Getting Kids Used to a Stepmother

Getting kids used to a stepmother is the kind of thing people dread—and with good reason. Whether the new stepmother comes into the picture after divorce or death, she’s seen by the children as a usurper: someone who stole the real mom’s place. Someone who sleeps with their dad. Even if a child has longed for a new mom, it’s awkward letting this new person into your everyday life with all its small intimacies. This situation requires major adjustment.

Mothers are sacrosanct, irreplaceable. And you’d be surprised at the strength of a child’s loyalty and rebellion against any attempts to offer a substitute. Even where the child maintains a good relationship with the biological mom, there’s bound to be a defensive reaction against a stepmother’s attempts to fit in.

Stepmother as Cool Aunt

When she became a stepmother, Jessica Thompson of California adopted a mantra that served her well: Don’t try to be Mom. Thompson found it was better to think of the stepmother to stepchild relationship as “different.” “The child may want to relate to you as a mother, but not necessarily. Do not force the issue, or take it personally if she never embraces you as a mother. You don’t have the same standing as a mother, so don’t try to discipline as if you are one,” says Thompson, who suggests the natural, biological parent take the lead when it comes to the difficult area of rules and discipline.

“Sometimes stepmoms get the awesome deal of being the ‘fun,’ ‘cool,’ or neutral parent. Aiming for a ‘cool aunt’ type of relationship is a good initial goal. I quickly became the confidante, and a safe place for my stepdaughter to voice frustrations when things got challenging with dad, or at school, and that was a really rewarding relationship. You can be a neutral escape valve and voice of reason, as well as be the one to take the lead in fun activities,” says Thompson.

Age Matters

Parenting Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz, feels that adapting to a stepmom depends, to a large measure, on the age of the child as well as the child’s relationship with the biological mom. “If the biological mother is not part of the child’s life and the child is fairly young (not yet preteen) the stepmother can assume the full role as a mother (nurturing, discipline, etc.). The older the child and the presence of a biological mom makes the situation more challenging. In this case the stepmom along with the biological father must discuss with the child what the stepmom’s role will be and what expectations there are for both parties. This is especially crucial in setting household rules and in determining when stepmom will have standing in regards to rule-setting and enforcement,” says Horowitz.

Have the Talk

Psychologist Wyatt Fisher says that if at all possible, there should be a discussion with the child before the stepmom assumes her new role. This helps prepare the child and lessens the shock of receiving a “new” parent. Once the stepmother comes into the picture, Fisher offers four tips to new stepmoms:

  1. Go slow. Wait until the child warms up to you rather than force the relationship.
  2. Be inviting. Greet the children with smiles and warmth.
  3. Encourage father/child time. It’s important to encourage your husband to spend lots of quality time with the children so they don’t see you as taking their father from them.
  4. Be respectful. Always speak with respect when referring to the child’s biological mom.

Rosalind Sedacca CCT, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? agrees with Fisher that adapting to a stepmother is a slow process. Sedacca offers the following six tips for making the transition as smooth as possible:

  1. Introduce children to a potential stepmom very slowly so they have a chance to get acquainted and develop a caring relationship.
  2. Never insist that a stepmom is a replacement for their own mom. Children will be more resistant if a stepparent is imposed upon them or their biological mom is removed from their life.
  3. Stepmoms should never be the disciplinarian to the children. Give Dad that responsibility.
  4. Stepmoms need to earn the trust and respect of the kids which is a gradual process. Dad can be very helpful with this process.
  5. Talk to your kids, listen to what they say, validate their right to feel the way they feel. Don’t make them feel bad or wrong if they are having trouble accepting their new stepmom.
  6. Seek out the support of a family therapist or coach experienced in working with step family dynamics.

In the case of divorce, the main issue with getting used to a stepmother is the fact that “every child wants, wishes, and longs for their mothers and fathers to stay together,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV. “The breakup of the family unit is traumatic—even in the most amicable divorce.

“Kids have a range of feelings that can change at any given moment. Emotionally, children feel sad (about the loss of the exiting parent); angry (‘Why my family?’); worried (about logistics including where will ‘I’ sleep?;  who will take me/pick up from school?; will I still see both sets of grandparents?; and on and on). Behaviorally, you may see your child’s academic grades drop. You may observe her sad (not smiling) or angry, resisting, opposing, or defying you and your rules and expectations,” says Walfish.

Permission to Feel

“As her stepmom, you need to give her permission to have powerful emotions about the huge disruption in her life. Encourage the open direct expression of these feelings,” adds Walfish, cautioning, “Stepmoms, don’t be afraid of her anger. The more comfortable you become with her verbalizing her anger the more validated and accepted she will feel—flaws and all.”

Walfish treats many kids from separated and divorced families and like Sedacca, suggests that counseling can make a difference. “Sometimes, it helps your child to talk to someone outside of Mom, Stepmom, and Dad, like a teacher, counselor, or therapist. Kids may feel worried and guilty about hurting their parents’ feelings. Talk with your child about whom he can go to for comfort and support. Ask him to name people for instance, Grandma, Aunt Susie, Uncle Bob, teacher, or best friend.”

Children are going to have strong feelings as the stepmother enters the scene. “Offer karate, dance, singing, art, or gymnastics classes as a physical outlet for expelling strong feelings,” says Walfish, who says the most important thing is to grant kids permission to love and respect both biological parents. “She is half her real mom and half her real dad.

“If she hears you or her biological mom put her father down it is putting down a part of her. If her biological father makes derogatory remarks about her biological mother tell your stepchild that divorce is a grown-up matter and sometimes moms and dads are mad at each other, but it is not the kids’ fault or responsibility to fix things.”

Blending the Family “Soup”

Parenting Expert Donna Bozzo suggests that finding ways to include children in the process of blending the family is the way toward acceptance of a new stepmom. “Include the kids in the wedding ceremony. Instead of a bride and groom cake topper, how about a full-family cake topper, with kids in tow?” says Bozzo, who suggests that families find fun ways to make things work going forward.

“Think of your new blended family as a kind of soup where different members of the family add their own favorite ingredients to the pot. Like peanut butter and jelly sometimes the sum of two (or more) parts, is greater than the whole,” says Bozzo.

Taking Your Child to the ER

Taking your child to the ER can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s hard to be rational and calm when your child is injured or experiencing frightening symptoms. The first thing to think about is which emergency room to choose. If you live in a city with a choice of emergency rooms, pick an ER you know to be child-friendly. Or call the doctor’s office for advice on the best ER for your child.

The ideal time to study up on the right ER for your child is actually before there is an emergency. Ask friends about their children’s ER experiences to get recommendations. At your child’s regular check-up ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on the most child-friendly, area ER.

Another way to prepare in advance for emergencies is for parents to keep and maintain a notebook with all the child’s health information. In the notebook, you can list all past and present illnesses, vaccinations, allergies, current medications, and the time of your child’s most recent dose of medicine. These are things the ER staff will want to know. Keep the notebook in your bag so you never lose it and will always have it close at hand, even (and especially) when you’re running out the door to the emergency room.

By the same token, always keep your child’s health-insurance card or information in the same space in your wallet. That way you’ll never have to waste precious time searching for the card during an emergency. It will be one less thing to think about.

Not sure whether your child should go to the ER at all? It could be a call to the doctor can help you decide. For more on this topic, read When to Take a Child to the ER.

Expect a Long Wait

Two kids and a dad (from waist down) in ER waiting room

Once you decide to go to the ER, be aware that a visit to the emergency room may mean a wait of many hours. Make sure you bring change with you, as cell phones are sometimes banned in hospitals. Change is also handy when you want something from the vending machine. Bring toys or activities, and something to eat and drink (check with hospital staff before offering a child food and drink).

Unless your child is three months old or younger, you can feel free to treat a child’s fever before you leave for the ER. It helps the child feel better and can make the wait easier. Bring some more fever-reducing medication along with you to the hospital, in case the wait is many hours long. Your child may need another dose before he is seen.

Try not to bring brothers and sisters to the ER. If you can find a sitter or someone to watch your child’s siblings, it’s best not to bring them along to the ER. Your child needs your full attention. Also, why expose children unnecessarily to diseases that are floating around the hospital?

Review the Facts

As you make your way to the ER, mentally review the facts of your child’s illness or injury, and write them down in your child’s health notebook if your hands are free. That way you’ll be ready to tell the nurse or doctor what has happened and how you’ve treated your child until now. Think back to when your child became ill or injured and make a note of the day and time. If your child has swallowed poison, bring the bottle with you to the ER.

Think over the progression of your child’s illness or injury: how has it changed over time? Has your child had a fever or a rash? Has your child gone to the bathroom? How many times a day? What medications, if any, has your child taken? Does your child have any allergies? These are all things the ER staff will want to know.

