Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Health: Best Picks for Nutritious or Alternative Treats

Halloween is just around the corner. Soon you'll see ghosts and goblins lined up with their Halloween bags held open. Traditionally, candy has been the treat of choice, but do kids really need another sugary treat dropped into their bags? According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids get between 13 and 16 percent of their total calories from added sugar. That's not very reassuring from a health standpoint. If you're concerned about how much sugar kids are getting these days, there are some healthier Halloween alternatives that won't decay teeth or send kids' blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride. Here are some healthy Halloween treats to offer kids that ring your doorbell this year.

Fruity Snacks

Skip the candy entirely and hand out fruity snacks instead. Rolled fruit, dried fruit without added sugar or freeze-dried fruit aren't as healthy as eating whole fruit, but some parents won't allow their kids to eat Halloween candy that isn't packaged. Do the next best thing and give out individually-packaged fruit roll-ups or other fruit snacks without added sugar -- but watch out for yogurt-covered fruit snacks. They often contain hydrogenated oils, a type of trans fat. Read the label carefully.
Packages of Seeds

Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are a good source of vitamin E and minerals like magnesium, iron and zinc. Look for small packages of roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds to drop in Halloween bags in place of candy. Nuts are also a good source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, but they're not a smart choice for a Halloween treat since nut allergies aren't uncommon. Fortunately, allergies to sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are rare.
Sugar-Free Gum
Sugary candy and gum leads to tooth decay, but sugar-free chewing gum sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol, protects against dental decay. Some parents don't want their kids exposed to synthetic sweeteners like aspartame, but xylitol is safe for all age groups, and kids won't notice a taste difference. They'll just enjoy blowing bubbles! Even dentists recommend that kids and adults munch on xylitol gum to prevent dental caries.

Cereal or Cereal Bars

Hand out boxes of whole-grain cereal in single-serving boxes for a "better for you" Halloween treat. Read the label and choose one that has no more than 5 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber. Pre-packaged cereal bars that are low in sugar are another alternative that kids and moms can both agree on.
Dark Chocolate

If you still want to stay in the Halloween spirit by handing out candy, choose dark chocolate with as little added sugar as possible. Dark chocolate is a good source of heart-healthy antioxidants as long as you choose one with a high cacao content. Look for one with a cacao content of 70 percent or greater for maximal health benefits. Dark chocolate is a healthier choice than milk chocolate for kids -- and for adults.
String Cheese

Buy individually wrapped strands of string cheese for a Halloween handout that's high in bone-building calcium and protein. Kids enjoy string cheese almost as much as candy and it won't cause tooth decay -- but be aware that some kids have allergies to dairy products.

Popcorn without added butter is low in calories and is a whole food that's high in antioxidants. Surprised? It's also a good source of fiber. Look for small snack-size packages of popcorn to drop into Halloween bags when the ghoulish day arrives.
The Bottom Line?
Break out of the candy mold, and choose healthier treats to give out this Halloween. If you're sticking with the candy theme, look for dark chocolate with as little added sugar as possible. The kids decked out in their Halloween finest will enjoy it -- and their moms will be forever grateful.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5 Fall Tips for Healthy Kids [And Adults Too!]

Autumn is here! We love the fall, but we don’t love the colds that come with it. Here are some awesome tips I learned from Dr. John Doulliard, that are now tried and true, with a sprinkling of my own. Wishing you all a season of good health and blessing.

1.Moisture. In fall the air is drier. When the mucous membranes dry out, our bodies produce reactive mucous that predisposes kids to colds.
  • Use a cold air humidifier every night to keep mucous membranes moist.
  • Swab a good oil (Andreas Black sesame oil and coconut oil are both anti bacterial, but extra virgin olive oil works too) with a Q-tip around the inside of their nostrils, morning and night.
  • Put a drop of warmed ear oil (preferably one made with garlic available in the health food store) in each ear, every night. Do it while they sleep if necessary. This lubricates Eustachian tubes, which helps support better lymph flow and aids upper respiratory immunity.
  • Use lots of Coconut oil in your cooking, it is anti-bacterial, anti-viral and so healthy for your cells, skin, and brain.

2. Sleep. Getting enough rest is absolutely essential. If we are not properly rested our immunity will suffer. Kids need their rest. Pre-high school age children should be sleeping by 8:00. High school age should be asleep by 10:00.

3. Hydration. Avoid dehydration. Put water bottles in kids lunch. Make sure they drink a big glass of water in the morning and a big glass in the afternoon. Each day they should have ½ their ideal body weight in ounces.

Dehydration causes:
  • Stomach aches
  • Bone loss
  • Hormonal problems
  • Obesity
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Poor ability to focus
  • Skin conditions
  • And more.

4. Digestion and elimination. Colds start in the digestive system. It is important to track your child’s elimination and know when they “go”. 1-2 times daily is normal.

Up the water and vegetables, if bowel movements are not in the normal range. Sluggish bowels cause the villi of the gut to become congested.

5. Proper nutrition. Control mood and focus with food. The middle of the day is the best time to eat the largest meal because this is the time the body can digest most efficiently. This can be tough for school age kids.

In the afternoon when America is craving chocolate and coffee, the brain needs energy, especially when lunch was an insufficient snack. Blood sugar may then crash in the afternoon. Don’t just give your kids a sugary snack when they get home from school. Have a large meal ready for them when they get home.

They need energy for afternoon activities and homework.

It is also good because they will have ample time to digest before bed.

Offer them lots of nutritional veggies. The best way to get them to eat vegetables is monkey see, monkey do. Mom and Dad have to eat lots and lots of vegetables, it works , the kids will want them as well.

What other healthy tips do you follow to keep your family going during the fall season?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Healthy teeth – at Halloween?

