I Coach Five-Year-Olds and We Keep Score

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win.

The little five-year-olds in blue jerseys were running like cattle toward the soccer ball – bulls all mushed together. There was the occasional red player trying to squeeze into the herd, but they kept getting bowled over. The other kids in red stood there in the grass like scarecrows, only scaring no one. The black and white ball was repeatedly hitting the back of their net. And as their coach, my hands were chapped from clapping, trying to “rah-rah” my conquered troops.

The director of our youth soccer organization asked me to coach my son’s team. They had no one else to do it. I was reluctant because we all know kids listen to every other adult on Earth better than their own parent. But I said yes and my son has surprised me, in many ways actually. He listens, hustles, and waves his pom-poms for his teammates.

The first game was much harder than I had anticipated. How difficult could coaching these kids be? Play some games, let them run around, and feed them a snack, I thought. Well, my players stood petrified as ice sculptures and the other team easily scorched them.

On the car ride home, my son was stripping his legs of the sticky shin guards, socks, and cleats. The roots of his light brown curls were dark from sweat. “We did bad, huh Mommy?”

Now I was the scarecrow in the passenger seat. I was not ready for this teaching moment.

“No, honey. You guys tried really hard, and you had fun. They only beat us by four goals.”

But my son couldn’t ignore billboard-sized scoreboard in his brain. “No, Mom. The score was five to zero.”

He was right. I forgot about that last goal because I was too busy watching my stopwatch, praying it would tick faster, but it felt like the pause button was stuck.

My son took losing that first game pretty well. We’d been practicing at home because, just a few months prior, there was door-slamming and punching the wall when he was defeated. In the car, I recited the lines I was supposed to as a parent. “You tried really hard. Maybe we’ll get ‘em next time. You can’t always win.”

However, since that first game, I’ve been keeping score. Technically, I’m not supposed to in the league we play in. Plus, they’re only five. I keep track anyway. My son and most of my players tally the goals, too. When they ask, “Did we win or lose, coach?” I tell them the truth. I don’t say, “Oh, the score doesn’t matter.”

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win. We need to teach our kids that when we lose, you can still puff out that chest, as long as you left no regrets on that field. When you win, yes, you can puff out your chest too, but you better be humble. No gloating. If we don’t teach the true results of competition when our kids are young, we’ll have ten-year-olds throwing tantrums like toddlers because they can’t handle a loss. Or we’ll have the winners taunting the losers in a good ol’ bullying session.

I want my five-year-old players to know why they shake the other team’s hands. It’s not because we both won, it’s because both teams battled and earned respect.

I’m not into saving my players’ feelings, but I’ll certainly help them deal with these emotions. You learn way more in life from being on a losing team than a winning team. Winning is easy. And losing happens, in more than just sports. Someday, my players may not get into the college they applied for, ace the test they studied for, or get the job they interviewed for. Accepting a loss doesn’t mean giving up, it means quite the opposite. It means fighting.

Since our first defeat, my son and his teammates have won every single game. Maybe they didn’t like the feeling of that lost battle, I don’t know. Either way, they learned that working hard feels much better. We may lose again, but for now, they’ve lost their scarecrow costumes and have become the herding bulls they were meant to be.

12 Books that Reflect the Diversity of the World Around Us

I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help.

We know eating a variety of foods is healthy. Now that I have three children with various repetitive eating preferences, I often reassure myself with a classic tidbit of advice often delivered by pediatricians: Worry more about what your child eats over the course of a week than in a given day.

This principle is a helpful frame of reference in other aspects of parenting, too. What if you applied this concept to your children’s reading lives? How diverse is their weekly book diet?

In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop, professor at Ohio State University, penned what would become an iconic essay in the world of children’s literature titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” In short, she argued that books reflect readers’ own lives and give glimpses into others’. Bishop warned how imbalances can warp children’s perceptions of the world. A predominance of mirrors makes it seem as though the whole world is the same. Exposure to only windows can leave a child wondering, “But what about me?”

One of the many unearned privileges of being a white family is that “mirror” books aren’t hard for us to find. If you’re a parent to a child of color, though, you’ve probably already thought about “the apartheid of children’s literature.” The good news is that there have been major initiatives in recent years to encourage more diversity in children’s books. Data shows 22 percent of children’s books published in 2016 as being about children of color or First/Native Nations. This figure is an improvement from the 13 percent noted at the start of data collection in 2002, but it still doesn’t come close to aligning with US population statistics.

I began thinking more about diverse books when we moved from San Jose, California, where we were regularly in the minority at the playground, to a small town in Maine. We love where we live – the view from our actual window is gorgeous – but I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help. These questions helped me stay tuned into balancing our family reading diet:

Do some of the books we read feature characters of color having everyday experiences?

I’m not talking about books about slavery and civil rights, although those are important titles too. Decades ago, books like “The Snowy Day” and “Corduroy” were unusual in that they showed children of color doing regular things like playing outside and shopping. Luckily, more such titles are hitting the shelves each year. Sometimes my kids bring up a character’s appearance or ethnicity, but mostly, we just enjoy the stories. Some of our family favorites include:

OverandUnderthePond

Over and Under the Pond

by Kate Messner

This story tells about a mom and son spending a peaceful day canoeing near their home. The descriptions of wildlife appeal to my kids and the nonfiction information at the end helps answer their questions.


MarisonMcDonald

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la Fiesta Sin Igual

by Monica Brown

Proud, Peruvian-Scottish-American Marisol is just about the most lovable children’s book character out there. She likes so many things that she can’t decide what kind of birthday party to have. She ends up doing it her way, as a soccer-playing pirate unicorn in purple high tops. The icing on the cake is a surprise Skype call from her grandmother in Peru.


JabariJumps

Jabari Jumps

by Gaia Cornwall

My kids are always amazed that Jabari wants to jump off such a high diving board at the local pool. Jabari makes the dive and the family celebration is priceless.