Prepare your child on the way to the ER. Tell the child that a doctor (not the pediatrician he knows) will be examining him. At each step of the ER experience, explain the truth about what will happen next. A clear, honest explanation makes your child less anxious. Anxiety over the unknown worsens pain and fear. Knowing what will happen next, even if it’s going to hurt, relieves that anxiety, and helps your child feel better.

Eating and Drinking

On arriving at the ER, ask if your child is allowed to eat and drink. Sometimes you’ll be asked not to give your child food and drink. Some procedures, for instance some CT scans and blood tests, have to be done while fasting. It can be difficult to ignore a child’s pleas to drink and eat, but remember it’s in her own best interests. Reassure her as much as possible.

Remember that a long wait is a good sign. It means your child’s condition isn’t so serious that it cannot wait a bit for treatment. Try to be patient and calm. If your child seems to be getting worse, ask that he be reassessed.

ER waiting room animation

Never lie to a child. Don’t say, “It won’t hurt,” if you know it will. If you know something will hurt, say so, but add something to give the child hope. You might say, “It will hurt, but only for as long as it takes to blink your eye.”

Your Child’s Advocate

If your child needs stitches, a shot, or a blood test, ask if numbing cream can be applied to the area, first. The cream takes about 20 minutes to kick in. If your child’s pain medication is wearing off, let the staff know. Remember that you are your child’s advocate, if you don’t speak up, no one else will.

Do what you can to comfort your child and ease her fears. Hold her, talk to her. Try to keep her from seeing anything scary, such as a tray of instruments or a bloody patient. Read to your child or play a game like “I Spy” to take her mind off of her pain and fear.

Stay by your child’s side as much as possible. Ask if you can stay with your child for procedures like blood tests and x-rays. But if you feel like you’re going to pass out from seeing blood, for instance, make sure you inform the staff.

Your ER Questions

Doctors and nurses seem so busy parents may be afraid to disturb them with their questions. But it’s a parent’s right to ask questions and receive answers. If you want to know why this or that test has been ordered, go ahead and ask. Just be polite.

Make sure you understand the discharge instructions. Are you sure you know when the bandage can be taken off? How to clean your child’s wound? Do you know what to do if your child’s symptoms don’t get better or he feels worse? Do you know how to give your child his medication?

The hospital often recommends a follow-up visit with the child’s pediatrician. Bring your child’s discharge papers with you to the visit. Even if your child needs no follow up visit, drop off a copy of the child’s discharge papers at the doctor’s office. That way, a record of the visit will be included in your child’s medical history.

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When to Take a Child to the ER

Should you take your child to the ER, call the doctor, or wait and see? When you’re just not sure, call the doctor. Even if the pediatrician can’t speak with you, someone in the office should be able to advise you. And if you do need to take your child to the ER, the doctor’s office can call ahead and let them know you’re on the way. That’s a plus.

But let’s back up a bit to the original question: ER or pediatrician? It’s a dilemma just about every parent wrestles with at one point or another. And it’s so hard to think straight when your child is injured or ill.

To the ER or Not? Three Deep Breaths

Even when you’re frightened and anxious, sometimes you can figure things out on your own. That is if you can calm down enough to do a proper assessment of your child’s condition. To help calm down, take three deep breaths. Then remember that being calm and in control of your emotions means you’ll be better able to take care of your child.

Sometimes making decision of what to do next is easy. If your child is just lying there completely out of it, or has severe injuries, don’t wait. Call 911. Ditto if your child’s lips are turning blue. That’s not only the ER, but a ride in an ambulance, most likely. So pick up the phone and dial 911.

Just do it.

Going to the ER Means a Long Wait

But let’s say none of this applies to your child’s condition and it’s the middle of the night. And you know that going to the ER is unpleasant, with a long wait and procedures that might make your child cry. Your child is uncomfortable enough. Do you really need to add to her discomfort? How do you know whether to wait until morning when you can have the doctor decide for you, or whether you need to get moving to the ER now?

Let’s take a look at some common events that may mean a trip to the ER:

Dehydration

Lots of viruses cause diarrhea and vomiting in children. When your child gets a bug with these symptoms, you have to worry about dehydration. Dehydration is definitely a reason to visit the ER, even in the middle of the night. But it usually takes about 24 hours of vomiting and diarrhea to cause dehydration. So the first thing you want to consider is how long your child has been vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. If it’s under 24 hours, you can probably wait.

If your child has been sick for over a day with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, you need to watch for signs of dehydration such as:

  • Cracked lips
  • Cold skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased urination
  • Low energy

If your child’s tummy trouble persists, and she can’t keep down even small amounts of liquid, call the doctor. You should try to get the child to take two teaspoons of fluid every 30 minutes. If your child has almost no saliva, can’t make tears when crying, and isn’t peeing at least twice a day, it’s time to go to the ER.

Fever

In small infants (newborn to three months), a rectal temperature of over 38C or 100.4F means: go to the ER now. In this case, don’t give your baby medicine to reduce the fever. The ER doctor will want to see the baby as is, without the effects of medication.

Babies and children three months and older can be given a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever according to the dosage instructions on the bottle. Then wait 30 minutes. If your child looks a lot better, is responding to you, and is drinking fluids, you can continue to treat the child at home.

If the child’s symptoms continue, the fever continues past 72 hours, or there’s wheezing, a strange rash, or extreme lethargy, call the doctor.

Breathing Issues

When a child is wheezing or grunting, or her breathing is noisy, fast, or high-pitched, it means your child is having trouble getting air. This can happen when there is a respiratory infection or during an asthma attack. But panting or fast breathing can also occur when kids get fevers. So if your child has a fever, give fever-reducing medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen and wait 15 minutes. If the fever goes down, and her breathing settles, you can stay home.

If your child has a cough so severe that she cannot sleep or eat, or she has a barking cough, call the doctor.

If the child has so much trouble breathing that she cannot speak, go to the ER.

If the child’s lips are turning blue, call 911.

Odd Rash/Stiff Neck

Does your child have a rash? Press on it. The rash should go back to normal skin color for a second or so. If it does, this means your child has a simple virus and will get better in a couple of days. You can stay home.

If the rash doesn’t pale when you press on it and your child has a fever, this may mean a more serious illness, for instance meningitis. Call the doctor. If your child has neck pain, finds it hard to move his neck, and also has a fever, go to the ER now.

Bad Cuts

Clean the cut well with soap and water. Put pressure on the cut with a clean towel for 10 minutes and then reassess. If the bleeding is under control, but the cut is deep, call the doctor.

Go to the ER if:

  • The child can’t move the injured part
  • There’s lots of bleeding
  • There’s numbness
  • There’s severe swelling

Bump On the Head

A bump on the head isn’t always an emergency. If your child has no dizziness, headaches, or vomiting, you can stay home and the child can return to normal activities. But if your child passes out within a couple hours of bumping his head, call the doctor. Check the child’s head with your hands. If there is a part that seems squishy, go to the ER. If the child can’t stop crying, vomits more than once, or you see blood or fluid coming from the ears or nose, or bruising around the eyes or ears, go to the ER.

Remember that your child takes her cue from you. If you remain calm as you assess your child, your child will feel less anxious and find it easier to cope with the fear and pain of illness. Cuddle your child, and do what you can to distract her from her worries and discomfort.

Mother feels little girl's head for fever, keeps her calm

Next week: Taking Your Child to the ER

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What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Gifted (Part II)

You always thought your child might be gifted, so you’ve gone ahead with testing. You’ve also gone beyond testing to provide, to the best of your ability, for your gifted child’s educational needs. But you still have questions. Lots of questions. You wonder, for instance, how to provide for your gifted child’s emotional needs.

In Part I of this two-part series on giftedness, experts described the general tendency of the gifted for loneliness and depression. Some spoke of keeping a gifted child’s ego in check. Others alluded to the keenness with which gifted children sense cruelty and world indifference.  Shandy Cole, executive director of Fountainhead Montessori School in Dublin, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area, has seen this painful hyperawareness both professionally and as the mother of a gifted child. “Parents need to understand that their gifted child has unique needs. They are socially children, but have worries, concerns, and interests far beyond their years. It can be very overwhelming, and anxiety is typically high in such children, as they bear adult concerns and a child’s psyche (i.e., they take in real world concerns, but have no filter or adult understanding to process them.)

“My 6-year-old, for example, cried about the possibility of World War III, and what if all the polar bears went extinct? She took the average human life span and figured out roughly when I would die. This caused many nights of crying and fears that really have no answer,” says Cole.

