Paying Parents to Read to Their Children Boosts Literacy Skills

Researchers have found a surprising way to help boost the skills of children with language impairment: Pay their parents to read to them.

A new study tested four techniques to get parents or other caregivers to complete a 15-week literacy intervention for their children with language impairment.

Only one of those techniques – paying parents 50 cents for each reading session – led to children showing significant gains in reading test scores, findings showed.

“We were somewhat stunned to find that paying parents had this strong effect. We didn’t anticipate this,” said Laura Justice, lead author of the study and professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University.

The other three techniques tried in the study were offering positive feedback to the parents, offering encouragement, and modeling to parents how to read in a way that improved children’s literacy skills.

None of these three was helpful, and offering feedback actually had a slight negative effect on children’s test scores, said Justice, who is executive director of The Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy at Ohio State.

Justice conducted the study with Jing Chen, graduate student; Sherine Tambyraja, senior research associate; and Jessica Logan, assistant professor, all at the Crane Center. Their results appear online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The study involved 128 parents or caregivers and their children.  All children were 4 or 5 years old and had been diagnosed with language impairment. Most of the caregivers lived in low-income households.

All caregivers used the Sit Together and Read (STAR) intervention with their children.  STAR was developed by Justice and a colleague in 2013 and has been thoroughly evaluated and found to be helpful, particularly when used by teachers.

The program involves reading to children with the goal of improving print knowledge, which includes knowing the features and names of the letters of the alphabet and print conventions such as reading left to right.

While STAR has been shown to be effective, the problem is getting parents to read often enough with their children to make the program successful, Justice said.

“We have found that 25 to 50 percent of parents don’t adhere to the program enough for it to really work, and many of them are poorer and have less education,” she said.

Participants in the study were instructed to read one book a week to their children, four separate times, for a total of 60 readings over 15 weeks.  Caregivers received specific instructions about how to read the books, which were provided to them, to follow the STAR program.

All caregivers audio-recorded each book reading session and kept a written log detailing their readings.

Most of the participants received one or more of the four behavior-change techniques – monetary rewards, supportive feedback, encouragement or modeling – to help boost their compliance with the program.

Research staff met with caregivers about six times during the 15 weeks during which time they used the applicable behavior change techniques.

Each child was assessed twice, before and after the STAR intervention, to assess their print knowledge.

Results showed that children whose parents or caregivers were paid to read to them showed significant improvements in their print knowledge after the STAR intervention.  None of the other techniques had a positive effect.

A further analysis showed that the monetary rewards worked mostly because caregivers who received them completed more reading sessions with their children than did caregivers who received other behavior-change techniques.

A secondary boost came from the fact that caregivers who received the monetary reward also talked more to their kids than other caregivers about the print features of the books as they were reading them – a key part of the STAR program.

A study like this can identify the barriers that are keeping parents from completing the STAR intervention, Justice said.

“Our results showed that we identified the right barrier,” she said.  “The barrier that money overcomes in these families is time pressure.”

Many of the parents who don’t complete the intervention are poorer and less educated, she said.  Even the small payment used in this study – the average caregiver received $31.50 over the 15 weeks – was enough to persuade parents that the time spent on reading was worth it.

Justice said she knows that many teachers and others don’t like the idea of paying caregivers to read to their children.

But she emphasizes that the payments in this study were “a very modest investment” that paid big dividends with the children.

“Maybe it could be a different kind of incentive, something as simple as a certificate for parents who complete the intervention.  Or the payments could be smaller.  There’s more research that needs to be done,” Justice said.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Equality and Equity Are Not The Same Things

Equity, as far as the Oxford English Dictionary is concerned, is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial.” Simple enough, right? Yet, at home with children and teens, the concept will probably require further conversation to teach kids not only what equity means, but what it looks like.

One way to begin teaching children about what it means to be equitable is by teaching them what is not equitable. Contrary to what many children believe, equity and equality are not synonymous. By this, we mean that equity does not signify that everyone receives the same thing, whether that be treatment, assistance, gifts, awards, allowance, etc. Instead, equity means that everyone receives the same level of what they need. Again, this concept could be difficult for children to grasp, especially when fairness becomes a point of contention.

When parents need to put the focus on equity, not equality, they can begin by explaining the reason behind certain parental decisions. For example, Alex is 6 years old and Abe is 16 years old. Both boys perform chores around the house for an allowance. However, because the stark age difference significantly distinguishes each child’s ability to perform certain chores, tasks and allowances will not be equal—but they will be equitable. Let’s look at the details: Alex, the 6-year-old, feeds the fish, sorts his laundry, and helps put groceries away. For these age-appropriate tasks, Alex receives $5 a week as his allowance. This amount is enough for Alex to buy a book at the school book fair, which he desperately wants.

Now Abe, the 16-year-old, completes chores for the family, as well. Since Abe is older, he is trusted with the responsibility of walking the dog every evening, mowing the lawn, and helping clean up after dinner. For these tasks Abe receives $30 per week, which he puts towards gas money. While this example is hypothetical, a scenario like this makes sense for explaining equity. Abe and Alex are both contributing to household chores. However, the level of work, and therefore the level of pay, differs to suit each boy’s needs.

Another way to explain equity to children is to use an example that they have likely encountered in every parking lotthe handicapped parking spot. Much like the school accommodations for students with special needs, handicap parking is an accommodation to ensure equity for drivers with disabilities. Obviously, handicap parking spaces are not equal to all of the other spotsthey are much closer, more convenient, and sometimes larger.

However, equality among parking spaces would mean that the parking lot is inequitable for drivers with special needs. Remember, children need to realize that equity involves everyone getting what they need. An able-bodied person does not need to park closest to the entryway of a building, but a handicapped person does. The designated spaces ensure that they receive what they need, which in this case is an unobstructed parking space that is close in proximity to where they are going.

Key takeaways for children and teens is that fairness, equality, and equity are not synonymous terms. Equity revolves around each person’s individual needs and circumstances. Remind your children that we may not be aware of a person’s individual needs. Therefore, if it appears that someone else is getting “special treatment,” consider the obstacles, limitations, or other factors that may be at play. What appears to be unequal is often equity at work.

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

What happens during a fire drill?

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

Rekindle that Friendship and be Friends with your Spouse Again

Many courtships start because of attraction and lust, while genuine feelings and emotional intimacy in relationships grow over time. The passionate beginning of a relationship is filled with fireworks, but if you really want your marriage to last you and your partner need to be friends as well as lovers.

When you think about doing your favorite hobby or sharing a secret, do you think about doing these things with one of your girlfriends/the guys, or with your husband/wife?

Having a spouse as a best friend is something most partners dream about when looking for their soulmate. But, after many years of marriage, you may start to feel like you’re losing sight of the friendship you used to have.

If you want a long-lasting, healthy relationship, you need to learn how to bring friendship back in your marriage. We’re looking at 7 ways you can rekindle a friendship with your spouse.

