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8 Rules to Travel with Kids – Safely and Sanely

?????????????????????????????????????????????????Winter’s winding down and many are counting down the days to spring break and a trip someplace warm, or maybe just a day trip to a water park or the local indoor pool. You can probably see yourself there now – lounging around while the kids splash happily – family bonding, smiles all around, the stress of the many months of school, holidays and routine behind you – you hope.

As a single mom who has traveled solo across multiple continents with two kids since they were babies, I’ve learned a few things about traveling with kids that also keep me sane. Here are my basic and very realistic rules:

Rule #1: STICK TOGETHER!!! We have one rule that supersedes all others – stick together! Back it up with ‘if you can’t see me, I can’t see you’. This applies to museums, airports, parks, shopping centers and always, always around water. For infants and toddlers in the water this means staying within arm’s reach, meaning if you reach out your arm, you can grab them before they go under or get into trouble. As they get older, within 10 feet in a pool but closer if open or unfamiliar water. If your child is a competent swimmer (I define this by ability to do full 25 meter laps in deep water using a proper stroke) AND is in familiar water, you can lengthen the distance – but always within eye-sight and a distance you can easily navigate. And always swim near a lifeguard when possible. For some other great open water safety tips, click here. Once they are old enough to let them out of sight occasionally, have regular check-ins – and not minutes, use ‘every two songs’ or ‘every two times down the water slide’. Oh yes, I’m really mean, they don’t check in, we leave. Period. Better a mean mom than a dead kid.

Rule #2: Set expectations. Be brutally honest when you get ‘how much longer?’ The correct answer is ‘the whole day, as long as you are awake’ or ‘six episodes of Scooby-Doo’ or ‘the length of time it takes to get to Grandma’s house’. Don’t be afraid to say ‘longer than you can imagine, so don’t bother asking again.’

Rule #3: Toys. Forget that bag of perfectly entertaining toys that you so carefully chose to enrich their formative minds that you will bring out every half hour to divert them while you all bond happily. Let them choose one toy at the airport or before you leave on your car trip, make sure they know that batteries aren’t allowed to be used in the car/plane, and don’t cringe when they choose something vile, cheap and not even remotely educational. The fact that they chose the toy will mean it will probably occupy them the entire trip. Trust me – I saw a remote control plane and battery-operated kitten occupy my then 2 and 4 year-olds for an entire 9-hour flight – with the batteries removed.

Rule #4: Pack snacks. When it was just me I’d have my bottles of water and mist-bottle to stay hydrated and fresh, an assortment of current reading material, make-up to freshen up and heavens knows what other ‘essentials’ in my carry-on bag. Now I have snacks. Pre-packaged is best. Annie’s Fruity Bunnies, Twisted Fruit, and Z-bars are firm favorites. And this would be a good time to go natural, they are hyper enough with the travel, ditch the chemicals. Plus the fruit/fiber helps in other areas. In terms of quantity, a good rule of thumb is ‘one snack every hour of travel’, and at least that for drinking juice or water. Even picky eaters seem to get the munchies when they travel. Follow this routine up with forcing everyone to use every clean public bathroom whenever you find one, whether they need it or not.

Rule #5: Have a ‘travel bag’ for each kid. Mine started with a small duffel bag I could carry and graduated to Land’s End rolling backpacks – 7 years of hard travel and still rolling well. Make them personal and special – our bags are only for travel. I’d advise not to have the child’s name embroidered on the bag, it means strangers can call to your child by name, but my kids choose an embroidered soccer ball and cat to personalize their bags. Let your kids pack what animals/toys they think they need (not what you think they should take) and remind them to leave room for souvenirs. If they can’t carry it, they can’t take it – whether we are traveling across town or across countries.

Rule #6: Home is familiar, no place else is familiar. This means that in some cases you need to be more vigilant regarding safety. If you have a sleep-walker, make sure the doors are locked and/or barricaded, especially if there is a balcony. Going someplace with a pool or beach and you have a non-swimmer? Think about investing in one of the wrist bands that emits a loud noise if it is immersed in water, like Safety Turtle. Do not buy those inflatable arm bands. They are dangerous, not even toys in my view. Stick with a Coast Guard approved life jacket or, for reasonable swimmers, a SwimFin. Remember, your child is not around a pool or beach every day, they don’t understand the dangers.