SparkleBoy

Sparkle Boy

by Leslea Newman

This is the perfect story for my son, who loves glitter and pink. Casey begs his parents and Abuelita to let him wear a skirt, sparkly nail polish, and jewelry. They agree, and when he’s teased at the library, his sister comes to his defense.   


NotNorman

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

by Kelly Bennett

When a boy gets a goldfish for his birthday, he makes big plans to trade him for a more exciting pet. Before he can make it to the pet store, though, sweet little Norman proves himself to be a faithful companion.


ShoppingwithDad

Shopping With Dad

by Matt Harvey

A dad takes his daughter grocery shopping while Mom stays home to work, subtly bucking traditional gender roles. The errand turns into a hilarious adventure when the little girl sneezes and sets off a chain of events that upsets an entire display. Books about biracial families can be hard to find, so that adds to the appeal of this title.


Do some of the books we read broaden my children’s views of the world?

Of course, the books that broaden your kids’ perspectives will depend on your actual perspective. My family knows a lot about winter weather and lobsters, but not as much about city buses and chopsticks. These titles give us the chance to talk about the world beyond our little corner:

Beebimbop

Bee-bim Bop!

by Linda Sue Park

The catchy rhyming text describes how a family prepares and eats a traditional Korean meal. My kids love to join in when we read it and the recipe in the back even inspired them to request bee-bim bop for dinner.


OneGreenApple

One Green Apple

by Eve Bunting

Farah, a new immigrant, navigates a school field trip to an apple orchard. Eve Bunting sensitively portrays her cultural confusion and limited English, and the immediate kindness displayed by her classmates is touching.


Laststoponmaple

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Pena

This title is deservingly well decorated with awards. CJ and his grandmother ride the city bus route to help out at a soup kitchen. CJ – with all his complaining – is relatable, and the story gives us so much to talk about.


Thestoryilltell

The Story I’ll Tell

by Nancy Tupper Ling

We’re expecting our fourth child, so my older kids are well-versed in the arrival of babies. This mother’s bedtime story about her child’s adoption from China captivates them, though, and initiates conversations about the many ways families are made.


Rainbowweaver

Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Acoiris

by Linda Elovitz Marshall

In her village in the mountains of Guatemala, Ixchel wants to weave like her mother. Thread is at a premium, so she has to improvise. She ends up twisting up colorful plastic bags, cleaning up her village in the process. This fascinating story – with its factual roots – offers a new viewpoint for everyone in our family.


Thisishowwedoit

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

by Matt Lamothe

This book shares details of the lives of children in Italy, Japan, Peru, Uganda, Russia, India, and Iran, from what they eat for breakfast to what they play after school. It isn’t a new book concept, but this one is thoughtfully done. Whether we read just a few pages or the whole book, we all appreciate the diversity and the common connections.

Need more ideas for your family reading menu? Check out the following lists of diverse titles, including suggestions for older children: Where to Find Diverse Books from We Need Diverse Books and Books With Characters of Color from Commonsense Media.

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How Kids Can Cope With Stress in Our Unpredictable New Reality

This practice gives kids strategies for developing self-awareness, improving mental focus, handling emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, six of the largest school districts in the United States closed, and 1.7 million American students missed school. This figure doesn’t take into account school interruptions after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere where officials have no clear timeline for school re-openings for over 350,000 students.
According to some experts, such school closings could have disastrous consequences the likes of which we’ve seen only after Hurricane Katrina. I worry about the students in Texas, Louisiana, Florid, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have been displaced by these recent storms, because they may experience the kind of stress my New Orleans students had to handle in 2005 and 2006. Officials on the ground are already reporting a mental health crisis in Puerto Rico. And, as if the hurricanes aren’t enough, scenes of assault weapons spraying bullets on a crowd in Las Vegas pop up in our children’s news feeds and cause more anxiety.
After Hurricane Katrina forced evacuations and devastated New Orleans, I returned home and volunteered to teach creative writing in a public school. My plan was to help children write stories to express their emotions and creative voice. I quickly discovered, however, that many of my students had high levels of anxiety and poor academic success. They had difficulty focusing in class, following my instruction, and sitting still to write. They also fought with each other on the playground. As I got to know them, I learned why.
Many of these children were growing up in poverty, and their families had limited resources to evacuate during the storm. Some had stayed in New Orleans and witnessed trauma. After Katrina, their families moved to other cities – often living in shelters – and my students had missed school. Like many displaced children, they exhibited depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. Some also faced other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, exposure to unsafe environments, and a broken family structure.
Research has shown that children who experience stressful events at an early age may have behavior problems and below-average academic and literacy skills. They are also at increased risk for developing health problems as adults. The good news is that children often respond well to interventions, including classroom mindfulness activities. With a mindfulness program, teachers have reported improved classroom behavior of their students especially in the areas of paying attention, self-control, participation, and respect for others. As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I decided to teach my students mindful techniques at the start of each writing class.
Mindfulness is a method of paying attention – on purpose, with kindness and patience – to what’s going on inside and outside of you in each moment. This practice gives adults and children strategies for developing self-awareness and acceptance, improving mental focus, handling difficult emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy. In my writing class, I taught my students many of the mindfulness exercises I still use today as a way of preparing them for the day, and for writing. Here is a sample:

Mindful breathing

Feel your breath come into your nose or mouth, into your lungs, and into your tummy. Feel your lungs release each breath before you take another. Put all of your attention on the air going in and out. If you start thinking about something, shift your attention back to your breathing. This exercise helps you focus on where you are and what you are experiencing in your body in the moment.

Squeeze and release

After taking three mindful breaths, focus your attention on your feet. Squeeze all the muscles tight and then release. Move your attention up your body, squeezing and releasing all your muscle groups until your reach your head. End with three more mindful breaths. This exercise, too, brings your awareness to the physical sensations in your body. You can try it lying down to help you relax.

