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!

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!

5 Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe Around Dogs

Dogs can be wonderful companions for children. They are loyal, fun and provide unconditional love, so it’s not surprising many parents want their children to grow up with a family dog. Despite these attractions to the idea of a canine/child relationship, not every parent knows how to keep a child safe around dogs.

Children and dogs speak very different languages. The way a child shows affection may feel confrontational to a dog, which could cause the animal anxiety or stress. Children also find it hard to understand that a dog isn’t a cuddly toy and sometimes needs to be left alone.

Despite these issues with communication, most dogs tolerate human behavior. Bites are rare and almost never happen without warning. There are also plenty of things parents can do to reduce the chance of a bite, so here are five tips to keep your child safe around dogs.

Tip One: Teach Children How to Greet a Dog

There’s an expectation from some parents that all dogs should be friendly. This is transmitted to the child, who may not understand that strange dogs shouldn’t be approached. Keeping a child safe around dogs means teaching the child to approach the dog with caution.

As a dog owner, I’ve often had children run up to my pet at the park—sometimes screaming with delight—and pat him on the forehead. Their parents usually don’t ask permission or stop the child from approaching my dog, which is to them, an unknown dog. This is most definitely not the way to keep a child safe around dogs.

Despite the child’s good intentions, this sudden approach by a stranger can be a scary situation for a dog. Dogs don’t know what a strange child wants when the child approaches without warning. The dog often has no way to escape this unwanted attention. A dog’s attempts at communicating discomfort are usually missed or ignored.

little boy plays with dog in autumn park

Many dogs, including my own, are able to tolerate this sort of behavior. But some dogs may become defensive or even bite if they feel trapped, scared, or startled. For this reason, it’s important for all children to know how to politely greet a dog. This reduces the chance of a bite and teaches respect for dogs.

Here’s a simple four-step process you can use to teach your child how to greet a dog:

  1. Ask Permission: The first thing to teach a child is that he or she should never approach a strange dog without a parent’s permission. Similarly, the parent should always check with the owner before allowing a child near a dog. Never stroke (or allow a child to stroke) a dog if you can’t speak with the owner first—even if the dog is tied up in a public space.
  2. Proper Approach: Once the owner has given permission, show your child how to walk towards the dog with an outstretched arm and a closed fist. This protects the fingers and gives the dog a chance to communicate his feelings.
  3. The Dog’s Decision: The dog will sniff the child’s hand and either turn away or continue looking. If he turns away, he doesn’t want to continue with the interaction and you should leave him alone. This can be difficult for a child to understand, but it’s important to teach a child to respect a dog’s wishes. If the dog continues looking at the child or licks the child’s hand, the dog is giving his permission to be greeted.
  4. Stroking the Dog: Once the dog has signaled that he’s happy to continue making friends, the child can stroke him on the chest, shoulder or back. The child should avoid reaching over the dog’s head.
little girl offers dog food from her hand
Keep your child safe around dogs by teaching your child to seek permission to greet the dog.

Even if the dog has shown positive signals of accepting your child’s friendship, you and your child should watch for signs of discomfort. Signs of a dog’s discomfort might include moving away, yawning or licking lips. If you see any such signs, have your child move away. Doing so teaches your child how to read the dog’s body language, which is critical to keeping your child safe around dogs.

Tip Two: Dogs Don’t Like Hugs

With their fluffy coats and big round eyes, dogs can seem like the perfect cuddling companions. The sad truth, however, is that most dogs don’t like hugs. Hugging feels restrictive to canines and they often don’t see a hug as a sign of affection. This can be difficult for young children to understand, but it’s important children learn that a dog is not a teddy bear.

There are some exceptions to the hugging rule. I’ve known several dogs that actively seek hugs from their owners and even strangers. Dogs, like people, have individual likes and dislikes. The average dog, however, tends to shows signs of anxiety when hugged. The dog may make “Whale Eyes” or lick his lips. The child should look for these signs when hugging a dog and be honest with himself as to whether the dog is really enjoying the hug, or would rather have a back scratch. If the dog is not enjoying the hug, the child should stop hugging the dog, of course.

While most dogs don’t enjoy hugs, that doesn’t mean a dog will automatically become aggressive or bite when hugged. Family dogs, in fact, often tolerate hugs from children and adults. Even so, it’s not fair or kind to hug dogs  when it’s not in a dog’s nature to enjoy hugging. To hug a dog is to put him in a situation that makes him feel stressed and anxious.

Tip Three: Understand A Dog’s Discomfort Body Language

As a parent, the most important skill you can develop to keep your child safe around dogs is understanding the dog’s basic body language. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Canine body language is surprisingly complex, but the signals for anxiety, stress or unhappiness are often easy to spot. The following signs tell you when a child’s play is becoming too rough and/or the dog should be left alone:

  • Repetitive yawning despite being well rested
  • Licking of lips when there’s no food in the area
  • Heavy panting
  • Turning the head away from the child
  • Giving “Whale Eye” by tilting the head away and showing the whites of the eyes
  • Moving or crawling away

These signals are the dog’s way of communicating he’s uncomfortable. If your child is the one causing the discomfort, it’s time to have your child give the dog some space. This is the smart way to keep your child safe around dogs.

There are, of course, other body language signals that dogs use to communicate feelings. In some situations, a dog will display the more obvious emotions of fear or aggression. Most people know that growling, teeth baring, and raised hackles are signs a dog shouldn’t be approached—especially by a child. In contrast, the classic “play bow” is a signal that a dog wants to play.

Such emotions are generally obvious even to humans who don’t understand canine body language. It’s the subtler signals of canine emotion that are often missed.

Tip Four: Supervise Children and Dogs at All Times

Dogs can make brilliant family pets. Many are patient, tolerant and loving around children, which is why the child/canine bond can quickly become so strong. Even so, parents should always supervise time spent between young children and dogs. Most dog bites happen when the parent or caregiver is nearby—and there are always warning signs that might have prevented the bite, if only someone had been paying attention. Except for the case in which there is a physical barrier between dog and child, for instance a sturdy fence, parents should actively supervise a child’s interaction with a dog.

“Active” supervision refers to parents watching the dog for signs of discomfort. The parent should be watching the dog without any outside distractions. No checking your phone screen, or watching television. You’re on watch. If the dog shows signs of anxiety or defensiveness—or if the play is becoming too boisterous—the parent should calmly step in and lead the child away.

Supervision isn’t only important when the child and dog are at play. Parents should always be on the watch for dangerous encounters between child and dog, such as, for instance, a child walking towards a sleeping dog. This can be hard work—always watching your child’s interactions with a dog—but active supervision is the best way to prevent a bite.

little girl huddles with dog on white rug

Tip Five: Show Your Child How to React to a Strange Dog

Just as I’ve seen children run up to dogs without first asking permission, I often see off-leash dogs approaching people with their owners nowhere in sight. This is often just a dog being playful, and wanting to meet new people. A boisterous dog can, however, be scary to a child. The child’s reaction can also sometimes make the dog mistakenly believe the child want to play.

To avoid misunderstandings, it’s important for frightened children to know how to react to a strange dog. The worst way for a frightened child to react to a dog is to run away screaming. Instead, the child should stand still with hands together and avoid making eye contact with the dog. The phrase “Be a Tree” is often used to describe this technique. A boisterous or playful dog usually becomes bored when someone behaves in this way. Once the dog loses interest, the child should calmly walk to an adult.

