Thousands of children will soon make the transition from preschool or home to kindergarten. Some children will look forward to this moment with great anticipation, but others may experience some anxiety about leaving familiar surroundings. Regardless of how your child is feeling, parents play a powerful role in helping make the transition a smooth one.

Timing Is Everything

Now is the time to begin emotionally preparing your child (and yourself) for this new phase in life. Your attitude makes a big difference. Even if you are struggling with the idea of your little one going off to kindergarten, your goal is to deal with your emotions appropriately and prepare your child to make the most of this rite of passage.

Tips to Help You Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten

  • Visit the school where your child will be attending kindergarten.
  • If your child has not been in the care of someone other than Mom and Dad, allow your child to stay with other trusted adults prior to kindergarten to help them get used to another adult being in charge.
  • Plan activities with other children where your child has to learn to take turns and share.
  • Point out colors and shapes at the grocery store and count apples, bananas or cereal boxes.
  • Encourage active play, especially pretend play, with other children.
  • Read, read, read.
  • Limit TV, computer, tablet or smartphone screen time.
  • Encourage independence in managing daily tasks. For example, teach your child how to tie their shoes, let them set the table, make their bed, dress themselves, etc.
  • Start your school routine early to help your child adjust to the change in schedule.

Dealing with Your Emotions

If this is your first child or your youngest child headed off to kindergarten, the transition may be more emotional than expected. Guard against behaviors that might upset your child. If you are anxious about being away from your child, talk with other parents who have already experienced it. Instead of going home to an empty house on the first day of school, plan to have coffee with a supportive friend.

While it can be scary to leave your child at school, remember this: Most teachers love children dearly. They care about their social and emotional development as much as they care about their academic growth.

Helping Your Child Through the First Week

The first week can be especially hard for your child. Here are some ways to make it easier:

  • Be supportive. Adjusting to school may take time. Ask, “What was the most fun thing you did in school today?” Then ask, “What was the hardest thing for you?” Only ask this after you have discussed what was fun. Don’t expect your child to tell you every detail.
  • Instill a sense of confidence in your child. Celebrate your child’s successes. It takes time to adjust to new people, new activities and a new environment. Don’t expect perfection.
  • Set aside a time each evening to share your child’s day. See if your child has brought home any drawings, paintings or scribbling. After a few weeks have passed and your child has gotten used to school, ask about play in the classroom, stories the teacher read, recess, etc.
  • Read everything the school sends home. During the first weeks of school, children bring home a wealth of information about routines, important dates and meetings that you will need to know about. Make sure to check your child’s backpack daily.
  • You may want to go over with your child — in a positive, calm way — the information you have supplied to the school on the emergency card. This includes who may pick your child up other than you, where she can go if you’re ever not home, etc.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

Kids are Losing Sleep

Sleep hygiene impacts all areas of your child's life.

Have you ever checked email or text messages in the middle of the night? If so, chances are good that your kids have been losing sleep to those things, too.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 2014 Poll revealed interesting findings when it comes to families and their sleep patterns.

Of those surveyed:

  • 89% of adults and 75% of children have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms. While a television was the most common device, 45% of parents and 30% of children had a tablet or smartphone with them when they go to bed at night.
  • 26% of parents and 16% of children sent or read emails and text messages after initially dozing off. Technology has become commonplace in the bedroom. However, the duration and quality of sleep appear to suffer when children and adults leave devices on past bedtime.
  • Sleep quality was significantly worse for children who sometimes left the television, tablet/smartphone or music player on at night.
  • Children who leave their devices on get less rest on school nights than other children. Parents estimate it’s a difference of nearly one hour, on average, per night.
  • Parents also view the quality of their child’s sleep negatively if the child leaves electronics on during the night. This holds true even with older children, who are more likely to leave things on. Teens with left-on devices are estimated to get, on average, half an hour less sleep on school nights.

“For children, a good night’s sleep is essential to health, development and performance in school,” says Kristen L. Knutson, a biomedical anthropologist who researches sleep at the University of Chicago. “We found that, when parents take action to protect their children’s sleep, their children sleep better.”

