1. Road Trips with Kids

    Jumping in the car and going on a summer adventure is a time honored tradition. But as fun as road tripping can be, having kids in the car, especially young kids, can be taxing. The constant noise, bickering, and requests for pit stops are enough to drive even the most patient parents insane. What can you do to make sure your long distance summer travel goes smoothly?

    Make sure kids have a lot to do in the car. Heavy luggage should go in the trunk, but make sure each kid has a compact carry-on bag as well. Help each child pack their bag with things like books, art supplies, an iPod, handheld gaming device, and anything else that can reliably distract them. Make sure everyone has their own stuff so the kids don’t argue over a coveted toy.

    Make sure your kids have what they need to entertain themselves, but also plan some group activities. Family games like I Spy or 20 Questions can help pass the time. Make use of your car’s stereo system. There’s plenty of family-friendly audio content out there, such as podcasts, audiobooks, and language learning programs. If you have some free time before the trip, go to a record store with the whole family. This will ensure that everyone has some fresh tunes to contribute.

    Nothing fails to annoy parents like young passengers’ persistent need to stop. This is usually brought on by a mix of boredom and legitimate needs to eat or use the facilities. Curbing boredom will go a long way toward limiting these stops. Make sure to also have snacks and drinks on hand for the kids – fruits, nuts, and energy bars are popular choices. Avoid sugary drinks, as these are more likely to make young passengers have to pee.

    With a bit of planning ahead, the car ride can be the highlight of any trip. Just make sure the kids stay comfortable and entertained – that way you can enjoy the ride, too. Safe travels!

     

  2. Beyond Summer Reading

    Does your child dread summer reading? If they don’t like the assigned books, that’s one thing, but if they’re not interested in reading at all, there may be a problem. Often it takes a parent’s guidance to ignite a child’s passion for reading. Luckily, summer is the perfect time to transform your child from a reluctant reader to an avid one. But how?  

    Reading to your child from an early age is a great way to get them hooked. Choose a book you think your child will love and read the first few chapters aloud to them. If they seem to like the book, ask them to read a few chapters to you. Before you know it, they’ll be unable to wait and will zoom ahead in the story – the desired effect.

    You may need to try a few books before you find one that captures your child’s imagination. Once you do, make a mental note of what kinds of stories they like: stories with a plucky female heroine? Stories about adventures on the high seas? Suspenseful stories? Stories about magic? If you can crack the code to your child’s reading interests, it’ll make a trip to the library or bookstore a lot more fruitful. 

    It doesn’t have to be a book that introduces your child to a story or character. If your child loved the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, introduce them to the books next. Pique their interest by telling them the movie is only a small part of the story – which is usually true. To get the full picture they need to read.

    If your child loves being online, you can make reading a multimedia, interactive experience. Have your child go online and connect with other fans of a book. There are lots of activities they can do to flush out the story, like drawing scenes or characters from the book, writing their own fan fiction, or even dressing up like their favorite characters.

    Your encouragement and interest will make it much easier for your child to develop a lifelong love of reading. Try to read some of the same books as them. Ask about their opinions on the story, what they expect to happen next, and what they would change if they were the author. Their answers may surprise you!    

     

  3. Throw an Affordable Summertime Birthday Party!

    Summer birthdays are a blessing and a curse for kids. It’s ideal to have a bright, warm day on your birthday, but on the other hand, it can be much harder to organize a party with friends when you don’t see everyone at school every day. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort on your part to make your child’s summer birthday special. If you’re trying to help organize a great summer birthday for your child, check out these party ideas. 

    Homemade Waterpark: Going to a waterpark is fun, but it’s not ideal for a birthday party. Not only are waterparks expensive, their size makes it difficult to keep track of a group of unruly kids. Fortunately, you can bring the waterpark to your backyard or local park. Get some water balloons for throwing, soap up a tarp for a homemade slip and slide, and make some homemade bubble blowing solution. Sprinklers are great for running through, or poke holes in an old garden hose for the same effect.    

