they're hungry, they open their mouth when they see a spoon approaching and they don't push the spoon out with their tongue. At this point, the baby is ready for infant rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, and it should be soupy at first.

Once babies have grown accustomed to cereal, at about six to seven months of age, you can start adding other foods to their diet, but…one at a time! According to Linda Bobroff at the University of Florida, you need to wait two to three days between new foods in order to watch for signs of an allergic reaction. Signs of allergies can include stomachache, diarrhea, skin rash, or wheezing.

Two other taboos to be aware of regard honey and juice. Never feed a baby honey, as it can cause botulism poisoning in babies under a year old, and never put juice in a bottle. The bottle should be reserved for water, breast milk, or formula. Too much juice will spoil babies' appetites for other foods they need.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

There's nothing to do!

A child who is old enough to verbalize that “There’s nothing to do” is old enough and capable of thinking about how to solve this problem. While it may be tempting to come up with a solution, it’s not our job, as parents to entertain them 24 hours a day. Our job is to teach them how to entertain themselves.

Children may be able to creatively resolve this problem, if we give them the opportunity. This means resisting the urge to jump in and do their thinking for them. Here are some ideas:

• Validate and respect the child’s feelings first, rather than encouraging them to find something to do. “Sounds like you’re getting bored.” Or “Perhaps you’ve watched enough TV, huh?”

• Offer to help, such as “Is there something that you need from me?” “Let me know if there’s something I can do.” Continue to do what you were doing, though, or get busy with something you want to do.

• Invite the child to think. “What would you like to do?” or “Tell me two things that sound good to do right now.”

• Give permission to do nothing - unless that’s exactly what your child has been doing all day. “You certainly deserve a break.” “It’s okay to do nothing for a few minutes. Would you like to spend some time with me?”

• When all else fails, and you’re child continues to complain that there’s nothing to do, come up some well-thought-out ideas, such as organizing a kitchen cupboard or sweeping the sidewalk. I was always happy to hand my child the Chore Jar or my To Do List and ask for help. Sometimes I was pleasantly surprised when they were actually bored enough to help me out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Group dating for young people

Many middle-schoolers and pre-teens begin their “dating” rituals with requests to participate in group activities with someone they are “interested” in. These activities involve going to movies together, hanging out at the mall, going to football games and dances, playing video games, etc.

Many of these young “couples” still don’t spend a great deal of time together and many of these relationships are emotionally unsophisticated and short-lived. As a parent of three girls, I can say “Thank goodness for that!”

Parents shouldn’t be paranoid about allowing some of these gatherings to happen. However, good supervision should always be in place. Know where your child will be and who else will be there. Get to know the parents of the children in these groups if you don’t already. Get to know the child your child is interested in – even if he or she tells you that’s not a cool thing to do.

For the younger pre-teens, always be sure there is a chaperone or responsible adult at or near the group activity, such as shopping at the same mall, sitting at a different but accessible location at the same movie, etc. Have predictable rules and guidelines for “going out,” such as curfews, policies for where they are allowed to go and what they are allowed to do.

Many group dating activities can be useful in helping your child to develop important social and relationship skills before there is the pressure and desire to spend a lot of time alone together. Facilitate these opportunities by making suggestions for acceptable places to go or offering to drive - even if your child gets embarrassed when you talk to his friends in the car – as though you don’t have a single brain cell in your head!

Pre-teens should not be encouraged to participate in one-on-one dating. They are generally too young to fully understand the potential consequences of giving in to the pull of their curiosity and/or their biology.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Each day is a new account

If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400.00; carried over no balance from day to day; allowed you to keep no cash in your account; and every evening canceled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use; what would you do?

Draw out every cent, every day, of course, and use it to your advantage!

You do have such a bank – it’s called TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night, it writes off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to a good purpose.

Time carries over no balance. It allows no overdrafts. Each day, it opens a new account for you. Each night, it burns the records of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.”

Our seconds as parents can be thought of in the same way. At the end of every day, have we used every moment well? Do our children know they come first and always will?