Yes, you can pay attention to dental care for children without giving out pencils and toothbrushes on Oct. 31. (Not all candy is created equal, for starters.)
A new survey targeting 5- to 13-year-olds found 94 percent of them trick or treat and 65 percent of them consider Halloween the best holiday of the year. Yet two thirds of the respondents agreed that they eat too much candy around that final day of October and 89 percent said they would still like the holiday if it were less about candy and more about other types of fun.
True, the Information Solutions Group conducted the Halloween survey for the understandably candy-averse American Dental Association (and videomaker PopCap Games). But still.
In the survey, kids said their three favorite Halloween activities were "trick-or-treating," "dressing up in costume," and, well, "getting lots of candy." A remarkable (to me, at least) 42 percent of the young respondents said they worried about developing cavities from indulging in their sugary loot.
To find out more about how to pass out treats that are least likely to cause tooth decay in your neighbors' children, FamilyGoesStrong talked with Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Maine, and an American Dental Association spokesman who is promoting the Stop Zombie Mouth campaign. Excerpts:
What are some non-candy treats that kids actually like?
Sugar-free gum [for kids who know not to swallow it]. It stimulates saliva flow and removes debris off the teeth. Stickers are also good.
What if you (or your kids) really want to give out candy? What's best, from a dentist's point of view?
Make the candy as small as possible.
Won't that seem Scrooge-ish?
As long as kids see there's candy going in their bag, they'll be happy.
What type of treat is a dentist's worst nightmare?
When it comes to tooth decay, we're concerned about the type of sugar it is. Sticky or long-lasting candy [like caramel] is going to still linger on your teeth and be a problem. For us, it's the amount of time sugar remains in the mouth…The stickier the candy, the worse it is.
So what kind of candy do you recommend for people how want to give it out?
The best kind of candy is just plain milk chocolate. Chocolate clears the mouth really quickly.
But not chocolate with caramel, right?
Caramel, sometimes you find it stuck in your teeth and hour and a half later. In terms of the least evil sugar candy, that would be the least evil, and you wouldn't get rotten things thrown at your house!
And you don't like plastic fangs and super balls because they're potential choking hazards, right?
We have to be obsessive about the things we promote.
So why is sugar so terrible for teeth?
Every time you have a little bit of sugar in your mouth, the bacteria in your mouth eats the sugar and turns it into acid, and that acid eats away at your teeth. If you have lots of candy or juice throughout the day, then that causes your teeth to be constantly exposed to acids.
So it's better if kids eat their sugar all at once. What else are kids doing wrong?
Only 44 percent of kids brush their teeth twice a day. That's the only really effective way of reducing risk [of tooth decay] other than dietary changes.
What else should parents and grandparents know about teeth and trick-or-treating?
The average kid gets over 90 pieces of candy on Halloween. This is candy that in some cases can last weeks or a couple of months. That's where the concern is. Limit the number of times during the day that you expose your teeth to sugar.
Will you give out chocolate on Halloween?
I haven't decided. I don't want to be a party pooper. I've given out candy in the past, but I wouldn't want to admit to that!
So what's the bottom line on candy?
I have no problem with kids eating candy or eating sugar or drinking juice as long as it's considered a treat in their lives and not an everyday event and as long as they're brushing their teeth two times a day. If their lives are constantly filled with walking home with sugar-sweetened beverages and getting bad marks from the dentist, then this is an issue. We really are trying to educate about moderation and better health habits.
What do you hand out on Halloween?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fun Friday: No Carve Pumpkin Decorating

Mess Free and Spooky-Cool
Featured on Seattle-based site, Modern Parents, Messy Kids, we love these ideas for creating mess-free jack-o-lanterns. Mama Steph explains that her family first hits up the pumpkin patch in early October and then they wait for a couple of weeks before her tots get busy with decorating their gourds (a perfect 2-for-1 family activity!).

To make these two beauties, Steph’s brood used sticky back foam sheets (Amazon; $5-6), that work much like stickers after you’ve cut out your chosen shapes. (She also recommends splurging on the glitter sheets for an extra sparkly effect!) However, Steph says that pre-made foam Halloween stickers found in the crafting section will also do the trick just as well (shown on the smaller pumpkin), depending on what your child has in mind.

Pumpkin Play
Got a Mr. Potato Head that could use a little rejuvenation? Don’t miss out on this fun idea for making a Mrs. (or Mr.) Pumpkin Head, offered up by Zakka Life. Perfect for families that are looking for spook-free Halloween decorations, this cool personalized pumpkin is easy for little kids to make — and it can be played with like the actual toy.

To get started, you’ll only need to have a screwdriver handy for poking out your pumpkin’s facial and body features — Mama Jessica recommends being a bit conservative with the size of your holes so the pieces fit nicely. And other than that, you’re all set to begin giving this year’s pumpkin a little personality and pizazz!

Glittery Goods
It doesn’t get much better than these sparkly decorative gourds included on The Rabens Family!

To make your own fancy shiny jack-o-lanterns, simply paint your pumpkins with a layer of white glue and then get to work on shaking out your adorning sparkles. Super easy for small hands and yet a gorgeous idea for snazzing up your porch for this year’s trick-or-treating fun!

Masked to Perfection
This silly masked pumpkin featured on Alpha Mom is perfect for the families that are only interested in decorating this year’s pumpkin — and for those that want to decorate their pumpkin mid-October and still carve them later on before Halloween. A potential pre-jack, so to speak!

To make your own, simply gather up your adorning materials — such as pom poms, feathers, glitter, and stickers — and begin gluing them onto a face mask. Once everything has dried, cut out some funny eyes from a magazine and glue them onto the back of the mask. Since everything besides the pumpkin’s lips are attached to the mask, you’ll only have to worry about taking the mouth off the actual pumpkin, come carving time (if your family chooses to do both). Either way, this is one pumpkin that’s sure to get plenty of giggles and smiles from passersby!

Mix'n and Match'n
And for more in craft foam fun, we love these mix-and-match pumpkins included on Make and Takes!

Much like the Mr. Pumpkin Head idea, these colorful gourds can be made by gluing Velcro mini circles onto your pumpkin for the eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and other facial features. Then simply cut out your foam shapes or bedazzling features and glue the Velcro pieces on to their backs as well. Once everything has dried, your child will love switching out the pumpkin’s hair for a hat, or testing out which ears and nose suits your family’s new Halloween friend best! Check out the full post for an excellent pictorial and tips on mix-and-match features.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Explaining Halloween to Kids

“Mommy, why is everyone dressed up so funny?” “Daddy, what does ‘trick or treat’ mean?” “Grandma, why are people giving away free candy?” “Grandpa, how come those pumpkins have such funny faces?”

Halloween-related questions like these — and more, to be sure — pop up frequently when kids are young. In fact, the whole concept of this holiday can seem a bit scary, confusing, and overwhelming to the littlest ones at first. Explaining to kids why we celebrate Halloween can sometimes be, excuse the pun, “tricky.

Depending on your child’s age, you may want to first begin by talking about the history of Halloweenusing age-appropriate words. Then ease any rising fears they may be feeling by describing all the wonderful Halloween customs and traditions you enjoyed as a child. They might include:

  • Picking out a costume. Whether hand sewn or store bought, costumes are the funnest part of Halloween, in my humble opinion. Tell your child what you used to dress up as. (I loved dressing up as a gypsy.) Then let your child help decide what he or she would like to be this year, and use your imagination to make it possible. Ideas are all around you! (My son’s all-time favorite costume was a mummy. I just used toilet paper to wrap him up. But the funniest part of the night was when it suddenly started to rain. I had one soggy but happy little boy to carefully unwrap at the end of that night!)
  • Decorating pumpkins. Simple or elaborate, carved jack-o’-lanterns with lit internal candles are a source of great excitement and wonderment for kids of all ages. If you prefer, buy a carving kit to simplify the task. Easier yet, just have your child draw a face on the pumpkin with colorful markers. (Bonus: Toast the pumpkin seeds you pull out of the center for a healthy, tasty snack!)
  • Buying/making treats. Have your child help with the special treats you will pass out on Halloween night. Whether it’s assorted candy bars, fresh apples, Rice Krispie Treats, or popcorn balls, it’s always more fun when your child has a chance to participate. (My kids loved to put a few treats in small gift bags to pass out.)
  • Having a party. Whether you’re hosting one or attending one, it’s always a great time. Have your kids join in on the fun as you make creative Halloween-themed foods, bob for apples, tell ghost stories, or watch such scary family movies as Monsters, Inc.; Monster House; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; or Ghostbusters.
  • Going trick-or-treating. Enjoy accompanying your costumed child house-to-house in your neighborhood. Remind first-timers to say, “Trick or treat!” And for safety’s sake, be sure to avoid long clothing that may cause tripping, avoid masks that obstruct vision, bring a flashlight to illuminate unlit walkways and stairs, never enter homes of unknown people, carry a cell phone for emergencies, and inspect all candy first. For the very young, it’s easiest to pull them in a wagon like any of these from Step2.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Safety Tips

Kids look forward to Halloween for many reasons. They like the dressing up in costumes but the mostly they like it for the candy and treats! Who wouldn't? Even some adults still like to go our trick or treating. It makes them feel young and happy again. While this section sticks mainly to guidelines for kids, they are just as useful for adults.

