1. Overcoming Jealousy

    Jealousy is something we all experience. In many ways it can be helpful, as it can drive us to achieve on the same level as someone else. However, as with most negative emotions, kids often need help managing their jealous impulses. How can parents be of assistance?

    Jealousy can take many forms, and the first step in dealing with your child’s jealousy is identifying its nature. Many younger children get jealous of others’ possessions and privileges. Siblings will often fight over who gets to use Mom’s iPad or who gets to control what’s on the TV. In many of these cases, it’s your role to step in as the impartial referee. Put a simple system in place and enforce it: time sessions on the iPad to ensure fairness, and alternate control of the remote on the breaks between TV shows.

    If you find yourself refereeing huge numbers of showdowns, you may need to plan some activities that will encourage your kids to work cooperatively. You should also ask your children whether the object of their jealousy is really appealing, or whether it’s just appealing because a sibling or friend owns it. This can open their eyes to the role jealousy plays in distorting their feelings.     

    As kids get older, they often experience jealousy towards their peers. You may hear your child say something like “I wish I was as good at math as Clara” or “why is everyone on the baseball team better than me?” These are great times to illustrate the power of hard work to your kids. If they express dismay at their inability to do something, help them practice it. Let them harness that jealousy and turn it into self-improvement. Plot a practical path to improvement with them – and cheerlead along the way.

    But what if your little baseball player really has no hope of getting as good as the other kids?

    Jealousy regarding things one cannot change, or jealousy regarding inadequacies, real or perceived, can be the hardest to overcome. These jealousies don’t stem from wanting what someone else has as much as low self-esteem. In these situations, parents should try to help their children build self-esteem and confidence. Praise them, but praise them honestly. Remind your kids about the things they are good at, and ask them whether it really matters if they’re not as good at something else.

    Lastly, ask your child to try and accept the things they truly can’t change. This is the last and most important step in overcoming jealousy, and a major milestone in their maturity. 

     

  2. Summers Plans Start Now!

    Summer is a few months away, but smart parents know that now is the time to start planning. During the school year everyone is busy with schoolwork, sports, and a host of other activities. Summer grinds all that to a halt. Many families enjoy the change of pace as it allows for more family time. But if kids don’t have stuff to do, they get bored. And if they get bored, they get cranky. And if they get cranky…well, you know the rest. No one likes spending summer days cooped up at home, so check out how you can start planning an activity-packed summer for your kids!

    When the temperature starts to rise, any place with a strong air conditioner is a treat to visit. If there’s an art or history museum in your area, chances are they have a program for children. These programs often reasonably priced, since most museums are non-profit organizations. Local libraries often put together reading and other activity groups for kids. Even if your child doesn’t like the idea of being in a “class” over the summer, encourage them to check out the list of programs with you. Many are way more fun than what they’d be doing in school, and can encourage their interests in a more personalized way than school.     

    Local pools, lakes, beaches, and other waterside attractions are perennial summertime favorites. But, like anything, if you do watersports, it’s worth doing the right way. If your children don’t swim yet, now is the time to sign them up for lessons. Look online for local pools and classes. Your children will thank you when they’re outswimming their peers.  

    Whether going on a hiking trip in the mountains or a jaunt to the beach, summer is the time to plan trips with the family. There are many low-cost options for outdoor trips, but whether it’s gas for the car or a new tent, family trips all end up costing something. If you start planning summer trips now, it’ll allow you to budget more effectively – which means extra money for ice cream.

    Even if you plan summer trips every weekend, you’ll still probably end up at home a lot with your kids. Stocking up on books, movies, video games, board games, and other in-home activities our kids can do when you’re not around is a smart move. What’s more, now is the time to get summer wear at the biggest discounts of the year. Swim trunks, anyone?

     

  3. Let’s Get Gardening!

    Though spring’s full bloom is yet to come, those of us with green thumbs have already started gathering the tools and supplies we will need for our gardens. But did you know that gardening can be a great teaching tool for kids? Gardening lets them see firsthand the connection between the food they eat and the natural world around them. It also helps them develop the skills to care for another living thing.

