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How to Talk to Your Kids About…Imaginary Friends

Why Imaginary Friends?

Being a toddler can feel very restrictive. Always being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Older siblings and friends want your toys and you are always competing for attention. Imaginary friends are the ideal companions. They never take your toys, they do what you say, and never steal your attention. They can also serve as an outlet for children to express their emotions, a scapegoat to blame things on, and can serve as a protector when kids are scared.

Imaginary friends can worry parents. We are afraid that something is wrong with our child or that they won’t ever have real friends. There is no need to worry. Good research shows us that kids who have imaginary friends have plenty of real friends. They are creative, independent and sociable.

As parents, how should we talk to our children about imaginary friends?

DON’T make fun of imaginary friends, or make your kids feel dumb for having them.

DON’T initiate, by asking about the imaginary friend. Wait until your child initiates to play along.

DON’T let your child use their imaginary friend as an escape goat.

DON’T use the imaginary friend to get your child to do what you want.

  • DO welcome and accept the imaginary friend. Just keep it in the context of pretend. As adults, we can pretend too.
  • DO provide lots of opportunities for your child to use their imagination. Play with them so they learn how to role-play and make believe.
  • DO spend plenty of time with your child so they aren’t making up friends because they aren’t getting enough attention from you.
  • DO provide opportunities for your child to communicate and express their feelings, so they don’t use imaginary friends to communicate how they feel.

And most important…

  • DO learn from the experience. Imaginary friends can give valuable insight into how your child really feels. If the imaginary friend is scared of the dark and doesn’t want to go to bed, it could mean your child is afraid of the dark. Listen to what your child’s imaginary friend is saying and be open to the insights it might provide.

Having an imaginary friend is very normal. Unless your child is becoming withdrawn, and refusing to interact with others, you can usually rest assured that after a little time, the “friend” will be dismissed.

Until then, be open and kind to your family’s new addition.

My Unusual New Year’s Wish for My Children

Kids just being kidsMost parents can easily blurt out wonderful, inspiring wishes for their children for the coming year- health, happiness, maybe a better year in school. But this year as I look at my kids, I realize I’m not wishing for things to change– In fact, I’m wishing they stay the same.

Do I want them to be happy, healthy…of course I do, always. But something is finally becoming clear to me –something my children have actually taught me over the years (and I will give anything for them to continue to do so for many years to come). These children and the path they’re on – they are wonderful and perfect exactly the way they are… and being part of their journey…I’m the one who gets “better”. It’s a wonderful feeling when you are a parent and you realize that you have been doing your “job” but it’s even better when you realize that all along, your children have actually been teaching you how to do your job.

I realized that part of being a parent is to learn to adapt, good or bad. This also means that sometimes the adapting is something a parent has to be taught by their child and not the other way around. But what happens when you have a child that does things outside of the box and makes you think that maybe you need to change your thinking, even if it’s not what you were always told to do? What if you realize that your child has actually told you (in a roundabout way) that it’s actually not your way or the highway?

I have learned from my children that there is no list of rules that works with every single child exactly the same way. I have learned that sometimes you do have to give in and do something that is the total opposite of what you always swore you would never do as a parent. I have realized that just because we always have “grown-up time” does not mean that “children’s time” is any less important. Your child grows up and learns to be their own, unique person. They show you that sometimes it’s ok to eat cold pizza for breakfast or to have ice cream for dinner an hour past bedtime. You have to bend and just say ok sometimes.

Thinking back, what do you remember more – the rule that your parents had about going to bed on time or the time when they actually let you eat cookies in your bed past your bedtime and not brush your teeth? I am willing to bet that you seem to remember the second choice.

As our children grow and enlighten us, we begin to realize how short life is. Change does not have to be a bad thing all of the time. Step into the unknown and just go with it. This is how ice cream was invented and this is how The Nobel Peace Prize is won. In today’s society, people are so fast to judge others that they don’t stop to think about all of the “what ifs”. So many of our children today are deemed hyperactive or unfocused because they don’t want to be a typically developing child…what do you think would happen if Mozart or Albert Einstein was alive today as a child?

Embrace your children and let them ask questions. Listen to them when they disagree with you, don’t shut them out. If they are coloring outside of the lines, don’t correct them. Learn to respect them, even when they are very young because children know when people do not respect them. Don’t be embarrassed if they want to know about sex or why people are different colors. They learn from you. The only time you should be (embarrassed? concerned?) is when they don’t ask questions or they don’t want to know. Love them, no matter what.