Some parents like to take first dibs on some of the candy that the kids have picked up during the night. It's their reward for taking them around from house to house! We suggest that you watch the candy intake when you all get home, too much at one time can lead to stomach aches and indigestion. That includes mom and dad as well!

Make your child's Halloween a memorable holiday and they'll have good memories that last a lifetime! If you are taking your kids out for the night, dress up as well. Mom and dad should get into Halloween as much as the kids do!

Trick or Treating should be one of the great adventures of Halloween for kids! They can get dressed in scary costumes and go door to door, begging "Tricks or Treats!" from neighbors or at the local mall. Lots of small towns have a Halloween Safe Night at the community center or school so kids can Trick-or-Treat safely but going door to door is the stuff of childhood memories! It should be a fun time, without trouble and pain, so following some easy tips can keep your child safe every Halloween.

Children should always go out trick or treating accompanied by a responsible adult. If you have a group of kids going, the parents should choose two or three of them to go along and keep an eye on things.

Some towns set a curfew for trick or treating which makes it easier for townsfolk to know who's coming to their door. Make sure and stick to the curfew times and stick to subdivisions and areas with a lot of homes so your kids can get in as much trick or treating as possible in a few hours time.

Plan a safe route so parents know where their older kids will be at all times. Set a time for their return home. Make sure that your child is old enough and responsible enough to go out by themselves. Make sure that they have a cell phone.

Let your children know not to cut through back alleys and fields if they are out alone. Make sure they know to stay in populated areas and not to go off the beaten track. Let them know to stay in well lighted areas with lots of people around. Explain to them why it can be dangerous for kids not to do this. If they are going out alone, they are old enough to know what can happen to them in a bad situation and how to stop it from happening.

Instruct your children not to eat any treats until they bring them home to be examined by you. This way you can check for any problem candy and get the pick of the best stuff!

Instruct your child to never go into the home of a stranger or get into their car. Explain why this is not a god idea and what to do if someone approaches them and tries to talk to them.

Make sure your child carries a flashlight, glow stick or has reflective tape on their costume to make them more visible to cars.

Let them know that they should stay together as a group if going out to Trick or Treat without an adult.

Did we miss anything? Share with us any tips you think are helpful!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Children Develop Anxiety Disorders: Too Often, Problem Goes Unrecognized

Fear and anxiety — the forces behind untold numbers of sleep-deprived nights and before-school stomachaches — pop up occasionally along the journey through childhood and adolescence.

But for some children, the worry won’t stop. It grows into an anxiety disorder that can wreak havoc on their home, school and social lives.

“Parents hear about autism, and they hear about ADHD a lot more. Anxiety disorders are the things that are often overlooked, and they’re actually incredibly common,” said Amy Przeworski, a psychologist and assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

She and psychologist Rebecca Hazen, also an assistant professor at Case Western, will speak to families, caregivers and professionals in Columbus on Oct. 29 during the annual Children’s Mental Health Conference sponsored by Mental Health America of Franklin County. They want to help families learn to distinguish between typical and problem worrying. Researchers say anxiety-spectrum disorders affect about 1 in 8 children at some point in their lives, making them the most-prevalent mental-health disorder in children and teens.

Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks and phobias can be present in varying degrees of severity.

“Sometimes, people don’t come in for treatment until it’s really causing problems,” Hazen said. “ When anxiety is starting to interfere with daily activities, or cause a lot of daily stress for kids, that’s a red flag that they might need some help.”

Carrie Stephany and her 13-year-old daughter, Mia, say the signs of Mia’s obsessive-compulsive disorder were becoming clear by the time she turned 6. For her birthday party that year, Mia insisted on a menu of plain corn muffins and sugar-free Italian ice. She couldn’t have cake because the thought of eating a sugary treat, even in moderation, worried her sick. “I just thought, ‘ Sugar, bad,’  ” Mia said. “Then I became afraid of the sun. I thought I’d get skin cancer.”

Obsessive worry about germs, headaches and throwing up began to plague Mia, too. She couldn’t wash her hands enough, and her family unwittingly made matters worse by trying to reassure her.

Tending the compulsions and paying them lots of attention usually just makes them grow big — it’s kind of like watering a thirsty plant, Stephany said.

Mia’s psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Child Development Center helped the Westerville family settle on the best treatment. Mia said books, too, have made it easier to see her obsessive-compulsive disorder as a third party she needs to ignore.

One story portrayed OCD as “OC flea,” a pesky creature that overtook animals and made them think they had to do certain things.

“You have to talk back to OCD,” Mia said. “But your family can’t do it for you. They can be your cheerleader on the sidelines.”

Mia has great grades, is active in extracurricular activities and has helped other children who struggle with anxiety disorders.

Przeworski said the exact cause of an anxiety disorder might not be known, but both genetic predisposition and experiences can be factors.

“These days, there’s so much pressure on kids to succeed,” Przeworski said. “That’s only going to lead to an increase in anxiety diagnoses.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Organic Food Not Any Better Than Conventional for Kids, Pediatricians Say

If you’re buying organic foods for your kids because you think they’re more nutritious, you might want to think again. The nation’s pediatricians have weighed in on the issue for the first time, and they say that when it comes to nutritional value, organics are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally produced foods.

“Pretty much every study shows no nutritional difference,” said Dr. Janet Silverstein, a professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida. She’s a co-author of the report published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Silverstein and her colleagues reviewed the available studies on organic and conventionally produced foods, including produce, dairy products and meat. They considered research about issues including nutrition, hormones, antibiotics and synthetic chemical exposure, plus factors such as environmental impact and price.

Overall, the docs came to a conclusion that may surprise some parents who believe organic is best for their kids

“In the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease,” AAP officials said in a statement.

No large studies been conducted that address the differences, they said. That largely echoes the findings of a Stanford University review last month that analyzed 237 studies and concluded that organic foods were no more nutritious than conventional -- and ignited huge debates online and on talk shows.

When it comes to the pesky issue of pesticides, hormones and other contaminants, the pediatricians came to a similar conclusion.

No one knows yet whether those substances make foods from conventional sources less safe for growing kids, Silverstein said.

While there’s no question that conventionally grown foods have more pesticides than organic foods, the effect isn’t certain.

“They are at low levels -- certainly lower than the federal government regulatory cutoffs and lower than is thought to be dangerous for adults,” Silverstein said. “However, we don’t know the effect of these low levels on children during the vulnerable period of time when brain growth is occurring: in utero and through the first few years of life.”

