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  1. NPN and RUSH Kids Pediatric Therapy teamed up for a small group panel discussion on the developmental milestones your child should be reaching during their first year ages 0-12 months. This webinar covers: Infant milestones from 0-12 months What skills children are expected to achieve at each month of development Ideas of how to use tools that parents already have in the home to assist their children in achieving the milestones Suggestions for how to elicit skills (e.g., tummy time or rolling) What can make reaching milestones tricky for kids A Q&A portion will follow, and the presenters will provide resources for parents to use to encourage basic skill acquisition.
  2. As the new school year approaches amid the Covid pandemic, we all find ourselves approaching it with a heightened sense of apprehension with a new normal of social interaction. The previous school year concluded with distance learning and parents temporarily thrust into educator roles and many are anxiously wondering what will happen this fall. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and with no clear roadmap, parents who have been managing anxiety are now struggling. The coronavirus has caused significant disruptions to everyone’s daily life, and children are particularly feeling all of these changes as the new “normal” continues to shift. These changes come with a mix of new emotions as the new school year quickly approaches. Some may be hopeful with the excitement of in-person while others may be fearful of returning to the social stressors. Regardless, it is our job as caregivers to support our children in exploring their many feelings while providing a sense of calm to ease anxiety. But how can we do that in a time like this? [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety] We often try to soothe our children’s anxieties by having “all” the answers, and you may feel exhausted by trying to force things to be certain. In this situation, it is important to let go of control as nobody is sure of what the future of school looks like. Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing. This will be tough but worth it, as figuring out how to manage anxiety and tolerate the uneasy feeling are essential skills for everyone these days. Here are some tips on how to navigate conversations about the upcoming school year with your child. Empathize and validate. Encourage your child to express any fear or anxiety while letting them know that what they are feeling is normal. Use curiosity. Children may have fears revolving around bullying, e-learning, conflicts with friends, or being separated from you. Ask open questions and actively listen while talking through strategies to help your child improve problem-solving skills and feel empowered. Emphasize what is predictable. With the uncertainties of the method of schooling these days, focus on what a child can expect—learning new things, interacting with a teacher, etc. Continue practicing. Have the family wear a face mask at home in a variety of situations. This can be playing a board game, coloring, or watching a family movie. Doing this will help with not only the potential to return to classrooms but going to places like the grocery store. Shift back into a routine. Routines promote feelings of safety and can give a child a sense of control. Create an expected school routine by following bedtimes, getting ready in the morning, etc. [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] Provide reassurance. Revisit the safety measures in place to help keep children and teachers safe. This can ease anxiety about their safety in public spaces. Be honest. It’s okay not to have all the answers! We cannot solve all of our children’s problems, but sometimes they don’t need solutions—just to feel understood and supported. Admit that you wish you knew what the future of school looked like, but the reality is that you don’t. You are unable to make all the decisions now, but you will when you have the information you need. With honesty, you are sure not to make promises you can’t keep. Acknowledge the uneasiness. It is difficult to sit in the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety as we tend to avoid or resist it. Begin to notice and gently observe what is happening in your body to increase your ability to handle it. By doing this with your children, it will model that it is okay to feel this way—even grownups do! Focus on what you can control. It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and “what ifs?” Notice when this is happening and gently shift to focusing on what is within your control to stay in the present moment. Be kind to yourself. Being a parent in the best of times is already the hardest job in the world. It is impossible to avoid anxiety right now but doing the best you can is all you can do!.
  3. Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels We’re all feeling the pinch. Whether you’re job searching or just unsure what the future holds, saving a few bucks here and there is very welcome these days. I like to advocate for recognizing folks with gifts, but those gifts don’t have to break the bank. These strange times have prompted me to think creatively and find a few zero-cost options to consider. [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing] Artwork The obvious zero-cost gift is one of the precious masterpieces that your little ones churn out. Let’s face it, that archival box has more than a couple of pieces you could part with. Digitizing and emailing pictures is super easy. But with just a little more effort, mounting them on some recycled cardstock (even a cereal or pizza box) produces something tangible. Photos Photos are another no-brainer, either of your kids or an image they took themselves. A photo doesn’t have to be another ubiquitous pretty shot, either. We’ve created Warhol-esque pop art, coloring black and white selfies with neon markers. Adding some sparkle with Photoshop Express provides enough magic to satisfy aspiring wizards and princesses. Videos Similarly, video can be used to recognize special occasions. With the Stop Motion app (free), we’ve pulled together still images and set them to music, allowing unicorns to frolic and magnetic letters to spell out messages of hope. Clips (also free) is another one we’ve been experimenting with. The fun backgrounds and effects (such as Star Wars scenery or a sketched appearance) really add a wow factor. Homegrown Maybe this is the year you actually watered those tomato plants regularly and were rewarded with a good yield – enough to share. Or perhaps you nurtured a beautiful flower garden and know a couple of stems would cheer up a friend. Tied with some ribbon, homegrown items always make touching gifts, now more so than ever. [Related: Reduce the glut of kids' birthday gifts with these fun party ideas] Actions Of course, gifts can simply take the form of a kind action. An offer of help is often better appreciated than more stuff. By giving your time you’re showing just how much your fellow citizens mean to you. The whole family can work together to tidy up a neighbor’s front yard or offer to run an errand. Decorations Alternately you might decide to add some fence décor to mark a birthday, using banners and decorations you already own. Likewise, making a sidewalk chalk drawing is another wonderful way to spread some cheer, and makes for a lovely surprise – no occasion necessary. Cards Don’t overlook a simple letter or notecard, either. We often neglect to put pen to paper, and yet it really shows thought and effort. Producing the card yourself adds an extra special touch and can be rewarding for the creator as well as the recipient. Try using pressed flowers or fashioning collages with old magazines. Poems We recently commissioned a poet to create a unique piece for an engagement celebration. Poetry has long been something bestowed by an author upon someone esteemed. While we’re not all practiced at prose, developing your own haiku (3 lines totaling 17 syllables) or nonet (one to Google) can make for interesting dinner conversation. With so much uncertainty and grief in the world, it's essential to show others you care. With a little ingenuity, you can create heartfelt and meaningful gifts that don’t cost anything monetary, just a little time and some thoughtfulness – and that’s what true gifting is all about. Fiona Royer lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, Randall, and their three young children. Originally from the U.K. with a business and creative background, she now works in the Chicago philanthropic community. She believes that giving is the key to a fulfilling life.
