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5 Reasons Why Camp is Awesome

Monday, July 7th, 2014

During the school year, my biggest concern was that my 9-year-old daughter, Jane, is not the greatest speller. (Hey, I’m an editor.) Yet I was thrilled when her first letter from sleepaway camp arrived in a pink envelope and exclaimed, “Camp is asome!” (It was the only word she misspelled in whole letter.)

I loved camp as a kid, and so did my older daughter, but Jane has always been more clingy and scared by nature. However, it was her idea to go away to camp this summer and she’s been anticipating it eagerly every single day for the past year. (Seriously: On the way to school, she’d always say, “Let’s talk about camp!”)

In the week before she left, she hardly seemed nervous. But when it was finally time for her to say goodbye and get on the bus, she started to cry. “I don’t want to go,” she said to us. “Camp is going to be awesome!” I reassured her. “You’ll have a great summer.” I gave her a big hug, and put on my sunglasses as she boarded the bus so she wouldn’t see my own tears as I waved. I knew in my heart that she’d be fine—but seeing a smiling, thumbs-up photo on the camp website that night helped me breathe a sigh of relief.

One of my favorite books for parents is Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow, by our wise advisor, Dr. Michael Thompson. It’s about the “magic of camp,” but it’s also about how kids learn some of the most valuable lessons when we’re not hovering over them. Here are some of the reasons why I am excited for kids who are lucky enough to go to sleepaway camp.

Chores are no big deal. At home, I sometimes have to remind my daughter to make her bed or put her plate in the dishwasher. Clean-up at camp is part of the fun. Campers compete to have the neatest bunk. At Jane’s camp, each bunk has a job wheel and the kid whose daily chore is the least pleasant (cleaning the toilets) gets the privilege of taking the first shower.

Counselors rule. Of course, it’s more motivating to be told what to do by a cool 20-year-old than by your parents. Young people who decide to spend their summers being counselors are a special breed—they want to share the carefree joys of camp with the next generation. Kids are more likely to push themselves (to jump into the lake, to sign up for the talent show) when they’re encouraged by their counselor buddies. There are also wonderful older counselors (many are teachers), who make a lasting impression on kids.

Kids can conquer their fears. Jane is still wary of the dark. She likes to sleep with the overhead light in her bedroom dimmed, but I’m sure there’s no light in her camp bunk at night. She sometimes has an irrational overreaction to bugs, which are plentiful at camp. She has been a picky eater and is often truly afraid to taste an unfamiliar food, but I’ll bet she’ll be more willing to try new dishes when surrounded by her bunkmates than at my dining room table.

Screens fade from memory. Who needs an iPad or TV when you’re busy outdoors all the time? And getting mail (the paper kind) is one of the highlights of the day.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Yup, kids love camp, but they’re always happy to see their parents again. And missing our kids while they’re gone makes us appreciate them even more when they’re back. (Will they clean the toilets at home??)

These chore charts might help. Going camping? Shop for gear here.

Using Positive Reinforcement
Using Positive Reinforcement
Using Positive Reinforcement

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The Best Way to Start The Day

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Graduation season is over but I keep thinking about what Naval Admiral William H. McRaven—who’d been a Navy SEAL for 36 years—told the graduates of the University of Texas at Austin: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Here’s why he said that was the #1 lesson he’d learned:

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.

If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection.  It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.  It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

All so true—for both parents and kids. You don’t need to have the same military standards about square corners or centered pillows. In fact, it’s fine to choose bedding that makes the job easier (shop for great comforters here). With a young child, don’t expect perfection—but do insist that he take the time to do the job. Even on a busy morning, it’ll takes no more than a couple of minutes. And don’t fix it for him afterwards.

Even though kids may gripe about having chores, they really like feeling like an important contributor to the family.

Download free chore charts.

Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do
Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do
Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do

Photo of girl making bed via Shutterstock

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Tags: | Categories: Big Kids, Child Development, Parenting

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Happy Melanoma Monday

Monday, May 5th, 2014

After this too-long winter, I am grateful to see the sun shining and to not be wearing black tights anymore. However, today is Melanoma Monday, a good reminder of the importance of sun safety.

I have very fair skin (I gave up on trying to get a tan decades ago), and have had many suspicious moles removed. Fortunately, none of them have been malignant, but I still get my skin checked by my dermatologist twice a year. As much as I’d like to skip wearing sunscreen sometimes, I know that it’s as beneficial for my health as eating well and exercising.

Parents advisor, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and mom of two young children, wrote a great article in our June issue with smart advice for protecting your whole family. She admits that she got much more serious about sun safety after she was diagnosed with melanoma herself.

I joke with my kids (and my husband) that I am the sunscreen police in our family, but it’s true. We have tried many different brands of lotions, sprays, wipes, and sticks to find the ones that everyone is willing to use. The same goes for hats. Attention sports fans: One study found that kids who play outdoor sports are twice as likely to use inadequate sun protection and get burned than those who don’t. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let your kids play outside, but try to avoid activities at midday—and insist on sunscreen even if it’s cloudy. I’ll never forget how I got sun poisoning (with fever and chills) on a long boat ride on a very cloudy day in Montreal, when I wasn’t wearing a hat. And since the intensity of the sun doesn’t always correlate with the temperature, it’s eye-opening to check out the daily UV index.

