Teaching Kids Gratitude and Empathy Year-Long

Gratitude and empathy every dayHappy Thanksgiving! Whether you had your turkey yesterday, or (like us) yours is delayed until today to accommodate friends and family, this is a time to give thanks for the good in our lives and to think about the plight of others who may be less fortunate. It is also a time when many of us parents reflect on how well our kids are developing the skills of gratitude and empathy. These are important skills year-round as they play critical roles in personal happiness, prosocial behavior and emotional intelligence or EQ.

Based on my reflection this week, we have some work to do in our house on both gratitude and empathy. Most days our son complains about his classes and the other kids at school, and focuses on the negative that happened. One bad experience can “ruin” a whole day. He also recently complained about “tension in the house” (among his parents) – but couldn’t seem to understand our situation and how his recent behavior issues (e.g. not getting his homework done on time, not doing what he’s told in a timely manner, arguing with us on almost every request – ah, the joys of tween-dom!) contributed to said tension. Don’t get me wrong, Elliott is generally a happy and sweet kid, but he’s definitely not seeing enough of the bright side of life these days. However, based on my conversations with other parents of kids his age at recent sports events, we aren’t alone in this experience. Why is it so hard to help kids, especially in the tween and teen phases, learn gratitude and empathy?

Well, first of all these skills require a life-long learning process. Who among us adults couldn’t express more gratitude and empathy? But for our kids it’s an even bigger challenge since the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking processes – including empathy (which requires imagining and understanding another’s perspective) – isn’t fully developed until young adulthood, about age 25. This is also partly why kids and teens are more impulsive and have trouble considering the consequences of their actions.

So what can we do in the face of this biological reality? Well, practice now can help kids maximize their cognitive abilities, and lay the foundation for future development:

  • Model it – demonstrating gratitude and empathy ourselves is one of the best ways to teach kids these skills. Try to talk about the positive things in your day before mentioning the negative. When discussing issue with someone in your life, make sure to speak about the other person’s perspective and what they might be experiencing.
  • Emphasize the positive – one of the best ways to cultivate a focus on the positive is to keep a gratitude journal, listing 3 things at the end of the day – whether big or small – that were good. Or you can make this a part of the discussion over family dinners. One thing I do with Elliott is ask him to tell me both the good and bad that happened during his school day. Once he’s done a more balanced assessment, most days are getting at least an “OK” rating.
  • Build a warm connectionstudies have shown that connection and warmth between parent and child, developed at the youngest ages, result in greater empathy as children grow. Spend time with your small children, mimic their experiences, and demonstrate your love and affection.
  • Show empathy to your kids – when they are feeling down or talking about the bad things that happened, it’s important to fully acknowledge their experience and feelings. But then it can help to ask them what they learned from the situation, what they might do differently, or what another involved might be feeling.
  • Celebrate the successes – recently our son helped out a kid at school who was upset over a bullying incident, and was very affected by this boy’s experience. We really emphasized to him how proud we were of his actions and his concern for another person. Hopefully this will encourage more of this type of behavior in future.

Quick Feel-Good Cold Remedies for Kids

As you probably know, there’s no cure for the common cold. And it’s hard to prevent, especially in children who are in school or daycare. Keeping your home’s germ hotspots clean and boosting your child’s immune system with plenty of sleep helps. Even so, few moms get through the sneezin’ season without having to deal with at least one bout of sniffles and a sore throat.

So what home remedies can you use to help a sick child feel better?

1. Offer an ice pop.

Water, juice, warm broth or lemon water with honey can help loosen congestion and keep your sick one hydrated. (Just don’t give honey to infants.) If your child’s throat hurts so much you can’t convince him to drink, offer an ice pop instead.

2. Create a steam room.

Cold viruses thrive in dry conditions, which is part of the reason why colds are more common in winter. Mucus membranes will dry in dry air conditions, which can cause a nose to be stuffy and throat to be scratchy. To help loosen mucus, have your child sit in a steamy bathroom for 10 minutes before bedtime. A humidifier can also help; just be sure to keep it clean, otherwise it can make mold spores spread, doing more harm than good. Change the water every day and follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions carefully.

3. Get them to gargle.

This can be hard to do with a younger child, but if you have a tween or teen, suggest she gargle twice a day with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon of salt mixed into 1 cup warm water).

