Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Eating disorders

Radio Commentary

Media coverage of eating disorders has generally improved, but unrealistic body images continue to appear. The pressures to be thin are very great, especially for girls.

The state PTA warns that between five and 10 million Americans have eating disorders, mostly teens and young adults.

Anorexia is a fear of becoming fat, coupled with an unrealistic body image that leads people to restrict severely the amount of food they eat.

Bulimia involves bingeing and purging — eating excessive amounts of food and then forcing it out.

Eating disorders all involve preoccupations with weight and food. But they are often rooted in other issues, compensating for aspects of life that appear to be out of control.

Many young people who suffer from these disorders also have feelings of inadequacy, troubled relationships, or a history of being teased because of weight.

Parents should teach children positive and healthy attitudes toward their bodies.

Media coverage of celebrity eating issues can offer a good chance to ask your children what they think.

Be sure to point out that healthy, fit bodies don’t all look the same.

Experts say parents who are worried should communicate their concerns without judgment and without oversimplifying the issue. Express support and seek professional treatment if necessary. These issues can be serious.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How parents can help

Radio Commentary

Sparking a child’s curiosity can be key to lifelong learning. Parents can help.

Make up trivia games that you can all play regularly, even when you’re on the run. Give children a chance to experiment around the house with measuring, cooking, repairing broken items, and other activities that require finding and using information.

Also, be sure to know what’s going on at school. Attend school events. Your presence will show your children that you’re interested in their school life and value it.

Ask children for detailed descriptions of what they’re studying and doing at school.

You should also help children establish a sense of ethics. Have the courage to say NO when children’s interests are not acceptable.

As children get older, continue to uphold firm, clear limits. But gradually give them more chances to make choices and live with the consequences.

It is easier to set these standards in first and second grades than in preteen years. But there are also ways to encourage preteens to stick to standards of behavior.

Teach children of all ages to say “thank you” and write thank-you letters when appropriate. Tell them stories of justice. Teach them that there is a right and a wrong way to do things.

In these areas, parents are the most important teachers of all.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Find the positive

Radio Commentary

Negativity appears everywhere in media reports, because conflict makes news.

Violence and negativity also appear in movies, games, and music videos, mostly because the manufacturers consider it entertaining — and because they are rewarded financially by producing this sort of content.

This negative bombardment can give a false impression to young people that the world around them is not very positive.

For this reason, it’s important to find time to talk with children about good things.

Focus especially on what is positive in their neighborhood and their school.
Positive stories surround us if we make a point of looking for them – neighbors who’ve helped other neighbors, people who support worthy causes, and so forth.

It’s also very clear from the research that developing a positive attitude in school-age children is important to success in the classroom.

In fact, hearing positive news can help your child feel good about school in general and schoolwork in particular.

Make it a special point to share your enthusiasm about students who help out and make a difference in the community.
By holding up those young people as a model, your children may then strive to be one of them.

That’s how the chain of compassion begins, and that’s how we can help pass it along for future generations. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

SIDS awareness

Radio Commentary

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, known by the acronym SIDS, is a tragedy, and a mystery. Despite years of research, its exact causes remain unknown.

It is defined as the sudden death of an infant, younger than a year old, that can’t be explained after a thorough medical investigation.

In California, SIDS is the second-leading cause of death for children between 28 days and a year old. However, parents can take steps to reduce the risks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has these recommendations:
  • Pregnant women should receive regular prenatal care. They also should avoid tobacco smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs both during pregnancy and after the birth.
  • Don’t let anyone smoke in an infant’s presence.
  • When it’s time to sleep, lay your baby on his back, not his stomach, on a firm surface.
  • Share a room, but not a bed, with your infant, and keep all soft objects out of the baby’s sleeping area.
  • Don’t let your baby get overheated while sleeping.
Other effective steps include breastfeeding, if possible; getting all recommended immunizations for your baby, and having regular “well baby” check-ups.

We don’t yet have a way to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but these steps have greatly decreased the number of deaths. If you have questions, ask your doctor for advice.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Joy of reading

Radio Commentary

Columbia University professor Lucy Calkins inspired a generation of teachers to help young children become better writers.

One of her books is a parents’ guide to raising lifelong learners, and it offers some very good advice.

Her basic counsel is that good things come to those who read. If children read avidly and read a lot, they will write better, spell better, they will know more, and they will care more.

For parents, it is critical not only to support reading, but also to do it the appropriate way.

She paints two different pictures to illustrate her point. In the first scenario, the parent asks a child arriving home from school if she has any homework. The child says, “Yes, I need to read.”

The parent says, “It’s good to get your homework done right away. Why don’t you go to your room, sit at your desk, and do your reading? It really matters. That’s how you get ahead — by reading.”

That’s one way to support reading. Here’s another: The parent greets the child by saying, “You’ve had a really long day at school. I bet you’re ready for time to rest and snuggle. Why don’t we each get our books and read here on the sofa? I’m in the middle of mine now.”

“I don’t know that book you’re reading. What’s it like? You are so lucky to have teachers point you to great books like that.”

The professor says that while both approaches support reading, the second conveys the message that reading is one of life’s great gifts.

