Archive for the ‘ Q&A With Authors ’ Category

Teenagers Don’t Have to Be a PITA, Dan Siegel Explains in ‘Brainstorm’

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Are you ready for your baby to become a teenager? Most parents are not because, if I remember correctly, teens are a PITA. But bestselling author Dan Siegel, M.D., says those adolescent years do not have to be so dramatic. In his popular new book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brainhe explains that what’s inside teens’ heads are normal, scientifically-proven developments. Once we understand how their thoughts work–and why–we parents can lead them much more easily and sleep better at night.

Here’s what Dan had to say about the highlights in his book:

KK: What is the greatest myth around the teenage brain?
DS: The greatest myth is that adolescence is an “immature period of life,” one “we need to just get through and survive.” The truth is that it is an important and necessary transformative period that can allow us to thrive–not just in adolescence, but in adulthood as well. The scientific truth is that the “essence” of adolescence is something we can learn to cultivate in our lives. This “essence” is the crucial foundation for living a full life in adulthood as well. This “essence” = emotional spark (ES), social engagement (SE), Novelty-seeking (N), and creative exploration (CE). These things, which are all critical points of development, are vital to living well during adolescence and to keeping your brain young as an adult.

KK: People don’t often think of brain health daily. How important is brain health to a great life?
DS: Our brains shape how we feel, how we think, how our body functions and how we interact with others. When we learn the key to keeping our brains healthy with daily activities, we not only strengthen our mind, feel better and engage with others in more rewarding ways, we actually make our body healthier. How? By strengthening the brain, we help fight off chronic disease, repair the important caps of our chromosomes, and even improve our immune function. These are all skills that I try to teach both adolescents–and adults—in Brainstorm.

KK: So what can people do to keep their brains healthy and active?
DS: Science shows that there are at least seven fundamental daily activities that have been proven to keep the mind strong, the brain healthy, the body working well and our relationships thriving. These practices include having time each day to move the body, to be out in nature and connect with other people, to focus on one thing at a time, to relax and unwind, to sleep well, to be spontaneous and playful, and to take “time-in” to focus on your inner experiences of Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts. That’s how you can “SIFT” your mind each day to keep your brain healthy.

KK: What are 5 of your favorite facts about the brain?
DS: There are so many, but here are my five favorites:

1. Your brain continues to grow across the lifespan.
2.How you focus your mind changes the function and the structure of your brain.
3. The brain is the social organ of the body–and relationships shape and are shaped by the brain
4. The brain’s remodeling in adolescence leads to a more integrated and highly functional brain–remodeling is necessary and can be cultivated by both adolescents and adults.
5. You can choose to keep your brain strong and healthy. We can learn these important skills in adolescence and then hold on to the Essence of Adolescence throughout our adulthood to keep our brains vital.



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Author Charles Duhigg Gives Great Advice About ‘The Power of Habits’ For You and Your Kids

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?

Honestly, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even made mine yet. I’ve had work, and the kids just went back to school on Monday! Anyway, resolutions can be made all year long. But it’s definitely fun to think about them in January, right? It’s a time for new beginnings.

So I was especially excited to have a phone conversation this week with Charles Duhigg, the brilliant, bestselling author of the book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. It just came out in paperback this week.

He told me exactly why I do what I do, how to stop it, and how to instill good habits in my kids. Also, click to the next page to see his Habit Flowchart. It’s pretty cool–you’ll understand yourself a whole lot better. (And don’t miss this story about 17 Habits of Very Happy Moms.)

KK: Why are habits so hard to break?
CD: I think the reason they’re hard to break is because when most people attack them, they do’t think about the structure of how habits work. At the root of every habit, there’s a 3-step process:
1. Cue: This is like a trigger for the behavior to start.
2. Routine: Going through the motion of the behavior.
3. Reward: Whatever you get out of the habit.

If people don’t think about those cues and rewards, there’s a real disadvantage to try to change things. You can say, ‘I’m going to be thinner,’ but if you don’t sit down and make plans and look at the cues and rewards behind the eating habits, it will be difficult to make progress.