  1. What Makes a Good Friend?

Before creating a deeper bond of friendship with your partner, you must consider what actually makes a good friend. Some common qualities people look for in friends include:

  • Having fun together
  • Showing support
  • Good communication skills
  • Shared interests
  • Ability to work as a team
  • Loyalty
  • Encouragement
  • Love
  • Enthusiasm
  • Shared Values
  • Forgiveness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability

By narrowing down the most important qualities of friendship you will have a better idea of what areas you excel at and which areas you need to work on as a couple.

  1. Create Common Interests

It’s healthy to have separate hobbies and interests than your spouse. It’s what makes you unique. But, is there a point where separate hobbies become separate bedrooms?

As drastic as that sounds it drives home a strong point: relationships are about doing things with someone you love. This, of course, covers living together, sharing in your daily routines, as well as other naughty aspects of marriage. But, it also means sharing hobbies, passions, and interests.

Many couples enjoy taking classes together, be it language, cooking, or dance. Love rollercoasters? Why not get a season’s pass for a local amusement park, or head out to the local jazz club and spend a night of romance hearing some local musicians over a glass of wine?

You can help deepen your emotional intimacy in relationships by developing mutual interests with your spouse.

  1. Date Night

Have you heard enough about the importance of date night, yet? Well, here’s one more reminder. Date night can do wonders for couples communication, romance, friendship, and sexual chemistry in your marriage. If you aren’t making date night a regular part of your week, you ought to.

Scheduling a weekly date night is an excellent opportunity to work on communication, to express appreciation for one another, to woo one another, and to bring romance and friendship back together.

  1. Laugh Together

Want some romantic ideas that will deepen emotional intimacy in relationships? Laugh together! Studies show that laughter, as well as giving many health benefits, can also do wonders for your relationship.

In one study, 71 couples told the story of how they met. The couple’s laughter that occurred during the storytelling process was recorded and analyzed. The results show that the proportion of the time spent laughing simultaneously with their spouse was positively associated with the relationship quality and closeness.

Simply put: Laughing together makes for happier, closer relationships.

  1. Take an Interest in Each Other’s Passions

One of the main things that make couples friends as well as lovers is that they take an interest in each other’s passions, hobbies, and interests.

If your partner enjoys sports, why not sit down and watch a game with them or ask them to teach you about the sport? You can also attend a sporting event together or go out and play it yourself. Even if it isn’t your usual cup-of-tea, your spouse will appreciate that you took an interest in their passion.

And who knows, it may just be your new favorite hobby!

If your partner loves the water, schedule an aquatic activity together such as jet-skiing, surfing, or take scuba-diving classes as a couple. If your partner loves art, go to your local art museum. If they like outdoors, go hiking. Does your spouse love music? Learn an instrument so you can create your own musical duo.

Taking an interest in the things your partner is passionate about will make them feel special. It shows them that you both like and love them enough to spend your time doing the things they enjoy.

  1. Reminisce

Reminiscing is a fun way to spend your time together. You can look back fondly on how you met, what each of you felt during the courtship process. You can talk about your proposal or relive fantastically dirty times together. But most importantly, you can remember what it is that made you click in the first place.

Consider why you started pursuing one another. What were the common interests and hobbies that made you friends in the first place? Once you discover these you can make an effort to rekindle that friendship. Go back and recreate your first date or pick up an old shared-hobby that used to make you both happy.

  1. Be Nice

Some of the most romantic ideas are often the simplest. If you want to deepen your friendship with your spouse, be nice.

People often feel they can be more comfortable with their partners and therefore, do not use manners and niceties as much as they would when out in public or with someone new. But, why should you give your spouse less of your kindness than you would to the barista at your morning coffee house?

Don’t be overly critical of your spouse, cheer them on in their goals, compliment them, express appreciation, say “Please” and “Thank you”, and go out of your way to look for ways to be helpful, romantic, or loving to them.

Remember how excited you use to be knowing that you got to spend the rest of your life with your best friend? Don’t let that fire go out. By changing your perception, working on communicating, creating a weekly date night, and taking an interest in each other’s hobbies you can make your partner your best friend.

Tough Conversations: A Tool for Parents, Part I

The “Courageous Conversations Compass,” a tool for ensuring that conversations around race and culture are productive in the workplace, was designed and shared by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton to promote courageous yet respectful dialogue.

Public school personnel, especially Montgomery County Public School teachers, are probably familiar with both Courageous Conversations and Singleton and Linton’s compass. I personally have encountered instruction or reference to the compass on several instances during professional development classes and trainings, staff meetings, and parent conferences.

What began as a tool for the education realm has evolved into a helpful resource for several different types of conversations requiring courage, honesty, and perspective-taking. For struggling parents, an understanding of the compass and the philosophy behind its methods could certainly help facilitate communication with their teens.

What is the compass?

The compass, pictured below, is a visual, symbolic reference point that participants use to assist in communicating when conversations and viewpoints are not only difficult, but divergent. The four points of the compass, which help to identify from which perspective a participant is entering the conversation, are moral, intellectual, emotional, and relational. When we speak to others, especially about controversial or deeply personal topics, we typically go into the conversation with a certain mindset. The axis from which we enter a conversation depends on our experiences, values, beliefs, and opinions.

Additionally, we may enter a conversation from a combination of two or more points on the compass; it all depends on our thought processes pertaining to the specific topic of discussion. For example, on the very relevant topic of violence in schools, the discussion can quickly morph into a debate, which can then digress into an all-out argument. The reason that a controversial conversation like this would escalate quickly is because participants are entering the conversation from several different points on the compass.

For instance, a family member of a victim of gun violence would likely enter the conversation from an emotional standpoint—the topic resonates with their feelings because of their personal experiences. These feelings will conflict with or push back against a person who enters the conversation on the intellectual axis because it is hard to separate logic and emotion objectively. Therefore, the person who enters from an intellectual standpoint may try to use statistics, data, or trends to argue that guns do more to protect or defend people than to hurt them. However, this is a futile attempt for the intellectual if trying to persuade or counter a person’s emotional viewpoint. Likewise, people entering from the emotional axis will tune out the statistics—a statistic does not account for their lost loved one.

While this is just one example of how we enter the compass, the true value of the conversation strategy is that it allows us to recognize and reflect on why we may converse, debate, or argue the way that we do. It also allows us to gauge how and why another person would express themselves in such a vastly different way. The compass allows us to see, not only where we are coming from, but where the “other side” is coming from. At the root of this method is a deeply reflective practice in perspective-taking.

The compass shows us that neither opinion is incorrect or invaluable; instead, it highlights why we disagree when it comes to such contentious topics. So how can we utilize this tool when speaking with our teens? Read ahead to learn how to implement methods for productive conversations using the compass.

 

Absent Parent Returns, Active Parent in Turmoil

After parental separation, a consistent relationship between child and both parents is best. A parent entering and leaving a child’s life can be disruptive for the child and for the life of the other parent. Some folks may feel that upon being absent for some period of time, the absent parent should not be allowed back into the child’s life.

