Giving Your Child Roots and Wings
You may have heard the wise saying, "Parenting is about giving children both roots and wings: roots to know where home is, and wings to fly away and practice what they've learned."
From the moment our children are born we provide them with love, affection, acceptance, safety and security - creating strong roots. We also give them wings by helping them gain skills, confidence, common sense and independence.
When thinking about how to best prepare your child for the world, consider the "three R's" that all kids need: routines, rules and responsibilities.
Routines help kids feel safe, content and settled. Babies are happiest when kept on a schedule for sleeping, eating and play. Young children need a morning routine to get ready for their day, and a nightly pre-bed ritual such as bathing, pajamas, brushing teeth and reading a story. Routines for school-age kids might include study time, practicing a musical instrument and sports practice. Family dinners are an important routine for kids of all ages; it's all about making time to sit down together and share what's going on.
Rules make children feel secure and loved, and kids need parents to enforce the rules. Even when they complain about rules and break them sometimes, kids are glad that their parents care enough to set them. Rules work best when they make sense and are related to safety, wellbeing and respect for self and others. Kids develop good judgment as they follow and question rules. They learn that parents are willing to bend some rules now and then, such as a bedtime or a curfew. But safety rules - like wearing a seatbelt - are too important to be broken.
Responsibilities help children become confident, resourceful and self-reliant. So let them keep track of their own schoolwork, and teach them to speak directly with their teachers about homework and deadlines. Encourage them to volunteer in the community or get a summer job. Chores are also important. Young children can put their toys away each day, care for family pets and help set the table for dinner. Older kids can help with laundry, meals, cleaning, yard work and caring for younger siblings - all skills they'll use in life.
By giving your child both roots and wings, you'll help ensure their bright future!
Beyond "How Was School Today?"
It can be tough to get your child to talk about the details of their day at school. Instead of asking questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no," try open-ended questions to get your child more engaged: Did anything strange happen today? What was the best moment of your day? The worst? Many kids are more talkative when they're doing another activity, such as eating an after-school snack, coloring or helping to prepare dinner. You might chat with older kids while kicking around a soccer ball or playing basketball. And if you really want to hear the scoop, just listen quietly as you drive your child and a carload of their friends home from school or sports practice!
We have more tips for communicating with your child at each age.
Spotting Food Allergies
Food allergies are common among kids, and can develop suddenly. Any food can cause an allergy, but those most apt to trigger an allergic reaction are cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, nuts from trees, fish and shellfish.
Allergic reactions can affect the skin, breathing, stomach and circulation. They can be dramatic or subtle. Skin problems include hives, rashes and swelling. Breathing problems include sneezing, wheezing and throat tightness. Stomach problems include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. And circulation problems include pale skin, light-headedness and loss of consciousness. If several areas of the body are affected, the allergic reaction may be severe and even life-threatening, requiring immediate medical attention.
Kids having an allergic reaction may complain about their lips, mouth, tongue or throat - which may feel itchy, tight or "funny." Young children who don't yet speak may put their hands in their mouth and pull or scratch their tongue. Talk with your doctor if you suspect your child has food allergies.
Visit Seattle Mama Doc for tips for decreasing risks for allergies.
Understanding Autism in Children
If you have a school-age child, chances are good that they know another child with autism.
Autism affects how a person's brain and body work. Children with autism may struggle to communicate, make friends and follow directions. Autism is not a disease and is not contagious. About 1% of all kids in the U.S. have some form of autism, and it is more common in boys than girls.
Kids with autism may not see, hear or feel things the same way most people do. An ordinary sound may be as disturbing to them as a loud fire alarm going off nearby. Or the way you might feel about biting into a warm, squishy, too-ripe tomato could be how they perceive many foods.
"As people, we are all special and different in our own ways," says Lynn Vigo, MSW, a family resources specialist with Seattle Children's Autism Center. "For kids with autism, their differences may stand out a lot more. But when you look beyond the surface, they are more similar to other kids than they are different."
Children with autism may behave in odd ways - such as making strange movements and sounds, or repeating phrases or actions. Vigo says that it sometimes looks as though these kids are choosing to misbehave, but that's not the case. "It's in the wiring of their brain and may be that they can't communicate their frustrations."
Parents and teachers of a child with autism can offer tips for interacting with them. Getting to know a child with autism may take some extra effort - and it's worth it!
Our Autism Center provides resources for families that want to learn more about autism. The Autism Society newsletter, Growing Up Together, offers more tips. You need to complete a free registration to access the newsletter.
Kids and Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise among teens, who may gather whatever drugs they can find to take themselves or to share with friends. Emergency rooms treat kids who become very ill or overdose at parties during which party-goers take random, unknown medicines. These events are sometimes called "Pharm Parties."
Talk with your child about the dangers of taking medicines not prescribed for them, or taking any medicine in the wrong amount. Even if your own child is not abusing medicines, their friends visiting your home may be looking for prescription drugs. Keep medicines locked up, and ask your pharmacist about a "give-back" program to safely get rid of unneeded medicines.
Visit Take Back Your Meds to look for a location to safely return medicines your family no longer needs.
Don't Forget Swim Lessons
Parents sometimes get busy with sports and other activities for their child and forget about swim lessons. Children should have swim lessons each year. As kids' bodies and minds grow, they can improve their swimming and water survival skills. Swimming is also great exercise and a requirement to do other water activities, like rowing.
Be sure your child learns from a high-quality instructor. Check for swim lessons geared to your child's age and skill level at recreation centers and YMCAs. Don't put off swim lessons. Here in Washington, about 25 children and teens drown each year. Remember, even if your child does know how to swim, that doesn't mean they are safe in the water. Be sure they are supervised at all times.
Check out our drowning prevention and water safety pages to learn more.
Making Drop-Offs Happier
Many young children become unhappy when being dropped off at childcare or preschool - even those who enjoy themselves once they settle in. Talk privately with your child's caregiver to get some ideas on how to make drop-offs easier. You might give your child something special to keep in their pocket during the day, such as a smooth stone with a heart drawn on it. Or have a stuffed animal who "lives" in your child's school cubby and is eager to see your child each day. Perhaps the teacher can ask your child for help with a task as soon as you arrive, so your youngster's focus shifts to solving a problem: "I'm so glad you're here! We need your help finding our animal puzzle!"
Check out our article on separation anxiety to get some more coping strategies.