KK: How do we start installing good habits in our young children now? You know, so they don’t watch too much TV, eat too many snacks and yell too much like I do…
CD: The number one thing we can do is help them come up with plans. My son loves the TV show Special Agent Oso. There’s always three steps to solve a problem. So whenever he has an issue, I use that format, and we go through three special steps: Breath, calm down, think. Whatever the three steps are, we make them up on the spot and go through each one. With something like this, you’re teaching them a process for understanding how to react to their own emotions.

That way, when your child (or even you) feel a trigger coming on, you have a plan to deal with it ahead of time. The reward is that you’ll feel more calm and in control. We’re teaching my 5-year-old a structure to deal with emotions that helps him stay in control in the heat of the moment.

A huge amount of success in life comes from learning as a child how to make good habits. It’s good to help kids understand that when they do certain things habitually, they’re reinforcing patterns.

You can give your child an amazing toolbox for designing his own behaviors going forward and having a lot more willpower and self-control.

KK: What are good habits to form for the New Year? How are habits different than resolutions?
CD: Like I said, a resolution is usually like a goal, and a habit is a practical way of getting to that goal. It depends on the mom. Say she wants to exercise more, snack less and be more patient with her kids. What’s the cue for exercising? Put the shoes next to bed? Change into clothes as soon as the sitter shows? And she should give herself a reward after she’s exercised. People who eat a small piece of chocolate after running do it more and enjoy it more. We end up enjoying what we do on a regular basis if we offer ourselves rewards.

KK: Okay, here’s a common bad habit: How do moms who are always on-the-go create good eating habits and stop substituting their kids snacks for meals?
CD: It’s a habit I had, too. It’s very hard to resist. Those snacks are designed to be really yummy. My advice is to anticipate. When people have a willpower failure, it’s because they haven’t anticipated a situation that’s going to come along. So put a plate of carrots out with the nuggets. Or have your own meal with your kids meal, or eat your own snack before you feed them. Anticipate that moment ahead of time and it makes it much easier to resist.


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5 Tips to Avoid Co-Parenting Drama and Have Fun on the Holidays

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Are you co-parenting this holiday with your ex? Former spouses Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas know what you’re going through. They’ve been doing it for 8 years. Luckily, they’ve had good experiences, and they want to share them with you. As the co-authors of Co-Parenting 101: Helping You Children Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, they have 5 Tips to Avoid Co-Parenting Drama and Have Fun on the Holidays. Also, check out their website, Co-Parenting 101.

1. Have a Plan B.
Ideally, co-parents will have a previously agreed upon shared parenting plan in place that spells out where the kids will spend the holidays and what the drop-off and pick-up times will be. For example, the kids might spend Thanksgiving with one parent in even years, and with the other parent in odd years. Christmas might be split into Eve with one parent, and Day with the other, and then also alternated each year. And ideally, co-parents will stick to the plan so that their kids can anticipate and then enjoy their celebrations. But if your co-parent doesn’t stick to the plan, have a back-up plan ready. If you can’t count on your ex to pick up the kids as scheduled, be prepared to bake cookies together or play a game as a pleasant way to pass the time without focusing on the delay. If, on the other hand, your co-parent is always late dropping off the kids, make plans for holiday outings that start hours after pick up time, or the next day.

2. Remember that the memories you create are more important than the date on the calendar.
If your co-parent doesn’t adhere to the holiday parenting time schedule, or if the schedule doesn’t call for your children to be with you on a particular holiday, you can still celebrate whenever your children are with you. Some co-parents serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal long after everyone has tired of the turkey they ate in November, or they might observe Christmas in July. Kids won’t like their presents any less just because they open them before or after December 25th. Far more important than when you celebrate the holidays is how you celebrate. Celebrating in ways that are memorable because of the warmth and laughter you share with your children trumps fighting over specific dates and leaving your kids to fret over the uncertainty and the parental conflict.

3. Start new family traditions.
Your kids will remember your family’s holiday traditions from before your break-up, and they may want to replicate them. Or they may decide that it’s just not the same or just not possible without the other parent. Don’t force it. Instead, you can introduce new fun and meaningful ideas related to the holidays that, if they catch on, just might become new traditions that your kids look forward to each year. Non-traditional celebrations can be the start of new family traditions. Instead of a traditional holiday meal, why not try out new recipes and cook with your kids? If your family used to spend a lot of time indoors decorating and cooking, get everyone outside this year and go ice-skating or see community holiday light displays. If the days leading up to the holidays have typically been spent shopping and being on the go, slow down and hunker down at home. Listen to holiday music, make ornaments together, and read stories. New traditions don’t have to be grandiose or expensive. Anything that allows you and your family to be close and at peace can become a tradition over time.