    If kids become interested the biology and climate science of gardening, it can become a great tool for teaching science. Other kids are more enticed by the colors and flavors of plant life, which gives you a great platform for teaching about cooking and healthy eating. Gardening also teaches more general skills like responsibility and seeing things through. It’s a great way to show that a bit of effort and care every day will produce something worthwhile.  

    Besides the educational benefits, gardening is a fun way to spend some time as a family. Kids take great pride when the whole family sits around the table and eats something that has herbs or veggies they helped grow. Try letting your kids name the plants – that way, it’s easier to see them as living beings with distinct characteristics.

    And don’t think that gardening only applies to suburbanites with backyards; apartment dwellers can beautify their home with plants just as well. Anywhere with some space and sufficient light in your apartment can become a miniature garden. Windowsills, fire escapes, and roofs are all popular spots. Many herbs, such as mint, basil, oregano, and tarragon, and some vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, don’t require any specialized gardening skills to grow. All you really need is a bit of space, a planter, dirt, and a watering can.

    If gardening is not an option in your home, look into community gardens. These local cooperative food gardens are springing up in communities across the country, and have been endorsed my Michelle Obama and others. They’re a great way to dip your feet into the gardening world, meet some other parents and kids, and teach your kids some valuable lessons.

     

  4. Limiting Sugar Intake

    Parents want their kids to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Eating fruits and vegetables, limiting fat intake, and keeping tabs on portion sizes is an excellent way of doing this, and standard procedure for most parents. One thing that frequently sneaks under parental radar, however, is sugar. According to Forbes magazine, the average American child consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar a day. The American Medical Association suggests no more than 9 – and that’s for adults!

    Should you limit your child’s sugar intake? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Refined sugar has no nutritional value. Sugar has been linked to obesity, nervousness, acne, fatigue, diabetes, and a host of other conditions. The less sugar any person takes in, the better, but for children, sugar is doubly damaging because they’re learning eating habits now that will follow them through life.

    Most parents are aware that sugar is not something they should be feeding their children. So how does so much make it into our kids’ diets? The two biggest culprits are sugary drinks and sweet snacks. Most parents would not knowingly let their kid eat 10 teaspoons of sugar, yet one can of Coke contains precisely that much. Sport drinks, fruit drinks, and flavored waters are equally as saccharine.

    As a parent, it’s a good idea to check the labels. Even seemingly healthy foods like kids’ yogurts and sorbet can contain tons of sugar. It doesn’t mean they can’t be part of your child’s diet at all, but it’s up to you to monitor overall sugar intake, and that means cutting down wherever you can.

    If you decide to limit your child’s sugar intake, it’s a good idea to do it gradually. A slow taper from sugary foods to healthier ones has a better chance of succeeding than a crash diet approach. Try replacing sodas with water, seltzer, or homemade drinks. Ice tea is great because you can choose a flavor your kids will love and limit sugar to one teaspoon per glass. If your child has a sweet tooth, point them to naturally sweet snacks like fresh and dried fruit.

    The earlier you start your children on the path of monitoring and limiting sugar intake, the healthier they will be for the rest of their lives. Having less sugar food in your home will be a boon to everyone’s health, including your own. 

     

  5. Making Time for Time Management

    Time management is an important life skill, and the earlier you can teach it to your kids, the better. Proper time management not only leads to better academic performance, it lets your kids free up time to do whatever they want, which reduces stress. But when and how do you start teaching your kids about managing time?

    Kids 10 - 13 years old typically have a basic understand of timing and deadlines. This is also around when academics and other activities can really start to pile on, overwhelming many kids, so it’s a good idea to start teaching time management before things get really hectic at school or at home. If you’re looking for a good time of year to teach time management, try teaching them around summer, the end of a school vacation, or any other generally slow time when they can devote some extra capacity to the project of time management.