Studies evaluating the long-term effects of pesticides on child development need to be conducted, she said.

“Until we know the answer to that question, we can’t really give people good advice other than to let them know what is known and what still needs to be studied,” she added.

One clear difference between organics and conventionally produced food is price. Organics are typically more expensive, in some cases priced 50 percent higher than the same conventionally grown foods.

Parents should recognize the importance of providing kids with lots of fruits and vegetables whether it comes from organic or conventional farms.

“If a parent has limited resources, the most important thing is to give the child a healthy diet and not to give fewer fruits and vegetables because they’re spending more on organic foods,” Silverstein said.

If cost is a factor, families can be selective in choosing organic foods, Silverstein said. Some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables tend to have lower pesticide residues. The AAP cites organic shopper's guides like those provided by Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group as references for consumers.

If moms interviewed by NBC News are typical, the new report isn’t likely to dissuade any parents from buying organic.

For Diana Lovett, 34, of Larchmont, N.Y., the most important issue was avoiding pesticides in the foods she gives her son, Noam, 4 ½ months.

“We started him on organic baby food and we’re really happy with it. I just wanted something healthy for my son and didn’t like the idea of pesticides in baby food,” she said.

Lovett says she’d make her own baby food if she couldn’t find an organic product at the supermarket. “If I could I would grow my own fruits and veggies,” Lovett said. “Organic just feels one step closer to that.”

Gigi Lee Chang, 45, of New York, has been feeding her son, Cato, mostly organic foods since he was a baby. Now that he’s 8, she’s planning on packing organic fruits and vegetables to supplement school lunches.

“I don’t think from a mom’s perspective it was ever about the nutrition,” said Chang, chief executive of Healthy Child, Healthy World, an advocacy group that works to help parents protect children from harmful chemicals.

As far as Chang is concerned, the science just hasn’t had a chance to catch up on this issue. Chang points to the situation with bisphenol A, the estrogen-mimicking chemical known as BPA. Several years ago there wasn’t enough evidence on the impact of BPA, she said. And now it’s been banned from baby bottles and sippy cups.

That makes sense to Rachel Blumenthal, 32, of New York. She chooses organic foods for 18-month-old Griffin’s meals because she’s worried about chemicals in conventional foods.

“It’s really more for long-term health concerns,” she said. “I just don’t want to take the chance. Years and years of cumulative exposure to pesticides can’t be good for anybody. My husband and I try to eat organic, too.”

Blumenthal figures it’s just a matter of time before scientists prove what she suspects.

“Just 20 or 30 years ago everyone was sunbathing,” she said. “Now we know it causes cancer. I anticipate that happening with all these pesticides.”

What is your stand in the organic food world? Do you still prefer to buy it for your family? Why or why not?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fun Friday: Pumpkin Cookies with Caramel Spiderweb Frosting

Pumpkin Cookies
Yield: 36 cookies
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat OR all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the pumpkin and egg until well combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients. Slowly add the flour to the pumpkin mixture and mix until everything is combined.
  4. Drop the dough onto a cookie sheet by the tablespoonful. Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are slightly browned and the dough is cooked through. Cool cookies completely before frosting.

Caramel Frosting
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp baking soda
8 tbsp butter
1 to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp coarse sea salt
In a large saucepan, bring the sugar and cream to a boil. Boil for exactly one minute. Add the baking soda and boil for one minute more. Remove from the heat and drop tablespoons of butter all over the mixture. Do not stir. Allow to cool for thirty minutes on the stove. Place the pan in the refrigerator to cool for another thirty minutes. Stir the butter into the caramel and scrape caramel into a mixing bowl. Beat in 1 to 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, depending on the consistency you like. Spread onto cooled cookies. Make spiderweb design using the recipe below for chocolate ganache or purchase a tube of black frosting at the grocery store.

Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into very small chunks
Bring the heavy cream to a boil over medium heat in a small sauce pan. Remove from heat as soon as the cream begins to boil. Stir in the chocolate and continue stirring until it has melted. Cool for five minutes before pouring into a piping bag fitted with a number 5 tip. Pipe three small circles onto each cookie (like a target) and then drag a toothpick through the circles to make a spiderweb.

Karly Campbell, author of the popular baking blog Buns In My Oven, began blogging in 2008. For more of her recipes, musings, and food photos, visit her at

Have a favorite halloween recipe you want to share? We would love to hear about it!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Books Can Change How Your Child's Brain Develops

Books and educational toys can make a child smarter, but they also influence how the brain grows, according to new research presented here on Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The findings point to a “sensitive period” early in life during which the developing brain is strongly influenced by environmental factors.

Studies comparing identical and nonidentical twins show that genes play an important role in the development of the cerebral cortex, the thin, folded structure that supports higher mental functions. But less is known about how early life experiences influence how the cortex grows.

To investigate, neuroscientist Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues recruited 64 children from a low-income background and followed them from birth through to late adolescence. They visited the children’s homes at 4 and 8 years of age to evaluate their environment, noting factors such as the number of books and educational toys in their houses, and how much warmth and support they received from their parents.

More than 10 years after the second home visit, the researchers used MRI to obtain detailed images of the participants’ brains. They found that the level of mental stimulation a child receives in the home at age 4 predicted the thickness of two regions of the cortex in late adolescence, such that more stimulation was associated with a thinner cortex. One region, the lateral inferior temporal gyrus, is involved in complex visual skills such as word recognition.

Home environment at age 8 had a smaller impact on development of these brain regions, whereas other factors, such as the mother’s intelligence and the degree and quality of her care, had no such effect.

Previous work has shown that adverse experiences, such as childhood neglect, abuse, and poverty, can stunt the growth of the brain. The new findings highlight the sensitivity of the growing brain to environmental factors, Farah says, and provide strong evidence that subtle variations in early life experience can affect the brain throughout life.

As the brain develops, it produces more synapses, or neuronal connections, than are needed, she explains. Underused connections are later eliminated, and this elimination process, called synaptic pruning, is highly dependent upon experience. The findings suggest that mental stimulation in early life increases the extent to which synaptic pruning occurs in the lateral temporal lobe. Synaptic pruning reduces the volume of tissue in the cortex. This makes the cortex thinner, but it also makes information processing more efficient.

“This is a first look at how nurture influences brain structure later in life,” Farah reported at the meeting. “As with all observational studies, we can’t really speak about causality, but it seems likely that cognitive stimulation experienced early in life led to changes in cortical thickness.”

She adds, however, that the research is still in its infancy, and that more work is needed to gain a better understanding of exactly how early life experiences impact brain structure and function.

The findings add to the growing body of evidence that early life is a period of “extreme vulnerability,” says psychiatrist Jay Giedd, head of the brain imaging unit in the Child Psychiatry Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. But early life, he says, also offers a window of opportunity during which the effects of adversity can be offset. Parents can help young children develop their cognitive skills by providing a stimulating environment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What is ABA?

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.

As mentioned, behavior analysts began working with young children with autism and related disorders in the 1960s. Early techniques often involved adults directing most of the instruction. Some allowed the child to take the lead. Since that time, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with autism – from toddlers through adulthood.

