Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Talk to your Teen: Stop Teen Texting and Driving

The stats on teens, texting, and driving are in, and they are troubling. Over 80 percent of accidents are caused by distracted driving. Of those distractions, texting is the number one culprit. Texting behind the wheel is now the number one killer of teens, edging out alcohol, with over 3,000 teens killed, according to That's 11 teen lives lost a day.

Let that sink in… Eleven teen lives lost a day! Fortunately, knowing there is a problem is the first step to solving it. The following tips can help you keep your teen safe.

Tip #1: Speak Up

This isn't the time for a brief warning, it's the time for a serious talk. Have the talk before your child gets their license and issue a reminder each time they ask for the keys. In the words of NY traffic attorney Zev Goldstein at, “Your goal is not to chastise your child for texting, but to open up the dialogue. Let your teen know your concerns and show them the stats to back up the dangers of texting and distracted driving.”

Don't back down. Require a written commitment from your teen that they won't text and drive. Be clear that these expectations cover all cell phone use while driving, including web surfing, talking, texting, or sorting through a music playlist. Put the agreement in writing.

Tip #2: Make the Consequences Clear

If your teen is caught texting and driving, prompt punishment is necessary. Make the consequences clear before they get the keys. Set the consequences so they fit the crime, and enforce them promptly for any infraction. The most obvious consequence is the loss of driving privileges. This should be for a determined length of time. Further consequences can include loss of the cell phone and other privileges.

A teen that doesn't text and drive should be rewarded. Praise often and let them know you are proud of them.

Tip #3: Use Available Technology Wisely

You aren't alone when it comes to keeping your teen safe. App developers have been working on the problem and they have several apps available for parents.

There are apps that monitor your teen's phoneuse, so you can check in real time to see if they are texting and driving. Your teen can't disable the app, so everything is logged. Some states, like Iowa, now offer the app for free to parents of new teenage drivers, and some insurance companies are also giving access to safety apps to their customers.

Other apps are available to help your teen avoid temptation. These allow your teen to put their phone into a driving mode when they get in the car. Text, emails, and phone calls are temporarily turned off and held until they get to their destination.

Tip #4: Rally Your Kids to the Cause

Finally, get your teens behind the cause. Encourage them to attend teen rallies and safe driving events, or to to help educate other teens about safe driving. If your state doesn't have texting laws in effect, encourage them to write to their lawmakers. Most importantly, encourage them to be a strong voice amongst their peers. If the teens speak up about how uncool it is to text and drive, other teens will listen.

The future of digital safety and the use of phones in cars looks promising. State lawmakers are working to enact safety laws, while app, phone, and car developers are all working to roll out products that make it more difficult to text and drive. Yet, the biggest change needs to happen in the mindset of our teens – it is up to the parents to set clear expectations and to be role models of safe driving practices.

Fay D. Wein is a content and communication specialist, and loves cooking, blogging, and spending time with her family.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The impact of stress and what to do about it

A couple of years ago when my wife was picking me up from a meeting, I broke my foot just by pivoting on a flat surface. It’s actually quite embarrassing. However, at this point in my life I was starting my second year of graduate school, my hours at work were in limbo, and I just came from a meeting where I was voted onto the board. I understand now, looking back, that I was under a lot of stress and was vulnerable to injury.

Stress is a word that receives a lot of attention, and usually negatively. People often say exhaustedly “I’m so stressed,” with their face in their palms, and then wonder what life would be like stress-free.

Actually, it doesn’t matter if the stress is positive, such as a wedding or buying a house; or negative like a deadline. To the body, stress is stress, even if it is expected. Stress is cumulative, a build up of the everyday wear and tear.

As stress builds up, there are some common symptoms: headaches, flushed face, stiff neck, difficulty breathing, stomach pangs, shaky legs, feet & hands, cramps, and pounding heart, just to name a few. When these symptoms hit, there is a loss in energy, increase vulnerability to illness and injury, and is often referred to as burn out, or rust out. It’s important to realize that burn out, while similar, it is also unique.