In some situations, the active parent has remarried and the new partner has formed a meaningful and significant attachment to the child. The re-introduction of the absent parent, therefore, threatens to not only cause emotional turmoil to the child, but maybe a perceived threat to the relationship between child and new partner. Needless-to-say, there can be a tangled web of intense feelings on all sides.

Generally speaking, the social science literature supports the notion that children fare better in the long run with secure attachments to both parents. This is true even in the face of many parental difficulties, but assuming that neither parent is outright abusive. In the case of an absent parent wanting to re-enter a child’s life, it may be difficult to determine what is best for the child.

Hence the decision may rest upon the clinical judgment of an assessor. The challenge in assessing these cases is separating parental issues of anger, jealousy and the like, from the needs and interests of the child. At times it is parental issues that require more management than the child’s renewed relationship with the absent parent.

In the event it appears that the relationship between child and absent parent will be re-established, certain precautions and structures can be put in place to allay concerns, facilitate the process and provide safeguards. Pre-meeting conditions can include:

  1. Abstinence from alcohol or drugs where a parent is known to abuse such substances.
  2. Drug testing for a parent known to abuse drugs.
  3. Counseling for the above, if at issue.
  4. Anger management if anger issues are identified.
  5. Attendance at a parenting course.

Then, with regard to a process for facilitating the relationship between absent parent and child:

  1. Consider a counseling process where the counselor meets the absent parent alone. This meeting or series of meetings is to establish motive and also to provide an opportunity for education as to the needs of the child in question.
  2. Concurrently there should be a meeting or series of meetings with the same counselor and the active parent and partner to discuss and prepare them, followed by a meeting with the child to discuss concerns and issues. The purpose of counseling is not to curtail the process, but to continue to discuss and develop strategies to manage change in view of concerns.
  3. Finally, the child meets with the absent parent under the auspices of the counselor. Several future meetings can occur with the counselor or under supervision through a designated supervision center if considered necessary.
  4. Then assuming all goes well, visits can progress to unsupervised.

Hence the issue may not be withholding the relationship rather than facilitating it through a safe and structured process. If the absent parent abides by the process, benefits to the child can significantly outweigh the loss of this parent-child relationship. If the absent parent proves incapable of meeting the requirements and abiding by the safeguards, then there are supports in place to help the child and family adjust.

If the absent parent refuses to follow the processor gets into trouble along the way, the process can be modified or even ended. These situations are balancing acts with no easy solution. The challenge is to manage the process as delicately as possible. The above process may help.

Cyber Safety for Today’s Teens

It goes without saying that technology has fully inserted itself into most aspects of our day-to-day lives—and children and teens are no exception. Children are learning to swipe smartphones before they learn to turn the pages of a book, and many of them are swiping on their own devices. For parents, the endless exploration of technology raises many concerns for children and teens.

Parents need not only be aware of what their children are getting from the constant connectivity, but also what they may be putting out into the digital universe. Yes, the horror stories surrounding teens and technology are vast and worrisome, but these hard-learned lessons can provide other families with safe cyber practices that will make all the difference for security and peace of mind.

Limit screen time, especially for youngsters. We may have grown to rely on our devices in the adult world. I, myself, use my phone for everything from navigation, to paying bills, to making grocery lists—the list (no pun intended) goes on and on. However, for children, it is essential their screen time be limited and purposeful. Use screen time as an occasional reward, but make sure that everyone is clear about how long they can use the device and for what purposes.

If you feel that your child must have a phone for staying in touch, consider phones or plans that provide programmed options for usage. For instance, there are ways to program children’s phones so that they are only able to call or text a set list of phone numbers. You can also set restrictions on how data is used or what websites or apps your children can access. The key here is to keep your children’s circle small when introducing them to their first phone—the stricter the parameters, the more peace of mind parents will have about children using technology.

Be aware of your child or teen’s social media presence. Keep a very watchful eye on your child’s use of social media and limit access to devices when concerns arise. You should insist on access to or control over your teen’s social media accounts whenever necessary. If you suspect that your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, take the phone.

Keep records of any evidence that your child is being bullied, including text messages, screenshots, profile posts or photos, etc. Schools today are cracking down on bullying; however, parents must present documented, repeated instances of harassment or bullying before school officials will intervene.

Along the same lines as cyberbullying concerns, parents should monitor social media accounts to ensure that children are protecting themselves and being digitally responsible. Teens today are so concerned with obtaining “likes” and gaining “followers” that they lose sight of how vulnerable they may be making themselves online. Explain to them that, even with privacy settings, nothing is 100% private when it comes to posts, comments, photos, etc.

Make sure that teens are not using personal information, like a full name, specific address, current location, or school. Social media sites make it extremely easy to tag one’s location, but too often teens fail to consider who might be keeping tabs on their location. Gently, but firmly, remind your children that not everyone on social media is who they claim to be.

Talk about the permanency of our digital footprints. This means once posted online ownership no longer belongs to you. Even deleted material is not ever fully erased if even one person has captured, saved, or screenshotted the post.

Not only can deleted posts resurface, people can edit or manipulate the photo or post in any way they choose. Teach children and teens to think carefully before making a post.

Discussing Current Events with Students and Children: If, When, and How?

Photo Credit: @Reuters

The unfortunate reality for children growing up right now is the prevalence of senseless tragedies. I myself, even as a grown adult, struggle time and time again to make sense of the catastrophic violence that pervades our day-to-day. For my students, I cannot fathom the panicked bewilderment and anxious uncertainties that events such as the Las Vegas attack bring to their frightened, yet curious, minds.

During these formative years, how can we mediate the thin line between informing and frightening our students and children? If we decide that information is power, how do we present such heart-rending topics to young people in a way that equips them to do better for the world? Conversely, if we instead choose to shelter our innocent young people by preserving their naïveté, how can we expect to bring up the next generation to be culturally responsive and informed citizens?

When considering conversations with young people involving tragic current events, such as this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting, adults must be extremely cautious. From the educator’s perspective, I am personally conflicted about my exact role as the adult in the classroom when it comes to conversations of a sensitive nature. Even as a middle school teacher, where my students assert themselves as “informed” or “aware” community members, I find it irresponsible of me to take on the role of informant for other people’s children.

Yes, our students are privy to infinite amounts of and avenues for any and all information, thanks in great part to the 1:1 ratio of school-aged children to smartphones. However, I firmly believe that the family (parents and guardians) know that child best. Therefore, as a teacher, my obligation begins and ends with parental consent. I can, and have, encouraged curious students to speak specifically with their parents about current events and the questions they have regarding those events.

Additionally, as an English teacher, I have provided students with criteria for credible sources, smart searches, and strategies to detect bias and objectivity. But that is where my responsibility ends. This is not because I don’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts on the world’s happenings, but rather because it is not my place to open such an emotional or sensitive topic up to discussion.