  4. Article
    Since the pandemic began, it has been hard to deny that racism continues to hinder people of color’s well being. Asian Americans have faced harassment and even violence with the tacit approval of the president, since he referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and later the “Kung Flu.” Additionally, we’ve seen the harmful consequences of our modern lifestyle of convenience on communities of color. People of Latinx and African descent are disproportionately the drivers delivering our meals, stocking our food in the grocery stores, and boxing our online orders. For the first time in my generation, many of us are seeing how our luxury requires that these essential workers risk their health. Coronavirus cases for Black and Latinx essential workers are the highest in the nation compared to whites. [Related: Show some love to these Chicago Black-owned businesses] Like most Americans, I have seen and heard of countless incidents of police reacting to Black lives as if they are villains from a Marvel film. Let’s be honest, long before the pandemic, it has become something most Americans have glanced at, chose to be ambivalent about and have found ways to justify the excessive use of force. If you have a social media account, you know that the frequency of police brutality is shocking. Every day, residents are documenting footage that has changed the perspectives of millions of people who have never seen (innocent or accused) people treated this way. You, or someone you know, may have tried to find justifications for the brutality aimed at unarmed people of color: their flawed track record (George Floyd); they didn’t follow the police’s commands (Philando Castille); he went through an abandoned building (Ahmaud Arbury). But what can you say about Breonna Taylor who was sleeping in her home with her partner when she was shot by police? What have you told your children about all of the racial trauma and injustice happening to people of color in America? Do you explain to them that the root of racial injustice is white privilege? The Rodney King verdict showed me as a child that my skin was not valued in this country as much as white skin. Today, my brown skin children are learning the same harsh truth. Despite the progress of the Civil Rights movement of my mother’s generation to the “post-racial” Obama era of mine, the structures that hold white supremacy in place are as strong as ever. Despite the great efforts I make as a parent to position my child to obtain the American dream, they are still subjected to racial trauma simply because of their skin color. In order to eradicate this 401-year-old virus, we have to acknowledge that anti-Blackness in all of its forms--institutional, interpersonal, covert and overt--is the culprit. White Americans have to step up to take this undeserving burden off the backs of Black people. Non-Black parents of color must also do the work so they don’t become accomplices to anti-Blackness. So, where should you start? Below, you will find some remarkable resources to guide you in your work to dismantle anti-Blackness, for my children and for yours. Resources to build your antiracist practice For parents of all hues: Black Lives Matter Antiracism Project 10 Words and Phrases You Might Not Know Are Racist (Red Tricycle) Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America Recommended Resources for Supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement (Lecture in Progress) For Latinx families: Why Every Latino Has a Responsibility to the Black Lives Matter Movement (Repeating Islands blog) For Asian & South Asian families: Anti-Racism Resources (Asian Women for Health) VIDEO: We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd (Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj) For babies (it's never too early to build their antiracist vocabulary!): A Is for Activist board book Keisha Mathew is currently providing counseling to youth and their families; a role she has had for over 17 years. She holds a master's in social work, with a concentration in community schools from the University of Chicago. When she and her partner are not fulfilling their multiple roles for their children during the pandemic, they are advocating for the children & families of Chicago. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderlust.writer.creator.
  5. According to statistics reported by StopBullying.gov, between one in four and one in three students will face bullying at school this year. As a parent, this is a statistic that I do not want my child to be a part of—from either side of the fence. And as a Montessori school administrator, this is a topic that I navigate with families at least once every year. I believe that this statistic can change if we focus on empathy and community. Our daughter is almost 5 and has attended Montessori school her entire life, and we have a 10-month-old who is following his sister’s footsteps. Prior to having children and prior to becoming head of school, I was the lead teacher in a Children’s House classroom, which gave me ample experience in conflict resolution the Montessori way. Montessori schools are no exception to bullying behavior, of course, but the Montessori approach to dealing with these issues helps children develop respect and empathy from the moment they begin interacting with the world. Transferring this practice to our home environment is a continuing process! Their father and I are both Type A personalities and maintaining a home environment that clearly reflects the values our child is learning at school takes mindful practice on our part. Our daughter will often remind us to be more empathetic and clearer in our communication. We celebrate the kind confidence she conducts herself within such moments. As a parent, these are my key takeaways for how to create and support a culture of community in my home — to help combat bullying before it begins. Celebrate differences Most Montessori schools are extremely diverse — whether culturally, physically, or cognitively. Playgrounds and group classes (music, dance, etc.) are also great avenues for finding a diverse group of people to connect with. Grace and courtesy The Montessori curriculum includes building social skills and confidence, which at home translates into having an expectation of clear, respectful communication. Conflict resolution At our daughter’s school, the teacher will take the students who are having a conflict somewhere private and guide them to use problem-solving skills they’ve learned, such as using “I” statements. In my experience, the way a caregiver handles a conflict is key to providing a healthy example of how to deal with such interactions on their own in the future. Frank, honest conversations about behavior happen regularly in our family — whether it is while we are “debriefing” our day over dinner or during bath time. We also have a clearly stated expectation that our child will treat everyone with kindness, use grace and courtesy, and use the skills she has acquired in conflict resolution. Additionally, it is important to us that she not only conduct herself with kindness, but that she stands up for her peers. In these small ways, through developing empathy and community, we hope to contribute towards a change where every child has the opportunity to learn joyfully and safely. Lila Jokanovic is a dedicated Montessorian — both as a parent of two and as an educator. She holds a Master in Fine Arts and certification in Early Childhood education. She is the head of school at Council Oak Montessori School. Her writing has been published both nationally and internationally. Related content: [Member-only video] Protecting Your Child From Bullying 10 things I taught my daughter to prevent bullying 3 steps to make your child bully-proof
