Friday, December 30, 2011


Courage doesn't mean not being afraid. In fact, in many situations that might qualify as stupidity.  Courage means being afraid and doing the right thing anyway.

•Will your second grader have the courage to admit she trampled the neighbor’s prize lilies? 
•Will your fourth grader have the courage to stand up for a smaller child against the playground bully? 
•Will your sixth grader have the courage to listen to jazz when the other kids are into rap? 
•Will your eighth grader have the courage to refuse to cheat on the test, even though the other kids are all doing so and his score will look worse by comparison? 
•Will your tenth grader have the courage to refuse the sexual advances of an intimidating teacher? 
•Will your 12th grader insist that the drunk driver stop the car and let him out, despite the taunts and dares of his friends?

Parents of toddlers and preschoolers often worry about their children's  fears of thunderstorms or merry-go-rounds, but in our culture, courage is usually moral, rather than physical, and our children are tested constantly.   

Of course, there are times when kids need your help to summon up their physical courage: when your toddler is frightened of riding the ferris wheel with you, or your five year old is afraid of the dark, or your seven year old doesn’t want to get on a horse, or your nine year old doesn't feel ready for sleepovers. But handling these frightening situations is pretty straight-forward:

1. Don’t push kids to take risks they don’t feel ready for.  They can learn to horseback ride next year.

2. Stay calm yourself, and empathize with her feelings.

3. Communicate that you will keep her safe.

4. Help your child to problem solve.  Would it help if he knew he could call you from the sleepover?  Could he start getting to know the horse at first by grooming it, rather than climbing up into the saddle?

5. Encourage your child to turn his fear into excitement. Scientists -- and thrill seekers -- tell us they’re related.

Moral courage is more complicated. Luckily, it isn't something we're born with.  Courage is something we can develop, cultivate, learn how to summon up, by trial and error, by facing scary situations, choosing what's right, and finding out it works.

Moral Courage 
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The good and bad news about moral courage is that your child’s performance in difficult situations depends mostly on you. Not on what you say, or drill into your child, about what’s right and wrong. Those discussions are important so that kids clearly understand what’s right and wrong and why we make certain choices, but they aren't what matters most.

Research confirms what we observe daily: most humans don’t always do what they know is right. Integrity cannot be taught. Whether your son or daughter will summon up the internal fortitude to do what’s right will depend on who he or she is as a person, and that, luckily, you can impact tremendously. 

In fact, the little test below – about you -- can accurately predict your child’s behavior.

1. Do you tell the store clerk when she inadvertently gives you too much change?

2. Can you admit to your child when you’re wrong?

3. Do you speak up to the baseball coach and tell him that boy on the bench – the one you don’t know, who flubbed his last play – needs a chance to play, at least a little, in every game?

4. Do you make it safe for your child to admit to you when she makes a mistake, even a big one? Or does she feel she needs to lie to you, ever?

5. Do you support your child when she thinks an adult is wrong, and help her to make her case?

6. What do you do when you discover your child took the Gameboy from the dentist’s office? Do you yourself ever take a magazine you like?  Do you ever take pens, pads or other supplies from work?

7. Do you tell your boss when you think she’s asking you to do something that borders on unethical?

8. Do you ever lie about your child's age to get the lower admission price?

9. Do you regularly give some portion of your income to charity? 

Is it hard to believe that this test can predict your child's behavior? Researchers confirm that children learn what we do, not what we say. 

So the first part of helping your child to develop moral courage is to develop your own. 

The second, of course, is paying attention to all the teachable moments. 

And the third is remembering that kids develop courage along with maturity, over time. Don't take it too hard when your child doesn't display the courage you'd like. Just having a parent who thinks about these things is taking her in the right direction. Give her time.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Teens and Stress: Who Has Time For It?

What is stress?
Stress is what you feel when you react to pressure, either from the outside world (school, work, after-school activities, family, friends) or from inside yourself (wanting to do well in school, wanting to fit in). Stress is a normal reaction for people of all ages. It's caused by your body's instinct to protect itself from emotional or physical pressure or, in extreme situations, from danger.
Is stress always bad?
No. In fact, a little bit of stress is good. Most of us couldn't push ourselves to do well at things – sports, music, dance, work, school – without feeling the pressure of wanting to do well. Without the stress caused by a deadline, most of us also wouldn't be able to finish projects or get to work or school on time.
If stress is so normal, why do I feel so bad?
With all the things that happen at your age, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Things that you can't control are often the most frustrating. Maybe your parents are fighting, or your social life is a mess. You can also feel bad when you put pressure on yourself – like pressure to get good grades or to get promoted at your part-time job. A common reaction to stress is to criticize yourself. You may even get so upset that things don't seem fun anymore and life looks pretty grim. When this happens, it's easy to think there's nothing you can do to change things. But you can! See the tips below.

  • Signs you're stressed out
  • Feeling depressed, edgy, guilty, tired
  • Having headaches, stomachaches, trouble sleeping
  • Laughing or crying for no reason
  • Blaming other people for bad things that happen to you
  • Only seeing the down side of a situation
  • Feeling like things that you used to enjoy aren't fun or are a burden
  • Resenting other people or your responsibilities
  • Things that help fight stress
  • Eating well-balanced meals on a regular basis
  • Drinking less caffeine
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising on a regular basis