A common stress problem solving thought is to ‘remove’ the stressor. But if the stress is originating from parenting, work, relationships, health, and life milestones (i.e. graduation, marriage) – these are typically out of an individual’s control, and can’t be removed. There may be little things that contribute to the cumulative stress that can be lessened, but for the most part, it is best to change priorities and find activities that help you recharge and rejuvenate.

Activities that recharge and rejuvenate don’t need to be elaborate or lengthy; they can be little and short. Just a couple of ideas: going for a walk, reading a book, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gaming (video or board), taking a bath, and the list could go on because each of us has different ways of recharging. Get creative; make it a priority to take care of yourself. Sometimes you may need to accommodate, such as going on a walk with your children or doing a yoga exercise with them.

But what is actually the most simplistic, yet shocking way, of dealing with stress, is changing our perception of stress. Changing it from being this yucky-negative thing to realizing and understanding that stress is something that everyone goes through, that we can learn from it and it helps us build our character. It is possible to have successful stressful situations.

In the end, research has shown that if we view stress through a positive perception, that alone can increase longevity, not to mention increase our overall wellbeing and health.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Finding the Right Balance: The Role of Risk-Taking in Child Development

As the mom of two young boys, I have had to come to terms with a certain amount of risk-taking over the past few years. Now, I don't mean anything crazy, but it does seem that certain children, regardless of gender, seem to love testing the boundaries of what is safe. Maybe your children are like this too. They love to climb on everything, jump off of anything, go fast in almost any form or fashion, and test the limits of their physical space. My experience with my boys prompted me to consider what this risk-taking behavior is all about. Luckily, there is some good research out there to help understand kids' seemingly innate need for risk.

A recent analysis of 21 studies of this topic revealed some interesting results. Kids who engaged in more "risky" play were found to be more active, and perhaps most interesting, were more socially and psychologically healthy. They also found kids involved in risky play had no higher rate of injury than other children. The "risky" play identified by the researchers involved activities that included playing at heights, playing with potentially dangerous items (e.g., water or fire), going fast, and rough-and-tumble play.

With these findings in hand, the researchers are now trying to figure out why risky play seems to offer such benefits. They theorize that much of the risky play helps children develop a strong sense of their own body, how it works in the world, and its limits. This may affect their psychological development as well. If parents protect them from unreasonable risks, but offer them some leeway in regards to tolerable risk, then the kids come to understand that the parents trust the child's ability to keep themselves safe (at least to a point). One researchers describes it this way,
"And though it may seem counterintuitive that children given more leeway don't seem to experience more injuries, other work has found similar trends. If a child feels confident enough to get up high, that's probably because they feel confident at that height and probably aren't going to fall."
Of course, this research comes on the heels of a trend in parenting over the past decade that has promoted the case for protection, and some would argue the overprotection, of children. The authors of the risk-taking studies reiterate that reasonable risks are the key to understanding these findings. They are not encouraging parents to let their young children roam freely and not monitor their activities. Instead, parents can closely observe their children and their abilities to gauge what seems like a reasonable risk.

I have seen this first-hand in my experience with two young boys. They each have their own individual skills and abilities when it comes to physical risk-taking. My toddler, while somewhat small for his age, is quite coordinated and so I allow him to climb on playground equipment that seems "risky" for his two-year old body. I'm sure I have gotten some disapproving glances at the playground, but I feel confident in my (and his) ability to judge what he can do. Of course, I always stay close by just in case he were to slip.

The ironic issue of this research emerging on risk-taking, is that equally compelling research is also coming out on the destructive effects of "helicopter parenting." Although this research has yet to prove a causal link, the correlations between hovering, overly intrusive parenting and poor outcomes like depression, anxiety, and lack of self-reliance are strong enough to make us pay attention.

Of course, the realm of physical risk-taking and the realm of decision-making about life choices are two different arenas. However, I would argue that overprotection by parents in one arena may lead to helicopter parenting in the other. It's not hard to see how overprotecting a toddler from risk-taking could easily turn into over managing a teenager's life, including extracurricular activities and college choices.