4. Don’t make gift-giving a competition.
Are you and your co-parent able to communicate and coordinate your holiday gift-giving efforts? If not, that’s okay, but be sure to avoid the trap of trying to outspend each other or drawing lines in the sand when it comes to buying the gift at the top of your child’s wishlist. Parents’ bickering over gifts can diminish the spirit of giving for your child and put undue pressure on the her. And trying to outspend can put undue pressure on your wallet! If your co-parent tries to compete in this way, refuse to play that game. And remember, one of the greatest gifts that you both can give your child is your civility towards one another as you parent her together.

Speaking of gift-giving, when you help your child buy or make a gift for the other parent, you’re saying to her, “I know that you love your mom/dad, and it’s important to you to give him/her a gift for the holidays.” This is just one more way you can affirm her right and need to having a loving relationship with both parents.

5. Encourage your child to enjoy her time with the other parent.
Even moms and dads who have been co-parenting for years still struggle sometimes when they are not with their kids for all or part of the holiday season. For some co-parents, feelings of loss, hurt, or anger related to their break-up can resurface during the holidays and make it difficult to accept that their child will be with the other parent. But we as adults have to deal with our emotional issues so that they do not become burdens for our children. We can tell our kids that we will miss them, but still encourage them to go and have a good time celebrating with the otherparent. This frees them to enjoy the holidays without worrying about us. It may be easier to let go in this way if you have plans of your own to enjoy. Do something non-holiday-related for a change of pace, or scenery. Spend time with relatives and friends, or get together with other co-parents whose kids are also away for the holidays. Or use the time to relax and pursue activities that you don’t have time for when you’re parenting.

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Kids Book Pick: Aspiring Little Dancers Need ‘Ballet for Beginners’ by Prima Princessa

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Two hardworking, kick-booty moms who live in my town of Montclair, New Jersey, created top-selling ballerina DVDs for little girls called Prima PrincessaTheir version of The Nutcracker breaks down the story and features little girls and professionals performing it. It’s no less than spectacular–my two girls and even my boy twirled around to it when they were preschoolers. You might have caught the programs when they aired on public television stations around the world in recent years. They also produced Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.

This year, Stephanie and Mary Kate have added a beautiful hardback book called Ballet for Beginners to their line of dance-inspiring products. In Ballet for Beginners, they break down the beautiful moves in photos and descriptions. It’s great for little girls just starting all the way up to teenage girls who would like to have references.

I got in touch with Stephanie and Mary Kate to see what they’ve been up to. Check out their answers below and find out why ballet is good for our kids, how to get little girls started and more!

KK: What ages does your new book, Ballet for Beginners, target?
Stephanie Troeller and Mary Kate Mellow (see left): Our book is designed for preschool children up to teenagers as well as parents looking for an overview of the world of ballet training. Little kids love the book because it is full of fun photos of preschool kids dancing and cartoons of Prima Princessa, our ballerina fairy. Children just starting out in ballet class as well as more serious student get to see great photos of some of the best ballet students in the world demonstrating most of the major steps and positions in ballet.

KK: What tips do you have for moms with small children who would like their kids to love ballet?
ST and MKM: Well we would have to say take your children to see a real ballet or you can have them watch one of our 3 Prima Princessa DVDs: Prima Princessa Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. Each of these shows features a real ballet on stage performed by top ballet companies. The ballets have been edited in a child-friendly fashion, and they feature narration by our animated ballerina fairy Prima Princessa so children can follow the plot. Interspersed throughout the show are mini-dance breaks where children get to practice the ballet steps the they saw on stage with students from the School of American Ballet, official academy of the New York City Ballet.

We have tons of parents writing to us all the time about how their children love to dress up in their tutus and dance along to Prima Princessa shows. We specifically designed these shows to inspire children to dance.

