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Teachable Moments: Valuable Lessons on Life and Love for Kids

Meet Jack Bear. For such a little guy he offered many opportunities to teach our kids very valuable lessons about life and about love.

Here is a part of Jack’s story.

Jack was given up when he was 10 years old. By all reckoning that is old in dog years- perhaps 70 years old. It seems he was no longer fun and no longer desired. I always found it hard to imagine giving up a dog for no other reason than age but here was Jack. Then again in many adult relationships we see an end, perhaps a separation or a divorce. To outsiders it may seem that there is no good reason.

Teachable Moment 1– things change, feelings and perceptions, wants and desires and it does not always make sense. Often the truly innocent are caught in the middle and pay the highest price. Things will change in the lives of our children that especially to them make no sense and seem unfair.

From the time he was given up he began to cry non-stop- an unwanted behavior. His crying combined with the fact that he was old and funny looking- undesired characteristics- he was perceived as unadoptable. Differences real or perceived are one reason kids bully each other. The beautiful picking on the less so and the big picking on the small and the “normal acting” picking on those whose behavior is outside the expected or desired. Jack had all three.

Teachable Moment 2– Value the differences don’t condemn them. Jack eventually stopped crying and became a loved member of the family. No- he was never like the rest of our dogs-never played with other dogs at the park. He was not identical to the other dogs- he was his own dog. Teachable Moment 2.5– be yourself. His smaller size, this ‘flaw’ made him a perfect lap dog- better than many others. In this case his size was an advantage.

Teachable Moment 3– there are a myriad of ways to look at things and when we do so we open up tremendous opportunity. I never thought I would grow fond of a funny looking, old, Toy Poodle with the name Jack Bear- I did. See Teachable Moment 1- things change and sometimes perceptions and feelings change for the better. Our daughter never saw Jack’s flaws, was never bothered by his crying, his looks or his age. Teachable Moment 3.5 – one truly good friend who sees the real you and all your potential is worth more than 100 lesser or false friends.

Jack’s health failed him. He developed cataracts and went blind. His teeth fell out and his hearing failed him. He had to be hand fed and could not always control his bladder. In other words he grew old as we all will.

Teachable Moment 4- we will all grow old and we will all die. We need to help kids to understand that this is a natural life-path. Yes seeing loved ones sick is never easy- in fact it is down-right hard. It is natural to feel anger and to feel sad. There is a natural progression of emotions. Understanding this does not erase the pain but it does make one feel unique and less alone.

Teachable Moment 5– as the saying goes,” it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” It might seem better to avoid the pain but closeness, love and friendship though often painful are the greatest gifts in the world. My life was so much more enriched by having Jack in my life than not.

Teachable Moment 6– we can all find teachable moments, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places if we just take the time to look. Thanks Jack- Bear, rest in peace.

Make Easter Happy and Healthy for Special Needs Kids

Easter is almost here, and like Halloween and Valentine’s Day the holiday celebrations Easter egg sachetinvolve lots and lots of candy. Many special needs children, along with many typical children, are severely affected by the synthetic dyes, preservatives, sweeteners and other artificial ingredients in treats. Simply reading labels and choosing all-natural products before filling eggs and baskets may just let your family have a more enjoyable holiday, and the habit of reading labels can improve the quality of life for you and your special needs child.

The non-profit Feingold Association has tons of information on medical studies that prove the link between these additives and increased hyperactivity, inability to focus and other symptoms. The site also offers a program and diet to eliminate these ingredients. Conditions that have improved on the Feingold diet include ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, MBD, TS and many more. Adopting the Faingold diet, or your own modified version of avoiding these ingredients, may not even mean a major overhaul of your family’s eating. According to the Feingold Association website, “Cheetos Natural White Cheddar Flavored Puffs are acceptable, but the orange colored Cheetos (with artificial coloring) are not. Duncan Hines makes a chocolate cake mix with artificial flavor – and another version without.”

So many caregivers of special needs children are searching for that magic pill, which may just be in the form of a shopping cart.

There are many stores that offer a wide selection of all-natural candy and treats, as well as items that are gluten-free, sugar-free and organic:

  • Whole Foods – Find your local Whole Foods here. (Whole Foods has partnered with Streit’s to offer all-natural Hannukah foods, fyi)
  • Trader Joe’s – Find your local location of Trader Joe’s here.
  • Many all-natural items are also available online, such as these All-Natural Jelly Belly jelly beans, which are also gluten-free, dairy free and kosher.

