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  1. As a busy parent, achieving “peace and ease” may often feel outside of your reach. But with the strategic implementation of routine, you may find that they are closer than you think. Here are three simple tips to get started. 1. Start with one small routine. A homework routine is a great cornerstone routine that you can build upon. The first step is to ensure that your kids’ homework spaces are quiet and clutter-free. Next, establish homework rules. I suggest that kids come home, eat a snack, and get straight to work. Thereafter, removing snacks, devices or other distractions can really help to narrow focus. Depending on a child’s age and amount of homework, set a timer for an appropriate amount of work time (30 minutes for elementary students, 50 for middle schoolers and high schoolers). When the timer goes off, permit them to take a 5-10 minute break before resuming the work. Don’t forget that they will need you to impose the structure at the start, but they may not need that forever. [Related: Transition from summer to school year with these tips] 2. Experiment and build upon your successes. Establishing routine is a process, so don’t be afraid to experiment. For example, if your kids need more down time when they get home from school, give them that break. If you find this leads to late-night homework meltdowns, revisit that assessment and tweak it. Once the homework routine is second-nature, redirect your attention to another time of day that feels particularly inefficient, frazzled, or frustrating. Outline what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and what kind of time restraints are to be imposed. Make sure you communicate clearly with job charts, checklists, and/or to-do lists to ensure that your entire family is on the same page. Utilize alarms and device reminders as necessary to keep everyone on track. The good news is that once one routine in place, it is much easier to build upon your existing routines. You may even find that after some initial pushback, your kids crave and maintain the structure independently. [Related: Helping your anxious child handle homework] 3. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. Routines are more of an art than a science, and they are definitely a practice. Some days the routine will be seamless, and other days, it will be a mess. That is OK. Use that data as feedback to make decisions about how to formulate or adjust as necessary. Continue to come back to the routine and to implement it with as much consistency as possible, but if you must stray or tweak it, don’t fret. The whole idea is that the routine should work for you — not the other way around. Personally, I don’t love starting new routines, but once a new routine is in place, I don’t know how I lived without it. Put in a little extra work at the beginning of this school year to establish those good routines, and I promise that in the end, it will make your family’s life a whole lot easier.
  2. 2020 was truly a very difficult year with regards to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a lot we know now that we didn’t know at its start and still so much to learn. Scientists and medical researchers are working hard to develop therapeutic medications and vaccines to help protect us from the harms this virus can cause. Families everywhere have had to make sacrifices in their personal lives, work lives and the ways they enjoy sports and recreation, all the while trying to find new ways to stay healthy and active. While spectator sports are an exciting pastime in the fall and winter months, we have all heard over and over again about COVID infections and spread amongst professional athletes. These individuals have made personal decisions about participating in these sports as it is their job. Sports participation at the student level is clearly a different issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics values sports and physical fitness in their guidance of healthy living and good mental health during this pandemic. The safest sports last summer were noted to be golf, running, baseball and tennis — activities in which we’re able to maintain distance and minimize sharing equipment. Keep following the rules The underlying guidance across all activities is the ability to maintain social distancing, perform good hand hygiene, and wear a mask when you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance. For safety, masks may not be required in active elite level exercise, water sports, or where it poses a risk of getting caught on equipment, covering one’s eyes, or choking. Each athlete should have their own mask, access to hand sanitizer, and their own water bottles and towels. [Related: Free or cheap ways to entertain your kids on winter weekends] Recreational sports for young children can be challenging because mask-wearing may be difficult to enforce. Competitive or high school level sports for older children pose additional problems because the severity of coronavirus illness in children in their teen years may mimic that in adults. New information about the effects of COVID infection on the heart poses even more concern. Watch-outs: cardiac conditions The current recommendations by pediatricians and cardiologists include looking for signs of cardiac inflammation or myocarditis in athletes who had significant symptoms of COVID as part of clearing them to return to their sport. This can mean a minimum of a 2-3 week absence from their sport if they don’t have any cardiac concerns, or of course much longer if they have significant cardiac compromise. It is recommended to be in touch with your healthcare provider before making the decision to return to sports. What to avoid During sports practice or games, athletes need to avoid huddles, high fives, handshakes or fist bumps. They shouldn’t share any food or drinks with their teammates. Cheering each other on should be limited to when they are greater than 6-8 feet apart and they should always use a tissue when spitting or blowing their nose. [Related: Coat or no? Car seat safety during the cold winter months] Low-risk activities So the question remains, what can you and your children do to keep healthy and active and be as safe as possible? Here are some suggestions that allow social distancing, mask-wearing and minimal equipment sharing: Walking, hiking and running, fishing, golf, tennis, baseball, swimming and diving, dancing and yoga, and skating and cycling. Higher-risk activities The higher risk sports which involve more contact — soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and hockey — should be undertaken only if you and your athletes, coaches and sports associations appreciate and follow the best guidance they can to minimize risk. There are no easy answers to the questions parents have about participation in sports. We know robust physical activity contributes to good mental and physical health. Knowing the risks may help you determine good options for your child. Of course, always consider discussing the health risks and benefits with your individual pediatrician. And while this may not be the ideal year for your athlete, we hope that there are good protective vaccines available in the near future which can help protect us all, and allow for a more active lifestyle again! Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, is a Chicago pediatrician with Northwestern Medical Group Pediatrics, as well as a mom and NPN board member. To ask Dr. Anita a question, email newsletter@npnparents.org with the subject line, “Ask a Doctor.”
  3. Many of us learn about sexuality from our friends, textbooks, health class, movies, or...the internet. Parents, guardians and caregivers are their children's primary educators, yet many pre-teens report they do not learn about sexuality from their own caregivers, leaving many of their questions unanswered. In this video, Jennifer Litner gives a straight-forward approach on how parents can start these conversations with their kids. Why is talking to your preteen about sex and sexuality important? What if you are terrified of talking to your preteen about sex? How do you even begin this conversation? Licensed therapist and sexuality educator Jennifer Litner answers these questions and plenty of your own, describes the benefits of sex-positive parenting, and debunks some of the myths surrounding sexuality. Download Ms. Litner's handout of resources to help you approach the topic with your child.

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