Monday, November 30, 2015

The problems of a picky eater

At one point of my childhood, I stopped eating meat. It was a phase and didn't last too long, and my Mother just dealt with it by giving me lots of veggies. (Sorry, Mom!) When she tells this story today, she remarks that it was good timing because my brother was going through a phase of not eating vegetables and everything evened out.

My son is not a picky eater, but he definitely has a narrow range of foods that he will eat without complaint. And I do my best to roll with it. There are meals that I cook in full knowledge that they are just for me and my husband to enjoy (spicy foods, for example) and our son can have a simpler version or something completely different. This is even true on Thanksgiving when he ended up eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I pick my dinner battles carefully.

Even though it feels like there is a lot of extra work put into the nightly meal, I do count myself lucky that he is not a severely selective eater, as research has discovered that in addition to dealing with a limited range of foods, those children are more likely to have depression.

Please do not confuse picky eaters with severely selective eaters. That phrase is used to classify children with food preferences so intense that they usually cannot eat outside the home and their diet consists of only three to five items. Also, please note that there is only a correlation between selective eating and depression - one doesn't cause the other.

This study gives me perspective. Enough perspective that I don't mind whipping up a quesadilla when the husband and I are having chili. Dinner time should be about family time and togetherness and not a battlefield over pot roast.

What food aversions did you have when you were little? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Science says this is how you should discipline your children

Every household has a different approach on discipline, as most parents have to learn their child's personality before they can determine a policy that is effective. For us, we recognize that our son likes to talk, so we give him timeouts during which he is not allowed to talk. It may feel unfair to him, but it gets his attention and gives us a break from any unacceptable behavior.

On minor infractions, however, I've always played by the rule of "pick your battles." Letting little things go since he behaves well in the long run has worked well for me.

Recently, science has dissected children's personality types into separate categories and revealed the best way to discipline each. The odd part is that the number one recommendation is the same for all child types: Compromises are key. Whether your child is easy-going or difficult to manage, science says that you should teach them the art of compromise - sometimes they will get what they want, sometimes they won't but they will learn the way the world works.

Interesting approach.

What do you compromise with your children over? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Just say No to homework

Imagine this: School is over. Your children go to their after-school sports activity or music lesson and finally comes home. They have time to play outside and get some fresh air and sunshine. At the dinner table, everyone has time to talk about their day before retiring for their separate activities for the evening. Your children go to bed on time.

And there is no homework.

Homework has become a staple of nightly battles in families for decades. And yet, some schools are ditching homework altogether. The reasons for abandoning homework are simple: Our children are overworked. When we read studies on adults needing a break and free time to relax and tap into our own sense of creativity, we forget that the same good advice applies to children. But we can't give them that free downtime if they are busy with algebraic worksheets until well past their bedtimes.

Is homework necessary? Maybe. But probably not in the quantities that are currently given. It may be time to scale things back and focus on the areas they need help with the most.

Would your children excel or flounder if they didn't have homework? Tell me in the comments. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How are babies made?

We were eating dinner in a Chinese restaurant when my son asked me how babies were made. I swallowed my mouthful of sweet-and-sour chicken and answered him with an age-appropriate summary of how sperm and an egg join together and then grown inside a woman's womb to make a baby.

"Oh, OK." he said.

"Do you have any other questions?" I asked him.

"No," he said. And then he moved onto another topic of conversation.

Talking with your children about sex is never easy, but it is necessary. And if you start early, it makes life a little easier when your child is a teenager. A new study out of North Carolina indicates that teenagers (especially girls) are listening to their parents when it comes to discussion around sex. But the key is that parents have to start the conversation.

In addition to talking early and often, one of the other key tips for parents is that they should focus more on being a resource for their children and less of an interrogator. So, instead of asking your teen if they are having sex, ask them if they have access to birth control if they need it.

One big tip is to not share stories from your own sex life, because NO child wants to think about their parents having sex. Ever.

What sex education tips have you learned when talking with your children? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Teens spend more time on media than sleeping

I work nine hours a day. From around 8:30 until 5:30 (if I am paying attention to the alert that tells me to leave), I am answering emails, rescheduling projects, attending meetings, straightening out issues over the phone and reading more emails through lunch. Nine hours.

And that is the same amount of time the average teen is spending on media. Nine hours seems like a really long time (and it is longer than most teens sleep at night), so it is important to note that the "media" label on that link includes online videos and music, so there could be some overlap as a teenager consumes more than one form of online services at a time. But that is still a lofty number.

I have often thought about my son's future media use. About the conversations I will have with him around his device use (that it will have a bedtime) and the agreements that he will limit the amount of time he spends on screens so that he remembers to go outside and play. I've even had that internal discussion with myself about using services and apps to monitor his device use and the messages he is sending to insure he is using them responsibly.