So this year, my wish for them is to continue to help me grow as they do; to help me become a better person, a better parent and better at things that I didn’t even know I needed to be better at.

I wish with all of my heart that they never stop questioning me because this would mean they had given up and refuse to think about the people they want to become.

And that is one thing that I never wish to happen to them.

8 Proven Tips To Get Your Kids to Write Thank You Notes

writing-thank-you-notesDid you know that writing “thank you” notes is a simple, verified way to boost your child’s gratitude? That’s what researchers from the University of California at Davis and Southern Methodist University found. But that’s not all: Researchers also discovered that being thankful might be the key to raising your child’s happiness and well-being.

For more than ten years two professors, Robert Emmons and Michael McCollugh, examined data of several hundred people who were involved in their simple gratitude experiments.

One ten-week study asked a group to write down five things in a journal they were grateful for that happened in the last week for four days a week.

A second group listed ways they were better off than others as a way to appreciate their blessings. The psychologists then looked at the medical and psychological tests of each participant prior to the study, and then again ten weeks later.

  • Those simple gratitude exercises made those participants feel 24 percent happier.
  • But that’s not all: the students were also more optimistic about the future, felt better about their lives, slept better, felt healthier and less stressed, were less materialistic and more likely to help others. And those results were not hard to achieve.
  • Best yet, you can help your child reap some of those results just by encouraging them to write thank-yous.

While most of us agree that taking the time to write “thank-yous” is a habit of gratitude we should encourage, getting many kids to actually write them –without the whines and complaints — is often a problem.

So here are a few fun (and a bit sneaky) tricks to getting your kids to write those notes for this year’s batch of holidays presents. Kids can start writing cards at young ages

8 Tips to Get Kids Into the Habit of Writing Thank You Notes

1. Set expectations for gratitude
Be clear and upfront this year. Any present–regardless of the price or size–deserves a “thank you” note. If your kids hear those expectations now, they’ll be less likely to put up a battle later. Parents who raise grateful kids don’t do so by accident.

2. Keep reminding!
Keep in mind that kids may need constant reminders. “Did you remember to thank Jeff’s mom?” And don’t overlook the slips: “You can call to thank her when you get home.”

3. Enforce the “Write then play” rule
Implement one simple family rule: “You must write the thank you note first, and then you may use the gift.” Believe me, that mandate speeds up the writing process.

4. Set age appropriate guidelines
A young child can dictate his comments and only needs to sign his name. School age kids should use this rule from The Etiquette and Leadership Institute at Athens, Georgia:

“The total number of sentences in a thank you note should be half the child’s age.”

So a ten-year-old should be expected to write a minimum of five complete sentences; a six-year-old should write just three sentences.

5. Turn on kids’ creative juices
Another way to get kids more involved in the “thank you” writing process is to ask them to come up with their own unique way of thanking Grandma. A few creative “thank you” note ideas for kids might include:

  • Making a video just for that person that expresses appreciation.
  • Taking a photo of the child wearing or using the gift. The developed four-by-six inch print makes an instant postcard; the child just writes a brief note on the back and addresses and mails it. Tweens and teens can take a photo from their cell phone and send it to Grandma (along with a thoughtful message).
  • Writing the thank you on a piece of card stock and then cut it into a few pieces like a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Spelling out the thank you use M&M’s or alphabet cereal glued on a piece of cardboard.
  • Picking a flower and press it flat for a few days between wax paper arranged inside a heavy book. Once the flower is pressed send it inside a heavy piece of folded paper with a note.

6. Help imagine the emotion behind the gesture
A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they’re really thanking the person not for the gift but the thoughtfulness behind it. “Grandma thought a lot about what to give you this year.” “Mark went to five stores to try to find what would make you happiest.” Keep reinforcing the thought that went into the purchase.

7. Be the example
One final tip: Remember, your kids are watching your example. So don’t forget to write thank you notes yourself! Have you written your thank yous?

8. Thank your kids
What about thanking your kids? Don’t overlook your kids’ daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so that they are more likely to copy your example and send their own “appreciation messages” to others.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching! UnSelfie is AVAILABLE at amazon.com.

What Does Independence Mean For Your Special Needs Child?