These techniques can be used in structured situations such as a classroom lesson as well as in "everyday" situations such as family dinnertime or the neighborhood playground. Some ABA therapy sessions involve one-on-one interaction between the behavior analyst and the participant. Group instruction can likewise prove useful.

How Does ABA Benefit Those with Autism?

Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health. Over the last decade, the nation has seen a particularly dramatic increase in the use of ABA to help persons with autism live happy and productive lives. In particular, ABA principles and techniques can foster basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating, as well as complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective.

More information about behavior analysis and ABA is available at the websites of theAssociation of Professional Behavior Analysts, the Association for Behavior Analysis International and the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

What Does Research Tell Us About ABA and Autism?

A number of completed studies have demonstrated that ABA techniques can produce improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self care, school and employment. These studies involved age groups ranging from preschoolers to adults. Results for all age groups showed that ABA increased participation in family and community activities.

A number of peer-reviewed studies have examined the potential benefits of combining multiple ABA techniques into comprehensive, individualized and intensive early intervention programs for children with autism. "Comprehensive" refers to interventions that address a full range of life skills, from communication and sociability to self-care and readiness for school. "Early intervention" refers to programs designed to begin before age 4. "Intensive" refers to programs that total 25 to 40 hours per week for 1 to 3 years.

These programs allow children to learn and practice skills in both structured and unstructured situations. The “intensity” of these programs may be particularly important to replicate the thousands of interactions that typical toddlers experience each day while interacting with their parents and peers.

Such studies have demonstrated that many children with autism experience significant improvements in learning, reasoning, communication and adaptability when they participate in high-quality ABA programs. Some preschoolers who participate in early intensive ABA for two or more years acquire sufficient skills to participate in regular classrooms with little or no additional support. Other children learn many important skills, but still need additional educational support to succeed in a classroom.

Across studies, a small percentage of children show relatively little improvement. More research is needed to determine why some children with autism respond more favorably to early intensive ABA than others do. Currently, it remains difficult to predict the extent to which a particular child will benefit.

In some studies, researchers compared intensive ABA with less intensive ABA and/or other early intervention or special education programs for children with autism. Generally, they found that children who receive intensive ABA treatment make larger improvements in more skill areas than do children who participate in other interventions. In addition, the parents of the children who receive intensive ABA report greater reductions in daily stress than do parents whose children receive other treatments.
ABA and Adults with Autism

A number of recent studies confirm that ABA techniques are effective for building important life skills in teens and adults with autism. Many comprehensive autism support programs for adults employ and combine ABA techniques to help individuals transition successfully into independent living and employment. However, the benefits of intensive ABA programs remain far less studied in teens and adults than they have been with young children. This is a research area of particular interest to Autism Speaks and its supporters.
What Does ABA Intervention Involve?

Effective ABA intervention for autism is not a "one size fits all" approach and should never be viewed as a "canned" set of programs or drills. On the contrary, a skilled therapist customizes the intervention to each learner's skills, needs, interests, preferences and family situation. For these reasons, an ABA program for one learner will look different than a program for another learner.

ABA Techniques and Philosophy

* The instructor uses a variety of behavior analytic procedures, some of which are directed by the instructor and others initiated by the learner.
* Parents and/or other family members and caregivers receive training so they can support learning and skill practice throughout the day.
* The learner’s day is structured to provide many opportunities – both planned and naturally occurring - to acquire and practice skills in both structured and unstructured situations.
* The learner receives an abundance of positive reinforcement for demonstrating useful skills and socially appropriate behaviors. The emphasis is on positive social interactions and enjoyable learning.
* The learner receives no reinforcement for behaviors that pose harm or prevent learning.
What Kind of Progress Can Be Expected with ABA?

Competently delivered ABA intervention can help learners with autism make meaningful changes in many areas. However, changes do not typically occur quickly. Rather, most learners require intensive and ongoing instruction that builds on their step-by-step progress. Moreover, the rate of progress – like the goals of intervention – varies considerably from person to person depending on age, level of functioning, family goals and other factors.

Some learners do acquire skills quickly. But typically, this rapid progress happens in just one or two particular skill areas such as reading, while much more instruction and practice is needed to master another skill area such as interacting with peers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Facts About Bullying

What is bullying?

Bullying is behavior that hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally. Bullying can be very overt, such as fighting, hitting or name calling, or it can be covert, such as gossiping or leaving someone out on purpose. It is intentional, meaning the act is done willfully, knowingly and with deliberation. The targets have difficulty stopping the behavior directed at them and struggle to defend themselves.

What are the different types of bullying?

Verbal bullying is name-calling, making offensive remarks, or joking about a person's religion, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or the way they look.

Physical bullying includes any physical contact that would hurt or injure a person like hitting, kicking, punching, etc.

Relational bullying is excluding someone from a game or group on purpose. It also includes spreading rumors, and/or making fun of someone by pointing out their differences.

Intimidation is threatening someone else and frightening that person enough to make him or her do what the bully wants.

Cyber bullying is done by sending negative, embarrassing, belittling or threatening messages, pictures, or information using computers (email instant messages, and social networking sites), or cell phones (text messaging and voicemail).

What are some statistics that should everyone know about bullying?

71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
90 percent of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.
Every day, 160,000 students skip school because they are afraid they will be bullied.
The most common reason cited for being harassed is a student's appearance or body size. Two out of five teens feel that they are bullied because of the way that they look.
57 percent of students who experience harassment in school never report the incident to the school. Ten percent of those who do not report stay quiet because they do not believe that teachers or staff can do anything. As a result, more than a quarter of students feel that school is an unsafe place to be.
Nine out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
41 percent of principals say they have programs designed to create a safe environment for LGBT students, but only 1/3 of principals say that LGBT students would feel safe at their school.
One in four teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4 percent of the time.
A victim of bullying is twice as likely to take his or her own life compared to someone who is not a victim.
Only one in 10 victims of cyberbullying tell a parent. Fewer than one in five cyberbullying incidents are reported to the police

Check out these websites for more facts and information about bullying and bullying prevention.
Random Facts
Make Beats Not Beat Downs
Stomp Out Bullying

Bulling is 100% UNACCEPTABLE and 100% preventable. 

In honor of national bully prevention month what are YOU doing to help prevent and stop bullying?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sesame Street and Child Develpment

Television has a bad side. According to a report from the University of Michigan, the average American child has seen sixteen thousand murders on TV by age 18. Indeed, programs explicitly designed for kids often contain more violence than adult programming, and that violence is often paired with humor. Every single animated feature film produced by US production houses between 1937 and 1999 contained violence, and the amount of violence increased throughout that time period. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that just being awake and in the room with a TV on more than two hours a day – even if the kids aren’t explicitly paying attention to the TV – was a risk factor for being overweight at ages three and four-and-a-half. This may be related to the fact that two thirds of the twenty thousand television commercials the average child sees each year are for food.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in their wisdom, recommend that children under age two have zero hours of screen time. (Meanwhile, a bevy of DVDs are marketed to parents of children age zero to 2, promising to “teach your child about language and logic, patterns and sequencing, analyzing details and more.”)