  6. So your child is about to begin this huge stage of independent self-care and you have a million questions. Are they ready? Is it going to be a complete disaster? Will they cry? Will you? On the flip side, there’s the glory of no more diapers. Ever. Think of all the saved money you can stash away in that college fund. Not to mention, you really need a break. Plus, most preschools won’t let you drop off a kid who isn’t fully potty trained. Clearly, this has to happen. You survey your friends about what they did and then read a couple of potty training books you don’t have time to read. And yet, it still seems confusing and like a huge drag you’d rather put off till another day, month, year...perhaps forever. But what about preschool? This has to happen. When getting ready to potty train my own son, I had a crazy thought: Was there any way to make this fun? Not only for myself, but because I still vividly remembered a graduate psychology course in which we learned about Erikson’s second stage of development: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Usually completed between 18 months and three years old, it’s the period when children first encounter shame — the message of “You are bad” instead of “You made a bad choice.” Without even realizing it, parents and caregivers often use shame in potty training, not understanding how it can affect their littles. [Related: Potty Training for All Abilities (members-only video)] Knowing this, I was determined to make potty training a shame-free and fun experience. Pictured is the exact behavior chart I used. The result? A fully potty trained kid in no time. Quick note: I also had a second chart just for potty training when out and about. Because children have different things they struggle with — one might fear pooping in general, while another won’t go to the bathroom at school — feel free to get creative and make a chart that fits your child’s needs. 1. Get out all of your craft supplies and involve your child in the process. 2. Draw a fun shape like a circle or star and section it off into however many days you choose. 3. Write a reward in each box. I tried to create as many non-food rewards as possible and added special “bigger” rewards along the way; for example, making slime was a big hit, as was “phone” time. 4. This is the most important step: Buy or gather all of the rewards and place them in one spot in your home. Make sure your child can see everything. The idea behind this is that they will not have to wait to get their reward. When my son saw everything lined up on top of the hutch, he immediately bought into the program and said, “I’m going to get everything on my chart.” [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler] A few things to keep in mind: No time like the present Summer is a great season to start this adventure because your kiddos can be naked without freezing. Less clothing to fuss with in and out of the bathroom is a win for everyone. If you can, take a couple of days off or a long weekend to potty train. Stay close to home, play board games, go to the park, and enjoy time with your little one outdoors. (Added bonus if you’ve got a boy: they can always pee on a tree in a pinch.) That said, always consider... Timing The best potty training advice ever given to me came from my pediatrician, who said to wait for the child to show interest. I took my son shopping for undies and then asked him every day for almost a month if he wanted to wear a diaper or undies. After Day 26, he finally said “undies” and I had them on him so fast he never had time to look back. Patience This is not always a quick process. Try not to get discouraged or frustrated. I quickly learned that if I got upset so would my son. Children feed off of our feelings. I began to act like it was no big deal and with the pressure off, there was room for fun. Phrases to have ready “I would never ask you to do something I didn’t think you could do.” “We all make mistakes; it’s part of learning.” “You’ve got this potty training thing down.” Humor Dance parties were the biggest part of our success. Every time he went to the bathroom, we would celebrate. He even had his own potty touchdown move. Take your time with the process so you can appreciate the joy of watching your little one accomplish this huge milestone.
  7. Video
    Not sure if you and your child are ready to kiss and go? Check out this 30-minute webinar presented by Michelle Lee of Fussy Babies Network, a project at the Erikson Institute. Lee gives a thorough overview of the causes behind separation anxiety as well as ways to calm you and your child's fears on the first day of school, including: * How to help children prepare for and cope with the transition to school * Strategies and tools you can use to prepare your child for school and to help them adjust to new routines * Identify and address forms of separation anxiety your child may be experiencing * How parents can manage their own feelings about this big step in their child’s life
  8. While nighttime control often occurs years later, mastering daytime bladder and bowel control is a process which takes, on average, six months for a child to complete. Urine and stool accidents are common during those months and should be expected. Toilet training regression, however, is defined as loss of these daytime skills long after the process is complete. It is understandably frustrating and concerning for parents when their child, several months diaper-free, suddenly refuses to use the toilet, begins having frequent accidents during the day, or develops some other unusual elimination behaviors. [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler] If these daytime skills were truly mastered before the onset of regression, the first step is to rule out medical causes by meeting with your pediatrician. If the doctor determines there is no physical cause for the regression, emotionally stressful changes in your child’s life should be considered. Some common examples include: Fears (monsters, loud flushing noise, falling into the toilet, being sucked down the toilet) Illness of the child or a family member Pregnancy or birth of a new sibling Change in childcare environment Moving to a new home Parents’ marriage ending In such situations, it is important to remember that rather than lashing out physically with violence or tantrums, your child has found a relatively healthy way to cope with this stress. Using the following approach, however, you can help your child find even better ways to manage. Tell them you’ve noticed the change Do this with as much ambivalence in your voice as possible. Shame and guilt will likely be your child’s first reaction to learning their behavior has not gone unnoticed. It is therefore important you remove any hint of judgement from your tone and choice of words. Talk to them First, explain you aren’t mad at them, and it isn’t their fault. Next, ask if they know why this is happening. Depending on the verbal skills of your child, you may not be in the habit of asking their opinion yet. Even if they don’t have the words to explain what they are feeling, hearing you are interested in what they think is empowering. If they do offer any type of meaningful response, listen carefully to what they say, thank them for telling you, and sympathize with them as much as possible. Tell them you are proud of the good work they have done up to this point and that you know they will do better next time. [Related: How to make potty training your toddler fun. Yes, fun.] Brainstorm creative solutions alone as parents and also with your child Any practical steps to solving the problem are worth trying. Removing fear by making the toileting fun with songs or games. Spend special time together with your child separately from the new baby. Explore the childcare facility bathroom with your child and separately discuss the issues you’re having with their childcare or caregivers. Surround the potty with familiar objects or toys. Positively reinforce successes with sticker charts or other reward systems. If your child contributes any ideas, be certain to try them as well. Consider taking a break If your creative solutions don’t seem to be working (or, worse: creating stress and anxiety surrounding toileting), consider taking a break and returning to pullups for a few weeks. Sometimes taking a backseat for a bit allows your child to recognize they are responsible for learning this important skill. Encouraging this independence can be liberating for your child and lead to lasting success.
