1. Where Are All the Heroes?

    Every kid needs a hero, and it’s not always the kind with a flowing cape. Children are constantly on the lookout for role models of all kinds, and it’s important for you, as a parent, to help your children choose the right ones. Idolizing celebrities, fictional characters, and other kids is natural, but it’s fraught with the potential for disappointment and can easily get out of hand. Check out these helpful tips for helping your children choose positive role models.   

    Kids sometimes look up to actors, pop stars, and characters just because these figures happen to be on TV or the Internet a lot. You may think these kinds of role models are meaningless, but should you tell your child that? Probably not. Better to emphasize the positive attributes of the hero your child has chosen. Say your child’s role model is a pop star with killer dance moves and really annoying songs. You can still point out the hard work the star must have gone through with all those dance rehearsals. Better yet, ask your child to identify the qualities they admire in their role model. Their answer may surprise you.

    What do you do if your child’s role model goes down in flames? Sometimes celebrity role models make poor personal choices, landing them in court, rehab, or worse. Remind your child that everyone makes mistakes. Ask what your child thinks of their role model’s behavior, or what they would have done differently in the same situation. Ask if they think their role model has learned anything, or become a better person from the experience. Most importantly, tell your child they shouldn’t feel they must do everything the role model does – only what they admire.

    Many children look up to a schoolmate, friend, or older sibling. It’s great for kids to actually know their heroes, but it’s also important to keep peers off too high a pedestal. Occasionally, a school bully or class clown can become an object of admiration for their power or popularity. If you have concerns that your child is emulating the lesser qualities of a peer role model, work with your child to identify why those qualities aren’t cool. Explain that a role model should make them feel good about themselves, not afraid or lame by comparison.

    Despite all the heroes out there, parents still have a tremendous influence as role models. Even if your child won’t readily admit it, they probably look up to you a lot more than anyone they see on TV. So make sure you’re offering an example they can emulate with pride. That way, when kids go looking for a hero, they don’t have to look very far.







  2. Dear Diary

    We know your kids get up to some pretty interesting stuff every day. Don’t you wish they kept track of it all? Maybe it’s time they started keeping a journal. Keeping a journal is as simple as putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), and it’s a fluid activity that can be tailored to any child’s specific interests and personality. But journaling isn’t just fun – it can aid your child’s development more than you might think.

    There are lots of reasons to encourage your child to start journaling. Not only does it help strengthen vocabulary, grammar, and penmanship skills, it also promotes an introspective thought process that can be beneficial when kids are stressed or upset. Knowing that they have an arena in which to explore their interests, or a safe haven for their most private thoughts, will also help kids develop confidence and healthy coping strategies.

    So how do you get kids to start journaling? First, make sure they know it’s an activity for everybody, young and old, boys and girls. If your little boy thinks diaries are “just for girls”, make sure to dispel that notion by telling him about all the important men, from political figures like Thomas Jefferson to explorers such as Benjamin Clark, who kept a journal. Try starting younger kids off with a focused idea, such as keeping a journal about an upcoming family vacation. Set aside a few minutes each day for them to record their thoughts about the trip; once you’re home, have them paste maps, ticket stubs, and other keepsakes into the back of the book. Of course, not all journals have to be so specific. Freeform writing is extremely beneficial to kids, whether it’s one sentence or one page a day.

    One of the best things about journaling is its privacy, but sometimes it takes a conscious effort to keep a journal away from prying eyes. For older kids who are on social media sites like Facebook, it’s tempting to post lots of personal status updates and photos, which is cool, but it’s not quite the same as a journal. Be sure to remind budding social media mavens that what goes on the web stays on the web – permanently. They should carefully consider the differences between what they write for the world to see, and what stays private. And always remember: your child’s private journal is off-limits unless they give you permission to read it.    

    Everyone needs a space to reflect, and as children grow older they’ll realize more and more the value of creating a journal all about their interests, hopes, and ambitions. If you kept a journal when you were younger, dig it up and check it out. Better yet, share it with your child. Perhaps this will inspire them to start their own.






  3. Fall Fun for Everyone

    The sun is setting earlier, the grill is in storage, and you’ve swapped out tank tops and shorts for cardigans and corduroys. There’s no doubt about it – summer is officially over. And though your kids may be counting down the days until they can jump in the pool again, the cool days of autumn are packed with their own kind of fun. From pumpkin picking to easy arts and crafts, here are a few autumn activities the whole family can enjoy.

    The transition from summer to autumn is a visible one; leaves go from vibrant green to an array of fiery reds, oranges, and golds, and once-blooming flowers go dormant until next spring. It’s the perfect opportunity to take a nature walk with younger children to explore all the fascinating changes taking place, from birds migrating south to animals storing food in preparation for winter. Take turns collecting leaves, pointing out the differences in them as you go along. Decorate the house with rubbed drawings of the best leaves you find – just place a piece of paper over the leaf and gently rub a crayon or pencil until its outline appears.

