Friday, July 31, 2015

Avoiding everything that is cool

When you become a parent, you are instantly not cool anymore. It doesn't matter what type of diaper bag, high-tech stroller or lifestyle you still try to maintain: You have oatmeal in your hair and you are carrying around the tools needed to clean up someone else's poop. (Please stop deluding yourself - you just aren't cool now.)

But hopefully, you are OK with that. Hopefully you have learned that being cool is not all it's cracked up to be. Especially if you are only 13.

In this (frankly scary) long-term study of behavior over a decade, researchers watched 13-year-olds who were defined as cool by their peers and their behaviors over a decade, and determined that in most instances, life didn't turn out that well for them. The rush into what the study defines as "psuedomature behaviors" at 13 set those children up for trouble in their 20s. The children who were earmarked as cool at the onset of their teenage years tended to have the following characteristics:
  • A collection of attractive friends
  • More intense and frequent romantic relationships
  • Brushes with minor delinquency (like skipping school)
But a decade later, most of the children in the study were still chasing popularity and faced lives where they were stuck remembering their glory days and failing to grow up.

It's important to note that not all of the cool kids at the beginning of the study struggled to find their place in the world a decade later. Several children were able to refocus their lives with the help and guidance of their families.

So, how do we help our tweens learn that being cool is not the goal? Here are a few tips:
  • Encourage your child's friendships with lots of different people.
  • Don't turn them into little fashionistas and trend-setters.
  • Talk about the values you have as a family and then lead by example.
  • Let them watch The Breakfast Club. (What? It's a great movie. I know that it is rated R, but that is a rating from 1985, and it teaches empathy.)
What are your tips for avoiding coolness at all costs? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Drinking from the garden hose

Every summer morning, my brother and I would look at the thermometer near the kitchen door. If the thermometer said it was 74 degrees outside, then we were allowed to wear shorts. It was a big deal.
And like most children in the small town we grew up in, we were sent outside to play for most of the day. We would get hot and couldn't be bothered to run into the house and get a drink from the kitchen (and we really didn't want Mom to see the mud on our new shoes) so we would drink from the garden hose.

Yes, I know that is disgusting. But as I child, I didn't think about dirt or germs or anything like that. I just thought: I'm thirsty. Here's water. It's somewhat cold.

But at least I drank water when I was hot. Because a recent study by Harvard researchers have determined that children are not drinking enough water. Through urine analysis of around 4,000 children, the study found that around 50% of children were dehydrated, with boys being more dehydrated than girls.

After all those years of carrying plastic water bottles around with me before switching to a permanent greener version, I think it is beyond time for me to remember to pass it over to my son and make sure he takes a good long drink.

It's hard to teach a child to stop and listen to their bodies and see if they are thirsty, especially when they are running around playing outside. I don't recommend that they use a garden hose either. For me, I think I am going to focus on the color of his pee.

He's five now - he thinks potty humor is funny, so telling him to watch out for dark yellow pee fits right into our lives. And, because he talks so much, he'll probably tell strangers all about it, which might make them wonder if they are dehydrated too.

Come on - admit it. You drank from the garden hose, too, didn't you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paying for your future philosophy major

In college I had a roommate that was a history major. I have nothing against history. History is important; we learn from our past; it's good to remember where you've come from. However, her goal in life was to get a job working within airport administration. If you are wondering how a degree in history relates to that goal, then you are not alone.

Maybe she had a cushion to fall back on.

Researchers from Cornell University found a relationship between family income and chosen degrees. Students who came from wealthier families tended to chose humanitarian degrees like those in history or English; those who came from lower-income households chose to study fields where they could easily apply their degrees to a job like criminal justice or engineering.

The researchers had several speculative reasons for the divergent groups which include:
  • Lower-income students are less likely to attend elementary and high schools with humanities-enrichment programs, so they are not given the opportunity to foster a love of those subjects early on.
  • Higher-income students are more likely to pursue graduate degrees, and so they have more freedom with their undergraduate studies.
  • Lower-income students are reminded that their education is important (and costly) so they want to get the maximum benefit from their degrees and enter the job market as soon as possible.
  • Higher-income students know that there is a fall-back plan in place if their degree didn't net them a job right away.
From my time at college, I noticed that there were two distinct trends to people picking majors, as well. So maybe the question comes down to what you believe about college as a family: Do you encourage your child to go to college to get a better job or do you encourage your child to go to college to pursue their passions in life and worry about a job later?

Which side of the divide do you fall on? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dear Facebook friends: Is blue poop normal?

There is a moment in most modern parents' lives, when you will find that your parenting instincts fail you. It's not a happy moment and you certainly aren't ready for it, but there it is.

