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    • I’ve been seeing a lot of weird stuff on social media lately and I thought it was time to say it aloud.
      Dear FTP (First Time Parent),
      As much as you try to filter yourself, you’re annoying. And I mean that in the best way possible. You love your kids and you want to share them with the world. They are indeed, ridiculously cute. Well, most of them are.
      I get it. There isn’t etiquette per se on how to manage your social media feeds once your first baby arrives, so I thought I’d make one for you. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts that’ll make the social world a better place.
      1. Don’t take a picture of your baby’s rash and crowdsource a diagnosis on Facebook. It’s weird. Nobody wants to look at that. Trust your gut. If your baby has a rash and it doesn’t seem to be going away, call your pediatrician.
      2. If you can’t seem to get your child to sit still for a photo, that’s ok. Just don’t post a blurry photo that people can’t make out.  Is that your child, or a tree branch?
      3. Frequency. Watch how often you post pics of your kids. I’m not saying don’t post. It’s fun for when they’re being silly or for particular milestones but unfortunately all of those social media friends that you had before kids don’t really want to see little Johnny staring off into space.
      [Related: The social media mom: How social media can influence the way we feel]
      4. Don’t talk about poop. Not the color. Not the consistency. Just don’t.
      5. For Pete’s sake, stop asking questions you can get answers to with a five second Google search. It makes you look ignorant and/or desperate for attention. (Example: What time does the Children's Museum open today?)
      6. Don’t ask how you get your newborn to sleep through the night when they are four weeks old. That’s like asking how you can get your dog to use the toilet. Sure, it’s happened. You may have even had a friend say to you once that their baby slept through the night at that age, but they were lying. They probably just slept through it and was none the wiser.
      7. Don’t ask abstract questions like “How do you balance it all?” because the answer you’re going to get is “you don’t.”
      8. Don’t post a picture of your child in a car seat. Nothing good can come from it. Someone will judge you (most likely, publicly) on the direction it is facing, the way the straps lay, where the buckle is, the unsafe color, the fact that the seat is not made from sustainably raised plastic, and so on. Don’t open yourself up to the altruistic who think their comments are just made to look out for your child when they’re just really trying to prove how much they think they’re better than you. And for all you Judge Reinhold wannabes—cool it. Your “expertise” is derived from a blog post you read while tuning out your toddler. Nobody is impressed.
      9. Get an Instagram account. It’s the perfect way to share photos without annoying the sh*t out of your friends. There’s all sorts of fun filters anyway, so try to keep the majority of the photos there.
      * Disclaimer: I surely violate a few of these rules myself. It’s hard not to when they’re so freaking cute.

    • Questions to ask a prospective nanny, and yourself, when looking for childcare, and how to keep your nanny happy and feeling valued.
      As a placement provider for Olive.You.Nanny, I am constantly putting the puzzle pieces together to find compatible matches for families and nannies. I have found there to be some key questions that need to be asked during the interview process to ensure a happy and compatible match is made for both the nanny and family involved.
      If you can find someone who naturally aligns with your parenting style, family values and worldview while clicking personality wise, then you are on a good path to nanny-family partnership bliss!
      First and foremost, decide what is most important to your family. In a few words, what is your family focus/motto or what is most important to you as a family unit? Some parents mention education, kindness, openness to new experiences/diversity, or family time as their main focus. Whatever the case may be, it is first important to acknowledge what is most important to you and what you want your children to learn about the world as they are growing up. By asking yourself these questions, you will be able to better clarify what is most important to your family, which will be essential in finding a nanny who naturally aligns with you!
      Nannies come with their own unique personalities, nanny style, experiences, and values and it is important to better understand their world view. You don’t want them to mold themselves to you when their ideals and nanny style could be in contrast. You, the nanny, and your kids will be happier when you are on the same page. I always ask nannies several key questions:
      What are some values that are most important to you in your life? What do you think is most important for children to learn as they are growing up? How would you best describe your nanny-style? What do you envision when you think of your ideal position? What makes you feel most appreciated and happiest on the job? What is one of your favorite memories as a nanny and why? After interviewing a series of nannies, I have discovered a few commonalities that seem to make them happy. Most are in search of a family that is open to outings and activities and exploration in the city so they can incorporate play-based learning and get some fresh air with the kiddos. They also want to have open communication and consistency when it comes to nap times, discipline and boundaries.
      There are simple ways to make a nanny feel appreciated, and chances are you will keep your nanny longer and he or she will go above and beyond in the role if they feel valued. Nannies want to feel like a valued extension of your family as opposed to a “worker.” Employers who show their nannies trust by not micro-managing are better able to establish rapport.
      Thoughtful gestures go a long way in job satisfaction! Letting your nanny off a bit earlier (while being paid) on an occasional afternoon is very much appreciated, as nannies tend to work long hours. Remembering industry standards like vacation and sick time and maintaining the nanny’s wage if you do not need him or her the days you choose to be away (same applies to letting him or her go home early if they aren’t needed) are key ways to express respect to your nanny’s profession.
      Cards of appreciation, small thoughtful gifts, remembering their birthday, having an annual review and taking time to get to know them are all ways to show your nanny that you care about them as an individual and value them as an employee. You in turn will have a happy rock star nanny!

