In An Age of Mean Girls, These Girls Started Heart Company Instead

When my daughter told me she started a two-person club, I worried she was becoming exclusive. But the truth was quite the opposite.

When my fifth-grade daughter was late coming home from school one day, I didn’t think much of it at first.
My third-grade son walked through the front door alone, tossed his backpack into the corner, and lunged toward the snack bar, otherwise known as my pantry shelf – a slab of painted wood that buckles beneath all the empty carbs.
“Where’s your sister?” I asked.
“She stayed after school with a friend,” he explained, loading his cheeks with puffed corn.
I shrugged. My daughter had just turned eleven years old and I’d been experimenting with letting her walk with friends after school to the library, or the local tween packy – a catchall general store where the underage in our town pick up their bubble gum and kitsch.
We didn’t have such an afterschool plan in place that day. Still, it seemed plausible that my daughter might decide to hang around after school a few minutes longer than her younger brother. Maybe things were happening among fifth graders – the girls in particular – that she would explain to me later, at bedtime, when we were doing our daily check in.
I had been expecting some great tectonic shift in her world: my daughter was approaching middle school, thereby teetering on the edge of massive structural changes to her social, emotional, and physical life. What’s more, she had once agonized about feeling different from her peers simply because she was a vegetarian. This year, with her parents soon to be divorced, she had all the more reason to feel isolated.
When she finally breezed through the door that afternoon, my daughter was breathless.
“Hey!” I greeted her, my tone like a question mark.
“Heart Company!” she called back, flushed and happy.
I traced her steps around the dining room table while she peeled off her jacket and let loose her ponytail. Her long, brown hair fell between her shoulder blades in tangles, like a bedraggled squirrel dray. She sat down and I stood behind her with a brush in hand, working through small sections of her hair, apologizing as she winced and groaned.
“So, what’s Heart Company?” I asked.
She explained that several weeks earlier, she and her best friend – the two of them inseparable since first grade – had started a two-person club.
I frowned at first, worried that my daughter might have stumbled into something exclusive. She was sweet and empathetic, but I knew that girls could battle their own feelings of exclusion by making others feel excluded instead. Having stepped on that hornet’s nest when I was her age, I was eager to help her avoid it.
My daughter quickly explained that it had all started when she and her friend discovered a stash of sticky note pads near their teacher’s desk. The notes, they determined, would be the perfect avenue to deliver positive, inspiring messages to their classmates. The messages would be even more effective if they were waiting on students’ desks at the start of the school day.
Just like that, on a whim of kindness with an airy plot, Heart Company had been founded.
Each day since, when the final school bell rang, my daughter and her friend had been staying behind while their classmates filed out the door and into afternoons of overscheduled, parent-driven chaos. That’s when Heart Company got to work, devising creative ways to shore up their peers, just because.
The notes were sometimes specific, often general, and always anonymous. “Just be yourself!” said one. “I love your pencil drawings!” said another.
They were sweet little nothings, really, but to other students, they meant everything. I supposed that receiving one of these notes was like waking up to a gift from the tooth fairy – glimmering anticipation combined with the element of surprise.
Excitement for the idea raged faster than emoji pillows or fidget spinners – everyone wanted in, and stat. Some students claimed to be Heart Company when they weren’t. Others claimed to know the true identity of Heart Company when they didn’t.
Eventually, my daughter and her friend unveiled their identities to their classmates, and they took Heart Company on the road, or at least down the hall. They recruited a handful of friends to join their team and asked other teachers’ permission to enter neighboring classrooms and spread the love.
Recently, one of my daughter’s teachers mentioned Heart Company to the Assistant Superintendent, who asked for permission to allow my daughter and her best friend to start a Heart Company Twitter feed. (Follow them @HeartCompanyWIN)
The Superintendent’s office was right to take note – after rolling out a social-emotional program three years ago in each of the five elementary schools in our school district, they had hoped their students would learn to be more mindful of how emotions and behavior can connect to yield positive results. Heart Company was a perfect manifestation of the program’s goals.
Would that each of us could take full credit for instilling our own values into our children and our students. Instead, parenting, like teaching, is actually an intricate blend of exposure and release, the most difficult piece of which is stepping out of the way to let children lead parts of their own learning process.
We parents in particular often put so much pressure on our kids to meet the goals we hold for them that we forget about our children’s own instincts and intuition. Certainly, we want to help our children become the kind of people we’d like them to be, but what if they already are?
It occurred to me then that perhaps mean behavior between children – especially girls – only occurs when those children have lost their sense of self.
Most of us gravitate toward the things that make us feel good, and only we can say what those things are. If we find ways to encourage children to discover those things, we are teaching them to be themselves, and the positive behavior we want to see will follow naturally. I give kudos to my children’s teachers and school administration for understanding and encouraging this model.
While I was waiting around to see how early adolescence would go for my daughter, what trouble would arise and in what way, my fear took hold. I know this is why I was a terrible soccer goalie at my daughter’s age – the anticipation of getting kicked in the face with a ball nearly killed me. I should have known that my daughter was doing just fine – it turns out that she and her best friend were killing it with kindness, all on their own.