    With Halloween right around the corner, older children may want to experience some of fall’s spookier activities. Find a haunted house with a reputation for mild scares, or, if there isn’t one nearby, take a trip to a craft store for supplies to turn your own home into a ghostly residence.

    Just like summer, half the fun of fall is being outside. Want your kids to help out raking leaves? Tell them whoever rakes the biggest pile gets to jump in it afterwards. Many towns have local harvest festivals or autumn fairs, so check if there’s one nearby and make it a fun afternoon trip. Visit a pumpkin patch and see who can pick the biggest one; afterwards, you can scoop it out and carve a jack-o-lantern, and roast the seeds for an extra treat.

    Apple picking is another great outing for the whole family, especially since many orchards also have fun rides and activities for younger children. Use the apples in pies, cakes, and other fall desserts that you can share with family and friends. You can also take advantage of the cooler weather by trying out recipes for hearty soups and stews, many of which are kid-friendly, one-pot dishes. Fall can be the perfect time to spark kids’ interest in cooking and have some fun times in the kitchen.

    With a little planning and creative thinking, these next few months can be about a lot more than just Halloween and Thanksgiving. And after enjoying all the fun that only fall can bring, your kids may find themselves wishing it could last just a little bit longer.






  4. Ghosts, Goblins & Ghouls – Oh My!

    Halloween is one of the most fun times of the year – when else can you spend an entire month eating candy and dressing up in costume? Since Halloween parties are a great way to get friends and family together for a night of scarily good food, fun, and fashion, here are a few simple ideas to make your eerie get-together the best yet.

    Picking a Halloween costume is a childhood ritual whose enjoyment lasts well into adulthood. Buying a costume ensures a quick and speedy transformation into whatever superhero or fantasy character kids may choose, but if you have the time, making a costume from scratch can provide a lifetime of fun memories. For no-sew costumes, use an oversized sweatshirt as a base on which to draw, pin, or hot glue a variety of accessories and decorations. But whether you decide to buy or DIY, make sure the costume is easy to get on and off, and fits properly – too-loose costumes can pose a safety hazard.

    Half the fun of Halloween parties is making your home look as spooky as possible. Carving a pumpkin is a traditional Halloween activity for a reason – it’s fun! Think you’re pretty handy with a pumpkin carving knife? Use your imagination to create one-of-a-kind pumpkins that reflect the personalities of your children and family members.  If you need other decorations, visit your local craft store for supplies like plastic spiders, string, and glitter. Loop the string around a pumpkin like a cobweb, and pop on a few spiders for a creepy crawly table centerpiece, or carefully cover the pumpkin in glue and glitter for a glitzier look.  

    No party is complete without a spread of snacks, and Halloween is a great opportunity to give some of your kids’ favorite foods a ghoulish makeover. Turn a familiar hot dog into an unearthly “mummy dog” by wrapping it in thin slices of crescent roll dough, and baking until the dough resembles a mummy’s bandages. Pipe a cobweb of sour cream onto a bowl of salsa or nacho dip, or make a “candy corn” pizza with mozzarella in the middle and cheddar around the edge. Black and orange cookies (instead of black and white) and pumpkin cupcakes are easy desserts that everyone is sure to love.

    Trick-or-treating is another Halloween rite of passage, but make sure kids know your ground rules. Young children should never go out unless accompanied by an adult. All treats should be examined before consumption, and no matter how delicious they look or smell, homemade items should be ignored in favor of wrapped, store-bought candies. Wearing reflective tape on a costume will alert drivers when kids cross the street, which they should always do with the help of an adult.

    Celebrating Halloween can create long lasting memories of family bonding and excitement. And with a little planning, patience, and organization, you can make your annual Halloween party a treasured family tradition. 






  5. Tutoring: Success without Stigma

    Maybe it was a few bad test grades. Maybe they’re in a big class and not getting the attention they need. Whether your child is struggling in school or just looking to boost their academic performance, it might be time to consider tutoring options. There are now lots of different ways kids can seek help outside of school, perhaps more than when you were a student. Check out these helpful ideas.

    If your child shows signs that they’re not as confident in a subject, don’t wait to start a tutoring program. Just like adjusting to a new teacher, it can take time to develop a relationship with a tutor, so the earlier you choose your child’s tutor, the better. Finding a tutor when your child is already failing a class can sometimes cause more stress.

    Should you or another family member be your child’s tutor? Maybe. But keep in mind educators today may teach a subject very differently than the way you learned it. Also, though you may not mean to, parents can put pressure on kids about grades, and this can be discouraging for a child whose personal goal is just to “get it” not necessarily to get an A. Sometimes it’s best to leave tutoring to people outside your family, because outsiders are more likely to teach the subject in a no-pressure kind of way. 