Suggestions for parents regarding if, when, and how to broach these types of discussions with your children vary from family to family. Obviously, you know your children better than anyone else. Parents are also in control of the extent of info to which children are exposed. Parents are the gatekeepers of information, charged with filtering, limiting, and explaining the events that you deem appropriate for your children.

If families decide to discuss emotionally-charged current events, such as terrorism or mass acts of violence with their school-aged children, parents should consider multiple factors, including age, social and emotional maturity, and peer influence. Let your children do the talking first. Take the temperature of their background knowledge on the topic before you begin.

Ask if they have heard or seen anything about the specific news story. It is likely that, if your child has a smartphone, she has some level of prior knowledge. Between social media and other communicative platforms, preteens and teenagers are presented with a deluge of news stories, photos, and videos.

Once you’ve gauged their level of prior knowledge, plan to direct the conversation with the goal to inform on a broad scope—do not necessarily delve into specific details, as details rarely serve to comfort or answer questions. A curious teen will inevitably stumble upon more details, but remind your teen to check the validity of the source before forming opinions or drawing conclusions.

Furthermore, be prepared to some answer questions, while leaving other questions unanswered. Especially with unanswerable questions like “how?” it is more than okay to respond with “I don’t know” or “we may never know.” Find some security in the fact that a senseless act will never make sense—and share that important realization with your teen.

Finally, encourage your teen to focus on the heroic deeds of bystanders, first responders, survivors, etc. Tragedies cannot be explained or reconciled, but the focus of the aftermath should always center on taking measures to lift up, help out, and affect change for the better. Always!

Mindset Matters: Positive Parenting

Growth mindset is a very hot topic in the educational realm today. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic, metacognitive concept is the fact that people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

In classrooms, growth mindset is used as a tool to deliberately activate and strengthen neural pathways by targeting areas of need using strategies that students already utilize in other areas. While that sounds like a mouthful, students as young as kindergarten are learning about metacognitive practices and the importance of grit and reflection.

Besides a strictly instructional focus, growth mindset can positively impact any endeavor, whether it be a cognitive or physical goal. That said, parents can implement basic growth mindset principles at home to boost self-confidence, motivation and effort, as well.

Parents can start with themselves

This means that, prior to encouraging your child to invest in adopting a growth mindset, parents must be ready and willing to look critically at their own mindset. As an educator, I initially felt that I fully understood growth mindset. However, it was not until I investigated my own mindset that I realized my tendency to lean more toward a fixed mindset—the polar opposite of what I was trying to teach my students.

As long as I can remember, I have considered myself to be an English-minded person—comfortable in my literary bubble where language as a means of expression was my primary academic strength. On the contrary, math is something that I have never grasped—ever. In my mind(set), I had absolutely no chance of improving my knowledge of mathematical concepts, so why even bother? Thus began my self-fulfilling prophecy instigated by my very fixed mindset.

The point here is that we adults cannot simply talk the talk; we must walk the walk and lead by example when it comes to growth mindset. Parents can model grit and determination by attempting something intentionally challenging. Golf not your strength? Consider a family outing in which you all take a golf lesson, or simply play a round of mini golf to infuse some fun into a personally difficult sport. Perhaps you are a notoriously disgraceful cook. Read a new cookbook or research a few fool-proof recipes to demonstrate to your children that planning, effort, and reflection can start the ball rolling on growth mindset and its ability to improve achievement.

Parents can model positive self-talk

Not only is this good for boosting self-esteem in adolescents, but optimistic affirmations help to strengthen one’s growth mindset. Much like my self-fulfilling prophecy involving poor math performance, negative internal dialogue lowers motivation and one’s expectations. When we put ourselves down, we are essentially self-sabotaging. Parents should be careful when discussing their own weaknesses as to not pass on these negative mindsets and behaviors.

This is not to say that parents should claim that they are amazing at everything—acknowledging areas of need is a huge part of developing a growth mindset. However, we should be teaching children that our weaknesses are not destined or written in stone—we can and should always be working towards improvement and personal growth.

Parents can celebrate failures

To clarify, parents should not praise failure that results from laziness or lack of effort. Instead, explain that a job well done will sometimes still result in disappointment, but this does not mean that strides weren’t made toward success. When we try and don’t succeed, we learn a little bit more about the task or goal and how we might readjust and attempt again after some reflection and strategizing. The key here is for parents to stress that to try and fail is not shameful—it’s the lack of the attempt at all that cripples our growth.

Conflict Resolution: Who Started It Doesn’t Necessarily Matter!

Remember in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy began her stroll down the Yellow Brick Road? Eventually, she came upon a fork in the road. There she stood, unable to determine which way to go until the voice of the Scarecrow came from behind. With arms folded one over the other and fingers pointing out in opposite directions, he said, “some folks go that way (pointing in one direction), and others go that way (pointing in the other direction).”

Sitting between parents in a high conflict situation with regard to custody and access issues is like watching the scarecrow. However, with separated parents they are both pointing at each other, each blaming the other for initiating and maintaining their conflict. In many instances, both have contributed to their mutual conflict and hence both feel justified at incriminating the other. Regardless of who started it, in many instances, it is clear, they both maintain it. As a concept, this is known as circular causality.

The issue of determining who started the conflict takes on significant meaning for separated parents. They hold a belief that by determining who started it and affixing blame, the alternate parent will not only be vindicated, but their position with respect to a solution of the actual custody/access dilemma will take precedence. To this end, parents in high conflict entrench themselves in their position, behaviours that actually contribute to the very conflict from which they seek relief.

The mediator, assessor or parenting coordinator appointed to relieve the conflict, normalize relations and facilitate the children’s development between separated parents obtain a history of the situation. The purpose is not to determine and ascribe blame, but to understand the dynamics and behavioural specifics of the conflict that continue to keep it alive.

The goal of intervention, be it mediation, assessment, court order or parenting coordinator is to interrupt the sequences of behaviours leading to circular causality, in favour of creating new behavioural sequences that promote healthy relationships and the child’s reasonable psycho-social development.

This is a challenge. Parents in high conflict are reluctant to let go their position, present with a strong need to be vindicated and often do lose sight of the long-term needs of their children. In many cases, this situation is exacerbated by lawyers who are more apt to fight their client’s cause versus facilitate agreement even in the face of differences of opinion.

Children who fair better with regard to psycho-social well-being, have at least one parent who is able to forgo a determination of “who was right and who was wrong”, in favour of developing agreements to act reasonably and structure custody and access arrangements that facilitate all pertinent relationships.

Where parents are seemingly unable or unwilling to cease their role in the battle, they are advised to attend with a Parenting Coordinator, a parenting expert empowered to act as arbitrator. One thing is certain, separated parents continuing to behave in their usual manner will likely continue to live in conflict and hence rear children who in turn will experience distress.

However, if parents agree to heed the direction of the Parenting Coordinator and let go the need to determine who was right and who was wrong, they have the opportunity to escape the trap of circular causality and move forward to healthy and constructive living.