Overall, it seems both the issue of risk-taking and helicopter parenting comes down do, as one researcher put it, kids' "basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence." Kids need to feel like their choices, abilities, and skills matter. They need to develop within themselves their own ability to manage their bodies and their choices. We, as parents, can guide and support, but as with much of children's development, we cannot do it for them.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Praise, Persistence, and Grit: Key Research Findings for Kids

How many times a day do you find yourself saying, “good job” to your young child? I know for me, this clique phrase slips out numerous times a day. We all know that praise and encouragement (especially for good behavior) can be a strong motivator for children, especially around the preschool years. Preschoolers are in a stage of development where they are learning what it means to be them—self-concept.

New research is showing that the particular ways in which parents praise their children can influence, at least to some degree, how children come to understand themselves and their efforts. The key, it seems, is to help kids develop a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset” when it comes to how they think about their intelligence and ability to grow and learn. A “growth” mindset is one in which the child believes their efforts and trying new skills are what helps them learn and conquer new challenges. In contrast, some kids learn to think that their skill and intelligence are “fixed” and cannot be expanded with effort.

According to researchers, the preschool years are a key time to help kids understand this difference and how parents’ use praise may play a role. The commonly used comment, “good job” is generic praise in that it doesn’t inform the child what specifically they did well. On the other hand, “process praise” like the comment, “good job sharing with your friend” is the type of praise that helps the child understand what they did right so that they know what to focus on in the future.

In research studies, this difference in the types of praise used by parents was predictive of children’s “motivational framework” years later. That simply means that the children had more of a mindset of growth. Process praise that emphasized the child’s effort, strategies, or actions helped the child understand that their intelligence is not fixed but they can achieve new skills by trying.

This growth mindset is all part of a larger set of “non-cognitive skills” that help kids learn and achieve. These skills, like resilience, self-control, and persistence have little to do with their innate cognitive ability. Many researchers in the last few years have begun to emphasize these skills. In his recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough explores many of these traits. He cites many research studies that illustrate the value of helping kids deal with failure and overcome it to move on with a task or class. Perhaps most importantly, he explains the difference between helping kids develop self-esteem and character,

I think there is a real difference between developing self-esteem and developing character, and in the past few decades we’ve become confused about that. Yes, if you want to develop kids’ self-esteem, the best way to do it is to praise everything they do and make excuses for their failures.

But if you want to develop their character, you do almost the opposite: You let them fail and don’t hide their failures from them or from anybody else – not to make them feel lousy about themselves, but to give them the tools to succeed next time.
What a gift we can help our kids develop! I think this message is so powerful because it can apply to so many aspects of life. In school, kids need these skills to persist in a hard class or sport. Consider later in life, when your adult child is faced with a tough job situation or even a difficult personal relationship. I can easily see how these character traits like persistence, dedication, and passion can serve them well. Even in their own personal development as a person, these traits are crucial to overcoming bad habits or staying healthy.
So the next time your are tempted to say, “good job” to your persistent preschooler, try pointing out how well she/he stuck with the task at hand. The language we use really can make a difference in our children’s future mindset.


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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

5 Ideas to Keep Kids Occupied During the Witching Hours: Without using Electronics for Entertainment

by:Dyan Eybergen

When my boys were young I use to pride myself on "only" using the electronic babysitter of TV and videos for the Witching Hour: that time between 5 and 7 pm, when the wheels seem to come off the cart for every child and their behaviour. It was often convenient to plop them in front of the Disney Channel so I could get supper on the table and prepare for the evening's bedtime routine. It wasn't the only source of entertainment I resorted to with my children; but I admit, I used it on many occasions in that space of an hour or two. That was a long time ago when all we had to contend with in the fight against the use of electronics was the television and VCR. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to see toddlers using iPads in the grocery cart or gaming on mom or dad's cell phone in a restaurant.

According to the American Accreditation Health Care Commission (URAC) too much screen time can make it hard for children to fall asleep; can raise a child's risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression; and can increase the potential for weight gain and obesity due to inactivity. The URAC'S guidelines suggest that children under the age of 2 should have no screen time at all and children over 2 should be limited to 1-2 hours a day.