Rule #7: Leave some rules at home. Whatever it takes. I’m a stickler for good manners in public places, but I also know I ask a lot of my kids with the traveling we do, so we leave some rules at home. Electronic devices are my BFF on long trips. On one especially brutal flight I told my then 7-year old son, ‘look, there’s Terminator #75 on channel 3! Watch that!‘ (kidding, but I was really close) We have a tradition now that on one night we order room service. It’s not a luxury, it’s a sanity-saver. The kids revel in sitting on the floor eating nuggets and fries while watching a movie. I have adult food, a glass of wine, and a good book. And we all RELAX!

Rule #8: RELAX! The stories that get re-told until they become family lore are frequently the ‘do you remember when….’, when things didn’t go exactly as planned, and especially when you messed up big time – those times will be the highlight of their childhood memories. The highlight of one recent trip (for my kids) was when I earnestly asked the guide ‘why is it called a brown snake eagle?’ (doing that ‘educate the kids thing’) Um, because it’s brown, it’s an eagle and it hunts snakes. Duh. It all goes into the family lore, what makes you a family, and it is some of the most treasured memories your children, and you, will have.

Travel is an education and an adventure in and of itself, so chill out and pack your bags!

Send Your Kids Off to School Without the Morning Chaos

family morning chaosWe’ve all been there, maybe you were even there this morning. Kids won’t get out of bed, your boss called, he wants the project plan today and you forgot to get groceries last night.

“It’s all gonna be fine”, you tell yourself. That’s right, use those positive self-talk sentences. Research shows that speaking kindly to yourself actually increases helpful neurochemicals. They’ll boost your mood.

Now for those kids… you’re in a state of mild emergency so your main goal is to remain calm, get them up and out the door and off to school with lunches, water, back-packs and homework in-tact. Tonight you can reflect on what needs to change to make things go better tomorrow.

THIS MORNING: think about creating a smooth-entry into the day by gently waking the kids up. If you stress, they’ll stress. AND that means an avalanche of cortisol, a hormone you don’t want a lot of for mornings to go well.

1. Start any task your kids might be able to simply complete so that they have a head start. Like their out-the-door readiness tasks. Grab those back-packs, shoes and socks, put them right by the kitchen table so now they can eat breakfast, pack em and putt em on.

2. Stave off those mid-morning “Mom I forgot telephone calls,” by going through your morning checklist with them.

  • Calm-Mindset“Jason!” “Yes, mom he says through a mouthful of Cheerios.” “Morning Check-off READY …dirty clothes in hamper, meds, lunch, homework, lacrosse equipment.” “Yup all done.”
  • “Okay, Sarah! Morning Check-off READY.” “Yea, mom,” she says half-way to the door cause she’s your task completer, in fact, she probably should be your family manager. But we’ll think about that another day. “Lunch, homework, field trip slip, reading book.” “Yup, got it mom, now let’s go.”

3. For you, put a few drops of aroma therapy on your wrists take a deep breath and drive your kids to school. Work can wait at least until you replenish your relationships with your kids. Remember family first.

4. Grab a Bloom mantra from your mantra case, hold on tight and say it over and over, “Even when we are late, I’m loving and kind.” You did it! AND You can do it again.

With more planning from the Morning Mayhem chapter in Bloom, you’ll get out of damage control a little day by day. In the meantime pat yourself on the back cause you’re a mom, and you’re human.

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bloom cover - 140x208Written for real parents with anxious, angry and over-the-top kids, Bloom is a brain-based approach to parenting all children. Taking its lead from neuroscience and best practices in early childhood mental health, it offers parents, teachers and care providers the words, thoughts and actions to raise calm, confident children, while reducing the need for consequences and punishment. The first book of its kind, it provides pages full of printable mantras you can carry with you, hang on your fridge or use in your classroom to raise emotionally competent kids. Stop second-guessing the way you handle misbehaviors, and learn why they occur in the first place. Bloom is available at amazon.com

Sync with Your Spouse on Discipline Style

Is your wife a strict disciplinarian, while you prefer to let things slide? Is your husband a yeller, while you are an “inside voice” kind of mom? When you have different parenting styles, it can often feel like you’re at odds with your spouse. Here are strategies from Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Bantam), for navigating this common parenting conundrum.

Don’t sweep your differences under the rug. To raise happy, well-behaved children, it’s crucial to try to find common ground. Otherwise, kids get mixed messages and quickly learn which parent will let them get away with more. Once a month, hold a “parents only” meeting to discuss your discipline differences. This is your chance to be honest about your concerns. “Write down two or three things each,” says Dr. Karp. “You and he get a turn without interruption. The only ground rule is you both have to listen with respect and speak with respect.” Your goal isn’t to sway each other, but to ultimately come up with some rules that you both feel comfortable enforcing.