Given the history of conflict, the loco parentis will likely begin with no faith or hope. However, faith and hope are not prerequisites for success; only commitment to following through as directed. Faith and hope can develop over time, the result of behavioural action.

Anxiety in Children: How Can You Help?

Mental health issues amongst children are becoming more and more common, and this is a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s a good idea to become familiar with signs of mental ill-health, and think about how you might be able to help.

The first step is to recognize the symptoms. While small experiences of anxiety are a natural part of life, it’s important to recognize when it’s becoming more prevalent, and when it’s having a negative impact on a child. Symptoms might include an irrational and ongoing sense of worry, an inability to relax, general uneasiness and irritability, as well as difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating or sudden, unprovoked feelings of panic. Anxiety and depression are not always obvious in children and symptoms can vary significantly depending on the child. Because of this, it’s really important to involve professional medical help if you’re worried about someone in your care.

The second step is to work out if and how to talk about it. Simply letting them know you care can make a big difference. You might like to share a story about times you’ve experienced anxiety. This can be an avenue into a discussion around anxiety, and can provide an opportunity to ask if they have similar worries.

If you’re going to try to help a child with anxiety, there are a few key things to avoid as they can end up being accidentally unhelpful. Avoid phrases like ‘just relax’, or ‘calm down’ as they can escalate the feelings of anxiety and make the child feel like they are doing something wrong. Also consider and be aware of situations that might exacerbate your child’s anxiousness, for example being in loud, crowded places could evoke feelings of uneasiness or panic. It’s important that you can find the balance between understanding and supporting what your child might be going through and acting as a self-assigned counsellor – don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need to.

The next thing you can think about is how to empower your child to deal with particular triggers. For example, if your child is feeling anxious about a certain event – an exam, public speaking at school, or an upcoming sports game, you may be able to talk with them about whether you can help them to practice or prepare in a way that they might find helpful.

Perhaps practicing a speech in front of you could help them to pinpoint what it is about the experience that’s making them feel anxious. You can’t promise that they’ll ace their presentation or win their sports day, but you can help them practice what they’re concerned about and provide them with tools to manage the anxiety they may feel in these situations. You don’t want to create further anxiety-inducing situations though, so make sure your child is happy to try this out, and mix it up with fun activities too. Revisiting things that they are familiar with and good at can help to develop a sense of capability and foster self-esteem.

When dealing with anxiety, this three-step breathing exercise can be used as a tool to interrupt anxiety as it builds, and it is something you can practice together.

  • Step 1: When you feel tension and anxiety building, stop and close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds.
  • Step 2: Hold it for 2 seconds, then slowly breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Step 3: Repeat this as many times as necessary, gently bringing your focus back to the breath.

If you’re worried about your child, or someone close to you, it’s important to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Anxiety and depression are illnesses that often benefit from a range of treatment options, and often professional support is key to management and recovery.

Attention Divided by Divorce: The Effects of Divorce on Children

Your son or daughter isn’t doing too well at school. You get a call from the teacher complaining of behaviour. If it’s a boy, the complaint is about fidgetiness, lack of concentration, impulsive behaviour, poor judgment and some talking back. If it’s a girl, she is described as distracted. Her mind seems to wander. Work isn’t completed and she seems withdrawn. In both cases, grades are slipping.

The teacher advises that the child exhibits the classic symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity if a boy and Attention Deficit Disorder, Inattentive Type if a girl. Psychoeducational testing may be suggested as might a prescription for Ritalin or Concerta.

If the parent obtains the psycho-educational assessment, little will be asked about family life and if asked, usually only one parent is interviewed. Hence information pertaining to family life may be minimized, or alternately any issue raised will be ascribed to the behaviour of the other parent. The testing will continue and a diagnosis of ADD confirmed.

With or without treatment, the child will appear resistant to change. In fact, symptoms may worsen. Prescriptions may be adjusted or changed. Behavioural interventions will be directed towards the child to gain compliance. The child may be withdrawn from the regular classroom. At best problems continue and at worst they intensify.

Some children subject to high-conflict parental divorce feel trapped between their parents or alternately feel like they must take sides. Either way, the parental conflict has spilled into their lives and as the child shoulders a burden too great to carry, it affects their ability to manage the demands of school.

In much the same was an adult with too much on their mind has trouble concentrating, so too of children. However, with children, there is often the myth that they are unaffected by the parental dispute or even if affected, can carry on at school. Hence the impact of the parental separation and conflict on the child goes undetected, unquestioned or unchallenged. It is glossed over as a contributory issue to the problems of the child’s academic performance.

In the context of a high-conflict separation or divorce, ADD may just as well be taken as Attention Divided by Divorce as Attention Deficit Disorder. In either case, the child’s behaviour looks the same. However, rather than an underlying neurological condition altering attention, the root of the problem is the parental conflict. No wonder in situations such as these, pharmacological and behavioural interventions directed solely at the child produce few results. To address the root of the problem, the parental conflict must be addressed.

In situations such as these, it is imperative that both parents are apprised of the child’s behaviour at school so that both parents can be interviewed with a view to determining if issues emanating from family life are contributory to their child’s school related performance.

Conflict that drags on causes ceaseless distress from which the child might never recover. Left unchecked, as the child remains in distress, school performance is undermined and the child runs the risk of losing pace with the other students. From there, there can be a cascade of secondary problems related to self-esteem, behaviour and school failure that can become entrenched and intractable.

Hopefully recognizing when parental conflict is underlying a child’s distress, both parents may be informed and hopefully better motivated to resolve the conflict. While parents may be apt to blame each other, it can be pointed out that regardless of who started the conflict, it is now the ongoing nature of the conflict that is bringing emotional and then academic harm to the child.

Given most parents profess to be working in the best interest of their child, maybe they can be coaxed or coached to resolve or at least manage their conflict in a way that minimizes distress to the child. If successful, attention will then likely improve.

Raising the Minimum Wage Would Reduce Child Neglect Cases

Low-wage service jobs have exploded in recent years, but good-paying positions have been harder to come by. ELAINE THOMPSON/AP

Raising the minimum wage by $1 per hour would result in a substantial decrease in the number of reported cases of child neglect, according to a new study co-authored by an Indiana University researcher.

Congress is considering increases to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and several state and city governments have enacted or are considering minimum wages higher than the federal rate. A $1 increase would result in 9,700 (9.6 percent) fewer reported cases of child neglect annually as well as a likely decrease in cases of physical abuse, said Lindsey Rose Bullinger of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“Money matters,” Bullinger said. “When caregivers have more disposable income, they’re better able to provide a child’s basic needs such as clothing, food, medical care and a safe home. Policies that increase the income of the working poor can improve children’s welfare, especially younger children, quite substantially.”

Bullinger and co-researcher Kerri Raissian of the University of Connecticut reached their conclusions by analyzing nine years of child maltreatment reports from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. More than 30 states had minimum wages exceeding the federal requirement by an average of $1 during the study period, allowing the researchers to track changes in the number of reports to child protective service agencies with increases in the minimum wage.