Sometimes we encounter obstacles as parents that seem insurmountable. This is especially true when our children become adolescents. We can feel “stuck” like a car in the mud with its wheels spinning. Stuck is seeing few or no alternatives for our current situation and relationship with our child.

The key to becoming unstuck and to take advantage of every moment of every day as a parent is to take a parenting class. The Hillsborough County/University of Florida Extension Service conducts parenting classes each month. For more information go to:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Talking with your Toddler

One of the most important things that your child must learn is how to talk. On average, a child will say his or her first word at 12 months of age, and may start speaking anywhere from 8–18 months of age. Between 18 months and 2 years, your toddler will speak in two-word “sentences.” By the time your child reaches 3 years, he will have a large vocabulary; and by age 6, he will know about 10,000 words.

Your child's language skills show how well his or her brain and thought processes are developing. Children also develop emotionally and build social skills through conversation. In fact, early language skills help children to adjust more easily to difficult circumstances. Toddlers with advanced language development are more likely to do well socially, academically, and behaviorally in later childhood.

How and when your child's language develops depends on the circumstance. For example, girls' vocabulary grows faster than boys'. Cautious toddlers who are more reserved may take more time to understand words before they begin to speak. Also, mothers and fathers may influence their children’s learning of language differently; when fathers talk with young children they are more likely to give directions, ask them “who, what, where, why, and when” questions for clarification, use imperatives, and refer to past events than mothers. These behaviors are likely to challenge children’s language development.

There are many ways you can help your child learn to talk. This can be done by finding natural opportunities in everyday situations to encourage communication. Here are a couple of suggestions to help your child's language skills to develop.

• From the moment your child is born, talk to your baby. You can call the child's name, and sing to him or her.

• Use “child-directed speech” (CDS). CDS involves speaking in a high-pitched voice, using short sentences, pausing between phrases, annunciating clearly, using expressive emotional tones, and repeating new words in different contexts.

• Talk to your baby during daily routines such as when you cuddle, feed, or change his or her diaper.

• Repeat the noises your baby makes, and encourage him or her to imitate the sounds you make.

• Call your baby's name often. Remember to point out objects to the baby and call them by name. Say to the baby, "See the chair; see the bird; see the truck."

• Refer to what you're doing during daily activities. For example, say, “It's time to change your diaper” or “We're eating breakfast.”

• Remember, your baby has to learn the names of as many objects, routines, actions, and emotions as possible. When your baby becomes a toddler, teach him or her names of emotions they feel. “You're angry because we can't play now. It's time for bed.” “I know the doggie scared you. The dog went outside.”

• When your child begins to talk, listen to him or her. Avoid correcting or using phrases like, "It's NOT 'goed', it's 'went'!” Instead, simply repeat what the child said, pronouncing the words correctly and using the correct grammar. Children make natural mistakes when they are learning grammar (such as putting “-ed” endings on all verbs in the past tense). They will learn the exceptions to the rules when they are ready and taught with patience.

• Avoid asking your child yes-or-no questions. For example, instead ask, “Do you want milk or juice?” In this way, your child can answer using names of the object or activity they choose.

• Help your child learn new words every day. Soon, s/he or she will begin to ask questions about objects (“What?”).

• Your child will also ask about cause and effect (“Why?”). Do not ignore his or her questions—instead, try to answer them. If you do not know the answers, tell your child that you do not know. Share the answers that you do know using simple words or a cause-and-effect explanation.

If you want your children to talk with you when they are older, remember to talk with them when they are young. Conversations are an important part of quality parent-child relationships. Warm communication that encourages your child's cognitive, social, and emotional skills lasts a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

High Fructose Corn Syrup

One of the main concerns people have with HFCS is whether or not it causes obesity. This question was raised after a 2004 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested the sweetener might cause weight gain. More recent evidence indicates that HFCS has the same effect on body weight as sucrose. Essentially, excess calories from any sweetener (or any food) can cause weight gain. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, recommends decreasing the consumption of added sugars, which includes HFCS and sucrose as well as other forms of sugar. Eating a variety of healthier foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat and fat-free milk products, and lean meats and beans, combined with adequate physical activity is the best way to prevent obesity and maintain a healthy weight.

