Predictability, Please: The Benefits of Establishing a Daily Routine

Parents & Kids Magazine
August 2011

View original publication

As summer vacation begins to wind down, your children may not be the only ones dreading the beginning of a new school year. Just the thought of getting up early again, getting to school and work on time, helping with homework, and managing bedtimes can leave you feeling exhausted. Taking the time to establish a routine for your children once school is back in session may just help to alleviate much of the stress and confusion.

Pediatricians, teachers, and yes, even your mother-in-law , stress the importance of routine and structure in a child’s life. Why? Let’s put things into perspective: As adults, we have some amount of control over certain aspects of our lives. We have the ability to make decisions about our schedules, workloads, appointments, and many other factors that affect us. Now, imagine if, from day-to-day, you never knew what to expect – where you were going, what you were doing, when you would eat, when you could rest. Eventually the stress of the unknown would take its toll.

Establishing a structured daily routine provides children with a sense of safety and security. This reduces anxiety, stress, and all those less-than-wonderful behavioral issues that can result (think temper tantrums). Knowing what to expect allows a child to exhibit more self-control, promotes self-esteem, and reassures him that his daily needs will be met. Eliminating stress at home also leads to better performance in school and fewer behavioral problems.

Developing a daily routine is easy. First, sit down and outline what tasks need to be accomplished every day. For older children, you may find it helpful to post a daily checklist. Children are able to consult the list, check off the items they have completed, and see a reminder of the items left to do. Providing a checklist gives your child a sense of responsibility and empowerment while taking much of the burden off the parent.

Keep the schedule simple; trying to follow a complicated agenda will only result in confusion and frustration. Children learn by example, so try to develop a routine for yourself as well. If your kids see you doing the same thing every day in the same order, they will begin to follow suit. Following a routine facilitates everyone getting out the door in a calm, timely manner and arriving at school or work on time.

After-school routines are also important. Once a child returns home, there are homework assignments to complete, supper to be prepared, next–day preparations to be made, and bedtime routines to oversee. To make evenings go more smoothly, designate a place for children to store all their belongings. This includes book bags, shoes, jackets, sports equipment, and toys. Not only will this reduce clutter in your house, but it will eliminate the frantic chaos that ensues first thing in the morning when homework is forgotten and shoes go missing.

If your child is old enough to have homework, be sure to set some ground rules. You may want him to finish all his homework before he is allowed to have freetime, or you may decide to give him a few minutes to himself before he hits the books. Whatever you decide, make sure you clearly convey to your child what is expected of him. Give him a clean, quiet spot where he has enough space to spread out books and papers. Once his assignments are finished, have him pack his book bag for the next day.

Finally, establishing a bedtime routine will help make evenings more relaxed. Bedtime routines may include a warm bath and 20-30 minutes of calm activity such as reading a story, doing a puzzle, or listening to soft music. If the child is calm and relaxed, he is more likely to fall asleep quickly and remain asleep through the night.

Remember that life is not always predictable, and occasionally situations arise where you will need to deviate from your schedule. Be flexible, and if possible, let your child know of schedule changes beforehand so he will be prepared. Daily routines set the framework for success later on in life. By surrounding your child with balance and structure, you are laying the groundwork for a happier and more satisfying family experience.

The Great Debate: Work or Stay-at-Home. Which is Right for You?

Parents & Kids Magazine
July 2011

Click here for PDF of this publication.

If you examined the average American family forty years ago, you would find most fathers provided financial support while the mothers served as primary caregivers. In 1969, the U.S. Census Bureau reported nine million stay-at-home mothers. During the 1970’s and 80’s, gender roles began to lose their distinction as women became more aggressive in the workplace. Today, the number of stay-at-home mothers has dropped to five million.

On the other hand, the number of stay-at-home fathers rose for the third straight year in 2010. Many men – finding themselves unemployed due to the recent economic downturn – are choosing to adopt the role as primary caregiver while the mother works. The Census Bureau reports there are now 154,000 stay-at-home fathers nationwide.