Mind bubbles

Try this one as a way to release the stressful thoughts that are bothering you. Think of your worries as bubbles that pop. Take three mindful breaths and imagine holding a bubble wand. Breathe in and notice your worry. Breathe out and blow your worry through the wand to form a bubble that floats away and pops. This is a way to see your thoughts as temporary and release them. Repeat the visualization until you feel ready to continue your day. This exercise may not take away immediate problems, but it gives you a tool to release troubling thoughts so you are better prepared to face your life.

Finding the pause

Breathe normally, and at the end of each breath, notice the short pause before you breathe in again. Relax a different part of your body during each pause. Continue as long as you wish, relaxing your whole body a little more with each pause. This exercise helps you handle your emotions and problems with more confidence.
I taught my students these or similar techniques, which we used before writing. In the absence of a controlled study, I can only report that I saw many changes in my students over the school year. At the start of my class, the majority of my students could not write a complete grammatical sentence much less a story with an intact narrative thread.
By the end, every student contributed at least one complete story to our classroom collection, which we printed and bound. They also performed on stage, many reading their writing aloud to a packed auditorium. They also improved in paying attention and controlling their behavior. We simply got along better by the end of the year, and my students were calmer, at least in our classroom.
For the teachers and school administrators who have been affected by the 2017 storms, I wish them courage as they face the challenges of returning to school. They too had to evacuate or shelter in place and may struggle to create a safe environment for their students who could be traumatized. I hope they can put interventions in place that allow for healing and growth during this tough time.
No matter how bleak or surreal our daily reality becomes, our kids don’t deserve to fall into a desensitized-yet-anxious funk we often feel, especially after a series of crises. We owe them a way to cope. Mindfulness is a helpful tool.
For more on mindfulnes, visit Barefoot Books. Whitney Stewart is the author of “Mindful Kids: 50 Activities for Kindness, Focus, and Calm“.
 

Illness and Family Dynamics: What Happens When We Get Sick?

It’s what we do as a society when we or our children get sick that highlights a lack of flexibility in our lives.

It’s inevitable that, at some point while raising children, you will be used as a tissue substitute, thrown up on, or pooped on. But it’s what we do as a society when we or our children get sick that highlights a lack of flexibility in our lives.

Lack of sleep never stopped anyone

Everyone has a sick kid tale to tell. My mother tells me about staying up all night with my ill brother when he was a baby. She talks about standing in the shower with him as he coughed, the endless checking of his temperature and the worry for my sister sleeping in the next bedroom.
My mother didn’t sleep that night. By the time the sun had risen, her temperature was rising, too, and she felt that familiar thumping in her head that precedes influenza. That same morning, she drove to the next camp where my father was working, not so he could take over – he was busy building a road and couldn’t take time off – but because it was the agreed upon plan, and illness doesn’t stop motherhood.

What are the options?

Whilst I never drove cross-country with a fever, a sick baby, and an excitable child, I certainly know what it feels like to wake up ill and have that sinking feeling that it can’t make any difference to my day. I’ve begged my husband to stay home, citing a thumping head and a stomach-ache that turned out that night to be appendicitis.
He went to work. He had to, and I understand that. People rely on him, and his work requires a significant amount of notice to enable him to take a day off. This is not about who should or shouldn’t take a day off, or who deserves to be cared for when they’re ill, or exactly how ill you need to be to justify staying or leaving. This is an examination of what we all do, what I’ve done myself, and how I wish we could do better.
Because it feels awful to watch your loved one leave and know that you have to get through at least nine hours without throwing up on your child. It feels awful when you’re the solo parent and you can’t even count down nine hours until you see another adult and have some help.
It feels awful to leave your loved one behind, knowing they’re going to have a terrible day, but that money or your boss’s goodwill just can’t stretch for a day off. It feels awful when your kid says they’ve got a sore throat on the day you’ve got back to back meetings. Dosing them with medicine and sending them anyway becomes a viable choice.
These are all options people routinely choose. Yet, none of them are ideal.

There is no illness!

Many parents have made the choice to ignore their symptoms and just get on with it. In two parent families where one parent is at home, most of the time the other parent will still go to work. Currently, there are no legal requirements for paid sick leave in the U.S. Families are entitled to unpaid sick leave instead. This forces people to choose between leaving their child with an ill care-giver, relying on a support network (which may or may not be available), or losing a day’s wage.
We would never let our children stay with a caregiver who could barely walk, so why do we consider it acceptable to care for our children ourselves when we’re so sick? We do it for two reasons: lack of flexibility in the workplace, and cultural expectations. Our culture is entrenched in the idea that sickness is weakness. We power through. Advertising for medication isn’t about getting better; it’s about masking symptoms and getting on with your day. Stay-at-home parents put a movie on and hope for the best, because really, what other options are there?

I’m not sick, it’s just pneumonia

This ‘powering through’ isn’t limited to stay-at-home-parents. When working parents get sick, they go to work. Time off for illness is rarely available. Given the nature of sickness, it’s not as if you can book a sick day a fortnight in advance for a head-cold. Illness takes us by surprise and often leaves us with the choice of going to work or missing a day’s pay.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that people in low-paying jobs are the most likely to go to work even when they’re sick. This is likely because the consequences of missing that day of work are monetarily more severe than for workers in high-paying jobs. However, 45 percent of people in high-paying jobs still go to work when they’re ill, but they more frequently cite reasons such as letting down co-workers.
The culture of the workplace has a big impact on whether workers come in if they’re sick or not. Companies who have procedures and policies in place involving back-up staff and the flexibility to work from home are less likely to have sick staff in the workplace. Interestingly, companies who have better policies also have workers who take less time off overall.
Families who have found workplaces with flexibility surrounding illness want to keep their jobs, so they work harder even when they’re working from home with sick kids watching a movie. Flexibility is they key to providing families with viable options.