    Ask your child to split up their upcoming deadlines and events into have-to-do and want-to-do tasks. Have-to-dos will be things like math homework or soccer practice, while want-to-dos will be things like playing video games or chatting with friends on the phone. This teaches them to prioritize.

    Once tasks and times have been divided, the more difficult part begins: making a schedule. Making a schedule can be tricky because it can be hard to determine how much time is needed nightly for a long-term project. A heavy load of homework one night can throw off the whole rest of the week’s schedule. Let your child know these are just estimates and they can always adjust things as they go. As time goes on, they should have a better idea of how long a given task will actually take. It helps to overestimate how much time a task will take, especially in the beginning. Any surplus time becomes time for want-to-do tasks.

    It’s important to get your child into the habit of constantly updating and adjusting their schedule. If they have a smartphone or tablet, make sure they’re using the calendar function, but if not, invest in a simple paper calendar for them. This makes it easier to keep track of due dates and social obligations so they’ll never miss a beat. One might think that keeping track of play dates is excessive, but it’s just as valid a way to learn time management as scheduling math homework.      

    Time management habits carry through kids’ college years and into their adult life. People with good time management skills experience less stress than their disorganized peers, because they find they actually have the time to relax. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

     

  6. Bedtime Means Bedtime

    Many kids will avoid going to sleep no matter how exhausted they are. They’ll argue with you while yawning and rubbing their eyes. If this is the situation in your household, you may wonder about whether your kids are really getting the sleep they need. What methods can you use to make sure your kids are getting to bed and sleeping enough?

    WebMD offers this handy breakdown for how much sleep kids should be getting: 3 – 6 year olds, 10 – 12 hours of sleep; 7 – 12 year olds, 10 – 11 hours of sleep; 12 – 18 year olds, 8 – 9 hours of sleep. These are rough guidelines that you can alter to suit your child’s needs. Trust your instincts; if your kids look tired all the time, they’re not getting enough sleep.

    No matter what age your kids are, it’s important to stick to a regular schedule for bedtime. If you make sure your child gets to bed and wakes up at the same time every day, they’ll begin to develop an internal rhythm. In a matter of weeks you won’t need to remind them about bedtime, because their biological clock will be primed for sleep. Being on a schedule also makes it easier to wake up in the morning.

    Even with a schedule in place, many children will bicker with you when night arrives, claiming they’re not tired. Why do kids do this? Sometimes the mind just doesn’t realize how tired the body is. Certain activities can exacerbate this problem. Screen time of any sort – computer, TV, mobile phone – often disrupts the process of winding down toward sleep. You may want to consider banning or limiting the use of such devices in the hour or two before bed. Replace screen time with activities more conducive to falling asleep, like reading a book or listening to music.

    Many kids, especially energetic ones, simply don’t get enough opportunities during the day to put their energy to good use. This can lead to genuine sleeplessness. Make sure your child is getting enough exercise. An hour or two at the park or playing in the backyard can make all the difference when it comes to bedtime. Limiting sugar and caffeine intake is another way to make sure your children feel sufficiently tired at night.

    If your kids are still not sleeping after taking these kinds of steps, contact your pediatrician to look into other sources of insomnia. But for most kids, these tips will suffice and they’ll be asleep in no time. 

     

  7. Keeping it Current

    When a major news event occurs – natural disaster, financial turmoil, political scandal – kids get curious, and most often it’s up to parents to explain what’s going on. But this process catches many parents off guard. Most news stories are very complex, so how do you simplify them for kids? Furthermore, the news can be pretty scary, so should you leave out gruesome or disheartening details? 

    Before you can approach these kinds of questions, it’s first important to get into a routine where you and your kids discuss current events regularly. Think about what times of day might be appropriate to start this discussion – some time when your kids are alert, but looking for something to do.  

    Sometimes one event is all it takes to get your child interested. A local news story can be a good entry point because it allows your child to put abstract news into the context of their life. Are there any stories brewing on a local level you think your child might find enlightening?  