How can I deal with stress?
Although you can't always control the things that are stressing you out, you can control how you react to them. The way you feel about things results from the way you think about things. If you change how you think, you can change the way you feel. Try some of these tips to cope with your stress:
Make a list of the things that are causing your stress. Think about your friends, family, school and other activities. Accept that you can't control everything on your list.
Take control of what you can. For example, if you're working too many hours and you don't have time to study enough, you may need to cut back your work hours.
Give yourself a break. Remember that you can't make everyone in your life happy all the time. And it's okay to make mistakes now and then.
Don't commit yourself to things you can't do or don't want to do. If you're already too busy, don't promise to decorate for the school dance. If you're tired and don't want to go out, tell your friends you'll go another night.
Find someone to talk to. Talking to your friends or family can help because it gives you a chance to express your feelings. However, problems in your social life or family can be the hardest to talk about. If you feel like you can't talk to your family or a friend, talk to someone outside the situation. This could be your priest or minister, a school counselor or your family doctor.
What are some things that don't help you deal with stress?
There are safe and unsafe ways to deal with stress. It's dangerous to try to escape your problems by using drugs and alcohol. Both can be very tempting, and your friends may offer them to you. Drugs and alcohol may seem like easy answers, but they're not. Using drugs and alcohol to deal with stress just adds new problems, such as addiction, or family and health problems.
I've tried dealing with my stress, but I just feel like giving up.
This is a danger sign. Stress can become too much to deal with. It can lead to such awful feelings that you may think about hurting – or even killing – yourself. When you feel like giving up, it may seem like things will never get better. Talk to someone right away. Talking about your feelings is the first step in learning to deal with them and starting to feel better.

Understanding Your Teenager's Emotional Health

What should I know about my teenager's emotional health?
The teenage years are a time of transition from childhood into adulthood. Teens often struggle with being dependent on their parents while having a strong desire to be independent. They may also feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are going through.
At the same time, teens may be facing a number of pressures – from friends to fit in and from parents and other adults to do well in school or activities like sports or part-time jobs. The teenage years are important as your child asserts his or her individuality.
What can I do to help my teen?
Communicating your love for your child is the single most important thing you can do. Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how their parents react to them. For this reason, it's important for parents to help their children feel good about themselves. It is also important to communicate your values and to set expectations and limits, such as insisting on honesty, self-control and respect for others, while still allowing teenagers to have their own space.
Parents of teens often find themselves noticing only the problems, and they may get in the habit of giving mostly negative feedback and criticism. Although teens need feedback, they respond better to positive feedback. Remember to praise appropriate behavior in order to help your teen feel a sense of accomplishment and reinforce your family's values.
Establishing a loving relationship from the start will help you and your child through the teenage years.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests the following ways for parents to prepare for their child's teenage years:

  • Provide a safe and loving home environment.
  • Create an atmosphere of honesty, trust and respect.
  • Allow age-appropriate independence and assertiveness.
  • Develop a relationship that encourages your teen to talk to you when he or she is upset.
  • Teach responsibility for your teen's belongings and yours.
  • Teach basic responsibility for household chores.
  • Teach the importance of accepting limits.

What warning signs should I look for?
Remember that your teen may experiment with his or her values, ideas, hairstyles and clothing in order to define him- or herself. This is typically normal behavior and you shouldn't be concerned. However, inappropriate or destructive behavior can be a sign of a problem.
Teens, especially those with low self-esteem or with family problems, are at risk for a number of self-destructive behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol or having unprotected sex. Depression and eating disorders are common health issues that teens face. The following may be warning signs that your child is having a problem:

  • Agitated or restless behavior
  • Weight loss or gain
  • A drop in grades
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Ongoing feelings of sadness
  • Not caring about people and things
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fatigue, loss of energy and lack of interest in activities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Run-ins with the law

What should I do if there is a problem?
Work together to maintain open communication. If you suspect there is a problem, ask your teen about what is bothering him or her. Don't ignore a problem in the hopes that it will go away. It is easier to cope with problems when they are small. This also gives you and your teen the opportunity to learn how to work through problems together. Don't be afraid to ask for help with dealing with your teen. Many resources, including your family doctor, are available.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dental Hygiene: How to Care for Your Child's Teeth

How can I best care for my child's teeth?
Good dental hygiene habits should begin before your child's first tooth comes in. Wiping your baby's gums with a soft damp cloth after feedings helps to prevent the buildup of bacteria. When teeth appear, start using a soft children's toothbrush twice a day.

Once your child is preschool-age, start using fluoride toothpaste. Don't cover the brush with toothpaste; a pea-sized amount is just right (see picture above). Young children tend to swallow most of the toothpaste, and swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause permanent stains on their teeth.

What about using fluoride tablets?
Fluoride helps make teeth strong by hardening the tooth enamel. Many cities are required to add fluoride to tap water. If you live in an area where the tap water doesn't contain fluoride, your doctor may prescribe daily fluoride tablets when your child is about 6 months old. Fluoride is an important part of your child's dental health, but don't give him or her more than the directions call for. If you miss a dose, don't give your child extra fluoride to make up. Just as with swallowed toothpaste, too much oral fluoride can cause stains on your child's teeth.

What are cavities?
Cavities are holes that are formed when bacteria (germs) in your mouth use the sugar in food to make acid. This acid eats away at the teeth. Cavities are common in children. Good tooth care can keep cavities from happening in your child

Is my child at risk for cavities?
Your child might be at risk for cavities if he or she eats a lot of sugary foods (such as raisins, cookies and candy) and drinks a lot of sweet liquids (such as fruit juice and punch, soda and sweetened drinks). Your child also might be at risk if he or she has any of the following risk factors:

· Was born early (prematurely) or weighed very little at birth (low birth weight)
· Has ongoing special health care needs
· Has white spots or brown areas on any teeth
· Does not go to the dentist very often

How can I help stop cavities?
Everyone in your family should take good care of their teeth. Family members with lots of cavities can pass the cavity-causing bacteria to babies and children.

Teeth should be brushed at least twice a day and adults should floss once a day. Everyone should see the dentist twice a year. Have your doctor or dentist show you the right way to brush your child's teeth.

Does diet affect my child's teeth?
Yes. Avoiding sweets, sticky foods and between-meal snacks is good advice. To avoid cavities, limit sweet snacks and drinks between meals. Have meals and snacks at regular times. Teeth-friendly snacks include fresh fruits and vegetables, and cheese and crackers.