But I know that I can't keep up with nine hours of monitoring.

It's inevitable that there will be times when I don't know what he is doing online, and I am prepared to accept that. My fear, however, remains.

How do you keep track of your child's online activities when you can barely keep track on your own? Tell me in the comments.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

When mom and dad are your roommates

I have returned to my Mother's nest twice in my life. The first time was right after college, when I stayed there for three months to search for my first job. The second time was when job situations caused me to live apart from my husband and I was pregnant and no one wanted me living on my own. I was fortunate that both times my Mom and Step-Dad were there to take me in and take care of me.

And it turns out, a lot of us are fortunate. So fortunate, in fact, that there are more women living with their parents now than there were in 1940. The reasons for returning to the nest will sound familiar: Saving money to buy a house, just left college and don't have the career in place yet or undergoing a career change. The difference between now and 1940, is that single women in this age are more likely to be college educated and are not waiting on a marriage proposal to move them out of their parents' home.

There is a downside to all of this, of course. Some parents are not set up to have their fledgling children return to them so quickly upon leaving and all parties have to learn to live together as adults instead of a parent/child relationship. There is also the notion that it is hard for many young adults to admit that they still need help from Mom and Dad.

I, for one, am grateful that my parents are there to take me in if I need them to.

Could you live with your parents again in their house? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

But Mommy likes to read at bedtime

In the evenings, my wonderful husband supervises our son's bath activities and I am the one who gets to read to him at night. I don't remember how this started. I don't think we made any sort of agreement or arrangement around it - it may have been a natural progression of my cleaning up after dinner, him taking the little guy upstairs for bed, and our son liking to snuggle with me more (generally speaking).

But according to some new Harvard research, my husband should be the one reading to our son at bedtime. When I read books to my son at night, I ask him questions, like "What do you think the main character is feeling right now?" or "Do you remember where we are in the story? What was the last thing that happened?" But, when men ask stories, they focus more on ones that test a child's imagination, such as "Look at that bear, do you remember the time that we saw the bear at the zoo?"

Add all of this to the list of questions provided by the school that I am supposed to be asking my son to help him determine things like the book's setting and the author's purpose in writing the story. (Think about that last one for a moment. That's a hard one to answer for a Captain Underpants book.)

Here's the thing: I love reading to my son. And although I know my husband does a great job at it, I am not ready to give it up yet. I will happily incorporate more imaginative questions into my readings as long as I don't have to give up that special time I have with my son for an end-of-the-day snuggle.

Who does the majority of reading with the children in your family? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let's talk about cake for a minute

When was the last time you had a nice piece of cake? Was it at a celebration? Or maybe it was after a nice dinner out with family or friends? Whatever the event, you probably remember it really well, because it turns out that eating sweets is linked to episodic memories.

Most cakes are sweet (hopefully), and it is that sweetness that helps cement memories into your brain - the details, the people you were with, and other particulars around the event. This explains why you can probably remember the details of the conversation you had with your friends over a shared slice of cake at lunch four years ago, but can't remember the details of the phone call you participated in while eating lunch at your desk.

I just love the idea that the authors who originated this study were trying to research eating behaviors and patterns, but they ended up with the reason why we all like to have cake at birthday parties.

Obviously (and somewhat sadly), cake is not appropriate for every meal. But it is good information to keep in mind. If you want someone to remember something: Let them eat cake.

What is your favorite kind of cake? Tell me in the comments. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Determining Mom's favorite

Most siblings have had the argument over who Mom's favorite child is. To the non-favorite child, the choice is obvious. but the favorite will usually still claim that they are not the one (even when everyone knows they are). As we've learned before, the favorite child can change over time, depending on how similar/dissimilar a child is to their parent in terms of social and political views.

There is actually an easy but sad way to tell which child is Mom's favorite: It will be the child most prone to depression.

Through a long-term study, researchers were able to determine that the child who feels as though they are the closest emotionally to their Mother, is also the child who feels that they have disappointed their Mother the most. And it is that perception of disappointment which leads to mild depression in children.

Researchers don't have insight into Father's favorites and how that affects their children (maybe they are working on that next), but that is something to keep in mind: It's hard to be the favorite child.

Are you your parents' favorite child? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The fatherhood bonus/the motherhood penalty

Congratulations, you're having a baby!

You are now seen as a more stable employee - after all, you now have a family to provide for. You'll be earning more money and you have just gotten an edge on any promotions.

If you're a man.

If you're a woman, your child has instantly turned you into an unstable employee, because clearly you'll be taking tons of time off for childcare reasons and your mind will never be 100% on the job again.