Today, the question of whether to work or stay-at-home is no longer dictated by societal norms, but instead influenced by personal factors within each family. Whatever you decide, keep in mind there is no right or wrong decision. Each family is different and it’s important to do what is best for you and your child.

What are some factors I should consider when making the decision to work or stay at home?

First and foremost, can your family afford to live off one income? Sit down and take a look at your family budget (if you don’t have a family budget, now is a good time to create one). Are there areas you can cut back or eliminate altogether? Or do you enjoy having money for extras like eating out and family vacations? Also, take into consideration how much money you will be giving up. The cost of childcare is among a family’s biggest expense – in Mississippi it averages around $7000 or more a year. Coupled with the cost of gas for your daily commute and other incidentals like dry cleaning and work attire, you may not be contributing as much as you thought.

Second, are you okay with someone other than you or your spouse playing an active role in raising your child? If your child’s caregiver is a trusted family member, neighbor, friend, or daycare worker this may be a non-issue. Also, how do you think your child will handle the situation? Some children love the social interaction that daycare provides and thrive. Others may experience separation anxiety and not cope as well.

Third, will choosing to stay at home hurt your career? There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a good parent and wanting a great career. However, if you remove yourself from the workforce for an extended period of time, will this set you back? There are things you can do to stay involved in your profession, such as doing freelance work and staying active in professional associations.

What are the pros and cons of being a working parent?

Pros:

  • More income.
  • More security if one person loses their job.
  • Instilling in your children a good work ethic and teaching them time management skills.
  • Opportunity to get out of the house and regularly interact with other adults.
  • Feelings of self-worth – Not everyone will be happy in the role of full-time caregiver. Some need to find other outlets so they don’t feel they have lost their identity.
  • Preparing your child for school by providing socialization opportunities.

Cons:

  • It’s likely someone else will witness your child’s firsts – first step, first word, etc.
  • Feeling like you are missing out – If you have a demanding job that requires you to work long hours or your organization is not family-friendly, you may end up missing a lot of doctor’s appointments, school plays, and sports activities.
  • Not being able to spend enough time with your child.
  • Lack of free time – when your life demands a lot, there normally isn’t time left for you.

For 13.7 million single parents who serve as the sole breadwinner for their family – staying at home is not an option. It is common – even if you have the choice to stay at home and opt to work – to have feelings of guilt over leaving your child every day. It is important to find an appropriate balance between work and home. If the time you are able to spend together is limited during the days you work, plan fun activities that allow you and your children to connect on your off days.

What are the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home parent?

Pros:

  • Being able to witness your child’s firsts.
  • Ability to share more quality time and be available when your children need you.
  • Ability to establish a daily routine that works for all of you – no early mornings, no rushing to get everyone dressed and out the door.
  • Ability to volunteer with parent organizations and attend school functions and sporting events.
  • More control over who influences your child’s life.

Cons:

  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation – spending the majority of your time with children can cause you to yearn for adult conversation.
  • Loss of identity or self-esteem – a child isn’t likely to praise you for a job well done like work colleagues are.
  • As your child gets older and more active, it could become increasingly difficult to provide the stimulation and social interaction they need.
  • Child may be more “clingy” when introduced to new surroundings or people.
  • Being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t end at five o’clock. Nor do you get a vacation. Devoting all your time to your family can cause burn out.

Any parent will agree that devoting yourself entirely to your child’s needs and keeping them entertained can easily turn into a full-time job. However, many stay-at-home parents will tell you that it is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling roles they have ever taken on. As with any job, burnout is inevitable. Find ways to give yourself a break and take time for yourself. Take advantage of a mother’s morning out program, volunteer, or become involved in a hobby. You can also find ways to stay connected to the outside world by becoming active in play groups and/or social and professional organizations.

Easy Breezy Party Decorations

Parents and Kids Magazine
June 2011

View PDF of original article here.