    • Here are some tips to get you on the right track for the first 6 months after giving birth. The most important one? Go easy on yourself.
      Lately, there seems to be a growing trend of moms getting down on themselves for not fitting in to their pre-baby jeans a few weeks after having a baby. I have seen it posted on message boards, asked about in class and all of the magazine covers out there certainly don’t help. Your body goes through more changes during the 9 months of pregnancy than a man’s will his entire life. It’s important to respect that—you just grew a human being! Your body has changed, and it will take time to get back in shape.
      Farel Hruska, FIT4MOM National Fitness director sums it up perfectly: “I applaud new mothers eager to get back into fighting form after pregnancy, but fitness goals must be realistic and respectful of the time it takes to bounce back after birth. New moms need to remember that it took nine months to gain the weight—at least that much time needs to be allotted for the way back.”
      Here are some tips to get you on the right track for the first 6 months postpartum.
      Month 1:  Your priority in the first few weeks postpartum is recovery from labor and delivery and to bond with your baby. Gentle activity is encouraged, but don’t rush the progression. Start slowly with a walk around the block- if you feel good afterwards- go a little further the next day. Pelvic floor exercises (kegels!) can be started within 24 hours of delivery- they will help recondition your core and bring oxygen rich blood to your pelvic floor to help with the healing process.
      Month 2: You can generally resume your regular routine, again being cautious not to rush the progression. At 6 weeks, most women are given the ok to begin exercise again—it may be longer if you have had a difficult delivery or c-section. Follow your doctor’s orders- if they tell you to wait another week, wait and let your body repair. 
      Month 3: Look in to a mommy and me fitness class. Not only are they great workouts, tailored for postpartum moms, but they are a wonderful way to meet other new moms and to help create your village. My personal favorite are Stroller Strides and Stroller Barre offered by FIT4MOM, but there are many other options out there- from mommy and baby yoga, to baby wearing Zumba and more. Make sure that the class you choose has instructors who are certified in post-natal fitness and understand the changes that the pre/postnatal body goes through. 
      Month 4:  Think about your fuel. What are you fueling your body with? Clean eating, especially if you are nursing, is a huge piece of the health and fitness puzzle. Focus on eating foods in their most natural state- avoid processed foods. Read your ingredients label- you should be able to pronounce everything that is in your food. If not, don’t put it in your cart.
      Month 5:  Think about your intensity. Are you ready to kick it up a little? Or are you still not sleeping well and feel exhausted? Listen to your body and adjust your workouts accordingly. Perhaps add another day of workouts to your calendar, or scale it back. Use the 2 hour rule to gauge your intensity: You should feel energized 2 hours after a workout, not like you need to take a nap. 
      Month 6: Keep going. Keep following your routine of clean eating and moderate exercise and you will get there.    

    • Here are 4 things you should ask a daycare about safety before you enroll your child.
      There are so many factors that are important when choosing the right child care provider, but above all else we want our children cared for in a safe environment. Kids in Danger (KID) has pulled together a list of safety questions to ask your provider to make sure your child is in a safe space.
      What you could ask: How do you keep up with children’s products recalls?
      What the provider should say: The provider should be telling you that they are signed up to receive recall alert notices from either the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and/ or Kids In Danger (KID). If they don’t already receive these alerts, encourage them to sign up for the free service at CPSC.gov or KidsInDanger.org. CPSC will email each time there is a recall; KID will send an email once a month with all the month’s recalls. Bonus: KID’s email alert includes a printable list of recalls for posting.
      What you could ask: Have you secured the furniture in your facility?
      What the provider should say: They should be saying that they have purchased anchors and brackets so that the TV’s and furniture don’t tip over and pose a safety hazard to children. If they haven’t done this yet, you can recommend they visit any electronic or children’s store and purchase these inexpensive safety devices from the “home safety” section or online.  
      What you could ask: (If you have an infant) There are new safety standards for cribs that caregivers are required to comply with. Do your cribs meet this new standard?
       What the provider should say: The provider should have proof that their crib was manufactured after June 28, 2011 (when the new crib safety law went into effect). Feel free to encourage them to print and post this handy poster that will let other parents know that the caregiver is aware of these new standards. Also, request that providers not use dangerous crib accessories such as crib bumper pads, sleep positioners, and soft bedding as they can pose suffocation, strangulation and fall hazards to children.
      What you could ask: (If the children travel by car or van in childcare) Many car seats are not installed correctly. How do you make sure each time the car seat is correctly installed?
      What the provider should say: They should say that they have been trained on car seat installation. If you are concerned about the installation of the car seat, encourage the provider to check out their local Safe Kids branch which will have a car seat installation specialist install the car seat for you. They should also mention that they keep up with car seat recalls through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like CPSC and KID, NHSTA emails car seat recall notices directly to you if you sign up for their free service.
      To learn more about the broader concerns involved in choosing a childcare provider, please visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s website at Naeyc.org. For more information on child product safety, please visit KidsInDanger.org.