6 Tips to End Sibling Rivalry and Make Your Kids Allies, Not Enemies

Siblings often provide support and serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and beyond. But the relationship requires nurturing.

Siblings can get on like a house fire. They can also be worst enemies. Although there have been relatively few studies on sibling rivalry, some evidence suggests that the relationships between siblings are highly complex and are structured around envy, jealousy, competitiveness, and a sense of “unequal justice.”
Many parents blame themselves when their kids have given up on each other. Indeed, parents consciously or subconsciously control the dynamics underlying sibling relationships. What is true is that how we raise our kids can determine if they turn into allies, or into the greatest enemies of all time.
The problem with sibling rivalry is that the damage done in childhood can be impossible to resolve in adulthood. Most adults who have “tense relationships” with their siblings know that the divide is often difficult to cross later on in life. Yet siblings can be a great resource. As some studies have pointed out, no other relationships last as long as sibling relationships. Siblings often provide support and serve as companions, confidants, and role models in childhood and beyond. Fortunately, it is possible to foster positive sibling relationships using these tips.

1 | Focus more on being fair, not equal

No matter how hard you try, you can’t treat your kids equally. Multiple studies have found that differential treatment of sibling occurs throughout life. When you try to be equal, there’s always one kid who’ll think he’s getting the short end of the stick. The problem is when we treat our kids differently the chances are higher that siblings relationships will be less positive, and there is evidence to support these views. Other studies have found that parents can improve the quality of sibling relationships if kids believe that the reasons for differential treatment are fair.
Being fair means respecting the unique needs of each individual kid. When you explain to siblings that older kids have more privileges but they also have more chores, they are more likely to see your decisions as fair. The book “Siblings Without Rivalry” shows how we can treat children unequally and still be fair.

2 | Don’t tell kids not to fight, teach them how to fight

You can’t expect your kids not to fight. Siblings fight. That’s just the way it is. Fighting is normal. What matters is how it’s done and what happens after the fight is over.
Teaching kids how to fight requires you to set a few ground rules. When kids participate in setting these rules, they are more likely to respect them. Ground rules may involves issues such as unacceptable ways to resolve conflict (for example no aggression), consequences when the rules are broken, and how to make up after a fight.

3 | Resist the urge to intervene

Taking sides when kids fight rarely leads to positive relationships. At best, the “guilty party” will seek to “get even” with his sister(s) or brother(s) or will feel that his family is against him. Instead of focusing on “who started it,” focus on what you see: “I see two kids going against the rules.” You could also try to ignore them if no violence is involved or ask them to take their fighting elsewhere.
Resist the urge to repeatedly assign blame to one kid for “always starting fights.” Remember that what we expect of our children can become self-fulfilling prophecies. According to the Golem Effect, we cannot expect good behavior from our kids when we have low expectations of them.
Naturally, you need to be attentive to conflicts and may have to intervene where young kids are involved or when your kids constantly fight over the same issue. You also need to intervene when fights turn violent. We need to teach our kids to manage anger and anxiety when they constantly react to each other with violence.

4 | Teach cooperation, not competition

There are things we do to make our life easier. We tell our kids that whoever finishes his dinner first will get a special treat. We tell them that whoever brushes her teeth first will get something in return. We tell them that whoever gets in the car first can sit in the passenger’s seat. The problem is when we turn to competition to get things done faster we teach our kids to constantly perceive themselves as “against each other.”
Fostering positive relationships requires us to teach our kids that they’re in this together. When you tell your kids that they’ll get that special treat but only if they tidy up within five minutes, you teach them cooperation. When you set them up against each other by telling them the first kid to finish tidying up will get the treat, you teach them competition.

5 | Make room for family bonding

Provide regular opportunities to bond and pave the way for cooperation. For example, have regular family routines where each kid has a specific task to increase the chances of bonding. The more kids have fun together, the easier it is for them to build positive sibling relationships. When you master the art of family negotiation, you also help strengthen the parent-child bond.