They’re not sick, it’s just…pneumonia

When kids get sick, guess what happens? They still go to school or childcare or wherever they usually go. Four out of 10 working parents say they might send their sick child to school. Six out of 10 do this because they fear they’ll lose their jobs if they take time off to care for their child. Clearly, workplaces hold some of the power here.
Families with children will get sick more frequently throughout the year. A study found that, in childless households, viruses were present four to five weeks in a year, whereas households with children had viruses present up to 45 weeks in a year – that’s 87 percent of the time. We all know that once one person in a family goes down, it’s inevitable that everyone will.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to have a solid plan.

Make a plan, and make it good

Talk to your spouse about what you’ll do when you or the kids get sick. Find out how you both feel about illness and responsibility. Figure out who will do what so you’re not left simmering with both fever and resentment as your partner drives away to work.
Also, find a really good takeaway place, stock up the freezer, or sweet talk Grandma into watching “Moana” on repeat with a sneezing toddler. Try and strengthen your immune system in preparation for flu season. Build up your support network. Even if your friends or family can’t watch your sick children, maybe they could leave a lasagne by the door?
Perhaps most importantly, talk to your workplace about flexibility. We all deserve to know that we’re worth receiving care when we’re sick, whether that’s from a partner, a parent, or an employer.
Planning for sickness will pay off. The way we do things now? It’s a bit sickening.

What Are We Apologizing for When We Apologize for Our Kids?

What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid.

“I’m sorry” I mutter when my three-year-old bumps into a stranger’s legs at the store.
“I’m sorry” when we cancel because she woke up at 3 a.m., was a terror all day, and finally went down for a nap.
“I’m sorry” that he can’t eat the treats because of food allergies.
“I’m sorry” when the two year old doesn’t share a favorite toy.
“I’m sorry” about the wiggles and squeals we try to suppress at church.
“I’m sorry” he acts hyper when he feels overwhelmed.
“I’m sorry” she wet her pants.
“I’m sorry” he’s eating your snacks.
“I’m sorry” she clings to the teacher in class.
“I’m sorry” someone pushed.
“I’m sorry” he’s standing too close to her.
“I’m sorry” they are loud.
“I’m sorry” they are in your way.
So many sorrys.
Recently we traveled to visit family. During the first part of our trip I spent a lot of time saying sorry – for spills, messes, misbehaviors, and early mornings. One afternoon, after struggling for several hours to get my kids to take naps, we showed up late at my grandma’s house for a playdate we had planned. When she answered the door I immediately began explaining myself, doing the “mommy sorry.” She cut me off, mid-apology. Looking me directly in my eyes as I fought off some tears of overwhelm, she said, “Please. You don’t ever need to apologize. We are in this together. We can be flexible.”
Her words melted me and all my mommy-insecurity into a big puddle of tears, right there on her porch. This was a veteran mom of six children talking. But more importantly it was my grandma, someone who loves and sees me and my kids for who we are, not how well we perform.
Her words lodged themselves in my heart, and they have caused me to think a lot about the superfluous “mommy sorry.” Why do so many of us do it? I hear you apologize for your kid not answering adults when asked a question, for your toddler not sharing, for countless other social infractions. I know I’ve said my share of sorrys too.
Why do we apologize for the growing process of our little people when it is not something we can control by verbally taking responsibility for it? Are we actually sorry? Their very existence hinges on inconveniencing others. When we say sorry for everything about our kids, it starts to sound like we are apologizing for the very fact they exist and for the people they are.
What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have been more concerned about pleasing others than properly parenting my kids. I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid. Or having food allergies. Or not sharing, although pediatricians say kids can’t understand sharing until age three. Why do I apologize for the social behaviors of these small people? For them not yet understanding personal space. For being attached to their mom. For struggling to master the art of whispering. For not noticing they are in the way because their eyes can’t even see over the shopping cart. Why do I apologize for their physical needs and the instincts they follow to meet them? Like wanting someone else’s snacks. Or taking a really long nap. Or having an accident in the middle of Target.
I’ve realized if there’s anyone’s forgiveness I should ask, it’s my kids. I hope they forgive me for the times I have apologized for their kid-ness. I want them to know I am not ashamed of them or embarrassed about the things that make them kids. Those sorrys were voiced by Mom’s insecurity, not her heart.
Parents of the world – can we stop apologizing to one another for our kids being kids? After all, we are all in this together. We can be flexible with each other as we all do our best to raise kind and responsible people. Let’s support more and judge less. Let’s be the village it takes to raise a child.

Peace and Love During Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

It’s 2017 and I have learned to smile again. I have two amazing “rainbow babies.” Still, I do not forget where I came from.

“Mommy, I wish it was just the three of us,” my five-year-old son Owen said suddenly.
I sighed and mentally prepared myself for what was coming. My little boy adored his father, so I assumed that he meant Daddy, himself, and his big sister, Julia. Instead, he uttered these names: Julia, Owen, and Liam.
My heart sank.
Although still young, my youngest child was beginning to understand. Physically, it was just Owen and Julia. But they also had a big brother whom they never met. Liam was our firstborn son and died at only nine days old.
My husband Brian and I found out we were expecting our first child on January 1, 2008. Everything was going along perfectly – until that day. I was just over 20 weeks and due to have my anatomy scan.
“I found a problem with the baby’s heart,” the doctor said.
Our joy turned to devastation with those words.
It’s 2017 and I have learned to smile again. I have two amazing “rainbow babies. Still, I do not forget where I came from.
On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared the entire month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Prior to our tragedy, we had never heard of it. We had never imagined this would be our fate.
Liam had been gone for a few weeks when Brian and I headed down those steps to the church basement in October of 2009. It was dark, quiet, and somber. Everyone was getting ready to light their candles in honor of all our babies.
Until then, Brian and I lived in complete isolation. The bereavement support group and cemetery became the only places where we felt solace. I remember being a “newbie” amongst all those who had experienced loss.
“The pain does soften,” they would say.
At the time, I absolutely refused to believe them. I do now. I have been writing about neonatal loss for several years. It still feels raw and painful, but it’s different somehow. Many of us liken it to a scar – something that will never go away.
Nine years ago, I was a very angry and bitter person. I lashed out at friends and family. I refused to attend events. My own despair was so great, I could barely think at all. I couldn’t see anything beyond my pain. I didn’t want to. I had no idea on how to move forward. The decision to try for a second child was made mostly by my husband.
After Julia’s birth, I felt guilt. I felt as if moving on was a betrayal to Liam. I also felt comfort and joy, which was both scary and beautiful at the same time. I had similar feelings after the birth of Owen.
Slowly, I realized that I was allowed to have both emotions. My sadness for my first baby would always be there. So would the happiness for my living children. They could co-exist.
Today, I still light my candle. I do so, not only for my Liam, but for other angels that we have lost along the way. On October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day, I joined countless others who have experienced this unbearable pain. The candle lighting forms a “wave of light” across the world. In this way, all of our babies will be remembered.
I often wonder what I would say to someone suffering a recent loss. I am not sure any words would suffice. I feel their anguish. Our baby’s lives, no matter how brief, leave footprints on our hearts forever.
They are loved.
They will never ever be forgotten.