Admittedly, this is a lot to ask of a young child who is scared. But Be a Tree is a useful technique to teach children once they are able to understand how to behave around dogs. The Be a Tree technique also works well in the rare case in which a dog behaves aggressively towards a child.

Most dogs are brilliant companions and unlikely to bite. They should, however, always be treated with care, gentleness, and respect. For this reason, it’s important for children to know how to greet and interact with a dog. This helps keep the child safe while building a stronger bond between child and dog. Parents should also be able to identify common canine distress signals, so they can end an interaction before it becomes dangerous.

Do you have any questions about how to keep your child safe around dogs? Do you find it difficult to teach your child to behave politely around dogs? Please let me know in the comments and I’ll answer as soon as I can.

Allergies in Children

Allergies in children occur when the child’s immune system reacts to substances that are harmless to most children. Some substances are known allergens, which means they are known to cause allergic reactions in children and others susceptible to allergies. These substances include dust mites, pets, pollen, insects, ticks, mold, various foods, and some medications.

Allergies can make a child feel miserable with chronic uncomfortable symptoms. For some children, however, allergies don’t just affect quality of life, but are so severe as to be life-threatening. Any child can develop an allergy, but allergies are more common in children whose families have them, too.

A child who often coughs or sneezes, develops rashes or hives, or gets stomach aches, cramps or nausea each time he or she eats a certain food, may be experiencing allergies. If you identify those allergies early on, you have a good chance of making your child’s life a better, more comfortable one. By identifying and dealing with a childhood allergy, you’ll cut down the number of days your child will have to miss school. Treating the allergy means you’ll also be able to use your sick days and vacation days as they were intended, instead of using them to care for a sick child.

Baby has an allergic rash on his cheeks
The baby is adorable, but the allergic rash? Not so much.

Allergies: Common Symptoms

In order to identify allergy symptoms in your child, you have to know what they might look like. Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with childhood allergies

  • Skin rashes (such as atopic dermatitis or eczema)
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing (asthma)
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Stomach ache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea

Common Allergens

Getting control over childhood allergies means avoiding the substances that trigger allergic reactions in children. Here is a list of the most common childhood allergens.

Out of doors:

  • Tree pollen
  • Plant pollen
  • Insect bites
  • Insect stings

Indoors:

Irritants:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfumes and scented products
  • Automobile exhaust fumes

Foods that may be allergens:

If you think your child may have an allergy, have the child seen by an allergist. In the days leading up to your appointment, keep a journal of your child’s symptoms and what substances you think might have caused them.

Common Allergy Issues

If your child has allergies, he or she is probably dealing with some of the following issues:

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is the most common allergic condition in children. The symptoms of allergic rhinitis include runny, itchy nose; sneezing; postnasal drip; and nasal congestion or blockage. Other symptoms of hay fever include watery, red, itchy eyes, and fluid in the ears, which leads to ear pain, and ear infections. Hay fever is not triggered by hay, and does not come with fever.

Nasal congestion or a stuffy nose in children, is most commonly caused by allergies. When the nose is congested, a child is forced to breathe through the mouth. This can make for a restless night’s sleep, leaving your child tired during the day. This makes it difficult for children to concentrate in school. It’s important to note that if this congestion is not treated, it can affect the development of the child’s teeth as well as the bone structure of the face. Seek treatment for allergic nasal congestion as soon as possible, to prevent such issues.

Ear infections can develop when allergic congestion, causes fluid to accumulate in the ears. A buildup of fluid can lead to inflammation, pain, and a reduction in hearing. Decreased hearing puts babies and small children still learning to speak at risk for speech issues. Ear troubles due to allergies can cause ear pain, itching, popping, and a feeling of fullness or being “stopped up.” A child with ear trouble may rub or tug on her ear and may cry at night.

Food allergies affect some 6 million children in the United States. Breastfeeding is an excellent way to prevent food allergies for some children. But some children are so sensitive that they have allergic reactions to foods their breastfeeding moms eat. If you have allergies in your family, you may want to stay away from allergic foods while breastfeeding. You may also want to avoid introducing these foods to young children. Allergic foods include:

  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts (for instance, walnuts and cashews)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Wheat

Peanuts and milk are the most common food allergens in children. The most severe childhood allergic reactions to food are generally to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. While not all children outgrow food allergies, they often outgrow their childhood allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.

Children with food allergies are at risk for anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause breathing difficulties accompanied by a sudden drop in blood pressure. An anaphylactic reaction can send the body into shock. For this reason, doctors prescribe epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, that can be self-injected at the first symptom. The child’s school should be made aware of the condition and teachers trained in the use of administering the life-saving epinephrine in case of emergency.

School nurse helps child with asthma inhaler

Allergies: School Issues

Inform the school. If your child has allergies, his school should be informed. The same is true of summer camp or anywhere your child spends time. It’s important to ensure that the school knows what to do in case of emergency, and how to administer your child’s medications.

Classroom pets. Some classrooms have pets with fur, for instance gerbils, that can cause symptoms in children with allergies. If your child feels unwell in the classroom, for example, asthma, coughing, or congestion, a runny nose, a rash, or sneezing, such symptoms may well be caused by the classroom pet.

Boy sneezing from holding cat
Will the family pet have to go?

Asthma and gym class. Participating in sports or physical education classes is good for children, even those with asthma. Children with asthma should, however, take care to use their asthma medication regularly and as directed by a physician. When asthma symptoms occur during hard exercise or sports, it suggests that the child’s asthma is under poor control.

Chalk dust irritation. Chalk dust can be an irritant for those with allergies. Children with allergies may need to sit farther away from the blackboard to avoid irritation and allergy symptoms.

It’s a challenge to deal with children’s allergies, and it takes commitment. But take heart: so many children suffer from allergies that you are surely not alone in dealing with this issue!

If you suspect your child has allergies, don’t take a wait and see attitude, because early identification and treatment of allergies is crucial for your child’s health and development. See your child’s doctor as soon as possible.

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!

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Lies We Encourage as Parents

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are mythological creatures many of us believe in as children. We think of them as real and our parents encourage this belief. At some point, someone busts the bubble and a child might approach a parent: “Is it true there’s no such thing as (choose one: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny)?”

This creates a dilemma for the parent. Should the parent come clean? How will the child feel on learning the truth? How will the parent feel to watch the child wrestling with the death of strong-held childhood beliefs?

These questions lead to more questions: Is the belief in mythological characters like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny beneficial to children? Does it harm a child to be misled by his own parents, even if the misleading information was meant kindly? Should parents continue or discontinue this practice?

Parenting coach Barbara Harvey doesn’t think that the focus on these mythical creatures is all bad, but she does think the practice of encouraging belief in make-believe figures sets children up for disappointment and disillusionment. “I encourage parents to tell their children about the origins of these fictional characters and to talk about how the stories have become bigger than life. Then it becomes fun to examine: ‘Okay, what’s going down with the Easter Bunny at Easter? Let’s look around and see how the Easter Bunny has become bigger than life.’

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: The Magic

“This way kids still get to enjoy the magic and the wonder of these characters without having to believe that they actually exist,” says Harvey, who is the executive director of Parents, Teachers, and Advocates, a parent development group in Atlanta, GA.

Teaching kids to believe in these creatures is, on the other hand, teaching them lies. What happens to the trust a child has in a parent when the lie is discovered? Wouldn’t it be only natural for a child to feel betrayed on learning the truth? Is it worse when the child hears the truth from a friend, and discovers his own parents have lied to him?