    • No car? No problem! Here are some great playgrounds just blocks from an El stop.
      Load up the kids for an El playground adventure!

      Lois Klein Playground: 3550 N. Lincoln at Addison and Ravenswood
      El Stop: Brown Line, Addison
      Playground Details: Small, bustling playground in a busy area, yet the structures feel removed from the street and train tracks.  Enjoy some morning playtime then head to Roscoe Village for lunch. There is a toddler climbing structure, with some more advanced structures for the older set.
      [Related: Great playgrounds for crawlers and new walkers]
      Jonquil Playground: 1023 W Wrightwood Ave. at Sheffield and Lincoln
      El Stop: Between the Fullerton and Diversey, Brown Line 
      Playground Details: This playground is quiet, except when the El rumbles past one block away, and it is tucked in the back corner of a larger park that includes baseball fields and tennis courts. It is a busy playground close to many food options, and just a block away from another wonderful playground, Supera. There are areas within and outside of the fenced playground for a lovely picnic and a water sprayer for the hot, summer months.  Check out the challenging modern climbing structures for older kids.
      Sheil Playground: 3505 N. Southport Ave., just south of Addison 
      El Stop: Southport, Brown Line
      Playground Details: This playground offers modern climbing equipment with a Baseball theme throughout, complete with a huge baseball "scoreboard" chalkboard on the brick wall to the north. Bring chalk and keep score as you slide and play. Make a day of shopping, eating and playing, all without leaving Southport. Another playground, Juniper, which has a water sprayer, is 5 blocks away for shaded, cooler playtime. Note there are no swings at this playground, but the baseball theme offers up some good imaginative playtime. 
      Clybourn Playground: 1755 N. Clybourn Ave. at Sheffield and Willow

      El Stop: North & Clybourn, Red Line, or Armitage, Brown Line
      Playground Details: This feels like a city park: noisy and in the middle of a lot going on! The climbing structures are great fun. Perch on a swing or slide and watch the Brown Line el trains rumble past almost literally on top of the play area. Enjoy yummy food options close by and located in any direction.
      [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler]
      Playground #540: 74 W. 24th Street just west of State Street and south of Cermak
      El Stop: Cermak-Chinatown, Red Line
      Playground Details: This playground and park feel wide open in an underdeveloped area, yet have the feel of an open prairie sandwiched between El lines. Best on a cooler day as there is no shade, #540 has great play details and a toddler structure. A large field and path around the perimeter of the park make for a great place to bike or scooter ride.
      Lane Beach, Berger and Loyola Playgrounds
      Lane Beach Playground: 5915 N. Sheridan Rd.
      Berger: 6205 N. Sheridan Rd.
      Loyola: 7023 N. Sheridan Rd. at the end of Greenleaf
      El Stops: Thorndale, Red Line (Lane); Granville, Red Line (Berger); Morse, Red Line (Loyola)
      Playground Details: Visit these beachside playgrounds for days of fun and sun. All three have a different vibe and all three are easily accessible via the Red Line. Lane Beach has new structures right next to a large, clean beach. Berger Feels like a vacation spot secluded from the city. Not only can you see the downtown skyline from the edge of the playground, there is also a cafe with public restrooms, all overlooking Lake Michigan (note there is no beach access here.)  Loyola is truly a beach playground with sand beneath the structures and adjacent to a large beach. Restrooms, food and drink on site!
      Ravenswood Manor Playground: 4626 N. Manor Ave. just west of the Chicago River
      El Stop: Francisco, Brown Line
      Playground Details: This playground within a beautiful park gives it a forest-like, peaceful setting. Trails run throughout the park and playground, so bring scooters and bikes. The two large separate structures offer many options to keep climbers busy! Picnic tables, benches and a nice grassy park area are all great options for snack time or lunchtime. Check out the beautiful red pergola.

    • As your kids get older, perhaps playgrounds are not their first choice for outdoor playtime anymore. Before they retire their sliding and swinging skills, check out these playgrounds that have more challenging climbing structures. Get in on the fun yourself and challenge them to a climb – you’ll be amazed how interesting these playgrounds can be for even you!

