Posts Tagged ‘ parenting advice ’

10 Special Traditions Beyond Thanksgiving

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Mother and daughter in pile of leavesEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

At Thanksgiving time, we are reminded again of how important traditions are in a family’s life and legacy. But many parents express anxiety about how to find the “right” traditions for their family. Should traditions just “evolve,” or should parents consciously establish them? The right answer is do both – allow some traditions to evolve by embracing the activities your kids naturally gravitate toward, and consciously experiment with other traditions to see which ones work within your family dynamic.

There are two secrets to establish lasting family traditions: repetition and anticipation. When you find something that brings out smiles, repeat it on a regular and predictable enough basis that it becomes an ingrained part of the family repertoire. For those traditions that need planning ahead, begin talking about the event days before it occurs to build excitement. Anticipation can be as much fun as the tradition itself.

Traditions come in two sizes: big (national and federal holidays, birthdays, anniversaries,); and small (those unique to your family). Both are important in a family’s legacy, so personalize them with these 10 ideas for creating special traditions:

1- Make the big holidays your own. Serve meals at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving morning. Play backyard football before Christmas dinner to work up an appetite. Bring flowers to the local military cemetery on Memorial Day or July 4th.

2- Turn birthdays into unique celebrations. Hang balloons in the kitchen the night before so the kids arrive to a party room on their big morning. Eat pancakes for breakfast in mom and dad’s bed. Sing “Happy Birthday” in the most off-key way possible.

3- Double (or quadruple!) the number of birthdays. Serve a cupcake on quarter birthdays and half a cake on half-birthdays. Avoid gifts on these fractional celebrations, and instead focus on laughter, singing, and fun. Add a balloon or two. Celebrate your pets’ birthdays, too!

4- Have monthly Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Give mom a night off from household chores on the first Tuesday of every month, and make a special dinner for her. Do the same for dad on the second Thursday of every month. Pick which day of the month works best for you, but your family will have 22 more “celebrations” each year.

5- Share quirky inside secrets. Make a funny noise in the elevator when it’s just your family taking a ride, or give a whoop every day when the clock strikes your address number (if you live at 920 Elm Lane, cheer at 9:20 every morning and night). Invent a secret family hand shake.

6- Have the same meals for special occasions. Serve Chinese food for every anniversary, Indian food for good report cards, or hot dogs on the opening day of baseball season every year.

7- Get dressed up for a candlelight dinner. Once a month, have everyone wear their best party clothes and eat a fancy meal at home by candlelight. Put on soft music, bring out the good dishes, and use restaurant table manners.

8- Celebrate the first sign of seasons. Have a family leaf fight every fall when the leaves begin to pile up in the yard, go sledding after the first snowfall, eat fruit salad in the garden to celebrate the appearance of the first spring flower, and have a family water fight on the first summer day that reaches 90º.

9- Have family-only activities. Plan a family comedy night or a talent show, make holiday cards from scratch, or write personalized lyrics to an old song and then sing the new composition together.

10- Give back to the community together. Identify a favorite charity and participate in its fundraising each year – walk, run, bike, volunteer, and/or donate.

Try lots of different ideas. There’s no such thing as “failure” – if an idea doesn’t work, you’ve still spent wonderful moments with your kids. Plus, you’ve created unforgettable memories and, perhaps, given them something to tease you about for years to come (“Remember when dad thought it would be fun to have all of us join the “polar bear club” and jump into the lake in December?”)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

 

Image: Mother and daughter in autumn yellow park via Shutterstock.

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Alison Sweeney Takes “One Giant Pledge” to Eat More Veggies

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

On October 2, actress and The Biggest Loser host Alison Sweeney joined Green Giant in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal to take a pledge for veggies!

Sweeney promised, on behalf of her family, to eat just one more vegetable per day–and encouraged all of the young school students in attendance to do the same.

(Families can also take the pledge on Green Giant’s Facebook page.)

Parents.com had a few moments to chat with Sweeney, mom to Ben, 7, and Megan, 3, about how she helps her kids make healthy food choices.

How do you encourage your kids to eat their vegetables?

We always come up with new, different ways to be healthy, like trying different recipes. There are a lot of ways to be creative and include vegetables. There’s the French fry approach, where I let them eat green beans with their hands and sometimes we dip them in stuff.  Some veggies are great raw. My son doesn’t like bell peppers when they’re cooked, but he loves them raw.

What are some veggie meals you make that are good for kids?

I love to make a veggie stir-fry for my kids because I think it’s a great way to get tons of vegetables in a meal. People always think they need a cup of rice for every stir-fry portion, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I think people’s proportions get all skewed. You can do a quarter cup of rice, have mostly veggies, and add a protein. Stir-fry is also good because it can be made with whatever vegetables happen to be in the fridge, so I pull out what I have in the freezer and my kids love it.