And what about the child who tells the friend that his mother told him that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are real creatures, and his mother never lies—only to discover that his mother has, indeed, lied.

And what is the effect of all this when you’ve never lied to your child about anything except for the “lies” about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny?

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Benign Practice?

Do these questions show us that the subject of mythological creatures is more complicated that anyone might have supposed? Or is this just a lot of fuss and bother over the perpetuation of a belief in make-believe characters—something most of us think of as a benign practice, harmless. Part of childhood.

But is it? Must it be this way?

Well, according to Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, the answer is both yes and no. “Parents should never lie to their children about anything. However, when it comes to myths like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, many parents want to carry on the tradition of fun by nurturing a gentle belief in these myths when their kids are young.

“Usually, by age 7 or 8 years, most children wonder out loud and ask their Mommy or Daddy if Santa is real. It’s up to the parent at that point to respond honestly and openly by saying, ‘When I was a child, my parents thought it was a fun part of Christmas to teach us about the myth of Santa Claus. I loved it so much that I decided to share those teachings with my children. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to carry on this family tradition or do Christmas in your own special way,’” says Walfish, who serves as a regular expert on The Doctors, on CBS TV, in her capacity as a child psychologist.

Despite the advice of experts like Harvey and Walfish, there isn’t much science to guide us in understanding what we should do as parents going forward. The research tells us that most kids figure out the truth by age 7 or 8. The kids generally have a positive reaction to learning these characters aren’t real. It is the parents who report feeling sad when their children stop believing in Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Part of the Process

In spite of this scientific evidence that kids aren’t sad or damaged by the truth, at least one expert disagrees, believing sadness and disappointment to be part of the process. “When your child learns that there is no Santa Claus or Easter bunny, it is certainly sad for him or her and as parents, we need to be sure to validate their disappointment,” says Child and Adult Therapist Courtney Rodrigue. Rodrigue suggests that children, on learning the truth, be enlisted to keep the secret from others, “It is also helpful to tell your child that now he/she knows there is no Santa Claus (or Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy) you need their help to keep this special secret so their younger siblings or cousins can enjoy the magic of believing. Parents should emphasize that although there is no magic man in a red suit, this doesn’t mean there is no magic to the holiday spirit,” says Rodrigue.

Interestingly, one stand-out scientific finding is that Jewish children are less likely to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy than Christian children, even when their parents encourage such belief. What makes Jewish children impervious to the hype? Could it be the emphasis of the Jewish religion on Old Testament beliefs? The Ten Commandments?

Perhaps. Child Psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character, Dr. Elizabeth Berger, however, thinks children should be directed to share the beliefs of their peers, whatever these might be. Berger reminds concerned parents that, “Adjusting the nature of reality to the child’s developmental level is one of the main missions of parenthood. This involves adjusting the nature of reality for one’s child to the social reality of the community in which the parent has chosen to raise the child.

“In practical terms, this means editing the brutal truth about many matters so that the mind of a small child–a toddler or 6-year-old–can understand them. All parents do this, in order to spare small children overwhelming experiences which are part of an adult reality–terrible things on the news or painful events among one’s friends, neighbors, or family. We do a great deal to ‘spare’ our small children many realities and this effort is in their best interest.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: Joyful Magic?

“Likewise, it is not harmful to encourage a small amount of joyful magic in a child’s experience, such as belief in imaginary creatures who single out the child for special events such as the Tooth Fairy. In our communities today, many children share these fantasy beliefs as part of special times. Encouraging your child to burst these innocent balloons which are enjoyed by other kids on the playground does not help the child get along with others in a comfortable way. It sets your child up as a nay-sayer and kill-joy,” says Berger.

That doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t prepare a child to realize the truth, which according to Berger is an inevitable part of growing up. “It is important that parents are empathic in easing along the transition to realistic thinking which most children do naturally as part of their growing intellectual depth and their awareness of peer attitudes. Few ten-years-olds believe in the Tooth Fairy, regardless of what parents do or say. Once a child wants to penetrate the fantasy and confront the parent with the truth, it is a good idea to congratulate the child on this insight and to validate the development of more complex understanding. You can always explain that these silly beliefs are for littler kids, and commend the child on his or her maturity,” says Berger.

Experts urge us to be empathetic to children who have just found out the truth about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Isn’t it odd then that research describes children as having a positive response to finding out their parents have been lying to them their entire lives? It seems children see discovering the truth as a rite of passage. It means they’ve crossed the line and become big boys and girls, and are little babies no longer. They now know something small children don’t know. It makes them superior in their own eyes, more grown up, more knowledgeable.

 

Why are the parents sad when their children learn the truth? There’s something about the fantasy world of small children that is beautiful and moving, compared to the harshness of everyday reality. We like the idea that babies live in a sweet, pink world, where everything is soft and friendly. Growing up also means a loss of closeness to our children in some ways, because they no longer need to depend upon us—their parents—in quite the same way. They don’t need us.

That is bittersweet.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the EMythological creatures such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and practices like putting a tooth under a pillow (illustrated), allow children to experience wonderaster Bunny: Betrayal

Not all of us are sad when our children begin to figure it out. David Gerecht was proud as punch when his six-year-old asked him what the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth. Children, meanwhile, aren’t always happy to be clued in. “I remember getting totally upset at age 6 when I realized that the Tooth Mice (in my family it was Mice) were an invention of my parents,” says the now middle-aged Miriam Kresh.

Do some parents find other ways to mark milestone events such as losing teeth? Shira Daniel says her husband, a dentist, told the kids that an angel gives the teeth away to new children. But even this attempt was foiled by discovery. “I think they bought it but at one point knew it was their father,” says Daniel.

The father in-law of Chana Roberts called himself the Tooth Fairy’s “agent.” “Kids gave him their teeth and he gave them money. [My own children] don’t have a Tooth Fairy. I just said I want to put the first teeth with the first pair of shoes, because sometimes mommies like to do that kind of thing,” says Roberts.

Some parents feel that it is the function of a child’s mind to fantasize, with or without our input. We don’t need to tell them about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny in order for them to invent their own fantastical worlds and the creatures that inhabit them. They dream this way despite us.

Such parents may point to children at play as illustrating this idea. They are endlessly creative at play.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny: White Lie?

These parents believe it is better to draw the line in the sand for their children, when it comes to the difference between truth and make-believe. They say that by being keepers of the truth, their children can use them as trustworthy guides for distinguishing fact from fantasy. These parents believe that in remaining truthful, they deepen the bonds they have with their children who will never discover they have been lied to, betrayed, even in the matter of the “white lie” of make-believe characters such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

These parents may feel that the only people who stand to lose from truth-telling are the marketers who plug these creatures at holiday time to make their wares more attractive to youngsters and their parents.

But Dr. Elizabeth Berger still sees the importance of maintaining the ruse. “The world of the small child is full of magic and unreality, and should be. Each small child should feel like ‘the best little girl or boy’ in the world and regard the Mom and Dad as the best Mom and Dad ever, and the local community as the best place on earth. The recognition of ordinariness comes gradually and later.”

Do you think belief in make-believe characters is no big deal?

Did you decide not to encourage your children to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny?

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!

Critical Thinking Skills: Resources for Parents

Critical thinking skills are one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer a child in today’s world of too much information. As a people, we humans are bombarded by information coming at us from our various screens. How we relate to that information separates us into two groups. We are either intelligent, sensitive people, or we are “sheeple.” Sheeple take in the data they see and hear and spit it back out at the world, without stopping to examine or assess the information in the first place.

