What Does Your Child Do For Themselves?

Child eating sandwich

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, Courier & Press, May 24, 2016 –

As a social worker in area schools, I frequently hear comments that our children are not being taught to be self-sufficient. Many preteen students I work with are not able to make their own lunch, do laundry, get up on their own for school, etc.

Listed below are 10 things children 11-14 should be expected to do, according to Elisabeth Stitt’s newsletter, “Joyful Parenting Coach.”

1. Get out of bed and get washed and dressed. If you still wake your 11-14 year old up for school, stop. They should be able to set their alarm, pick out school clothes and have good routines for washing and brushing their teeth. Your job as a parent is to support the school’s dress code and introduce them to good hygiene.

2. Make a simple breakfast. This can include fruit, cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc. When they are 8-9, have your child work beside you and model making a simple breakfast.

3. Make their home and school lunches. If they prepare their own lunch, they may even be more likely to eat it.

4. Have everything they need when dropped off at school. Stop checking to see if they have everything in their backpack, and do not run back home to get a forgotten assignment. They are old enough to keep track of their belongings, including what homework needs to be completed and returned to school.

5. Do most of their own homework. Help your child set up a routine for doing their work. When they ask for help, encourage them and ask supportive questions. Give your child a chance to problem-solve on their own before assisting them.

6. Do chores such as light cooking and cleaning. Get your child involved in daily tasks, and they will have the pride of knowing they contributed positively to the family.

7. Choose their extracurricular activities. Parents often encourage children to try new things and participate in activities that will look good on a college application. Allow your child to participate in something they enjoy, and then encourage them to follow through and finish any activity they start.

8. Talk to their teacher to get clarification on work, ask for help or question grades received. Encourage your child to make the first effort to talk with their teacher before you make contact. This will build their communication skills and help when they move on to high school and college.

9. Understand basic money concepts. Children should be able to understand the concepts of saving, spending and keeping track of money. For more information you can visit daveramsey.com for tips.

10. Know basic directions to school, church, the store, etc. Children are often glued to their electronic devices in the back seat of the car and not paying attention to their surroundings. Being familiar with places they visit often will help teens learning to drive.

Setting expectations and teaching your child these lessons in middle school will give them more time to master them before high school. They will be armed with self-sufficiency and self-efficacy and ready to participate in the workforce and move onto college.

To set your kids free, assist them in being more self-sufficient. You will be glad you did.

Helping Your Toddler Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleeping toddler

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, Courier & Press, May 17, 2016 –

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night to little eyes staring at you or the quiet whisper of, “Mom?” For some little ones, getting a full night’s sleep is a tall order.

But for the parents who care for them, the struggle may be to function without sleep the next day. Starting the day sleep-deprived is not good for parent or child.

Toddlers bring so many joys, as they can now talk and are showing so much personality. Sometimes part of “self-expression” involves balking at bedtime.

Common bedtime challenges include battles with routine, not staying asleep or getting up way too early. All of these issues can be frustrating.

Equally problematic is the fact that it is hard to make rational decisions as a parent when you are sleep-deprived. Let’s face it, after a full day of work or caring for little ones, it can be a struggle to stick to a bedtime routine that will promote healthy sleep habits.

Some babies sleep like a dream initially and then develop problems with sleep patterns later. Why would a toddler suddenly have difficulty with bedtime when they have had months, or even years, of successful sleeping?

Any major transition such as having a new sibling, getting a new bed, or moving into a new home can cause sleep disruption.

Going from a crib to a toddler bed can also cause changes. A toddler learns they have freedom to get out of bed, explore and roam.

A toddler’s sleep patterns also typically change. As infants, most children take longer naps in the middle of the day that may last 1 to 3 hours. However, toddlers typically only need 1 to 2 hours for naptime.

So what can we do? We have all heard that routines and schedules are very important when it comes to bedtimes for infants and toddlers.

Coming up with a calming bedtime routine is definitely a great place to start. A warm bath, quiet time in your little one’s room, or reading a story before bed are just a few things you could incorporate into your bedtime schedule.

The key is to make bedtime a relaxing routine, one that “winds down” rather than “winds up” their day. Overstimulation before bed can cause difficulty with falling asleep.

Now how do we keep the little ones in bed? A sound machine or white noise machine can work wonders. Sometimes just having something to block out other noises can be beneficial to help your little one stay in bed and sleep more soundly.

A monitor allows you to listen or see if your child wakes up without actually going into the room. As long as your little one is safe, it is OK to let him cry a little before going into the room. In fact, it can be normal for your little one to wake up occasionally through the night. The best thing is for him to be able to soothe himself back to sleep.