I am really sad to share that the above scenarios reflect the latest gender-based wage gap study by PayCheck. Although many people will point out that there are things women need to do to close the gap (like learn to negotiate a better salary) the truth is that the gap still exists.

I read the PayCheck study after reading Pew's latest findings that both parents work outside the home in almost half of all U.S. two-parent families. As part of the study, Pew asked respondents if having a family impeded career advancement: While 2 out of 10 working fathers agreed with the statement, 4 out of 10 women did

This is not normally the kind of good news I like to end my week on, but the numbers don't lie. Have you ever experienced the fatherhood bonus or the motherhood penalty? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Renting some motherly advice

When I was in high school, I returned home one day to find my Mother with a baby. My Mom loves children and it was quite possible that she had finally stolen someone's baby since I was almost out of the house and she needed someone new to need her. In reality, it didn't really surprise me to learn she was babysitting for one of her coworkers. At the time, it was a little strange to see my Mom with a baby - the way she nuzzled and smiled and cared for the baby was really sweet and very surreal for me. I was her baby, so I never really got to see her in "full-on Mom mode."

Of course my Mom looked totally natural to me when many years later I watched her nuzzle my son.

I am fortunate to have a great relationship with my Mom. Let me put it this way: When I need my Mom's advice, I send her a text or give her a call. My Mom is good about balancing the line of motherly advice and letting me figure things out on my own. I'm lucky to have her (thanks, Mom!)

And although I am all for spreading the wealth of knowledge in this world, I am not sure how I would feel if I found out she was renting out her Mom services to other people. But there is at least one woman out there who is a rent-a-Mom. Need an objective opinion, someone to just listen to you navigate a problem or want someone to tell you everything is going to be OK? You can pay for Mom expertise by the hour.

I get it: If you do not have a Motherly figure in your life, then my heart goes out to you. Everyone should experience that relationship for all its highs and its lows. They should have a world of memories of when life isn't fair and of when they couldn't have gotten through something on their own. For many adults that role gets filled by many people in our lives, but no one probably does it the way your own Mom does.

What Mom skills do you think you could rent out by the hour? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How happy are you really?

As mentioned before, when I have a bad day I sometimes play a little game with myself called, "When Mom was my age." For example: When my Mom was my age she had a 16-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. She worked a physically and mentally demanding job with long hours and a long commute - often not getting home until after midnight and had to figure out ways to have one-on-one connections with her two teenagers during the weekends. (Thanks, Mom!)

My life always seems much peachier by comparison, and yet, there is a possibility that my Mom was happier overall than I am now.

Researchers have published details of what they are terming the "Happiness Advantage" in the latest issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science. The report states that generally speaking people in their thirties used to be a much happier group than tweens and teens. In recent years, that happiness level has shifted: More teenagers are self-identifying as happy and fewer thirty-somethings are claiming to be satisfied with life.

Although there is a lot of speculation as to what is bringing us down these days - everything from economic instability over the last decade to the pressures of the interconnection of the world and keeping up with social networks - there is some good news to keep in mind: One-third of us are still reporting that we are very happy people.

To me, happiness is what you make it out to be. Is every day of my life 100% happy? No, of course not. But I try to focus on the moments that are instead of complain about the moments that weren't.

Life's too short to spend it unhappy.

What makes you truly happy? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I hope my son doesn't read this post

I was attempting to beat my Dad in our ongoing tournament of Words With Friends when my son inserted himself onto my lap and asked, "Are you looking at The Twitter? Can I see?"

This is my fault. I follow Sesame Street and The Muppets and sometimes I share their videos with him. I explained that I was just trying to win a game against his Pap-Pap.

"I guess I'll have to ask Santa to get me a phone for Christmas. Or maybe even an iPad," he said.

"I don't think Santa delivers those kinds of gifts to children your age, honey," I said. "I think you have to be older and more responsible."

Clearly, I was wrong.

Research published in Pediatrics last month discovered that across 350 households half the children had their own television and three-fourths their own mobile device. That's not a device that they share with other family members - that's a device for their own use. Here's the kicker: All those households had children under the age of four.

To me, that is madness.

I believe I am pretty good about not handing my phone to my son. He gets to sing and talk to us during car rides and we play with the UNO cards I keep in my purse while waiting for dinner in restaurants. I've also made sure he doesn't know my phone's unlock code, so we maintain control over the toothbrushing app he sometimes uses.

I know that he loves playing video games - and it's not that we deny him that joy in life. He is allowed to play Wii (after he finishes all his homework and on weekends only) and he has a LeapPad. Maybe I am too controlling, but I think another device to play games on is the last thing my five-year-old needs.