The NSF shares these tips to improve your child’s sack time:

  • Make sleep a healthy priority in your family’s busy schedule. Children ages 6-10 need 10-11 hours of shuteye. Older children need 8.5-9.5 hours.
  • Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes for your entire family.
  • Know how your child is using electronics in the bedroom. Create a plan for appropriate use at night and set boundaries about use before and after bedtime.
  • Educate your family on how light from electronic device screens can interfere with winding down.
  • Talk to your child about the importance of sleep for health and well-being.
  • Create a snooze-supportive bedroom and home environment, dimming the lights prior to bedtime and controlling the temperature; in most cases, temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees will disrupt your rest.
  • Encourage activities such as reading or listening to music before bedtime. These are more relaxing than watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Web.
  • Make sure children’s activities, including homework, can be completed without interfering with bedtimes.

When it comes to technology, kids are following their parent’s lead.

“Parents need to be good role models in their responsible use of electronics and their children will follow suit,” says Monique K. LeBourgeois, a psychologist who researches sleep at University of Colorado Boulder.

It may be hard to resist, but setting the tone for a good night’s rest can lead to a happier, healthier home.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!

Think back to summers when you were a kid. You might recall getting up, doing a few chores and then heading outside to play, only taking a break for lunch. Your mom or dad’s call for dinner was probably met with complaints about coming inside.

In an informal survey of adults about their childhood summer memories, people recalled catching fireflies, climbing trees, fishing and playing outside with friends. They also mentioned riding bikes, running through the sprinkler and lots of other activities. As they thought about their response, they usually smiled and laughed as the memories replayed in their mind.

Times have changed.

Instead of spending time playing outside, various studies indicate many children will get up and Schead straight to some type of screen. In fact, 8 to 10-year-olds spend on average between five and seven hours playing games, watching movies or television. For teens, this number increases. This is a stark contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation that children 10 and older spend no more than two hours a day watching a screen.

Too much screen time can increase a child’s risk of having trouble sleeping at night, experiencing attention issues and developing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that children eat more unhealthy food while watching screens, which can lead to weight gain.

While many parents grow weary, the battle between choosing screen time or memories is definitely one worth fighting.

When children move away from screens and interact with others, it helps them develop communication skills. They also learn how to get along with others and problem-solve when there is disagreement over a kickball game score. Play helps build a child’s imagination and enhances their ability to entertain themselves.

So, here’s a challenge: Unplug from the screens and encourage your kids to spend their time in other ways.

Initially, you will undoubtedly get the usual push-back, but stand your ground. Know that you are setting the stage for your children to create some great memories. If they say they are bored, offer them some ways to work around the house. They’ll probably find something to do in order to avoid chores – and it teaches your child to entertain themselves.

The AAP actually says that doing nothing at all is better than staring at a screen.

For example, car rides without DVDs allow a child to look at their surroundings and let their imagination run wild.

While unplugging might not be the most convenient thing to do, see it as intentional preparation for launching your child. Moving away from screens gives them the chance to learn the necessary skills to help them navigate through life. Who’s up for the challenge?

Other blogs:

Does My Teen Need Screen Time Limits?

Why You Need Screen Time Limits, Too (Not Just Your Kids!)

3 Reasons to Let Your Child Have More Screen Time

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!

How Technology Affects Families

Connecting with each other doesn't require a device.

Do you remember when the only TV at home was in the family room? Or when your family looked for license plates from all 50 states when you were traveling? Now, just about everybody has their own personal device. Each person listens to different music in the car. Homes have several screens and family members rarely watch the same shows together. Technology is everywhere. Technology affects families, without a doubt.

In the last 50 years, technology has exploded. It’s no longer in one place with limits and parental supervision. It’s portable and unlimited. And it’s very hard to control.

So, we’ve got a lot to think about when it comes to how technology affects families. Consider these two questions from author and clinical counselor, John Van Epp:

  • To what extent will families allow technology to be fused with their relationships?
  • Are families unplugging devices to really plug into each other?

Studies suggest that families aren’t doing a great job of connecting.

Consider these examples of technology’s impact on families.

One group from Boston Medical Center watched family interactions in fast-food restaurants. Out of 55 families, 40 parents were doing something with their phones while they were with their children. The researchers call this “absorption with the mobile device.” When a child tried to get a parent’s attention, they got in trouble for interrupting the parent.

UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs also conducted an intensive in-home study on this issue. Ochs found a primary theme in these homes: multi-tasking among family members. She cites a common conversation between parent and child: “My parents always tell me that I can’t do homework while listening to music. But they don’t understand that it helps me to concentrate.”