What do you make stir-fry with?

I stick to a healthy oil, like a safflower oil or something light. I do find healthier stir-fry sauces and ingredients, but as long as kids are getting their veggies, keep sauce to a minimum for just enough flavor.  A lot of the time parents end up making bad choices. When you’re tired or the kids are tired, you don’t want arguments about dinner, so kids end up getting used to eating delicious but bad-for-you food. I can’t just let kids eat chicken fingers or Pop tarts every day. My kids do eat mac ‘n’ cheese, but in smaller portions with a lot of veggies.

You mentioned your son loves bell peppers. Are there any other vegetables that are great for kids?

Carrots, snap peas, and peas. Also broccolini and broccoli. (Green Giant has a great vegetable medley that kids love.) My kids love edamame. The veggies that are hard to sell kids on are asparagus and Brussels sprouts.  My son’s teacher told me that it takes 10 tastings for someone to get used to a flavor, to know whether he likes something, so I’m still working on 10 tries for some veggies.

Do you have any tips for parents of picky eaters?

Picky eaters are a really hard thing, but you can use hunger as your ally. It’s okay to let them get a little hungry so they’re more likely to eat. Then you only offer them veggies. Kids are not going to starve. Also offer veggies as a snack when your kids get home from school, and have them prepared and ready to go in little bags. There are great reusable bags now at Pottery Barn Kids; I stuff them with carrot or bell pepper sticks and sugar snap peas.  You really have to set boundaries on what’s allowed. With my kids, we work with set rules. We have Mac ‘n’ Cheese Monday, so they get mac ‘n’ cheese only on Monday. For Taco Friday we do taco wraps. My kids love using lettuce as wraps. You just have to put the taco mix inside. Often we think kids need basic or bland foods, but it’s really not the case. I put cinnamon in my kids’ oatmeal when they were around 6-8 months old and they loved it. I don’t want them getting used to tasting really starchy, bland food. I want them to expect flavor and texture. I use agave nectar with carrots and a little rosemary, and it’s delicious and sweet. I think there is a world of options out there.

What are other things you do with your kids to promote healthy living?

I think it’s super important to let your kids know that you’re active, too. You have to practice what you preach. I’ve been super successful at explaining why I need to work out. I tell my kids, “Mommy needs to get her exercise and go to the gym.” They see me making exercise a core part of my life, so that’s going to help them down the road. We do a lot of stuff that’s active as a family, like going on hikes with our dog, flying kites, and running into the ocean. I burn a lot of calories swimming with my kids and playing baseball with my son. With my daughter, we run around and dance. We have so much fun. You can find ways to be challenged by your kids and encourage them in the process. You have to commit to it.

What’s the best or worst parenting advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I got when I had my first child was: Imagine if you were holding an 18-month-old child when you hear your other child, an infant, crying. You would have to do something, but you can’t just drop your child and run to the baby. You would have to put your kid down, give him a toy or something to do, and then go tend to your infant.  There’s no need to panic.  Just take a breath instead. So many new parents feel everything is very high-stakes, that they have to run off to the infant, but it’s good to just wonder, what if there was a sibling already? It’s okay to just take a minute, take your time.

What inspires you as a parent?

My kids’ smiles inspire me every day. When you become a parent, all your decision-making changes.  Every decision I make now is based on how it will affect my children. Sometimes it means having to discipline them or to make tough choices that will make them unhappy, but I have to do what is best for them their whole life.

For more about healthy eating and living, check out the following on Parents.com:

Image: Alison Sweeney, center, poses with stilt walker Michael Schruefer, left, and Sprout at the Green Giant event. Courtesy of Green Giant.

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What Barbie and Ken Taught Us About Stereotypes

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Barbie and KenEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

As a pediatrician, I may have been ahead of my time in advocating gender-neutral play for kids. Beginning nearly 25 years ago when our oldest was born and continuing with his sister and brother, we gave our boys ample opportunity to play with dolls and our daughter saw more than her share of toy trucks. Despite our advanced thinking, by the time they were 2, 4, and 6 years old, the kids seemed to have already absorbed society’s subliminal stereotyping, gravitating to the predictable playthings for their gender. Our kids really loved playing together, so most of their play was gender generic: backyard soccer, Beanie Babies, Candy Land, card games, and climbing towers.  We gradually reconciled ourselves to the fact that some of their play would never cross gender lines.