Girl and Dad Watch FireworksAs you gear up to celebrate The Fourth of July, take a moment to think about the idea of independence. How far has your special needs child come thus far? How many things can he or she do independently now that seemed out of reach a while ago? No matter how small, be sure to celebrate each speck of progress. And the next. And the next. Eventually those specks can build something amazing. There was a time when everything my daughter touched would be knocked down, dropped or spilled. Today she has a good 95% success rate!

Take a moment to look to the future. What short and long term goals do you hope your child will achieve toward independence? Now may be the time to start planning for the next phase of your child’s life, the next transition. Will your child be able to live on their own? Are there group homes in your area? If they will be at home, what are the ground rules? I dread the day my daughter starts talking about dating…but not as much as her father is dreading it!

Independence can also be interpreted as freedom. What freedom has your child been able to master? It is hard for any parent to release control of their child and watch them become their own person. How much of the leash have you been able to let out? Of course it’s heartbreaking to watch your child fail or fall, but that is part of learning. Let them pick themselves up (figuratively or literally) and encourage them to try again. Sure, it would be easier and faster if I did my daughter’s chores for her, but I hope that some day she will be on her own. She may never want to do any of it, but one day – for whatever reason – I won’t be there to do it for her so she should at least know how to do it.

If you need some tips, check out my article about making fireworks more manageable for special needs kids from last year on Pediatric Safety.

What will independence mean for your child?

How Dads Keep Kids Healthy

To fatherhood...and making every second countIt’s no surprise that positive parenting affects a child’s health and happiness. Countless studies have shown powerful benefits of dad’s participation in children’s development: Kids of highly involved fathers score better on cognitive tests at 6 months of age, are better problem-solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age 3. In school, they get more A’s and perform better on standardized tests. There’s an emotional benefit too: These children report feeling less anxious and depressed, and they’re more social and empathetic.

But did you know that kids with involved dads are physically healthier too?

Studies have shown that kids who live with active, involved fathers are:

  • Less likely to suffer a physical accident
  • Six times less likely to visit the emergency room
  • Up to two times less likely to suffer from asthma
  • More likely to be active — and four times less likely to be obese by the age of 18 — than kids with inactive, obese dads
  • And there are benefits for dad too: Fathers who engage with their kids are more likely to feel more satisfied and empathetic with others, as well as less stressed.

Young kids require lots of attention and love, especially when they’re sick. So every day, both mom and dad should make 10 minutes of one-on-one time with their kids a priority. Here are a few smart ways dads can get involved in kids’ lives:

Be the chauffeur. There’s no easier time for undivided catch-up time with your kids than when you’re driving home from school or swim practice. It can become important bonding time during which kids open up about what’s going on in their lives. Just make sure to ban cell phones to create an opportunity for meaningful conversation.

Get your hands dirty. Do a little yard work together! Your kids will love mucking around in the mud, and you’ll get a helping hand digging up the flowerbeds, raking leaves or scavenging sticks for the fireplace.

Build something. Whether it’s a living room fort or a kitchen science experiment, start a project together. While having fun, you’ll also create precious memories together: According to Harvard University, the more senses you use, the more involved your brain will be in making a memory (which means your kids are likely to remember the experience).

Experiment in the kitchen. You don’t have to be a master chef to cook with your kids. For your next weekend brunch or dinner, mix up boxed pancake batter with blueberries, or concoct an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sandwich together. (Making a mess is the fun part, anyway!)

Read to them. Reading is essential to your child’s mental development: As early as the 1960s, studies showed that kids with fathers who regularly read to them were more likely to score better in many important cognitive skill categories — especially vocab — than children whose fathers did not. So start at an early age, and do it often.

Tell stories together. Boost your kid’s creative juices by telling a story and letting your kid fill in the parts. Play off of each other and, above all, have fun! Research shows that when toddlers chat with their dads, they tend to be more inquisitive and even use a larger vocabulary than when they’re talking with moms.

Make a coloring book. If your kid’s stuck in bed or if it’s a dreary day, make it a bit brighter by sketching the outline of a person or place and asking your kids to fill in the details. If you have a younger kid, draw a full image and give her the crayons to fill your mutual masterpiece.

Share your passion. Whether it’s walking your kid through a golf swing or simply explaining why the sky is blue, make sure to discuss the things you love with your kids. They might occasionally roll their eyes (“Dad’s at it again!”), but they won’t forget those impromptu lessons.