  9. Video

    Parenting An Anxious Child

    Dr. Debra Kissen sheds light on practical, easy-to-implement tips and tools to assist your child in moving past their fears. Watch the video below. If you have asked yourself any of the following questions, this webinar may be helpful to you: “Is my child’s behavior normal? Is it developmentally appropriate for my child to have these fears? How can I help my child meet her full potential? When is it time to get help?” This webinar will answer these questions and more, and give you the tools to help your child overcome anxiety.
  10. Anyone who is a parent knows that the job is tough. Really tough. If we moms and dads were really honest with ourselves, we'd have to admit that we had almost no idea what we were getting into when we brought that first baby home. The old saying about kids not coming with a training manual is true. And the problem of "What do I do with this kid?" is intensified for parents in our contemporary rush-rush, worry-worry world. The problem is that when parents don't quite know what they're doing and they're too busy to find out, they tend to shoot from the hip. Shooting from the hip can lead to two opposite, out-of-control parenting styles, neither of which is good for children. Let's call these two styles "Underdog" parenting and "Big Dog" parenting. The Underdog parent is a pushover. The children run the house and mom and dad tend to take a back seat. Where Big Dog parents are involved, however, it's the adults who intimidate and it's the kids who stay out of the way. Big Dog parents are T-Rexes in disguise. Underdog parents' behavior with their children is motivated primarily by anxiety and guilt. "Don't want to do anything to offend the children" and "If the kids are mad at me I must have done something wrong" are the overriding thoughts. Big Dog parents' behavior with their children, on the other hand, is dominated primarily by irritation and anger. "Because I said so!" and "Do what I tell you or else!" are the predominant themes. Underdog parents whimper, while Big Dog parents bite. Underdoggers plead with their kids like this: "Come on now, honey, don't you think it's time for bed? Why can't you just do this one little thing for me?" Translation (in other words, what does the youngster really hear?): "Even though you're my child, you're too strong and powerful for me. I haven't the slightest idea how to control you other than begging." Whimpering tells the children that they—the kids—are really running the show and that their parent is basically weak and helpless. Big Dog parents bite. They can bite emotionally as well as physically. Here's an emotional "sound bite": "What the hell's the matter with you!? You better start listening to me or else! How many times do I have to tell you?" Translation (in other words, what does the youngster really hear?): "You're no good, kid, and you never will be. If it weren't for me, you'd be in even more hot water." The Big Dog parent may throw in a spanking after the lecture to make sure the point is driven home. Big Dog parents bite. Not surprisingly, these two opposite forms of out-of-control parenting produce two different results. Kids from Underdog parents tend to become adults with a robust sense of entitlement. They think the world owes them a living and they try to push other people around. When life doesn't treat them like they think it should (which is inevitable), they blame everyone else for their misery. Our children from the T-Rex moms and dads, though, will become adults with a deep sense of insecurity and unworthiness. They'll think everyone else is better than they are and they'll tend to withdraw. Even if they do succeed at certain things, they won't be able to give themselves credit for what they've done. How can we interrupt this tragic cycle? Well, there is a book with an odd title, called 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. In this book, parents will understand that their parenting job consists of three things: 1) controlling obnoxious behavior, 2) encouraging good behavior and 3) strengthening relationships with the children. And yes, specific, effective, tried-and-true and fairly simple strategies are provided in 1-2-3 Magic for accomplishing these three parenting tasks. The program is evidence-based—it works. But something stands between Underdog parents and their ability to adopt new strategies like 1-2-3 Magic. The same thing, in different form, stands in the way of the Big Doggers. It's their attitude. It's their view of parenting itself. Both of these kinds of impulsive, out-of-control parents need a major attitude adjustment before they can learn to become decent parents. Yes, useful advice for managing children is out there, but the Underdog folks and the Big Dog folks have to learn how to think differently before they can use these helpful suggestions. The attitude adjustments required here fall into three main categories: 1) appreciating the "rights" of family members, 2) understanding the effects of different parenting styles, and 3) accepting the need to switch to deliberate, thoughtful parenting strategies. Let's look at each of these. Rights. Underdog moms and dads need to understand that not only do they have a right to be a parent, but it is in everyone's best interests if they—the adults—do set limits. Kids not liking limits is normal. It is not a tragedy and it is not due to parental error. Big Doggers, on the other hand, need to appreciate that their children have rights. The kids have a right not to fear physical or emotional abuse from their own parents. Big Doggers need to consider the possibility that a home should not always revolve around the whims of the largest mongrel in the joint Effects of parenting style. Underdoggers need to realize that repeated parental whimpering creates Entitled Super Brats. Big Doggers need to realize that repeated biting eliminates kids' sense of self-worth. Deliberate parenting. Both types of parents, Big Dog and Underdog, need to accept the necessity of switching from an automatic/impulsive to a more deliberate/thoughtful approach to parenting. It's not that hard. "Parenting" primarily out of irritation and anger is not really parenting. Neither is "parenting" primarily out of anxiety or guilt. Both Big Doggers and Underdoggers need to see that simply engaging in emotional self-indulgence is bad for everyone in the family—including themselves. Good parenting advice is already out there. 1-2-3 Magic offers a ton of good suggestions. But for many moms and dads, the main thing that stands in the way of their becoming decent parents is a straightforward—though not easy—attitude adjustment.