    Painting Party: If your little one is a creative type, a painting party will bring lots of smiles. All you need to do is put out some paints, markers, paper, and other art supplies. Create funny masks and frames for adorable photo opportunities. Buy or build one big canvas that all the kids can collaborate on. Best of all, the pictures, drawings, and paintings your party guests create become memorable party favors!  

    Backyard Camping: If you have a spacious backyard, you can pitch a tent and build a campfire there. A rented campsite might run you $20 a night, but that’s pretty reasonable for a big group. Pitch a couple of tents or, if the weather permits, sleep under the stars. Make a fire, break out all the fixings for s’mores, and enjoy some quality time around the campfire. Don’t forget to brush up on your campfire stories!

    Trivia Bowl: Summer is traditionally when kids let their minds atrophy, so whip them back into shape with a trivia bowl! You can find age-appropriate questions online. Make sure to include a mix of knowledge categories to appeal to everyone. For a real multimedia experience, try incorporating video and audio clips. Split your partygoers into teams and test their mental mettle. Winners get to be first in line for the sundae bar – after the birthday boy or girl, that is!

     

  4. What to Wear for Graduation

    Graduation season is here, and all the ceremonies and celebrations are an opportunity for kids of all ages to look their best. Whether your child is attending a graduation ceremony for a big brother or sister, or graduating themselves, now is the time to give some consideration to what they’ll wear.

    Before you jump into shopping, look through the information provided by your son or daughter’s school. Is there a graduation dress code? What is the policy on jewelry? Makeup? What do you think people in the audience will wear? Also take note of where the graduation takes place. Is the ceremony outdoors? How hot will it be? Chance of rain?

    Once you know a bit more about the ceremony you can start shopping. Suits for boys and party dresses for girls is standard graduation wear. If wearing a robe, kids only have to look dressy from the shins down: boys can wear their dress shoes and slacks with a T so they stay cool and comfortable during the ceremony; girls can wear dressy shoes with leggings or tights. After the ceremony ends and you snap some pics of the graduates in their robes, they can change into their full outfits.

    Make sure your graduate or attendee wears comfortable shoes (especially for girls who sometimes choose fashion over function). They’ll be wearing these shoes through the graduation ceremony, the celebratory meal afterwards, and graduation parties. You want them to be comfortable!

    What about choosing the actual dress or suit? If you’re picking out a first suit for your little guy, try to go for something versatile – could he wear it to a fancy dinner? A family wedding? Will your 8th grade girl’s graduation dress work as a prom dress in a few years? You know best about your child’s future plans, so choose dresswear that might work well for upcoming events.

    Once you and your child choose an appropriate graduation outfit, you can sit back and enjoy the event. Snap lots of pictures and take a moment to pat your child and yourself on the back for all your hard work. And don’t forget to thank their teachers, too. Happy graduation! 

     

  5. Negotiating with Kids

    When kids reach age 5 they enter what some parents call the “little lawyer” phase. Everything becomes a negotiation. They want just 15 more minutes of play before bed, or they outright refuse to eat certain foods. Parents often find themselves frustrated at the fact that every situation becomes a prolonged standoff. And it can be difficult to know when to put your foot down, when you should negotiate, and when to let your child ‘win’ the argument. Here are some tips for dealing with the little lawyer of your family.

    Softening an ultimatum with choices is a good way to avoid a fight or a more drawn-out negotiation. Instead of saying “Go clean your room!” try “What part of your room do you want to clean first?” or “What music do you want to put on while you clean your room?” Simply building some choice into your command can be enough to satisfy that budding need for independence.

    Take advantage or your child’s newly developing empathy when negotiating. If they refuse to eat the vegetables you cooked, turn the tables on them. Ask, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” or “How do you think I feel when you don’t eat the food I worked hard cooking for you?” This is precisely the kind of thinking you want to encourage in your child, and can often lead to a truce both sides can accept.

