5 Ways You Can Prepare for a Great School Year

You can help your child be more excited and less anxious about school.

Every fall, children head back to school. While some will be going for the first time, others will be making the transition to a new grade or perhaps even a new school. Transitioning into a new school year can be exciting, but some children are fearful. Thoughts about new teachers, concerns over moving to a new school or anxiety about a new grade are all things your child may be thinking, but not talking about. No matter how old your child is, this is an important time. Parents can help their kids prepare for a great school year by establishing rituals and consistency around the school day.

As human beings, we like to know what to expect, but this is especially true for children. When structure and consistency are missing in their lives, they tend to feel out of control. That out-of-control feeling can lead to acting out. The acting out behavior could range from temper tantrums to refusing to do homework or being disrespectful.

When preparing for a new school year, it is the perfect time to establish a game plan to help your child launch into the school year on a positive note.

Here are a few suggestions to help your child have a positive experience:

  • Talk with your children before school starts about the weeks ahead. For younger children, a trip to school is very important. What doesn’t seem scary to adults may be very scary to a young child. Take their feelings seriously. Decide how many extracurricular activities will be allowed.
  • Discuss emergency plans. What happens if your child gets sick? Who will pick up your children in the event of a crisis? Also, talk with your child about how you want them to deal with strangers.
  • Establish a morning and evening routine. These times can be hurried and stressful, creating anxiety for parents as well as children. Determine ahead of time what you expect. Will you eat breakfast together? What time do you expect your children to be out of bed and getting ready? Who packs lunches? What time should everybody be ready to leave the house? You might want to do a couple of practice runs prior to the start of school. Evening routines might include: setting out the clothes for the next day, putting all of the school gear in one place, and touching base as a family before going to bed. This can really help the morning be a more pleasant experience.
  • Make sure your child gets adequate rest. Whether you have young children or teens, research shows that they need around 10 hours of sleep.
  • Know your child. Be in touch with your child’s needs. When making decisions about homework, chores, television, etc., consider these questions: Is your child an early riser or a night owl? Do little things tend to stress them out? Consider different options for accomplishing tasks.

When children see you taking their concerns about school seriously, they are more likely to be more excited and less anxious about the experience. Investing your time and effort will give your children the best chance for success.

Other blogs:

How to Start School Routines

4 Ways Having a Routine Contributes to a Happy, Healthy Family

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

When Barbara Dafoe Whitehead was a girl, her father gave her some rules for selecting a husband.

  • He should be a man of good character and conscience.
  • He should be a man who will make a good father and be a good provider.
  • The last rule was: No asthmatics. (Her father was a doctor and an asthmatic.)

Dafoe Whitehead has been married to a man who exuded all of these qualities for more than 40 years. The one area in which she rebelled: her husband is an asthmatic.

“Things are different now for girls,” says Dafoe Whitehead. “Both of my girls are single and in their 30s. In college, someone told one of my daughters that to think about marriage shows a lack of ambition.

“The reality is, we have left a lot of teaching about love, sex and marriage to the popular culture – reality TV, celebrity gossip, etc. Young women today hear messages of heartbreak and failure, heartbreak and cheating, heartbreak and lying. There isn’t a lot out there about being successful in marriage.”

According to Dafoe Whitehead, only 20 percent of young adults came from broken homes in the late 70s compared to 40 percent in the late 90s. Many women have personal experience with divorce. These young people gather a lot of misinformation along the way that, if acted upon, will significantly lower their chances of marital success.

“I believe there are five pervasive messages of failure that young women are receiving today,” Dafoe Whitehead says.

These misleading messages for girls about successful marriage are:

  • Teenage sex has nothing to do with having a healthy marriage later. Two-thirds of today’s teens believe it is OK to have sex if you are in love. Unfortunately, the consequences of teen sex can last a lifetime–but the relationship usually doesn’t.
  • It is OK to have kids first because you can find a guy later. The highest percentage of unwed births today are to women in their 20s. Although they hope to find a guy later on, evidence shows that girls’ chances of a successful marriage, or ever marrying at all, decline.
  • People should live together. The evidence suggests that living together does not increase one’s chances of having a successful marriage, but there is strong evidence that it increases the chances for divorce.
  • You cannot prepare for a healthy, successful marriage. There are many who believe having several bad relationships is the only way to have a good one, and that heartbreak is unavoidable.
  • Your chances of divorce cannot be changed. The mantra for today’s young people is, “Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce.” They believe that a successful marriage is a roll of the dice. Not true. There is a lot you can do.