Despite the warning, however, many parents of infants age 0 to 2 do allow their children some screen time. In 2007, Frederick J. Zimmerman of the University of Washington (now at UCLA) wondered what the effects of TV watching were on those infants. He collected data from 1008 parents about the infants’ TV habits, as well as the amount of time they spent doing things like reading (with parents), playing, and so on. He also administered, for each child, a survey called the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI). The CDI is a standard tool used by developmental psychologists to assess language development in infants and children. He and his team then looked to see if there were statistical relationships between time spent watching TV (and the other activities) and language abilities, as measured by the CDI. Here’s the catch: they only included infants whose TV watching consistedentirely of infant-directed programming. That is, TV programs especially designed for infants age 0 to 2. If the infants were shown other sorts of TV programs, they were not included in the study.

They found that reading at least once a day was associated with a seven point increase on the CDI for 8 to 16 month olds, and nearly twelve points for 17 to 24 month olds, compared with those who read with their parents less frequently. If parents told stories to their children at least once per day, as opposed to less frequently, their kids’ scores on the CDI were nearly six and a half points higher for younger infants, and more than seven points higher for older infants. That kids who read more often or were told stories more often scored better on a test of language development is probably not surprising. (Interestingly, there was no statistical correlation between music listening and language development).

Here’s the kicker: for each hour, on average, that infants between 8 and 16 months old watched infant-directed television (including DVD versions of those programs) per day, they could expect a seventeen point reduction in their scores on the CDI. Let me say that again: each hour per day, on average, that these kids watched TV was associated with a seventeen point decrease on a measure of language acquisition.

You might argue that this correlation could exist simply because parents who show these programs to their kids may also be somehow less motivated to encourage language development in their kids more generally. Perhaps these parents were just less skilled at parenting overall. The researchers attempted to statistically control for this, by factoring in data related to parent-child interaction. As usual, correlations should be taken with a grain of salt, and this is but one study from a very large literature. Still, this study, combined with others, has led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that children between the ages of 0 and 2 years old watch no television at all.

But television isn’t all bad. Shows like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood stand out as beacons of hope, sparkling diamonds among a sea of coals. For children between the ages of two and five years, at least.

In 2001, Daniel R. Anderson published the results of a massive longitudinal study called “The Recontact Study” as a Monograph of the Society of Research in Child Development. First, they assessed television habits among preschoolers (age 2-5). Then they recontacted 570 of the children a decade later, when they were in high school. They assessed their current (adolescent) media use, and also their grades in English, science, and math, their leisure reading habits, creativity, aggression, participation in extracurricular activities, use of alcohol and cigarettes, and self-image.

They found, among other things, that children age 3 to 5 who watched Sesame Streethad larger vocabularies in high school than those who watched other television programming, or even no television at all. The effect could not be explained by gender, family size, or parents’ education. Preschoolers from lower income neighborhoods, in particular, who watched Sesame Street were more prepared for school than their peers who did not watch Sesame Street. Kids who watched Sesame Street had higher grades in science and English, had higher total GPA, read more books, placed more value on achievement, and were rated as more creative, compared with their peers. Boys who watched Sesame Street in preschool were rated as less aggressive in high school; girls were more likely to participate in extracurricular art classes.

Similar effects were seen for those who watched Mister Rogers as kids, but not for those who watched other non-educational television programs in preschool.

Importantly, it was the educational content of the television that kids watched in preschool that predicted their future success as high schoolers more than the overall amount of television they watched. “The medium of television is not homogeneous or monolithic, and content viewed is more important than raw amount,” Anderson says. “The medium is not the message: The message is.”

Reed Larson put it plainly in a commentary on Anderson’s monograph: “Educational television works: It has sustained, long-term, positive relationships to development and behavior.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Music Therapists Help Ease Treatment Of Children With Severe Burns

Annette Whitehead-Pleaux is Shriners’ first music therapist. (George Hicks/WBUR)

BOSTON — Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston is marking 10 years of its music therapy program. The program involves the clinical use of music in a medical setting to accomplish therapeutic goals such as pain management, anxiety reduction and physical rehabilitation. At Shriners in Boston, the focus is on burn care for children.

More Like A Game Than Therapy

It’s time for Estiven Romero’s physical therapy. He’s a quiet 4-year-old boy with a serious face and short, straight black hair. As an occupational therapist carefully removes a cast that keeps his elbow extended, music therapist Annette Whitehead-Pleaux sings to Estiven and encourages him to play along on an iPod touch.

Whitehead-Pleaux begins strumming on the guitar while Estiven taps the iPod. He’s not quite in time with the music, but he’s more interested in the iPod and the music than he is with the occupational therapist, who is carefully removing the cast on his arm. Whitehead-Pleaux sings a song using his name: “Estiven, mi amigo.”

Estiven’s right arm and torso are mottled with red and white scar tissue. He was burned by scalding water about a year ago in his native country, Honduras. (Shriners hospitals provide care for free and take patients from all over the world.) Estiven is still working on getting full range of motion in his arm and gaining strength back in his wrist. That’s why Whitehead-Pleaux, in her limited Spanish, asks Estiven if he wants to bang on a drum in the next song. She begins singing “La Bamba.”

As part of his physical therapy, he must stretch his burned arm. To make him reach, Whitehead-Pleaux holds the drum high and encourages him to hit it hard. It’s more like a game than therapy.

“Higher, bigger,” she says.

All of this activity diverts his brain’s attention away from the pain. But research shows music therapy is more than a distraction. Whitehead-Pleaux says brain studies show that music lowers the perception of pain.

“When people just listen to music and have a peak experience in music, the amygdala totally shuts down and there’s no activity on it,” she says. “We’re not silly to think that music therapists in a painful situation will cause a peak experience, but if we can get someone actively engaged in listening the hope and the theory is that we reduce the activity on the amygdala and thus, reduce the amount of anxiety and negative emotion the person may be feeling.”

And Whitehead-Pleaux adjusts her songs depending on what’s happening. When Estiven gets his arm stretched to a new position for his cast, he starts to cry and she softens her playing. The hour-long session passes quickly, and Estiven leaves the hospital with a re-positioned cast.

Shriners Hospital in Boston has two full-time music therapists, more than any other area hospital that treats children. The therapists use music at many different types of appointments, even during the most painful ones such as dressing changes.

Music therapist Stephanie Clark is softly playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the guitar and singing beside the bed of 3-year-old Angelina Toots.

“My goal today is to go in there and just help support her through the music, help change the environment to be a more comfortable, familiar environment and just be present with her and respond to her responses, whatever they may be,” Clark says.

Almost every part of Angelina’s body is burned except for her sweet face and soft blonde curls. According to her father, William Toots, the family was at home in Connecticut when it happened.

“We were outside cooking out,” Toots explains. “She ran in to go to the bathroom. She had some ruffles on her dress that accidentally hit the candle that spread over her dress and burned her really bad.”

As a team of nurses changes Angelina’s dressing, her father sits nearby, alongside her mother Catherine.

“It’s an emotional roller-coaster,” Catherine Toots says. “We have our good days and our bad days just like Angelina does. When she hurts, we hurt, so it’s hard to be strong for her.”

Angelina’s father adds: “Knowing how much Angie loves music to begin with — she loves to go to sleep with the music on and radio on and she loves to dance and play around all the time — having the musical therapist here with her is probably the best thing for her in this point in time for her mind and her body.”