Being one with the sheeple means being ripe for manipulation. The sheeple drink in false propaganda like it’s water. They’ll happily buy whatever moral code you plug without question and adopt it as their own. They’ll buy any product you tell them will make them happy.

We don’t want our children to be vulnerable to group think. We want them to stop and use their critical thinking skills before buying products marketers claim will make them thin and happy, when no product can replace diet and exercise, or fix their emotional baggage. We don’t want our children to buy into what the media tells them to think, rather we want our children to dig deep, find the facts, and develop their own, fact-based opinions.

Critical Thinking is a Learning Process

Critical thinking isn’t a lesson you’re going to sit down and teach your children at one fell swoop. It’s a process. One that takes time and patience.

Your children are going to demand you buy them pretty, sparkly things, based on advertising. Each time, you’re going to have to point out the manipulation in the marketing. When children come to you with ideas on current events, moreover, you’re going to have to press them regarding the facts. You’re going to have to show them how the media uses suasion to drive home an editorial stance. You’ll need to show them how the story is depicted in a completely different manner on a different website and help them understand how to read between the lines to learn the truth of any given news story.

Critical thinking is about questioning: is this all there is to this story? Is there another side? Am I being manipulated? Will a given product fulfill the promise, the claim of the packaging and advertising?

Is it any wonder that right about now you’re thinking you never signed up for this when you decided to have a baby? All this scrutiny, all this teaching your child how to think! It’s a tall order, this critical thinking business.

Critical Thinking Resources

Lucky for you, there are resources out there to help you do the hard work of helping your child separate fact from fiction. There are actually amazing websites that can help you teach your child the important skill of critical thinking, no matter the topic at hand.

Many of these resources were developed for teachers, but there is no reason why we can’t, as parents, partake of these free tools. Parents, after all, were the first teachers, and remain the go-to source of information for their children. One great place to start is NAMLE, which stands for National Association for Media Literacy Education. NAMLE is sponsoring the third yearly Media Literacy Week (November 6-10, 2017), a cause  near and dear to NAMLE’s heart.

A great place for parents to begin exploring what NAMLE has to offer is this recently released parent’s guide on teaching children how to be careful media consumers. The focus of the guide is on teaching kids to always ask questions. Here, parents can read up on how to have the conversation about fake news, how to teach children to identify scams, and how to guide children in avoiding plagiarizing information found on websites. An invaluable resource for instilling in our children the message of using their critical thinking faculties.

The Newseum, on the other hand, is more like a teacher’s treasure trove, with lesson plans galore for teaching children how to use their critical thinking skills to form opinions. Choose a topic, such as civil rights, women’s rights, the Holocaust, or an election campaign, and you’ve got everything you need to show children all about it. Looking at Newseum’s collection on women’s suffrage, for instance, there are downloadable units on the history of women’s suffrage; how the Suffragettes used media to further their aims comparing these tactics to today’s use of social media; and a unit on the new techniques women used to get the vote and how these techniques are still in use today. There’s a timeline for feminist milestones a map showing how women’s suffrage spread, and search engines to learn about people important to the women’s movement. We can see women’s movement-related government documents and newspaper clippings, too.

Sortable Resources

Newseum has neat things you can download, like a colorful poster with a mnemonic device to aid children in spotting media bias. The various offerings can be sorted according to grade, format, topic, theme, and century. There are even case studies relating to current events, such as this one about First Amendment rights and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’ speech at the University of Berkeley campus. Good stuff here, whether for kids just cutting their teeth on finding their thoughts or somewhat further along with their critical thinking skills.critical thinking skills involve questioning, a girl at a desk raises her hand

Common Sense Media is devoted to providing unbiased media to and honing critical thinking skills in children, and offers resources to parents on media literacy and bias under the heading of “Parent Concerns.” Here, parents can find videos, articles, and infographics to help them navigate the news with children. The Common Sense Media statement at the bottom of the website’s homepage is a pleasure to read, a terrific moral statement:

“Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

If all this wealth of information seems overwhelming, and you’d rather have everything you need on one page, try this resource at Internet4Classrooms: How to Evaluate News Sources for Media Bias. Written for teachers to use in the classroom, this resource breaks down the various forms of media bias for the student. This article can serve as a kind of checklist for the child who is trying to figure out whether a particular news piece is or is not biased. (Speaking of bias, the piece was written by this author, so there may be some bias in recommending the piece to you, the reader!)

Avoiding Cynicism

Critical thinking is an ongoing learning process. Once you get kids started on the right path asking lots of questions, however, it shouldn’t be difficult to encourage them to continue. Kids have a strong sense of morality and will enjoy applying their critical thinking skills to all situations. Helping them avoid bitter cynicism as they wake up to the deceptive nature of too many media outlets and advertisers, on the other hand, may be a lesson that’s harder to teach.

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!

Manage ADHD by Developing Skills

You can’t manage ADHD with drugs alone. Anyone who has ever parented one of the 6 million children in the United States age 4-17 diagnosed with the condition knows that. But with school now back in session, frustrated parents and their children may be asking what more can be done to manage ADHD and its symptoms. Because taking drugs isn’t enough, and may not even be the right way to go.

ADHD is complicated. It makes learning difficult. That’s why children with ADHD need a great deal of support from their parents, teachers, and school counselors. A school counselor, in particular, can play a special role in helping students with ADHD by serving as an intermediary between parents and teachers.

With so many children experiencing ADHD, it becomes crucial to offer them some sort of support system that goes beyond purchasing a prescription and hoping for the best. Here, school counselors can fulfill an important function, by serving as the pipeline for communication between parents and teachers. School counselors can also be an important resource for all those who work with children with ADHD, both in and out of the classroom. While most children are diagnosed with the combined form of ADHD, the presentation of symptoms can change over time. The school counselor can offer strategies to cope with changing behaviors as these changes arise.

In order to manage ADHD, however, it is important to gain an understanding of the skills a student with ADHD must develop. The aim of any therapies for ADHD must have, as their ultimate goal, improved impulse control, time management, and the ability to focus or concentrate on tasks. If students fail to develop these critical skills, they will remain in perpetual frustration, become worn out from trying so hard, develop poor self-esteem, and suffer from acute embarrassment, as well.

One practical way to help students with ADHD develop these skills is to provide them with a dependable structure. A student who struggles with forgetfulness, for instance, should be made to do homework at the same time every day. Over time, the student internalizes that homework is always done at 4 PM, so that when 4 PM rolls around, the student knows just what to do and never forgets. A student who tends to forgetfulness can also be instructed to store his schoolbooks in one designated space. Since the item is always placed in the same spot, there will never be a time when the child cannot find the item. These are meaningful methods for developing time management and organizational skills to really address and manage ADHD.

But let’s say there is to be a school field trip at 4 PM on a certain date. That can throw the student with ADHD for a loop, since 4 PM is homework time. The student should be prepared well in advance of any such changes in schedule or routine. Talking about how and when the child will get dressed, do homework, and eat on that day is going to be a necessary conversation that may have to be reviewed several times over several days or weeks. Students with ADHD need lots of help and much spatience in learning to organize their time.

As for developing a student’s powers of concentration and focus, ADHD expert Dr. Edward Hallowell believes Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expertthat staying focused for shorter periods of time is the right way to go. “Kids with ADHD must learn to manage large projects. Break down large topics or tasks into small, manageable bits. For example, a book report might be subdivided into eight steps, or a science project outlined in a dozen doable steps. This helps the child with ADHD not feel overwhelmed.”