Don’t disagree in front of your kids. “Kids look at us as a loving and safe force in their lives,” Dr. Karp says. “Seeing parents arguing, especially about them, shakes them to their foundation.” Kids might get angry or frightened and feel like they’re the “cause” of the parents’ problems – which lowers their confidence and self-esteem. So if you object to the way your spouse is handling a situation resist the urge to say anything until you are alone.

Find creative ways to compromise. Let’s say it drives you crazy that your husband yells at your child when she exhibits normal toddler behavior, like sticking her hand in the cat’s food bowl or pulling away from you while walking on the sidewalk. It drives your husband nuts that you’re lax about situations that could put your child at risk for physical harm. Try to decide together that it’s OK for him to raise his voice when Katie’s darting toward traffic or engaging in other dangerous behavior, but for mild, age-appropriate infractions, he needs to try distraction before yelling or scolding.

Keep family members out of it. “Don’t bring up each other’s family,” says Dr. Karp. For instance, avoid making remarks like, “Of course you yell and scream; you’re just like your father.” Besides being disrespectful, this behavior forces your partner into a defensive mode, making it harder to move forward and find the best solution.

Embrace a little bit of difference. “It’s crazy to expect all the adults in a child’s world to react in exactly the same way,” says Dr. Karp. In fact, by maintaining a dash of your individuality – even when it comes to discipline – “you’re teaching your child emotional intelligence. They learn what they can expect from one adult versus another. And that’s a good thing.”

Does Your Child Have a Sleep Disorder?

In the land of NodIt’s not just about being drowsy during the day. Hyperactivity, poor grades, and social problems are all potential consequences of a childhood sleep disorder. According to a University of Arizona study, kids with sleep apnea are six times more likely to have behavioral problems, and seven times more likely to have learning disabilities. The good news? Sleeping disorders are highly treatable. Here’s how to spot the signs in your child.

1. Insomnia

The inability to fall and/or stay asleep is the most common of all pediatric sleeping disorders, affecting about 25 percent of all children, says Dr. Rosenberg.

Signs: Daytime fatigue/napping, inability to get up on time, and moodiness are all signs of this sleep disorder. “After they finally do get out of bed,” explains Rosenberg, “kids have a tough time getting themselves going.”

Next steps: The first step is improving your child’s sleep hygiene, or habits that can help their circadian cycle. For toddlers and preschoolers, a set bedtime and wake-up time, along with a bedtime routine like a bath and story, is key. For older kids, the problem is often technology use right before — and often in — bed. Light, including from electronics, suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone. Pull the plug (literally, if you must) on computers, tablets, and Smartphones two hours before bed.

For all ages, nix caffeine (including sneaky sources like some clear sodas, sports drinks, vitamin-infused beverages, and chocolate) six hours pre-bed.

It seems logical that tiring a kid out will encourage sleep. Actually, the opposite can be true. Tag, sport practices, even rousing Wii games within two hours of bedtime raise the core body temperature and make it harder to nod off.

If none of the above seem to help, a call to the pediatrician is a must.

2. Sleep Apnea

If your child is suffering from sleep apnea, she may stop breathing periodically during sleep. This disorder is more common in younger children than teenagers, peaking between the ages of 2 and 8.

Signs: Younger sufferers are often hyperactive, which can be mistaken for ADHD. Other signs include snoring, bedwetting after age six, and frequent sleepwalking, notes Rosenberg. In adolescents, look for unexplained grogginess. Other signs include an inability to pay attention in school and forgetfulness.

Next steps: An overnight sleep study, usually performed at a hospital-run facility, will diagnose sleeping disorders like sleep apnea. Not to worry: you’ll sleep there with your child, and the rooms are usually quite comfortable. If the diagnosis is confirmed, you’ll discuss solutions – like removal of your child’s tonsils and/or adenoids, or nightly use of a CPAP machine. There are no shortcuts, though. “You have to have a sleep study first before any insurer will pay for a CPAP machine,” notes Rosenberg.

3. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

This sleep disorder affects a child’s circadian rhythm, the natural cycle that regulates sleep patterns.

Signs: Children have a hard time getting up, staying awake in school, and actively participating in social events.