      Union Playground
      Location: 1501 W. Randolph St., Near West Side
      Challenge Details: From the huge dome climbing structure to the hanging rope bridge, Union Playground has challenges even adults will love! Enjoy the suspended “swings” and climbing wall. Got little siblings?  No worries, there is also a traditional structure suited for toddlers. A gentle, circular water sprayer WILL soak you.
      [Related: Best playgrounds close to El stops]
      Merrimac Playground
      Location: 6343 W. Irving Park Rd., Dunning
      Challenge Details:  Gentle slopes within the playground, recycled rubber walkways and unique structures are some of the offerings here. Even the uniquely designed toddler structure has some new challenges your older kids will love.
      Humboldt Playground
      Location: 1400 N. California Ave., Humboldt Park
      Challenge Details:  Difficult climbing structures are plentiful here. Multiple circular structures as well as an Eiffel tower rope structure offer modern climbing fun! Again, a small toddler structure can keep little siblings happy.
      Dean Playground
      Location: 1344 N. Dean St., West Town/Wicker Park
      Challenge Details: This sunny playground with a water sprayer has circular monkey bars and a slide without sides – both tough to navigate and a challenge to accomplish.  Bring some soccer balls, lacrosse sticks, and anything else the oldest siblings would love to play outside in the adjacent field.
      Jefferson Playground
      Location: 1640 S. Jefferson St., Lower West Side
      Challenge Details:  This sun soaked playground has it all:  a challenging circular climbing structure, a traditional structure with slides, swings and a water sprayer for those hot summer days. Lots of space and picnic tables to make it a destination for all ages.
      [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler]
      Mary Bartelme Playground
      Location: 115 S. Sangamon St. West Loop
      Challenge Details:  No list would be complete without this playground. The climbing structures, many made from recycled rubber, offer many challenges for older kids and even for adults. The slopes and angles in this playground create challenge and adventure at every turn. After some hard playtime, enjoy water mist from the sculpture nearby.
      Edwin C. "Bill" Berry Playground
      Location:  31st and Lakeshore
      Challenge Details: Space-age looking climbing structures and unique challenges fill this playground. There is also a tall climbing wall with three options – easy, harder and hardest! Enjoy the beach, bathrooms and lakefront path nearby, as well as two water-spray areas.

    • How to help your kids navigate the conflict that comes with sibling rivalry.
      Even though you may believe that the sole purpose of your children’s fighting is to drive you crazy, they are actually exhibiting basic survival behavior.  Human survival is based on ability to get needs met. Children need food, shelter, clothing and their parent’s attention. When your attention is in limited supply (and whose attention is NOT in a limited supply these days?), your children will do whatever it takes to get you focused on them again.
      While many people believe that it is best to let your children figure out how to get along, many children have not yet developed the language or skills to always negotiate fairly.  A few good ways to help children navigate conflict are to:
      Model the behavior that you would like to see regarding conflict.  Keep your own emotions in check and work hard at talking through your disagreements with other family members.
      Set firm ground rules about the behavior that is expected in your family and review the expectation during a time of peace. For example, tell your children that “we do not tease each other in this house” rather than yelling “your teasing is driving me crazy.” Making general house rules helps diffuse children’s feeling that they are being singled out because you favor another child. Children feel better about rules that sound like they apply to everyone equally.
      Don’t compare your children. Avoid setting them up against each other and setting the stage for hurt feelings. Even caring labels like “the athlete of the family” or “our quiet one” can be seen by children as measurement of worth and favoritism.
      Reward good behavior.  Parents tend to get involved when things escalate.  Be sure to take time to notice siblings helping each other, negotiating with each other or playing well together.
      Take 5-10 minutes per day to give each child a little undivided attention.  Even a short burst of attention has been shown to reduce negative attention seeking behavior significantly.
      When everyday sibling rivalry turns into ongoing threat of physical harm, repeated emotional harm or ongoing destruction of property, parents need to step in and consider professional help. This intense and ongoing interaction between siblings is called sibling aggression or sibling bullying and the effects can be even more profound than when bullied by a stranger. Research has shown that those who were physically assaulted, had their toys stolen or broken or endured emotional abuse that made them feel frightened or unwanted by their sibling had higher levels of depression, anger and anxiety than those who did not. 