Know of a great store or product? Email me or share it with us all as a comment!

My Child Has a Toothache, Help!

Last updated on April 4th, 2022 at 07:21 pm

It’s very difficult when your child is in any pain and toothaches can happen in your little ones. Let’s start by addressing what could be the cause of their toothache: their diet. If your children eat excessive candy or drink a lot of soft drinks, they may experience decay or cavities. The bacteria that live in your child’s mouth breaks sugar down into acid which then causes erosion of their teeth. Ask your child to point out where the pain is. Other causes could include mouth ulcers or swollen gums a cold sore which can affect inner mouth areas. Look inside your child’s mouth for swelling or red spots. If you see anything suspicious call your dentist and get an appointment immediately. Using home remedies could help temporarily but don’t let that deter you from making an appointment because without fixing the source, the ache will come back.

You can apply a warm damp cloth to the affected area from the outside. Try giving some Children’s Tylenol to your child and make sure they are not touching it or playing with the area. Don’t delay treatment as your child needs immediate and necessary dental care.

We suggest several things to help make your child’s first visit a pleasant one:

  • When your child has a dental appointment, make it part of a trip where they get to do something fun afterwards.
  • Don’t let your dentist wear a mask when introducing him/herself to your child.
  • Taking a favorite toy may help distract your child from fear or stress
  • Children pick up on their parents fears so if you are fearful of the dentist, don’t let your child know that.
  • Don’t use threats as a way to make your child go to the dentist because they will then see it as a punishment instead of a help.
  • Rewarding your child for being good at the dentist is always encouraging.

Most of all try not to let a toothache be the first reason your child sees a dentist. We always recommend starting young and introducing your child to good oral hygiene at a young age to develop healthy habits. As said before, the condition of your child’s baby teeth can affect that of the permanent teeth so start those good habits young!

Is Your Stress Harming Your Kids?

Last updated on April 4th, 2022 at 07:21 pm

Money worries, job demands, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have us stressed to the max… and it’s taking a toll on our kids. A 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that children who said their parents were stressed said they were stressed too. They reported feeling sad, worried or frustrated – and their parents had no idea, according to the survey. As of 2022, according to the APA: children’s mental health is in crisis.

Stress is bad for your well-being, but it puts kids at risk too. Numerous studies show that chronic tension is damaging to children’s mental, physical and oral health. “Our children pick up our feelings and concerns. When we’re stressed, it makes them worry. And when we’re calm, they feel more secure and content,” says educational psychologist Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.

Here, a few research-proven and expert-recommended tips to ID stress effects in your kids, reduce their anxiety, and keep your own tension in check.

Spot the stress signs. Since most kids can’t just come out and say, “I’m stressed!” the APA advises watching for these red flags:

  • Acting irritable or moody
  • Withdrawing from favorite activities
  • Expressing concerns
  • Complaining more than usual
  • Crying
  • Clinging to a parent or teacher
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Experiencing stomachaches and headaches, which can be a side-effect of stress

Give them some control. Giving kids choices and a sense of control over a situation helps them deal with stress better, according to The National Institutes of Health. Give them a heads-up on any changes or decisions that might affect them, so they can process the information without feeling blindsided.

Get physical, together. Exercise releases endorphins – your body’s natural stress-reducers. Go on a family hike, take a bike ride, or dance around the living room. And to keep your own stress at bay, start a regular exercise routine.

Avoid unnecessary stressors. Say no to extra responsibilities when your plate is already full. Skip movies, TV shows or news stories that make you tense. Bow out of social situations that are uncomfortable. And stay away from people, places and things that make you anxious or unhappy.

Be accepting. Can’t change a problem? Change yourself. By choosing to see the positive in a challenging situation (…Mr Rogers “look for the helpers“), stepping back to gain perspective, and abandoning perfectionism.

Cuddle up. When you feel your anxiety level rise, take a cuddle break. A simple back rub or a big hug can release your child’s tension — and help you relax in the process. Plus, a snuggle with your spouse can boost your heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress hormones and releasing oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” according to a study conducted by The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Protect your time. Part of reducing stress is nurturing yourself so you’re better able to handle life’s zingers. Whether you like to garden, bake, read mysteries or hit the mall, set aside “you” time every day. And don’t forget to laugh! It helps your body beat stress – and it keeps your kids smiling too.