  11. All of us who live in Chicago pride ourselves on our ability to “hunker down” when it becomes unbearably cold out. What better way to deal with the Chicago Arctic than to sit around in PJs, drinking hot coffee and curled up with a good book, letting errands wait and leaving icy roads for someone else? Then come kids and their exasperation with being stuck inside when the threat of hypothermia is all too real. Telling my 6-year-old to read a book and enjoy some downtime while the outside freezes over would garner a similar reaction to my suggesting that Pokemon is passe: utter ridiculousness. Throw his 4-year-old sister into the mix, and I’ve gone from wearing a referee cap to donning full body armor. The fighting when there’s no place to go gets fierce. While parenting is challenging, it’s all the more real when weather conditions compromise our kids’ ability to get space from one another. While I am no means an overly creative parent, I have found that some proactive planning and expectation management can make a world of difference when the weather doesn’t quite allow for the breathing room our sunnier days permit. Make winter resolutions Why focus on a single day for your kids to set goals? When the winter is at its worst, I have challenged my children to come up with a few things they want to do prior to the return of spring. The goals don’t have to be significant—maybe read a few more books each week, finish a puzzle, learn the words to their favorite song—just enough to keep the focus on themselves and not competing with their sibling. Plan “You and Me” days Although an elementary concept, I try to plan one day a month for myself and my husband to spend a few hours one-on-one with each of our children, without their sibling. A movie, an art class, bowling—it’s usually something outside the home so that the attention is on one another, rather than someone competing for my attention. Not only is it good for my son or daughter to be alone from their sometimes nemesis, it refocuses me and makes me realize how I love those darn-adorable, quirky kids. Let ’em be Rather than try to intercept, one of the most valuable things I have learned is that they can generally work out their differences. While “figure it out” can lead to catastrophe, I’m often amazed to have sent my two bickering kids down to the basement, only to hear giggles and shrieks of laughter erupt as they have moved past their differences and on to trying to make each other crack up. While I am never sure how long the serenity will last, I will lap up those brief moments of affection like that hot cup of coffee I’m missing on the couch. Because we all deserve a little serenity now and then, don’t we?
  12. Parenting an anxious child comes with the constant question: “How do I push my child and be comforting and supportive?” Unfortunately, there is not yet a perfect science to parenting or treating anxiety. But helping your child face the world with bravery over succumbing to the worry monster can be achieved with consistent and compassionate coaching. As a clinical psychologist, I am always looking for the best and most effective ways for parents to assist their child in developing healthy coping, and not encouraging anxious and avoidant behaviors. These 10 simple tips will help you and your child get through to the light at the end of the tunnel, a life where worry doesn’t win. 1. Validate your child’s emotional pain and discomfort. It may seem like your child is freaking out about "nothing" when, for example, she enters full tantrum mode to avoid being dropped off at a birthday party. But to your child, this is a tremendous deal. Think how bad it has felt in your own life when you were upset about something and someone responded to you and your pain with a sentiment such as “it is not such a big deal…you are fine.” How did you feel in that moment? We have all experienced the one-two punch of experiencing emotional pain and then beating ourselves up for having that pain. Give your child the gift of learning to recognize and acknowledge when she is experiencing emotional distress. Explaining an occurrence is not the same thing as “making an excuse.” Nonjudgmentally acknowledging when we are experiencing emotional distress is the first step in learning how to move through the unavoidable moments of suffering that are built into the human experience. 2. Educate yourself about "the body on anxiety." The discomfort children experience when they are in “anxiety mode” is real. Their brain’s fear response system (otherwise known as fight, flight, freeze) has been triggered and are now experiencing all of the physiological changes to their body that would occur in a true emergency. Their heart rate and breathing are increasing; blood flow is moving from their small muscles to their big muscles that are associated with fleeing, such as their arms and legs; and their pupils are dilating to allow them to see all potential dangers more clearly. All of these physiological changes would be quite helpful if they were in a real emergency. Thankfully, they are not in a true emergency when experiencing the false alarm of anxiety, but it feels to them like they are. 3. You can validate your child’s discomfort without buying into the “doom and gloom” predictions made by their anxious brain. Along with the physiological changes that occur when the “anxiety switch” has been flipped comes a change in thinking patterns. The world shifts from seeming predictable and safe to unpredictable and dangerous. Opportunities for failure, death and other unfortunate outcomes seem ever-present. Just because your child believes that terrible things are likely to occur does not make it true. Access your “wise mind” when your child is unable to access his. 4. Believe in the strength of your child. She cannot break. Anxiety is not dangerous and cannot hurt her, but avoiding life and age-appropriate experiences can.You don't need to shield her from life's challenges. 5. Model vulnerability. It is not only okay but powerfully healing to share with your child when you are struggling and scared. Struggling and fear are part of the human experience and she will learn it is all okay. 6. Create a family culture that nurtures taking chances and learning from mistakes over perfectionism. As an exercise, you can go around the dinner table and each take turns sharing one way you took a chance today. By highlighting meeting challenges head on you are reinforcing bravery over avoidance behaviors. This family exercise emphasizes how it is the journey of learning and experiencing life that truly matters, not the outcome of achieving or winning. 7. Teach your child how to identify when the "worry monster" has surfaced and is attempting to call the shots. It is incredibly helpful to come up with kid-friendly language to help your child make sense of his anxiety. In our first few sessions with children struggling with anxiety, we name and draw a picture of their “worry monster.” Some names my wonderful, brave little clients have come up with are: worry bully, “It,” Bob," and "Mr. Annoying," to name just a few. The function of this exercise is to assist your child in more objectively viewing her worries and fears vs. seeing the world through anxieties and fears. Once we learn how to identify when the “worry monster” has surfaced, we can next learn how to talk back and disengage from its taunts and negative predictions. 8. Pick your battles. You can't work on everything at one time. Determine the fear-based behaviors that are most negatively impacting your child and your family and create specific plans on how to address these behaviors. By trying to address everything, you will end up addressing nothing. 9. Learn to identify when your own “worry monster” has surfaced. Don't believe your own fears and worries that try to predict how much suffering your child will go through when they experience moments of anxiety. Although you may have experienced anxiety in your own life, it is no real indication of how it will go for your child. Kids are incredibly adaptable; they learn quickly that the best way past anxiety is through it. By facing one fear at a time, your child will quickly learn how brave, strong, and confident he truly is. 10. It is okay to get anxiety coaching from the sidelines. Therapy does not have to be a long-term, complicated endeavor. There is effective, empirically supported, short-term therapy available to assist your child and family when stuck and overwhelmed.