It is true that most of one’s lifetime sun exposure happens during childhood—and that sunburns early in life can be the cause in skin cancer decades later. That is a key reason why we need to be serious about sun safety with our kids, but it doesn’t mean that adults shouldn’t continue to take precautions. In addition to walking on the shady side of the street whenever possible, I have finally given up the gel manicures I loved because research shows that using those UV driers was like taking my hands to a tanning salon.

That said, I’m looking forward to having fun in the sun. Check out these amusement parks and other spots that offer free sunscreen. I hope it’s a nice today where you are today!

Take our quiz to test your sun smarts.

Photo via Shutterstock

How to Apply Sunscreen to Your Baby
How to Apply Sunscreen to Your Baby
How to Apply Sunscreen to Your Baby


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It’s Crazy to Worry about College in Kindergarten

Monday, April 28th, 2014

No matter how you feel about the Common Core, Kindergarten should not be all work and no play. I was simply stunned when I read that the annual Kindergarten play at a school in Elwood, N.Y., had been cancelled so the teachers could spend more time “preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills.”

What will the children really learn from this experience? And what kind of message does this letter from school’s interim principal and four Kindergarten teachers send to parents about how anxious they should be during the many years ahead?


Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools, and, more specifically, to clarify, misperceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is [sic] that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.
The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.


Certainly, quality early education is the foundation for success in school and life. However, these educators have taken this mantra too far. At my daughter’s school, the students spend years looking forward to their opportunity to be in the annual fourth grade play, and the performance is always an event to be remembered.

Personally, I believe that being involved in theatre teaches children lifelong skills that will be valuable no matter what they pursue in adulthood: confidence, bravery, teamwork, speaking clearly, the ability to remember important thoughts, and an attention to detail.

I hope the children in Elwood will have another chance to shine on stage soon.


Photo of child via Shutterstock


Is your little one too sick for school? Save this quiz for the next time you’re unsure.

What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

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The Latest Autism Research

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Last week, I attended the 5th Anniversary Celebration of the Autism Science Foundation (ASF), which provides funding for scientists who are doing cutting-edge research. To mark the occasion, ASF held a Ted-Style symposium, at which leading experts shared insights on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of autism. Here’s what I found to be most interesting.

Autism organizations that fund research need our support because the government can’t foot the bill. “We love you, but we have no money,” Congress recently told Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (in so many words). His response: “Research is an investment, not a cost.”

Although children who are diagnosed with autism at a young age are most likely to benefit from early intervention, only 20% of children are diagnosed before age 3. A study by Dr. Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, found that babies and toddlers who don’t make eye contact with adults (and instead look at an adult’s mouth) are more likely to develop autism. This finding could pave the way for a simple and cost-effective way to screen all young children for the risk of autism—so that treatment can begin before 24 months of age.

Girls need a greater “genetic hit” than boys in order to develop autism. Dr. Joseph Buxbaum, head of the Laboratory of Molecular Neuropsychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City, explained that autism may be an X-linked disorder, which would help explain why it is more common in boys. Girls have two X chromosomes, so if the mutated genes that cause autism are on the X chromosome, a girl could also have a “healthy X chromosome” that counters the influence of the X chromosome with mutations, said Dr. Buxbaum. Boys, on the other hand, have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Based on the latest genetic discoveries, researchers think it’s possible to use animal studies to develop new drugs that can affect the underlying physiology of autism.

Parents should come together to fight for evidence-based interventions in schools, not just more hours of therapy and 1:1 support for students. Dr. David Mandell, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has studied how well public-school teachers implement the most effective treatments for children with autism. He said that it’s crucial for school administrators to provide ongoing support for classroom teachers who are using these well-studied interventions and that teachers need to be rewarded for adhering to them.

It takes brains to solve autism. This is a difficult topic to discuss, but researchers need to study the abnormalities in the brains of people with autism in order to speed us along to a cure, said Dr. David Amaral, a research director of the MIND Institute at University of California, Davis. Scientists made major advances in the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease by studying the brains of patients who had died of the condition, and those findings led to the development of all the current drugs that are helping patients. Autism BrainNet is a new initiative that will collect brain tissue to collaborate on groundbreaking brain research, and “It Takes Brains” is an outreach program that will encourage parents to register to donate their child’s brain to help scientific research.

Studies have not shown that any alternative medicine is beneficial for autism. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and a recent study found that close to 9 percent of parents are giving their child treatments that are considered potentially unsafe, invasive or unproven. Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, summed up the bottom line: “If an alternative medicine works, then it’s a medicine, and if it doesn’t, it is not an alternative.”

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A Test for Autism Risk: Head Lag
A Test for Autism Risk: Head Lag

Photo of DNA via Shutterstock

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