And most parents (around 75%), when faced with the unanswerable quandaries that children create, will turn to their social media friends for help and advice.

In another time, we would have called our parents, or reached out to friends one-on-one, but because we are all so connected, it makes sense to just pose the query of the day on our social media group and hope someone has been there and done that and holds the answer.

I can see the appeal: There is something really comforting about knowing there is help whenever you need it and that you probably aren't experiencing a new issue. 

But there is a dark side, as well. What if you notice that you are the only person who is posting questions or has parenting problems because everyone else is only posting the best and brightest projections of their lives (Allison chose broccoli over chocolate today!)

Or what if the question is a little too embarrassing, and you find that you really don't want to ask your friends if blue poop is normal in toddlers.

(Sidebar: It's fine. Just lay off drinks with too much food dye.)

Like most things in life, it just comes down to personal preference: If you take comfort from asking for help, then ask. If you find yourself making unpleasant comparisons about your life and everyone else's...then you should probably just call your Mom.

What's the last parenting question you asked your social media group for help with? Share in the comments.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Planning to outlast your partner

The other day I heard a comedian say that a successful marriage is when one partner gets to watch the other partner die first. Yes, that is pretty morbid, but it is also true: Marriage vows even state "til death do us part."
And most of the time, it is the wife who is still around at the end of the marriage - but why is that?

Most of us have read the statistics somewhere: Married men live longer than unmarried men (because they have a partner to take care of them), but overall, women tend to outlive men. 

Interestingly, as science has discovered (thanks, science!), women's longevity over men is a relatively new development. It turns out that up until the 19th century, men and women had similar life expectancies. Researchers started zeroing in on deaths after that time frame for people between the ages of 40 and 90 (to account for war and focus instead on chronic diseases); they found that cardiovascular disease and smoking were the main causes of men dying before women. Men are two to three times more likely to die in their 50s and 60s than their female counterparts.

Researchers also found that the shift to diets with a higher concentration of fats may cause more damage to male arteries than female arteries (or that women tend not to incorporate that food into their diets as much and are able to keep their arteries cleaner).

If all this is true, then it is preventable. So with a willing partner to make some changes, maybe women can help their men live a little longer.

Who is the healthier person in your marriage? Share in the comments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The going rate for the tooth fairy

I made the mistake of Googling the phrase "tooth fairy rates" the other day and I was frightened. Depending on the area of the country, some children are receiving anywhere from $5 - $13 per tooth.

These are teeth, right? They aren't little nuggets of gold.

Parents leaving the big bucks cite everything from peer pressure to inflation to justify leaving the exorbitant amount of money on behalf of the fairy. Those happen to be the same reasons why parents are giving children way more allowance money - an average of $35 per week for school-aged children - than they received as children.

I'm all for giving children money and allowances and teaching them about financial responsibility, but I think there is a balance that needs to be maintained.

In my view, yes, give children an allowance and also give them opportunities to earn extra cash. But also make them save up for what they want. Don't feel pressured by what your kid's friend gets every week.

And as for the tooth fairy, I may have to go another route. I like the idea of giving out Sacagawea dollars, silver dollars or two dollar bills out much more than the thought of forking over large amounts of cash. 

What does the tooth fairy leave in exchange for those precious baby teeth in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Can your marriage stand on one leg?

I am a flamingo. I am standing perfectly still in flamingo pose with one foot firmly rooted to the ground and the other balanced away from my body. I breathe in. I breathe out. I am calm and pleased by my ability to stay so centered.

I used to thank all those yoga classes for my sense of balance, but maybe it comes from my great marriage.
In one of the more bizarre studies I've read, there is new research to suggest that the ability to balance on one leg may be a good indicator of the stability of your intimate relationship. In several tests around the field of embodied cognition (the interconnection between our emotions and our physiology), researchers scanned brain activities while participants read varying emotional messages while holding hot or cold packs.

I've read that last bit of science before - people who drink warm beverages in the morning (coffee, tea) are more likely to have warm feelings to others in the mornings, as opposed to people who drink cold beverages. And some people are just mean in the mornings no matter what they are drinking.

But this study took things one step further and had half a couple stand on one leg while answering questions about their relationship, and then they had to write a short message to their partners. The other person that got to stand on two feet had warmer messages to their loved ones than those who had to keep balanced while answering questions. But those with really strong relationships had warm messages no matter how they were standing - the instability of their stances didn't translate into any instabilities in their relationship.

So, there you have it: For a happy relationship, keep both feet on the ground.