  13. Article
    “Rachel did it,” I insisted, at three years old, when my parents asked why there was blue ink on our ecru walls and white couch. I was informing them that my sister, their devious daughter, was to blame. After a booming count to three (my father’s timeframe to “come clean”), I was punished for vandalism—and lying. As a child psychologist, I ask parents to list the concerns they have about their child. Although they may report behaviors such as yelling, hitting, or throwing tantrums, they often end with, “…but what bothers us the most is the lying.” Although parents may view their child’s lying as a personal affront, psychologists take a different perspective on the matter. In fact, there are two key reasons why I love lying. Reason #1: Lying is normal Lying is a normal stage in development and a sign of cognitive growth. Research shows us that, even by age two, children start to lie to their parents. The onset of lying coincides with—and likely requires—the development of (a) perspective-taking skills, or putting oneself in another’s shoes, what psychologists refer to as “Theory of Mind,” and (b) executive functioning skills, such as impulse control, flexible thinking, and the ability to hold information in mind when working through problems (working memory). Neurobiologically, all of these skills develop as the front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, matures. Although my three-year-old brain was developed enough to know that lying was a good way to avoid punishment, I didn’t understand that blaming my six-week-old sister, who couldn’t hold a crayon, was essentially self-incrimination. I lied, but I was bad at it. Just as children learn to crawl before they learn to walk, their lying becomes more sophisticated over time. As you might guess, children become better liars as their perspective-taking, executive functioning, and prefrontal cortex develop further. Reason #2: Lying is a clue for parents Lying serves a purpose for the child, that is, to solve a problem. For example, when children have a problem (e.g., “I did something that will get me punished”), lying is one strategy to solve it (e.g., “If I lie, I won’t get punished”). Whether a child kicks, screams, cries, or lies, these behaviors have functions, and when parents tell me that their child lied to them, my goal is to identify the function of the lying. When we can understand the function of a child’s behavior, we can identify the problem that the child was trying to solve and, ultimately, teach the child more appropriate ways to solve problems (e.g., by telling the truth). What can parents do when their child lies? Despite my love of lying, it’s not a behavior we want to perpetuate and not one that parents want to reinforce. Therefore, to conclude, here are three tips for parents for when your child’s pants are on fire: 1. Along the lines of reason #2 above, reserve judgment about the lying, investigate the function of the behavior, identify the problem that your child was trying to solve, and teach your child more appropriate ways to solve problems. Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, an approach developed by Ross Greene, Ph.D., is an effective technique for parents to address their children’s challenging behaviors, including lying (see livesinthebalance.org). 2. Ask your child to promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Recent research shows that, when children promise to tell the truth, they are more likely to do so, even after committing a transgression. 3. Take a realistic, nuanced approach when talking with your child about lying. Not all lying is socially unacceptable. How many times have your parents said, “When you open Aunt Goldie’s present, be nice. Smile and tell her how much you like it.” Lying can be acceptable depending on the context. Learning to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate lying can be challenging for children.
  14. Now that it's fall, the days are getting shorter and the honeymoon period for your child’s return to school has ended. Maybe you've begun to receive calls and e-mails from teachers and school administrators that your child is not following directions, is being disruptive in class, or is struggling generally. The school district may also be mentioning possible disciplinary action toward your child. You know that your child needs help, but what can you ask for and what are your child’s rights? The answers to these questions often turn on whether your child has been or should be identified as having a disability. Children with identified disabilities: Children with identified disabilities in public schools may be entitled to receive services and accommodations through an IEP (Individualized Education Program) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) or through a Section 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. There are many accommodations, related services, and supplementary aids and supports that can (and should) be implemented in the regular education environment for a child with behavioral/emotional challenges. In addition, the IDEA requires the consideration of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) for students who are unsuccessful with typical behavior supports. The FBA and BIP are formal ways for parents, teachers and other school professionals to work collaboratively to determine the best way to help a student who is exhibiting behavioral difficulties. Children with IEPs or Section 504 Plans are also entitled to protections and procedural safeguards should their behaviors invoke significant disciplinary action such as a suspension or expulsion. As a general rule, the suspension or expulsion of students with disabilities has been treated similarly under both the IDEA and Section 504. The Office of Civil Rights has stated that the same protections available to students classified as students with disabilities under the IDEA are available to students classified as students with disabilities under Section 504, except for students who have a disability solely by virtue of alcoholism or drug addiction. Children “not yet identified” with disabilities: If you believe that your child may be entitled to accommodations and/or services for emotional or behavioral challenges under the IDEA, you have a right to contact your school and request a case study evaluation (CSE). In Illinois, a school district is required to respond to a parent’s request for a CSE within 14 school days of that request. If the school district determines that an evaluation is not warranted, it must provide its reason for denying the request in writing. Similarly, if you believe your child may be entitled to services under a Section 504 Plan, you have the right to contact your school and request an initial evaluation in order to determine whether your child is eligible to receive supports and services under Section 504. In addition, under certain circumstances, a student who has not yet been identified as eligible for special education may still be entitled to claim the procedural protections afforded to individuals under the IDEA. A previously unidentified student with a disability facing disciplinary action such as suspension, expulsion or a change in placement to an interim alternative educational setting may, nonetheless, claim the procedural safeguards of the IDEA if the district had knowledge that the student was a child with a disability "before the behavior that precipitated the disciplinary action occurred." Children without disabilities: Unlike the discipline of students with disabilities, the discipline of general education students is not governed by the IDEA or Section 504 procedural safeguards, but rather by state laws and regulations. Recently, Illinois enacted Public Act 099-0456 (commonly referred to as Senate Bill 100), which went into effect at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. This new law includes a broad list of school climate and student-behavior measures, but its central purpose is to make suspensions and expulsions a disciplinary option of last resort. The goal is to keep children in school receiving an education. Under Public Act 099-0456, suspensions of three days or fewer will be allowed only if a student's presence at school poses a threat to others or "substantially disrupts, impedes, or interferes with the operation of the school." The law leaves those terms open to the discretion of local school boards. Suspensions longer than three days, expulsions, or disciplinary transfers to alternative schools may only be used if a student poses a threat or significant disruption to the learning environment and other options, such as restorative practices, have been exhausted. Lara Cleary is a partner with the law firm of Hansen & Cleary, LLC. Hansen & Cleary is a boutique law practice focusing on the representation of children and families, individuals with disabilities, medical and mental health practitioners, private schools, and other non-profit agencies in the greater Chicagoland area and throughout the State of Illinois. If your child is struggling in school and is exhibiting emotional/behavioral difficulties, your child may have protections and rights under federal and State law. Please contact us at 847-715-2801 or through our website, hansencleary.com, with any questions.