The substantial decrease in child neglect cases is concentrated among toddlers and school-age children, but changes in the minimum wage had little impact on reports of neglect of teenagers. The researchers found no variation based on a child’s race.

One measure before Congress would increase the wage from $7.25 to $10.10, and several cities are looking at wages as high as $15.

“We can’t say for sure that there would be even fewer cases of child maltreatment if hourly pay were that high, but our findings point in that direction,” Bullinger said.

Most research on the minimum wage has focused on its effects on the economy and poverty. Too often, policymakers have overlooked the impact on human health and well-being, Bullinger said. She directed a previous research project that found that increases in the minimum wage resulted in a drop-off in teen births.

Bullinger and Raissian’s complete findings were published in the peer-reviewed article “Money matters: Does the minimum wage affect child maltreatment rates?” in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

Why Higher Education Is A Must For Low-income Mothers

women in college class
Deborah Muscari, at right, teaches a GED class at Del Mar High School Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is getting pressure from members of his own party to spend some of the state’s surplus on welfare, health care, child care and other social programs to assist those who are missing out on the economic recovery. California is currently enjoying an influx of tax revenue but Brown is expected to release a budget proposal Friday that emphasizes restraint and savings for a rainy day. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

More than ever a college degree divides the haves and have-nots in American society. College graduates earn wages 56% higher than those of high school graduates, according to recent data from the Economic Policy Institute. Equally important, employment stability increases with a college degree. A 2017 Report found that following the 2008 recession over 95% of renewed employment went to workers who were college educated. By 2020 at least two-thirds of all jobs in the United States will require a level of education beyond high school – widening the already considerable income gap between those with and without such educational attainments. People without degrees will fall further behind, especially low-income mothers and their families.

Low-Income Mothers in the Labor Market

For decades, low-income mothers have found themselves restricted to chasing opportunities in the low-wage labor market, which offers insufficient wages and few opportunities for advancement to workers and their families. In the United States, children living in poverty or just above the poverty line suffer as much because of low wages earned by their parents as because of any lack of jobs.

And why are so many of America’s low-income mothers stuck in dead end jobs? That fact can be traced not just to blind economic forces, to expanding low-wage jobs, but also to intentional policy choices. Congress’s enactment of “welfare reform” in 1996 explicitly discouraged states from offering poor mothers chances to pursue post-secondary education. The new law called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) called for “work first,” requiring states to push poor mothers into immediate employment. Impoverished female heads of households, among the most vulnerable in our country, were suddenly told to “become self-sufficient” – and were prodded to do that without access to the college ladder. This work first drive ignored decades of research showing that college attainments – not low-wage jobs – are the best route out of poverty.

Despite this history and the obstacles they face in the current U.S. welfare system, millions of low-income mothers are tenaciously trying to complete a degree and escape poverty. Over the past 10 years, the number of student parents has increased by more than 30%. A 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that nearly five million undergraduate students, a quarter of all undergraduates, are parents of dependent children – and more than seven in ten of these are women. In fact, about 43% of the total student-parent population consists of single mothers. But the road to degrees is difficult. Try as they may, only a little more than a quarter of single parents in college are able to complete their degree within six years of enrollment. They graduate at less than half the rate of other students.

A Model for Providing Services to Students with Children

Recognizing the growing importance of helping student parents continue and finish their studies, some universities have established programs to meet the specific needs of this population – much as they have for veterans, international students and students of color. One leading model of support is the program called Services for Students with Children at Portland State University. This program provides counseling, childcare subsidies, lactation rooms, family-friendly study space and a place where student parents can connect with one another as they juggle complicated lives.

In a 2016 interview at Portland State, a 35-year old mom said the program “made all the difference between giving up and keeping on.” Other parents in the program talked about how the climb to graduation is much steeper if you are bringing children along. At the same time, though, some say children are “what keeps me going” as the interviewers heard again and again. Student-parents question why state policies are still focused on pushing mothers into “lousy jobs” rather than supporting efforts “to try to build your future” (as one mother of two put it). Support really matters. As a 28-year-old student confided, “There is no way I will ever be able to support my daughter if I don’t get this degree” yet she was taking the next semester off, because “I’m in debt now, I can’t borrow anymore and I can’t pay for childcare.” Interruptions like this often lead student-parents to drop out.

Lisa Wittorff, the director of the Services for Students with Children program, has watched hundreds of student-parents struggle to graduate: “I see parents who are doing everything possible. They are running from classes to daycare, to jobs and back to the library. At the very least states could count college effort as work effort – and provide fulltime childcare support.” Yet recent research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that funding for day care centers has declined since 2002 at universities and community colleges. “It makes no sense,” Shanda a thirty-four year old mother declared after losing childcare support. “This is my fourth try going back (to get a college degree). I want my sons to see that you can succeed. But if I don’t have a safe place to leave them, how am I supposed to show them that?”

Supporting Mothers in College Builds Social Equity 

A college education is the surest pathway out of poverty, especially as the demand for a more educated workforce accelerates. Of equal value to American society, attending college gives low-income students the chance to explore and develop their talents and interests, helping them set a positive example for their children and pass on new connections and skills.

Yet these valuable effects are not possible unless poor parents who undertake college studies can gain access to reliable family support services. Childcare and income supplements to pay costs of housing and food are essential to the success of these doubly burdened student parents. Providing the necessary supports is a short-term cost to society, but this kind of social investment stretches far into the future. Beyond providing immediate help to individual students and their families, supporting poor students who study for a better future builds a more educated and equitable nation for all Americans.

Technology and Children: A Parent’s Survival Guide

Technology has changed the way children develop and interact with others, and while it seems to change every day, many parents are forced to keep up or get left behind.

Jessica Mirman, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences, says that, even though much of technology can receive a bad representation, it is not inherently bad.

“Parents can be pretty sophisticated with technology when it comes to helping their children develop,” she said. “There are a variety of apps that can help with literacy skills. Especially for children with developmental disabilities, technology can be very helpful at home and in the classroom.”

Play it safe

Mirman says technology can be a distraction and a safety hazard across developmental periods.

“Parents need to be aware of what kinds of devices are in their homes and vehicles,” she said.

Whether it is about accidentally swallowing button batteries, the tiny batteries often found in musical greeting cards, games, Christmas ornaments and cameras, or the risks of texting and driving, Mirman suggested that parental vigilance can save lives.

“For example, button batteries are small, shiny, and very appealing to infants and toddlers who may try to ingest them,” she said. “Parents need to keep these and other batteries out of reach and keep devices secure with openings kept shut.”

The types of technology risks can change with age. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads.

“We always worry about when teens, and parents too, are glued to their phones while driving,” Mirman said. “There is also teen driver safety research that says when parents are calling, teens feel that they are expected to answer, even while driving. Parents need to remember to practice what they preach and model healthy technology habits at home and in the vehicle.”

What’s trending?