Baby bottles can create additional problems with your child's dental health. When liquid from a bottle--like milk and juice--stays in contact with the teeth for a long time, the sugars cause tooth decay. This can create a condition called bottle mouth. Your baby's teeth can develop cavities and become pitted or discolored. Never put a baby to bed with a bottle. Don't let your child walk around during the day with a bottle, and teach your child to use a drinking cup around his or her first birthday.

Is thumb-sucking bad for my child?
It's normal for children to suck their thumbs, their fingers or a pacifier. Most children give up this habit on their own by age 4, with no harm done to their teeth. If your child still has a sucking habit after age 4, tell your dentist. Your dentist can watch carefully for any problems as the teeth develop. In most children there is no reason to worry about a sucking habit until around age 6, when the permanent front teeth come in.

When should I start taking my child to the dentist?
The American Dental Association recommends that parents take their child to a dentist no later than his or her first birthday. This gives the dentist a chance to look for early problems with your child's teeth. Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children's dental health. You and your child's dentist should review important information about diet, bottles, tooth brushing and fluoride use. Visiting the dentist from a young age will help your child become comfortable with his or her dentist. It also establishes the good habit of regular dental check-ups.

Personal Safety: Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings

Children are not blind to the world around them. They see the news. They hear what adults are talking about. Yet children can't sort out what is really a threat. They need help from parents and other caring adults to cope with their fears. This information is intended to help you recognize when children are upset, and gives suggestions on how to talk with them about their fears.

How can I tell if my child is worried?
Here are a few things to look for that might mean your child is fearful:
· Loss of interest in normal activities
· Change in appetite or sleep habits
· Tearfulness
· Return to earlier habits such as bedwetting, thumb sucking or difficulty sharing with other children
· Unwillingness to leave parents

What can I do to help my child?
Create a safe environment for your child at home where it is okay to ask questions. By listening carefully to what your child says, you can reassure him or her and explain any misconceptions. Make it clear to your child that he or she is safe and keep daily activities as close to normal as possible. Pay attention to how much television your child is watching. You may want to turn off the television or at least watch it together and talk about what you see.

What else can I do?
Show your child that you aren't overly concerned. Remember that children often pick up cues from the adults around them. Even if you've worked hard to protect your child from fear, he or she may sense your fears or those of other adults or relatives. Often, children think discomfort is a sign that they shouldn't ask questions or talk about their worries. It can even seem to children that they've done something wrong. Give your child plenty of chances to ask questions and express his or her feelings. Sometimes it can be easier to ask about how other children are reacting as a way to begin the conversation

How much information should I give my child?
The amount and type of information you give your child depends on many things. This includes the child's age, past experiences and stage of development. Begin with basic facts and then ask questions to check your child's understanding. Remember that graphic details are not necessary.

What if I need more help?
If you are unable to talk with your child about his or her fears or need more advice, talk to your family doctor.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Help Your Child Develop Good Judgment

Many adults are crippled with indecision when faced with difficult choices.  Others, worse yet, make self-destructive choices and repeatedly demonstrate poor judgment.  But no one is born with good judgment and the ability to make wise decisions.  Good judgment and decision-making skills develop from experience combined with reflection.  As one sage noted, "Judgment develops from experience.  Good judgment develops from bad experience."
Your goal is to give your child experience in making decisions, and make sure she has the opportunity to reflect on them and learn.  You also want to raise a child who feels good about herself, so that she takes pleasure in making good decisions, rather than bad ones.  Research shows that kids who've been treated less than kindly get used to feeling bad, so as teens and adults they make decisions that make them feel bad.
How can you help your child develop good judgment?1.Practice makes perfect.  Give your child practice making choices even before she begins talking and she'll never have a problem making decisions.  (Who cares if the stripes and flowers clash?  She thinks she looks like a rainbow.  And if other people can’t figure out that she dressed herself, you don’t really care about their opinion of your parenting, do you?)
2.Be clear about his span of control.  Emphasize what he has the right to make decisions about, and what areas you as the parent retain the right to exert control over.
With toddlers: “Yes, I guess you may wear your superman outfit again, although you’ve worn it every day this week.  You’re in charge of your own clothes.  But you’ll need to change before we go to services, because there we dress up to show respect.  And you’ll need to brush your teeth. Do you want to do it now or before we leave the house?”
With preteens: "You can invite your friends for Friday night dinner if you want, but you're expected to have dinner with the family on Friday night as usual.  You can either go to the movies with your friends after dinner on Friday, or on Saturday."
3. Consciously help your child develop good judgment. Many people never develop good judgment because their experience isn't accompanied by reflection.  Help him to make decisions consciously (“How will you decide what piece to play for the recital?”) and to think through the possible repercussions of various choices before he makes them (“I wonder if you’ll feel too pressured about getting your homework done if you add another after-school activity.”)
Just as important, offer her the opportunity to reflect on how her decisions worked out (“I know you were worried about having a threesome this afternoon.  Are you glad you invited Clarisse to join you and Ellie for the playdate?”)  
4. Model decision making.  Share how and why you make decisions from the time your child is tiny. ("I think I'll bring an umbrella on our walk. It looks like rain." "I’m going to try the salmon; it's really good for you."  “I’d like our family to help with the drive for school supplies; all children deserve a good education, and this is one way to help.")
5. Know that it's ok for your child to make bad decisions. He's still learning about himself as well as about life. It's just more opportunity for reflection and the development of good judgment, as long as you help him consider afterwards how things could have been different if he had made different choices. Teens have more decision making latitude, and they're bound to make some bad decisions.  Just try to resist the universal impulse to say “I told you so,” and they'll learn from them.
6. Give your children control of their own decision-making as it becomes age appropriate.  What's age appropriate?  The list below will give you a frame of reference, but obviously, you'll need to adapt this chart to your own child and your family circumstances.  Remember to slowly build the degree of freedom and responsibility you offer your child, giving them as much help as they need to handle each level until they master it comfortably.
Each section covers a number of years; children in the lowest ages of that range are just beginning to handle the listed items.