  15. Article
    As parents, we want our children to be happy. We want them to have friends. We want them to feel part of the group. The last thing we want is for our children to feel like they are on the outside looking in or, worse yet, being the victim of a bully. Why are some children the target of negative attention in the form of bullying or exclusion from peers, while others seem to escape this experience? After working with hundreds of families, I’ve observed that on some level, children who suffer negative attention feel unworthy and lack self-acceptance. Essentially, they feel like a victim. Feeling like a victim is feeling powerless. It’s holding a belief that life is happening to you, rather than something you can have an active role in shaping. What does this have to do with bullying? In the case of bullying, if your child feels powerless in her life, she is more susceptible to having this experience. This is not to say that the victim is responsible, or that the bullying behavior is condoned because someone is projecting a “victim” quality. The person who bullies is in every way fully responsible for their actions. But people who carry around victim energy are more likely to be the target of negative attention. The sad thing is that children who project this victim energy often don't realize what they are doing and, without this awareness, they are powerless to change. Feeling like a victim is a learned response to life's circumstances. The good news is that this habitual, learned response can be unlearned by practicing some new emotional skills. Here are 3 steps you can take right now to bully-proof your child with positive emotional skills: Stop speaking like a victim. Saying things like "she made me feel sad" or "he's making me mad" is "victim-speak." It gives all of the power to the other person. No one can "make" us feel a certain way unless we give them permission to do so. If you catch your child (or yourself) speaking like this, turn the statement around. Instead of "he's making me mad," encourage your child to say "I feel mad" or "I choose to feel mad in this situation." This shift in speech is subtle, but it puts ownership for your child's feelings with him. Practicing this more empowering way of speaking will, over time, give your child a feeling of power over his situation. “As within, so without.” Know that a higher power is always there to help. It doesn't matter what this higher power is to your family, but just the knowledge that there is something greater than us can give your child a great deal of confidence in his ability to stand strong in the face of challenges. If he feels he will always be okay, that energy will emanate from him. Bullies don't want to struggle. If they feel this strong, powerful energy coming from your child (and they will feel it!), they will move on to someone else. Find things to feel good about, and think about them often.There is always something to feel good about, if you think about it. The more you look for what is good in your life, the more you get into the "feelings" that these good thoughts evoke, and then the more good you will draw to you. When your child learns to shift her thoughts from things she fears to things she feels grateful for, everything around her will change for the better. Your child can learn simple ways to take control of her thoughts and emotions, and when she does, her confidence will skyrocket and her tendency toward thinking like a victim will diminish. You can download Jill’s audio training, “7 Secrets to Building a Foundation of Confidence and Self-Esteem in Kids," FREE for a limited time here: http://bullyproofstrategies.com/. Jill Hope is writer, family empowerment coach, speaker, and founder of I Shine. Her programs support parents to build inner confidence, self-esteem, and resilience in their kids, while spreading the message about the power we have to create lives of fulfillment, shine our inner light, and live according to our unique purpose. In addition, Jill certifies and licenses facilitators to teach her I Shine Inner Wellness Curriculum, a social/emotional wellness program, to kids aged 9-12. She is also thrilled to be working on her forthcoming book, The Powerful Girl Within, which will be released soon.
  16. Article
    It was Father’s Day morning, so I took our 13-month-old to the park for a little father-son bonding. It was early, so I was surprised to see a few families already camped out near our favorite pieces of equipment. What I wasn’t surprised to see was one mom with a phone pressed against her ear and paying little to no attention to her young son. If you’ve read my blog, you know one of my pet peeves is parents focusing on their phones instead of their children, so the sight of this woman on her cell while this young boy kept asking if he could play with us really annoyed me. I felt bad for this little boy—who doesn’t want attention?—but I just wanted a little uninterrupted father-son time on Father’s Day. Well, that didn’t quite happen. Using a stick he picked up off the ground, my son was doing his best drum solo effort on this small rope swing when the little boy came over. Again. He took the stick from my son and after fiddling with it for a second, he turned it toward my son and hit him in the middle of his chest. Thankfully my son wasn’t hurt, although he had that why-did-you-just-do-that look on his face. Clearly, this other boy had no malicious intent, but if I (a first-time dad) see someone do something that could possibly injure my son, and especially if this person should have been supervised closer, the quiet and reserved part of me that most people know will quickly disappear. I can’t remember the exact words I used toward this boy after checking to see if my son was okay, but it was to the effect of, “We don’t do that. It’s not nice to hit other people.” The boy’s mom had pried her phone off of her ear long enough to hear me speaking to her son, and the gloves were off. Her defense was that she saw my son throwing wood chips before her 3-year-old hit him with the stick, so therefore my boy wasn’t innocent either. My response? I told her that her child was older and should know not to hit people with sticks. Beyond that—and I knew this was my chance to stick it to her—this all could have been avoided if she wasn’t so focused on her phone. “You’re an a&*%$#@,” she told me as she grabbed her son and left. Thankfully I’ve avoided further conflicts with parents since this episode, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before my son or someone else’s child will do something in a public place that will put me and another parent in what Catherine Main, Senior Lecturer and Program Coordinator at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, refers to as “incredibly awkward and uncomfortable” situations for parents. Main offers tips that could make these situations a little easier for everyone: Keep your cool. “The key to the situation is for everyone to keep level heads,” Main said. “A 3-year-old does poke others with sticks. It doesn’t mean they’re bad children. It also doesn’t mean their parents are bad people. It’s part of their developmental process. What happens if I poke this little guy with a stick? … There’s no malice involved. They’re just experimenting. The frustrating part is probably that this parent is on the phone and not guiding her son’s exploration and experimentation.” Safety first. “As a general rule, I think parents should be very cautious about (disciplining other children),” said Main, who has a 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. "But always err on the side to make sure everyone is safe. You could have just picked your son up and moved him away from the situation that wasn’t safe. That would have been modeling for the other child.” Support other parents. “It’s really important that parents have a lot of empathy for one another—and try to be supportive of one another,” Main said. "This is not easy. There are not right and right wrong ways all the time. You also have to be able to forgive yourself, because you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. And that’s okay. Your kids will forgive you.” Walk the walk. Main added: “The key thing is always keeping in mind I want my child to realize that 1) I am a safe adult and always will be that safe adult and consistent and calm, and 2) remember, they’re watching you and that’s really where they learn. You can think you’re telling them something, but they learn from watching you.” It seems like both me and the mom I got into the confrontation with on Father’s Day have some room for improvement. Make no mistake, there will be plenty of opportunity for that. Matt Beardmore used to cover sports for ESPN The Magazine and the Chicago Tribune, and contribute to The New York Times Travel section and In Transit blog, but he’d much rather write about a far more important topic—being a dad.