6| Begin a one-on-one routine

Have one-on-one moments everyday with each of your kids to help them feel special and help nurture their self-esteem. When children feel appreciated they are more likely to develop positive sibling relationships. One-on-one routines can be as little as five minutes spent with each child, talking or doing activities that they enjoy.

How to Train Your Dragon Fruit – 10 Reasons to Get Kids in the Kitchen

Beyond just being helpful, there’s a lot kids can learn from getting into the kitchen.

Someone recently told me that if you home-school and your teenage kids can’t cook then you are pretty much a failure. My children may have a good few years to go before they enter their teenage years, but I’m eager to get them cooking as soon as possible – if not for the above reason, then certainly for the reasons below:

1 | Cooking is a useful skill

A life skill if you prefer. If your child learns to cook it certainly gives them a sense of achievement and independence and gives their confidence a boost. The beginnings may be hard (for you rather than for them) as they might be eager to cook and less so to clean, but if you persist and encourage them they will get there one day. The day they accomplish their first cooking mission, the proud smile on their face will be your reward. I guess learning to cook is much like learning to eat – it’s awfully messy to begin with, but you have to let them do it and learn through practice, for their good and your own.

2 | You are what you eat and you eat what you cook

Children who know how to cook or at least fix themselves a sandwich are less likely to stuff themselves with unhealthy processed packaged snacks. Also, if you let your children prepare the healthy stuff by themselves they are more likely to eat it. Sometimes it’s just the case of finding the right recipe collection that would encourage them to try new things. So yeah, let them train their dragon fruit. Or broccoli. Or asparagus.

3 | Kitchen is a brain-gym

Cooking involves lots of activities that will help your children develop their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills: stirring, mixing, kneading, pouring…and that’s just the warm up!
 
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4 | Recipes are for reading

All my children love cookbooks – even my 2-year-old daughter loves leafing through them and occasionally pointing to things that she knows well, like fruit. When kids see you reading while cooking they want to copy that. Reading and understanding recipes is great literacy training.
For the younger ones you can start with pictorial cookbooks, like Pretend Soup or Silver Spoon for Children. Let older kids read the whole recipe before they start and prepare all they need. You can also ask them to tell you briefly what needs to be done.

5 | Counting your five-a-day

Cooking requires lots of mathematics: counting, dividing, adding and sharing, measuring, and even geometry. Ever tried halving your square toast in more than one way? You don’t have to put special effort to get your children practicing their maths in the kitchen. Just let it be a natural part of food preparation – practical maths put to the right use.

6 | Science is a cupcake

From exploring the changing state of water to the mystery of the raising dough, there is plenty of science to explore in the kitchen. Your kids can discover lots by themselves and you might just need to help them find the right words to describe what they see. If you need some ideas try these kitchen science experiments or “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family Friendly Experiments from Around the House” by Liz Lee Heinecke.

7 | Management, co-operation and troubleshooting

Of course cooking requires lots of management: You have to first make sure that you have all you need, manage the time, and often do many things at once. And if there is someone cooking with you, even better – you get a chance to learn co-operation. Baking powder is all gone? What can we do now? Is there a substitute or shall we run to the corner shop? That’s called troubleshooting.

8 | Exotic flavors

Everybody knows pizza, but do your children know where it originates from? Once you go through your Italian recipes (favorites in children’s books) maybe it’s time to try something more exotic. Food can be a great pretext to learning geography. Regardless of where you live you are most likely using ingredients from different countries, if only spices. Try tracking the origin of all the ingredients on your plate, or try cooking a single-origin dish. The possibilities are plenty! A map of the world on the kitchen wall would also come handy…

9 | Imaginary flavors and art on the plate

Cooking sparks imagination! Decorating cupcakes is the most obvious form of creativity in the kitchen, but there is much more you can do. Decorating biscuits or cakes requires some artistry, and you can do the same with sandwiches. Older children can get creative with the salads or try their hand at composing themed menus for family get-togethers. You can borrow an idea from cooking competitions and ask your teenagers to prepare a dish from seemingly odd ingredients.

10 | Family time in the kitchen

When you cook with the children you have to give them attention, which most children love.  Don’t just teach them cooking – engage and have fun together. Be prepared for the mess, cover the carpeted areas with plastic sheets, and give yourself plenty of time. Cooking together makes wonderful memories, and if you’d like some more permanent record of the activity you could try creating your own family cookbook with recipes passed from great aunties and those you create together. Or your own versions of favorite dishes. Remember that how you spend time together is more important than the end result of your cooking.

