Archive for the ‘ Child Development ’ Category

Camp Lessons for Mom

Monday, July 28th, 2014

It’s my 9-year-old daughter Jane’s first year at sleepaway camp, and she’s been having a terrific time. We’ve gotten happy letters and seen smiling photos of her on the camp website. She’s always been rather scared and clingy by nature, so it’s been delightful to see her embrace all that camp has to offer. This past Saturday was visiting day, and I was excited to let her show us around like she owned the place.

However, I was totally thrown for a loop when it was time to say goodbye and she started crying hard. “This has been the best day of camp so far,” she sobbed. That made sense, of course: She got to be with her camp friends AND her parents—AND she’d gotten a big bag of goodies, including her favorite pretzels, and homemade brownie cookies, scones, and heart-shaped chocolate-chip pancakes. But when she insisted, “You’re not leaving! I’m not going to let you leave!” I got a pang in the pit of my stomach: Did seeing us somehow break the magic spell and make her think more about how she missed us than about what an awesome experience she was having?

Fortunately, her counselors swooped in to help distract her, and we got a thoughtful email from the head counselor that evening to let us know that Jane was back in the swing of things (see photo above). Yet I still felt emotionally and physically drained.

So I am focusing today on these wonderful things that kids do at camp:

Commune with nature. While Jane spends most of every day outdoors, she is dealing with her fear of flying insects. She calmly informed us that there was a horsefly nest outside her bunk, and that she doesn’t need to wear bug repellant because the mosquitoes don’t bite her.  (Check out these nature-inspired crafts to do at home together.)

Discover new talents. The Hunger Games isn’t on her radar yet, but Jane now loves archery. She keeps getting bulleyes and was the only younger camper invited to join the archery team (who knew there was one?) and compete at another camp.

Learn summer lingo. I chuckled to hear her new habit of saying “yeah” between most thoughts, as in: “We have free swim every afternoon. Yeah. I’m working on my diving. Yeah.” One of her counselors must do that. But it was impressive to hear her use the word “freakishly” correctly in a sentence.

Make friends with everyone. Cliques aren’t cool at camp. In one of her letters, Jane wrote, “I just realized that our whole bunk is so close!!”

Be homesick and happy. As our advisor Dr. Michael Thompson’s wise book says, it’s a valuable lesson to realize that you can miss your parents and still have a great time.

Back to School: Advice for Every Grade
Back to School: Advice for Every Grade
Back to School: Advice for Every Grade


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Should You Let Your Kids Drink Alcohol?

Friday, July 18th, 2014

It’s been 30 years since the U.S. raised its legal drinking age to 21, a rule that’s led many a college student astray of the law. And it’s often broken in homes across the country, as kids get their first sips of beer or wine from a parent’s cup.

But even though I had my first taste of wine on a Christmas Eve long before I was legally old enough to drink, I haven’t yet let my own kids try it. And if you look at most of the studies about underage drinking, it looks like I might be right to hold off. Several studies have shown that allowing your children to drink when they’re underage may make them more likely to binge drink later on—especially if they’re girls. But as with anything, there are studies that contradict that idea—including a 2004 study that showed that children who drank with their parents were nearly half as likely to say they had drank in the past month and about one third as likely to admit to binge drinking in the past two weeks.

So what’s a parent to do? Right now, I’m sticking to my no-sips-allowed policy, and modeling responsible alcohol consumption for them (ensuring that you have a designated driver, and enjoying without overindulging). And since my 10-year-old was scandalized that the Catholic Church let her friend sip wine at her First Communion, I hopefully have a few more years before she’s really tempted to try it.

But there’s also a big difference between providing beer for your teen’s party and offering a glass of champagne to celebrate a special event. The studies that show the decreased rates of drinking in teens were in families where the teens were allowed to drink alcohol in family or religious settings. And if I decide to change my no-sips policy, I’d only be doing it in the context of a family gathering or special celebration—a sip of champagne at her high school graduation, for example. (So friends of my daughters—don’t be expecting a kegger in your honor!)

But I’m realistic. The odds of my daughters waiting until they turn 21 to drink are pretty low. And so I’m laying the groundwork now so that they’ll at least stay safe when they do it. I’ve already stressed the importance of not driving with someone whose drinking (and already told them I will always give them or a friend a safe ride home, no questions asked), and explained what drinking too much does to you—and why you may want to avoid that. (Hangovers and nausea = no fun!) And hopefully, they’ll heed my advice, and avoid a few of the mistakes I made along the way.