More research is needed to determine whether or not there is an association between HFCS and other chronic diseases. Currently, the main concern seems to be the effect that excess fructose consumption may have on the body. Although HFCS does contain fructose, its chemical composition is similar to sucrose (table sugar) and it is metabolized by the body the same way.

Many United States farmers produce subsidized (government funded) crops such as wheat, soybean, and/or corn. At least in part due to the subsidies, foods that contain HFCS such as prepackaged and processed foods are available at low cost. Since price is often a deciding factor when shopping, especially for those with limited resources, the lower cost of foods that contain HFCS may result in purchasing more highly processed, low nutrient-dense foods. Some health advocates suggest that limiting the incentives for producing corn used to make HFCS might increase the production of other crops such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, which would make them more available and perhaps more affordable.

The important message that should be conveyed to consumers is that the source of the added sugar should not be the main concern. It doesn't matter if the sugar comes from sucrose, honey, or HFCS. Instead consumers should watch their total calories and work on making sure they don't exceed their recommendations. HFCS along with other sweeteners should be consumed in moderation to avoid weight gain and the associated health problems.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Teen's Developmental Tasks

As your children enter into their teen years, they begin a physical and emotional journey that will bring them into adulthood and parents can play an important role in helping them establish who they are. Teenagers begin to interact with each other in more adult ways as they mature.

Experts at the University of Florida say this is linked to physical development, and that peer groups may change during the teen years as they grow at different rates. While their bodies are changing, teens also are learning to accept their appearance and not feel pressured into the perfect body image.

Sexual maturity also occurs during the teen years. Teens begin to define what it means to be male or female, though most confirm to society’s definitions of gender. UF researchers say teens often confuse sexual feelings with intimacy, and most do not get into long-term relationships until later years.

Another teen process many of us are familiar with is establishing independence from parents and other adults. During these years, teens learn to rely on themselves. Although many American do not gain economic independence until after schooling, it’s during the teen years that they begin to consider careers and financial independence.

Teens also begin to determine their own values and beliefs, although research shows these are usually based on their parent’s values and beliefs. They also begin to work towards socially responsible behavior, such as employment or marriage.

So while parents may feel overwhelmed by the tide of what feels like counter assaults on what they’ve taught their children, it’s important to remember they still have tremendous influence on their teens.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When to get help for stress

Every day we go through stress that is just a part of life, and usually manage to deal with things ourselves and with the help of friends and family. However, major events and the losses that go with them can trigger feelings of helplessness and sadness that even the usual personal coping methods can't fix.

Many signs may indicate a need for outside help, such as physical or verbal abuse of your spouse or child. This may include yelling and calling names, criticizing, hitting, kicking, and other acts of violence. Other signs of stress are panic attacks that include a high pulse rate and breathing difficulty; feelings of depression that last more than a week, including changes in your eating or sleeping habits; inability to concentrate, numbness, or bouts of crying.

Other signs that outside help is needed include thoughts of suicide, thoughts or talk of divorce or separation and feelings of isolation.

Sometimes our families give us clues that the stress is too much. For example, children may act up at home and school. Parenting may become more difficult because you can't concentrate on your children and give them the attention and supervision they need.

Help is available from professionals who are trained to help with stress. They can provide the extra, needed support. To find professional help, talk to your family doctor, ask a trusted friend if they know a counselor, or call your local crisis center.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Keeping Baby Healthy

Babies deserve the best we can give them. As we learn to properly care for our babies both emotionally and physically, they get the healthiest start possible.

During their first twelve months, babies grow at a faster rate than at any other time. They need a high-fat diet with adequate cholesterol and carbohydrates. Breast milk provides this perfect balance, as well as essential amino acids, fluid, vitamins, and minerals. Moms who choose not to breastfeed should use iron-fortified infant formula. Breastmilk or formula is all the nourishment babies need for their first 4 to 6 months.