    • A summer nanny may be temporary, but you'll still need to put in some effort to find the right fit.
      With school out for the summer, many families will struggle to manage the summer chaos, especially with kids at home all day. Some opt for summer camps, but for many parents hiring a nanny seems like the best approach. Because it can be time consuming to find the right person, use my 10 tips to make your search for a summer nanny a bit easier.
      1. Plan ahead – Try not to wait until the last minute as many summer nannies are looking for jobs that start as soon as possible.
      2. Create a job description – Be clear about what you expect from your summer nanny. The more detailed you are the better the nanny will know how to make you happy!
      3. Recruit – Finding a summer nanny is not hard. You can use an agency for a prescreened professional nanny, get a referral from a friend or use an online resource, such as NPN's Childcare Classifieds.
      4. Screening – Make sure you interview each candidate, call references and run a complete background check. Even if the nanny was a referral from a friend, do your due diligence.
      5. Trial – Have a “playdate” with the prospective nanny and your kids to make sure they like each other. You want to make sure the nanny knows how to connect with your kids as well as your kids connect with them.
      6. Offer – Make sure your offer is clear and detailed. Just because it is temporary you still want to be clear about hours and pay. Also what happens on the 4th of July as well as if you are planning on taking a vacation and will not need the nanny?
      7. Training – Have your new nanny shadow you for a few days so she learns your routine, places your kids like to go and how you handle tantrums. This will help your new nanny be successful vs. just throwing her into the trenches. This also helps your kids understand you trust the nanny and when the nanny is on duty the nanny is in charge.
      8. Communication – Make sure to continue to communicate with your nanny about how she is doing, what she can change or how to do things differently to be successful.
      9. Binder – Having a binder about your kid’s schedules, favorite foods, approved activities, friends for playdates and local parks is very helpful to ensure your kids have a fun summer.
      10. Relationship – Just because your nanny is temporary doesn’t mean the relationship has to end when summer does. Keep the relationship active, as maybe your nanny can babysit on weekends during the school year or come back next summer!

    • It took me years to realize it, but comparing my parenting or my daughter's development to others' was taking the fun out of being a mom.
      I was not a comparative type of person...until I became a mom.
      One of the first things I noticed after birthing a child was that all of a sudden—POOF!—I became both comparative and competitive. What percentile was my child in?  Where did she fit in the developmental and growth percentages my pediatrician was always talking about? Was she an early walker? Does she sleep through the night? Was she smart and confident? Does she play instruments and speak multiple languages? 
      This sudden sense of comparing took me by surprise. I was disgusted with myself when I would think of stories to top my friends’ when they would talk about how their kids were such amazing eaters-of-spinach or rain-man-like-geniuses-at-puzzles. As I tried to get to the bottom of this ugly side effect of parenthood, I realized that part of it came from the fact that I knew that my parenting was a huge part of who my children would become. The choices I made FOR them would undoubtedly help or hurt them. This was the most important job I have ever held.
      Since that time I’ve tried to let go of this awful tendency to let comparison inform my parenting. One example: My daughter was not completely potty trained until the age of 5. I brought my best hard-core-potty-training game to the table at age 2 (when all of my friends started potty-training). Never have I parented worse or disappointed myself more. When I met with my pediatrician (after feeling more depressed than I’d ever felt in my life as my daughter stood in her 32nd puddle of pee and said—yet again—“What’s THAT??!!”), I realized she wasn’t ready. I was only potty-training because everyone else was doing it. We didn’t wave good-bye to pull-ups until halfway through kindergarten (and I think my daughter and I have a healthier relationship for it, thank you very much). But all of the comparisons I drew in my head made it a much tougher road than it could have been.
      I happen to think that the city of Chicago breeds an environment that struggles more with comparisons. And for good reason: We have so many incredible choices for our children! Take schools, for example. If you’ve researched schools in Chicago, you know that it’s harder than getting your Masters degree to wade through the public schools, private schools, parochial schools, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, lottery schools, etc.  IT. IS. OVERWHELMING. Everyone chooses differently and it’s hard not to compare.
      Just like letting go of my expectations about when a child should stop peeing in a pull-up, my husband and I had to sort through the school decision and determine what things were most important to us.
      We get asked about our school decision very frequently because we chose a private school called Christian Heritage Academy (CHA). The educational environment is completely geared toward cultivating a love of learning by doing the opposite of what much of Western education emphasizes—time sitting at a desk going through worksheets. It’s different from many schools in Chicago. 
      Now, don’t get comparative on me—it’s different, not the best. Christian Heritage Academy also integrates Christian faith throughout the school day. This is my favorite thing about the school. When the kindergarten girls got catty, the teachers intervened in my daughter’s class and reminded the kids of a school rule: We Do Not Exclude. Why? Excluding hurts people. If we want to love people well, we include them. 
      In conclusion, I love this city, with the array of choices and comparisons. Comparisons with other Chicago parents, kids, and even siblings can destroy the true joy of parenting. 
      I am reminded by my 8-year-old daughter’s wisdom:  “Mommy—I was reminded today that each of us is like a snowflake: Completely beautiful, and uniquely gifted with our own special sets of abilities.” 