And that can make all the difference.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Helping children navigate challenging times

News column

Like millions of people around the world, I watched TV coverage of the chaos and carnage in Paris with growing revulsion and dread. My heart went out to the victims and family members of those so profoundly affected by such barbarism and terror.

In a thoughtful Time magazine article on the impact of tragedies on children, columnist Belinda Luscombe pointed out that when terrible events such as the attacks in Paris happen, parents’ immediate instinct may be to shield their children from them. While this is perfectly natural, especially for preschool-aged children, it may not always be the best approach, according to experts.

She cites advice from Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute. “It’s very likely that your child will hear about what happened,” Koplewicz says, “and it’s best that it comes from you so that you are able to answer any questions, convey the facts, and set the emotional tone.”

When kids remain afraid despite your reassurances, psychologist Paul Coleman, author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces, offers the helpful acrostic “SAFE” as a toolbox for things to do when it comes to interacting with your unsettled children.

S: Search for hidden questions or fears. Parents should not be afraid to inquire what other anxieties or concerns are besetting their children, and to ask about the nature of the conversations they are partaking in with their peers. “The goal is to not assume your child is okay because it would make you—the parent—more at ease to believe that is so,” Coleman says. “Some children may not speak up about their fears or may be unable to articulate them without a parent’s willingness to ask questions.”

A: Act. This point may seem elementary, but it warrants emphasis. It is vital that parents maintain their normal routine and activities, from wake-up to homework to bedtime rituals. But it can also be a great opportunity to impart on them the value of doing small things for friends, families, and neighbors. “It is a good time to have them do kind things for others,” says Coleman. Whether it’s helping an elderly neighbor down the steps or doing something for a stranger, those acts can remind them “that there are kindnesses in this world,” despite what the headlines might suggest. In so doing, parents can mitigate the feelings of helplessness their children may have.

F: Feel feelings. “Let them know their feelings make sense,” says Coleman. “Saying ‘There is nothing to worry about,’ teaches them that you may not be the person to speak to about their fears.” Allowing children an opportunity to talk about what’s going on in their heads can help them organize the chaos, and it also allows parents to demonstrate patience and compassion.

E: Ease Minds. Once children have talked through the range of their uncertainties, it is time for parents to allay their concerns further by reminding them of all the people who endeavor to do good, regardless of the circumstances. “Reassure them that there are good people trying to help others and prevent future attacks,” says Coleman.

Coleman’s advice here puts me in mind of an anecdote from the late Fred Rodgers for times like these. In Mister Rogers' Parenting Book: Helping To Understand Your Young Child, Rogers recalls an admonition his mother imparted on him when he would see, read, or hear about something unsettling in the news. “Look for the helpers,” she told him. “You will always find people who are helping.”

Rogers went on to say that this reminder from his mother proved to be a repeated source of comfort and consolation to him—especially in times of great unrest or disaster. There are indeed helpers all around us, as witnessed by the focused, selfless actions demonstrated by the first responders to the terror in Paris.

While continued coverage of these awful events can become an emotional drain, it is important to underscore that nearly all experts agree: the top priority for parents should be allotting extra time to their children. “The best thing you can do as a parent is be available,” says Koplewicz. “Just spending time with them and reassuring them that an event like this is unusual can make a huge difference.”

Children’s contract

Radio Commentary

The future of any society is bound tightly to how it treats its children.
A contract created for American children promises the following:

  • We promise to consider children’s well-being first in evaluating health and welfare reforms or other national policy.
  • We promise to ensure that all children get the basics they need to grow up healthy.
  • We promise all children a chance to achieve their potential, and we encourage parents to help by becoming active partners in their children’s education.
  • We promise to reduce children’s exposure to violence — on TV, on our streets, and in our homes.
  • We promise to help families stay together and help young people understand the rewards and responsibilities of parenting.
  • We promise to help working families stay out of poverty.
  • We promise to support families by making sure that education and job training are available to people of all means.
  • We promise to provide young people with places to go and things to do that will help them act responsibly.
  • We promise to support all children’s healthy development.
  • We promise to hold our elected leaders accountable for safeguarding the future of America’s children.
We hope that these principles will continue to guide an open and honest discussion about how we can best meet the needs of our children.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Solving problems

Radio Commentary

Decision-making and problem solving are important skills to teach your child.

Talk with children about challenges they encounter. Helping them create a list of possible responses to a variety of situations can be a great learning tool.

Set up “what if” scenarios when children tell you how they might handle or deal with certain situations or problems. Brainstorm strategies and options as you show them how to take steps to tackle an obstacle.

It will allow them to feel confident about solving a problem or making a difficult decision.

Be sure to follow through when you are confronted with a problem and show your children the approach you use. Tell them about the tough decisions you have to make.

Realizing that everyone faces similar experiences makes children feel less frightened and helps them become better prepared.

When you’ve handled something you never thought you could, you really feel stronger and more self-confident. This is what really builds self-esteem.

Young people who experience these feelings are much more willing to face new challenges with confidence.

Remember: Don’t just handle problems for your children or make their decisions for them.

Teach them the decision-making skills they’ll need to solve problems on their own. This is an important skill that will last a lifetime.