Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Navigating Your Parents' Finances

If you've had to make the possibly difficult decision to take care of your parents' finances, there are a number of steps suggested by the University of Florida Extension to help you to get things in order.

Financial educators recommend that the first step is to track their cash flow. This may be difficult because parents often hide money from their children, may not remember where they've put their money, or may not have kept records. Typically, income exceeds expenses until age 70, after which savings are usually needed to meet expenses.

Once you've determined where the money is coming from and how it's spent, check your parents' bills and expenditures to identify errors. If you find transactions that aren't clear, you can request information in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. And if you discover any suspected fraud or financial abuse, you should also report it to appropriate authorities immediately.

Finally, if they haven't already done so, prepare a net worth statement. This will help you determine how long your parents' savings will last. Identify ratios that will help you in planning their finances. For example, you should set a goal that for each dollar of debt, they should have $25 of assets. For retirees, no more than 10% of their income should be going to debt, and they should have 70 to 90% of their net worth in investment assets, although that ratio can be lower for homeowners. If necessary, seek the help of a qualified and trusted financial professional to help you navigate what's best for your parents.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reading to Children for Better School Performance

Many parents today start planning for their children’s college education funds when those children are still in diapers. Yet, there’s another investment parents should consider that could have a significant impact on their children’s entire educational experience . . . even when they’re still in diapers – READING.

Research has shown that reading to your child at a young age is not only beneficial to your child but to you as a parent as well. One of the first and most immediate benefits is spending some quality time with your child every day. An academic benefit is that reading with your child helps them to be better prepared when they enter a formal school environment. Reading together 20 minutes a day can make a difference in your child’s language, grammar and reading skills as they get older.

Reading certain types of books will also help children build their cognitive skills. For example, folktale and fables help children learn to make predictions and gain decision-making skills. Fantasy books are great for generating questions for discussion such as “what if” or “wouldn’t it be fun if.” Books about families help children learn to relate their reading with personal experiences of their own.

Here are a few tips to help you and your child form an enjoyable and educational reading relationship. First, set a specific time each day that you read together. Second, try to choose a variety of books on different subjects, but be sure to keep your child’s likes and dislikes in mind. Boys usually like books about real things – trucks, animals, etc. while girls tend to like fantasy books. Also, use expression or different voices when reading dialogue to make the story interesting.

Cuddle up with your children tonight and read a book!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

TV and Very Young Children

Television is a huge part of family life in the United States. Most households have three or more televisions and in the average American home, the television is on about six hours a day.

Television is a big part of children’s lives, too. Recent research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (2005) found that nearly 60% of children under the age of two watch TV on a typical day for an average of two hours each day. Nearly 40% of children ages six and under live in a house where the TV is “always or mostly” on, even if no one is watching.

For years, television programming for children was aimed at preschoolers and older children. Research showed that some educational programs could help three, four and five year old children build their vocabulary and develop language and thinking skills.

New programs are now targeting toddlers and even infants. Current research shows that children under the age of two do pay attention to programs that are made for them, but that babies and toddlers do not seem to learn much from TV, while they do learn more from live interactions with people. In fact, watching TV or having TV on in the background may even interfere with a child’s cognitive development and ability to focus.

Researchers admit that not much is known about the impacts of media on the very youngest children, and certainly more research is needed. But in the meantime, parents who want their children to watch TV may want to choose high-quality educational programs and make sure to balance these with time for just plain playing and talking together. That’s how young children learn best.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

School Bus Safety

The school bus is a very safe way for your children to get to and from school. In fact, school buses may be the safest vehicle on the road. Very few deaths and injuries to children involve a school bus.

Most mishaps take place outside the bus, so here are some precautions you and your children can take if they ride the bus to school.

• Don’t let your children arrive at the bus stop too early. They may be tempted to get into mischief while waiting for the bus.

• Make sure your children know what to do if they miss the bus; come back home; or if at school, report to a teacher – and never accept a ride from a stranger.

• If the stop is a long way from home, plan and talk with your child where they can go in an emergency.

• Make sure they wait well away from the road way, and stay well back until the bus comes to a full stop and the door opens.

• Set a rule that there is no running, pushing or horseplay while waiting, getting on or getting off the bus.

• Tell your children to come straight home from the bus – no detours.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Retirement and Family Life

Are you or is someone in your family approaching retirement age? Many experts define retirement as stopping work at some prescribed age. The age that many Americans define as retirement age is 65, the same age that individuals who were born in or before 1937 are eligible to receive full Social Security benefits from the U.S. government.