KK: Is ballet just for little girls?
ST and MKM: Ballet is for everyone! Our shows and book are designed to inspire both future ballet dancers as well as ballet lovers right now! Are shows and book are something families will enjoy watching and reading together.

KK: How is ballet good for our kids?
ST and MKM: Ballet is not only great exercise, but it teaches children how hard work and discipline can pay off. Whether your children sticks with ballet or not, exposing them to ballet at an early age will develop in them an appreciation of the performing arts. In this age of instant gratification with downloadable games, apps, texting and snap chat the experience of watching a ballet performance is completely different. It really gets a child’s brain working in a more in depth fashion where they take the time to absorb and enjoy a classic fairy tale story like The Nutcracker as it unfolds through breathtaking dancing set to Tchaikovsky’s music.

KK: What’s a fun ballet move we can learn right now?
ST and MKM: Well our guess is your kids have probably been doing a bunch of ballet moves without even knowing it. Jumps, Spins, kicks and standing on ones tippy toes are all ballet movements. While our book shows precise ballet steps executed perfectly by the best students in the world, our shows feature preschooler, ballet students, professional ballerina as well as animals and toys doing ballet moves! We are not only showing ballet moves, but the spirit behind each ballet movement. On our website on our Be a Ballerina Page you can watch a video and learn how to do a Bouree.

Click to the Prima Princessa site for holiday games, tutus, DVDs and even this printable magic wand.

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Eighth Grader Ravina Thakkar Writes a Novel Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Sourcebooks

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Ravina Thakkar, an eighth-grader in Plainfield, IL, has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening medical condition that affects her lungs and digestive system. She doesn’t define herself that way, though. She thinks of herself as a writer–and a girl who loves to dance and listen to music.

When she became eligible, her social worker helped make her dreams come true through the Make-A-Wish® Illinois foundation.

Ravina wanted to write a book for middle graders, and she did just that yesterday when Sourcebooks released her new title. The publisher gave Ravina the entire author experience–from working with editors and designers to revising the manuscript and weighing in on the cover art.

Ravina’s book is called Adventure of a Lifetime and was written when she was 8-years-old. It’s about a 9-year-old girl named Betty who battles alongside a character from her favorite fiction series as they race from one danger to the next.Adventure of a Lifetime It was released on her 14th birthday. Ravina’s doing a marketing and publicity campaign that includes this Q&A with me: nts and bravery.

KK: How old were you when you wanted to become a writer? What age should we parents start encouraging our little ones who seem interested in it?
RT: (At left.) I was 6 when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I think…or at least, that was when the idea first got in my head. If children show interest in writing, then I would definitely suggest encouraging them early on! My parents’ support is one of the reasons I’m here today.

KK: How does your illness tie into your deep desire to write? How do your experiences affect your writing?
RT: Well, in my case, Cystic Fibrosis affects my lungs more than anything else. I take medication and do three treatments a day to stay healthy, and since those treatments take up much time in my day, they’re usually the time when I sit down to write. However, I don’t think Cystic Fibrosis has really affected my actual writing in anyway though…I’ve never really written about it.

KK: Kids your age are really busy. How did you communicate your passion to your parents, and make sure you had enough time to write, while juggling school, friends and after-school activities?
RT: The time I had during treatments helped a lot. I’m not in many extra-curricular activities anyway, but as school gets harder and harder, there’s less time to write. I’ve been juggling ideas around in my head and jotting them down for a later date, so I can write them out once everything gets less hectic.

KK: What advice do you have for other parents whose kids are interested in writing?
RT: Support them! If they want to, let your children tell you about their stories. Readers make the best writers, so encourage that. However, some kids just like writing as a hobby and that’s fine–never make it into a chore of sorts for them.

KK: If you could meet any writer, who would it be?
RT: Oh, this is funny, considering my first ‘wish’ with the foundation was to meet J.K. Rowling. Sadly, she’s not a participant in the Make A Wish foundation, but I’d still love to meet her! Either her or John Green, most definitely.

KK: If you could write another book, what would it be about?
RT: I’m not quite sure yet…I’ve kind of gravitated towards realistic fiction instead of adventure fiction, so if I did write something else, it would probably be that genre.

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