Here are 5 ideas for keeping kids occupied (and out of trouble) during those Witching Hours:
  1. Get the children involved in domestic activities. Even a toddler can help put napkins on the table or move a dust cloth across a coffee table. It may not be as efficient as you would like but it is a practice in teaching helping skills and increasing self esteem.
  2. Give your child age appropriate puzzles, Lego®and crafts to work on where they can foster their imagination and express their creativity.
  3. Put on some music and encourage your child to dance and sing or play old fashion musical chairs or name that tune.
  4. Insist on quiet time where your child can curl up on the couch to look through picture books/photo albums; practice counting or identifying colours and shapes,or look out the window and cloud/star gaze.
  5. Listen to books on audio.
Parent modeling will go a long way in teaching children how to entertain themselves so evaluate how much time you are spending in front of your electronic devices. For more ideas on how to keep children entertained during the Witching Hours and beyond, check out the article: 50 Things to do Instead of Screen Time in Calgary's Child Magazine.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ways to Prevent the "Summer Slide"

 Most of us around the country are heading into the final week or two of school for our kids. While many of us look forward to summer break as a time for playing, summer vacations, and pool time, the lack of structure can also be a bit challenging. Most of you have probably heard of the “summer slide” in academics. Children tend to lose a bit of what they have learned over the summer unless we as parents do things to help them keep their minds active.

Until I researched this topic, I had no idea the summer slide could be so dramatic. One report stated that,

It is estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being disproportionately affected. Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present when children begin school.”

Of course one of the best ways to prevent summer slide is reading…and a lot of it. Most public libraries have free summer reading programs for kids of all ages, with some really fun activities to go along with it. Some libraries even have “reading buddies” programs in which an older child (6th grade or above) listens to a younger child (K-3rd grade) read and reads along with them. Personally, my son loves this program. I think it makes the younger kids feel “grown up” to have an older friend.

Here are a few great book lists if you need some help finding books appropriate for your kids’ age level:

-         Summer Booklist by age (from Imagination Soup)

I think it’s also important for kids to be as physically active during the summer as possible. If you are a stay-at-home parent (like I am) then you know there are a lot of hours to fill during those long summer days. I have found that allowing the kids to be outside and active as much as possible keeps things fun and their moods in good spirits. Besides parks and pools here are a few ideas for fun, somewhat educational activities that allow for a lot of movement:

-         water balloon toss or water balloon piƱata
-         baking soda and vinegar volcanoes
-         backyard scavenger hunt
-         sack races
-         build a homemade fort or teepee (outside or inside)
-         try out camping in a tent (can be done inside too)

While the days are mostly unstructured, you can build a little structure into your time so as to allow for outside time, reading time, and rest/quiet time.

If you are like me, summer was when some of my best childhood memories were made. Let’s keep our kids active and have a fun summer full of good memories.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top 10 Signs and Symptoms of Child/Adolescent Mental Health Disorders

By: Dyan Eybergen BA,RN,ACPI

For parents, the key to handling mental disorders of children is to recognize the problem and seek appropriate treatment. Early support and intervention are vital, as research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Mental illness in children can be hard for parents to identify. As a result, many children who could benefit from treatment don't get the help they need.

  1. Mood changes. Depression in children and adolescents often manifests itself in irritability rather than sadness.
  2. Listen for expressed feelings of hopelessness and watch for social withdrawal and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that lasts at least two weeks.  Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school is also a good indicator of a developing mood disorder.
  3. Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with activities of daily living (going to school, playing with friends).
  4. Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or staying on task to complete projects/assignments. A sudden drop in school performance is a red flag that something underlying is going on.
  5. Behaviour changes. These include drastic changes in behaviour or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behaviour  Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying. 
  6. Fighting with others frequently, using weapons and threatening to hurt others.
  7. Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
  8. Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop physical symptoms: headaches and stomachaches, they may constantly complain of aching arms, legs with no apparent cause rather than sadness or anxiety.
  9. Use of alcohol or other drugs.
  10. Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-harm. This is the act of deliberately hurting your own body often by cutting or burning yourself. For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide (Canadian Mental Health Association).