Please Read This in the Event You Have to Save My Kid's Life With an EpiPen

Knowing the signs of anaphylaxis and how to administer an EpiPen can reduce some of the associative fear of using one.

In season two, episode one, of Showtime’s series, “Billions”, Lara Axelrod is at her children’s school when she spots a small crowd of kids gathered around a girl lying on the floor outside the nurse’s office.
The girl struggles for breath, her face is covered in red blotchy spots, and her forehead dotted with perspiration. The nurse is on the phone calling emergency personnel, saying the girl came into her office complaining of nausea, then she vomited. The nurse tells Lara the girl is having a seizure.
“She’s in anaphylaxis,” Lara says with certainty as she kneels next to the girl and searches her backpack for the girl’s EpiPen. Lara finds it while the camera focuses on her face and the squirming girl on the floor trying to breathe. She presses the Epipen into her thigh.
“Listen, you’re having a reaction,” Lara tells the girl, “but I gotchyou.”
In the midst of this commotion, there’s a moment when the viewer sees the nurse’s eyes widen in horror as she realizes she failed to recognize anaphylaxis. The scene is particularly compelling because it touches on a universal fear most of us have – that we wouldn’t know what to do if we were with someone else’s child having a life-threatening allergic reaction.
The fear is understandable. When I first learned our first child was allergic to peanuts and tree-nuts and the concept of an EpiPen was new to me, I imagined scenarios of having to save his young life, raising my arm, EpiPen in hand, ready to jab his thigh to administer an injection of adrenaline as he clutched his throat with both hands.
I was relieved to learn you don’t ever jab an EpiPen, but rather, hold it to the person’s thigh and press.
I see a similar fear in the eyes of the parents of my son’s friends when I drop him off to play at their house for the first time. I dread this moment. It’s awkward. I try to defuse the moment by saying you probably won’t use it, but he needs to have it with him just in case.
My wife and I have three children with food allergies and are fortunate they are not as severe as other children’s reactions. We’re fortunate that we’ve never had an episode.
At some point, active parents who volunteer in the community will be with children who have been prescribed an Epipen because of allergies to bee stings, food, latex, or another trigger. The idea of being with someone else’s child experiencing a serious allergic reaction can be an overwhelming concept. Knowing the signs of anaphylaxis and how to administer an EpiPen can reduce some of the associative fear of using one.
“Some people hesitate to give the EpiPen because they are unsure if a serious reaction is happening,” says Dr. Jalkut, M.D., of Pediatric Healthcare Associates. “Many parents ask if they can give Benadryl and wait and see before giving epinephrine.”
Especially if the child has had a reaction before, and an adult suspects a serious allergic reaction, “it is imperative that epinephrine be given as soon as possible.” Dr. Jalkut stresses that “epinephrine helps to give time to get to the hospital. Benadryl is not a substitute for epinephrine.”

Know the signs of anaphylaxis

Some indications can vary and reactions can take many forms, but you should take the following symptoms seriously:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Hoarse voice or wheezing
  • Hives, a raised rash that itches
  • Severe itching or flushed (red) skin
  • Swelling of face, lips, mouth, or tongue
  • Fast heart beat
  • Weak pulse
  • Feeling very anxious
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting and abdominal pain

“Another clear sign of anaphylaxis is if symptoms involve two systems,” says Jalkut, “like hives and vomiting, or wheezing and abdominal pain.”
The nurse in the scene from “The Billions” made an especially egregious error when you consider the girl having the allergic reaction exhibited multiple signs from two systems.

How to administer an epinephrine auto-injector

1 | Flip open the cap and slide the EpiPen out of the tube.
2 | Pop off the blue cap, keeping your hand away from the orange tip where the needle comes out.
3 | Form a fist around the EpiPen. Hold the child’s leg in place with your free hand. Place the orange tip to the side of the child’s thigh and press until you feel and hear a click. Hold in place for three seconds.
4 | Release the EpiPen and massage the place where the injection occurred for 10 seconds.
Despite the valid anxiety that lives in the mind of most guardians, you will be equipped to react to a child in anaphylaxis like Lara Axelrod if you remember the signs and the simple steps of how to use an EpiPen.

The Benefits of Team Sports That Extend Beyond the Game

Here are six reasons you may want to consider letting your little sportie try out for basketball or soccer next year.

Confession: growing up I found team sports far too stressful to part take in. My anxious little self could only carry the burden of disappointing myself and possibly my parents. Therefore I steered clear of soccer, basketball, volleyball, and anything else that might make me mildly uncomfortable or stressed. What if I failed? What if I didn’t make the team? Got benched? Botched the winning play? I’m breathing into a paper bag right now just thinking about the plethora of negative outcomes my young mind conjured up. To involve nine or 10 other girls and their hypothetical judgement of me was just too overwhelming for my not-so-naturally-athletic-self.