    For older students and complex academic subjects, professional tutors might be right. Just know, they can be expensive, so you may want to save this option for serious academic problems. If you wish to hire a professional tutor, make sure they’re from an accredited service. Not sure about which tutoring service is best?  Ask your school or local library about programs and methods they might recommend – perhaps there’s even a free community group or afterschool program you didn’t know about.

    Many kids find peer assistance the right solution. College students make great tutors and mentors for teens, and high schoolers can help middle school kids. Consider the older kids in your family’s social circle, especially ones your child looks up to. If you think one of them might make a good tutor, don’t hesitate to ask them. They might do it as a favor to you, but consider giving them a fee (could be money, could be dinner) for their tutoring assistance – just to let them know it means a lot to you and your child.

    If your child finds other classmates who are struggling with the same subject, they might prefer group work or “study dates” to more formal tutoring. Be sure to give this a chance, because some kids really work better in a group. Just make sure that if kids say they’re doing work, video game breaks are kept to a minimum.     

    Whichever tutoring option you choose, keep apprised of your child’s progress. Make sure to check in with them after their tutoring sessions. Be patient, but if progress is really slow, don’t hesitate to try another tutoring option. Most importantly, make sure your student knows you’re proud of them for giving some extra attention to their studies. It can take guts to say, “I need help with this class.” Make sure they get the help that’s right for them.   \






  6. Avoiding Gender Stereotypes

    It probably started at your baby shower. If a girl was on the way, you got piles of pink; if a boy, you got bundles of blue. And from the moment your little one was born, their gender has influenced how people treat them. Studies show that adults describe a newborn wearing pink as “sweet” or “feminine”, but that same baby in blue is “sturdy” or “vigorous.” But your little one is unique, so how can you make sure they aren’t defined by narrow gender stereotypes?

    Remember, kids are learning from you at all times, which means the biggest influence on kids’ ideas about gender is what they see at home. If you and your partner enact traditional gender roles, get creative! Show your child that men cook and women fix things. Spend time with friends whose households are different from yours. Comment positively on people who do jobs not typical for their gender, such as male nurses. And ask your child what they think: “That boy grew up to be a nurse. What do you think you’ll grow up to do?”

    When it’s time to play, consider gender neutral options. Keep toys like blocks and crayons in rotation with dolls and trucks. Read books together with a child of the opposite gender as the main character. Invite a child of the opposite gender over to play – both kids will be amazed how much they dig each other’s stuff!

    Did you know that the compliments you give kids can affect how they perceive gender? Girls in particular receive a lot of specifically feminine encouragement. Adults are more likely to compliment a girl on her looks, clothes, and hair than they are a boy. Similarly, boys are often encouraged to be less emotional because “big boys don’t cry.” Try to compliment children on what they do or say rather than how adorable they are (that’s the hard part!), and help them feel safe sharing their feelings. As kids get older, they’ll probably be thinking a lot about what being a boy or a girl means to them. As always, encourage them to be open and honest with their feelings and questions.

    Shopping trips can be a great opportunity to explore what kids feel good wearing, regardless of the garment’s “intended” gender. Some stylish choices, like skinny jeans, can even walk the line between genders. Keep in mind many kids clothing brands offer unisex styles – check out our selection! And remember, it’s great to be a tough guy or a girly girl if that’s what your kid desires. It’s all about encouraging them to be whatever they want to be.


  7. Making the Grade

    It goes without saying that getting good grades is important. Parents and teachers know they’re the key to everything from college admissions to important scholarships – even future careers. But since explaining all that to your 4th grader who’d rather watch iCarly than do her math homework is easier said than done, here are a few simple strategies. Following these tips will make this school year the Year of the Great Report Card.

    First off, it’s important to define just what a good grade means for your child. They should strive to do their best, and realize that they shouldn’t compare their scores to anyone else’s. If they put a lot of time and effort into homework and studying, a B on a particularly hard test can be just as rewarding as an A.

    Kids will find it easier to grasp the practical implications of good grades when you put the issue in terms they understand. Instead of telling them how a high score on this week’s math test could mean admission to a great college later on, show them how studying now means they’ll have free time later to watch a movie. Knowing your child’s motivations for doing well will help you establish guidelines for homework and studying that will result in better grades and a happier child. Consider implementing a rewards or bonus system to honor their hard work; it could be anything from an extra hour of TV to a special day out with Dad. Whatever you choose, though, be sure to follow through promptly.

    Creating consistent conditions and clear expectations will go a long way in helping kids achieve their goals. Establish a “homework zone” that’s free of distractions, and set a specific time every day for kids to work on projects, test preparation, and take-home work. Getting them to into a habit of doing their work when it’s assigned has several benefits; not only will it help prevent the dreaded “night-before” scenario, it’ll also help them become more organized and confident. Showing an interest in their studies and keeping tabs on their performance is a small but significant way to communicate the value of good grades.

    Instilling positive work habits in your kids will take some time, but talking about it right now is a good way to get them thinking about how they want to approach the new school year. They already have new clothes and maybe a new pair of shoes or two – why not better grades to go along with them?