As they got a little older, our daughter found girlfriends who loved Barbie dolls as much as she did (there were some non-stop Ken and Barbie days from breakfast to dinner)  and the boys played ball — all the time, with each other and with other boys in the neighborhood. (Our oldest son’s first question, when we brought his baby brother home from the hospital, was: “When will he be old enough to play baseball?”). Occasionally, when Ken and Barbie were tired or when her friends had to go home, our daughter would join the boys in the backyard for ball. But the reverse never happened, for two reasons: the boys never tired of ball and Barbies were for girls.

That brings us to the fateful day when our now 4, 6, and 8 year old kids taught us an important lesson about the ability of kids’ imaginations to transcend all the TV, movie, children’s books, and playground stereotypes they were exposed to every day. It was a rainy Saturday and Emily’s closest Barbie buddies were all unavailable.  This was a potential 7.0 crisis on the kid Richter scale.

Downstairs, in the basement, our boys had a 5 foot basketball hoop set up for rainy days. To compensate for age and size difference, our 8 year old played on his knees.  Meanwhile upstairs, our daughter was able to sustain a Barbie soap opera (there was always drama with Ken and Barbie) on her own for about half an hour, but then she exhausted her imagination and needed a friend to contribute to the plot and dialog.  But on this day, there were no friends and no outdoor options.

This was clearly a parenting moment, and my wife leaped into action. She called the boys upstairs and told them they had to be their sister’s Barbie buddies, at which point we both upgraded to DEFCON 3 and waited for the explosion. No explosion. Just a loud groan from the 8 year old and an echo groan from the 4 year old, followed by the negotiations. Will she play basketball with us after? How long do we have to do it? Do we have to talk like Barbie? When’s lunch? Each question asked by the 8 year old was echoed by the 4 year old. At that point, mom made it very clear: Your sister puts up with a lot of boy stuff in this house. Please go upstairs, now. Play Barbie and pretend to like it. Big groan, echo groan, synchronous stair stomping.

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5 Essential Back-to-School Tips for Parents

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Back to School colored pencilsEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

Ready or not, it’s that time again. Your kids are trying on fall clothes, cleaning out backpacks from last year, and shopping for school supplies. Another exciting year of growth and development is on the horizon for your children. Here are five sure-fire ways to make this a year of growth and development for you as well.

Hold a weekly calendar meeting.

Each new year of school brings more complicated choreography to your kids’ schedules – and to your schedule as well. Every Sunday night, sit down with your kids and enter every commitment and event of their upcoming week into your personal calendar. There are 3 important reasons to do this: a) you should always know where your kids are; b) you have a head start on dinner conversation if you know what your kids have been up to all day; c) you may get a pleasant surprise – a meeting of yours is canceled in time for you to make the second half of a basketball game. But you’ll only know about the game if it’s on your calendar.

Volunteer at school.

Every school is underfunded and shorthanded. Your kids’ school can use your help and participating in an after-school activity can be a meaningful experience. Depending on your kids’ ages and their level of pride (or embarrassment) in seeing you at school, there are many roles to fill: homeroom parent, teacher’s aide, hall monitor, coach’s assistant, team parent, crossing guard, PTA, office volunteer, and field trip chaperone or driver, to name a few.  Spending a part of your day at school gives you an up-close look at interactions with teachers and friends, hallway dynamics, and locker lore. All this can lead to more good dinner conversation!

Drive a carpool.

Whether it’s driving back and forth to school or to and from after-school activities you learn a lot about your kids by driving the carpool. Mysteriously, the carpool driver becomes practically invisible to the passengers, especially when it’s more than just your own kids in the car. This allows you an invaluable “fly on the dashboard” opportunity to eavesdrop on your kids social interactions, catch up on grade school gossip, and hear about homework without even asking.

Help with homework.

Be involved with your kids’ homework every night. When they’re in grade school, sit with them for part of the time they’re doing work – not to catch every math mistake but to make sure they get the big picture. In middle school, just look over their completed work regularly for overall quality. Show you are happy to see them doing such a nice job. Your pride in their work will become their pride. By high school, it’s enough to ask each night if they’ve finished their homework and occasionally review a teacher’s comments on the graded work.  No matter the age, if your kids ask for help, do your best to guide them without doing their homework. Remember, you’ve already learned “times tables,” so now it’s their turn.

Manage extracurricular activities.

Beware of “potpourri parenting” – soccer Mondays, violin Tuesdays, karate Wednesdays, etc. Kids’ options for extracurricular activities are limitless, and you may be tempted to enroll your kids in everything, thinking you’re “enriching” them.  As long as your kids are enjoying these activities, and you’re not missing chances to spend more time with them, there’s nothing wrong with having many varied experiences. But if programming begins to replace parenting or if your kids are showing “enrichment fatigue,” reduce the amount of activities. Your time together as a family is almost always more enriching, especially since time with your young kids is fleeting. Don’t give it all away.