However, the eligibility age to receive full social security benefits for individuals born in or after 1960 is age 67. Persons born between the years of 1937 and 1960 are eligible to receive benefits that are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before their full retirement age. Whether a person chooses to retire at 65 or 55, this is a major life change. You may start receiving benefits as early as 62 or as late as 70.

As a general rule, early or late retirement will give you about the same total Social Security benefits over your lifetime. If you retire early, the monthly benefit amounts will be smaller to take into account the longer period you will receive them. If you retire late, you will get benefits for a shorter period of time but the monthly amounts will be larger to make up for the months when you did not receive anything.

Adjusting to retirement comes naturally to some people, while others find it more difficult. A persons’ health, mobility, financial resources, social ties, and the reason why a person retired all affect how a person handles retirement.

Some people go through an identity crisis, because work no longer provides a source of self-esteem and self-respect. Other retirees delve deeper into different aspects of their life, such as leisure activities, and continue or redefine their family roles of parent, grandparent, spouse or sibling.

Some retirees develop new interests or have more time to spend on lifelong hobbies. It may be time to go on the overdue family vacation, to take time to pass down family recipes, or to teach a grandchild a new skill. Many retirees develop their time to volunteering in their communities; maybe in their grandchild’s classroom at school, or by adopting a foster grandchild in the community.

Families can support a new retiree in so many ways. By incorporating them into daily family life, the whole family can benefit from retirement at any age!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ways to Keep your Teen Safe

The following research-based tips can help encourage teens to talk with you about cyberbullying and sexual solicitation, as well as keep your teens from being victims or perpetrators.

• Get access to "parental block" software that protects your child from exploring inappropriate websites. There are many options you can find by typing "free Internet blocking software" into a search engine (for example, Google).

• Keep computers with Internet access in a centralized location in the home, not in your child's bedroom and set limits on data access on your teen's cell phone.

• Check your child's computer and data use history. (Type in "Internet monitoring software for parents" on a search engine—some options are specifically geared toward monitoring your child's activity on social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace).

• Negotiate rules with your teen on cell phone use with regard to text and media messaging, and online data access.

• Set a family Internet and data use policy. Define the ground rules for Internet use, such as scheduled times, permissible websites, and limitations on cyber communication with familiar peers or close friends.

• When setting cyberspace rules, consider how vulnerable your child might be to sexual solicitation and cyberbullying. Base your decision on his or her life circumstances as well as age and stage of development. For example, rules for Internet use for children should be more restrictive than those set for teens.

• Because they value privacy, be prepared to enforce set consequences when teens fail to observe a "family Internet policy" (for example, teens can be held responsible for fixing damages from computer viruses or paying for data minutes overages) and setting appropriate limits and fair consequences.

• Teach your child what cyberbullying is and give some specific examples of what to look for; help them learn to identify and interpret information shared or comments made by the predator. Kids will often think they are the only ones experiencing this and that they should be able to handle it.

• Educate your teen about potential dangers of cyber communication and sharing information. It is very easy for a predator to learn where the child lives and goes to school from only a little bit of information.

• Help teens to role-play effective ways to respond to sexual solicitation and cyberbullying.

• If an incident involving victimization of your teen occurs, reassure him or her that Internet access will not be forever discontinued, nor will their cell phone be confiscated, unless such measures are deemed temporarily necessary for their immediate safety.

To down load the UF Extension publication For Teen Safety in Cyberspace, written by Kate Fogarty, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida go to:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Children's Fears

Fear is common among children. While some of this can be a good thing, such as being afraid of large dogs or busy streets, too much fear can be a problem. A child with too much fear may be afraid to participate in normal activities.

Some fears can develop because your child knows someone who is afraid. For example, if you panic whenever there is a spider in the house, your child may learn to fear spiders. Don’t tell them their fears are ridiculous or make fun of them.

It helps to learn how each of your children show their fears. Some children will suck their thumb. Some will fidget. Some will whine and complain. Some will completely fall to pieces. It’s important for children to learn to talk about all of their feelings, including fear. When a child looks as if he is scared, you can say, “You are biting your fingernails. Does that mean you feel scared?”

Fears exist because children know a little bit about something but not enough about it to deal with it realistically. Help children learn about the things that scare them. Find books that can help answer some of their questions, such as why fire trucks have sirens, what spiders can do, or thunder and lightning.