What keeps your marriage happy? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, July 20, 2015

You are in trouble - go watch television

My son loves to travel. He likes car activities, gets excited about homemade trail mix and hotels are the best thing ever. Except for the television. He hates hotel television: Mommy never knows the channels, there are commercials and he can't request shows to watch. I tried telling him that hotel TV is the way all television used to be. He doesn't believe me, but I tell him anyway.

But even if we were forced to only have old-style television in our lives again, I still wouldn't consider it a punishment.

Which is why I am a little perplexed at the Miner & Co. Studio study which found some parents use television as a punishment. I'm trying to think through this one: You are a parent and your child has spent too much time on their tablet, so you make them come into the living room and watch television instead. (Am I the only one not getting this?) There are many theories around removal of a personal device being enough of a deterrent, so I do not understand why the television is even involved.

The study, which was really pointing out the prevailing use of personal tablets, also discovered that children would choose time with a tablet or iPad over dessert.

I'm hoping that my son never hears about this study. Right now his punishment is time out - without any sort of viewing device within his reach. And I'd like to keep it that way.

Do you ensure your children have breaks from screentime every day? How long are their breaks? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, July 17, 2015

And from the backseat, I hear, "huh?"

I am putting dinner on the table and call my son to the meal. From upstairs, I hear him respond, "huh?"

We are in the pasta aisle at the store and I ask my son what type of noodles we should get. He looks up at me from the cart and says, "huh?"

I am driving my son to school and we are talking about his upcoming field trip. I ask him who he wants to be his buddy for the day. And from the backseat, I hear, "huh?"

The sane part of my brain knows that he has been sick and that his ears are probably clogged. The crazy part of my brain hopes that my son will one day hear me the first time that I speak.

Basically, I am tired of his automatic response to me being, "huh?" So I am working on communication skills - for both of us.
  • I wait until we are in the same room to talk. This sounds obvious, but think about how many times you are talking to someone who isn't in the same room as you.
  • Focus all my attention on him when he talks. No more distracted Mommy half paying attention as he tells me a story. This one is hard: I am really good about not using media devices while he is talking to me, but sometimes I am focused on cooking or something else.
  • Make sure I have his attention before I start talking to him. That includes getting down on his level and having him face me while we talk. Or, if we are in the car, asking him if he can hear me from his seat.
  • I've stopped repeating things. If we are having a conversation and all of the above steps have been followed and he still misses out what I've said the first time, then I am not going to repeat myself.
So far it seems to be working, which makes sense, since children mimic their parents behaviors. If we want our children to be good listeners than we need to be good listeners to them.

(Also: He is better and his ears have unclogged, so that definitely helps.)

What tips do you have to help create better listeners? Share them in the comments.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How old are you really?

A few months ago, a couple of coworkers were trying to figure out my age. Eventually, one of them just came out and asked me. Several of them thought I was significantly younger than I actually am. I know this is not because of the way I look (I think I look my age), but rather because of the energy level that I have.

I have my good days and I have my bad days. I wish that I had taken better care of my health in my twenties, but I am trying to make up for it in my thirties. As it turns out, good health for any age group is in a state of flux, since we are all aging differently.

We've all been there - we've met someone who appears significantly older or younger than we are, only to find out they are the same age as us. And we all wonder at the decisions in life they made to make them look that way.

The study on the link above took a look at the health of individuals and compared their "biological age" to their "chronological age" to see what the effects of sun exposure, smoking and stress did to various bodies. The researchers in the study discovered that those who scored as "biologically older" scored lower on IQ and strength tests. Those who scored higher were found to take better care of themselves.

I think that beyond the basics of being healthy, a lot of acting younger has to do with your state of mind. I act young and I feel young. And thankfully, I work in an environment where I am allowed to have fun (which couldn't hurt, right?).

What about you? What activities do you think keep you young? Tell me about them in the comments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We are not good with words

Once upon a time, I read 100 books in a year. And I loved it. (Seriously. Try it.) Right now I am having my son read a book every night.

Every night before he goes to bed, my son reads me a book at bedtime and I read him three. I try to get him to read a different book every night, but sometimes we repeat them (I mean, we do have a lot of books in the house, but I am not sure we have 365 of them at his reading level.)

But the point of reading together isn't just about his reading to me. It's also about me reading to him. And for the books that I read him, I choose ones that are several levels above his, and we have found our pace: If we hit a word he doesn't know, he asks me what it is and we stop frequently to check his comprehension.

And stretching his vocabulary is what it is all about. In this study by researchers at the University of Santa Cruz, it was determined that we are lazy talkers. Although talking to children is a great idea to get them to start talking, the study found that we don't use the same rich vocabulary and syntax that is found in books.