The Best Foods for Sick Kids

Last updated on April 4th, 2022 at 07:44 pm

When your kid is miserable with a stuffy nose, fever or stomachache, it’s tempting to feed her what she wants (ice cream!) or let her skip dinner altogether. But research reveals that eating the right comfort foods can soothe her symptoms and strengthen her immune system. Even if your little one doesn’t have much of an appetite, encourage her to eat; in combination with symptom- and age-appropriate OTC remedies, she’ll feel better in no time.

Here are the best foods for sick kids:

For a stuffy nose … feed them soup. “The hot, steaming broth loosens mucus, so your child can breathe easier,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietician and the director of wellness coaching at Cleveland Clinic. For even more relief, serve up a bowl of chicken soup: Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that this childhood staple may relieve cold symptoms by inhibiting inflammation-causing cells in the body. “Plus, chicken soup has carrots, celery and onions,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “These veggies provide vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system.”

For a fever … feed them calorie-rich fare. Forget starving a fever! “You’ll only deprive the body of the nutrients it needs to get well,” says Jamieson-Petonic. A feverish child uses more energy, she adds, so they need to consume additional calories. If your kid doesn’t feel like eating, try adding nutritional bulk to every bite he takes: Slip banana slices into a peanut butter sandwich, mix dry milk powder in mashed potatoes or mac ’n’ cheese, and blend flaxseed into a fruit smoothie.

For a sore throat … feed them soft foods. Does it hurt to swallow? Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, soup and yogurt can coat a painful throat while providing nutrition. Another soother for children above the age of one: honey. According to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, this sweet substance can also lessen nighttime coughing and improve sleep. So if your child can’t stop hacking, swirl a spoonful into a mug of herbal tea or a glass of warm milk.

For a stomachache … feed them crackers. “Bland foods stabilize digestion and gradually get the system up and running again,” says Connie Evers, a registered dietician in Portland, Ore. Once the worst is over, she recommends moving on to more substantial fare, like bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Also steer clear of colas: The caffeine content can make nausea even worse.

For any type of illness … feed them popsicles. For sick kids, proper hydration is key. “Sleeping for long periods of time — as well as running a fever — can lead to fluid loss,” says Evers. To make sure your child sips often, place a water bottle on her bedside stand. Evers also suggests freezing 100% cranberry and orange juices into homemade popsicles; the treat serves up extra liquids along with a dose of vitamin C.

For recovery … feed them balanced meals. Even if they ask for it, don’t serve them their favorite fast-food meal or sugary dessert. “Foods high in sugar or saturated fat can increase inflammation in the body,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. “That can make kids feel worse — and even slow the healing process.” Fill her plate with vitamin-rich produce, whole grains and lean proteins instead. “These foods strengthen the immune system, which helps fight viruses,” she says. “It can also help lower the risk of complications, like bronchitis.”

9 Ways to Help Your Perfectionist Kid Feel “Good Enough”

Last updated on April 4th, 2022 at 07:44 pm

Perfectionist kidsOf course we want our children to reach their potential and to excel. Of course we want them to get those great grades and succeed. But often kids feels so much pressure that they become obsessed to doing everything so perfectly to an unhealthy degree. And that can leave them feeling anxious, frustrated and worried most of the time.

Another problem with perfectionists is that they often put those pressures on themselves. “Will it be enough?” “What will others think?” ”Why did I miss that one point?”” I have to stay up later…I won’t get a perfect score!” ”But it isn’t GOOD enough I need to work harder!”

Because they’re never satisfied and always pushing themselves, they are often frustrated with their performance. Of course always wanting to be perfect to an extreme can take a toll on our children’s emotional health as well as disrupt their lives.If they keep up that push, push, push, never-good-enough pace, all that heightened stress can put them in jeopardy for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, migraines headaches, and even suicide. Perfectionists are also more at risk for emotional, physical as well as relational problems.