I dabbled in softball until it came time to try out for varsity. Faced with the possibility of not making the cut, I opted for quitting. I attempted swim team as a diver. I was pretty bad and so I quit that too. I didn’t want to tell my mom that I’d abandoned the swimming ship, so my best friend and I would wet our hair and sit in the high school hallway for hours until pick-up time. She eventually discovered my ruse, because moms are no fools. Needless to say I was a fear-driven kid, only really attempting things I was confident I would succeed at.

Fast forward several decades and here I am raising a few die-hard athletes who are loving themselves some team sports. I’m so proud of them. They are fearless, social, encouraging, talented, and athletic, qualities that they most definitely inherited from their very sporty father. I watch them each week practice and play soccer with their team of like-minded girlies and I feel so grateful that they are reaping the benefits of playing team sports. They’re able to do what I never could and put themselves out there in the world of sports. They win, lose, laugh, and cry. They take risks on the field and sometimes they don’t pan out, but guess what? The girls rise above, learn, and try again.

Along with those risks and failures comes the success and pride of sticking with something and eventually seeing growth and progress. Here are six reasons you may want to consider letting your little sportie try out for basketball or soccer next year.

Team sports improve communication skills

Effective communication skills are something that your child will need and use throughout his entire life. Playing team sports is a fantastic way of introducing and practicing communication skills, both spoken and unspoken. Team players need to constantly be appropriately communicating with the coaches as well as team members. They ask questions, synthesize information, and work together to set up and execute plays. When kids practice these skills across environments such as at school, on the court, and at home, the skills become routine and in turn are no longer something that the child has to consciously think about doing.

Helps build confidence

It’s not always easy putting yourself out there in the sports world. I was one of those kids who was more than happy to be a wallflower when it came to recreational activities. However, playing on and competing with a team can give your kiddo the confidence she needs to go on and be successful in her future. Sticking with team sports can build your kid’s confidence by allowing her not to fear failure. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose. That’s life, get over it.

Team sports teach kids to focus on doing their best, not by being the best but being their best. Believe me there is a difference. Lastly, kids learn that practice does not make perfect, but it does make a difference. Practicing the sport’s skills can help your child feel more confident in what she is learning and applying to her sport.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T  Rah, rah give us more!

Remember back when you were growing up and adults were the ultimate bosses? Your side of the story didn’t really matter. If the teacher called home, you were in for it. We respected the teachers, coaches, and adults in our lives without question.

I’m not sure where that went, but respect for authority is a fleeting quality of today’s youth. Playing a team sport brings a bit of that important value back into our children’s lives. Players have to respect what the coach says. They don’t have to agree, but they need to swallow it down. If you talk back or throw shade at the coach, you might just earn a spot riding the pine for the rest of the game. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but I kind of love this. Maybe if my kids learn to follow directions and not to sass the coach, they will bring those awesome skills home with them!

Putting it all in perspective

Winning is a fantastic feeling; losing, not so much. Kids need to be able to feel both sides of the sporty fence appropriately and playing team sports gives kids plenty of practice at both. No one likes it when the winner of a game gets loud, too boastful, and braggy. Typically coaches will point this behavior out and help children to understand how to win and still feel empathy for the opponent.

The same can be said for losing. No one likes a sore loser and team sports help kids learn how to lose a game gracefully. Sure, kids will be sad and frustrated, but they won’t be aggressive and throw tantrums on the soccer field. That behavior won’t stand. Even if kids do try that jam, they will soon recognize that no one else is acting that way and adjust accordingly. Young athletes focus on what they did well, what they can improve on, and move forward as a team unit.

Team sports boost academics

Playing a team sport goes far beyond boosting physical fitness and ability, it just might have a direct correlation to higher academic performance in some students. A recent study out of the University of Kansas looked the student performance of high schoolers who participated in team sports. 97 percent of those student athletes graduated high school. Student athletes had lower dropout rates, higher class attendance rates, and high assessment scores compared to their non-athletic counterparts. Finally the myth of the “dumb jock” can get flushed.

Commitment to self and to others, and some good ol’ time management

When kids are part of a team, they recognize that their teammates and coaches are counting on them to be there. Even if they feel like sitting at home and watching television or playing Barbies, the pull to please others can be very strong. This is a valuable skill in the real world of adulting. When you work with others you carry your weight. What a great way to introduce this concept to youngsters!

Lastly is my favorite team sports benefit: time management. I have four small kids and we need to have our butts in gear at all times or we will never get anywhere prepared and on time. My oldest daughter is now in fifth grade and, because of team sports, she is the time management queen! She gets her homework done, practices her instrument, dresses for soccer, and eats her meals all before it’s time to leave for practice. Why? She loves soccer and she adores her team. Getting to practice is the thing she most looks forward to and she has figured out how to make that happen. No homework, no soccer. No eating dinner, no soccer. No chores, yep, you guessed it, no soccer.

The benefits of team sports for kids is limitless. They gain massive amounts of useful skills that they can apply to their education as well as their future endeavors. It might take some time dabbling in several recreational sports before your little one finds his or her “thing” but when it happens, it’s so worth it!

Rewards and Punishments Don't Intrinsically Motivate – These Things Do

Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.