Gifted Child Concerns

Cole suggests that we reassure children that it’s okay to worry, while providing them with the tools to understand their feelings. “Just telling them everything will be okay discounts their concerns and heightens those same anxieties. The main thing is to not discount the fears of a 4 year-old who is worried about global wars, a 12 year-old worried about cancer, and etc. They understand things far beyond their years, and you have to really explain things and not gloss over events or frightening concepts. Tell them it is okay to be afraid, but this is what is being done to reconcile these risks, for instance.”

Shannon W. Bellezza, Ph.D., of Triangle Behavioral and Educational Solutions, is more concerned about boredom. “Many students who are gifted have difficulty in the classroom with regular instruction because they are bored and under stimulated. Reports of a child demonstrating mildly disruptive behaviors that might indicate boredom could be a sign that a child is gifted. Counterintuitively, bad grades could indicate giftedness as well, particularly if parents know that their child is smart and that the grades their child is receiving do not reflect their intelligence.

“This happens as a result of boredom – the child, being under stimulated, puts forth little effort on their graded work because it’s boring and seems remedial or repetitive and unnecessary; they see no benefit in putting forth effort,” says Bellezza.

On Feeling Different: Quality, Not Quantity

“Regarding a child feeling different once identified as gifted:  Parents want to make sure that the enrichment their child is being provided is in quality and depth, not quantity. Many teachers mistake enrichment and differentiation for ‘more;’ rather than addressing gifted instruction with the depth of content, they address it simply by providing more work,” says Bellezza, who concludes, “This can make a child stand out from his peers and have a negative effect on his love of learning.”

Laurie Endicott Thomas, MA, ELS, feels that placing gifted children among their gifted peers addresses a multitude of problems. For Thomas, it’s not just about the potential for boredom and lack of stimulation in the regular classroom, but about learning humility. In regular classrooms, gifted children are often all too aware that they are the smartest people in the room. But move them into a classroom for the gifted and all of a sudden they’re not: a humbling experience.

Thomas feels the move to a gifted classroom or school is best tackled in elementary school. “It is far better for the child to clear that hurdle in K-12 than to slam into a wall when he or she gets to college. When I went to Penn, I saw a lot of kids who had been big fishes in their small hometown pond were stunned to find that they suddenly were small fishes in a big pond. They lacked the emotional resilience or the moral and intellectual discipline to compete with other gifted people, or even with people who were merely bright but studious,” says Thomas, who adds, “To learn how to treat other people as equals, they need to know what it feels like to be around people who are even smarter than they are.”

Tell Them They’re Gifted?

Learning how to coexist with others is important for all children, part of a child’s social emotional development. That’s true across the board, whether or not a gifted child’s peers are equally blessed. Should a parent refrain then, from telling the child that he or she is gifted? Does doing so help the gifted child make sense of his differences or underscore them even more?

Bellezza says it depends. “Whether parents tell their child or not, the child will eventually notice that the instruction she is receiving is different from a large portion of her peers. No matter what parents decide to tell their child, it is important to emphasize a growth mindset; that intelligence and ability are not fixed but are affected by effort.”

Alina Adams, on the other hand, is adamant that parents not tell their children they are gifted. Adams cites Dr. Carol Dweck on the subject. “Bright children who are told they’re bright have a tendency to decide that being smart means never putting in any effort. So when they encounter something truly challenging, they shirk away from attempting it, for fear of appearing less smart than everyone believes them to be (not to mention as smart as they believe themselves to be).”

Emphasize Strengths

Janet Heller, President of the Michigan College English Association, comments that, at any rate, very few children are gifted in all areas, which means that to stress giftedness as a distinction is perhaps not so important. “Some children, for example, may be excellent at music and mathematics but not in literature and writing—or vice versa. Parents may tell children which areas they are strong in; however, adults need to emphasize that everyone needs to work very hard to develop potential talent. Talent does not grow by itself without effort.

“Thomas Alva Edison said, ‘Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.’ I think that this is true. Good athletes, musicians, writers, artists, dancers, scientists, etc. must practice skills and develop new abilities every day in order to succeed,” says Heller.

Cole, meanwhile, says that rather than point out a child’s giftedness, it’s more important to stress that—to paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian—we’re all individuals.

“I think you gain nothing by telling the child. But it is a personal choice. Along with challenging them, I think it is also important that parents help these children understand that not everyone performs at the same level, and that everyone has different abilities with regard to the same tasks, thinking about the same concepts, and so forth,” says Cole.

“This knowledge helps ease their frustrations and develop empathy. It can teach them to be more patient with others, including with adults. It can also help develop their social skills, which may be out of sync with their peers.

“These children are assessing the world from a limited field of experience, and can feel disconnected from others without knowing why. They need the reassurance that they are not ‘odd balls.’ And parents need this reassurance too. A good resource would be A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, since it provides practical guidance from an expert perspective,” adds Cole.

For some parents, the question of whether to tell a child that he or she is gifted, is moot. Tobi Kosanke, mother of a gifted 13-year-old girl never bothered to tell the girl she’s gifted. She didn’t have to: “The fact that she was enrolled at a school for gifted children was a dead giveaway,” says Kosanke.

“Normal” Sibling Issues

Gifted children not only struggle socially and emotionally in the classroom, but in the case of those with “normal” siblings, in the home, as well. What should parents do to minimize issues between gifted and non-gifted siblings? Cole says parents should treat them exactly the same. She points out, however, that the “normal” child may end up being the one who feels different. In this case, says Cole, “I would emphasize that everyone does their best—that you are your own person and etc.—but not make excuses for the ‘normal’ child to not do his or her best. This helps every child find their own unique interests and motivations.”

Heller says that instead of thinking about sibling rivalry issues, we should instead think of the benefits of nearness to the gifted and even perhaps, gifted education. “Normal siblings can often benefit from the extra enrichment experiences provided to gifted students. My fourth-grade teacher recommended that I be placed in a ‘special abilities’ class. This class got the best teachers and most stimulating curriculum in my elementary school.

“I loved it!” says Heller. “Some of the students in this class were not really gifted: they got into the special abilities class because their mothers were very active in the P.T.A., for example. However, these students’ exposure to the enriched curriculum and instruction resulted in their having unusual careers, such as becoming judges and detectives.”

These are career choices these “normal” children might not otherwise have considered.

Different Strengths

Adams says parents should look for opportunities to demonstrate that “normal” siblings have strengths their more gifted siblings might lack. “At one point, my middle child was doing his older brother’s math homework, and my youngest daughter was doing her middle-brother’s English assignments, each three grade levels above their own. It was actually an excellent example of how different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and no one excels at everything.

“I recommend seeking out as many examples as you can of how the other sibling can do something their gifted one can’t, be it sports, music, social skills, and etc.,” says Adams.

Not Gifted? What Now?

Let’s say you have your child tested and it turns out he’s normal, and not gifted, as you had anticipated. Where do parents go from here? Cole is prosaic, “Be thankful you have a wonderful child. I say we should challenge all children to the best of their abilities: every child needs to be challenged in order to help develop the skills that power successful lives.”

But Bellezza wouldn’t let things rest here. “Get a second opinion. If the child’s results on the school’s testing did not meet the threshold for giftedness, parents can seek out private testing through a psychologist. Depending on the school’s giftedness screening policies, parents might be able to try again the following year as well.”

Alina Adams stresses that the various tests for giftedness aren’t particularly valid until the child reaches the age of 10 or 12. Even then, “Different tests will produce different results depends on the day your child took the test and what mood they were in then.

“The fact is; no test result will change the behavior that prompted you to get your child tested in the first place. If they are passionate about a subject or activity, keep encouraging them, no matter what some number on a piece of paper says.”

Effort Over IQ

Adams takes the opportunity to once again emphasize a mindset of effort over IQ. “If, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, ‘stupid is as stupid does,’ then so is ‘gifted,’” adding that many in the gifted community disagree. To illustrate her personal philosophy, Adams relates this anecdote about her own three children. “Each one took the tests at age 4 that NYC requires for school placement. One was deemed not gifted, another gifted, and a third profoundly gifted.

“Which of my children is my worst student? The gifted one.

“Which of my children was my latest reader? The profoundly gifted one.

“Which one is starting Princeton this September? The non-gifted one.”

It’s a lesson we can all understand and learn from.

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What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Gifted (Part I)

You suspect your child is gifted. Actually, you pretty much know your child is gifted. You know it from observing your child. And you know it from all those articles you’ve found with their bulleted lists of gifted children behaviors—you’ve mentally ticked off most of the items.

So okay, now that you know, what should you do?