    • How to know what's normal in your young child's development and when to seek help.
      For a parent, teacher or caregiver, knowing when to seek help for a child can be challenging and a bit overwhelming. We understand these challenges, as all children develop differently, and the information available online, in the media, from friends, etc. can be inconsistent and confusing to understand.
      As members of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), we would like to help you better understand what to look for as your children develop and know when to ask for help. ASHA states, “Speech, language, and hearing disorders are treatable, and early detection is a major contributor to speedier recoveries, shortened treatment periods and reduced costs for individuals and society alike.” As a result, a helpful way for us to ensure early detection is through educating those within our community. While the following list is not all encompassing, these red flags are important to look for when it comes to identifying communication disorders. 
      1.  Difficulty following verbal directions: Depending on your child’s age, there are certain expectations when it comes to being able to follow directions. As early as 12 months, infants begin to respond to simple directions such as, “Sit down.” Between 2 and 3 years, children are able to follow 2-step directions, and between 5 and 6 years they can follow 3-step directions.
      2.  Difficulty formulating sentences: When children are 2 years of age, they are expected to produce two word combinations to communicate their wants and needs. At 3 years, they are expected to combine at least 3 words. At 4 years, children sound even more adult-like because they are formulating longer sentences (4 or more words). Many children struggle to convey their thoughts and ideas into sentences that make sense. This may be due to weaknesses in grammar/syntax, vocabulary/semantics or organization.
      3.  Weak vocabulary skills: As a general rule of thumb, children will likely understand more than they are able to say. For example, at 2 years old, children should have approximately 200 words in their expressive vocabulary, but may have between 500-900 words in their receptive vocabulary. As children get older, these numbers continue to grow. By 3 years old, children average about 1,000 words in their expressive vocabulary.
      4.  Difficulty understanding the child’s speech/Easily frustrated when communication breakdowns occur: Speech therapists often refer to intelligibility when it comes to speech production skills. Intelligibility is how well someone understands what you (or a child) are saying. Intelligibility expectations are as follows:
      2 year olds: 50% intelligible (i.e. You can understand about half of what he/she says) 3 year olds: 75% intelligible 4-5 year olds: 75-90% intelligible 5.  Limited or poor eye contact and/or decreased interest in social interactions or showing little interest in communicating: Eye contact is important in terms of communication and socialization, and social language skills are necessary in forming meaningful relationships with others. For some children, making friends comes naturally, while for others, it may be more of a struggle. Some children do not know how to interact with their peers. There are also some children who would prefer to play alone and show no desire in interacting with those around them.
      If you have any questions or concerns with regards to your child’s speech and language development, it’s important to consult with a certified speech-language pathologist. As mentioned before, early detection is critical when it comes to academic success, faster recovery, less time in therapy and lower costs. 

    • Safe Chicago playgrounds and outdoor spaces with soft surfaces for crawlers and new walkers.
      When your crawler wants (and needs!) to play in a safe outdoor space, these playgrounds are great options to check out to let your newly mobile kiddo(s) explore and play. All have a soft rubber surface (forget mulch chips at this age as they only end up in their mouths!) and safe, fun and unique options to keep all ages entertained.
      Coliseum Playground
      Where? 1466 S. Wabash Ave. (on Wabash between S. 14th and S. 15th streets)
      Why go to crawl? Because that is ALL you can do here! No swings, no larger, high equipment, just lots and lots of fun crawl structures, such as houses, cars and trains. Bonus points for the el rumbling overhead and a dog friendly area within the park.
      Wisconsin Playground
      Where? 800 W. Wisconsin St. (Wisconsin and Halsted, between Armitage and North)
      Why go to crawl? Completely fenced in and very shady are just two of the many reasons this playground is excellent for crawling. A soft rubber surface, with inclines and rolling mounds, offer “hill” challenges for your newly mobile babes. Three baby swings at one end offer additional fun, and local families leave toys their older kids have outgrown that are perfect for crawlers and walkers to use, with new toys coming and going each month.
      “Boat” Playground
      Where? 3300 N. Lake Shore Drive (along Lakefront path north of Belmont between Aldine and Roscoe)
      Why go to crawl? This playground along the lakefront path mimics the lake with rolling wave mounds and small scale boats just begging to be crawled on and played in! Add in a few baby swings, and it’s a great destination via bike.  Bonus points for boat watching and more dog watching with a nearby dog park along Belmont Harbor.
      Walsh Playground
      Where? 1722 N. Ashland Ave. (on Ashland north of Wabansia)
      Why go to crawl? Sunny and lots of space, as well as dinosaur and airplane toddler structures, offer lots of little one fun! Add in many baby swings, and crawlers will have lots to do whether on the playground, in the grassy field, or watching the doggies run along the adjacent dog area.
      Brands Playground
      Where? 3259 N. Elston Ave. (Elston and Henderson, just a few blocks north of Belmont)
      Why go to crawl? Fenced in, a soft rubber surface and the perfect small toddler climbing structure that your crawler can easily and safely navigate, make this playground a great destination!  Check out the adjacent fieldhouse for classes (and bathrooms!).
      Palmer Playground
      Where? 3100 W. Palmer Square (Playground is located in the middle of Palmer Square between N. Kedzie and N. Humboldt.)
      Why go to crawl? This “playground” is not a traditional playground, but rather a discovery of different play areas that will delight your crawler with different sensory activities. Each nook, set on soft rubber surface, contains natural stone, a small slide, rolling mounds or “seats” that your crawler can enjoy.
      Commercial Playground
      Where? 1845 W. Rice St. (Rice St. between Wood and Wolcott, just north of Chicago Ave.)
      Why go to crawl? The large serpents’ head poking up from the soft rubber surface is reason enough to delight, but the ample climbing structures and water spray area offer great options for crawlers. A fieldhouse with bathrooms and classes are more great incentives.
      Portage Playground
      Where? 4100 N. Long Ave. (the playground is located near the intersection of Central Ave and Irving Park)
      Why go to crawl? Even I had a blast here, playing on the canoes and rolling soft rubber surface “waves.” Ample climbing structures, 7 baby swings and 2 bucket swings offer hours of playtime. On hot days, head over to the zero depth entry pool and water sprayers to cool off!