Yesterday, I ventured out into the world, a few days after Hurricane Irma stormed her way through Florida and left, not only people without power, but traffic lights, too. When I approached an intersection, I felt lost and unsure because I didn’t know how to move or when it was safe to go.
Knowing the rules, and trusting that everyone else observes them in the same way, provides a sense of security and competence. Without systems like these, our efficiency, comfort, and safety become jeopardized.
Magda Gerber, an early childhood educator refers to discipline as a social contract, which, like traffic signals, provides clear expectations and predictable environments. A system of rules, procedures, and values that the community agrees to makes life easier for everyone. For this reason, Magda Gerber said, “Lack of discipline isn’t kindness, it’s neglect.”
In the beginning of the school year, we talk a lot about the rules of our classroom, which all students agree to easily because they so clearly protect the well-being of everyone and promote a productive learning environment. We practice the procedures for coming into class, leaving class, going to the bathroom, walking down the hall, and so forth because – like me at that intersection – people want to know how to be safe and successful.
By the end of the first week, my students asked, “Are we going to have dojo points? Is there a treasure box? How about Fun Friday?” I told them yes and no. I believe in acknowledging accomplishments. I believe school should be a place where children want to go and that it’s important to incorporate fun into the classroom. So yes, we will celebrate regularly as a class, and no, there won’t be points to add or subtract.
The ultimate goal of discipline is self-discipline, which must be cultivated from within. The desire for points, or the fear of losing them, diverts internal guidance and makes children more externally motivated and dependent on outside control. My job is to teach expectations, practice procedures, hold discussions about our values, set limits, give feedback, and enforce the rules. But it’s also to stay out of the way and encourage the students’ independence and autonomy.
Over the summer, I read The Daily 5, which is a framework for structuring the literacy block so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently. I was surprised how adamant the authors are on the importance of staying out of the way:

[In the beginning] we did what we thought all good elementary teachers did. As the children were practicing Read to Self and building their stamina, we went around the room to each child, quietly telling them what a wonderful job they were doing as readers. We were proud of their ability to stay focused and believed that we needed to constantly reinforce on-task behavior. The first days our students read without our hovering reinforcement, their behavior fell apart. They were up and walking around and coming to us asking what they should do. We realized we anchored their behaviors in our reactions. We realized we unwittingly taught them to rely on our reinforcement to keep them on-task. They were not the least bit independent.

What did the authors do to correct this? Review the desired behaviors daily, give the students many opportunities to model them, stop the class as soon as someone practiced incorrectly, and reflect. It’s possible to hold children to very high standards without the use of rewards and punishments.
The experience of those authors applies to independence in general. I could give out points every time a student lines up quietly or starts a task promptly. I could move a color card higher each time a child acts with kindness. But rewards only motivate people to get rewards. Being a kind, responsible, and a contributing member of a community should be a reward in its own right. If I’m not around or the rewards aren’t forthcoming, where is the motivation to do the right thing?
In her book “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” Kathryn J. Kvols writes, “Rewards can interfere with the development of a sense of self-worth. Children may interpret being rewarded to mean they don’t need to do anything until there is something in it for them…. If you rely on rewards to teach children how you want them to behave, you deny them to learn from an internal source of motivation and strength.”
I want my students to do the right thing, but not because someone is watching, and not because they are going to earn or lose something. I don’t want them to act a certain way so they can make a trip to a treasure box. I want them to realize they have the power to make choices, and that their choices contribute to their happiness. It’s not up to someone else to provide a reward or punishment for their behavior. Behavior alone does that. This empowers children.
Misbehavior is often a child’s way of expressing a need. Maybe she’s asking for a limit or communicating that she hasn’t mastered a certain skill. When we take points away or move cards, we aren’t encouraging problem solving and communication. In this environment, children are more likely to feel discouraged or even angry and hide their mistakes. I want my students to learn that mistakes are inevitable, powerful teachers.
Even when rewards systems focus on positive behaviors, they create competition and stifle creativity. Many children spend time wondering what to do to “get to blue” or why someone else earned a point instead of them. Children typically want to please us. Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.
“The question isn’t how to get children to obey,” writes Dr. Shefali Tsabary in her book “Out of Control”, “but what are the needs of the child?”
Below are 10 needs children have that I use to guide the way I run my classroom:

1 | Clear expectations that honor their age and nature

Third graders need to be social and active. For this reason, I incorporate movement and collaboration into the majority of our activities. Before we start an activity, I go over what the classroom should look and sound like while they work.

2 | A sense of control over themselves

For this reason, I offer choices within boundaries, which promotes inner discipline. For example, during Read to Self, the students may sit where they please and read material of their choosing, but they must begin right away, read the entire time, and stay in one spot.

3 | Consistency

A rule is always a rule, and it’s expected to be followed.

4 | Opportunities to practice

When I teach something, be it a skill or a procedure, I don’t just tell them what to do, I show them. I give them opportunities to practice and role play. Often, misbehavior is simply showing a lack of mastery. What’s called for in these cases is practice in the procedure or expectation, rather than guilt, shame, or punishment.

5 | Acknowledgment of their intentions

Although they require redirection, children should also have their true intentions acknowledged. For example, I might say, “Your friend is bothered because you’ve been violating his personal space. I know you’re usually very respectful, and that’s not your intention. Is there something going on?” Part of true discipline is cultivating positive self-talk in our children, not interfering with it.

6 | Chances to repair and solve

I believe in encouraging children to think through situations to come up with solutions. “What’s the problem? How can it be fixed? How can we prevent it from happening again?” Children are usually very insightful. If the problem regards a conflict between two people, we think of win-win solutions together.

7 | An understanding of why we do the things we do

It’s not about blind obedience. We do things in certain ways for important reasons, and these reasons should be communicated to create a sense of ownership over the rule or procedure.
When I go over the way we move in hallways, I explain the importance of being respectful to the people who work in the office and other classrooms. I tell them high-traffic times require us to move smoothly and in a way that allows other people to move, too. I also tell them it’s important for me to be able to give them directions in these situations. Cooperation is more likely when they understand why.

8 | Honesty

When we communicate authentically with our children, we model respect for ourselves and respect for them. From this place, we set limits that honor who we are.
We were walking to lunch recently, and the students were very chatty. It was hard for me to give them a direction. I told them, “I’m not willing to fight for your attention. Let’s go back to the room and review this procedure.” When we’re honest, we reveal parts of who we are, but not in ways that are flustered or emotional. This promotes connection and trust.

9 | Connection

I strive every day to give each of my students focused attention, even if it’s just for a moment or two. I want them to know I care about who they are and am interested in listening to them. Every child is important, and when they feel this, their need to misbehave in order to get attention decreases. I always thought, even with my own children, that cooperation is best won through closeness.