Dr. Shannon W. Bellezza of Triangle Behavioral and Educational Solutions, suggests that parents find out how schools in their area test for giftedness. “Some schools do universal screening around 3rd grade to see which children may be gifted. Sometimes there are options for parents or teachers to nominate children for testing to qualify for acceleration in certain subjects. Parents should find out how their school screens for giftedness and follow through with the appropriate procedures.”

Testing For Giftedness

Can’t wait that long? You don’t have to, if you don’t mind paying out of pocket. “Many private psychologists offer IQ tests for children as young as 3-4 years-old, including the Stanford-Binet and the WPPSI tests,” says Alina Adams, a school consultant and author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten.

Adams cautions that there are many variables to these tests, which means the results will vary, too. “An important thing to remember is that the tests are different, and it’s entirely possible for a child to test gifted on one, but not on another. Also very few IQ tests are reliable before the ages of 10-12, so it’s possible your child will test gifted one year, but not the next,” says Adams.

Before having children tested, parents should consider that “gifted” means different things to different people, says Parenting and Family Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz. “At times parents with reasonably bright kids latch on to the label ‘gifted’ without actually getting confirmation by a teacher or psychologist. There is no universally recognized standard for gifted. School districts will set criteria for admission into a gifted/talented program but again it is the school’s arbitrary standard rather than a definition based on research.”

Fostering The Gift

Some parents don’t bother with confirmation. Tobi Kosanke, for example. She and her husband just assumed their 13-year-old daughter girl was gifted and ran with it: did what they could to foster their child’s development. “We nourished her intellect as a baby and toddler with toys, music, and books.”

“Gifted,” by the way, is not the same as “genius.” Alina Adams points out that unlike the lack of universal school standards for giftedness, there are actual accepted distinctions that separate those in the category “genius” from the merely “gifted.” “Giftedness can be anything from the top 90th percentile, to the top 95th or 97th. Genius is the 99.99 the percentile. The needs of the two groups are different.”

“Those with IQs between 125 to 145 can basically handle anything they decide to do. Those with IQs of 145 plus often have a harder time making themselves understood, which can get in the way of achievement. There is also the concept of multi-potentiality. When people are good at most anything they try, it becomes harder to narrow down exactly what they want to do. So they end up doing nothing, like the metaphor of Buridan’s ass,” says Adams.

Gifted=Special Needs??

Laurie Endicott Thomas, author of Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free, has a different way of looking at IQ. She thinks that children on either end of the IQ spectrum should be thought of and treated as special needs children. “Keep in mind that a gifted child’s IQ is at least 30 points above the average. You would not dream of putting a child with an average IQ (100) in a classroom for mentally retarded children (IQ of 70). Yet gifted children are expected to thrive in a classroom that is geared to children whose IQ is 30 points below theirs. Not only will the gifted children be miserable from boredom, they will be wasting their time and developing bad study habits. (There’s no need to take notes if you know that the teacher is going to repeat the same boring thing 10 times!)”

Here Adams disagrees. “It really depends on the child. Some children who have tested gifted are so used to being the smartest kid in the room, the one that everyone fusses over and praises, that being put in a situation where everyone else is as smart—or even smarter—than they are, is a horrible experience. Some kids shut down completely, and become depressed. If their entire self-image is based on being the best, learning that there are others like them can be devastating.

“Another problem with gifted programs,” says Adams, “is that most public school-based ones operate on the assumption that all gifted children are gifted at the same things in the same way on the same schedule. The whole point of being gifted is that you are uniquely talented in a particular area. I’ve worked with families where their extremely verbal child struggled in advanced math, while other children with incredible math skills floundered in advanced English classes where their very literal-minded approach made parsing the nuances of texts nearly impossible.

Adams gives the personal example of her gifted son, who, when faced with Hemingway’s iconic six-word short story, For sale: baby shoes, never worn, insisted that there simply weren’t enough facts available to draw a definitive conclusion. “Sure, you could assume the baby died. But you could also assume it was an ad from a baby shoe factory that was closing down.”

Educational Needs

Horowitz has a more general view of gifted programs versus mainstreaming gifted children. “The best advice for a parent is to make sure that their child’s individual educational needs are being met and the parents should arrange a conference with the teacher or teachers early in the school year to make sure this is occurring. If the teacher can meet the child’s needs in the regular classroom than there is no need for an additional program,” says Horowitz, adding this caveat: “If, however, the school has identified a child as eligible for a gifted program, I believe the parents should take advantage of the offering.”

Whether or not to mainstream your gifted child is likely to be determined, says Bellezza, by school policy and availability of resources. Bellezza details the various types of school instruction that might be available to a gifted student depending on the school. “Pull-out enrichment (when the child is removed from the classroom for specialized instruction), push-in enrichment (when the child remains in the regular classroom and is given specialized instruction via differentiation by the classroom teacher or from another teacher who comes to the classroom), or some combination are usually offered by schools.”

William Schlitz of Keller, Texas, and his wife, Dr. Myiesha Taylor, decided to bypass the school system altogether. “My wife and I have homeschooled our 3 children here in Texas. We did not make the decision for religious or conservative political reasons. The decision was made to specifically address the gifted status of our two oldest children and tailor their education to create an academic environment that allowed them to thrive. Part of that was our desire to create a secure environment where our kids felt safe, free from bias, and could focus on their education. Like many who start this process we were concerned if our decision would hurt our children’s future (college?). But in reality it served as a launching point for all of them to thrive.

Education Disinterest

Schlitz’s and Taylor’s eldest daughter, Haley Taylor Schlitz, is today a 15-year-old senior at Texas Woman’s University. “Haley made the jump to homeschool when we became concerned about her academic progress at a local middle school. It was Haley’s growing disinterest with her education that led us to have her formally tested for giftedness. Her tests demonstrated a very highly gifted person.”

Haley went on to become a Davidson Young Scholar, and a member of both MENSA and Intertel, graduating homeschool high school at age 13. The young woman has been on the Dean’s List of TWU for the past two years with a GPA of 3.7. Haley will have her BS degree in May 2019, when she will be 16 years-old, and plans on attending law school starting the following Fall semester. Another son is about to follow in Haley’s footsteps. Ian, at 12, has just passed the entrance exam at a local community college.

Having taken the journey of homeschooling her children, Myiesha Taylor has developed insight into gifted education processes around the United States, and has served as a resource for families traveling a similar path. To this end, Taylor created a Facebook group, Brilliant In Color, that helps families of color discuss how to navigate giftedness for their children.

Testing, confirmation of giftedness, and education aside, some parents wonder what being gifted will mean for their child’s emotional makeup. Will being gifted mark a child as different? Do gifted children have difficulty finding and making friends, and cultivating relationships? Will a gifted child, of necessity, always be lonely? How will being gifted affect the child’s world view?

Social Skills

“Gifted children are prone to problems with loneliness and depression. Often, the gifted children themselves are blamed for having ‘poor social skills.’ Yet the real problem is that children generally develop real friendships only with other children whose IQ is within 15 points of theirs.

“If your child’s IQ is 100, then 68% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ As a result, your child is likely to have lots and lots of (rather dim-witted) friends. But if your child’s IQ is 140, less than 2% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ You may need to get involved in some organization for the gifted in order for your child to find children whom they can befriend,” says Endicott Thomas, who suggests parents of gifted children visit the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website.

Endicott Thomas describes the emotional downside of being gifted. “Because of their abilities to use abstract reasoning, gifted people are often keenly aware that the universe is indifferent to human suffering, that many social institutions are stupid and cruel, and that many adults are hypocrites. For this reason, gifted people need to find some way to make a positive difference in the world. Otherwise, they can suffer greatly from a problem called existential depression.”

On Being Different

Alina Adams disagrees, suggesting that the real problem with being gifted (and knowing it) is watching out for inflated egos. “Professionally, I can tell you that gifted kids love feeling different, and knowing things other kids don’t. Personally, I can tell you my husband and I tell our kids, ‘You’re not that great. Even if you’re one in a million, there are 6000 people out there just like you. And many more who are better.’

“Some parents like gifted schools and programs so that their children can be with like-minded peers. We like them because they prove to our kids just how not special they are,” says Adams.

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

Hot Car Deaths Survey: It Can Happen

Hot car deaths, according to a June 2018 Kars4Kids survey, are thought to be something that happens to other parents and other children. That’s despite a large body of proof that shows hot car deaths can happen to any parent’s child. The widespread refusal of parents to believe hot car deaths can affect them is so pervasive that only 16 percent of parents surveyed expressed concern over the issue.

The survey showed, moreover, that parents continue to believe hot car deaths are related to poor parenting. Of those surveyed, 78 percent expressed negative thoughts about parents whose children die due to being left behind in a hot car. Worse yet, 11 percent of those we surveyed, continue to believe that it’s fine to leave a baby in a hot car for a few minutes. (It most emphatically is NOT!)