10 Books That Teach Kids the Importance of Self-Love

Every parent dreams of raising a child who is happy, well-adjusted, and brimming with confidence. Start by adding these to their bookshelf.

Every parent dreams of raising a child who is happy, well-adjusted, and brimming with confidence. Even if that’s achieved, along the way there are bound to be some challenges. Many children experience periods of extreme shyness, self-doubt, and the feeling of not fitting in. Books can be a powerful tool in helping children to love and accept themselves during these difficult times.
Below are ten incredible stories that teach children the value and importance of self-love and help them develop a foundation for their own well-being and happiness:

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum
by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum is a happy girl who loves her name…until she attends her first day of school. One little girl shouts, “You’re named after a flower!” Another teases, “Let’s smell her!” Now, Chrysanthemum is unsure of her name and feels very out of sorts. Can she remember how wonderful her name is and look past the mean comments?
With the help of a very special teacher, Chrysanthemum learns to love herself all over again. “Chrysanthemum” is a relatable, honest tale about self-esteem, the effects of teasing, and acceptance. This beloved picture book was named a Notable Book for Children by the American Library Association.


Chrysanthemum

The Sneetches and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss

A timeless picture book from the one-of-a-kind Dr. Seuss, “The Sneetches and Other Stories” is a book of four quirky tales including one about The Sneetches. Some Sneetches are born with stars on their bellies. Others are not. The ones with stars decide they are better than the ones who have none. At the end, they all learn a great lesson about appearance and self-love. Told in fun, rhyming Seuss style and accompanied by his unique illustrations.


YouAreSpecial

You Are Special
by Max Lucado

“You Are Special” is an award-winning book about a race of wooden dolls known as the Wemmicks. Wemmicks are created by the Master Wood Carver and very much resemble Pinocchio. Using a grading system of grey dots or gold stars, each Wemmick has their worth measured. Punchinello is broken-hearted over the many grey dots he has received. The festival is on the horizon and he’s afraid he’ll receive the dreaded “Most Dots” award. Then, he meets a new friend who doesn’t have any stars or dots at all. And she is the happiest Wemmick he’s ever seen. Punchinello quickly learns that what’s inside a person is worth much more than what’s on the outside.


Spaghetti In a Hot Dog Bun

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun
by Maria Dismondy

Despite being teased at school, Lucy loves herself and the way she looks. Plus, all the things she likes are different, and that makes them special. It hurts to be teased, but it hurts even more to see someone else on the receiving end. So, Lucy feels thankful when she gets a chance to help a little boy who is also being picked on by the other kids.


ILikeMyself

I Like Myself
by Karen Beaumont

As one Amazon reviewer says, “Every child should own this book. It is about loving yourself ‘inside, outside, upside down, from head to toe and all around,’ even if you have ‘beaver breath’ or ‘stinky toes’ or ‘horns protruding from your nose.’”
The little girl in “I Like Myself” loves herself to no end. Because of her self-appreciation, she’s happy, energetic, and loves the world around her. The funny phrases and colorful images are highly reminiscent of Dr. Seuss and infused with Beaumont’s own brand of creativity.


UnstoppableME

Unstoppable Me
by Wayne W. Dyer

Affectionately called the “father of motivation” by his fans, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer was an internationally renowned author, speaker, and pioneer in the field of self-development. In “Unstoppable Me” Dyer’s inspirational and powerful message for children is that “you can do anything, be anything, achieve anything if you believe in yourself.” The themes include “You’re Great, No Matter What,” “Peace Begins With You,” and “Healthy Me,” among others.


Smile

Smile
by Raina Telgemeier

If you have a child struggling with braces, retainers, or headgear, “Smile” is the book for them. Based on the author’s childhood, this heartwarming and hilarious memoir tells the story of falling and injuring one’s two front teeth, and paying the consequences for years to come in the form of some heavy – and some not-so-heavy – metal.
Throw in a major earthquake, boy troubles, and two-faced friends and you have the makings of a real-life adolescent horror show. Thankfully, the author lived to tell her story and has a great message for kids about self-love.


Deenie

Deenie
by Judy Blume

Deenie has always lived a normal life. Then one day she receives a scary diagnosis: scoliosis. When she sees her brace for the first time she’s scared and worried. How will her friends react? What if she no longer fits in? Will she turn into one of the “outcasts” that she’s always frowned upon?
The response is unexpected, and her life and outlook is forever changed. A classic by the remarkable coming-of-age storyteller Judy Blume.


