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 Unless your child is becoming withdrawn, and refusing to interact with others, you can usually rest assured that after a little time, the “friend” will be dismissed.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

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!

My Middleschooler has Frequent Headaches – Should I Worry?

Preteens and teens often suffer from frequent headaches. There are many potential causes of headaches, and it is often difficult to determine why they occur. Here’s what to do and when to worry:

1. Take your child to the pediatrician. A physical exam can eliminate somewhat obvious issues, such as hypertension or visual problems.

2. Have your child keep a “headache diary.” It may help to document when headaches occur, how long they last, what makes them milder and what circumstances surround their onset. If a triggering event such as diet, stress or anxiety consistently occurs before a headache, treatment and prevention become much easier. If nothing is evident in the diary, medical tests may be necessary.

3. Get medical attention. A series of symptoms require more advanced medical attention, including:

  • Worst-headache-of-my-life symptoms
  • Headaches occurring with exertion
  • Headaches associated with nausea or vomiting
  • A stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Recent head trauma before the onset of the headache
  • Blurred vision, slurred speech or serious behavioral changes
  • Increasing frequency
  • Headaches that impair daily functioning

10 Cold & Flu Kid-soothing Secrets

The average kid suffers through eight colds a year, which means that all parents become well versed in nursing a miserable, sniffling child back to health. That’s why we turned to the experts — real moms and dads like you — for their go-to moves for easing symptoms, entertaining bored kids and staying sane during sick season. The next time your little one is under the weather, try using a few of these tips and tricks:

  1. Find restful activities.
    “To keep my 21-month-old son entertained when he’s under the weather, I focus on activities he can do while seated, like puzzles, coloring books and stickers. We also work on little skills, like “pull off your sock’ or “try to get your slipper on by yourself.’ It sounds small, but it keeps him resting while he’s occupied. I also let him watch TV and play with my iPhone or iPad: Since he’s usually not allowed to do those things, it’s a big treat.” — Brooke Lea Foster, parenting blogger (MommyMoi)
  2. Serve up cold-fighting foods.
    “I feed my kids meals that help boost their immune system and speed the healing process: foods rich in vitamin A (carrots and broccoli), vitamin C (pineapple, strawberries and OJ) and zinc (whole-grain cereal, lean meat and beans). Getting enough fluids is also crucial, so I encourage them to drink water and sip soup. My mom makes the best chicken soup, and she always drops off a batch when someone is sidelined with a cold.” — Elisa Zied, registered dietician with a master’s degree, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips and Feed Your Family Right!, founder/president of Zied Health Communications
  3. Scrub right way.
    “To prevent the spread of germs throughout the house and to yourself, instruct your kids to wash their hands regularly. Studies show that kids typically only run the water for five seconds and leave with their hands dripping wet, which isn’t effective. Teach them to sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ or say their ABCs as the scrub up, and dry their hands thoroughly on a clean towel afterwards.
    Also make sure that you do the same — only 30 percent of adults hit the sink after coughing or sneezing! If you sometimes forget, consider leaving a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer right outside of your sick child’s room.” — Harley Rotbart, M.D., professor and vice chairman of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Denver, author of Germ Proof Your Kids, father of three
  4. Ask for a hand.
    “To keep my own sanity when the kids are sick, I call in the reserves! My mother-in-law lives locally, so she’s a big help and a fun person to visit when the kids can’t play with their buddies. I might plan an outing for the evening — maybe a movie with girlfriends — so I have something to look forward to after being cooped up in the house all day.I also ask my husband for assistance. We recently had to give our 2-year-old daughter eye drops, and it was a team effort. My husband held and distracted her, while I applied the medicine and repeated the word “gentle” to calm her down. When we finished, we clapped, sang and danced, and all was forgotten in no time.” — Elizabeth Detmer, mom of two
  5. Provide comfort.
    “During a cold, the main goal is to keep your child comfortable — dressing in light layers and turning down the thermostat if necessary. Sometimes I’ll run a cooling bath to provide some relief and, if necessary, offer ibuprofen or acetaminophen for a fever.” — Dr. Hannah Chow, pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago
  6. Break out special treats.
    When my two kids are sick, I bring out a goody bag that I keep for rainy days or when they’ve been especially good. It’s usually just filled with stuff that I’ve picked up at sales, like activity packs, puzzles, small toys and other seasonal crafts.
    In the evenings, I’ll warm up apple cider, ginger tea with honey and lemon or vanilla soymilk, which is soothing. I try to cater to my kids when they’re under the weather, because being sick is no fun.” — Joanne Kim, mom of two
  7. Fluff an extra pillow.
    “My 4-year-old has an abundance of energy, so I know he’s sick when he actually slows down. To clear up his stuffy nose, I use a saline spray and prop an extra pillow under his head to help him breathe easier while he’s sleeping.
    I’ve also taught him how to sneeze into the crook of his elbow so that he doesn’t spread germs. It’s hard to take care of a little one when you’re sick too!” — Holly Tillotson, mom of one
  8. Freeze popsicles.
    “Cold popsicles help soothe sore throats. Try making your own from drinks that also provide a dose of vitamin C, like orange juice and fresh berry smoothies.” — Sarah Krieger, registered dietitian who holds a master’s in public health, clinical pediatric dietitian in the community education department of All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association
  9. Play it on repeat.
    “Although it can drive me crazy, I let my kids watch their favorite movies as many times as they want. My 3-year-old daughter just had a stomach bug and watched Tangled three times over two days. I knew she was feeling better when she got up to sing and even dance a little during the song “Mother Knows Best.” — Betsy Stephens, blogger (Working for Cookies)
  10. Bend the rules.
    “My biggest advice for our own sanity as moms is to drop the demands. Let me explain: As parents, we ask our kids to do things, from the simple ‘drink your milk’ to the complex ‘clean your room.’ Then we have to follow through and make sure they listen to us. When kids are sick, they’re less able to do as we say, because they’re cranky and miserable. Any little thing can trigger a meltdown. So it makes sense to table regular requests (pick up your toys), but follow through on anything that you do ask (put the tissue in the trash can). This approach will make it easier for children to transition back to meeting your behavior expectations when they’re feeling better.” — Carin Daddino, former special education teacher and mom of two