It’s frightening to learn that 83 percent of parents surveyed don’t think it could happen to them: they don’t think their children could die of heatstroke due to being left behind in a hot car. The reason this is frightening is that we know this statistic represents the percent of parents who refuse to take simple precautions to keep their children safe from hot car deaths. In other words, most parents aren’t going to do anything at all to ensure their children don’t experience a tragic and preventable hot car death.

That is why we performed our survey in the first place. We accompanied the survey with our It Can Happen campaign. We did these things because we don’t want to see even one more child die in a hot car because a parent doesn’t think it can happen. The theme of this new campaign is to actively illustrate the type of parent who forgets his or her child in a car. That type of parent, to be specific, would be any parent.

While hot car deaths can happen any time of the year, we see the number of infant heat stroke deaths rise especially high in summer. That is why each summer, we step up our efforts to educate parents on the dangers of leaving children, even for a few minutes, in a hot car. Our survey and the It Can Happen campaign are designed with the hope that more parents than ever before will take precautions against the worst tragedy that can happen to a family. If you’re already taking those precautions, we thank you with a whole heart. Keep up your fabulous and life-saving work.

We appreciate your efforts because hot car deaths have been a hot button topic for us at Kars4Kids for the past four years. That was the year we first began our campaign to raise awareness of these tragic and preventable deaths. It was also the year we created our free Kars4Kids Safety app that uses a car’s Bluetooth function to help alert parents to the presence of a child left behind in the backseat of a car. And finally, it was the year we first encountered the phenomenon of readers and parents who insisted that they could never ever leave a baby or young child behind in their cars.

We could understand them, being parents ourselves. What we couldn’t understand was the refusal of some parents to take the simplest of precautions on the off chance that it could indeed happen to them and to their children (Heaven forbid). And so we have tried ever since to prove to them that it can happen to anyone, hoping they’ll put their phones or wallets in the backseats of their cars just to humor us—and perhaps save a young life.

To that end, we created our Hot Car Challenge, offering $100 to anyone who could stand to sit in a hot car for ten minutes without wussing out.

Then we invented our Hot Cars Cookie Challenge to show that the interiors of cars get so hot you can totally bake chocolate chip cookies on your dashboard. (If it’s hot enough to bake a cookie, you so don’t want your child in there.)

We also worked to create partnerships with the media and with popular bloggers and websites, to further spread the word about the dangers of leaving a baby behind in a car for even a short period of time. We gathered statistics on hot car deaths, updating you from time to time. And we kept you apprised of the science of hot car deaths as our understanding evolved.

In order to better understand why hot car deaths occur, we reached out to psychologist David Diamond and meteorologist Jan Null, arguably the two most important names connected to the phenomenon of hot car deaths. David Diamond outlined for us the psychological process that causes parents to “forget” their babies. Diamond has testified as an expert in several hot car death-related homicide trials. Jan Null tracks patterns related to hot car deaths at his website noheatstroke.org and has amply demonstrated that not all of these deaths are due to memory failure.

It is our intention, at Kars4Kids, to keep on raising awareness and educating the public on the dangers of hot car deaths in any way we can. Don’t take our word for the fact that it can happen to anyone. Just humor us please, and take precautions. Even if you don’t believe you’re that kind of parent.

It can’t hurt anything but your pride to take the extra step to ward off danger.

And it may just save your child’s life.

Homemade Playdough Recipe (Old-School, Anti-Tech!)

Homemade playdough may be just the ticket to get your kids away from their screens. It’s easy to make and gives kids hours of fun. You probably already have the ingredients on hand in your pantry.

When freshly made, the playdough is warm and feel so good on the hands. This particular recipe, while not tasty, is edible, and is certainly non-toxic. It’s just as good as the store-bought brand, but you can tailor-make your color palette. With this in mind, make several batches so kids have lots of different colors to work with. They will love you for the extra effort!

Get kids’ imaginations going by putting out various kitchen utensils for them to use with the homemade playdough. Give them dull butter knives, rolling pins, a garlic press, a melon baller, or anything else you can think of that isn’t sharp and can be used to make amazing shapes and textures in the dough. When children’s attention flags, you can assign them themes or contests to awaken their interest.

child rolls out homemade playdough with miniature plastic rolling pin

Homemade Playdough Activities

Making tiny replicas of birds’ nests containing tiny eggs is so much fun! So is layering rolled-out pieces of dough, rolling them into cylinders, and pulling out the “petals” to make roses. If you play along with your children, or there are other children or siblings around, create a homemade playdough contest using these examples to get you started:

  • Most creative homemade playdough item
  • Prettiest rose
  • Scariest homemade playdough monster
  • Longest “snake”

Don’t be surprised if “older” children can’t help themselves and must get in on the sensory fun. Even adults like to play with this colorful stuff, though it may embarrass them to admit this fact (hint: think of adult coloring books and give yourself permission to play).

A penguin and a fantasy creature
(artwork by Asher Epstein, photo credit: Varda Epstein)

Homemade Playdough: Vacation Solution

Homemade playdough is a good solution for the long summer vacation or for snow days. It’s an any-weather solution. And it’s the complete opposite of tech. The sight of homemade playdough will have your kids running away from their computer screens to stick their hands in the colorful dough: there’s just something about the stuff.

Best of all, you can give yourself a pat on the back when you make homemade playdough. It’s not rocket-science. It’s so easy to whip up a batch. And it makes you the greatest parent in the world to your child at the moment you show them what you’ve made for them.

Not to mention, did we say it takes kids away from their screens? Old-school homemade playdough. It’s the anti-tech!

Viking ship
(artwork by Asher Epstein, photo credit: Varda Epstein)

Colorful Homemade Playdough

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

Method:

  1. Combine flour, salt, and cream of tartar in medium saucepan
  2. Add water, food coloring, and oil
  3. Stir over medium heat with wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes until dough leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball
  4. Remove from heat, allow dough to cool in pan
  5. Turn dough out onto counter and knead until smooth
  6. Store in refrigerator in airtight container or Ziploc freezer bag

Note: This modeling clay lasts 6 months thanks to the addition of cream of tartar.

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Teens: Saying No When Other Parents Say Yes

How do you say no to teens when their friends’ parents say yes? If you think the activity is dangerous, you’re right to say no. But if all the other parents say yes—that their children can participate in an activity—you end up looking like the bad guy. You look like you’re saying no just to be arbitrary or mean.  It makes you seem like a control freak. Or just too strict.

Take the example of Lynn, age 51. Lynn’s 16-year-old daughter Randi begged to attend a weekend at a friend’s house. The weekend was to conclude with an all-night party. But there was a catch: the friend’s parents were out of town.

The friend’s parents had all given their permission for the weekend and party. The other invited guests, another eight children, had all received permission from their parents to attend. Lynn and her husband Jordan were the only hold outs.

Saying No For Protection

Lynn knew that her fun-loving daughter might be persuaded to take part in activities that could hurt her. There might be alcohol or drugs at the party. There could be, for example, a game of Truth or Dare involving risqué behavior.

Randi is a great kid, but she likes to have fun. She’s game to try anything once. Her parents imagined her at the party, surrounded by friends urging her not to be a prude. In this environment, would Randi have the strength of will to say no to drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in sex-tinged activities?

Lynn and Jordan weren’t judging the other parents for agreeing to allow their children to have a fun weekend. But they knew their daughter and didn’t think it a good idea to put her in a situation where she could end up getting hurt. They knew that the right thing to do was to say no: to forbid Randi from spending the weekend at her friend’s house.

They tried to be gentle and diplomatic as they said no, while being firm and absolute. The results were predictable. Randi pitched a fit. The girl screamed and cried. She accused her parents of being unfair. She dragged in the fact that all the other parents had said yes. That she alone had monstrous parents who were control freaks. She said it wasn’t fair. Randi also reminded them that her friend’s parents trusted the friend to keep things clean and safe.

Saying No: The Right Thing to Do

Randi begged, yelled, cried, and slammed doors. But Lynn and Jordan were determined to stick to their guns. They decided they didn’t care about anything but keeping their daughter safe. They knew that saying no was the right thing to do.

Lynn and Jordan made a wise decision. The teenage brain is undergoing changes, pruning away gray matter on the way to becoming fully mature. These changes mean that teens have stronger emotional reactions and may feel a sense of urgency about situations, a need to act. A teen’s impulse control is weak, compared to that of an adult. That tendency for poor impulse control is the things that worried Randi’s parents most.

Lynn and Jordan knew that when teens drink, they drink too much. Teens don’t know how to stop once they get started. The same with taking drugs or making out. Teens also have poor planning skills which is why so many teenagers get into dangerous scrapes.