Angelina is heavily sedated; music therapy doesn’t take the place of painkillers. But Carrie Jones, a nurse on Shriners’ acute care unit, says music has many medical benefits, especially during the first weeks of care when wounds need to be redressed daily.

“We’ve seen a child with heart rates in the 180s and they’ll start playing or start singing and their heart rate slowly drops, their anxiety decreases, and it really helps them kind of get through, however long the procedure may be,” Jones says. “They are amazingly instrumental to the process.”

Mary Jo Barza, the director of therapeutic services at Shriners, agrees.

Mary Jo Barza, director of therapeutic services at Boston’s Shriners Hospital (George Hicks/WBUR)

“One of the advantages that we didn’t anticipate is that the nurses and therapists who are taking care of the patients will often say the music therapy brings their level of anxiety down and then of course when they are less anxious that carries over to the child and the parent,” Barza says.

Turning Lost Time Into A Gain

And music therapists often develop long relationships with their young patients. Burns can take years to heal. As the child grows, the scarred and grafted skin doesn’t stretch like normal skin, so they need more surgeries. That sometimes allows Whitehead-Pleaux enough time to teach the children to play an instrument, which helps with their self-esteem.

“Especially in a time when they’ve lost body function or they’ve lost a limb and they lost all this time with family and friends that if they come away from the hospital with something they’ve gained as well, I think that’s a huge ego booster,” Whitehead-Pleaux says.

On this day she’s giving a guitar lesson to Jesus Rocano, an 18-year-old from Ecuador. She’s been helping him for two years. Jesus is in a wheelchair, and under a blanket, his legs seem to melt away below the knee. He lost both lower limbs in an electrocution.

Whitehead-Pleaux calls out the chords as she sings so Jesus can play along with her. He looks confident with his guitar. He practices at home and continues his lessons when he comes back for the now-occasional appointments at Shriners. Jesus says it’s hard to put into words what learning the guitar has meant to him, but he says he just knows that he likes it.

That’s the goal of music therapy — to ease a difficult time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BABY TALK: Does depression in mom affect a baby’s language development?

Babies are born ready to learn any language in the world, and they have linguistic super-powers that many adults don’t.

For instance at 6 months old, they can distinguish between sounds in different languages that non-bilinguals hear as the same, such as an English “d” and a Hindi “d.” They can also tell if someone is English or French without sound based on the mouth shapes of the speaker and rhythms. Only bilinguals retain these abilities throughout life.

But around 10 months old, babies typically stop being able to make these distinctions. As they get better at perceiving a native language, they are less sensitive to non-native sights and sounds, says Janet Werker, psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Researchers are interested in probing this “critical period” of language development. They want to know what factors affect the window of time after which a baby loses sensitivity to a non-native language.

Werker’s study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explores babies’ language development related to depression and antidepressants.

Given that as many as 20 percent of women have a mood disorder during pregnancy, and up to 13 percent of them take an antidepressant while carrying a child, assessing the impact of the condition and the treatment is important.

There were three groups of participants: 32 babies whose mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy, 21 babies whose mothers had depression during pregnancy but did not take medication for it, and 32 babies whose mothers did not have depression.

The babies had to perform discrimination tasks involving sounds (“d” in English vs. Hindi) and visual speech (watching people speak different languages without sound).

The babies in the control group, whose mothers did not have depression, performed as expected: They tended to succeed in language discrimination tasks at 6 months old and failed at 10 months old.

But the infants whose mothers had depression (but were not taking antidepressants) failed at 6 months and succeeded at 10 months. That means their critical period for language sensitivity was delayed.

Interestingly, the infants whose mothers were taking antidepressants failed both times. It appears that they were more “advanced” than both groups, in the sense that the language sensitivity window had already passed.

What’s going on? Researchers aren’t sure, and they don’t know if it’s good or bad. One explanation for delay in the depressed-but-not-medicated group is that those kids weren’t being exposed to as much engaging speech because their mothers were depressed.

Alternatively, the brain chemicals from the mother associated with depression could have something to do with it. And the antidepressants could be impacting the child’s brain development in the group whose mothers took these medications.

What is your opinion on this idea? Have you had any personal experience with the topic? Let us know we would love to hear about your insight!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Preventing Bullying

Are you a mom, dad, teacher, grandparent or a concerned friend? Do you worry about your kids the moment you send them out the door to school each day? Back when I was kid, bullies existed for sure. But, the frequency and severity of bullying did not seem so extreme. Sure, kids teased other kids on the bus, there were arguments and even physical fights, but today's depth of bullying seems to have become extreme. Often times, children who have been bullied or are the target of a bully are afraid and even ashamed. They keep the torment a secret for fear of drawing more attention to the situation. As parents, it's our job to learn the signs of bullying.

So how do you know if your child is being bullied? Bullying is a silent threat to our kids, because we often don't know that it's happening. By learning to identify the signs, you may be able to pinpoint bullying at the start. According to, here are some common signs to watch for:

-Your child seems quiet or withdrawn. Do you have a normally engaged, active and chatty child who is suddenly quiet and showing a lack of interest in the things they typically love? Ask questions and get to the root of the problem.
-Your child complains frequently of feeling under the weather. Bullying can cause stress and anxiety in children, showing itself in many forms such as health complaints like stomachaches or headaches. It has also been hypothesized to depress immune functioning.
-Your child is experiencing frequent bad dreams. If your baby comes to you in the middle of the night complaining of bad dreams and nightmares on a frequent basis, they may be experiencing higher than normal levels of stress, which could be caused by bullying.
-Your child consistently asks to stay home from school. When your young child isn't excited to see their friends at school and wants to stay home regularly, there may be a problem. As a parent, it's time to ask some questions of the teachers and administration of the school.
-If your child has strange and mysterious signs of physical injury. Kids get hurt, there's no doubt about it. They scrape their knees and elbows, but if they begin to show signs of injuries that cannot be explained or your child is trying to hide, they may be experiencing the effects of a bully.

The signs of bullying come in many forms and are often things we do not notice right away. Staying in tune with our children can be a challenge at times, but knowing that they are safe is number one. As a mom, I understand how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day hectic role of parenting, but I also recognize that having open and honest communication with our children is a key factor in giving them the confidence to look to an adult when they need help.

If you think your child may be the victim of a bully or if you think they might be bullying another child, there are many resources that can provide support. Uncovering the signs of a bully is the responsibility of an adult and can shape the person a child becomes. Getting to the bottom of the problem is essential, as bullies are often dealing with emotional or physical stress themselves. Staying involved, informed and educated can mean the difference between stopping a bully before they really hurt someone or letting a bully go too far. As far as I am concerned, I believe it is our job to keep watch on all children for signs of bullying as some children may not feel comfortable speaking to those closest to them, however they may speak to you; a school teacher, friend, minister, sister or brother... Let's work together to keep our eyes and ears open and not let any child feel let down by our lack of awareness.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tips From Early Childhood Development Experts

It’s important to meet preschoolers where they are developmentally, instead of trying to prep them for life a dozen years down the road. If you have little ones in your life, accept how they learn best and give them the chance to learn at their own speeds.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children supports an approach to teaching that is grounded in research on how young children develop and learn, both individually and as part of a group. The NAEYC promotes young children’s optimal learning and development, and for the past several years, the group’s “Message in a Backpack” program has provided ideas for teachers to send home to parents. Here are a few ideas adapted from the program.