“The truth is, young women in their teens and 20s should have tremendous hope for a successful marriage in the future,” Dafoe Whitehead says.

A lot can be done for girls in their teen years to prepare for a healthy and successful marriage later.

Making a Love Connection is an excellent resource to help teens make healthy decisions. At the heart of its hopeful message is the issue of sequence or timing. Young women can significantly improve their chances of having a healthy marriage by finishing high school, waiting until after their teen years to marry and having children after marrying. This sequential order also dramatically decreases the chances of poverty or divorce.

If you are looking for a committed relationship, don’t settle for any old guy, and don’t settle for living together. Most women want a committed relationship.

Marriage is typically a public ceremony, leaving no doubt regarding the couple’s commitment to each other. Moving in with someone is private, and the only witnesses may be the moving people. One young lady said, “I really didn’t care about wedding vows, but when I lived with my boyfriend we didn’t vow to do anything.”

If you want a healthy marriage, consider these things.

  • Plan to complete your education in your 20s.
  • In general, research shows that people who marry in their 20s are distinctly happier than those who marry later.
  • Date with the intention and thought of marrying. Know what you are looking for in a mate and don’t date guys who aren’t marriage-minded. Frequent places where you are likely to meet the kind of person you’d want to marry.
  • Don’t wait until you are engaged to get marriage or premarital education. Get as much relationship education as you can, value the knowledge and share it with others. People who know better do better.
  • Finally, consider a small wedding. Many people delay the ceremony until they can afford a huge bash or a destination wedding that causes stress and fatigue. Focusing on the relationship instead of the big day itself has its perks. It allows couples to get a good emotional and financial start. Plus, it gives them more time together instead of creating debt and overwhelming tasks with the potential for conflict.

When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Start ongoing conversations with your kids.

There’s a TV commercial showing a father and his very inquisitive daughter sharing a meal. Rapid-fire, she asks why the sky is blue, why zebras have stripes, if turtles like cheese, why she has fingerprints, etc. For each question, the dad gets a little help from an insurance agent who is seated right behind him. However, when the girl asks her dad where babies come from, the agent asks for his check and quickly disappears. 

Where do babies come from?

That question can make adults squirm and respond with some creative answers. One answer even involves eating a watermelon seed that grows in mom’s belly. When one mom returned the question, her daughter replied, “When two people love each other, the dad buys a pumpkin seed and gives it to the mom. Then her stomach gets big like a pumpkin!”

It’s great that children are actually asking their parents for this information. While the topic might cause tremendous angst for some, there is no better person to answer than their parent. Instead of sidestepping the question or giving a crazy answer, use the opportunity to provide enough age-appropriate answers and muster enough boldness to encourage more questions in the future.

Many parents say they want to be the ones to teach their children about sex. Yet teen and young adult surveys show that’s not the case. TV and the internet are their top sources for information and ideas about sex. School, parents and peers are next on the list.

It’s great to start talking with your children about sex when they are young, even though some parents want to wait until their child brings it up.

If you cringe and have a deer-in-the headlights look at the thought of discussing sex, your child may believe the topic is off-limits. Experts say parents should start having age-appropriate conversations with their children around age 6.

At this stage, children are often curious about their bodies and why their body is different from their sibling’s. They may even be hearing things from other kids. It is important that children have accurate information from the person they should be able to trust: their parent. So take a deep breath and wade in the water.

Young children often ask where they came from. For starters, a parent can ask their child where they think they came from. The child might actually be asking where they were born. With a serious sigh of relief, that is easily answered. Another option for 5- and 6-year-olds is to read a book. Baby on the Way or Where Did I Come From? are good examples.

For elementary-age children, focus conversations on correctly naming sexual organs and private parts, personal boundaries, pregnancy and building healthy relationships. If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers. Clarify the question and keep your answers age-appropriate, brief and simple. If they want to know more, they’ll usually ask. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. You can always say, ”Let me get back to you about that,” then make sure that you do.

The thought of talking with your child about sex may cause your heart to race and your stomach to flutter. But remember, they are only asking because they are curious. Parents are their first and best teachers.


5 Basics for Childhood Learning

You can help children achieve their potential and live their best lives.