But saying no to a teenager is different than saying no to a toddler having a tantrum. A teen has the endless ability to twist facts and lay guilt trips. It’s hard for a parent to stand firm in the face of a teenager’s crazed reaction to a parent’s dictate.

Saying No Can Be a Conversation

Dr. Ari Yares, a licensed psychologist, parent coach, and nationally certified school psychologist, believes that how you say no, and how you involve your child in the way the decision plays out, makes a difference. “When having the conversation, share with your child your reasoning and be as transparent as possible within the circumstances. Allow them an opportunity to voice their objections and, when possible, engage in some problem solving that might lead to a modified answer.

Family therapist Elisabeth Goldberg, LMFT, says the trick is to keep going over in your head the reasons why you said no. This can give parents something to do as the teenager screams and yells and help the parent remain firm in his or her resolve. After all, if you have a good reason for saying no, there is no reason to change your mind. The issue is wanting to avoid feeling bad as a teenager yells at you.

“It must be very hard to own your parenting style. With constant comparisons of wealth, health and happiness, it’s no wonder why so many parents give into their kids and go against their better judgement. Technology has made our culture obsessed with popularity like never before, and parents are not immune to that competition in the least,” says Goldberg.

Yares suggests parents minimize the embarrassment of being forbidden an activity by speaking to the child in private. “It can be tough when you are the parent saying no when everyone else says yes and your child may be mad at you for the decision that you are making. It’s important to make sure that when saying no in a situation like this that you minimize the public embarrassment of saying no. Pull your child aside for a more private conversation by saying, ‘We need to discuss this.’”

Saying No: Poor Distress Tolerance

Dr. Goldberg, meanwhile, feels that the most important part of saying no is to resist all the pleading and crying, to learn to let it roll off a parent’s back like water off a duck. “What makes parents say yes when they should say no is poor distress tolerance. The child asks and the parent is initially annoyed, then it progresses and goes deep, cutting into their core of self-worth as a human. When parents can’t say no to their kids, it’s because they can’t tolerate other discomfort; their threshold has already been crossed,” says Goldberg.

Any parent whose teenager pleads and cries for a long enough time is going to question whether they are doing the right thing in saying no. This is normal. But it’s important to remember that if you give in, your child will only make a stronger fuss the next time you say no. She already knows you’ll give way if she screams long enough and loud enough.

And of course, if you show weakness, you teach your child weakness. Standing firm, on the other hand, is a good example for your teenager. “Parents who stand firm and present themselves as authority figures through positive messages of respect and experience raise more secure children than those who fall apart at small signs of aggravation. Distress tolerance is a very undervalued skill for parents. Parents who cannot tolerate distress will teach this to their kids, who will grow up believing that hardship past a certain point is unacceptable. They won’t be very adaptable, and tend to make poor partners,” says Goldberg.

But how should a parent steel himself against all that begging and crying? “Saying no comes down to training yourself to tolerate various levels of distress by reflecting on the thoughts and feelings that come up when you try to say no and don’t,” says Goldberg.

Colorful animation of parents standing firm against annoyed teenage boy
The hard part is standing firm

In the case of Lynn and Jordan and their daughter Randi, though the girl reasoned and cried, her parents stuck to their original position on the subject of the weekend house party. No remained no and Randi stayed home. The girl moped and complained but once the party was past tense, she and her parents got past their relationship hump. It was only a few days before things were back to normal.

The moral of the story is: stay strong and remember why you’re saying no. If you wuss out and give in, you’re only setting yourself up for failure at a later date. And your child will have had a really bad example of weak character to follow.

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

Good Fats Needed: Your Child’s Brain and Health

Could government guidelines for a diet low in healthy fats be making our children sick? The numbers and new research suggest this may just be the case. From 2003 to 2011, for instance, ADD/ADHD rates increased by 43%, and continue to rise. The number of kids on antidepressants jumped 50% from 2005 to 2012, with over 7 million children now taking psychoactive drugs.

In 2015, 6 million children in the U.S. were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and treated with Ritalin, Adderall, and related drugs. While this means that only two out of three kids with diagnosed ADHD are treated, some experts feel that not enough children are being medicated. This is backwards reasoning that fails to look at the cause of ADHD. Over 2.1 million kids in the U.S., meanwhile, are taking anti-depressants, according to 2017 statistics.

There is no sign that trends in these ailments are reversing, but the good news is that there are practical steps you can take to prevent or alleviate these disorders. Adding vitamins and healthier food to your child’s diet will provide essential nutrients that are missing in the Standard American Diet.

SAD daily food plan
Standard American Diet (SAD) daily food plan

New research is discovering nutritional solutions to mental health issues, pointing to vitamin supplementation and better diet as the most effective solution for mental health issues. Studies show that certain fats make excellent antidepressants. Even severe depression and schizophrenia have been successfully treated with vitamins and diet.

The good news is that you can keep kids happy and healthy by changing their diet. Your children can benefit from proven research which is not yet widely known or accepted. The bad news is that you have to be willing to buck traditional nutritional and medical advice.

There are many plusses to treating mental health issues with diet instead of drugs. Let’s compare diet to Ritalin, the most common psychoactive drug given to kids:

Dietary Approach to ADHD:Ritalin:
No side effects.Long list of side effects including nervousness, tics, insomnia, weight loss, psychosis, etc.

 

Lower cost.The cheapest discounted Ritalin will cost about $400 per year for 30-40 mg per day. Full price and higher dosage could easily triple that amount to $1,200.
Long-lasting improvement: Mental health benefits from dietary supplements can last for at least one year after stopping supplements.Ritalin works only for as long as it is taken.

 

 

Before we discuss diet, let’s take a look at how started down this path of declining mental and physical health.

Replacing Fat with Sugar

In the 1970s, the nutrition advice of the U.S. government underwent a radical change in an effort to stem rising heart attack rates in men. Wanting a quick solution, politicians seized on the results of the earliest studies, ignoring researchers who cautioned them to wait until all the data was in. Worse yet, the new nutrition guidelines targeted adult men, ignoring children’s differing needs. The assumption that the new guidelines were safe for all has since been proven incorrect. The diet, moreover, did not prevent male heart attacks.

The new policy recommended eating a carbohydrate-loaded diet and restricting fats, especially saturated fats. People stopped eating animal fats, and ate more sugar, a simple carbohydrate. Manufacturers “improved” tasteless, boring, fat-free snack foods by adding sugar. The resulting products were sold as health food, while butter and fatty meats were said to be dangerous. Sugary foods were even marketed as low-fat and heart-healthy, despite being mostly devoid of nutrients.

Snackwell Devil's Food cookies were low in fats, high in sugar
The Snackwell Effect: high-carb, low-fat cookies touted as a health food

The new food items were a win for food companies because they were cheap to produce and had shelf lives stretching far into the future. Some breakfast cereals were over 50% sugar, while claiming to be good for children. Now that we have adult-onset diabetes in kids under ten, we’re beginning to see that sugar was never just a source of empty “fat-free” calories.

Inexpensive high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS) was first marketed in the late 1960s, and plugged as healthier than sugar, because fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar. But HFCS is 45% glucose, 55% fructose, while table sugar is 50% glucose, 50% fructose. There’s no great difference between the two. And while fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar, it does go straight to the liver, just like alcohol. Children who drink large quantities of sugary soda, use lots of sugar-laden ketchup, and eat sweet treats, may just end up developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Hidden Sugar

Today the CDC recommends limiting sugars, but other than recommending that kids under two avoid added sugar, fails to specify how much sugar is too much.  We’re used to a sweet edge on food, so manufacturers add sugar to commercial foods to make them taste better. As parents and consumers, we do however, have the right to check packaged foods for hidden sugar and to choose sugarless items.

Avoiding sugar except for rare treats makes sense. According to pediatric researchers, NAFLD is now common among children, affecting 3-12% of children, in general, and occurring in 70-80% of obese children. After 2020, NAFLD will become the most common reason for liver transplants. For kids, and especially teens, obesity creates its own world of mental anguish, as obese kids often face rejection and bullying.

Sugar may create behavior issues, too. Many parents note that children are more manageable on a low-sugar diet. Kids seem to have better focus and concentration without sugar. Sugar may be harming our children’s mental health. Mental health statistics suggest that lowering dietary fats and replacing them with sugar has only made things worse.

The Wrong Fats

Until 1990, McDonald’s used beef fat to make its crispy fries taste hearty. But a consumer advocate group believing the early, flawed research results, waged war on saturated fats. McDonald’s switched to a “heart-healthy” fat for its fries.