But let’s keep in mind that this isn’t just a “big kid issue.” Even preschoolers are beginning to exhibit this problem. We see this “I’m never good enough” concept especially in our gifted and talented kids. Here are signs to watch for:

Signs of Kid Perfectionists

  • Always comparing themselves to others; can’t stand coming in second place or doing worse than others; wants to be the best and anything less not good enough
  • Migraines or headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping, or other physical ailments before, after, or during a performance
  • Too cautious about trying something new that may be outside of his area of expertise and mean he may not excel
  • May put others down. All in an effort to be their best and make the other person feel less perfect – or inadequate
  • May put the same high standards on others
  • Worrying it won’t be good enough; or fears failure. Avoids difficult or stressful tasks; leaves work unfinished out of fear it won’t be perfect
  • Concentrates on the mistake instead of the overall job or how well he performed
  • Way too hard on himself; can’t laugh at himself or his own mistakes

Though some of our kids are just hard-wired with that inborn tendency to always push, push, push themselves to the max, max, max, there are things we can do. For instance, we can teach them coping skills so they can lower their stress and we can show them how to set more realistic expectations. And we can also take an honest appraisal by tuning into our own expectations and example to make sure some of that push they put on themselves really isn’t coming from us. Here are a few tidbits of proven parenting advice from my book to help you help your child survive, cope and thrive in this wonderful world.

Helping Perfectionists Survive, Cope, and Thrive

1. Lighten the child’s load

Start by honestly checking his schedule: Is there any time for just downtime or play? Is there any of those activities that can be eliminated or reduced? Teach your child he can always go back and finish up an activity, but give him permission to just plain enjoy life. (You may need to remind him and chart that time into his schedule so she does take time to glance at the clouds or just do plain nothing for a few seconds anyway.) While you’re at it, do take an honest assessment at the classes, programs, activities, clubs, etc.

Perfectionist lane

Ask three questions:

  1. Are they ones that stretch my child without snapping him?
  2. Are they tailored to my child strengths and capabilities?
  3. Does my child really need them all?

2. Teach her to be her own “time-keeper”

If she works hours on her writing but actually does a great job the first time through, set a time limit on how long she can work on a particular activity. Then help her log her own time.

3. Teach stress busters

Show your child a few simple relaxation strategies such as taking slow deep breaths, listening to soothing music, walking, or just taking ten and lying on the couch to help improve her frame of mind and reduce a bit of that intensity—at least for a few minutes.

4. Help your child handle disappointment

The inner dialogue of a perfectionist is self-defeating. “I’m never good enough.” “I knew I’d blow it.” So help your child reframe his self-talk by teaching him to say to a more positive phrase that’s less critical and judgmental and more reality-based such as: “Nobody is perfect.” “All I can do is try my best.” “I’ll try again next time.” “Believe in myself will help me relax.”

5. Start a family mantra

One way to help your child realize that mistakes don’t have to be seen as failures, is to come up with a family mantra such as: “A mistake is a chance to start again.” Or: “Whether you think your can or that you can’t you’re right.” Then pick one phrase and say it again and again until your child “owns it.” You might even print out a computer-made sign and hang it on your fridge.

6. Teach “Take a reality check”

Perfectionists imagine something horrid will happen if they hit the wrong note, don’t hit the high beam, or don’t make the standard they’ve set for themselves. Your role is to challenge their views so they don’t think in such all or nothing; black or white thinking, and help them dispute the belief.

For instance: Kid: “I know the moment I pick up my pencil I’m going to forget everything I studied all year.” You: “That’s never happened in your entire life. Why now?”

Show your child the advantages and disadvantages of being a perfectionist. Explain what you can control verses what you can’t. Redefine success as not perfection, but excellence.

7. Watch your example!

Are you a perfectionist? Is nothing ever good enough? Do you berate yourself for every little thing? Beware, research shows that moms who are perfectionists or who base their self-esteem on their kids’ achievement are more likely to have perfectionist kids. Watch out! Your kids are watching!

Remember, the parenting goal is not to change your child, but to help her learn coping skills and expectations that will reduce her self-made pressure. Stress stimulates some kids, but it paralyzes others. So tune into your child.

8. Get real about abilities

Don’t try to turn your child into the “Superkid Perfect-in-Everything. Instead, be more practical about your child abilities and be honest with her. Start assessing and refining her natural strengths—her artistic flair, his creative nature, or her musical pitch. Then monitor, encourage and strengthen those traits and skills so she doesn’t try to push herself so hard in too many areas but instead narrows her focus and has a more realistic assessment of her talents.

9. Make sure there’s time for fun

Encourage laughter and just sitting outside every once in a while and watching the clouds drift by. Teach your child she can always go back and finish up an activity, but give her permission to just plain enjoy life.

Tailor your expectations to your child’s natural nature and development. Temper any tendency to “push her harder” (perfectionist kids are their own best pushers). Those are the true secrets that help our kids reach their potential and utilize their gifts.

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Borba - book cover -parentingsolutions140x180

Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at amazon.com.