TheSkinImIn

The Skin I’m In
by Sharon Flake

Whether struggling with identity or trying to understand the issues surrounding diversity, teens will relate to Maleeka – a girl who is taunted for her skin color by the other kids in her class. Maleeka is so wrapped up in her own problems she barely notices when a new teacher arrives. Soon, Maleeka discovers the teacher has skin issues of her own – but rather than cower behind them, the teacher exhibits the strength and courage to look beyond her students’ snickers. Will Maleeka follow in her shoes?


TheList

The List
by Siobhan Vivian

Every year, a list is posted. One girl from each grade is chosen the prettiest and one is chosen the ugliest. In high school, the latter is every teen girl’s nightmare. “The List” tells the story of eight high school girls who must deal with their ranking while already struggling with how they see themselves. “Siobhan Vivian’s latest novel tackles the beauty myth head on. Readers will find themselves relating to each character’s struggles,” says Bookpage.
What kids’ books about self-love would you add to this list? Share in the comments!
 
 
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6 Things You Can Do to Guard Your Kids From Sexual Abuse

There is proof that children can be taught skills and knowledge to help them identify risky situations and prevent abuse.

Every child, everywhere, is at risk of sexual abuse.
Although we all want to protect our kids from sex crimes, subconsciously we believe that they are not at a large risk of sexual abuse because “those crimes happen to other children.” Yet the statistics about child sexual abuse are terribly alarming. 10 percent of all children (one in seven girls and one in 25 boys) will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime:

  • Girls are more likely to experience sexual abuse – one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. The statistics are probably worse because most child sex abuse goes unreported.
  • The most vulnerable age is between ages seven and 13.
  • Up to 20 percent of adult females (and 10 percent of adult males) have memories of sexual abuse incidents.

Most parents whose children have been victims of sexual abuse rarely suspect a thing. It obviously doesn’t help that most offenders are related to, or close to, the victims’ families. According to the evidence, only 14 percent of child abuse victims are abused by someone unknown to them. This makes the fight against child sexual abuse harder because it’s more difficult for family members or close friends to be perceived as potential offenders, and it’s also harder for abused children to speak out.
The hardest thing for parents is that there is no foolproof way to protect your child from sex crimes. Although no evidence to date suggests that educating your child about sexual abuse will stop abuse, there is proof that children can be taught skills and knowledge to help them identify risky situations and prevent abuse.
According to one study, children who receive sexual abuse education are six to seven times more likely to demonstrate protective behavior in simulated situations. Yet another study has found that children taught by their parents about sexual abuse are better able to recognize inappropriate touch requests and have better personal safety skills compared to those taught by their teachers alone. Naturally, the most effective approach is getting both teachers and parents involved.
Tips to protect your child before abuse starts:

1 | Get vocal about sexual abuse

It is not because we keep things away from our kids that those things go away. The best way to protect your kid from sexual abuse is to talk about it, and the earlier the better. Our kids need to be aware of what inappropriate conduct is, just as they need to know what inappropriate contact is. Sexual abuse also involves issues such as exposure and exposure to child pornography so they need to know about them.
It’s never too early to start talking to kids about inappropriate conduct. There is evidence that younger children learn more and better than older kids. It’s also important to bust the “stranger danger myth” with your child. Teach your kid what parts of their bodies are off limits to everyone – family and friends included.

2 | Overcome taboos

When children are taught about their genitalia, they have more positive feelings about these body parts. How do you refer to your child’s genitalia? Vulva, vagina, dick, penis, jolly stick, privates, genitals, fountain of love? Get comfortable saying those words around your child.
Naturally, you just don’t spill out the words in the middle of dinner – you find the right occasion and the right time to talk about them. As your daughter is taking her shower, you talk to her about her vulva and talk about all the body parts that no else but her can touch. You also teach her that if someone tries to touch her, she should tell them to “stop touching my vagina.” Many offenders do not expect children to be vocal about their genitalia so this could help stop them in their tracks. This might work because contrary to common belief, the majority of offenders are not “strongly motivated to offend” but rather take advantage of “easy bait.”

3 | Monitor online predators

The Internet has become a dangerous place for kids. An increasing number of predators are now using it to get into contact with children. Install parental controls. Talk to you child about these predators. Explain to your kids why it’s important not to disclose personal information on the Net.

4 | No “secrets” or “games” around genitalia

Teach your kid that he or she must share with you any secret or game that involves the genitals. To make it easier for your child to speak out, try using a “personal code.” For instance “something fishy happened” can be a code to tell you that he or she experienced inappropriate contact.
Kids also need to know that they will be listened to and that they will be believed. Very few reports of abuse are false. When you develop a positive and open relationship with your child, he or she is more likely to come to you so it’s important to improve how you communicate. Remember that when your child comes to you about a sexual abuse issue, how you react will determine how much he or she will disclose. Keep calm. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t respond emotionally.