Strategies to Manage ADHD

These coping tips and tricks help students manage ADHD symptoms by teaching them strategies that have been proven to work, based on evidence. Such strategies are called evidence-based interventions (EBIs). An example of an EBI would be helping the parents of the student with ADHD to develop and put into place a system of organization to assist the student in carrying out more homework assignments and chores and getting them done on time. Parents might use calendars, charts, notebook or computer, and class syllabi to make it work.

Anil Chacko, a professor for Counseling@NYU’s online master’s in school counseling program from NYU Steinhardt, describes some strategies that school counselors can use when working with students who have ADHD. “School counselors should utilize methods that support students’ time management, planning, and organization,” Chacko says, citing the work of Joshua Langberg at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Howard Abikoff at New York University’s (NYU) School of Medicine, leading scholars in the field of ADHD in children and adolescents. “I would also encourage school counselors to work directly with parents to create a school-home note system to support cross-setting changes.”

Dr. Langberg developed and published the successful Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS) intervention. HOPS is about teaching kids to use physical organization tools, for instance book bags, binders, and lockers, and homework management tools such as writing down assignments and recording them accurately, entering test dates on a calendar, and in general, planning things out.

Dr. Abikoff researches interventions and training in children with ADHD, for instance Organizational Skills Training (OST). OST targets specific organizational skills goals. Here is a description of the OST program from program’s creators:

OST is a 20-session, twice-weekly, clinic-based program, which focused on building organizational skills in four areas:

  • Tracking Assignments: Teaching students a system for consistently recording assignments and due dates in a specially designed planner.
  • Managing Materials: Providing students with methods for storing and organizing their papers and materials through the use of an accordion binder system, materials checklists included in their planner, systems for organizing their desks, and by developing prominently visible checklists for backpacks and other tools for material transfer, as well as other related strategies.
  • Time Management: Helping students become more aware of their use of time and how to plan ahead to structure their time effectively through the use of an afternoon scheduling component in their planners; helping students improve their time estimation skills and their awareness of how much time they need to complete tasks; teaching students to work efficiently by minimizing distractions in their work spaces.
  • Task Planning: Showing students how to break larger projects and goals into steps and create schedules for task completion through the use of task-planning pages in their planners.

OST students are taught that each OTMP (organization, time management, and planning) problem area is the result of a brain “glitch.” Each glitch is depicted as a naughty character who likes to watch children make mistakes due to organizational problems. This concept helps motivate the students and makes the program “lighthearted and fun.” The concept of glitches is also meant to make the issues encountered by students with ADHD less personal. Kids come to understand that it’s not they who fail, but the symptoms of ADHD getting in the way of their academic and social success.

Each organizational skill is taught using the same basic method:

1) The new skill is discussed, defined, and explained. A rationale is given for the importance of the skill. The child hears about the settings in which the skill might be used.

2) The skill is demonstrated

3) The skill is practiced by the child under the guidance of an instructor and feedback is given. The skill is practiced many times. The student is taught to identify situations in which the skill should be used.

Studies as recent as this one from 2016, have found that early behavioral therapy (HOPS, OST, and the like), begun before any other interventions, such as medication, had “four fewer rules violations an hour at school than the medication-first group.” That’s not to say that behavioral therapy takes the place of medication. Medication has proven benefits for children with ADHD. What we should take away from the research is that 1) We shouldn’t begin with medication and 2) Teaching children to develop their OTMP skills even before they reach school age, can really make a difference. In terms of cost, by the way, behavior-first therapy is estimated to cost an annual $700 less per year when compared to medication-first treatment.

Strategies for Teachers

Besides using EBIs like OST and HOPS in their work with children, school counselors can also train teachers to support children who are coping with ADHD in the classroom. A school counselor might, for instance, suggest the teacher give out points or tokens for good behavior. Here are some other practical tips from the National Resource Center (NRC) on ADHD:

For the easily distracted student (predominantly inattentive)

  • Seat the student close to the teacher’s desk and away from distractions such as windows or school corridors
  • Split long assignments into smaller segments
  • Offer more breaks during class time

For the students that fidgets and squirms (predominantly hyperactive/impulsive)

  • Seat the student where the fidgeting and squirming will be least likely to disturb classmates, for instance along the side of the classroom
  • Offer opportunities throughout the day that allow the fidgety student to move, for instance, handing out work sheets.

More Tips to Manage ADHD

Scott Ertl, M.Ed., was an elementary school counselor for 18 years before he became the CEO of BouncyBands, a device to help fidgety students cope in the classroom. Here are Ertl’s top 5 tips for helping students with ADHD succeed in the classroom:

1) The child or teacher, depending on the child’s maturity, should clean out the child’s desk every Friday afternoon so the week starts off as organized and prepared as possible.

2) Allow movement. Let the child earn the ability to deliver a book to the media center, a note to the front office, or a message to a teacher when their work is completed correctly. Bouncy Bands, yoga balls, and standing desks in class are also great ways to allow movement throughout the day. Kids need appropriate ways to release their extra energy without distracting others.

3) Set them up for success. Give them advance notice that you are going to call on them to answer a question in class so they are ready. This works much better than catching them off task as a way to shame them into paying attention.

4) Have specific goals on their desk to accomplish, like: Check over my work when completed, Make sure all of my homework is written down before leaving class, and Raise my hand to ask for help when unsure of what to do in class.

5) Communicate. Give specific feedback during the day when these goals are being accomplished to recognize their improvements. Use them as model in class to encourage other students to improve those behaviors as well.

Teachers who must manage ADHD in the classroom may also want to try using sentences that suggest an order of action, for instance, “First read all the questions, then answer them,” or, “First put your crayons away, then take out your geography book.” In addition, enlisting a student’s help can increase self-worth and help refocus the child’s energy. Teachers and parents should always watch for good behavior and give praise whenever and wherever it happens!

How Can Parents Manage ADHD?

Here are some things parents can do at home to help their children who struggle with ADHD:

  • Use a system to acknowledge and reward good behavior, for instance, a chart with stickers
  • Stick to a home routine with as little deviation as possible (e.g. homework, dinner, bedtime, and etc., are at the same time each day)
  • Create written to-do lists for chores so that the child can cross things off the list as they are done
  • Practice at home, OTMP strategies learned at therapy sessions

Professor Chacko encourages parents to educate themselves. If you have a child with ADHD, seek out information on behavior parent training programs in your area. Some consider these programs to be the most important and most effective means to manage ADHD behaviors both in and out of the classroom. Parents, along with teachers and school counselors, should also be aware that ADHD often coexists (see: Comorbidity and ADHD: It’s Not Just About ADHD) with learning disabilities and difficulties. “The challenges these children face may be more than just ‘ADHD,’” says Chacko.

What do you do at home to help support your child with ADHD?

Save Your Baby’s Life With Infant CPR

Maybe you know how to perform CPR, but do you know how to perform infant CPR?

Most parents knows that babies, being small, need smaller amounts of nearly everything, ranging from food to shampoo to toothpaste to doses of medicine. With regard to medical care, however, it’s important to understand that infants and children are not simply small adults. Children of varying weights and ages, for example, require varying amounts of medication which must be carefully calculated and administered.

By the same token, when a baby requires emergency medical care, it’s important to tailor that care to the age of the patient. Babies have smaller, more delicate bodies. As such, you wouldn’t perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as you would for an adult, by pushing down hard on the chest with the heel of your hand. Such a technique would actually prove dangerous to a baby, and might crush the child’s chest.