The food industry already had an inexpensive answer to the fat conundrum. Crisco and margarine had been around since the early 1900s. These hydrogenated trans fats made from vegetable sources replaced “unhealthful” animal fats. Trans fats were vegan and miraculous for food texture—until 2001, when we found out just how bad they are. Heart inflammation and brain issues such as memory loss are just two side effects of these solid fats.

The food industry switched to liquid vegetable oils. But when repeatedly heated to high temperatures these oils produce dangerous, cancer-causing acrylamides. Eating foods deep fried in these seed oils during pregnancy deters fetal brain development. That means that families eating lots of deep-fried foods are at risk for brain issues.

Because we traded bad fats for worse fats.

Most commercial vegetable oils, for instance canola oil, are unstable seed oils, and are best avoided. Such oils are high in unhealthy Omega 6 fats and low or without beneficial Omega 3 fats. As a rule, if an oil can’t be produced outside of a factory, it is inflammatory. Inflammation is responsible for many harmful disease processes throughout the body.

complicated canola oil production versus simple olive oil extraction puts olive oil in the family of good fats
Canola oil is extracted with multiple chemical processes; olives are simply pressed to release their oil.

Better Fats, Better Brains

If canola oil is bad for your child’s general health and brain health, what fats are good? For non-meat, non-dairy options, coconut oil, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil are all good choices. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are great for brain health and mental clarity. Avocadoes are a food source containing healthy fats.

We need healthy fats because the nervous system needs fat for proper function and because the human brain is 60% fat. Brain growth and development reach their full potential when we eat a traditional pre-industrial diet of home-cooked foods. In spite of what we now know, current CDC recommendations still advise a low-fat diet for children.

Cleveland dentist, Weston A. Price, demonstrated a number of the benefits of animal fats in the 1930s. Adding good grass-fed butter to the diet resolved nutrition and health issues in malnourished inner-city children, including tooth decay. These days, the CDC-recommended low-fat diet has left even affluent children malnourished.

Important: Fat-Soluble Vitamins D, A, and K

Parents once gave kids butter and cod liver oil rich in Vitamins D, A, and K, to keep them healthy. We ate fatty foods and foods fried in animal fats. The high-carb, low-fat trends of today’s Standard American Diet have left us literally SAD and reeling from depression. By putting nutritional fats back into the diet we can turn that frown upside down.

Vitamin D

Most people including children are, today, deficient in Vitamin D, a major cause of depression. The two sources of Vitamin D are sunshine and food. When kids play mostly indoors, they lose out on sun exposure. This means kids make less Vitamin D in their skin. Instead, they get their Vitamin D from milk with added Vitamin D2, which is inferior to the D3 we make in response to sunlight or consume from animal sources.

Animal sources are the most bio-available form of D. Bio-availability means that a nutrient source is eaten in the same form that our body uses directly. Non-bio-availability means that a chemical conversion is required, and this usually means a shortfall in that nutrient.

Why do we need Vitamin D3? Vitamin D3 acts as a hormone in the body. It helps us fight viral infections; absorb calcium for growth and maintenance; and regulate blood pressure. The mental wellness effects of D3 were well-known to traditional peoples who prized fatty fish.

Dr. Jay Wortman, a Canadian M.D. and researcher, interviewed an older First Nations man about his traditional diet, which includes oil from the oolichan fish. High in D3 and other fat-soluble nutrients, oolichan oil was described by his grandfather as “your sun in the winter”. In the far north, the mood-boosting effects of the oil are important in the long, dark winter. Another key component of that northern diet is salmon, also a fatty fish. Traditional peoples did not avoid fats; they prized them as health-giving components of a proper diet.

Native American smelting process for oolichan or eulachon fish, a source of healthy fats
Oolichan or eulachon fish were a prized source of healthy fats for the indigenous population. Here they are rendered to extract the fat.

A diet deficient in D3 can mean poor mental and physical health. Correcting D3 deficiency may help fight autism. D3 acts to combat depression. Diagnosing and correcting a deficiency in Vitamin D3 levels should be the first line of treatment for depression. If your child suffers from depression, you will need to tackle the problem with sunshine and outdoor exercise, fatty fish, or D3 drops. You can check recommended sun exposure times for season and location here.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is another important vitamin that fights infections, and long-term deficiency causes night blindness. A lack of Vitamin A leaves one prone to infectious diseases like pneumonia and measles. Enough Vitamin A means the ability to fight off serious infections. For school kids, that’s a big edge, especially in flu season.

Some think that a low-fat carrot muffin made with vegetable oil has enough beta carotene to provide Vitamin A. But the beta-carotene in carrots and yellow vegetables doesn’t readily convert to enough usable Vitamin A. That does not mean you shouldn’t eat yellow vegetables. It means you need to add a meat source, for instance liver, once a week, to get enough bio-available Vitamin A in your diet.

Start serving liver when children are young, and you won’t have to introduce it later. The secret is not to overcook liver, and to serve it with a smile. If kids won’t eat liver, try flavored cod liver oil for a balanced dose of A, D3 and other essential nutrients.

While Vitamin A is essential, you can get too much, so:

  • Always check dosage information for your child’s age and body weight.
  • Keep your pediatrician in the loop whenever you use supplements.
  • Remember it is always best to get nutrients from food.

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is another key nutrient we are coming to appreciate for its many health benefits. Vitamin K2 has many important and distinct functions.

K2 Functions:

  • Supports brain function
  • Supports growth and development
  • Keeps skin healthy
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Prevents heart disease
  • Maintains bone strength
  • Prevents cancer

Eating foods with Vitamins K2, D3, and A will keep your child in good mental and physical health. We’re still learning about the best K2 food sources.

K2 Food Sources:

  • Fermented foods like natto and sauerkraut
  • Meats, including beef, chicken, and cured meats such as salami
  • Chicken liver
  • Butter and fatty cheeses
  • Egg yolks

Health and dietary trends show that the outmoded low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet recommendations aren’t working. Replacing fats with sugar, damages the health. Yet we stick with poor government advice. Mental health issues, childhood obesity, and diabetes are epidemic. Yet these urgent issues have not made a dent in the anti-fat CDC guidelines. Happily, parents have the power to make food choices for their children.

Real Food and Fats for Better Mental and Overall Health

Simple diet choices can have major impact. Serve kids real foods like eggs scrambled in grass-fed butter instead of breakfast cereal. Use full-fat cheese and olives on a lunch salad, and nourishing meats and fish for dinner. You don’t have to labor for hours, just plan ahead when shopping. Fish and hamburgers each take 20 minutes, tops. Frozen veggies like cauliflower, broccoli and spinach can be cooked with butter and full-fat cream or coconut cream. Blend veggies and cream with an immersion blender and a few seasonings for a hearty, filling soup. Add eggs instead and bake a casserole that can also be packed as tomorrow’s lunch along with a handful of nuts.

Cooking real food doesn’t have to be hard, and kids will find the fats so satisfying and filling that they won’t be looking for overpriced between-meal snacks.

This writer strongly believes that the evidence is sufficient and urgent enough for parents to make bold dietary decisions for their families. Our children’s mental and physical health are at stake. Our national institutions show little interest in revoking long-held and long-discredited nutritional advice. But there’s no time to wait. It’s up to us to protect our children.

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Free Online Games Review

“Free online games!” shout the websites and blogs, vying for your attention. But over time we’ve become skeptics. We know that the free online games may not actually be free and may be full of screen-freezing technical glitches, besides. The games, moreover, may not hold a child’s attention or prove to be educational.

That’s why we decided to look for free online games that could keep kids busy when parents are at work or otherwise occupied, an option all parents need from time to time. We looked at various websites and the games they offered, actually playing the games to see how they stack up.

The results were surprising. Many of the games we found were terrible. Games billed as “educational” were often nothing of the sort. And way too many of the websites offering “free” games wanted money. Worst of all, a lot of the games simply didn’t work, freezing our computers, or refusing to respond to our clicks and commands.

Strange to say, the worst offenders turned out to be the websites with the strongest brand names. We would have expected Sesame Street, or Dr. Seuss, for instance, to be dependable brands. To the contrary, the bigger names got our lowest marks for their offerings.

The following review is not scientific or even comprehensive. It reflects only our personal experience. We tested games offered in articles we found on Google that claim to offer the best of free online games for children.

It may be that your computers and devices are better than our and that games that refused to cooperate for us, work well for you. If so, we hope you’ll tell us so in the comments. We’d also love it if you could let us know about free online games you’ve discovered that are both educational and enjoyable for children.

Free Online Games: Pre-Reading Skills

To keep this review manageable, we narrowed our field by focusing on free online games for preschool literacy skills. We looked at online storybooks that children can follow, and phonics, alphabet, and rhyme games for the pre-k crowd.