If you're concerned about your child's mental health, it is advised that you speak with your child's teacher, close friends or loved ones, or other caregivers to see if they've noticed any changes in your child's behaviour. Consult your child's doctor and discuss what options are available for assessment and treatment. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dealing With Bullying

Image courtesy of Prawny at
As a parent, I have now been on both sides of bullying.  Years ago when my oldest son went to Scout Camp, some boys who didn't have as much supervision as they needed now felt free to mistreat him in ways they were never able to do at Cub Scouts or at church.  It's pretty pathetic to say that the only kids who did these things to him were the ones who sat side by side with him for years as they received lessons on being charitable, kind, loyal, trustworthy, Christlike, etc.  Up until Scout Camp, their behavior involved things like moving to the other side of the room after he sat down.  He never did anything to them.  He just didn't fit in.

During his almost week at Scout Camp, he was roughed up by one boy as another one laughed, a lit match was thrown at him while he was using the bathroom, he was pelted with small, hard objects, and during the last 10 minutes a boy decided to grab his genitals. That's not all that happened there, but I'll leave it at that. An older friend who was there responded by punching that kid in the crotch as hard as he could.  I admit, I had a good laugh because judging by the way he had been disciplined in the past (which appeared as if there was no discipline), I figured that was all the punishment he was going to get.  I asked my son, "Why didn't you punch him?"  "Because he was too fast and beat me to it!"

To make a long story shorter, after talking to his leaders and hearing about the many other things that happened like these same boys stealing from the Trading Post, I opted not to call each parent because we were going to have a meeting.  What a fool I was to think that any of these boys' parents would actually show up.  Of course, they didn't.  That left me just ranting about people who act like their kid can do no wrong and don't want to hear it when they do.  Being too afraid that they would blow me off, I never talked to the parents because I knew I wouldn't be able to keep my emotions under control if they minimized what happened and I still had to go to church with these people.  My son never received any kind of apology from those boys. 

So when I found out my youngest son was involved in an incident two days ago where a boy decided to shove another boy while he was going to the bathroom and that two other boys joined in, I came down pretty hard on my son.  From what I gathered, this wasn't someone he considered a friend, but a kid who annoyed him on a regular basis.  He is in 5th grade and had never, ever been in trouble at school before, so I was completely shocked.  He was new at the school this year because we moved, so I don't know what was going through his mind. Was he trying extra hard to fit in?  I told my oldest son that when I was growing up, I preferred to have no friends than the wrong friends.  Always do the right thing no matter how unpopular it is. Maybe I haven't done a good job driving this point home with my youngest, but I couldn't be more disappointed.

I let him know that my first concern was for the boy they did this to.  I reminded him of what happened to his brother and how awful it felt as a mom.  I contacted his teacher and she too was shocked he was capable of joining in such a thing.  I asked her to please let me know if his parents wanted to talk to me.  I wanted them to know how seriously I was treating the situation.  You won't hear things like, "Boys will be boys" coming out of my mouth. 

To make matters worse, my son wrote him a pathetic apology.  You can't really call it an apology because he added, "P.S. My mom made me write this."  I was furious.  Maybe he was trying to ease his own discomfort with "humor" or is saving face, but I told him that's even worse than not getting an apology at all.  By the end of our discussion, he was sobbing his eyes out, but I think that started when I told him he was grounded for a week. 

How do you help a child feel true remorse?  I think that's another article.  I told my son that I can't make him like anyone, but I do expect him to treat everyone with respect.  Every day this week he will be reading about bullying, apologizing, and other related things.  He typically tries to buy his way out of trouble and seemed to think writing an apology for his "apology" would be enough.

I also asked his teacher to keep him in from recess for at least a few days.  I think it would be good for this boy to see that he's not just getting a slap on the wrist.

If your child has been bullied, I encourage you to talk to the parents no matter how awkward it's going to be.  I regret not doing that.  If your child has bullied someone else, please take it seriously.  Please let the parents and their son or daughter know that you are doing everything you can to make sure it never happens again.  You're not a failure if your child makes the wrong decision.  You fail when you give them no consequences.

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