According to David Myers, the director of the University of Michigan’s Brain Cognition Lab, the brain DOES NOT multi-task and students are NOT great multi-taskers. “The bottom line is you CANNOT simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay,” he says. The brain may act in parallel functions (touch, sound, vision). But when engaging in different tasks, the brain operates like a toggle switch—jumping from one thing to another.

“This constant multi-tasking that people are doing results in dopamine ‘squirts.’ These lead to an addiction to constant techno-activity,” Van Epp says. “Yet, studies show that downtime for the brain is essential to the development of identity, morals, empathy and creativity.”

Here’s a challenge from Van Epp: Lay your smartphone down. See if you can go for an hour without picking it up.

“Research shows that technology is actually producing higher rates of anxiety among children and adults,” Van Epp says. “Apps are influencing child development and short-circuiting identity formation. They’re also discouraging face-to-face interactions and creating superficial intimacy.”

If you still aren’t convinced this is an issue, check out Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain. Then watch Gary Turk’s Look Up video on YouTube. 

“We must begin balancing technology and real time with loved ones,” Van Epp says. “We can’t let technology define us. Advances in technology can never replace gains in family interactions.”

So, what about you? Will your family unplug devices so you can really connect with each other?

For more resources, see our Parenting and Families page here.

Image from Unsplash.com

A Checklist for Sending Your Child to College

Working on an action plan together can ease the transition.

In addition to sending her own two sons to college, Rose-Marie Hippler helps hundreds of families get ready for the college sendoff.

“Having been through this personally as well as professionally, I bring experience and expertise to parents and their young adults as they leap into the next phase of life,” says Hippler, who has a master’s of social work and is an independent educational consultant at Winter Park College Consultants.

“There are usually a lot of emotions stirring around as the anticipation of going off to college draws closer,” she says. “I remember when we were on the countdown. There were days when I thought the first day of college couldn’t get here fast enough. I decided that was a way of preparing you to say goodbye.”

Hippler believes one way parents and their teens can keep nerves and anxiety at bay is to create a plan.  There’s a lot to accomplish before the college sendoff, and it can be overwhelming. Working on a plan of action TOGETHER can be super helpful.

These things may not be on your radar, but Hippler says they need to be on your checklist if you’re sending your child to college:

  • Make sure your teen has had a physical and all the shots they will need. If your teen is on regular medication, you’ll want to transfer their prescription to a local pharmacy and make sure they know how to refill it on their own. And, unless you have signed the HIPAA form, healthcare professionals cannot legally give you information about your injured or hospitalized adult child.
  • Make a copy of everything in their wallet in case they lose it, which will probably happen at least once.
  • Mark all the upcoming events on your calendar. Don’t forget parent’s weekend, sports events you plan to attend, Christmas and spring breaks and even the mid-term and finals schedule. Make hotel and/or travel reservations early for events such as parent’s weekend and airline reservations for your student’s Thanksgiving and winter breaks.
  • If your teen hasn’t already opened a checking account, now is the time. Instead of making all the financial arrangements, let them do it. It gives them a good indication of your investment in their education. Plus, it lets them get the hang of balancing a checkbook and keeping up with their own money. (FYI: If you EVER need to talk to someone at the school about billing, financial aid, or school records, your student must give you permission by signing a FERPA waiver. Otherwise, you’ll get absolutely nowhere.)
  • Alcohol, drugs, sex and consent, campus safety and mental health issues are factors on every college campus. Your teen probably thinks they have a really good handle on things. However, it’s still a good idea to have some serious conversations about campus conduct or what to do in a mental health crisis. There are too many examples of how things that happen in the college years impact people’s lives. [Read How to Teach Your Daughters the Importance of Consent; How to Teach Your Son About the Importance of Consent]
  • If they don’t know how to do their laundry, teach them then let them do their thing. The first time Hippler visited one of her sons, she noticed a stack of sheets in his laundry basket. He explained that he put all three sets of sheets on his bed at once so he could pull off the top fitted and flat sheets and be ready to go. Then he waited until they were all dirty to wash them. It’s not the way she would have done it, but it worked for him.
  • Tell them you believe in them and they have been preparing for this their entire life. From the time they went to kindergarten, to middle school, and then to high school, those firsts have been preparing them for this next step in their journey.

Sending your child to college is a big deal for both of you. If you’re struggling with letting go, find experienced friends to walk you through this time of transition. And keep reminding yourself that this is normal.