• Use everyday activities to build your child’s fine-motor skills – those tasks that require control of small muscles in the hands. They can be strengthened when your child sets the table, helps prepare meals, squeezes out a sponge, plays with clay or scribbles with markers. Go with your child’s interests and keep his hands working.

• Try not to get frustrated by the constant repetitions of “why?” and recognize that your child just wants to communicate with you. Repeat and extend what your child says to you. If he says, “I like lizards,” try responding with, “I know. What do you like about lizards?” Or instead of just saying “Good job” when your child presents his latest drawing, show that you appreciate his efforts: “You’ve added lots of lines and circles.” Use interesting words to build your child’s vocabulary, such as describing ice cream as “swirly” or fall leaves as “crunchy.” Get off your phone and speak clearly; your child is counting on you to help her learn how to communicate.

• Spend time outside with your family throughout the year, and try to enjoy all kinds of weather. What’s fun inside might be even more fun outdoors. Children need outdoor experiences, slow walks and trips to the playground. Point out nature all around you. Enjoy the leaves changing colors and falling down; go apple-picking or head to a pumpkin patch; bring binoculars or a magnifying glass; and tote along a bag for collecting treasures such as rocks and acorns.

• It’s not the ABCs that your child’s kindergarten teacher will be most impressed by; it’s impulse control – the ability to wait for a turn without panicking, for example, and not push in line. Practice self-control skills with your kids by following step-by-step recipes, by working puzzles together or by planting some low-maintenance flower seeds. Tell your child how long he has to wait for something, such as, “As soon as I put your sister to bed, we will read a story.” Finish what you’re doing, within reason, then respond to your child’s requests for attention.

• Read! Build a library at home with books from thrift stores, yard sales, relatives and friends. Borrow additional books from the library. Snuggling up and reading to your child each day is essential. Children are more likely to read for fun when books are readily available. Refer to letters and words in books, and show how you are reading from left to right and top to bottom on the page.

Read more here:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fun Friday: Egg Carton Spiders

What you'll need:

Black paint
Egg carton
Awl or small Phillips head screwdriver
Black pipe cleaners
Wire cutters
Wiggle eyes

How to make it:
Cut the egg carton apart into little cups/sections.
Using the awl or screwdriver, make eight holes in the bottom edge of each section for the legs.
Paint the egg carton section black. Let dry.
Cut the pipe cleaners in half.
Push the pipe cleaner in through one side of the section and out the opposite side. Bend down the legs.
Repeat for each of the legs.
Glue on wiggle eyes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Balance Exercises for Your Child

If your child is affectionately known as "the fall guy" from multiple trips and falls, balance exercises might help. Do exercises that challenge the child's balance in ways they are unaccustomed to improve their ankle, hip and trunk balance strategies. Improved balance helps sports performance, independent and safe mobility, and exercise participation. The two types of balance are static and dynamic. You need static balance to maintain your position while stationary such as when standing in line at school or sitting at a picnic table. Dynamic balance helps you maintain your position and overcome positional changes when moving as when going down a slide or roller skating. Start improving balance with static balance exercises first.
Static Balance Exercises

Impose external challenges in a variety of positions to improve children's static balance. Have the children shift their weight forward and backward while sitting in a chair. Progress to side-to-side weight shifting and from two- to single-hand support. Present objects of varying directions and distances to the children while seated. Children improve their static balance when they can hold their position while reaching beyond their base of support. This helps them overcome falls. Play volleyball or toss with a balloon while sitting on a stable surface without back support. Try to hit or toss the balloon far enough outside of their reach where they can reach it but it's still challenging. Perform the same exercises standing for more difficulty. Toss a ball or small medicine ball as they stand on one leg. The goal is to maintain their position, catch the ball and keep the opposite leg off of the ground.

Dynamic Balance Exercises

Obstacle courses are fun ways to improve dynamic balance with kids. Set up an obstacle course that involves running on unlevel surfaces, climbing up inclines and hopping. Increase the difficulty gradually and then return to less-complex activities. Start with a forward-moving simplistic activity like walking forward through a sand box barefoot. Next, have the kids climb over a barrel, followed by crawling up an incline. At the top of the incline, incorporate a hula hoop. Perform five circles of the hula hoop on each arm, leg and their whole body. Slowly add lateral movements like sidestepping on a straight line, balance beam or curb to get to the next activity. If you have access to a foam pit, have the children swing on tire swings five times and then jump off into a foam pit. Have the kids walk through the pit to get to the end of the obstacle course. For the final stations, have kids play hopscotch to the finish line. At the finish line, play statue and have the kids hold their position with their eyes closed for five seconds. You can repeat the obstacle course to increase the intensity or have kids work in teams.

Sport Specific Balance Exercises

If your child enjoys sports, then good dynamic balance is very helpful. Have your child walk a straight line or balance beam heel to toe with his eyes closed. This exercise improves dynamic balance and positional sense in the most challenging way. When your child can maintain his balance without visual feedback, they inherently know where they are in space and adjust as needed when performing stunts. Skateboarders benefit from balancing on rocker boards and wobble boards in a tandem stance simulating their foot position on a skateboard. Increase the time they stand on the board without the edges touching the floor. Progress to randomly tapping the board with your foot to challenge their ability to maintain their balance. Have kids balance with their eyes closed to advance the level of difficulty. Have pitchers stand on the dome side of a BOSU with one leg and throw a pitch with a small rubber ball or very light medicine ball into a rebounder. This exercise teaches balance on an unstable surface that is intensified by throwing into a rebounder. Catching the rebounded ball adds a challenge as the force attempts to disturb the child's position.
Special Needs Balance Exercises

Do you remember how much fun it was to ride your dad's leg like a horse when you were little? That fun activity develops and improves balance even for kids with special physical needs. Hold the child's hands or trunk to provide whatever level of support she needs without providing too much help and bounce her around. The child works hard to keep her balance to keep riding. This is appropriate for babies who can sit up independently to young school-age children. Have your child walk or crawl over couch cushions to improve dynamic balance. The cushioning responds to the movement of your child, requiring her to react to keep their balance. This improves ankle, hip and trunk strategies. The strategies are important for maintaining balance in precarious situations or with dynamic activities. Have your child sit on a stability ball at a chalk board,drawing easel, window or mirror and finger paint or color with window markers. Have her make as big of a stroke or picture as she can, which will encourage her to move outside of her base of support and regain her balance against the movement of the stability to stay on top. The child practices crossing the midline of the body in a fun way. The ability to cross midline without falling is paramount to developing and improving balance and performing functional tasks. Make or purchase a scooter board for your child to enhance balance skills. Set up cans or boxes with tops and bottoms cut out to form tubes. Play scooter board pool by scattering golf or tennis balls around the room. Have your child ride the scooter board around on her tummy to each ball to knock it into the tube. Good balance translates into good function and safe mobility for everyone.

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