Responsibilities Toddlers can be in charge of:

  1. Their own bodies, within the limits of safety and decency.
  2. Cleaning up their own messes. (“That’s ok. Get the paper towels off the counter and let’s clean that milk up.  We always clean up our own messes.”)
  3. What to wear (within the limits of appropriate season, safety, and decency.)
  4. Amount of food to eat  (You provide the selection. They decide how much.)
  5. Getting the food into their mouths. (Unless they want help.)
  6. What book to read, even if you're reading to them.
  7. What toys to play with.
  8. What toys to share (others get put away before friends arrive)
  9. When to use the potty. (You offer: “Do you need to use the potty before we leave the house?”  But they need to check in with their own body and get to know its signals.  Unless you want to be in charge of their toileting for years to come?)

Responsibilities Preschoolers (3-5) can be in charge of:
All of the above, plus:

  1. Their own clothes (Choosing them, within your parameters. Maintaining them, by keeping them in reasonably neat piles by category.)
  2. Their own rooms (within reasonable neatness parameters. They decide what they want on the walls, within reasonable limits.  Parents will need to help them organize their stuff and teach them how to clean up.)
  3. How much to eat.
  4. What to eat (within appropriate nutritional guidelines. This only works if you limit accessibility of junk food.  It does mean you have to decide what to do when they don't like what you've fixed for dinner. In our house, they have to try one bite, then they can get a yogurt if they want. Yogurts rarely win out.)
  5. Who to play with and when.
  6. Whether to attend social events to which she is invited (excluding mandatory family events.)
  7. Who is allowed in his room.

Responsibilities School-Age Children (6 to 9) can be in charge of:
All of the above, plus:

  1. How to wear their hair (within appropriate grooming standards).
  2. Clearing their place from the table.
  3. Simple chores around the house
  4. How to spend their allowance
  5. Completing their homework
  6. Getting their school backpack ready the night before
  7. How to spend their time (after basic responsibilities like homework are accomplished.)
  8. Whether to play an instrument or take a class.
  9. What sport or physical activity to engage in (Given the research on this, physical activity in our house is non-negotiable, but they get to choose the type.)
  10. Fixing simple food for themselves for snacks and lunch.

Responsibilities Preteens & Tweens (10-12) can be in charge of:
All of the above, plus:

  1. Packing their school lunch
  2. Self-grooming: nails, hair, etc.
  3. Make (or help make) the family contributions for the class bake sale and other events.
  4. Walk with a friend from one point to another within the neighborhood as long as a parent always knows where they are. (We live in New York, and bought our kids cell phones at this age.  Their early usage was mostly limited to calling parents.)
  5. Staying alone in the house, with certain rules about who can be with them.

Responsibilities Early Adolescents (13-15) can be in charge of:
All of the above, plus:

  1. Getting themselves up in the morning (you may need to be the backup plan.)
  2. Doing their own laundry (eliminates you feeling like the maid when they suddenly need a certain item.)
  3. Temporary changes in appearance (i.e., permanent tattoos are out in my family till they’re eighteen, but temporary ones are their choice. Piercings are discussed on an as-requested basis, and are discouraged because of the risk of infection and permanent scarring.)
  4. Riding the bus and subway (some families require that this be with a friend.)
  5. Going to movies with friends.
  6. Earning spending money by babysitting or other jobs.
  7. Budgeting their own spending.

10 Tips to Help Your Child Overcome Shyness

Were you shy as a child?  Half of all adults think of themselves as shy, and many more say that they were shy as children. 
But shy kids are at a disadvantage in our outgoing, busy culture, because they have a harder time relaxing and connecting with others.  Shyness can keep kids from learning the social skills that let them be part of a group, and it can compromise their school performance by making them anxious about asking questions.  Worst of all, shy kids can begin a pattern of isolation that keeps them from meeting others, beginning friendships and romances, and simply connecting with other human beings.  Scientists now think that social contact is one of our most important human needs, positively impacting our emotional and physical health on every level throughout our lives.
The good news is that shy kids can learn to manage shyness.  They just need a little extra support.  So what’s the best way to help your child overcome shyness?
1. Nurture your child by noticing her needs and responding to them. Shy baby chimps given to extremely nurturing mothers became leaders in their group, while their shy siblings raised by average mothers remained shy and fearful throughout life.  Responsive mothering helps shy little ones learn to calm themselves and manage their reactions.  That allows their heightened sensitivity to become an asset, because it makes them more responsive to the needs of their peers and better at negotiating group situations. 
 2. Empathize with your child’s shyness and avoid shaming him.  Acknowledging what he feels, without negative judgment, helps him to feel good about himself.   Giving him the impression that there is something wrong with him will just make him feel worse about himself, and therefore more insecure and shy.  Empathizing with your child will also help him develop empathy, which will enhance his social skills and keep him connected to others.
3. Model confident behavior with other people.  Kids learn from watching us.  That means being friendly to strangers, offering help to others, and modeling a relaxed attitude about social interactions of all kinds.
4. Teach your child basic social skills.  Kids often need to be taught to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, and respond to polite chit-chat appropriately.  Role play with them how to join a game at the playground, introduce themselves to another child at a party, or initiate a playdate. Kids who are successful in joining groups of kids usually observe first, and find a way to fit into the group, rather than just barging in.  Make games out of social skills and practice at home.
5. Help your child learn how to make friends.  Most kids need to learn social skills, and benefit from a little extra help.  I particularly recommend Lonnie Michelle's How Kids Make Friends: Secrets for Making Lots of Friends, No Matter How Shy You Are
6. Coach your child to handle teasing and bullying by role playing and encouraging her to stand up for herself.  A terrific book to help you help your child, offering scripts and strategies, is Scott Cooper's Sticks and Stones: 7 Ways Your Child Can Deal with Teasing, Conflict, and Other Hard Times
7.  Don’t label your child as shy.  Instead, acknowledge his feelings and point out that he can overcome his fears.  For instance, “Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation.  Remember Billy’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games?  But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”
8. Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with shyness.  The general rule of thumb is to accept the nervousness that comes up as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself.  For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers. Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous: “If you feel nervous at the party today, what could you do to make yourself more comfortable?  Could you hang out with one of the kids you know from school? Could you offer to help serve the refreshments?  What do you think you might talk with the other kids about?”
9. Provide your child with daily opportunities to interact with others.   Shy kids need downtime, of course, but they also need plenty of opportunities to practice their social skills. And remember that empathizing doesn’t mean being over-protective. Applaud every little step he takes on his own.
10. Don’t create social anxiety by teaching young children to be afraid of strangers.  Instead, teach your child that he or she should always be with you, or with a teacher or babysitter.  If her special adult is with her, your child doesn’t need to be afraid of strangers.  Once she’s old enough to begin walking home from school by herself, you can begin discussing how to keep herself safe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cholesterol and Your Child