    • Just as we nurture and challenge a child’s cognitive IQ, we need to do the same for a child’s emotional IQ.
      As parents, we are constantly second-guessing ourselves about the decisions we make surrounding our children.  Did I handle that tantrum right?  What activities should I sign my child up for?  Am I over-scheduling my child?  How do I best prepare my child for school?  Did I choose the right school?  Is my child growing up to be a good person? 
      When these things are always on our minds, it is hard to gauge our own self-worth and determine if we are doing a “good” job as a parent. That is often why we are preoccupied with our child’s placement, school accolades, test scores, and other points of measure. It is validation to us that our choices are adding up to something meaningful, something right. 
      But what if all the important decisions we are making to ensure our children are successful and happy can’t really be measured by a number? 
      Dr. Robin Stearns of the NYU Child Center, as well as a growing body of researchers, have found that while IQ and worth ethic are important to success, they are not the only keys to success. Instead, they are finding that a person’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is just as important, if not more important, than a person’s cognitive IQ. 
      Emotional IQ refers to a person’s ability to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve challenging goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible choices, etc. Just as we nurture and challenge a child’s cognitive IQ, we need to do the same for a child’s emotional IQ.  When we do, we give our children an enormous advantage in living a life that is productive, successful, and filled with happiness. 
      If you have put time and energy to ensuring your child’s academic readiness, then I would invite you to consider the importance of putting the same amount of time and energy into nurturing your child’s emotional intelligence.  Here are six ways to support this social and emotional growth: 
      1.  Name emotions.  Be specific and go beyond happy and sad.  Validate your child’s emotion and understand that where that emotion may be coming from.  “I understand that you are upset that we can’t stay at the park.  Being at the park is fun; however, we enjoyed an hour playing and now we need to go home and make dinner.”
      2.  Create a family mission statement.  Know who you are and what your family stands for.  Let this set the priorities for family time.  For example, if faith is important to your family, then going to Church on Saturday or Sunday is priority, regardless of birthday parties, athletic games, or other scheduled events.  Determine your family’s core—you will be happier for it. 
      3.  Encourage your child’s own ability to solve problems.  Teach your child they have control over how to solve problems. For example, if you are stuck in traffic, you can choose to get upset or you can choose to stay positive. You can’t control the traffic, but you can control your reaction to the traffic. It is this ability to determine what is in our ‘circle of control’ that allows us to be strong and emotionally mature. 
      Walk through the steps of problem solving with your child whenever you can. Use the S.T.E.P. acronym in helping to solve both minor and major problems: 1. Say the problem. 2. Think of solutions. 3. Explore consequences.  4. Pick the best solutions. 
      4.  Be a good listener. This means going beyond hearing the words people say.  53% of communication comes from a person’s body language and another 40% comes from tones and feelings reflected in a speaker’s voice.  When kids are upset, it is okay to say, “Your body language is speaking louder than your words right now.  When you are ready to talk about what happened, I am ready to listen.” 
      5.  Teach your child that perfection is not possible, but excellence and accountability are. When children are caught doing something unacceptable, a natural response might be, “My child wouldn’t do that.”  But our children aren’t perfect and often do things we wish they wouldn’t do. Our response and what we teach them in these moments sends a clear message on what we value and what expectation we have for next time. 
      When someone does something wrong, the ultimate goal we should have for them is to learn from the mistake. This means they have to be accountable to the choice they made. If they don’t learn this sense of accountability, they grow up and become co-workers who make excuses and blame others for their failures. 
      What we want to teach our children is that perfection is not what we want to strive for. Instead we strive for excellence—always pushing to be the best, but accepting the consequence when we are not. 
      6.  Foster empathy. Know the difference between sympathizing and empathizing. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is understanding another person’s struggle. No easy task. How can we ask a five year old to understand what it means to live in a wheelchair and not walk? The easiest way to increase a person’s empathy is by reading. Yes, that’s right, reading. Books open us up to worlds we can only imagine. They allow us to follow characters that have struggles we might not have personal experience with. It provides talking points.
      Today’s changing world has a whole new set of criteria for what it means to be successful. Certainly we want our children to be academically successful. But intelligence is only one piece—and maybe not even the most critical piece.  We need to nurture our children so that they become adaptable, communicate well, problem solve, take initiative, work as a team so that they are truly prepared for what lies ahead. 
      The next time you think about studying flashcards or practicing an academic skill, challenge yourself to think how you will devote just as much time to developing your child’s social/emotional intelligence. 