So we read. And it works. I know that it works when I hear my son using words that he heard from a previous night's book. Or when I ask him to summarize a story and he hits all the major plot points. It works in the way that he is starting to request more complex stories from me at bedtime.

Guess we'll be hitting up our used book store before summer is out.

What was one of your favorite books as a child? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Why I carry a large purse

We are at a restaurant. We have just placed our order and my son is not interested in the activities on the children's menu. There is only one solution: The cards in Mommy's purse.

For the record, I carry two sets of cards in my purse. There is a regular deck, which we've never actually used, and an UNO deck which we use quite often. As we wait for our food, we deal the cards and play a few rounds. It passes the time and tends to make the servers smile when they check on our table.

I started carrying cards in my purse a few years ago after waiting a particularly long time for our food. Before UNO (my son was four when he learned to play) I carried other items to keep him occupied - crayons, paper and activity packs. I was thankful when I switched those items out for the relatively small deck of cards.

As a Mom, I've carried a lot of extra items in my purse - straws, extra diapers, toys, wipes and snacks. A deck of cards? That's easy.

And I've found that a deck of cards far beats the alternative. Sometimes I look around the restaurant and I see what our lives could be: There are children playing with smartphones and tablets at the dinner table. And that is not what I want for us.

So, for those parents who are looking for activities to distract their children at dinner or for those parents who default to the smartphone while they wait for dinner to arrive, I have one suggestion: A deck of cards. Just try it and see what happens.

(We all know you have room in your purse to carry them.)

Why do you carry a large purse? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The case for more home economics classes

Like many people, once I established my own home away from my parents and started my own job, I started to think about how my education had failed me. Yes, I had many years of dedicated schooling around math and science and communications, but some basics alluded me. I knew how to cook, for example, (thanks, Mom!), but I didn't know how to use a drill (I should have taken shop class). I could balance my checkbook, but didn't have the first clue of how to do my own taxes (clearly this was before we had online banking).

I thought that instead of making government and economics the required classes for graduating in my state, students would have been better off with a beefed-up version of home economics that somehow also taught basic home maintenance.

As it turns out, home economics classes (or as they are often referred to today - family and consumer sciences classes) are so popular today that they can't find enough good teachers - especially in the Midwest.

The article also points out how much the classes have evolved over the years: not only are they now popular with both genders, but they have practical applications to real life. So, a home economics class taught to city students may not be the same for rural students, but all students are still taught how to make a budget.

What elective did I take instead of home economics?

If you could go back to school and take a class you missed out on, what would it be? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The many tests of marriage

Sometimes, younger unmarried women will ask me for relationship advice. I have been married to the love of my life for almost seven years, and we were together for 12 years before we got married. And so I am very honest when I talk about the tests of love.

There are lots of big things that will test love: job loss, infidelity, long-distance, difficult family members. But the important tests are ones that you can put yourself through long before you get to the altar. Tests like:
  1. Go shopping together. Preferably at a store like Ikea where you are forced to spend hours together in a giant maze looking at furniture and having discussions around the type of home you'd like to have together.
  2. Move together. You don't have to move in together, you just have to go through the stress of packing up all your belongings, getting a truck, schlepping all your stuff across town and then unpacking it all without losing your temper at the other person who helps you every step of the way. Bonus points for moving in any sort of extreme weather: Snow, rain, crazy heat, hurricane.
  3. Take care of your partner when they are sick. Really sick - beyond a cold. Make sure that you can tolerate their level of helplessness and still love them when they get better.
  4. Talk about money.
That last one is a big one, because money is still sort of a taboo topic these days. How much you make, how in debt you are, what kind of decisions you make about your money - all those topics need to be understood by both parties before taking a relationship to the next level.

And yet, so few of us do that. A recent study released by TD Bank discovered that most couples still fall into traditional gender roles with men taking the lead in family finances.

I get it - money is hard to talk about. At a time when recent graduates still have crippling debt and low job prospects, it is hard to talk to your loved one about what is in your bank account. But, if you ever want to be able to talk to your children about money, you need to make sure you are on the same page as your spouse.

Who takes the lead in managing your family finances? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Staying inside the lines

Throughout college, I kept a secret. There was something that I liked to do to relieve stress, but only when my roommate wasn't around. (I didn't want her judging me.) But I often found myself around exams week taking a break from my studies and taking a few minutes out of my day to color.

I had a few children's coloring books stashed in my drawer, and it wasn't because I liked Hello Kitty or My Little Pony. It was because I couldn't find any coloring books for adults, so I made due with that cat (I refuse to acknowledge that it is a little girl playing dress up) and horses with butt tattoos.