The school years won’t seem to pass by as quickly if you get involved in your kids’ school lives. So have a wonderful fall semester!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado.  He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).


Image: “Back to school” and colored pencils via Shutterstock

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Teaching Kids Perseverance on the Monkey Bars

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Playground monkey barsEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month.  He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

Let me say this right up front – not every child masters the monkey bars. Unlike sitting, standing, walking, potty training, or riding a tricycle, the monkey bars are not considered a developmental milestone. At well-child visits, doctors don’t ask, “Has your child mastered the monkey bars yet?” the same way they ask, “How many words are in your child’s vocabulary?” Trust me, I’m a pediatrician. There are even successful adults working alongside you who have never been able to master the monkey bars.  Trust me, I’m one of them.  I was never able to climb a rope or do a pull-up either. I always blamed my inabilities on a poorly-centered center of gravity. But enough about me. This is about our daughter who, happily, did learn to master the monkey bars. She absolutely had to.

Emily’s best friends in grade school were tiny wisps of girls who didn’t touch the ground when they walked because they were too light for gravity. For them, the monkey bars were as natural as breathing – they didn’t have to think twice before sailing from one end to the other, with each girl outdoing the other in speed and panache. When the monkey bars became the “must” place to be during recess, Emily was in a tough spot.  Her feet did touch the ground while walking and the monkey bars were not automatic like breathing – they were more like hyperventilating. Not being a wisp came in very handy for Emily when she played sports later in life, but this was first grade and nothing mattered except the monkey bars.

Knowing no one would be at the school playground on Saturday, we packed everyone in the van and headed there for a monkey bars crash course. First, our oldest child (who was in third grade) tried to inspire Em by hopping onto the launch step and zipping all the way across, gracefully swinging from each arm to get to the next bar.  He dismounted and encouragingly said, “See, Em, it’s easy!” Emily didn’t find this inspiring. In fact, she started crying. Next, the youngest child (who was in preschool) needed a turn. We held him up and walked beneath the monkey bars as he touched each one with his hands. Then he was off to the sandbox.

Finally, Emily stood on the launch step, grabbed the first bar with her left hand, stepped, and…just dangled there.  Her right arm waved toward the next bar, but her body did not obey. She dropped to the ground and sobbed, “See?! I told you I can’t do it!” Of course, we asked ourselves how much of the obstacle was physical or mental.  We pretended to be sports psychologists for a little while, probing her deepest monkey bar phobias. Yes, she was afraid of failure.  Yes, she was afraid of embarrassment.  Yes, she was sure everyone else was better at monkey bars. Yes, she would never, ever, ever have friends, in her whole life, if she couldn’t conquer the monkey bars. Ok, enough psychology – there were fewer than 48 hours before Monday’s recess. A miraculous cure was in order, and it had to be immediate.

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“Once Upon a Time” Actor Raphael Sbarge on Fatherhood and Storytelling

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Raphael Sbarge Once Upon a TimeI’m a huge fan of “Once Upon a Time,” and if you watched the show as avidly as I did each week, you’ll recognize actor Raphael Sbarge in his dual role as Jiminy Cricket and psychologist Archie Hopper.  The show, which has been renewed for a second season, is centered on the power of storytelling and finding the extraordinary truth in ordinary fairy tales.

Here, in an exclusive essay for Parents.com, Sbarge writes about his own roles as father, storyteller, and entertainer for his two kids.  He shares how making up bedtime stories (such as The Adventures of Seymour and Alice) helped instill imagination, creativity, and a love for books. Just in time for Father’s Day, read an excerpt from the essay below.

*****

I have two children, a son and a daughter. Django is now 7 and Gracie is 9. One problem I had when they were younger is that a book for one child wasn’t necessarily for the other, and bedtime was a precious window. I discovered one day, quite by accident, that I could make up my own stories. These stories would invariably come from a kind of free association, as random and ridiculous as whatever would occur to me in the moment, like the tale of a female pillow that had lost her owner and decided to find him. Or a bird that woke up one day and was able to talk to humans but would occasionally lose control and speak bird again.

But I really hit pay dirt with my ongoing series, The Adventures of Seymour and Alice, about a brother-and-sister adventure duo that would often get lost and find themselves in fantastic and perilous circumstances, yet by ingenuity, gumption, and a deep desire to help one another, would always find their way home. Click here to read the full essay by Raphael Sbarge.

 

Follow Raphael Sbarge on Twitter (@RaphaelSbarge) and on Facebook (facebook.com/officialraphaelsbarge).

Photo Credit: T Love Photography by Tena Fanning

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