The Value of Family Meals

Mealtimes are opportunities to connect and learn from each other.

For more than 40 years, Lynn and Pat Panter have been hosting family dinner on Sundays.

“It’s funny, this is just something we have always done,” says Lynn Panter. “When our children were little, we had Sunday dinner. As they got older, we kept on doing it. Here we are 40 years later with grown children, spouses, boyfriends and grandchildren seated around the table.”

Unlike some, the Panters don’t require or expect anyone to come for family dinners.

“There is no pressure to come,” Lynn says. “If they have something else to do, they know they are free to go do it with no repercussions for not being present. We usually have between eight and 16 people seated around the table on any given Sunday.”

Between the laughter, the stories and discussions about their day, it is always a lively experience and a great way for the family to connect.

“Even though my husband was on the road a lot when our daughters were young, the expectation was that we all ate dinner together,” Lynn says. “This was our time to catch up with each other and the events of the day. It kept us connected even when schedules were hectic.”

Research shows that regular and meaningful family meals offer a variety of benefits both to children and adults. Studies suggest that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week positively affects child development and is linked to lower obesity risk, decreased likelihood of substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.

Additionally, meals provide a sense of family unity and identity as well as teaching traditions. Discussions around the dinner table not only give children an opportunity to express themselves, they also teach them to wait their turn to speak and hear many different perspectives. In some instances, they learn how to agree or disagree.

Family meals help parents transmit their values from one generation to the next and teach good table manners and etiquette. These times together as a family create a bond and shared memories that children carry with them long into adulthood.

The key to the success of these gatherings is making them technology-free zones – no televisions, tablets, or cellphones allowed.

“Some people probably wonder why we still have the Sunday dinners.” Lynn says. “I think the biggest reason we still do it is because we really enjoy being together. We look forward to catching up with each other. It’s not formal and everybody pitches in — which is a good thing. In order to do something like this, you need to enjoy doing it, otherwise, it becomes a burden.”

If you realize the value of family meals and it has been on your “to-do” list, this is the time to make it happen. Set a date, keep it simple and watch what happens. Younger family members may balk at first, but once they get in the routine, they will look forward to time together. Who knows what may be happening at your house 40 years from now?

Teaching Family History

Make your family stronger by sharing what you know about each other.

Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Where your parents went to school? How your parents met and fell in love? Do you remember sitting around the dinner table or hearing extended family sharing stories about the past, perhaps over the holidays? Stories like, “When I was your age, we walked five miles uphill in the snow to get to school.” Although this information might have seemed frivolous and useless at the time, you might want to rethink the role those stories at extended family gatherings play in teaching family history.

What Makes Families Strong?

New York Times journalist and author Bruce Feiler spent years studying what makes families strong. He found that developing a strong family narrative where children have a good grasp of their family history helps them establish a strong sense of self. This, in turn, helps them do better in life.

Feiler looked at the work of Drs. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush at Emory University. Duke and Fivush developed a measure called the Do You Know? (DYK) scale. Using this scale, they asked children 20 questions about family history, like: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know about something really terrible that happened to your family?

In 2001, they asked 50 families to tape their dinner conversations. Then they compared the results to psychological tests given to the children. The results? The more children knew about their family history, the higher their self-esteem and sense of control over their lives.

Interestingly, Duke and Fivush had an unusual opportunity in that the events of 9-11 occurred months after their data collection. They reassessed those children and again found that those who knew more about their families were more resilient, meaning they dealt better with the traumatic stress.

Also, the higher scores on the DYK scale were associated with:

  • An internal locus of control (a belief in one’s own capacity to control what happens to him or her),
  • Better family functioning,
  • Lower levels of anxiety,
  • Fewer behavioral problems, and
  • Better chances for good outcomes if a child faces educational or emotional/behavioral difficulties.

What can parents do to help teach family history?

Duke warns that it’s not just about children knowing the answers to questions on the scale. He recommends pursuing activities with your children that convey this sense of history. Some great times for this are during holidays, birthday celebrations, family trips in the car, vacations and big family gatherings.

Even simple events like riding to the mall, looking through photo albums or teaching about a cheesy family tradition can have a positive impact. The stories are the foundation on which children can grow stronger and healthier. You should tell them over and over again through the years.

So, the next time your children roll their eyes during a story from the past, just remember that you are building what Duke and Fivush call “the child’s intergenerational self.” But that’s not all. You’re also increasing their personal strength and giving them moral guidance.