4. Heed Grandma’s advice.

As for her famous chicken soup remedy, good news: It’s a valid meal choice for a child with a cold. Studies have shown that both the homemade and canned varieties have anti-inflammatory properties, easing swollen nasal membranes. Plus, it’s another (tasty) way of helping your child get valuable fluids, and it can replace lost sodium if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea.

5. Try saline nasal drops and sprays.

Combat stuffiness and congestion with over-the-counter saline nasal sprays and drops. For a baby, squirt a few drops of saline solution in your baby’s nasal passages, then gently suction with a rubber bulb syringe. This is important, as babies are “obligate nose breathers,” meaning they have not yet learned to open their mouths to breathe when their nose is stuffed.

6. Watch for signs of strep.

If your child’s sore throat is accompanied by a fever, headache or chills, or her discomfort seems extreme, give her pediatrician a call. It might be strep throat, a bacterial infection that you’ll need antibiotics to treat.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 11-18-2013 to 11-24-2013

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 35 events & stories.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Texas whooping cough epidemic nears record – http://t.co/h7p6U9my2f2013-11-20

PedSafe Headline of the Week #2:

Check it off your list: CPSC recalls children’s toys – http://t.co/WN5XCOSI51 2013-11-24

Toys R Us Differently-abled Kids Gift Guide 2013 Now Available

Differently-abled Toy GuideEvery year Toys R Us puts out a gift guide for special needs kids featuring a celebrity on the cover, safe play tips and other information from experts, and gorgeous photos of children playing happily. This year Gabby Douglas, 2012 gold medalist is on the cover and on the pages inside. Gabby is now working with Special Olympics to inspire young athletes.

The guide is divided many different ways; by gender, age groups, brand and also into categories including Auditory, Creativity, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Social Skills, Tactile, Language and more. This can be very helpful for relatives who don’t know the lingo that special needs parents and caregivers use daily.

One nice thing about the guide is that the toys are not specifically therapy toys – they are the same toys kids are seeing on the holiday commercials, and the same toys their typically developing peers will be getting as gifts. They are the same toys kids will see at playdates, literally giving kids a level playing field.

Another added perk is that the site allows parents to set up a wish list. If your child’s teacher or therapist recommends an item, friends and family living far away can order it online and have it delivered to your child.

You can pick up a hard copy of the guide at any toys R Us store, or view the clickable online version.

Happy Shopping!

The Gift Guide for Differently-Abled Kids is now available in stores and online from Toys R Us

The Gift Guide for Differently-Abled Kids is now available in stores and online from Toys R Us

10 Kidpower Safety Tips for Parents of Young Children

Long before they can talk or move on their own, babies are getting lessons from their adults about what it means to be safe and to be important. Our job as adults is to provide nurturing, love, guidance, and protection. As toddlers and preschoolers start to develop more mobility, understanding, and language, our job is also to start teaching them how to be safe in their world and with other people. When it comes to safety, the earliest teachable moment is the best teachable moment as long as this is done in a way that builds understanding and skills rather than creating anxiety or fear. The following safety tips are from Kidpower’s newest book, Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers.

Making safety fun1. Put Safety First. Kidpower’s Underlying Principle is that, “The safety and healthy self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense.” Putting safety first seems obvious, but can be hard to uphold in daily life. Don’t let reluctance to inconvenience someone or to be inconvenienced, worry about embarrassing someone or about being embarrassed, fear of offending someone or of feeling uncomfortable, stop you from protecting the emotional and physical safety and well-being of your child.

2. Stay calm and upbeat. Children learn better and feel safer when their adults sound hopeful. Worrying and talking about the bad things that might happen can make everyone anxious without making anyone safer. Instead, focus on all the positive ways you can protect your child from harm most of the time.

3. Stay in charge. Young children do not always have the understanding, skills, or life experience to recognize potential danger – whether from an animal, a cliff, a piece of glass, an electric outlet, a car, or a person who might be unsafe. They are too small and too precious to have their safety left to chance. Make sure you always know who is with your children, where they are going, and what they are doing.

4. Pay attention to your own intuition. If you are even a little bit uncomfortable about a person or a situation involving your child, take action rather than hoping that the problem will go away by itself. No matter what the relationship, your job is to speak up, stick around, intervene, and keep watching until your concerns are addressed.