5 | Adopt an open-door policy

Over 80 percent of sexual abuse cases occur in one-on-one situations and involve someone the family trusts. By adopting an open-door policy, you can drastically reduce the risk of abuse.
Leave the door open when your child is online in his bedroom. If your child has individual lessons, privilege open spaces. There is a reduced risk of abuse when potential offenders know they can be easily observed. Choose group activities whenever you have a choice.

6 | Talk after outings

When you ask your kid how his outing was, he’ll say, “fine.” Or “awesome.” Or “good.” But he won’t give you details so you need to know how to ask to make him open up and talk about how the outing really was.
Remember that the objective is to get the most information out of him without making it seem like a suspect interview. Ask specific questions. To get ideas of questions you can ask other than “how was your day,” check out the post 30 Questions to Ask Your Kid Instead of “How Was Your Day?”
It’s also important to be attentive to your child’s reactions. Does he or she suddenly seem uncomfortable around certain people? Find out why.
While we might be able to teach our kids about sexual abuse, it is also important to teach them that the responsibility for preventing abuse does not lie on their shoulders. Kids should never be made to feel guilty for failing to prevent sexual abuse.
Additional resources to help:

Worried About Your Kids Not Getting Enough Sleep? Climate Change Could Make it Worse.

If you thought struggling to get your kids to sleep at night wasn’t hard enough, experts predict that it’s only going to get worse with climate change. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century. This change is largely due to carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions in the atmosphere. Most of this warming has happened over the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.
Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that year were the warmest on record. As the world’s climate continues to warm, with average global temperatures expected to rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, we are surely going to feel the impact. A new study looks at how these rising temperatures are already affecting how we sleep.
 
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The study published in Science Advances by Nick Obradovich of the Harvard University’s Kennedy School explores the relationship between climate change and sleep patterns. It is the largest real-world study to identify a relationship between insufficient sleep and unusually warm nighttime temperatures.
To conduct the study, the research team compared data from 750,000 individuals in the United States between 2002 and 2011 who responded to a public health survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers then linked data about people not sleeping well to daily temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental Information. Finally, they combined the effects of the warm temperatures on sleep with climate model projections by NASA Earth Exchange.
Ultimately, they discovered that there is a direct correlation between just one degree increase in night temperature and cases of restless sleep. According to the findings, warmer temperatures could cause six additional nights of inadequate sleep per 100 individuals by 2050 and approximately 14 extra nights per 100 people by 2099.
If climate change is not addressed, temperatures by 2050 could cost people in the United States millions of additional sleepless nights each year. That means that a bad night’s sleep could be twice as common in 2050 as it is now. By 2099 the figure could rise by several hundred million more nights of lost sleep annually.

Why sleep is so important for our kids

One of our most important jobs as parents is to make sure our kids get a good night’s sleep. Besides keeping a child’s temper in balance, sleep provides so many essential benefits for our growing children. While asleep, children process and absorb what they have learned. Some studies have even found that sleep improves a child’s intelligence and memory. Sleep also allows a child’s body to recover and repair itself, and of course to grow.
Sleep plays a big role in managing mood and lack of sleep can lead to an increase in negative behaviors like anxiety, impatience, aggression, irritability, and poor school performance. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, poor sleep has been shown to significantly worsen the symptoms of many mental health issues including anxiety. When children and teens don’t get enough sleep, they can experience headaches, nausea, muscle soreness, tremors, slurred speech, or dizziness. Finally, sleep has also been linked to a whole host of health issues like weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a weak immune system.
So, how is temperature related to sleep? Our children’s bedroom temperature can play a huge role in how easily they fall asleep and then stay asleep through the night. Children sleep most comfortably in a room with a temperature between 65 to 70 degrees, according to Babycenter.com. If the room is too warm, they will struggle to get to sleep.
Our body actually needs to cool down before we can fall asleep. Experts in a Wall Street Journal article explain that the temperature of our body’s core – our brain and abdominal cavity – needs  to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to allow us to fall to sleep. If our core temperature is too high, then our brain is unable to transition from being awake to being asleep. In fact, specific brain cells located in the hypothalamus sense temperature changes to control sleep.
Believe it or not, even if you have an air conditioner, you can still be affected by outside temperature fluctuations that can disturb your sleep. Of course, people who do not have air conditioning will struggle more with sleeping as temperatures continue to creep up due to climate change.
Wondering how much sleep your kids need? WebMD suggestions the following guidelines:
1-3 Years Old: 12-14 hours per day. Toddlers need up to 14 hours a day of sleep, but typically get only about 10. Most children from about 21 to 36 months old still need one nap a day, which may range from 1 to 3.5 hours long. They typically go to bed between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and wake up between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.
3-6 Years Old: 10-12 hours per day. Children at this age typically go to bed between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and wake up around 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.
7-12 Years Old: 10-11 hours per day. Bedtimes gradually become later and later, with most 12 year olds going to bed around 9 p.m. The average amount of sleep at this age is only about 9 hours.