10 | True and meaningful learning experiences

Consequences for misbehavior should be respectful, reasonable, and related. For example, if a student doesn’t finish her classwork, it becomes homework. If a student makes a mess, he must clean it up. If she damages something, she must repair it. If he abuses a privilege, he loses it. If she’s off task while working in a group, she’ll work on her own. Natural and logical consequences are built in to just about every situation.
Discipline isn’t about controlling children, but teaching them to be self-responsible. Rewards and punishments are effective in gaining temporary compliance, but they don’t help kids become caring, responsible, and self-directed.
I firmly believe children don’t need to suffer to learn, and they don’t need external rewards to be motivated. They need a system that fosters respect between all community members, in which self confidence is the by product and joy is the reward of cooperation.

6 Tricks to Make Halloween Treats a Non-Issue for Your Allergic Kid

If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.

My daughter has multiple food allergies. I’m not talking about food sensitivities. I’m talking about taking an EpiPen with us everywhere we go, knowing our bright, curious daughter could die were she to accidentally eat a rogue cashew.
At two she was old enough to enjoy trick-or-treating with her big sister but too young to understand that, with the exception of Skittles, Smarties, and Tootsie rolls, her Halloween candy would mysteriously disappear.
And that was fine with me.
Now she’s three and she “gets it.” I know she understands that she must ask me or her dad before she eats anything at a party. I know she’ll wait for me to give her a special, safe treat that I’ve packed just for her instead of accepting a slice of birthday cake. What I don’t know is how to handle Halloween.
If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.

1 | Create your own traditions

You don’t necessarily have to replicate the Halloween experience of your youth for your child to love the holiday as much as you did. As a parent, you have the freedom to invent your own family traditions.
Jennifer Roblin takes her seven-year-old non-allergic son trick-or-treating while her husband stays home with their daughter, who is four and has multiple food allergies. Her daughter loves dressing up and handing out plain potato chips (which are safe for her). Says Roblin, “I asked her if she wanted to go trick-or-treating this year and she cried, saying ‘No Mommy, I dress up and hand out tato chips.’”
Leigh Goodwin Furline, who has one child with food allergies and one who does not, gives her kids the option to trick or treat or not. Last year, they decided to skip trick-or-treating in favor staying home to watch a movie. They also received some safe candy and a toy of their choosing.

2 | Trade candy for a toy

Trading candy for a toy means not only can parents bypass label-reading, candy-sorting, and the risk of cross-contamination, but they also avoid the hassle of candy rationing, candy-hiding, kids begging for candy, and all other candy-related problems. Sarah Jean Shambo lets her son choose whatever toy he wants in advance, but she waits until Halloween to purchase it. This way, she explains, “he’s excited about the trade and it doesn’t have to be a fight.”
While the Shambo family takes a DIY approach to the switch concept, many parents call on the official Switch Witch, who needs candy to keep warm through the winter. Developed by a mom who struggled with the piles of candy her kids brought home from trick-or-treating, the toy is designed for parents who want to limit their kids’ sugar consumption and for those who need to keep their food-allergic kids safe.

3 | Trade unsafe candy for safe candy

If a Halloween without candy sounds as depressing to you as a birthday without presents, trading your child’s Halloween candy out for safe treats is a sweet solution. If you’re concerned about the possibility of cross-contamination, you could do what Sarah Hodges does. Instead of sifting through all of her son’s candy and reading all of the labels to determine what’s safe, she replaces everything with Enjoy Life Halloween candies. Megan McDavitt has two children, ages four and two, who between them are allergic to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. She encourages them to take non-candy or safe items if any are available. Once they get home, she lets them keep any safe candy and replaces anything they can’t have with No Whey Halloween candies.
Kim Schmid, who has one child with allergies and one without, does it a bit differently. She combines the contents of her two kids’ candy bags and then sorts it. Her allergic daughter gets to keep whatever is safe for her. The rest of the candy goes into her non-allergic son’s bucket.

4 | Just say “no thank you”

As parents of kids with food allergies, we all hope our kids will outgrow them. In the meantime, we share the hope that our kids have the maturity and the confidence to speak up for themselves anytime they could be exposed to an allergen. For some families, Halloween is no exception. In fact, it can be an excellent opportunity to give a child the chance to practice having these conversations.
This Halloween, Adrianna Shook plans to help her almost four-year-old daughter say, “Trick or treat, we have allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Do you have something else?” Many parents I spoke to said that they were happy to politely ask neighbors if their treats were peanut-free when their kids were little but now that they’re older, the kids do it themselves. Not only that, but it turns out a little education goes a long way. Charlotte Eugenio said that after a couple years of polite no thank you’s in a row, she noticed some houses started offering a separate selection of nut-free options.

5 | BYOC

For parents of younger kids who want their kids to experience as much of the “normal” (read: allergy-free) Halloween experience as possible, a little benign trickery goes a long way. Jennifer Devine Pirozzoli usually takes her kids to the homes of other family members, which gives her the opportunity to run up to the door with an entire bag of safe candy from which her child can choose, without ever knowing that that mom hand-picked it in advance.
Other parents, like Victoria King, who plans to take her two-year-old son trick-or-treating for the first time this fall, will carry safe treats for their food allergic kids to munch on as they walk.

6 | Cash for candy

There’s no reason a kid shouldn’t have the chance to cash in on his treats. Parents like Toni Gaudisio are happy to buy back their kids’ candy. Says Gaudisio, “My kids (who are eight and 11) are allowed to swap out five pieces of candy for safe candy and the rest I buy back for 25 cents. We usually take them [shopping] a few days later to purchase toys with their Halloween money.”
Other parents, like Becki Rice and Cristina Salazar Rafferty, enjoy the benefits of getting rid of the candy without having to pony up – their family dentists are pay for Halloween candy.
Life with allergies can certainly be scary. But Halloween doesn’t have to make it even spookier. A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to making Halloween fun for everyone, no matter what they can or can’t eat.