Developing a rewards system can also be motivating for your toddler. Purchase a few low-cost items your child likes, such as stickers, bubbles, chalk or a book. If your toddler can stay in her room all night, then she can chose something from your prize basket.

If you incentivize the behavior, your toddler will soon put together that sleeping in his bed all night makes mommy and daddy happy. Then you will be able to slowly remove the tangible rewards and just offer praise each morning.

These are just a few ideas you could try to help your toddler (and you) sleep better. For more tips on parenting and building healthy habits, visityouthfirstinc.org. Sweet dreams!

Summer Job Can Be a Valuable Experience For Teen

Summer job

By Haley Droste, Courier & Press, May 10, 2016 –

Summer break from school is often anticipated for months before its arrival. The thought of sleeping in, no schoolwork and relaxing the summer away are reason enough to make anyone swoon.

The argument can be made, however, that balancing your teen’s summer freedom with a summer job is one of the best decisions for their present and future.

Teens have the opportunity to learn a great deal about themselves through summer work. A summer job provides the opportunity to build self-confidence and promote and instill independence.

Working may also give teens the opportunity to meet and mix with others they may have never met otherwise. It can also provide an opportunity for teens to learn from others and further develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Bringing home a paycheck provides a sense of accomplishment. It also allows teens to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the value of money. When teens are required to earn and manage income, it provides them with a greater sense that money doesn’t “grow on trees.” Instead, they begin to understand that it requires hard work and responsibility to obtain it.

With gained income comes the responsibility to budget and plan. Deciding what they want to spend money on and what they need to save and plan for is a good exercise. Making their own money allows teens to gain some independence from family, which can help pave a successful pathway to adulthood.

Summer employment for teens provides the opportunity to learn several life skills, such as how to search and inquire about employment, how to complete an application, how to create a resume, how to seek out references for employment and how to successfully tackle an interview.

Seeking employment is a learning experience that can be helpful for teens even if they don’t end up getting a job. Summer employment is an opportunity for teens to have a “step up” on their competition when it comes time to enter the adult workforce.

Not only are teens learning the importance of hard work, reliability and time management through summer work, they are also gaining work experience universities and future employers will deem valuable.

A summer job can also help teens choose a potential career path. Summer work is a great time for teens to try out different things they may have an interest in. For example, if a teen is interested in sales, they may try a retail position. This could provide the opportunity to learn sales from a very basic level and gain experience in customer service.

If a teen is interested in teaching or working with children, they may look for a job working at a summer camp or baby-sitting. A summer job can be a springboard into the right direction for their future.

Summer should be enjoyed, but it should also be valued for the opportunity it provides for teens. As we near summer break, give some thought to what summer work may look like for your teen.

Kids Benefit From Playing Outside

Kids playing outside

By Diane Braun, Courier & Press, May 3, 2016 –

Spring and summer brings blue skies, warm breezes and the sound of children playing outdoors. Most parents have no problem sending their children outside to play.

Why? Because we all know there are quite a few real benefits to playing outdoors.

Children who play outside learn how to solve real-life problems better than children who are always in their rooms playing video games in seclusion. Examples of problem solving include learning to get along with friends or trying to figure out the best way to build a fort.

Playing outside provides children with exercise, something many children don’t get enough of anymore. Outdoor play combines exercise with having fun. Riding bikes, playing tag with friends and throwing or hitting a ball all get our children’s bodies moving, something playing most video games can’t accomplish.

It may be hard to accept that children could experience stress or suffer from conditions such as depression or anxiety, but these issues are becoming more common with today’s kids who have busy schedules with long school days and extracurricular activities.

Physical activity in the form of outdoor play can help kids reduce their stress. The Children & Nature Network says contact with nature can help reduce stress levels and positively impact conditions such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

One of the qualities many children are lacking is imagination. In today’s age of technology, children are provided with images for everything.

Why go outside and play astronaut in outer space when we can watch a movie about it or play a video game? Playing outside helps children develop their imagination, which is something television, video games and computers can’t do.

Free play and discretionary time has declined more than nine hours a week over the last 25 years. A new Nielson Company report indicates children 2-5 now spend more than 32 hours a week on average in front of a TV screen.

According to the Keiser Family Foundation, the amount of screen time only increases with age with school-aged children spending 7.5 hours a day on electronic media.

Finally, it’s important that children get vitamin D, and the best source is the sun. Vitamin D helps promote better moods, energy levels, memory and overall health. Just 10-15 minutes out in the sun will give our children their daily dose of vitamin D.

Encouraging children to go outside, get moving and connect with the natural world are all ways to reverse childhood obesity rates. But the benefits don’t stop there. Kids who play outside are happier, healthier and stronger!