Does your child have their own mobile device? How old was your child when you gave it to him/her? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Increasing your rainy day fund

For most people, it's because of the car: New tires, a new belt, a broken thing-a-ma-bobber. Whatever the issue, it is not covered by insurance and the out-of-pocket cost is well over $500. And, unfortunately, it is taking us longer to recover from the financial blow to our budget.

Pew Charitable Trusts has released a study indicating that millennials are more susceptible to financial crises than other generations because of their lack of savings and high debts. Put simply: They don't have a big enough rainy day fund to cover life's little emergencies, because they are too busy paying down existing debts.

But it's not just the car bringing us down: Medical expenses, home repairs and a cut in income due to reduced hours are also making it harder for young families to bounce back to financial stability.

It's not easy to create a rainy day fund when all your money goes to living expenses, but there are ways to do it. It may mean that you have to make some hard choices, and hopefully you won't wait until you've been hit with a financial emergency to get started.

What tips do you have to save money? Share them with me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'm talking to myself

My son is in his room, talking away. He is talking about exploring a cave and there is treasure in the cave and he will need to gather some weapons to fight off any monsters or dragons that are guarding the treasure. But not the pet dragon that he has - that one he will not need to fight off, because it is a guard dragon similar to the pet tigers that guard his secret lair...It is quite an elaborate setup for a game. But, the truth remains: He is talking to himself.

My son has always been a bit of a talker, so I have accepted the fact that sometimes I can't tell if he is talking to me or if he is talking to himself (even when we are in the same room). He has been a talker since babyhood when he made adorably cute screeching sounds that were similar to what a baby pterodactyl must have produced when looking for its mother.

But in the baby sounds department, he wasn't alone: Evidently all babies like the sound of their own babble. Researchers who were working with babies who had some hearing defects, noticed that once babies were given a cochlear implant to improve their hearing, they started babbling more. In fact, they started babbling just as much as babies who didn't have hearing problems.

So, babies like the sound of their own voices. And, as we all know, the more they babble, the better they get at talking. From there you are on your own to determine who they are talking to.

Do you ever talk to yourself? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finding the time to eat

Every evening when I come home from work, I ask my son about his lunch. Most days he gives it high praise: "It was double fantastic awesome!" Some days he gives me helpful criticism: "Please pack the crackers and the cheese separately so the crackers don't get soggy." Our deal is that he has to bring home everything that he didn't eat so I can make sure that he is consuming enough healthy food.

One day he brought home more than half his lunch, because he didn't have enough time to eat it all. His lunch that day had required some assembly on his part, but in retrospect, I could see how he had difficulty in assembling and devouring it during lunchtime.

In my son's school, they only get 20 minutes for lunch. And I worry that the short window of time is encouraging him to eat too fast (which I already have a problem with). But at least I am sure he is getting the full 20 minutes.

A study of Seattle schools across one district found that none of the schools gave their students the required 20 minute break for lunch. The study discovered that the average eating time clocked in at 13 minutes.

That is clearly not enough time to eat.

There are lots of rules in my son's school (like silent lunches) that force students to focus on eating. And my son is still in love with the fact that he brings a packed lunch to school every day, so he doesn't have to spend his eating time selecting his hot lunch. All of this reading about short lunches now makes me pay attention to what I am packing: Easy-open containers, no assembly required and portion control have become my routine. If I do my job right, he won't be ravenously hungry by the end of the day.

How long does it take you to eat lunch? Share with me in the comments. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Life without preschool

My son is a product of preschool. My husband and I both work and our parents are either too far away or they also work and were not able to watch him for us. So, off to school he went. It was crazy expensive, but the costs of him going outweighed the cost of me quitting my job. And, thankfully, he loved it. In preschool he learned most of what his teacher is covering now in Kindergarten.

He is happy and we are happy.

Right now a lot of people are discussing the idea of affordable universal preschool - preschool available to all children. There are some studies that say it will be great, there are some studies that point out children do worse later on in life, but this Slate article points out the major sticking point: No one is asking working parents how they feel about it.

For a lot of U.S. families it is not about choice: They both have to work. And if they are working, they shouldn't have the added stress of worrying if their child is in a safe environment.

I'm trying to think about what our family life would have been like if I had to quit my job and stay home to watch our son. Of course, I would have done it, but I am not sure he would be as advanced socially as he is today. I am also not sure what our family finances would look like. And I am definitely not sure of how my return to the workforce would look like now.

It's a personal issue for most families, but the main point is that families are going to need to be asked how they feel before we can move forward.

Did your child attend a preschool and do you feel it was worth it? Tell me in the comments.