5. Set a good example. Model staying respectful even if you are frustrated, using your words to solve conflicts, moving away from trouble, advocating for your child and yourself, waiting your turn when you want something, interrupting to get help if you have a safety problem, and being careful.

6. Give your kids practice in taking charge. When playing tickling or roughhousing games, teach children that their “No” means “No” and their “Stop” means “Stop.” For example, when playing a chasing game such as “I’m going to get you!” – sometimes have children stop you by turning, making a stop sign with their hand, and yelling, “STOP!” You can give children practice in throwing hurting words away instead of taking them into their bodies. By stopping, you are teaching children to use their personal power. You can teach preschoolers to imagine that someone is acting scary and coach them to run yelling “I NEED HELP!” to their adult and have that person tell the child, “I will help you!” Give children practice in moving away from anything or anyone they don’t know well and checking first with their adult.

7. Accept children’s right to be upset or have unhappy feelings when you need to set limits. For example, in stopping a child from running off, you might say in a compassionate and firm way, “I see you are angry that I am holding your hand. You want to be able to run without being stopped. Staying together here is not a choice. Holding hands helps keep you safe.”

8. Empower children with choices when you can. Allowing children to choose between the red cup or the blue cup, walking by themselves or being carried, doing something right away or in five minutes, helps children develop decision-making skills and confidence in their personal power.

9. Remember that affection should always be a child’s choice. Let children choose hugging or kissing, even with Grandma. Teach children how to move away from unwanted touch or teasing and say, “Stop. I don’t like that.” Tell adults or other children to respect the child’s wishes by listening and stopping. Remember that forced affection is not love.

10. Listen to Children! Even if their fears seem insignificant to you, listen with compassion and calmness, without lecturing or getting upset. Be a supportive adult for them to come to.


ETM-front-cover-193x300Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International is a global nonprofit leader in child protection, positive communication, and personal safety skills for all ages and abilities. Since 1989, Kidpower has protected over 2.5 million children, teens, and adults, including those with special needs, from bullying, abuse, abduction, and other violence through workshops and educational resources. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, Kidpower makes it FUN to learn to be safe. Visit www.kidpower.org to learn about our extensive free online library, affordable books, and workshops. Kidpower’s new book, Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers, is also available on Amazon.

Irene van der Zande is also author of another great book for parents of young children, 1,2,3…The Toddler Years: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, which includes a forward by child development expert, Magda Gerber. The book can be found on Amazon.

Is Social Media Making Your Kids Less Smart?

Social Media and Kids' SmartsEight in ten teens have a profile on at least one of the many social media websites out there and most of them are on it daily, according to a recent report.

This is hardly big news if you have a teen in the house – or even a tween like I do. Although social sites like Facebook and Instagram require users to be at least 13 years old, many of my daughter’s friends had Instagram accounts since fifth grade. My burning question: How’s all this posting, tweeting, and liking going to affect getting good grades?

In college students, at least, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. In a study at the University of New Hampshire, 63 percent of undergrads who used social media for an hour or more a day got As and Bs compared to 65 percent who used it for a half-hour or less. But, research from a couple of years ago on middle- and high-school students suggests that social networking is a big distraction. The researchers from the University of California observed students studying in their homes for 15 minutes afterschool. They found that the kids who checked Facebook once during that studying time had lower grades than students who stayed on task. I wonder if this problem might have been solved with one simple rule we have at home: You can’t check your phone, iPod, or other electronic device until after all homework is done.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has weighed in on the use of social media websites by tweens and teens. In reading over the report, I was surprised about the educational benefits of social media that the group listed, including “enhancement of individual and collective creativity” and the “expansion of one’s online connections through shared interests to include others from more diverse backgrounds.” I never really thought about it, but I guess all those cute photos with sayings that the kids are always posting and re-posting on Instagram are pretty creative. And the ability to connect with kids of the same age from around the world could definitely give your child a more global view.

I suppose what it all comes down to is supervision. The TV time limits we had when my daughter was younger have simply been redefined to include anything electronic – whether it’s texting, Facetiming, social networking, or watching Good Luck Charlie. If her grades slip, we’ll have to re-visit the issue, of course. But, for now, I’m okay with it. How about you?