  17. My daughter Sophia, now 5, is one of the strongest willed people I have ever met. So when toddlerhood hit, boy, did she dig in her heels, especially around food. As a health coach, having her subsist on noodles alone wasn’t really an option for me. I was determined to help her get over her pickiness and tried a lot of different things to get her to expand her palate. I employed these tips and can happily say that she and her 3-year-old brother Sam now request salads for lunch and turn down anything with artificial colors. Here’s what worked for me. I set some healthy boundaries When I actually stopped and paid attention to when, what, and why I was feeding my kids, I realized that I was giving them a snack whenever they whined for them. By planning their snacks and allowing them to be a little hungry for their next meal, I found they were more open to eating what I had prepared. When I set up the new family rules around food (and was firm, calm, and consistent about enforcing them), of course they put up a lot of resistance at first. But once they knew that the firm boundary existed, they started to comply and the battles came less frequently. I made the healthy food fun Unfortunately, fruits and veggies don’t come in Elsa or Lightning McQueen packaging, so I found ways to make the healthier food more interesting for my kids. I found small cookie cutters, rice molds, colorful silicone muffin cups, colorful picks, and game-type plates to make the food more visually appealing as well as fun. I employed an incentive chart. The “Today I Ate a Rainbow” magnet chart gave a little added incentive to my kids to incorporate more produce into their meals. We’ve had it for a couple of years now and they still get excited to get a green star for eating cucumbers and orange stars for carrots. I got them involved in the kitchen Brussels sprouts. Never thought my kids would be excited to eat them, but I proved myself wrong by giving them the opportunity to help me in the kitchen and feed them into the food processor. They are always more interested in trying the foods that they’ve helped chop, measure, or mix. I gave them some choices “Broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?” If they have some say over what’s ending up on their plate, they have a little more buy-in and are more willing to actually eat the healthy foods. I’ve found that giving them that hit of power on the front end often avoids the power struggle on the back end. I educated and empowered I spent some time with both of them explaining why it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods, and which foods are the ”most of the time” choices versus the occasional treats. By educating them and empowering them to do what will serve their body best, I’ve found they go the route of making the better choice more often. Are there still battles? Sure. They’re kids — that’s what they do! But I have found that the struggles (and the struggles of my clients) have decreased significantly since I’ve employed these strategies. I hope you will see the same in your kids! Related posts: How I deal with my toddler's meltdowns Strategies for winning toddler sleep battles
  18. Article
    We call them “slow motion meltdowns” in our house. I am a mom of a 20-month-old spirited boy. He wants what he wants, when he wants it. Don’t we all? My son knows how much it hurts to throw himself on the ground when I can’t catch him. So instead, he has perfected a slow-motion fall backward that ends with him crying, looking up at the sky. When talking to other moms, including my own, the common advice seems to be: “Just leave him there, and he will come around when he’s ready.” This didn’t feel right to me, and it didn’t seem to work for my son. I have been a mental health counselor for more than 10 years, and it was my time to practice what I preach: Get on the same level, listen, empathize, and give choices. Below are four techniques that have really helped me deal with my son’s tantrums. 1. Enjoy the view. My son’s worst meltdowns usually happen in a public place. One of these took place at the park on an unusually beautiful day. The sky was bright and the clouds were intensely white. I remember this vividly because, on that particular day, I decided to lay down right next to him. It was quite relaxing, and we both started talking about things we could see. Before I knew it, my stress was relieved, and he was back to a joyful mood. Getting on their level might look funny at times, but it works in taming those tantrums. 2. There is a good use for a newspaper. From early on, my little guy would get really upset when I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. I would grab a newspaper, start a tear at the top, and let him shred the rest. Even though he was upset at first, he resolved whatever was frustrating him fairly quickly using this coping skill. If you work in an office like I do, one of my favorite things is shredding paper. It’s satisfying, so why wouldn’t it work for our little ones? 3. Go outside no matter what. I think children get cabin fever like the rest of us, and they don’t know how to say what’s wrong. But we have learned that by taking him outside – even if just on the front porch – bundled up or otherwise, it really helps him reset his mood. 4. Ask if they want a hug. My son’s mini meltdowns could happen for any reason: I chose the wrong shirt; he got cookies instead of veggie straws; or Peppa Pig was on when he wanted Bubble Guppies. When they do happen, I ask if he wants a hug and reach my arms toward him, but I do not touch him. Then I wait a minute or two, and try again using the same approach. I continue to do this until he reaches his arms toward me. It’s important that I exercise patience and wait for him to accept – which usually takes two or three minutes before he is reaching toward me, wanting a hug. Despite its challenges, I love this stressful, fun, playful age. I hope these techniques will help bring you a little more joy through the meltdown phase. They do say it’s a phase, right? Related posts: 5 must-haves at your baby's first birthday Mine, mine, mine! How to mediate playspace tiffs

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