Five ways for your family to address climate change

A good night’s sleep is certainly worth protecting. Here are some ways that you can reduce your family’s carbon footprint to prevent climate change from getting worse.

  • Teach your kids to appreciate and respect the natural environment by spending time outdoors, visiting science museums, and reading books together about climate change.
  • Walk, bike, carpool, take public transportation, or drive an electric car.
  • Eat organic and locally grown food, and less meat.
  • Switch to clean energy for your home.
  • Cut your waste, and recycle or reuse the waste that you produce.

For more ideas, check out How to Double Down on These 8 Environmentally Conscious Efforts.

The Birds, the Bees, and…Tiger Butts?

When she sleeps she looks exactly like she did when she was a tiny tot in her crib. How can she possibly be standing on the edge of puberty?

How did this happen?

How did my six-pound, bright pink, squalling bundle of baby get so big? Everyone tells you it will all go so fast, like lightning fast. One day you are waddling around the living room with giants bags under your eyes and leaky breasts under your shirt and then you blink and your little one is turning double digits. At this rate, I expect that the next ten years will fly by even faster and the next time I stop and look over at my girl she will be wearing eyeliner, a bra, and a scowl.

So here we are, on the edge of womanhood. Her tiny little body is starting to blossom and her hormones are starting to scare me. I know that she will be entering the bullshit that is womanhood very soon, yet it all seems so inconceivable. She still plays with stuffed animals and barbies, and needs to be tucked in and snuggled at night. When she sleeps she looks exactly like she did when she was a tiny tot in her crib. How can she possibly be standing on the edge of puberty? As perplexing as it is, it’s definitely happening. I was recently reminded of this impending stage in life by a letter in the mail – the Reproductive Health Letter from the public schools. Part of me thinks that it’s just too soon to be traveling down this path, but the other (far more rational) side knows that it is time. Really it was last year that she started to have some questions about reproduction. She was working on an animal report on the tiger and had watched a National Geographic video that included a tiger giving birth.

“Mom! Come here!” She screeched from her bedroom.

Of course, I flew like a bat straight out of hell to her little tween lair wondering what had caused the urgency in her voice.

“Mom! Did you know that tigers give birth from their butts? Oh, Mom, I’m so happy that I’m not a tiger.”

It was right then that I realized she didn’t know squat about the miracle of life and for all I knew she still thought babies dropped out of a giant bird’s beak all swaddled up and ready to roll. I sat her down and explained that the newborn tiger didn’t come out of a bum, but the “other” hole, as all baby mammals do. Little Miss Smarty Pants connected the dots real fast and suddenly realized that her mammal body was capable of the same act. Before she could panic, I assured her that when the time came the doctors would give her so much medicine that she wouldn’t feel a thing.

I had panicked; it was all I could come up with on the fly. She seemed okay with my response, but this tiger birth conversation did make me think about all of the other questions I might be answering in the near future regarding the birds and the bees. So yesterday when she asked me what she would be learning in Reproductive Health Class I was a bit more prepared. We sat down on the porch steps.

“Honey, remember how you were asking what a tampon was?” (As strange as this sounds, one of our toddler twins has a real fascination with tampons. Trying to open and destroy them is like her very own disturbing Rubix cube.) “Well, they are what grown up women use when they have a period.”

Naturally, I was met with her confused face until I continued on, explaining to her the whole babies grow in a uterus and once a month the uterus does its thing and hence the period, the pads, and the glory that is female-hood. She was a bit grossed out, I don’t blame her. I waited for her to ask more questions, like the ever dreaded, “where do babies come from” and “how does the baby get inside a stomach.”  Alas, she threw me a bone and didn’t want to ask any more questions. She just wanted to go inside and make herself a bagel. Yes! Fine with me! I told her to ask me anything should questions pop into her head, and then I released her from this awkward rite of mother-daughter passage.