Your child’s birthday is fast approaching – so much to do; so little time. In addition to mailing out invitations and planning a menu, you also have to consider party decorations. A parent can spend a small fortune purchasing banners, streamers, table decorations, and matching plates and napkins. However, with a little pre-party planning and creativity, you can create most of your party decorations yourself for a fraction of the cost.

Kids love any excuse to play with construction paper and glue. So why not enlist their help along with their friends? Spread out some old newspapers and have an impromptu arts and crafts session right in the middle of your kitchen. Consider buying a roll of butcher or craft paper at your local office supply store and have the kids create their own “Happy Birthday!” banner. You can also cut out letters from magazines or newspapers, enlarge them using a scanner or color copier, and have the kids glue the letters to colored paper. You can then help them string the letters using kitchen twine or yarn to create a unique whimsical banner. Not only will the kids have a blast making the decorations, but they will be thrilled when they see all their hard work on display during the party.

Balloons are a cheap way to decorate a room with a lot of impact. Rather than tying a few balloons here-and-there around a room, buy them in bulk and tie them together in groups. A balloon border around the perimeter of the room will certainly make an impression. Again, enlist the help of a few volunteers or dig out your old basketball pump so you aren’t stuck blowing all those balloons up yourself.

Table decorations could not be easier to make. Buy a few plain white paper tablecloths and have the kids decorate it with crayons, magic markers, or scraps of paper. Another idea is to save the comic section from your newspaper and tape the pieces end to end to fit the table. If you have any old flower pots collecting dust in your garage, consider using them to create a candy topiary for a centerpiece.

Candy Topiary:

  • 7-inch flower pot
  • 6-inch Styrofoam ball
  • Styrofoam cone (18 inches tall by 6 inches wide)
  • 18-inch-long, 3/4-inch-diameter dowel
  • 4 to 5 bags of assorted fun-size candy bars
  • Hot-glue gun and glue sticks
  • Artificial moss or plastic Easter grass

Place the Styrofoam ball into the flower pot. Push the wooden dowel into the center of the Styrofoam ball and then affix the cone over the top of the dowel. You may need to use a little glue to secure the cone in place. Starting at the bottom, decorate your topiary by gluing the candy in rows along the outside of the cone. As you start the next row, overlap the candy slightly over the first row. Continue until the entire cone is covered with candy. Cover the Styrofoam ball with artificial moss or Easter grass.

Finally, don’t throw away those old newspapers. Recycle them into your very own homemade piñata.

Basic Piñata:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 large balloon
  • Several sheets of old newspaper
  • Paint, crayons, or markers
  • Colored crepe paper
  • String
  • Old paper towel or toilet paper inserts

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and water until it makes a smooth paste. Blow up the balloon and tie off the end. Cut or tear newspaper into 1-inch long strips. Dip the newspaper strips into the flour paste. Overlap the strips all over the balloon, being sure to leave a hole around the balloon knot. Apply two to three layers of paper maché. For a stronger piñata, allow 2-3 hours drying time in between layers.

Give the piñata 2-3 days to dry. Once the paper maché has set, pop the balloon and pull through the opening. Punch two small holes on either side of the opening. Loop a length of string through the holes, leaving enough length to allow you to hang the piñata. Decorate the outside of the piñata with poster paint, construction paper, crepe paper, etc. Once the decorations have dried, fill the piñata with candy and trinkets. Stuff the opening with tissue paper or crepe paper. You piñata is now ready to be hung!

Academic Achievement: How to Ensure Your Child’s Success

Parents & Kids Magazine
May 2011

View original article here.

My husband and I became first time parents last summer. Watching our son grow from a tiny, helpless newborn to an active infant has been an amazing experience. As first time parents, every milestone is a big deal. The first time our son slept through the night, rolled over, sat up, made a noise, we called the entire family to share our delight. According to all the parenting magazines and books I’ve read, he is progressing as a normal infant should. But because he’s our child, we like to end every conversation with, “He’s advanced.”