    Once you find a news event you think will interest your child, collect some articles about it from the internet or newspapers. Make sure it’s juicy stuff, preferably with a video or two, and try to seek out a news event that seems to be ongoing, such as the debates on fracking or gun control. If your kids need more information, help them find new sources. Take them to the library or even on a field trip – show them that you support their quest for knowledge.  

    What if some news stories go way over your kid’s head? Not to worry. There are many kid-friendly online news resources out there, such as Dogo, Time for Kids, and Scholastic. These resources specialize in taking complex news events and breaking them down in relatable and understandable ways. Let your child read these, you read the grownup stuff, and then the two of you can discuss.


    When your kids get a bit older you can have even richer discussions about what certain issues mean to them, and how they think a given story is going to play out. But what about the darker side of the news? News stories of famine, genocide, and sectarian violence are never in short supply. Should you share these stories with your children? It depends on their age and maturity level, but eventually, yes. Your kids trust you as their confidant, the one with whom they can discuss anything. You can’t sugarcoat the dark stuff for them forever, but you can be there to discuss.    

    Lastly, be sure to encourage your kids to formulate their own opinions about current events. You don’t have to agree with them, but telling them there’s no room for their point of view is a sure way to snuff out their budding interest. If you continue to ask for your kids’ opinions, and keep challenging them to delve deeper into a story, before long your kids will be the ones filling you in about the subtle nuances of current events. That should be enough to make any parent proud!

     

  8. When Children & Pets Collide

    Your daughter is obsessed with her best friend’s Jack Russell terrier, who gives new meaning to the word “adorable.” Your toddler squeals with delight every time they see another Animal Planet special on fluffy kitties. The signs are all there – they want a pet. And while you have fond memories of Misty, your childhood cat, it can be expensive and time-consuming to add another member to your family. Having a pet can teach children valuable lessons in responsibility, compassion, and respect, but don’t take the decision lightly. Is your family ready?

    Your family dynamic, as well as your children’s ages, temperaments, and personalities, will go a long way in deciding if and when your family is ready for a pet. A busy family may not have the time to give an energetic puppy the training he needs. And while tiny kitties are undeniably cute, young children may mistake them for stuffed toys and play too rough. Everyone has a unique relationship with animals, so take your cues from your kids. And don’t assume just because you loved pets as a kid, your family will too.

    Adding a pet to the family is like adding another child. And like most children, animals do well in structured, routine environments. Having a set time to walk Zero or feed Champ makes it easy for children to get involved, and may even become something they look forward to. Younger kids can help pick a new toy for Izzy to use during playtime, while older ones can take turns cleaning cages or litterboxes. Caring for an animal gives children a sense of well-earned satisfaction and is an excellent way for them to see how their actions affect others.

    But what if your son promises you the moon for a dog, then decides feeding Wagsy isn’t that much fun? This is a perfect opportunity for you to have a talk with him about taking responsibility. Cooking after a long day at work isn’t always fun for you, but how would your child feel if you decided not to do it? We do all kinds things we may not particularly want to do for the people and animals we love, and realizing that is an important milestone for a child. While it’s ultimately up to you to make sure Wagsy doesn’t go hungry, it’s important for your child to realize that feeding Wagsy is an essential step to the privilege of having Wagsy around. And if you want to make feeding a pet more than a chore, try a friendly competition: have your kids take turns calling her to dinner, and see whose voice she responds to first. The good feeling that comes from knowing she recognizes the sound of their call will be its own sweet reward.

    Pets are a great source of companionship and love, and caring for them from newborn to full-grown adult can instill fundamental values like commitment, respect, and consideration in children. But knowing when your family is ready to take the big step, and preparing ahead for the challenges of pet ownership, will make you that much appreciative of the good times you’ll share with your animal companion.

    Sources:

    http://www.parenting.com/article/how-to-choose-a-pet?page=0,0

    http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/kids-and-pets/challenges-and-solutions.aspx

    http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/child-adolescent-psych/content/article/10168/2002051