Next steps: If you suspect delayed sleep phase syndrome, start keeping a sleep diary. Write down when your child falls asleep and wakes up, including any middle of the night rousings. Also note any problematic episodes, such as a teacher report that your child nodded off in class. After doing this for at least two weeks, take the information to your pediatrician, who will diagnosis the sleep disorder based on your child’s medical history and your notes.

If it’s your child is diagnosed with delayed sleep phase syndrome, treatment typically includes bright light exposure in the morning and keeping the child’s bedroom completely dark at night. “Stick to a strict bedtime/wake-up schedule, and don’t vary it on days off from school,” instructs Rosenberg. You may want to consider a melatonin supplement at bedtime for delayed sleep phase syndrome, but check with your pediatrician first.

Sleeping disorders or not, there are a few simple steps that can help the whole family get a more refreshing night’s sleep. Cool is better than warm in bedrooms: 65 to 70 F is ideal, says Rosenberg. Avoid strong, unpleasant odors — that means no late-night painting projects for you, and no manicures in bed for your tween daughter. Lastly, there’s anecdotal evidence that the scent of lavender encourages sleep. Sweet dreams!

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.

5 Healing Scents For Your Family, You May Not Know About

The secret to better sleep, more energy and fewer cold symptoms may be right beneath your nose: A growing body of research shows that certain aromas can improve your well-being. “Scents trigger a reaction in the nervous system,” explains Dr. Julie Chen, an integrative physician and owner of Making Healthy EZ in San Jose, Calif. “And that can have an effect on the entire body.”

To find out which ones have the greatest healing powers, we sifted through the studies and consulted the experts. Get a whiff of these mind and body benefits!

1. Lavender for better sleep. Tired of counting sheep? Try sniffing this fragrant purple flower. Researchers at Wesleyan University found that people who breathed in lavender essential oil before bedtime slept more soundly — and spent more time in restorative slow-wave sleep — than when they whiffed a placebo.

“This aroma can help both adults and children relax,” adds Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. In one study, she and her colleagues found that babies cried less and snoozed more when lavender-scented bath oil was added to their nighttime bath.

2. Peppermint for more energy. Put down that double espresso and unwrap a red-and-white striped candy: The cool smell stimulates the area of the brain associated with alertness and attention, say researchers from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. In a series of studies, the scientists found that people who breathed in peppermint were faster and more accurate during clerical tests. They were also more aware and less frustrated while driving.

3. Eucalyptus for cold symptoms. “Eucalyptus helps clear nasal passageways,” says Chen. Developing research suggests that it may help break up mucus, also loosening coughs, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What’s more, a study published in the journal Respiratory Medicine shows that eucalyptol, the active ingredient, has anti-inflammatory properties and may ease inflamed airways. “Whiffing eucalyptus won’t get rid of a cold,” says Chen. “But it may lessen those symptoms and suffering.”

4. Jasmine for a happier mood. The next time you’re feeling stressed out, harness the power of this little white flower. German research found that the sweet smell increased levels of GABA, a mood-boosting chemical, in the brain. Jasmine has also been shown by Thai researchers to increase alertness and alleviate depression.

5. Green apple for pain relief. The aroma of an apple a day may keep headaches away. In a study done at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, migraine sufferers who whiffed green apple experienced less pain over a shorter period of time than when they breathed in an unscented placebo. It could be that the smell distracted them from the pain, say the researchers, or it could be that it reduces the muscle contractions that intensify migraines.

The Right Way to Whiff

“If done properly, aromatherapy is generally safe, with few side effects,” says Chen. “That’s why it works well as an adjunctive therapy, or in addition to conventional treatments and medications.”

Chen advises looking for scents with few additives. “I like essential oils,” she says. But don’t take a deep breath directly from the bottle or rub the liquid onto your skin, which can lead to irritation. “Wave the cap beneath your nose or use an aromatherapy diffuser,” she says. Want to inhale a scent, like lavender, while you sleep? Put a few drops of the oil on a tissue or handkerchief and stash it beneath your pillow.

Some scents are also available in topical products — like eucalyptus, an ingredient in vapor rubs — formulated for safe use on skin. (Check the packaging for age restrictions and instructions for application.)

And remember, it is possible to be sensitive to certain smells and products, says Chen. So if you or your child starts to experience any unpleasant symptoms, like headaches or irritation, stop whiffing.

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Editor’s Note: As always, please check with your child’s pediatrician before trying anything new. Allergies and sensitivities are unpredictable – especially where children are concerned.

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