Why should I be worried about my child’s cholesterol levels? Cholesterol is only a problem for adults, right?
Many people don’t realize that problems with high cholesterol levels can begin in childhood. High cholesterol levels are likely to continue to rise as a child grows into a teen and adult. High cholesterol levels increase your child’s risk for cholesterol-related health problems.

What are the risks of high blood cholesterol?
Your child’s body needs some cholesterol to protect nerves, make cell tissues and produce certain hormones. But too much cholesterol damages blood vessels by building up along blood vessel walls and forming sticky, fatty-like deposits known as plaque. Studies show that plaque can begin to form in childhood and is more likely to form when a child’s cholesterol levels are high.
High cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The risk is higher in people who have a family history of heart disease, have diabetes, are overweight or obese, have unhealthy eating habits, are inactive, or who smoke. Talk with your doctor about whether your child or teen needs to be screened for high cholesterol.

Where does cholesterol come from?
Your body’s liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. However, you can also get cholesterol from the foods you eat, including animal products such as eggs, meats and dairy products.

What is the difference between LDL and HDL levels?
Cholesterol travels through the blood in different types of bundles, called lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) deliver cholesterol to the body. That’s why it’s often thought of as the “bad” cholesterol. Some people’s bodies make too much LDL cholesterol. LDL levels also are increased by eating foods high in saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) remove cholesterol from the blood. HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol for this reason. A healthy level of HDL may help protect against heart disease. Exercise can increase the amount of HDL the body produces. Avoiding trans fats and following a healthy diet also can increase HDL levels.
This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL is good. The balance between the types of cholesterol tells you what the total cholesterol level really means. For example, if the total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, the risk for heart disease or stroke is higher. But if the total level is high because of a high HDL level, the risk probably is not increased.

How does the doctor know that my child has high cholesterol?
To test for high cholesterol, your doctor can do a blood test called a lipid panel. However, screening is usually not done unless there is a family history of high cholesterol or the child or teen has diabetes.

What should my child’s cholesterol levels be?
If your doctor recommends a lipid panel, talk to him or her about what levels are right for your child’s age and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics generally recommends the following levels for children and teens 2 to 19 years of age:
Total cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable — less than 170
Borderline — 170-199
High — 200 or greater
LDL cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable — less than 110
Borderline — 110-129
High — 130 or greater

What can I do to help prevent my child from having high blood cholesterol levels?
Help your child maintain a healthy weight by teaching him or her to make good choices about diet and exercise.
Offer your child at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and other foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as whole grains and fish. Encourage your child to avoid saturated and trans fats, which can raise cholesterol levels. Also limit overall cholesterol intake. More information about nutrition is available in our handout about how to make healthier food choices and also in Nutrition: Healthy Eating for Kids.
You also can help your child form healthy habits regarding exercise and activity. Encourage your child to choose activities he or she enjoys. Involve the whole family in active time, such as walking, bike riding, bowling and more. Limit screen time (the time your child spends watching TV, or playing video or computer games). See more information about exercise in children in Keeping Your Child Active.

Will my child need medicine to lower his or her cholesterol?
If your child or teen’s cholesterol levels are high and healthy eating and exercise don't lower them, especially if he or she has diabetes or is overweight or obese, your family doctor may consider prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medicine. Not all medicines are safe for use in children so do not offer your child cholesterol-lowering medicine that isn’t specifically prescribed to him or her.

Passing on Healthy Habits to Your Children

Part of your responsibility as a parent is to teach your children how to lead healthy lives. The best time to start teaching these lessons to children is when they’re young, before unhealthy choices become lifelong bad habits. When you want to pass on healthy habits to your kids, it’s important to practice what you preach. Just telling your kids what to do won’t necessarily work—they need to see you choosing healthy behaviors too.

The following are some ways to help your kids avoid unhealthy behaviors.
Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity

Children in the United States are gaining more weight than ever before. They’re eating too much high-fat, high-sugar food and are spending less time being physically active. Weight problems that develop during childhood can lead to weight-related illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

What can I do?

  • Pay attention to the kinds of food you buy. Limit the amount of "junk food" your kids eat. Have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables available. Be aware even "low-fat" foods may include unwanted ingredients such as added sugar.
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods and use appropriate portion sizes. Use the label on the package to determine what a portion is for a particular food.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of water or milk instead of fruit juice, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, regular-calorie soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk, sweetened iced tea.
  • Limit the amount of time your children spend watching television, using the computer or playing video games to a maximum of 2 hours per day. Encourage physical activity, such as a sport your child enjoys, instead.
  • Eat meals and snacks together, as a family, at the table and not in front of the television.
  • Make physical activity part of your family’s routine. Take a walk, visit the community pool or go for a bike ride together. Encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities. Team sports and martial arts, while helpful to develop a child’s growth and self esteem, do not provide enough aerobic activity to lose weight, so find other activities to add to their day.