Hug them. Kids need physical attention — and not just from mom. Snuggle, show affection, love them — especially when your little one is stuck sick in bed (and all her friends are outside playing).

Moms, encourage dads to get involved. Studies show that when moms are supportive of their spouse’s parenting, men are more likely to be involved and feel more responsible for their kids’ well-being. Plus, there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching your family grow closer together. So keep a camera and a box of Puffs tissues at hand and prepare for moving experiences.

How Your Kids Can Use Social Media to Create Future Success

Everything that we do online leaves an impression and it’s known as our Digital Footprint. Every post, every picture, even every “like”, says something about the person who’s created it. And not only about them: every friend or colleague “tagged” in that online picture or a post now has information added to their digital footprint linking them to that content as well – and all that information is now available to anyone looking to learn more about them.

So, who is looking and who should care? While I could sit here and tell you everyone should care about who’s monitoring their online presence, one group in particular should pay close attention. TEENS need to care and take every opportunity to improve their Digital Footprint. Why? Consider this: when asked why he robbed banks, notorious outlaw Willie Sutton simply explained, “Because that’s where the money is.” College admissions officers and potential employers take that same approach to finding out more about the candidates they’re considering. They go where the “gold” is – where they can learn the “real story” about who your child is, who their friends are, what they value, etc. These are the people whose decisions can seriously impact your child’s future – and they are looking at your child’s digital footprint to guide that choice. In fact, the majority of colleges and employers now look for an applicant’s footprint before making a decision on acceptance or even granting an interview. What they find can make or break your child’s chances of getting into a better school or getting their dream job.

This is especially true at the more competitive schools/companies. It’s not enough to minimize potential negative aspects. If what they’re going to find can help or hurt our kid’s chances of success, it’s up to us to make sure that it’s as helpful as possible. We need to maximize the potential positive aspects and it’s simpler than people think. Maybe not easy, but simpler.

Improving Their Digital Footprint

There are several ways that we can all improve our Digital Footprint. It goes without saying that we should all be mindful of any negative comments we say online. But how many teens actually use the Internet to improve their footprint? It’s actually pretty simple, if they follow some basic steps:

Start a blog or personal website that focuses the teen’s future. For example, writers should get to know Wattpad, which provides free hosting for their stories. Publishers and literary agents look there for new talent. There are plenty of companies that provide free website hosting. Improved services are available for a free, naturally, but even so, they’re a good place to start.

It takes time to build an online reputation and unfortunately, not that long to destroy it when something bad happens. Teens should create social media accounts to help build their brand (yes, that’s exactly what they are in this case). LinkedIn is available once they reach 16 years of age and the sooner they start, the better. This site can also let them interact with alumni from potential schools or engage with people in their future field of endeavor. They an also use it to learn more about the schools and companies that they want to associate with after high school.

Engagement is a huge part of improving their Digital Footprint. They need to comment, share, etc. to start networking. Hopefully, this will encourage others to do the same with their original content. Making well-reasoned comments on posts helps create relationships that can easily lead to great opportunities. If you want to learn more about how that works, read likeable social media, by Dave Kerpen.

Takeaways

Building a strong reputation and becoming a person of influence can take a long time. The sooner your teens get started on it, the sooner they will reap the rewards. If done well, it will eventually provide momentum that will begin to provide results with less effort on their part.

Too many people and companies give up on social media because they don’t see instantaneous results. Social media doesn’t work that way. Nothing that is worth doing works that quickly. If it did, everyone would do it. To quote Tom Hanks in A League of their Own:

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Once their Footprint is more likely to help than hurt them, it’s time to share it, especially when applying to schools and companies. They should provide the other party with links to their accounts, blogs, articles where they were interviewed, etc. It all adds up to making them the standout among a potentially large group of candidates. Many email systems include an “autograph” feature where they can include links to their content/profiles that they want included in all correspondence. They can then include links to specific content to make sure that the other person sees the most helpful parts of their Footprint.

If you want to see some examples of how a person’s footprint can affect them, search for #OnlineMeetsOffline in a search engine or on a social media platform. Some of the stories that come up will amuse you, while others may shock you to your core.

If your child takes the actions that I’ve described here, they can become a person of influence via social media that will provide significant long term benefits to them. In today’s hi-tech world, our Digital Footprint may be the most valuable thing that we own and we need to protect it!

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