Every proud parent believes their child is the smartest, the cutest, most well behaved, and the best at everything their child does. However, most children inevitably are going to have areas of weakness where they struggle or have to work harder – particularly in the academic arena. Academic success is important in a child’s life as it plays a major role in shaping their future. As your child progresses through elementary school, middle school, and finally high school, certain academic benchmarks will help determine if your child is making the grade or falling behind.

Is Your Child Kindergarten Ready?

Most school districts require a child be at least five-years old by a certain date before admitting them into kindergarten. If your child has a summer birthday, you may want to evaluate whether he or she is ready for kindergarten or would benefit from waiting another year. A child entering kindergarten should be able to communicate orally, be able to take care of their personal belongings, and use the restroom by themselves. Other key areas to evaluate are whether your child can listen to and follow directions, whether they have a rudimentary familiarity with the alphabet and numbers, and if they possess the motor skills required to hold a pencil and cut with scissors. Since your child is going to be in a classroom all day, they should also be able to get along with others, know how to take turns, and work with a group.

Early Elementary School (Grades K-3)

Early in their academic career, your child’s teacher will focus on learning to recognize, name, and print the alphabet. As they progress, they will begin to shift to phonics – connecting letters to sounds – and comprehension. They will also be introduced to counting, patterns, shapes, and sizes and be able to recognize and understand that numbers signify quantity, order and measurement. By the end of first grade, your child should have an understanding of basic addition, subtraction and place values. Second grade focuses on increasing writing skills with an emphasis on spelling and punctuation as well as an understanding of what they are reading. By the time your child completes third grade, they should have moved from learning to read and write to reading to learn and writing to communicate. They should also have an understanding of early multiplication, fractions, and decimals and be able to work independently. Socially, this is when friendships begin to bud. Children should be able to successfully play with other others and be aware of how their actions affect their playmates.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-5)

Now that your child has mastered basic reading skills, he or she will be encouraged to read with more speed and efficiency. You may notice an increase in their vocabulary as well as improvements in their reading comprehension. Expect book reports complete with an emphasis on the writing process –outlines, rough drafts, etc. By now they will be expected to add and subtract larger numbers as well as multiplication, long division, and basic geometry.

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

In middle school, teachers view their students as young adults. Responsibilities will increase in addition to the workload. By the time your child completes the eighth grade, they should have a solid foundation in reading and math that they can build on when faced with more challenging high school courses. At a minimum, they should be able to do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as have the ability to use a protractor, ruler and calculator. They should also be able to read at grade level, write legibly, and construct a simple paragraph that includes a topic sentence, supporting sentences and correct punctuation. If your child excels in situations that challenge him or her academically, they should be able to transition to high school with little problem.

Obviously, your level of involvement with your child’s education will change as they get older and learn to become more independent. As your child enters their high school years, it is important that you continue to stay informed about his or her performance in school. Stay connected with them and keep in contact with teachers and school counselors to ensure they stay on track.

What Should I do If My Child Is Falling Behind?

A child struggling in school will often give off social cues long before you receive a phone call from their teacher. Have you noticed a negative change in behavior? Are they suddenly uninterested in activities they used to enjoy? Other warning signs include hesitancy to talk about school or homework assignments.

If you think your child is falling behind, first gage what you are basing your opinion on. Is your child falling behind based on the school’s curriculum or are they just learning at a slower rate than someone else’s child? Every child learns at a different rate and will have their own individual set of strengths where they excel and weaknesses where they will have to put forth more effort.

“People learn in different ways,” says David Elkin, Ph.D., ABPP; Associate Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at University of Mississippi Medical Center. “The vast majority of school and teachers want to help kids learn, and most schools find it very helpful to have a detailed report on a child’s learning style so they can do all they can for that child. Some kids learn better visually, while others learn better auditorially or verbally.”

Second, determine where the problem is. More times than not, a problem can be pinpointed to a particular class or subject. Arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher and together you may be able to come up with a plan of action to help them get back on track. Your child may also need additional help outside of school hours, such as hiring a tutor. Finally, make sure to keep tabs on homework assignments. Find out if your child’s school has a homework hotline or website to help you monitor assignments and due dates.