Tobacco, alcohol and other drugs
Kids may become curious about drugs at a young age. In fact, many children have already tried alcohol and marijuana by the time they reach middle school. Studies have shown the sooner you start talking to your kids about the dangers of using tobacco, drinking alcohol and using other drugs, the more likely it is that they will avoid them.

What can I do?

  • Make it clear your children are not allowed to smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, drink alcohol or use other drugs. Establish clear consequences if these rules are broken.
  • Explain why these substances are harmful. Encourage them to ask questions. A true story may get your children’s attention more effectively than facts and statistics alone. Give real-life examples of people who have experienced negative consequences from using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • Talk to your children about peer pressure. Role-playing can prepare them to say no if they are offered cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
  • Know your children’s friends and their friends’ parents. Always ask your kids where they’re going, what they’re doing, who will be there, when they will return and how you can reach them. Let other parents know the rules you expect your children to follow.
  • Set a good example. Pay attention to how your behaviors may affect your children. For example, when they see you using tobacco, it may send them the message it’s okay for them to use tobacco, too.

Risky sexual behavior
Each year, approximately 1 million teenage girls will become pregnant. Three million teens will get a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Even though it may seem embarrassing, you need to talk to your children about the risks and responsibilities of being sexually active. Don’t simply depend on the sexual education taught in schools. You play an important role in helping your kids understand sex in terms of love, intimacy and respect, as well as how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease.

What can I do?

  • Offer age-appropriate information. A good rule of thumb to follow with younger children is to answer questions about sex when they bring them up. With an older child, you can discuss STIs and other risks of being sexually active and how to minimize those risks. It’s important to talk about this even if your expectation is that your children are not sexually active.
  • Be honest with your children about your family's values, opinions and expectations about sex. You may want to ask your family doctor for help in talking to your children. He or she can also provide you with information and facts to share with your children.
  • Think about the sexual messages your children get in school, on television or in movies. Talk to your children about these messages and encourage them to ask questions.
  • Keep an open mind. If your children are afraid of how you will react, they’ll be less likely to talk to you when they are feeling pressured, unsure or concerned about issues relating to sex.

Teaching Your Child the Art of Happiness

What makes a happy child who grows into a happy adult?  For many parents, raising happy children is the holy grail of parenting success. Since happiness is a by-product of emotional health, this whole website is about helping you raise a happy child, from meeting your infant's need to be held to helping your kids develop optimism. But let's talk specifically about what makes humans happy.

 What do you need to be happy?  A winning lottery ticket? 

The latest research on happiness give us surprising news.  Happiness turns out to be less a result of luck and external circumstance than a product of our own mental, emotional, and physical habits, which create the body chemistry that determines our happiness level.

We all know that some of us tend to be more upbeat than others. Part of this is inborn, just the fate of our genes that give us a happier mood. But much of our mood is habit. 

It may seem odd to have happiness referred to as a habit. But it's likely that by the time we're adults, we have settled into the habit of being happy, or the habit of being unhappy. 

Happiness is closely linked to three kinds of habits:

1.How we think and feel about the world, and therefore perceive our experiences.

2.Certain actions or habits, such as regular exercise, eating healthfully, meditating, even -- proven in study after study -- regularly smiling and laughing!

3.Character traits such as self-control, industry, fairness, citizenship, wisdom, courage, leadership, and honesty.

In practice, these character traits are just habits; tendencies to act in certain ways when confronted with certain kinds of situations. And certainly it makes sense that the more we exhibit these traits, the better our lives work and the better we feel about ourselves, so the happier we are.

Some of the habits that create happiness are visible, the ways Grandma told us we ought to live: work hard, value relationships with other people, keep our bodies healthy, manage our money responsibly, contribute to our community.

Others are more personal habits of self management that insulate us from unhappiness and create joy in our lives, such as managing our moods and cultivating optimism. But once we make such habits part of our lives, they are automatic and serve a protective function.

How can you help your child begin to develop the habits that lead to happiness?

1. Teach your child constructive habits to control his mind and create happiness: managing our moods, positive self-talk, cultivating optimism, celebrating life, practicing gratitude, and appreciating our connected-ness to each other and the entire universe.

2. Teach your child the self-management habits that create happiness: regular exercise, healthy eating, and meditation are all highly correlated with happiness levels. But you and your child may have your own, more personal strategies; for many people music is an immediate mood lifter, for others a walk in nature always works.

3. Cultivate fun. The old saying that laughter is the best medicine turns out to be true. The more we laugh, the happier we are! So the next time you and your child want to shake off the doldrums, how about a Marx brothers movie marathon?

And here’s a wonderful tool: smiling makes us happier, even when we force it. The feedback from our facial muscles informs us that we’re happy, and immediately improves our mood. Not to mention the moods of those around us, and that feedback loop uplifts everyone.

4. Help him learn how to manage his moods. Most people don’t know that they can choose to let bad moods go and consciously change their moods. But it’s usually pretty easy to figure out why you’re in a bad mood; the hard part is choosing to change it.

The first step is always to acknowledge the bad feelings, and what brought them on. Often, simply empathizing with those feelings will allow them to dissipate.

When your child’s in a good mood is a perfect time to comment on how wonderful it is to be in a good mood, and what a waste of precious time a bad mood can be. Talk with her about strategies for getting into a better mood: what works for her? Share what works for you.

Then, when she’s in a bad mood, help her notice what triggered it and how she might change it. Even if she’s able to choose a better mood only one out of ten times initially, she’ll soon start to notice how much better her life works when she does it

5. Model positive self- talk. We all need a cheerleader to help us over life’s many hurdles. Who says we can’t be our own? In fact, who better? Research shows that happy people give themselves ongoing reassurance, acknowledgment, praise and pep talks.