The Science of Childhood: Inside the Minds of Our Younger Selves is a Time magazine special edition. It examines everything from understanding child development and dealing with temper tantrums to the science of play and birth-order secrets. It’s part of an effort to help parents and other caregivers better understand how children learn – and what everyone can do to help children thrive.

Since 2015, the Early Childhood Coalition has been working to ensure that everyone in the greater Chattanooga area can access high-quality resources that support child development from birth to age 5. The plan is to engage and mobilize the community through advocacy, communication and education. The goal is for all children to achieve their potential and live their best lives.

For example, Chattanooga Basics is one of the Coalition’s initiatives. It’s built upon the reality that parents play the most critical role in providing a solid and healthy start for babies and young kids. Chattanooga Basics is closely aligned with Harvard’s Boston Basics.

The goals for the Basics are to help ensure that:

  • 80 percent of children show up to school ready to learn.
  • Every parent has access to information about how to help their child thrive.
  • Every parent knows about the Chattanooga Basics and creative ways to engage their child.
  • Parents have the necessary support to be what their child needs.

The Five Basics can help all children to thrive.

While parents are their child’s first teachers, the entire community can rally around them and support them as they parent.

The Five Basics are:

  • Maximize Love, Manage Stress – Babies thrive when the world feels loving, safe and predictable. Affectionate and responsive caregiving develops a sense of security and self-control.
  • Talk, Sing Point – Babies learn language from the moment they are born through loving interactions with their caregivers, not televisions or phones. Eye contact, pointing, and real words teach the most about communication.
  • Count, Group, and Compare – Children are wired to learn numbers, patterns, sizes, shapes and comparisons. What they learn about math in the first few years makes a difference when they get to school.
  • Explore Through Movement and Play – Children are born curious about the world. They’re like scientists. Pay attention to your infant’s or toddler’s interests. Help them learn through play and exploration.
  • Read and Discuss Stories – The more we read with young children, the more we prepare them to enjoy reading and do well in school. Even infants enjoy the shapes and colors in books! Let them hold the book and turn the pages. Point to the pictures and talk about what you see.

You can help prepare the children in our community for kindergarten.

You may be part of a faith-based community, a child-care provider, a human resources executive or a company CEO. Or perhaps you are the neighbor next door or a relative or friend. It doesn’t matter who you are! 

Everyone plays a role in intentionally engaging parents, assisting them in building strong, healthy families and helping children thrive and show up to school ready to learn.

To learn more about Chattanooga Basics, the Early Childhood Coalition partners and what you can do to help, visit chattanoogabasics.org.

Other blogs:

How to Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them

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

8 Ways Kids Are Smart

All kids are intelligent in different ways.

According to Dr. Kathy Koch, educator, founder of Celebrate Kids, and author of 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Child’s Intelligences, every person, young and old, needs to know they are smart. Intelligence doesn’t always look the way you expect it to.

“Smart is a powerful word,” says Koch. “When children discover that they are smart, they are more willing to engage with all of life, including school. Children who don’t think of themselves as intelligent don’t tend to engage. They say to themselves, ‘I’m not smart enough, so studying won’t help.’ Children who believe deep down they have a brain and they are supposed to use it are children who will have more joy and purpose, and their lives are more vibrant.”

When Koch taught second grade, she became concerned when she realized some of her children were already classifying themselves as not intelligent. Even some of the parents doubted their child’s ability to do well at a very early age.

“The wrong question is, ‘Am I smart?’” Koch says. “Stupid is a choice. We were not created that way. Early on in my work, I discovered research conducted by psychologist Howard Gardner from Harvard University, who found that all of us have one brain divided into eight parts, and there are eight different ways of being intelligent. The better question is, ‘How am I smart?’”

Eight Different Ways of Being Intelligent

  • Words: the power of language – talking
  • Logic: the power of questions – asking
  • Picture: the power of observation – seeing
  • Music: the power of sound and music – hearing
  • Body: the power of movement – doing
  • Nature: the power of patterns – collecting
  • People: the power of people – relating
  • Self: the power of quiet – reflecting

“There are many children who are smart in ways that don’t make school easier,” Koch says.

“For example, if your child is self-smart or nature-smart, the classroom experience could be challenging for them. For a child who is picture-smart, when his teacher describes a historical reality, he pictures it in his mind. Many children will say, ‘You mean because I draw well, I am smart? I thought I was just a good drawer.’”