Begin spoon-feeding baby rice cereal when your baby is sitting up unaided without wobbling his or her head, and when he or she seems interested in food. This will occur at about four to six months of age. Once your baby is up to two or three cereal feedings, begin to introduce one new food a week, starting with mashed vegetables and fruits. Be alert for signs of allergy and report symptoms to your pediatrician right away.

Babies usually are ready for self-feeding by about eight months of age. Babies feel proud when they begin to feed themselves, but be prepared for a mess. Soon your baby will be eating table food with the rest of the family, reminding us how fast that first year goes by.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How do cohabiting couples with children spend money?

More and more couples are choosing to cohabit at least some time in their adult lives, and researchers and policy makers are looking more closely at the costs and benefits of cohabitation for couples and children. A recent study in the Journal of Marriage and Family investigated whether cohabiting couples were similar or different than other family types in the way they spend their money.

Using data from over 45,000 U.S. families who took part in the consumer expenditure survey, researchers from Michigan State University and University of Chicago found differences in financial behaviors between cohabiting parent families and other families.

Compared to married couples, those who lived together spent less on health care and education and more on housing. This may be because cohabiting couples surveyed were younger, less educated, less likely to own their own homes, and had less earned income than married couples.

In addition, cohabiting couples were more likely to spend more on alcohol and tobacco than any other family type. The researchers could not actually determine whether cohabitors drank and smoked more, or whether they just bought more expensive products. The researchers question why cohabiting parent families seem to spend more on these adult goods and less on child-related goods, such as education. Different expectations, values, and lifestyle preferences may all contribute to spending motives that may be detrimental to child wellness, a concern in the growing discussion about cohabitation and families (DeLeire & Kalis, 2005).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is TV making your child fat?

Childhood overweight is a societal issue gaining increased attention among Americans today. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 15 percent of children and adolescents are overweight. Overweight children and adolescents are above the 95th percentile for body weight in their gender and age group.

Childhood overweight is on the rise in all age groups. For example, CDC reports that the incidence of overweight among 6 to 11 years old boys and girls in the U.S. has quadrupled in that last 30 years.

One contributing factor to the increase in childhood overweight is electronics – specifically, time spent in front of the TV and playing video games. A multitude of studies have determined that television viewing contributes to childhood overweight by physical inactivity and by encouraging snacking, particularly high fat and high calorie foods.

Another study of 6,000 youth found the chances of being overweight increased by approximately 2% for each additional hour of television viewing per day. Research at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, confirmed a link between television viewing and children’s food consumption patterns. They found that greater TV use is associated with higher intakes of fat, sweet and salty snacks and carbonated beverages; and lower intakes of fruit and vegetables.

Perhaps the best advice for parents is to get their kids to be active, or better yet, to be active WITH their kids, to limit TV watching to less than two hours per day, and to make sure they eat healthy foods. This isn’t a new concept, although when behaviorist John Lock drafted similar principles for raising children in 1693, he had to idea what parents would be up against!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Parenting Multi-racial Children

As multi-racial families become more prevalent in our culture, many challenges remain in raising multi-racial children. For example, children may grow up dealing with glares and comments from peers and adults who reject their family background. How can parents help their multiracial children thrive in their community

Researchers, educators, and practitioners working with multi-racial children suggest that parents follow several guidelines. First, they recommend that parents be open in the family about race and cultures. They can do this by encouraging their child's natural curiosity about differences and answering questions about the child's own background.

Parents can locate books and movies about multi-racial families and that "portray multi-racial individuals as positive role models". The family can attend different cultural events in the community and become familiar with the language, customs, and culture of all family members.

Families can also live in a diverse community where there is less sense of being "different". They can try to meet other multi-racial families and form support networks. Parents can also look into the local school system's training for teachers and counselors and encourage programs that increase understanding of multiracialism, or select schools that emphasize diversity as part of their program.

Like all children, multi-racial children "need to feel supported" and "nourished" "in their everyday environments" Parents, teachers, and extended family can have important roles to play in providing this nourishment.

Sources: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1999.