6. Cultivate optimism, it inoculates against unhappiness. It’s true that some of us are born more optimistic than others, but we can all cultivate it. Click here for "How you can help your child become more Optimistic".
7. Help your child find joy in everyday things. Studies show that people who notice the small miracles of daily life, and allow themselves to be touched by them, are happier.

Daily life overflows with joyful occurrences: The show of the setting sun, no less astonishing for its daily repetition. The warmth of connection with the man at the newsstand who recognizes you and your child. The joy of finding a new book by a favorite author at the library. A letter from Grandma. The first crocuses of spring.

As Albert Einstein said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Children learn by our example what's important in life.

8. Help your child develop gratitude.

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have"
-- Frederick Keonig

Many people think they can't be grateful until they're happy. But look closely and you'll find that it's the opposite: people are happy because they are grateful. People who describe themselves as consciously cultivating gratefulness are rated as happier by those who know them, as well as by themselves.

Children don’t have a context for life, they don’t know whether they are lucky or unlucky, only that their friend Bobby has more expensive sneakers. But there are many ways to help children learn to cultivate gratitude, which is the opposite of taking everything for granted. The most obvious is modeling it.

9. Counteract the message that happiness can be bought. As parents, we need to remember that we are not the only ones teaching our children about life. They get the constant media message that the goal of life is more money and more things. Ultimately, what we model and what we tell them will matter more, but we need to confront those destructive messages directly.

10. Leave room for Grief. Life, as the Buddha said, is full of suffering, and we have daily reasons to grieve. Acknowledging our sad feelings actually gives us more range in feeling our happy ones, and doesn't cause lingering unhappiness. Choosing to be happy doesn't mean repressing our feelings. It means acknowledging and honoring our feelings, and then letting them go. 

11. Help your child learn the joy of contribution. Research shows that the pride of contributing to the betterment of society makes us happier, and it will make our children happier too. Our job as parents is to find ways for them to make a positive difference in the world so they can enjoy and learn from this experience.


Enthusiasm.  Engagement.  It's almost the definition of childhood.  A jaded, withdrawn child is a red flag that something is very wrong. But what happens as they grow up, and modern life gets in the way?

"If I were able to give my children any gift to sustain them in life, I believe I might give them passion for what they do.  For if they can live from the heart, they will surely touch the sky." ... Steve Goodier

We all recognize that feeling of full engagement that gives meaning to our lives, when we apply ourselves so completely to the task at hand that we tap into all our resources and then some we never knew we had.

Photo: Oslo in the SummertimeAbraham Maslow described these as “peak moments,” sports stars call it “being in the zone", zen masters express it as being fully present. Somehow, we bring ourselves so completely to the moment that we seem to step out of time, even out of ourselves.  For all of us, it is when we are most fully alive.
Zen masters, of course, can experience this ecstatic state while doing the laundry or stirring the oatmeal, and such experiences, at least occasionally, are one of the many benefits of a regular meditation practice or athletic regimen.  Small children actually live in this state much of the time.
Most humans, however, are more likely to experience peak moments while striving towards a goal. Dopamine, a highly pleasurable neurotransmitter released in the brain in response to alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine and other mood altering drugs, is naturally present in the brain when we wholeheartedly pursue a goal. Study after study exploring happiness indicates that humans are happiest when they are fully engaged in a challenging activity.
In our culture, the satisfaction and pleasure humans get from achieving goals has become warped by the emphasis on money and possessions. Although many of us continue to pursue more material things, including higher salaries, their attainment is less satisfying the more we have.
Unfortunately, this is true for kids as well.  Studies show that affluent children are more likely to be bored, less enthusiastic, and less likely to report deriving pleasure from their activities.
Photo: Autumn SprolesEngagement is protective for children.  Kids who are passionate about something -- basketball, chess, collecting comic books, playing the trumpet – tend to protect their passion. Smoking compromises the trumpet player’s wind, late nights carousing throw off the ball player’s game, and the serious student knows she wants her mind clear for tomorrow's test.
So how can we help our children to experience the rewards of full engagement?
1. Remember that happiness results more from the fully engaged pursuit of a meaningful goal than from its attainment. As hard as it is for you, don’t be too quick to satisfy all their desires. Help your children set meaningful goals and work towards them. In our age of instant gratification, this is a lost art form.
2. Help kids find something meaningful to them to strive for. Most kids today don’t have to work and save for that new bike; we buy it for them as soon as they outgrow their old one.
But if you're buying him the bike for his birthday, what other goal would matter for him? Shooting a certain number of baskets in a row? Landing a part in the school play? Reading the collected works of Shakespeare? Coaxing a smile from the dour old lady at the corner store? Organizing the other kids to ask the city council for a new soccer field?
 3. Support their passions, don't try to give them yours.   Your fourteen year old spends every spare moment practicing with his band, when you wish he would study more?  It's fine to uphold family standards ("Homework comes first!")  but  recognize how lucky you are that your son has found himself the passion of making music. 
Remember that it’s fine for you to come up with suggestions, but if you have to provide the momentum, it isn’t their passion. Usually kids develop passions one step at a time, when they get encouragement and support from parents about a new interest.
4. Emphasize pursuit of what really matters. In a culture that glorifies wealth and celebrity, it takes clarity and intention to pose a meaningful alternative, but we owe our children the reassurance that life is more than glittering emptiness.
Share your heroes and sheroes with your kids. It may not be as cool to have a picture of Martin Luther King or Ghandi on their walls as Michael Jordan or Britney Spears, but kids need to know they can strive to make the world a better place – and accomplish it.
5. Be aware of addictions that undermine engagement. The siren call of the computer game, for instance, can easily trump the budding passion of the jazz buff. Writing a story takes more work and self-management than watching TV, as is true for all great passions. But that engagement and the sense of accomplishment that results is why we grow from pursuing our dreams.
6. Remember that grand aspirations become reality one step at a time. “Dad, it’s so cold, I wish these homeless people had a place to go!” and “Mom, I wish I could learn Italian!” are opportunities to help your child grow. Yes, these are big challenges, but you WANT her to think big. The trick in tackling a big goal is breaking it into small pieces: “Let’s go home and get a blanket to give that homeless man,” or “Let’s start learning a few Italian phrases by buying a tape to listen to together while we're driving to Grandma's this weekend.”
7. Remember to model rewarding ourselves for each step we make in the right direction. Often this reward is as simple as self praise, but every bit of progress deserves celebration. And of course, reward effort as well as results. "I know you can't actually speak Italian yet, but you've been working so hard on learning new words! Let's celebrate with an Italian dessert tonight."
8. If your child's passion is making the world a better place -- and what a wonderful passion that is -- be aware that both of you will be likely to confront feelings of hopelessness as you really engage with the problems of the world.  Giving one blanket to a homeless man is likely to make her feel temporarily better, but also to drive home for her just how entrenched injustice is in our society.  It helps if you can remind yourself and her that every positive thing we do matters, even when we can't see how.  Remember the starfish story:
A man walking along a beach came upon a little boy running frantically along the sand, picking up starfish and tossing them gently into the water. “What are you doing?” he asked. “The tide is going out, and these starfish will die here on the shore,” the boy answered, barely looking up. The man studied the beach for a minute. There were hundreds of starfish lying in the hot sun. “But you can’t possibly save them all,” he said. “It isn’t worth it.” The boy looked up. “It’s worth it to this one!” he cried, as he tossed another starfish into the ocean.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fats and Your Child