Additionally, body-smart children are athletic, can dance or can kick the ball through the goal post with both feet. Music-smart children aren’t just talented. Those who are people-smart think with other people, brainstorm, network and read body language well. For someone who is word-smart, words are a big part of their existence. They can gossip and tease well and often arrange conversations so they have the last word. They must be taught self-control.

I want to equip parents to recognize that their children do what they do because of how they are smart,” Koch says. “Then I can help guide them to help their children do what they do well. Children who know they are smart are more likely to flourish.”

Other blogs:

How to Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them

What Every Child Needs to Learn

7 Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

What Every Child Needs to Learn

Practice these caregiving principles with the kids in your sphere of influence.

Did you know…

  • Babies can hear three months before they are born?
  • 80 percent of a child’s brain growth happens in the first three years?
  • On average, the ratio of reprimands, warnings or scolding to praise or encouragement is 12 to 1 for children in low-income families?
  • A major study showed that by age 2, less-advantaged children were six months behind the highly advantaged in language processing skills?

Dr. Ron Ferguson, adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and faculty director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI), shared these facts as he talked about an initiative he launched in Boston. His goal is to help parents engage with their young children and reduce the skill gaps that become apparent between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds by age 3.

“Looking at the research, I realized a lot of the gaps we struggle to address once children are older are evident by the age of 2,” says Ferguson. “We know we are never going to reach everybody through standard programs because capacity is limited, but imagine what could happen if everybody in the community felt a sense of ownership to do their part in helping children thrive.”

The initiative focuses on five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles. These things can help make sure every child has what they need to learn.

These principles are scientifically proven ways to promote brain development in young children. The initiative is designed so every parent, caregiver, family member, friend or citizen can use and share it.

Here are the principles:

Maximize Love, Manage Stress.

Infants thrive when their world seems loving, safe and predictable. When you express love and respond to their needs, they learn that they can count on you. Showing love and responding helps children learn to manage their feelings and behavior. Feeling secure in their relationships gives them the confidence to explore, learn and take on life’s challenges.

Talk, Sing and Point. 

From birth, babies are learning language. Initially, speech is just sound to a newborn. Day by day, they learn that sounds have meaning. This process depends on how much people talk to them. Talking, singing or pointing to what you are talking about provides clues to the meaning of your words. You are providing important information to their brains about how language works. As your child develops, talking with them and answering their questions teaches them about the world.

Count, Group, Compare.

Becoming good at math begins long before a child enters school. Even infants are wired to learn simple math ideas, including small numbers, patterns and making comparisons. You don’t need to be a math teacher to prepare your child to be a problem solver. You can do fun and simple activities now to build math and thinking skills.

Explore through Movement and Play. 

Movement and play are good for children’s bodies, their coordination, strength and overall health. This is how children explore and learn, too. Each stage of development brings new opportunities for learning. For example, an infant might explore by touching, grasping, chewing or crawling. A toddler might explore by walking or climbing. Young children are like scientists, curious and excited to explore.

Read and Discuss Stories. 

Reading with young children consistently prepares them to enjoy reading and to do well in school. It is never too early to begin reading! Stories expose children to words and ideas that they would not otherwise experience. Books teach children to use their imaginations, and what they learn about people, places and things can be important building blocks to future success. Reading together creates lasting memories.

Research shows this type of support for early brain growth is a key to stimulating a healthy start in life for all infants and toddlers.

It is also the foundation of kindergarten readiness.

Imagine the impact if everyone practiced these caregiving principles with the children in their sphere of influence. It is possible to close the achievement gap and help all of our kids get off to a great start. We all have a role to play.

Other blogs:

Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?

9 Ways to Play With Your Kids

7 Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

What to Teach Kids About Marriage

We can prepare people to do marriage well.

In a Wall Street Journal article called The Divorce Generation, Susan Gregory Thomas tells the story of her marriage. She met a guy, and they fell in love. Then, they moved in together. His parents warned them that being roommates and pals was totally different than being husband and wife, but they paid no attention. Instead, she and her boyfriend opposed their parents’ advice. They thought it was old-fashioned and sexist.

“Like many of my cohort, the circumstances of my upbringing led me to believe that I had made exactly the right choices by doing everything differently from my parents,” says Thomas.

Thomas thought her marriage would last forever. But nine years later, she found herself in the midst of an unwanted divorce.

A Generation of Divorce

“Gen X children witnessed the beginning of a divorce epidemic. This led to a divorce culture, which led to the conclusion that marriage can be a source of pain and loss,” says Dr. John Van Epp, clinical counselor and author. “These failed relationships convinced people to believe that relationships are good, but relationship definition is risky.”