Do your children know your family stories?

Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Teen Dating Abuse

Knowing what to look for can help keep your young adult safe.

The former pro athlete sat in the therapist’s office, sobbing. He and his wife had taken away their daughter’s cellphone the day before. While watching television that night, a picture of the boy their daughter was “talking” to popped up. It wasn’t just any picture. It was a sexual pose with private parts exposed.

Shocked at what they saw, they had their daughter open up her phone. They were stunned to see many compromising pictures, not only of the boy, but of their daughter as well.

Devastated, the father asked the therapist, “How could this be? I will never be able to erase these images from my brain. What do we do now?”

Dr. Jill Murray, psychologist and author of But He Never Hit Me and Destructive Relationships, shared her experience working at a domestic violence shelter. She found that every woman she interviewed there began their abusive relationships when they were 13 or 14 years old, going from abuser to abuser.

While many parents might automatically suspect physical abuse, some don’t consider the possibility of teen dating abuse with incredibly controlling behavior using cellphones.

Consider this:

  • 54 percent of teens say they communicate hourly with the person they are dating via cellphone between midnight and 5 a.m.
  • 38 percent of teens receive texts 30 to 50 times an hour by their boy/girlfriend inquiring about what they are doing.
  • 78 percent of parents are unaware their teen feels afraid in their dating relationship.
  • 87 percent of parents are unaware their teen has been asked to have sex via their cellphone.
  • 82 percent of parents are unaware of cellphone use through the night.

Current statistics indicate that:

  • 1 in 5 young women will be a victim of sexual assault in college.
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 guys will be in a physically violent relationship.
  • The vast majority (85 percent) of teen violence is not physical at all. Rather, it is emotional and verbal abuse.
  • 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a dating partner.
  • Gender is not a qualifier.

Teen Dating Abuse: “This is a huge epidemic,” asserts Murray.

“The reason I use the word ‘epidemic’ is because if we had a disease in this country that affected 85 percent of teens we would consider it an epidemic. This is a huge problem that we can’t overlook.

“When I speak to teens I tell them, ‘If you are ever in a relationship where you feel frightened, scared to tell the truth, scared of making them angry, scared not to keep your cellphone on all night, or you spend a lot of time crying about your relationship, you are in an abusive relationship,’” Murray says.

“It is important to remember that teens have limited life experience and perspective. Their perspective is shaped by music, video games and the Kardashians. When we tell them it is not normal to be afraid or to not answer your cell at all hours of the day and night, they are shocked.”

A typical 14-year-old has no idea that a relationship is abusive when one person makes the rules, constantly changes the rules but doesn’t follow them and causes the other person in the relationship to be afraid of breaking the rules. Murray believes adults everywhere have a responsibility to educate young people about what healthy relationships look like and how to protect themselves from abusive ones.

“Education is the key,” Murray says. “In addition to teaching teens, parents need to educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of abusive relationships.”

Your Teen Might Be in an Abusive Relationship IF:

  • He/she becomes physically agitated, nervous or unreasonably upset about giving up their cellphone at night.
  • He/she is always tired and seems like they don’t rest because of nighttime texting.
  • The person he/she is dating seems to try and isolate them from friends, family and their typical activities.
  • They cry frequently, seem nervous and have trouble making decisions.
  • They are constantly “reporting in” to their boy/girlfriend.

What Can You Do?

“I tell teens, love is a behavior,” Murray says. “Teens are feeling, feeling, feeling to the 10th power. Everything is big and dramatic. You can tell yourself that your feelings are anything. Then you get them to just look at behavior. Things like: He cheats on you. Is that loving behavior? She lies to you. Is that loving behavior? You’re losing sleep. Is that loving behavior?

“It gives them the opportunity to open up boxes in their head. It’s a new way of looking at their relationship that focuses on behavior. This is really important. This is the only way we can talk with them. Essentially, we are backing them into a corner where their only out is logic. Then, I tell them there are three things you have control over: your thoughts, your actions and your reactions. And hoping things will be different is not a strategy.”

Although most parents probably don’t think this could happen to their child, ignorance can be very dangerous. Despite the tension it may cause, conversations on this topic are critical. Make sure they understand what healthy and unhealthy behavior looks like in a relationship, because teen dating abuse has the potential to impact them long into adulthood.