Why are some fats “good” while others are “bad”?
Your child’s body actually needs a certain amount and type of fat in his or her diet to absorb some nutrients and for good health. For example, vitamins A, D, E and K are “fat-soluble.” This means they require fat to be absorbed by the body. Fats also are helpful because they provide a sense of fullness or “satiety.” Children under 2 years old are still developing their brain and nervous system, and some fats are important for this process. This is why children under 2 should not drink low-fat (1%) or skim milk.
Certain fats (the so-called “good fats”) can help lower total cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial. They seem to decrease certain risk factors for heart disease.
But eating too much fat, and especially certain types of fat, can lead to high cholesterol levels, overweight and obesity. These conditions can lead to a number of other health problems as your child grows into an adult, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many others.
How much fat in the diet is okay?
The American Heart Association provides these fat guidelines for healthy American children and adults 2 years of age and older:
  • Limit total fat intake to less than 25% to 35% of total calories per day.
  • Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total calories per day.
  • Limit trans fat intake to less than 1% of total calories per day.
  • Remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day for most people; if heart disease is present or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels are over 100 mg/dL or greater, limit cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.
How can I tell if a food has too much fat or a “bad” fat?
For packaged food, you can read the Nutrition Facts Label to find out what the food contains, including how much total fat, saturated fat and trans fat.
Sources of Good Fats
  • Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, olive, avocado, and peanut and other nut oils, as well as in legumes (dried beans and peas), olives, seeds, nuts, nut butters and fresh avocados.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower and safflower oil, as well as sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, corn, soybeans, and many other kinds of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are usually found in seafood, including salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel. They can also be found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Sources of Bad Fats
  • Saturated fats are usually found in animal products such as meat, poultry and eggs, and dairy products such as cheese, cream and whole or 2% milk. Palm, coconut and other tropical oils, as well as cocoa butter, also contain saturated fat. Many snack foods, such as desserts, chips and French fries, are high in saturated fat.
  • Hydrogenated fats are common in margarine and shortening.
  • Trans fats, a type of man-made partially hydrogenated fat, are usually found in processed foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, crackers, snacks and frozen foods, and in fried foods, such as French fries and onion rings.

School Lunches: Helping Your Child Make Healthy Choices

How can I help my child make healthy food choices at school?
The best thing you can do is to prepare your child to make healthy choices. You can do that by helping your child establish healthy habits before school even begins. What you do at home can trickle over into the rest of your child’s day – and the rest of his or her life.
Are school lunches a healthy option for my child?
School lunches are designed to provide healthy food options for children. To see the nutrition information for lunches and other meals offered by your child’s school, check out the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service School Meals website. Your school district may also provide menus and nutrition information on its website.
Many school districts across the country have revamped their school lunch programs to provide healthier choices. By offering more variety, ethnic food options, vegetarian entrees, and salad, fruit and vegetable bars, students are able to make healthier and more appealing choices. But many students are still unclear about what foods are healthy. They often make their selections based on what they are most familiar with or what their friends are choosing.
Should I make my child’s lunch for him or her to take to school?
Making your child’s lunch is definitely an option, especially if your child is a picky eater or has special dietary needs.
If you’re concerned about your child’s food choices at school, try reviewing the school lunch menu with your child each week. Discuss which days he or she would like to eat at school and which foods and beverages he or she will choose. Work with your child to determine which days he or she will have a “home” lunch. That way, you can help your child select healthy options at school but also provide healthy meals from home.
When you do pack your child’s lunch, prepare it the night before to make sure you don’t run short on time in the morning. If you are in a hurry, you will be more tempted to toss in prepackaged foods and unhealthy snack-like options. Pack items that do not require refrigeration or that can be kept cold with an ice pack or thermos, or check to see if your school offers lunch refrigeration. Some foods, such as beverages and yogurts, can be frozen ahead of time and safely thaw in the lunch box.
Offer these snacks:
·     Fresh fruit
·     Baked chips or pretzels
·     Fresh veggies with salsa or low-calorie salad dressing
·     Unbuttered popcorn and other low-fat snacks
Instead of these:
·     Fried foods
·     Sugary drinks, such as regular sodas and sweetened fruit punches
·     Baked or processed goods
What other options do I have?
Some schools also offer breakfast programs to start children on a healthy track for the day. Sometimes, the meals are served in the cafeteria, while other schools serve breakfast in the classroom. Ask your school for a menu of breakfast offerings.