According to a 2004 study by Generational Differences, Gen Xers were one of the least-parented and least-nurtured generations in U.S. history. Census data shows that almost half of them come from broken homes and that 40 percent were latchkey kids.

In the Journal of Sociology, Kate Hughes states, “Adult children of divorced parents’ failed marriages and broken families brought a fragility that led to risk-diminishing strategies.”

“Many parents sent messages to their children like, ‘Don’t marry young. Establish yourself first. Be sure. Be REALLY sure. The goal is to minimize your risks,’” Van Epp says. “Consequently, Gen Xers took the messages of apprehension a step further to avoidance. Can we form relationships without defining what they really are?”

Family Structure Matters

Van Epp believes it’s a myth that a lack of structure in a relationship is safe. Compared to children living with their own married parents, children 12-17 living with cohabitors are:

  • Six times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems,
  • 122 percent more likely to be expelled from school, and
  • 90 percent more likely to have a lower GPA.

Additionally, the rates of serious abuse are:

  • Lowest in intact families,
  • Six times higher in stepfamilies,
  • 14 times higher in always single-mother families,
  • 20 times higher in a biological cohabiting family, and
  • 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend who is not the biological father.

“Structure gives a framework to the relationship and defines the roles,” Van Epp says.

“People don’t understand that relationship dynamics without relationship structure increases their risk for experiencing exactly what they want to avoid in relationships. Whether married, single or divorced, you can teach your children about dating, partner selection and how to build healthy relationships that don’t create risks.”

The answer is not to avoid marriage but to teach kids about how to do it well. This begins when parents build their child’s confidence (not apprehension and avoidance) about how to successfully navigate romantic relationships and establish a secure and lasting marriage.

Brooke Womack was sure there was an intruder in their house when she heard noises coming from their family room at two in the morning. In reality, it was just their toddler, Marshall, who had escaped from his bedroom and came downstairs to watch Veggie Tales.

“After nearly having heart failure, we told him to go back to bed,” said Womack. “It is funny now, but it was not funny at the time.”

Walking through toddlerhood with your child can feel like a never-ending roller coaster ride. One moment you are laughing hysterically at something they say or do and the next moment you are ready to pull your hair out as you round the corner to find them playing in the potty. How is it possible for a tiny little being to absolutely get the best of us as parents?

Toddler Behavior is Normal.

Does it help at all to know that being in perpetual motion, throwing food on the floor, being curious and constantly saying the word “no” are all part of normal child development? The very behaviors that drive you crazy are what a child needs to do in order to advance to the next developmental stage. The stubbornness that keeps your child from minding you is the same quality that helps him or her get up after a fall and keep trying.

There is no question that parenting is tiring and often very frustrating, even more so when you lose your cool and find yourself throwing your own temper tantrum.

Coping Tips for Parents

Here are a few suggestions to help you regain your composure.

  • Learn the developmental stages. It is easy to take the behavior personally when you think your child is intentionally pushing your buttons, but when you know the behavior is developmentally appropriate, it’s easier to deal with the behavior without getting emotional.
  • Pay attention to the environment. Provide safe surroundings. Taking away things that require you to constantly say “no” encourages your child to explore and learn in safety. And, it sets the stage for desirable outcomes.
  • Be the parent your child needs you to be. Your child is counting on you to keep them safe, which means constant supervision. They also need you to be the adult. Constantly screaming at a child rarely accomplishes anything. The way you talk to and discipline your child teaches them about relationships.
  • The purpose of discipline is to teach. When giving your child direction, get on eye level with him. Use your child’s name and keep your instructions simple. Tell him what you want him to do versus what you don’t want him to do. For example, “Jimmy, please put your blocks away.” Avoid asking your toddler, “Why did you do that?” Instead, talk with them about what they did in the simplest of terms. You’ll defeat the purpose of your conversation if you are long-winded.

Surviving the toddler stage may seem daunting, but these years actually go by very quickly.

Before you know it, your little one won’t be so little anymore. Take the time now to learn and apply good parenting/relationship skills with your children. You’ll find those toddler tailspins really can turn into treasured memories.

Other blogs:

5 Ways Positive Parenting Creates a Lifelong Connection

7 Things Your Toddler Wishes You Knew

6 Fun Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Toddler

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