Help Stop Your Child’s Ear Pain on Planes

My family and I flew to Orlando last month to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios — my 9-year-old is obsessed with the book series. The long weekend was spectacular on all fronts except one: My husband, who had a cold, came down with severe ear pain about halfway through the flight. By the time we landed, he could barely hear anything, and it took almost 12 hours for his full hearing to return!

The whole experience freaked me out, so when we got back, I called Gordan J. Siegel, M.D., an otolaryngologist in Chicago, to ask him if what happened to my hubby was normal — or whether I should drag him into the doctor’s office. “It’s common for people who have a cold or allergies to experience ear pain during a flight because the Eustachian Tubes (which help equalize pressure changes) are inflamed,” he told me. “Even when well, children under 6 are also particularly vulnerable because their Eustachian Tubes may have not fully developed yet.”

Indeed, I remember seeing some babies and toddlers start to cry during the end of the flight.

“Is there anything a person with a cold or allergies could do to avoid the pain?” I followed up. “You may be able to ward off the problem — or at least reduce the severity — by taking a decongestant before the flight,” said Siegel. “But I only recommend this for people who don’t have high blood pressure.”

Siegel also pointed out another option: special travel ear plugs (one brand is EarPlanes) that help protect your hearing from changes in air pressure. Children and adults can pop them in their ears before takeoff, remove them when the plane reaches maximum altitude, and then put back in an hour before landing. Siegel also noted, of course, that if a cold is severe you just might want to postpone your trip.

Since my conversation with Siegel, I picked up the EarPlanes at my local drugstore; they were only $10 for a three-pack. I tucked them into my luggage carry-on, where I stash my trip essentials like travel-size toothpaste and instant stain remover (because my daughter always spills when we’re days away from doing laundry). Now we’re one step closer to being ready for our next vacation!

Top 5 Holiday Tips for Children with Special Needs

All kids can get overstimulated from time to time. The holidays, with its bright lights, loud sounds and crowds can be particularly tough on kids. Children with special needs may have even more difficulty during the celebratory season. Dawn Grosvenor, mom to a special needs teen and founder of Hopelights Media, has written a wonderful article to help families with special needs children manage the holidays with minimal upset and hopefully, maximum joy:

HOPELights™ Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs

Studies show there are over 10 million families in the U.S. that have children with special needs who experience some form sensory processing dysfunction, making all children special this holiday season

Holidays are a busy time of year, full of activity from people to places that can easily over stimulate Holidays can be fun...not scarychildren, especially those with special needs. A 2022 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found 14 million U.S. children in the have special healthcare needs, or nearly twenty percent of all U.S. children. More than one-fifth of U.S. households with children have at least one child with special needs. HOPELights holiday tips are designed to aid the families that love and support special needs children—having guidance on high-sensory events like the upcoming holidays are critical.

“This means millions of children in the United States have some sort of challenge with things like loud noises, environmental or event transitions, crowds, sensitivities to taste or touch just to name a few,” said Dawn Grosvenor, founder of HOPELight Media. “Which is why putting special emphasis on how to help children and their families through the holiday hustle and bustle is critical in ensuring they have a positive, healthy and loving interaction with friends and family. Holidays should be cherished and foster positive memories that last a lifetime. ”

HopeLights Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs:

 

  1. Make a Visual Schedule – Many children are used to routine, structure and consistency, but much of this is lost during the holidays. If your child can see it coming for days, hours and minutes before it happens, transitions from place to place or even events in your own home will be more welcoming to your child.
  2. Identify “Anchor” or Transition Items – Most children have an attachment to a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, toy or other item. Make sure your child has his or her favorites nearby especially if you are traveling. Let them carry a special bag of their favorite goodies. It is a little piece of home and helps them feel grounded and secure.
  3. Establish Warm Up Times and Personal Space Parameters – Holidays bring in visitors or not-so-familiar faces that your child only sees once or twice a year. It is important these visitors give your child time to warm up and re-establish a connection. Great Aunt Betty may not be familiar right away, but she will be rewarded with a warm interaction 20 minutes or so into her visit if Aunt Betty and your child are prepared for the event.
  4. Create and Communicate Code Words – Special needs or not, every child hits a melting point. Too many people, too many presents, skipping or moving a nap time can lead to the uncomfortable fit. As a parent, we can sometimes see these coming or at the very least we can intervene at the beginning. Talk with your family members before everyone gets together and establish a “Code Word” and ask them to help when you say this word or phrase. It can be as simple as “Houston, we have a problem.” By establishing code words with friends and relatives, this lets them know when you and your child need a private moment. You will be amazed how well they understand and cooperate without hurt feelings and it takes the pressure off of you.
  5. Set Your Own Expectations in Advance – As parents we sometimes expect too much of ourselves, and put even more expectations on the “perfect” holiday. Remember you are only one person with only one goal, to love your children and ensure they are safe and happy this holiday season. Create your own To-Do lists and schedule plenty of time between events and preparation of visitors so you are not rushing through the holiday, but savoring each moment.

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