    • How to recognize poison ivy and how to treat the rash if your child makes contact with the pesky plant.
      Summer is around the corner and our children are finally able to get outside after a brutal winter. However, they may now be exposed to many different plants that can cause rashes that itch and burn.  
      One of the most common plants that children are exposed to is Toxicodendron radicans, commonly known as poison ivy. We have all heard the saying, “leaves of three, let it be!”  Poison ivy is a woody vine with leaves in groups of three (with the center leaf being the longest). The plant appears red to pink in the spring, turns green in the summer and then from red to purple in the fall.
      Poison ivy causes a rash due to exposure to the resinous coating on the leaves called urushiol. You don’t have to come into direct contact with the plant in order to get the rash. Contaminated clothing or contact with a pet that has been exposed can also cause the rash.  
      Once you come into contact with the oil or resin from the plant, it is important to decrease the amount of exposure as quickly as possible. Remove all clothing that had contact with the plant and wash with detergent. If the clothing is not washed, you can be reinfected months to years later.The skin should be washed with soap in cool to cold water, or the plant oil can be removed with rubbing alcohol. Animals are not affected by poison ivy but can transmit the oil to humans. It is important that exposed pets be given a good bath; however, be sure to wear gloves when bathing our furry friends.
      Once exposed, the rash can appear as soon as several hours later or up to 10 days later, depending on the person’s sensitivity. The rash is usually resolves on its own within two to three weeks. The rash of poison ivy often looks like a line of blisters, but when the resin is spread from one area to another by rubbing, it can appear as an itchy, red, swollen patch.  The fluid from the blisters does not spread the rash, and the rash itself is not contagious.  
      Treatment of poison ivy depends on the severity of the rash. Topical treatments such as over the counter hydrocortisone or topical diphenhydramine can help reduce the symptoms. For blisters and itching, one can apply a “burrows solution”  by dissolving Dome-Boro tablets (available at the pharmacy) in a pint of water, soaking gauze in the solution and applying to blistered areas two to three times daily for 20 minutes at a time. In severe cases, a dermatologist should be consulted since oral prescription medications can improve the rash quickly.
      The spring and summer can be a great time to be outdoors with the kids, but pay close attention to your surroundings and make sure you are aware of what plants your children or pets may come into contact with.

    • The way you form your questions could make it easier for your kids to opt for the truth instead.
      You walk into the kitchen to find an open bag of cookies on the counter and your child with chocolate on their face. You ask, “Did you eat the cookies?” Of course, the response is, “No.”  And you just wish for an honest answer.
      How often does this happen, whether in interactions with your child, a co-worker or the used car dealer? Here are a few strategies to increase the likelihood of getting an honest response.
      Do not ask a question that you already know the answer to. Lying is a normal, defensive response to avoid conflict or negative consequences. We all hope to not get caught when we mess up. So rather, say, “I see that you ______ (whatever action you want to address). Tell me what happened.” Ask open-ended questions. Asking “What homework do you have tonight?” will most likely evoke a different response than if you ask, “Do you have homework tonight?” It is easier to respond with the one word “No,” especially when we are trying to avoid something. Ask specific questions. How often do you find you get the response of “good” or “fine” when you ask, “How was your day?” or “How are you?” These are programmed responses. So instead, if you know your child painted pictures in preschool today, say, “Tell me about painting” and “What other activities did you do today?” These questions often garner more information. Ask both positive and negative-assumption questions. Ask not only, “What was your favorite part about school today?” but also, “What did you struggle with most during soccer practice?” We tend to avoid discussions of unpleasant things. By making assumptions that everyone experiences challenges, struggles and frustrations, you will elicit a more accurate description and response. Finally, trust your instinct. How many times have you just known that someone was not telling you the whole story or was leaving something out? Circle back and continue to ask specific questions. Reflect back, “I don’t seem to understand. Tell me more.” You may just find you get a clearer picture of whatever you are seeking. Of course, there are no guarantees that you will get an honest response but these tips should foster communication with your children, and others in your life, and help you feel more assured in the responses you do get. 


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