Social media is another way technology changes how people develop, according to Mirman. She says social media is a good tool to keep people connected; but there are guidelines and boundaries parents need to set, starting again, with practicing what they preach.

“Parents should practice moderation and respect for others on social media,” Mirman said. “Kids are very observant, and they will pick up on what parents do and often mimic those behaviors.”

She says children and teenagers are quick to point out any hypocrisy in parents.

Widespread and improved mobile technology means teens can access social media more easily. According to a Pew survey conducted during 2014 and 2015, 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily.

Mirman says parents who monitor their children’s social media usage need to start early to develop a foundation of trust with their teens. Parents cannot be around all the time, and teenagers will need to understand why they need to follow the rules, even when Mom and Dad are not watching.

“If an older child or teen really wants to get their hands on something online, they will likely find a way to do it,” Mirman said. “That is why parents need to be clear about their reasoning for why the rules are in place and not just be an enforcer of the rules.”

Screen time

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than 18 months should avoid the use of screen media. Between ages 18 months and 24 months, some screen-time can be introduced, with parental supervision. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, a maximum of one hour a day is recommended. For children above the age of 6, consistent time limits should be established.

Marcela Frazier, O.D., an associate professor in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology, says the amount of screen time a child has can have a negative impact on their eyesight.

“The more time children spend on devices, the less time they spend outdoors, and spending time outdoors could slow down the progression of nearsightedness, which is becoming more and more prevalent in children,” Frazier said. “Prolonged exposure to the screens of devices can cause eye fatigue, eye irritation and headaches due to the increased demand on the visual system and the tendency to not blink while using them.”

Frazier says adults usually report symptoms like eyestrain, dryness, headaches and eye irritation after prolonged use of near devices; however, children may experience these issues and not be able to communicate them accurately. Parents may notice some signs of eye irritation and fatigue related to screen-time in children manifested as excessive blinking, squinting, watery eyes, red eyes and some eye-rubbing.

The flip side

Mirman says much research has been done involving children and technology, but what happens when the parents are addicted to tech?

“If parents are distracted, they can’t pay attention to their children,” Mirman said. “Kids notice this quickly.”

She says, by being distracted with technology, parents can make their children feel rejected or unimportant. A more fluid boundary between home and work can add to that distraction.

Finding a remedy

Mirman says technology can be good, if used in moderation. Many kids can use age-appropriate video games as positive stimulants, and can use them as a way of positive social interaction with online multiplayer games. This can be especially helpful for socially marginalized children and teens.

“A lot of kids can make positive connections with others through multiplayer games or social media that they may not necessarily make in person,” she said.

She says it is important for families to create a positive culture around the phones and devices, and practice what she calls “phone hygiene.”

“Developing healthy habits is important not just for you but for the well-being of the entire family,” she said.

5 Things To Tell Your Teenager With an Alcohol Addiction

parents-teens

The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21, but that doesn’t stop many teenagers from drinking. Although the number of reported instances of underage drinking is done, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, there is still much to be done in the fight against underage drinking and all the problems that can result from it, such as vehicular accidents, sexual assault and death.

While most teens start drinking as a way to fit in with their friends and have fun at social gatherings, some find that the addictive powers of alcohol have made an immense impact on their impressionable minds. IF your teenager has an alcohol addiction, it can be a very difficult thing for the two of you to address. Here are five things you can tell your teenager with an alcohol addiction.

1.Their Addiction Does Not Define Them

The stigma of dealing with addiction can make many people feel like they’re a pariah in society. For a young person like a teenager, they might feel like they’ve ruined everything for themselves and the people around them. Take the time to remind your teenager of all their positive qualities and commend them for tackling their addiction. Remind them of how many people there must be who don’t have the courage to face their problems like they do.

2. They Are Not A Bad Person

Even if alcohol has influenced your teen to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t, you should remind them that an addiction doesn’t make them a bad person. You should tell them that their willingness to fight their addiction means they possess a strength that speaks to their character.

3. You’re Here For Them

Dealing with addiction can make people feel isolated and alone. Since it’s a largely mental battle, people recovering from substance abuse can feel as though they’re trapped in their minds with no one to turn to. Not only should you tell your teen that you are here for them, you should show it as well. Spend time with them and engage in fulfilling activities the two of you will enjoy. This will help them keep their mind off alcohol and help bring the two of you closer together. You might even look into innovative ways for your teen to help keep their mind clear. For instance, wilderness therapy is a type of behavioral therapy in which the powers of nature and outdoor exploring can help to cleanse one’s mind. These programs address matters such as substance abuse and could be the right solution for your teen on their path to recovery from alcohol addiction.

4. Addiction Can Happen to Anyone

Since your teen is young, they’re unlikely to have a sophisticated understanding of addiction and all that it entails. They might have stereotypical views of addicts and believe that they can’t be included in that group. Tell them about how substance abuse and addiction is a health matter, not a moral matter. Encourage them by telling them how addressing an addiction early on lessens its grip on them.

5. You Love Them

Addiction can put a tremendous strain on your relationship with your teen. The road to recovery can be rocky and there’s no surefire method of success. However, you’ll want your teen to know that you love and support them. You might not love or support some of the choices they’ve made, but you love them for all the joy their life has provided you. Your emotional support can make all the difference in helping them to cope with their addiction.

Send Children Back to School with Nutrition Knowledge During Kids Eat Right Month

As children head back to school, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to celebrate Kids Eat Right Month™ in August by ensuring children are properly fueled to grow and succeed.

“The start of the new school year is the perfect time to reinforce kids’ healthy eating habits,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Malina Malkani. “It’s important that parents give their children the proper tools to make healthful eating choices, which will benefit them now and as they grow into adults.”

An initiative of the Academy Foundation’s Kids Eat Right program, Kids Eat Right Month is celebrated each August and emphasizes the importance of families knowing how to shop smart, cook healthy and eat right, featuring expert advice from registered dietitian nutritionists.

Malkani offers easy, practical tips for parents to ensure their children eat healthy and succeed in school:

Start the Day with Breakfast

“Start off the day with a nutritious, healthful breakfast. Research shows that children who eat breakfast tend to be more alert, learn better and are less likely to be overweight,” Malkani says.

“Make sure that your child’s breakfast includes lean protein and whole grains,” Malkani says. “And don’t skip the fruit. Pick out the produce children need for optimal health, such as bananas, strawberries or blueberries.”

Pack a Healthful Lunch 

“Keep your child’s energy levels up with a healthful lunch packed with the nutrients they need to help them concentrate throughout the afternoon,” Malkani says. “For example, pack hummus and vegetables in a whole grain pita pocket with some apple slices.”

“Children also need to follow proper food safety practices to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Remind them to refrigerate their lunch within two hours, and if they don’t have access to a refrigerator, pack lunch in an insulated cooler with plenty of icepacks,” Malkani says.

Model Healthy Habits at Home

Parents are the most important role models for their children. Make time to enjoy a family dinner together. Research shows that families who eat together have a stronger bond,” Malkani says.