    However, you’ll have a hard time negotiating with your child if they don’t understand that you mean business. Let them assert their autonomy, but draw a clear line in the sand as to when you’re engaging in a negotiation and when you’re issuing a command. Giving your child some leeway to exercise choice and negotiation in certain cases will make a command that much more meaningful.

    Don’t forget to have some fun with negotiations. If your child wants 15 minutes more playtime tonight, let him or her plead their case. You may be surprised how convincing they can be!

     

  6. Tattle Battle!

    Is tattling a problem for your child? Do they tattle too much, or are they hesitant to share important problems for fear of being labeled a tattletale? As a parent, how do you keep tattling in check?

    Kids begin to tattle between ages 5 – 10. Many kids tattle because they’re testing out a newfound sense of wrong and right, which is ultimately an important part of their development. But they need your guidance to understand how to respond to certain kinds of wrongdoing.

    Playacting can be helpful here. Describe situations, like witnessing bullying or littering, then let your child decide whether they should alert an adult, intervene themselves, or just ignore the behavior. Make sure they’re aware of certain things they should always tell an adult.

    For some kids, tattling is a way to vent frustrations. They may not want you to do anything other than hear them out. In these cases, all you need to do is offer a sympathetic ear. Validate their feelings of anger towards a person or behavior. Let them know that even adults need to gripe sometimes.

    Don’t validate tattling, though. When kids tattle, you don’t want to reward them, but you also don’t want to scold them, punish them, or make them feel as if their concerns are being brushed aside. As a solution, don’t praise them for actually tattling. Instead, try praising them for being attentive. If you find they’re REALLY attentive, assign them something else to observe and relay to you. Ask them to look for 3 examples of kindness to report. Sure beats hearing about yet another playground name-calling incident.

    If you find the tattling habit persistent and hard to break, it may be tied to insecurity. Kids who feel unable to control their surroundings will sometimes engage in constant tattling because it makes them feel more powerful. This bad habit won’t exactly endear them to their peers or build their confidence. When they come to you to tattle, offer support and advice but resist the urge to get actively involved. Give praise when they are able deal with an issue on their own.   

     

  7. Putting an End to Picky Eating

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    Do your kids have certain foods they can’t stand? Is it a constant fight to get them to eat these foods? How do you win that fight? 

    The battle over eating habits usually starts when a child is around 2 years old. At this age, children begin developing preferences and realizing they have choices. Often being picky at the dinner table is simply a manifestation of this development.

    For parents trying to provide nutritious meals, however, it can be a nightmare.

    What’s the best thing to do when a child rejects certain kinds of food? Keep in mind this behavior is likely co-motivated by A) disliking the food and B) wanting to out how you’ll react. If your child refuses to eat something during dinner, ask them to please hang out at the table while the rest of the family eats. If they get hungry later, serve them something similar. Let them know they have the “right” to reject food, but doing so will not earn them a tastier option later.

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    Cater to your child’s need to make choices – in small ways. Serve broccoli, but leave it up to your child to decide what plate they get to eat it off of. Furthermore, offer them a choice of toppings like cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, or even ketchup. This allows your child to exercise their newfound autonomy without turning mealtime completely upside-down.

    Slightly older kids, in the 4 – 7 age range, are highly susceptible to peer influence, and you can use this to your advantage. Try putting your child in a situation where other kids his or her age will be eating a healthy variety of foods. Point out, subtly or not, that the people your child admires aren’t so picky. An older sibling, babysitter, or other role model can show the way.

    Don’t expect change overnight. If your child refuses to eat asparagus, it will take more than one meal to change their mind. Ask them to take just one bite of asparagus, even a lick or a nibble will do. It will take time, but eventually your child will grow to like a lot of the stuff you serve them – even healthy fare. And the sooner you can get your little one eating fruits and veggies regularly – even with a dab of ketchup here and there – the more likely they’ll be to adopt healthy habits for life.   

     

  8. 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. 

     

  9. 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?

     

  10. 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.