Yet most people know that CPR saves lives. You use CPR when someone isn’t breathing or his heart stops beating. The CPR technique involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Here’s why CPR is important: when the heartbeat and breathing stop, blood can no longer circulate to bring oxygen to the brain. Without blood flow to the brain, permanent brain damage or death can occur in under 8 minutes. CPR helps provide much-needed oxygen in the event of an accident or other medical emergency. The emergency medical technique may also stimulate the patient’s heart to begin beating once more, and the patient’s lungs to begin inhaling and exhaling on their own.

Infant CPR Is Different

While infant CPR is quite different from adult CPR, the principle is the same. In both cases, the sooner lifesaving methods are taken, the more likely it is that the patient will survive and with little or no permanent damage. For this reason, parents should learn how to do infant CPR, as CPR will greatly enhance a child’s chances of survival in the event of an accident or other life-threatening situation.

How likely is it that, as a parent, you will need to perform CPR on your infant or child? It’s difficult to say, but if you’re a parent, you know that kids will be kids and accidents can happen. CPR can be useful in all sorts of emergencies, from car accidents, to drowning, poisoning, suffocation, electrocution, smoke inhalation, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A good resource to have on hand in case of emergency is a step-by-step infant CPR chart, such as this one from Carrington College.

How to Save Your Baby's Life With Infant CPR

It’s a good idea to print out several copies of this chart. That way you can store copies of the infant CPR chart where you might need them most. Stick one on your fridge with a magnet; put one in your first aid kit, keep one in your purse, wallet, or diaper bag; and store one in the glove compartment of your car for easy reference should the need arise.

Assess Baby’s Condition

Before beginning CPR you will want to assess the baby’s situation. Look the child over to see if he has injuries or bleeding. Put your face close to the baby’s mouth and nose. Do you see the baby’s chest rising and falling? Do you feel his breath on your face? Talk to the baby or flick his feet to see if you can get a response. If the baby cries, that’s good. It means he can breathe.

Begin Chest Compressions

If the infant is not moving or breathing, call out for help. Ask someone to call 911, but don’t leave the baby. It’s crucial to begin CPR as soon as possible. CPR administered within the first few minutes can double or even triple the chances of survival.

Lay the baby on his back. If, however, you suspect a neck injury, roll the baby’s body over, moving his entire body at once.

Locate the baby’s breastbone, just below the nipples on the baby’s chest. Use two fingers to push down by about an inch to an inch and a half. Each push is called a “compression.” For a baby, you want to give 2 compressions per second, or 120 compressions a minute.

Do 30 chest compressions and then check for breathing by placing your ear above the baby’s mouth for no more than ten seconds. Watch that you don’t block the baby’s airway. While you do this, watch the baby’s chest for movement that might indicate breathing.

Open The Airway

Next, check that the baby’s airway is not blocked. To do this, tilt the baby’s head back and lift his chin. Sometimes, tilting the head back is enough to open up the baby’s airway and allow for breathing to begin again. Be aware that a baby who is gasping for air is not really breathing; only coughing or steady breathing indicates that breathing has returned to normal and CPR can be discontinued.

Look inside the baby’s mouth. If the baby is choking on a visible object, you may be able to remove it with your little finger.

If, after a few seconds (no more than 10 seconds), the baby is still not breathing, offer two rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). A baby’s lungs are small so two gentle puffs of air of about one second each, are just right. Make sure that the baby’s neck is straight, the head tilted back, as you blow into the child’s mouth. That way, you ensure your rescue breaths make their way through the baby’s airways into his lungs. If the baby begins to breathe, you should see his chest clearly rise and fall.

Continuing CPR

If the baby doesn’t respond, continue CPR in cycles of 30 compressions followed by two rescue breaths. If you are alone, yell for help after each cycle of 30 compressions and 2 breaths, and request anyone in the area to dial 911. If there is no one to hear you, continue doing compressions and breaths, calling for help and checking the baby’s status every 30 compressions. After 2 minutes (4 rounds of 30 compressions/checks), if the baby is still unresponsive and there is still no one to make the call, make the call to 911 yourself, but keep the baby with you and continue to do compressions and breaths, as much as possible.

Once the call to 911 is made, the dispatcher will be able to guide you through the best way to help your child until emergency medical personnel arrive. It is likely you will need to continue to give CPR (30 compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths) until the baby breathes on his own or help arrives.

Risk Prevention

Some emergency situations such as car accidents may be unavoidable. Most incidents that require infant CPR, however, are preventable. Store chemicals and cleaning products out of baby’s reach. Offer your baby only age-appropriate toys to prevent choking risks. Babies are curious and active, so it is our duty as parents to provide a safe environment in which they can explore.

Better Safe Than Sorry

At the same time, knowing CPR may save your baby’s life, or the life of someone else’s child. Go over the steps and practice on a doll, so you’re all ready should the worst occur. You may never need to use infant CPR, but it’s better to learn the skill than be caught not knowing what to do in a time of dire emergency.

May all our babies stay safe!

Peanut Bans: Are They Doing More Harm Than Good?

Peanut bans were unfamiliar to me until I visited The Zone, a summer camp facility partially funded by  Kars4Kids. I was accompanying a van full of teenagers on a daytrip to Albany, New York, and the girls were hungry. A counselor was about to open a jar of peanut butter, then hesitated and asked me if I was allergic.

I was not.

She made sandwiches.

“Wow,” I thought. “Like peanut bans? Seriously? When did that happen?”

The short answer? Peanut bans happened sometime during the 1980’s and 1990’s. That’s when peanut allergies became all the rage.

Tragic Peanut Story

I myself remember hearing about a local someone who dropped dead at a bus stop after kissing a spouse who had taken a bite from a cookie that had such a minute amount of peanut in it, that the ingredient had not appeared on the label. The guy who kissed his wife, the guy who received the kiss of death, died too fast for anyone to locate an Epipen and treat his severe allergic reaction.

That was a tragedy—a rare tragedy.

But to ban peanuts outright? No way.

Peanut bans would mean no Bamba in Israeli daycare centers, which would mean starving children, most likely. Bamba is the ubiquitous peanut flavored snack food that is in every Israeli home.
Peanut bans would mean no Bamba in Israeli daycare centers, which would mean starving children, most likely. Bamba is the ubiquitous peanut flavored snack food that is in every Israeli home.

In fact, where I live, far from banning peanuts we make them a major part of every infant’s diet, in the form of a crunchy snack treat called Bamba. I used to joke that Bamba is what stood between my babies and malnutrition. because there was always a point where my babies dictated to me what they would and would not eat, as opposed to the other way around. That may have been due to sore gums and lack of appetite from teething, or out of simple pickiness. Whatever the reason, I could always count on my babies’ affinity for Bamba and thanked God that the  snack food was vitamin fortified.

Now, my second child turned out to be allergic to just about everything, including peanuts. She too, thrived on the Bamba diet as an infant. Because here’s the thing: even when a person is allergic to peanuts, it does not follow that the person will go into anaphylactic shock and die as a result of eating that food. I fed her Bamba having absolutely no idea she was allergic to the snack. She didn’t choke or turn blue. And now she is a mommy of her own picky children.

The fact is my daughter’s peanut allergy is probably as minor as it is (her hands itch when she makes PB &J sandwiches for her peanut-allergy-less children) due to her having eaten Bamba as a baby. I didn’t make that up. It’s science.