“If parents don’t have time to prepare a homemade meal after school, cook during the weekend, refrigerate and reheat,” Malkani says.

Depression: Youth, Counseling and Antidepressants

The advent of modern antidepressant medication has been a lifesaver to many. Recent research demonstrates that a combination of counselling and medication can provide the most effective treatment for youth suffering from depression.

However, there is evidence to suggest that in the early stages of medication treatment, there is an elevated risk of suicidal thought, which for some persons may lead to suicidal behaviour. This is causing a great many people to reconsider their use of medication, even when indicated.

This issue is determining which youth will benefit from one or the other or both treatments. To this end a good assessment will look for exogenous factors and endogenous factors.

Exogenous factors are those things outside of the individual that may contribute to depression. These include; family dysfunction, abuse or neglect, parental separation, school related problems and relationship problems. If it can be determined that one or more of these kinds of factors are at play, then counselling alone may be sufficient to treat depression.

Such counselling includes family therapy, or in the case of separated and fighting parents, mediation to help them resolve their conflict, so that the youth is no longer subject to their turmoil. If the youth is in a difficult interpersonal relationship, then counselling for the youth to address the difficulty may be in order. If the youth is abused or neglected, these issues must be addressed and the youth’s safety must be attained.

Endogenous factors generally relate to biological or neurobiochemical factors. If there is a history of depression in the family and there are no known exogenous factors, then medication alone may be the treatment of choice. Often though, with endogenous depression, the sufferer has difficulty controlling depressive thoughts and as such, in this situation a very specific form of counselling, CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is also indicated.

There are times of course when both endogenous and exogenous factors are at play. In these circumstances a combination of counselling and medication could be in order and should seriously be considered.

Parents and youth are cautioned against making their decision solely on the basis of newspaper articles proclaiming the good or the bad about any treatment. Depression is a serious disorder, which left untreated can lead to suicidal thoughts, action, injury and death.

If you or your child is depressed, obtain a good assessment by qualified professionals that will look at both endogenous and exogenous factors and devise a treatment plan accordingly. Further, the counsellor and the prescribing physician should be working hand-in-glove following the individual to manage safety issues and communicating regularly about progress.

It is important to know that with antidepressant medication, it can take a good thirty days before the therapeutic effect is achieved. During this time, counselling may be of benefit to resolve other issues as listed above or to simply provide support until the medication reaches effectiveness.

If you or your child is depressed, get help. It is often advisable to start with your family doctor or community clinic. A physician can make the diagnosis and direct you to treatment.

Out of Touch? 5 Ways to Reconnect with Your Child

No matter how close you and your children are, there are always dry spells where the relationships seem strained. With parents working, children going to school, and all of the home dynamics, it is understandable that parents and their kids can disconnect.

According to a survey by USA Today, mothers in America spend an average of 13.5 hours a week with their children. American fathers only average about 7.3 hours. Even with hectic schedules, you can find creative ways to spend quality time with your children. Here are a few reconnecting suggestions:

1. Share Events In Each Other’s Day

You only get a few minutes each day in the morning with your kids before they rush off to school and you head to work. There are a lot of events that happen during your eight hours apart that are worthy to discuss. If you pick your children up from school, the ride home is an ideal time to ask them questions about their day. Ask if they learned anything new today. What was their favorite event of the day? Do they have a best friend? Did something negative happen and they were able to overcome it? You may also add a few things about your day to empathize with the kids. These questions not only create bonding conversation, but it also provides essential information about what is going on in your children’s lives. There may be some issues that you need to address.

2. Let Your Kids Help In The Kitchen

Most people agree that the kitchen is the heart of the home. As more Americans are cooking meals and eating out less, it allows for quality family time. You can use meal preparation as a way of teaching your kids about cooking and nutrition. Children of all ages are usually fascinated with how ingredients are mixed to create a fabulous dish.

Parents have to consider the ages of their children and what limitations they have. Younger children are content just to watch and ask questions while you are cooking. School age kids have the ability to help with some of the preparation. It is a good time to learn about measuring and math skills. With a little guidance, high school students can prepare most of a meal themselves. There is a special connection around the family table as you share food that you prepared together.

3. Get Outside And Have Some Fun

Nature is one of our greatest teachers. When families explore the great outdoors, it is an incredible bonding time. There have been struggling families who had their relationships restored through wilderness therapy. There is something about fresh air and feeling a connection with the earth that prepares our hearts to listen, to forgive, and to love again. You and your kids can have an awesome time in a national forest, a public park, or your own backyard. Natural elements promote curiosity and conversation.

4. Institute A Family Game Night

Do you remember all of those fun board games you played as a child? Designate one evening a week to play games with your kids. Turn off all of the technology and just enjoy each other’s company with some friendly competition. Find a variety of classic board games that are age appropriate. You may also have fun teaching your kids how to play different card games. Pop a big bowl of popcorn and let the games begin!

5. Enjoy Favorite Books At Bedtime

According to statistics from the National Education Association, children whose parents read to them on a daily basis have greater advantages over those children who do not have these reading times. The best way to foster a love for reading is to show your children how much you enjoy it. Find age appropriate books and share stories with your kids every night. It is a great way to wind your child down for the night, while the two of you share a special time. As your kids get older, let them read some of the stories to you. Your children will get practice in reading and the two of you can reconnect.

How Parents Can Monitor and Manage a Child’s Stress Level

Adults are all too familiar with the concept of stress—we live with it almost every day to some extent. Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress as well. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents.

We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. If we adults sometimes find ourselves in the weeds when it comes to stress, how can we expect children to react to an increase in stress?

The solution to stress in children should not involve managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping children avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help parents take a proactive approach to stress:

1. Pack the schedule with pockets of “downtime,” as opposed to more activities. Of course children yearn to participate, whether it be dance class, soccer practice, after-school camp, science club, etc. This enthusiasm should not be discouraged, but it is a parent’s job to manage a realistic schedule and to keep it manageable. Yes, things will pop up—parties or sleepovers or field trips will emerge from the woodwork. However, downtime is essential for children to maintain their mental health. Often times, a child or adolescent’s stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow time in the family’s daily schedule to do absolutely nothing. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra violin practice, reading, or simply relaxing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

2. Explicitly discuss stress and where it comes from. The more your teen recognizes where and when his or her stress emerges, the better equipped he or she will be able to anticipate and circumvent the stressor. For instance, if procrastination or last-minute rushing is the catalyst, teach time management strategies and how to plan ahead.

3. Similarly, if you know your child’s stressors, help him or her to prepare for upcoming events that might cause anxiety or stress. If you know that your child despises the dentist, give him or her a heads-up about an upcoming appointment. Explain that nervous feelings are valid, but that the pros of going to the dentist far exceed the temporary uneasiness.

4. Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your child to explore options to clear his or her mind and body of any angst. If a walk around the block the morning before an important recital keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, bring a stress ball to the dreaded dentist appointment. When said event is over, celebrate your child’s bravery, tenacity, and composure.

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