Recognize courage when you see it. For example, you could say, “When we walked by the dog, you didn’t ask to be picked up, but just held my hand. Good for you, you are getting brave.”

Suggest ways to help your child cope with fear. If your child is scared of the dark, try a night light or flash light that your child can control. If he is afraid of the bathtub drain, let him be the one to pull the plug on the count of three after he gets out of the water. Limit time watching TV, particularly the news or violent and/or horror shows.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Women and Diabetes

As a busy mom have you ever said; “I know I should get a check-up, but I just can't find the time?" At all ages, women are usually the primary caregivers for their families, but all too often they don't take time to take care of themselves. This can lead to serious problems, especially when a condition like diabetes is left undetected.

Diabetes affects an estimated 9 million women in the U.S., and about 1 in 3 are unaware that they have the disease (United States Food and Drug Administration, 2002). Left untreated, diabetes can cause health complications such as blindness, amputations, kidney disease, and heart disease. The good news is that controlling blood sugar can decrease risk for these conditions, but women need to first be aware that they have the disease.

More women than men have diabetes, because they live longer and are more likely to be overweight. Diabetes risk increases with age, although type 2 diabetes is occurring in younger and younger people as obesity rates increase.

The Food and Drug Administration's Office of Women's Health has an educational campaign called Take Time to Care About Diabetes which teaches women about diabetes risk factors and warning signs, and encourages them to get tested for the disease. More information about diabetes is available at To do the best for ourselves and for our families, we all should take time to care about our health.

Download a list of diabetes resources at:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Time Management for Today's Kids

In an age of busy lifestyles and two career families and single-parent families, parents spend a lot of energy trying to manage their time more effectively. However, we rarely consider how important it is to manage our children's time as well.

Busy work and home schedules emphasize the importance of working efficiently on the job, and parenting efficiently at home. It would be silly to parent our children the way a manager supervises employees. However, helping your children structure their day makes it easier for everyone to get things done. It also makes the time we spend with our children more enjoyable.

Just as parents transition from the work to home environment, today's children are frequently shuttled from home to school to day care to activities then back to home again.

It is during these transition times -- the times when kids are between activities -- that they are most likely to misbehave. "Idle hands are the devil's playground," may be a cliche, but it holds some truth. Kids rarely misbehave when they are absorbed in enjoyable or challenging activities. However, as we all know, it's impossible to keep a child involved in these types of activities all day long.

This report provides advice to parents on managing their child's time. It focuses on critical transition times across a child's daily life when parents say they have the most problems.

Most parents find that by using strategies such as checklists, streamlining morning routines and structuring their child’s after-school time, they are able to increase the amount of time spent on positive interactions with their children while greatly reducing the amount of time they spend punishing and scolding their children.

Download a copy of the UF Extension publication “Time Management for Kids” by Garret D. Evans, which includes practical tips for parents at:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Planning Healthy Family Meals

How many times a week do you hear, “What's for dinner?” After a long, sometimes demanding day, this can be a stressful question for busy moms and dads. Try to overcome the temptation of picking up fried chicken on the way home or ordering pizza; these options are unhealthy and can be expensive. Instead, start planning your meals ahead of time. Planning meals helps you save time, money, and energy. Also, planning meals helps you prepare healthy meals at home. For example, when you write out your meals, it is easier to see if your family is eating a variety of food choices, nutrient-dense foods, and the right amounts of foods for good nutrition.

Planning healthy meals is important and should be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid Food Guide recommendations. The following tips from Isabel Valentín-Oquendo, senior dietician, College of Medicine-OBGYN/WIC program, and Claudia Peñuela, EFNEP nutrition assistant, Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences Department at the University of Florida are helpful:

• Select more nutrient-dense foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They give you the nutrients you need with relatively fewer calories than other choices in the same food group. Examples include fat free milk instead of whole milk and fruit instead of fruit pastry.

• Try to add whole grains to each meal to achieve the daily recommendations.

• Try to eat fruits, and dark green and orange vegetables, with at least one meal per day.

• Choose one cup of milk or an equivalent from the milk group, like yogurt, at each meal. Choose fat-free or low-fat versions.

• Use meat alternatives, such as dried beans and peas, as often as possible.

• Combine meat or chicken with beans to increase fiber in your diet.

• Reduce or replace recipes items that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugars.

• Serve salads with your lunch or your dinner.

• Substitute fruit salads for a dessert, or add a fruit to each meal.

Be sure to choose foods that are colorful, flavorful, and that have different textures and shapes. This makes the meal more interesting