Tell us: Have you let your kids drink alcohol? Why or why not?

Alcohol During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Alcohol During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Alcohol During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?

Image: Child drinking a cocktail by RamonaS/

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What It Means To Do Things Like A Girl

Thursday, July 10th, 2014


The feminine care company, Always, is trying to change how we think about the phrase “like a girl.” They recently came out with a new campaign to support their cause. Since it debuted on June 26, the #LikeAGirl video message has been viewed about 32 million times on YouTube.

In the video, people are asked to perform certain actions as a girl. Both men and women run, throw, and fight in a dramatically negative, weak, and ditzy way. Then young girls are asked the same questions. They perform in a way that gave me chills, filled with strength and confidence.

Watching this made me immediately think of my 16-year-old sister, Kendall. She is the most athletic person I know. Most of her life has been spent on sports teams—from softball to cheerleading. As stated in the commercial, “a girl’s confidence plummets during puberty.” At 12, my sister won a national championship with her competitive cheer team. As a base, she lifted girls the same size as her to do elaborate stunts. But my sister has never valued her athleticism. We grew up in a town that glorifies football players. Girls sports, on the other hand, are side notes. Even though she went to cheer practice six days a week for the past six years and runs three miles a day, Kendall does not have as much pride in her athleticism as a boy her age with the same athletic drive as her would. The highlights in her hair and the shirt she just bought at the mall seem to be more laudable than the amount of flips she can do without stopping and how fast she can go around the track.

But my sister isn’t the only girl who feels this way. Girls’ athleticism is generally undervalued. #LikeAGirl proves this. Most of all, the underlying message is doing things like a girl makes one appear weaker than boys.

Doing things like a girl truly means doing things like my sister—with persistence, passion, and focus. It means achieving goals and not being afraid to show strength. No matter how old your daughter is, fostering confidence in her physical skills is essential and to encourage her to be proud of being a girl.


Take this quiz to see if your child is ready for team sports!

Fit Kids
Fit Kids
Fit Kids

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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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Stop Summer Slide

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

“School’s out for summer.” I used to play that Alice Cooper song for my son on the last day of classes (the Muppets version) as a celebration of his 10-week break from homework (and pencils, books, and teacher’s dirty looks). But as it turns out, I probably shouldn’t have been hailing his educational break. The National Summer Learning Association says that students lose about two months worth of skills in mathematics during the lazy days of summer. And as we reported, kids of all ages score lower on the same standardized reading, spelling, and math tests in September than they do at the end of the previous year in school.

The reason for this “summer slide,” a.k.a. “brain drain” or “summer slump,” is obvious: Kids—and, to an extent, parents—tend to view July and August as a break from learning, a time to enjoy the beach and the pool and recharge. R&R is all fine and good. The real problem is that many children wile away the days watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web. Kids spend three hours in front of a screen for every hour they crack a book during the summer—and more time than they spend outdoors. According to a new survey from the nonprofit kid’s literacy group Reading is Fundamental, only 17 percent of parents say reading is a top summer priority for their kids, and 60 percent don’t worry about their child losing reading skills during this time.

Actually, you really shouldn’t worry, because it’s easy to do something about it. A nonprofit organization called TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) offers lots of screen-free ideas to inspire your family to play and learn together. Try incorporating some of these fun, mind-building activities into your kids’ break. Also consider downloading these educational apps, which at least turn screen time into learning time. And check out ideas here and here, along with a video chat with Soleil Moon Frye (the former star of “Blossom”) about how to stop summer slide.

I don’t pretend to have any magical suggestions for preventing this phenomenon. I worry about my kids and their tendency to gravitate toward watching sports events and Disney shows. To minimize this, we encourage reading and writing for pleasure, try to get them out of the house as much as possible, and look for teachable moments in leisure-time settings, such as digging for hermit crabs at the beach and calculating batting averages and ERAs at baseball games. Granted, these are no substitute for cracking the books, but at least they should leave our children be better prepared when their teachers see them in September.


Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries


Two little girls with magnifying glass outdoors in the daytime via ShutterStock

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