Once my son got old enough to color, I was quite happy to color along with him, because any outsiders would know that I was coloring for my son and not just because I liked it. But the good news is that adults can color freely in the open now. As this Quartz article explains, there are now many adult-oriented coloring books featuring art and designs instead of princesses and dragons. And many studies agree: Coloring helps relieve stress. Studies show that the simple act of coloring allows the mind to enter a meditative state and relax. As long as you don't get too stressed out if you go outside the lines, then coloring will give you the mellow mood you are searching for.

So, it's time for me to buy some of my own coloring books and crayons, and engage in a little stress relief with pride. Color me happy!

What's your favorite color? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Do you really want a child prodigy?

I consider my son to be smart. He is a great reader, communicator, budding scientist and explorer. I love the way he tackles new topics that interest him, and I don't mind when he bails on subjects that bore him. He has that kind of crazy chaotic nature that all five-year-old boys display, but is able to focus on building with his Legos for hours.

I am so happy that he is not a prodigy.

Let me explain: Although it would be wonderful for him to have some sort of natural, ingrained talent within a particular field, I am not sure I could handle the dedication and sacrifice it would take to nurture that talent. After reading this article on what it takes to be the parent of a high-achieving child, I am not sure I would be willing to move our family, take on a second job or become a training coach in addition to the normal set of daily parenting duties.

There is an intensity to the family dynamic in that linked article - those parents have dedicated their lives to their children - that I am not sure I could sustain. (I remember taking ballet for more than 12 years before giving it up and my Mom's disappointment at that - and I was no prodigy. Sorry, Mom!) I also can't imagine what the family dynamic is like if you have more than one child but only one of them is the family prodigy.

There's enough pressure on being a child already.

So, I will continue to let my son try any sport he wants, to make paper airplanes on weekends and to see if he can ride his bike faster than Mommy can run. I am happy with our life full of a little bit of everything.

What is one talent that you wish you were able to nurture more? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, July 3, 2015

That time I got burnt by a sparkler

As the Fourth of July arrives, I am filled with childhood memories of summer: going to camp and catching fireflies, of riding bikes and when Dad fired up the grill because it was too hot for Mom to use the oven every night. I can even remember the one summer there was a lunar eclipse and I was allowed to stay up and watch it.

What I don't remember is the time that I got burnt by a sparkler. As the story goes, it was the Fourth of July and there was a celebration at our house and all the children were given sparklers. At one point, a lit sparkler went down my shirt and there was a lot of screaming and a rush of adults trying to help. To this day I have no memory of this event or any scars from the sparkler.

Which makes me lucky, I guess. And because I've heard the story so many times, it also makes me wary: I haven't given my son sparklers at any point in his life so far, and am probably not going to start anytime soon. For him, the Fourth of July means that there will be fireworks that can be watched from the backyard, lots of glowsticks to wear and brighten up the night and (hopefully) a giant squirt gun battle with family in the backyard. No sparklers required.

What I'm trying to say is: Be safe this holiday.

Do you have any holiday mishaps to share? Tell me about them in the comments.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

You gotta stick with your lie

My son is not a good bluffer. Every time we play UNO, he lets out shouts of  "yes!" and "you guys are going down!" in reaction to the cards that he is dealt. And when I do catch him in a lie, he has at least a dozen little fidgety facial ticks and moves that gives him away.

Yes, we teach our children the importance of being honest; yes, they lie to us anyway. But there is an upside: Lies may help boost a child's memory.

Let's break this one down: A good liar needs to think on their feet, remember details, sound convincing and - above all - stick with their lie. And that requires a good memory. So it isn't all that surprising that research reported in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that children who were skilled liars tested higher in memory and verbal creativity tests.

Children lie for a variety of reasons - to avoid blame, to get out of conversations and even to avoid hurting someone else's feelings. The important thing is to make honesty a cornerstone of your family. Here are some tips to pave the way:
  • Don't lie to them. If you want them to be honest with you, be honest with them.
  • Don't scold for telling the truth. Even if they are in trouble, point out that you are glad they told you the truth.
  • Differentiate between truths and lies. Especially those gray areas.
  • Teach them better language. "Thank you for the sweater," is a much nicer statement than "I think this sweater is hideous." Both may be true, but only one is more appropriate to say to your Great Aunt Bessie.
  • Give them creative outlets. Bolster their memories through storytelling, games and other forms of expression.
  • Cut them some slack. They are going to lie to you. It happens. Move on.
 What have you caught your little angel fibbing over recently? Dish the dirt in the comments.