Ease of Operation

We looked for games that were easy to operate and glitch-free. We feel that nothing is more frustrating than setting a kid in front of the computer only to have the child find that the game doesn’t work. When this happens several times in a row, you end up with one seriously cranky child, so this is an important consideration.

Really Free

We also looked for games that were really free, and not just suckering you in, making your child really, REALLY, want to play, only to then demand your credit card information. Working moms don’t want to have to spend their salaries amusing their children. Otherwise they might as well stay home! When parents are at work and kids are at home, parents need inexpensive solutions. This is why we looked for websites that weren’t gaming us with false claims of free offerings.

Here are our findings:

Sesame Street   ★★ (2 stars)

Sesame Street website screenshot
(screenshot)

We were sure that Sesame Street, based on its strong brand, was going to give us wonderful games full of educational value. Sesame Street’s reputation is the reason we began there in our search for free online games. Alas, the offerings on the Sesame Street website were poor.

The first game we tried, Rhyme Time, refused to work. We tried going in and out of the game several times, but it just refused to respond to our clicks and commands. Weirdly, we saw exactly the same game offered at the PBS website, and there it worked just fine. It turned out to be a decent game, in terms of its educational value. A child might actually learn some rhymes. But the speed of the game, though adjustable, and set on high, was so slow we couldn’t imagine a child would have the patience to play for long.

Next we looked at Grover’s Story Circle. While this game worked just fine, it didn’t seem to offer much value. Children have to “color” the page in order to have it read to them. But coloring isn’t really coloring. It’s only about moving the mouse over the page until it fills in with color. What we call “stupid work.”

There’s no pointer to help children follow the words in the story. Nor are the words highlighted as they are read. That means that children have no way to connect individual words to the sounds they hear. We would think that Sesame Street could do better. But children do have a choice of three stories, there are English or Spanish language options, and the game can be configured to single or multiple players. A child can also choose the character that will read and narrate the stories and game.

A third game, Super Elmo’s ABC Jump was only okay. Kids get to “jump” from cloud to cloud by choosing the correct letter out of a choice of two letters. It wasn’t very exciting. Just the same thing over and over again. Choosing the letter, jumping on clouds. *yawn*

PBS ★★★ (3 stars)

PBS Kids logo
(screenshot)

Next we tried PBS, figuring hey, their stuff has got to be educational. But when we went to the PBS Kids page, we found a lot of time-wasting games sorted according to age and popularity. Further down the page, the games were sorted by topic but not by age, which surprised us, considering the PBS brand. We would have thought more care would be taken in what was offered and how it was presented.

We looked at PBS reading games, and to our dismay, found that many of the games were not even current. We clicked on Problem with Chickens and got a “page not found” error. We next went to PBS Princess Presto’s Spectacular Spelling, which looked good. But the sound disappeared on the second page. We reloaded the story and this time, no sound on the first page.

The PBS storybook section was a mixed bag. Planning an Elephant’s Party had great illustrations and the words were highlighted as they are read aloud. But when we tried The Election Problem, there was a sound problem. Two pages would work fine, then no sound on the third.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood looked like fun, but the words weren’t highlighted as they were read and this time the sound cut out in the middle of the page. We checked out the Arthur Comic Book So Funny I forgot to Laugh and found it slow-loading. We liked the way the speech balloons appeared near the characters as they spoke their lines. This was similar to highlighting words or using a pointer, and is meant to help children to connect sounds to symbols. But the voices of the various characters all sounded alike to us, and we still thought it would have been more effective to highlight the words within the speech balloons.

Starfall ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Starfall website screenshot
(screenshot)

Our next stop was Starfall. Here, everything was properly grouped according to age and topic and there was a large selection of pre-k literacy games. While the topic page interface was blah, the games themselves were wonderful.

At a glance, all games appeared to be free of charge. When we went deeper, however, we saw there were items we could not access. An about page informed us that “All essential activities for learning to read are free. Complete access for all activities, including expanded math and reading content for K-2nd grade and additional songs and rhymes are available with an inexpensive Starfall membership; only $35 for an entire year.”

While this was disappointing the free stuff on offer at Starfall was both good and educational, and there was a nice selection to boot.

From the free section, we tried an excellent Make a Word game incorporating the short “a” sound in “an”. The Learn to Read game Zac the Rat was a good follow up, using both highlighting, pointing, and interactive graphics to illustrate the short “a” sound. These games are great at helping children connect sounds to symbols, the most important aspect of learning to read.

Next we clicked on an interactive video, The Robot and Mr. Mole, designed to illustrated the long “o” sound. This too, was of excellent quality. We then played a matching long vowels memory game. The last seemed more about testing memory than teaching long vowels, but if your child is already playing games designed to teach long vowel sounds, this game deserves inclusion and offers educational value, too.

We found Starfall to be a treasure trove of valuable, educational games, the majority of them free of charge, as advertised. The Starfall website restored our faith in the concept of free online games for children, proving that such games could be all we wish them to be. This is one to bookmark.

Learning Games for Kids ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Learning Games for Kids website screenshot
(screenshot)

Learning Games for Kids may not have had as many amazing games as Starfall, but what it did have was fine and free, and all of it worked well. We played a nice Rhyme Game, and watched the Short Vowel Lesson which was a catchy animated song video, then checked out the selection of three preschool storybooks. We chose Buggy Bugs from the three books on offer. We were pleased to see a pointer that allowed children to follow the words as they were read. Learning Games for Kids is exactly as advertised: educational free online games for kids, and we offer our heartfelt stamp of approval.

Education.com ★★★★ (4 stars)

Education.com website screenshot
(screenshot)

Our next stop was the selection of kindergarten games at Education.com. There was a filter to sort the games according to topic and the games were all fine. Our main drawback here was that we found we had to click twice to get to the games, and then click another two times to play the games: a total of four clicks to arrive at the starting point of a game. This is annoying. Why make kids or their parents jump through hoops to play the games?

While we deemed the games decent, even good, we thought some of the games seemed too old for a preschooler, for instance, the School Bus Spelling Game, the first game we tried. The next game we tried was Long O Words Spelling. When we clicked the icon for this game we were required to register or sign in with a social media account. We signed in with Facebook, and were then asked to fill out a form. Happily, we saw were able to skip past the form. The game was good, but very similar in design and level to the School Bus Spelling Game.

We tried a rhyming game next, the Rhyming Words Match Up, and found it very good. We moved on to the Long and Short Vowel Sort, followed by Long Vowel Word Hop. And that’s when we hit the paywall. We’d hit our free limit of five games per month.

The good news is the user’s free limit refreshes each month. But it’s going to cramp your style if your kid is having a really great time and suddenly hits that paywall. You may not wish to return to the website, knowing how disappointing it is to kids to hit a limit on their gaming.

Education.com is, in short, a mixed bag. Decent games, but you have to jump through hoops to play them. The games may be too difficult for little ones, and kids are bound to hit the paywall just as they’re beginning to have a good time.

Teach Your Monster to Read ★★★★ (4 stars)

Teach your monster to read website screenshot
(screenshot)

Our next stop was Teach Your Monster to Read. An excellent effort, we thought this game was really well done and compelling. The graphics and narration are a cut above the competition. And it really is free!

We did have to register and sign in. But this allows the website to track the user’s progress, so the game starts where you left off the last time you played. We see this as a positive. The minute we registered, by the way, we had a nice explanatory email from “Alex” who directed us to the website’s FAQs and said he welcomed user feedback.

We did have two issues at Teach Your Monster to Read. The first sound in the game is the “s” sound. It was a little difficult for us to understand the sound. It wasn’t a human voice, but something more mechanical, and the enunciation of the sound fell short, in our opinion. We also had trouble maneuvering ducks into the proper pond. The ducks were somewhat disobedient and it was tricky to get them where they needed to be—perhaps too tricky for a preschooler.

Seussville ★★ (2 stars)

Seussville website screenshot
(screenshot)

Our final stop was the game section of the Dr. Seuss website, Seussville. Here we must state that the weird contemporary music that plays during loading time is a serious migraine trigger—but maybe that’s just us. We also didn’t see any way to sort the games according to topic. We tried a combination storybook and game, Fox in Socks. There was no pointer or highlighting of the text as it is read, but we liked the game, finding it creative and well executed, and definitely educational.

Next we tried Fishing for ABCs, which refused to load. We just got that annoying, headache-producing loading music at length until we gave up. The consensus? Your child might like these games, when they load, but keep out of the room if you’re prone to migraines!

So there you have it, the good, the bad, and the indifferent of free online games for children. We hope we saved you some time, and offered some educational fun, as well. Use the comments section to tell us about your own free online game finds. We’d love to learn from your experience!

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