Peanut Bans Increase Allergy Rates

Bamba exposure as a way to ward off peanut allergies was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine and tested in a British study, too. What did the good scientists find? They found that medical advice to keep kids away from peanuts had caused the rate of peanut allergy to rise in the United States. Meanwhile in Israel, almost no one has peanut allergies. Because Bamba.

In fact, children fed Bamba during the first year of life, had an 81% lowered risk of developing a peanut allergy.

What does this mean going forward? It means that researchers are going to see if they can make the same thing happen with other common allergy-causing foods, for instance soy, dairy, and eggs.

It makes sense if you think about it. I had allergy shots as a teenager for pollen and all sorts of air-borne allergens. The shots contained small amounts of the allergy-causing culprits themselves. It’s the same principle as the flu shot or a vaccine. It’s about strengthening the immune system.

So if all this makes sense, why on earth are we engaging in peanut bans in our daycare centers, schools, and summer camps?

Peanut Bans Equal Peanut Panic

Well, here’s the deal: in 1997, a random sampling found that one in 250 children in the U.S. had a peanut allergy. By 2008, that number had jumped to a startling one in 70. The number of children with peanut allergies had tripled.

No wonder the humble peanut was banished from sight. But not everyone agrees that we’re experiencing an epidemic or as Miranda Waggoner calls it, a “peanut panic.” Waggoner did some pretty intense research on the subject of peanut allergies for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She’s not convinced the epidemic is real.

It could be that the experts and the media raised awareness of peanut allergy to the point that we were more able as a society to recognize the allergy when we saw it in our young children. It could be that the number has risen a bit in response to peanut bans, which affected the developing immune systems of small children. But what we don’t have is lots of kids dropping dead in school because of peanut allergies.

Medical sociologist Peter Conrad, of Brandeis University commented that Waggoner’s research shows how a rare reaction to an allergic food (the peanut), became very widely known to the public and even came to be seen as a “childhood epidemic.” Meantime, says Conrad, “While the individual risk [of a severe allergic reaction to peanuts] is high, the risk on a population level is small.”

Conrad goes on to say that, “Sometimes the public’s response to a disorder may significantly outpace the actual public health risk potential. Papers like this help us understand how the sociological nature of the disorder may well shape the public response more than its medical and epidemiological nature.”

In other words, peanut allergies are not as big a deal as we make them out to be, with the exception of the very small number of people with life-threatening peanut allergies.

My point is slightly different than Waggoner’s: in making a bigger deal out of peanut allergies than necessary, we are creating the very problem we are trying to avoid.

That is to say: if exposure to peanuts during the first year of life significantly cuts the allergic response to peanuts, why on earth would we put into effect peanut bans in public spaces? Wouldn’t we want to expose our children to peanuts early and often?

Now I get that some people have severe reactions to foods. Someone with a severe peanut allergy might find his throat swells on contact with the substance. Or like my daughter, maybe just making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can make her hands itch. These people should certainly avoid peanuts. Caregivers should be well-prepared to help their charges with known food allergies avoid those foods and they should know what to do in case of an allergic reaction. They should be aware and alert and take every precaution. I had another child who was allergic to dairy as a toddler. I had a terrible time making his caregiver understand the danger, how if my son were to crawl on the floor, pick up, and eat a stray piece of macaroni, he’d subsequently have a bloody stool.

It never once occurred to me to forbid macaroni in his presence or on account of his presence. It only occurred to me that his caregiver must be careful. That was what was important: that the person who cared for my son be educated, aware, and careful.

It is in this light I see the peanut ban: the fear of opening a jar of peanut butter in a classroom and the utter panic that ensues should some non-allergic child pull a PB&J sandwich out of a baggie during snack time.

It’s the very thing that causing the problem. Most of these kids who developed allergies, developed them as a result of the peanut ban. It is this that is causing the current peanut allergy epidemic: fear of peanuts, the avoidance of peanuts. Banning them from our presence.

Ban Peanut Bans

That’s why I must and you should conclude that the peanut ban is a bad thing. Forbidding the presence of peanuts in our children’s lives is making them allergic to peanuts. It’s making them sick.

And that’s why the peanut ban, in my humble opinion, should be banned for good.

Kars4Kids Safety App May Save Your Baby’s Life


Kars4Kids Safety App May Save Your Baby's Life

Kars4Kids Safety app? We’ve updated it. Are you still driving without it?

If so, the facts should stop you cold: babies are dying in hot cars, all over America.

  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2015: 8
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2014: 31
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 1998-present:  645
  • Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 37

That’s the reason Kars4Kids developed Kars4Kids Safety, and it’s the reason we’ve now updated the app to make it more intuitive, Safety App screenshot1more user-friendly. We’ve made it something you’ll want to use. Something that might save your baby’s life.

Last year, the focus of the Kars4Kids Safety app campaign was Forgotten Baby Syndrome (FBS) and how perfect parents can’t fight back against the perfect brain storm that causes the syndrome. It’s just the way the brain works under stress. Here’s what we wanted to get across: FBS says nothing about parenting ability.

We tried to make the point that even YOU need this app, because FBS is not about poor parenting. We didn’t want a parent’s pride to stand in the way of offering this extra layer of protection to his child. And by the way, the app is free–we just want your baby to stay safe.

This year, in addition to taking the Kars4Kids Safety App to the next level, from adequate to wow, we chose to focus on the way heat rises to unbearable, and yes, deadly levels inside a closed car inside of a few short minutes. We show what it’s like for an adult to sit inside a closed car on a summer’s day in this video:

If an adult can’t take 15 minutes of sitting in a hot car with temperatures rising all the time, just imagine how it is for an infant or toddler. It hurts to think about it.

But as parents, do we really have a choice?Updated Kars4Kids Safety App, Alert

This summer is already proving to be hotter than usual. Eight babies have already died from being left in cars. We know that the number of infant deaths due to heatstroke from being left in cars is bound to rise as the summer heat reaches its peak.

The Kars4Kids Safety App prevents all-too-preventable deaths by alerting you to check the backseat of your car to make sure you haven’t left your little one behind. It works by pairing the Bluetooth function of your car with your phone. When you leave the car, an alert goes off reminding you to check you’ve taken baby with you.

Kars4Kids Safety App: New Features

You can set the app to automatic, so that it always alerts you to check the backseat of your car for baby, or you can schedule the app for specific times, for instance, the time you normally drop off or pick up your child from daycare. You can also just let the app let you decide whether or not you want to turn on the alert when you’re getting ready to drive.Updated K4K Safety App, Alert settings, Alert ringtone

The updated Kars4Kids Safety App is also  more attractive, which makes it more likely you’ll enjoy using it. You can upload your baby’s photo so that it shows in the background when the app kicks in and during alerts. Altogether, this new version of the Safety App is sleek, beautifully designed, and a pleasure to use.

There’s no question that Kars4Kids is having an impact and helping to raise awareness of Forgotten Baby Syndrome. Last summer, Kars4Kids sent out over 10,000 informational posters to pediatricians’ offices and guess what? They called and asked for more. We even had interested parents calling in to our customer service representatives to ask questions about what they can do to protect their dearest possessions: their babies.

So what can you do to make sure your baby stays safe this summer? Download the Kars4Kids Safety App from the Google Play store. And make sure you share this post with your friends.

It just may save a life.

 

Visual Processing Disorder: Is This What Your Child Has?

Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) covers a variety of vision issues that have nothing to do with nearsightedness or farsightedness. Does your child think that a square and a triangle look the same? Does she bump into things, seemingly unable to understand where objects are in relation to her body? Does she have trouble understanding that numbers and letters come in a certain order? All of these issues can be signs of a visual processing disorder. In VPD, the brain has trouble processing signals that come from the eyes.

A child with VPD may pass her vision test with flying colors because her eyes are fine. The problem is the way her brain deals with visual information. It’s not something a person outgrows, but there are ways to cope with the challenges of visual processing disorders.

While we think of our vision as something to do with the eyes, it is much more than that. It is the brain that is responsible for using information from the eyes to create images and impressions. The eyes may be sending a perfectly good message that in front of you on a piece of paper is a triangle. But the brain may simply see a shape and not be able to tell which kind of shape it is. The eyes may see a house a short ways down the road, but the brain sees the house far away. Brain function is simply weak in these areas.  And that is called visual processing disorder.

Somehow, his foot never connects with the ball. Is it visual processing disorder?
Somehow, his foot never connects with the ball. Is it visual processing disorder?

Visual processing disorders aren’t considered learning disabilities, but as you might suspect, they are pretty common in kids who have learning issues. Just as ADHD and dyslexia have to do with a difference or weakness in brain function, so does visual processing disorder. That’s why VPD often comes together with learning disorders. When there are two conditions at the same time, they are said to be comorbid.

VPD can affect the way a child learns, but also affects everyday tasks like putting away the forks and knives into their correct slots in the silverware drawer, or sinking a ball into a basketball hoop. Visual processing disorders can even affect the way a child feels about himself when it makes it hard for him to fit in with his friends. To his classmates, he’s the kid who can never get that ball into the hoop. And so the child may withdraw and turn inward, to avoid the frustration and pain that comes with being different.

Visual processing disorder is complicated. There are eight different types of visual processing disorders but it’s absolutely possible to have more than one kind. Since visual processing issues aren’t the sort of thing that show up in a vision test, it could be your child will go through school without anyone noticing or realizing he has a visual processing problem.

Eight Types of Visual Processing Disorders

Here are the eight types of visual processing disorders (remember that a child may have any combination of the following visual processing issues):

  1. Visual discrimination: The child may not see the difference between similar shapes. He mixes up d and b and can’t tell a circle from an oval, for instance.

    Which sign is the one she's looking for? She just can't tell. That could be a visual processing disorder.
    Which sign is the one she’s looking for? She just can’t tell. That could be a visual processing disorder.
  2. Visual figure-ground discrimination: The child can’t pick out a person or a shape from the background on the page. He may not be able to find specific information on a webpage.
  3. Visual sequencing: The child doesn’t know that B and C always follow A, or that 4 follows 3. When he reads, he may skip lines because he doesn’t get that there is such a thing as “the next ” Sometimes kids with visual sequencing issues reverse letters or words.
  4. Visual-motor processing: The child has trouble using the feedback he gets from his eyes to coordinate the way other parts of his body move, for instance, the hands or the feet. He may knock into things or find it difficult to turn the pages in a book.
  5. Long/short-term visual memory: Show the child a picture, take it away, and ask him what he saw. He can’t do it. It makes it hard to remember the letters and numbers he’s been taught in class. He also finds it hard to remember what he read and his memory issues get in the way of using calculators and keyboards.
  6. Visual-spatial: The child has trouble understanding where things are within space. This affects his understanding of how close or far items are to them or to each other. The same may be true of objects in a picture. Visual spatial issues can make it hard for the child to judge how much time has gone by, and it can make it difficult for him to read a map, too.
  7. Visual closure: A child may not understand that a smiley face is a face, because it is missing ears and hair. A truck without wheels may not be recognized as a truck. If the teacher gives a worksheet where students have to fill in missing letters or words, a child with visual closure issues may not be able to do the work.
  8. Letter and symbol reversal: Most kids reverse letters when they first begin to write. But if he’s still mixing up b and d and p after the age of 7, it may be due to a visual processing disorder. This sort of disorder can make reading, writing, and math work difficult.

    This baby learned the sequence of big, bigger, biggest with his stacking toy. But your 8 year-old still can't do it? It may be a visual processing disorder.
    This baby learned the sequence of big, bigger, biggest with his stacking toy. But your 8 year-old still can’t do it? It may be a visual processing disorder.

VPD: How Common is it?

No one really knows how common visual processing issues are, especially since a lot of the time, these disorders go undetected. But we do know that the signs of VPD often show up in kids with learning disorders, for instance dyslexia. Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder in America, where it is thought that as many as one in every five children has dyslexia. That translates to lots of kids who also have VPD.

What Causes VPD?

Again, no one really knows the cause of visual processing disorder. But if you think of the brain as a sort of circuit board where the wires can get tangled up and kinked and even disconnected, you’ll have a pretty good picture of how VPD works. The eyes send a signal to the brain, but the signal crosses with a different one, or there’s a kink in the wiring that keeps the signal from going through to the right part of the brain. Or perhaps, the wire is narrower in parts. The brain’s synapses, responsible for mapping out information and sending messages, are very much like wires.  The eye sees what it sees, but the brain fails to understand the information sent to it by the eyes.

Is it VPD?

Here are some signs that a child may have a visual processing disorder:

  • Turns away from a large amount of visual information, such as a busy picture

    When your child follows the words in a book, and it's time to skip down to the next line, does she skip too far? Or read the same line again? It may be a visual processing disorder.
    When your child follows the words in a book, and it’s time to skip down to the next line, does she skip too far? Or read the same line again? It may be a visual processing disorder.
  • Fidgets during movie clips or PowerPoint presentations
  • Does a sloppy job with visual tasks, for instance, sweeping the floor
  • Doesn’t like to see movies or watch television
  • Can’t deal with copying from the blackboard
  • Mixes up shapes, letters, numbers, and words
  • Always bumping into things, is clumsy
  • Can’t stay inside the lines when writing or drawing
  • Finds it hard to spell words he knows that have unusual spelling patterns, for instance he can never quite remember that “quite” is not “quiet.”
  • Can’t remember even his own phone number
  • Doesn’t understand what he reads when reading silently
  • Cannot remember common facts read silently, for instance, H2O is water.
  • When reading, he reads the same sentence over and over again, or skips too far down the page for the “next” line
  • Says his eyes hurt, rubs his eyes a lot
  • His reading comprehension and writing skills are poor, but his verbal and oral comprehension skills are average or even strong
  • His math skills are weak because he leaves out steps, overlooks function signs, or mixes up similar types of math problems
  • Fails to note, on a regular basis, changes to displays, signs, or new notices posted to bulletin boards

What’s A Parent to Do?

If you suspect your child has one or more visual processing disorders, there are many things you can do to help him. Keep in mind that it will take patience and lots of work. Here are some of the things you can do at home that may be helpful:

  • Read up on the subject. Knowledge is your best tool for helping your child.
  • Watch and note. Pay attention to how your child does different tasks and write down what you see. This will help everyone in your child’s life understand his particular challenges and tell them how to respond.
  • Always be clear when writing out schedules or instructions. Break up instructions into numbered steps. Write things out in large letters and use colors to help, for instance, each sibling has a designated color. If “sweep the steps” is written in purple, it’s Tommy’s task.
  • Use your child’s free time for activities that help improve visual processing, but make it into a game. Do a puzzle together. Read. Play catch.
  • Give lots of praise for achievements. If your child worked really hard on studying for his spelling test and improved his grade, let him know you’re pleased. He needs your support and recognition to keep on going, because it’s really hard! Let him know you know that.