“The best thing a parent can do to improve the chances for academic success in their child is to provide an environment where consistency and predictability are standard and reading is encouraged,” Elkin adds. “Turn off the TV. Encourage children to read every day. Don’t forget social, creative, and unstructured play – one of the best things a parent can say to their child is ‘Go outside!’ They may end up staring at the clouds, they may climb a tree, or playing with the neighborhood kids. But parents don’t need to feel that their main job is to provide a guaranteed and structured learning environment for their kids at all times. Kids need a chance to be kids.”

Sidebar: Helpful Websites

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Parents & Kids Magazine
March 2011

View PDF of magazine here.

After being cooped up inside during the long, dreary days of winter, your family may be getting a little antsy for longer days, warmer nights, and spending time outdoors in the sunshine as a family. Most children will jump at any excuse to play in the dirt, so take advantage of your child’s curiosity by introducing them to gardening. Beginning a garden with your child is a great outdoor activity that will encourage quality time as well as providing a hands-on, educational experience.

Planting a family garden is an activity that every member of the household can participate in. Smaller children can assist with small tasks like dropping seeds into the ground or patting down loose soil while older children can play an active role in planning and maintaining the garden. By watching a tiny seed grow and bloom, your child will appreciate all that went in to creating life – water, sunlight, soil, etc. They will also learn patience as they wait and watch their seeds begin to sprout. Including vegetables in the mix will encourage children to make good food choices as well as boost their self-esteem as they harvest and prepare the vegetables they grew for a family meal.

Before dusting off the shovels and gardening gloves, think about what you would like your children to take away from this experience. Sit down with them and read a few books together on gardening to spark their interest. Even if the weather is still a little too chilly to get out in the yard, you can still get a head start indoors by spreading newspapers out on the kitchen table and rounding up a few foam cups or pots, potting soil, and a couple packets of seeds. Place the seed cups in a sunny window and watch your seedlings grow!

If your family doesn’t already have a garden established, choosing the right location is very important. Consider what type of garden your family intends to plant. For example, vegetable gardens will need access to at least eight hours or sunlight while some flower varieties prefer partial sun or shade. Soil content, access to a water source, and garden size are other factors to consider as well as visibility. Children are more likely to stay interested in their garden if it is in a location where they play or pass by often. The more they see their garden, the more they will notice changes.

Adult gardening tools may be too large and clumsy for little hands to wield, so consider purchasing a few smaller, kid friendly tools. These items may include a child-sized hoe, rake, spade, gardening gloves, and watering can. Designate a special place for your child to keep their tools and instruct them to clean them and put them away after each use to establish good habits.

Once your bed is prepared, you are now ready for the fun part – planting! Sit down as a family and discuss what types of plants will be included in your family garden. Children will love being a part of the decision making process, but keep in mind that not all plants are kid friendly. Sunflowers, lettuces, radishes, cherry tomatoes, and snow peas are all excellent additions to a family garden because they are easy to grow, sprout within a short period of time, and are fun to harvest. Bright colorful flowers such as zinnias and cosmos are ideal for cutting and bringing indoors.

Waiting for your garden to bloom may be an exercise in patience. Have your children start a gardening journal where they can draw pictures of the garden, what they think the plants will look like once they’ve bloomed, and any bugs they see. Encourage them to write about what they like about gardening and about the changes they’ve seen as the garden begins to progress. As an added activity, consider building a scarecrow to keep out any unwanted “pests.”

Ensure your family’s gardening experience remains an enjoyable activity by implementing a few rules of safety. Ask your garden supply center about the ingredients in your potting soil and whether it is safe for children. Read the labels of your seed packages – some seeds are coated with chemicals that may be harmful. Always be sure to supervise children when using tools or during watering and watch for stinging insects. Since you’ll be outdoors, be sure to take provisions to prevent sunburn.

Gardening can be an exciting adventure that will not only appeal to your child’s natural sense of curiosity, but open the door for a variety of valuable life lessons. Children enjoy trying new activities, especially when they are having fun. More important, they will love spending quality time with you.