I didn’t sleep that whole night. Did I do this right? Is there a “right” way? Why isn’t there some script on the internet for parents like me who fumble and bumble when faced with the really tough questions?  You can get ANYTHING on the damn internet! What if I confused her? Scared her?

In the end, I’m glad that I at least opened this door with her. I hope that she feels comfortable coming to me with her questions, I know that eventually, she will have a whole lot of them. For now, I think I am going to turn this topic over to the public schools and let them finish scarring my baby girl with Reproductive Health facts.

Why Your Kid's First Job is Worth More Than the Paycheck

Who doesn’t have a great “first job” story?

It happened before I even had time to process what was happening. As I looked around in confusion, I realized every employee had suddenly disappeared, leaving me the lone man on deck. This was no small feat as the ice cream store I worked at that summer was always staffed by at least six people. It was one of the busiest stores in the nation.
I looked across the freezers full of ice cream at a historical interpreter clad in dark woolen clothing despite the oppressive late-summer heat, and I knew I was in trouble. Her milkshake order was incredibly specific, and upon learning that one of the three flavors she requested had just run out, she unleashed a torrent of abuse.
I futilely gestured toward the huge tub set out to thaw on the counter behind me, explaining that it was rock hard and couldn’t be scooped yet, but nothing would turn her frown upside down.  After an incredibly long, hot summer spent mopping up sticky melted ice cream, cleaning bathrooms, and hauling trash to the dumpster, this was the final straw.
I biked home from work that afternoon and registered for the LSATs, having realized that I was unfit for a career in the service industry.
There are so many ways kids can use their precious few hours outside of school. AP classes, sports, youth orchestra, volunteering, and just relaxing and recovering from all the stress and demands of being a teenager. It’s hard to decide whether an after-school or summer job is really a worthwhile use of time for high school and college students. Although I’m sure I missed some opportunities by choosing to work, I’m glad my parents insisted that I do so – and not just because I earned money.
I had many different jobs, starting at age 11 when I babysat for the kids next door. Babysitting would actually become my specialty. I found enough steady gigs to eventually pay for half of the car that my parents purchased on my 16th birthday. I learned a lot from those families and kids, including the fact that I love children.
But I was in no hurry to have any of my own. As much fun as I had with my young charges, I could see that raising kids was difficult, expensive, and incredibly time-consuming. I parlayed my love of kids into several summers as a camp counselor, and a gig as a nanny in graduate school, and waited until I was in my 30s to start a family of my own.
Both of my parents are lawyers, so I had a few summer jobs in law firms. From what I could gather, being a lawyer meant feeling constantly harried, never finishing lunch, and coping with a number of irate phone calls from clients every day. It wasn’t until I had a chance to see one of my bosses in action that I started to become interested in the legal field.
The lawyer I worked for that summer needed a file from the office in the middle of a hearing. I slipped into the courtroom and sat quietly behind the bar, waiting for him to reach a stopping point. As I watched him argue his case in a quiet but incredibly articulate and determined voice, I realized there was more to lawyering than just rushing in and out of the office.
I kept this experience in the back of my mind when I returned to college that fall and chose to major in English and Women’s Studies, thus ensuring that I virtually had to obtain a professional degree in order to be employable.
Incidentally, the judge presiding over the hearing that day asked me to leave the courtroom for baring my midriff, thus teaching me an important lesson about proper courtroom attire. This would stand me in good stead when, years later, I became the lawyer arguing her case.
I spent my senior year of college waiting tables in one of the busiest bar/restaurants in my sleepy college town. There I discovered that my sarcasm was an acquired taste that didn’t necessarily go over well with the tourists and parents checking out the college. But I also learned that I like to be busy and that two back-to-back weekend shifts passed incredibly quickly because I had so much work to do.
In contrast with my job filing in the school library – which I’d suffered through for an entire semester before resigning out of an overabundance of boredom – working in restaurants was fun for me because of the fast pace. I was never going to be the world’s best waitress, but I did want a career where I’d be busy and on the go.
Although it may feel like your child has to give something up in order to work after school or during the summer, what they’ll gain in the process far outweighs any lost opportunities. These jobs are more than just a way to earn money. They allow kids to get their feet wet in a variety of fields as they start to imagine their future careers.
And there’s always the chance that they’ll learn a valuable lesson about why the folks who work as historical interpreters really need to slam down a milkshake at the end of a long, hot summer day.

Just Keep Turning at the Corner

Lost, then found, then lost again.

I caught myself looking at my oldest boy’s feet the other day as we sat on the couch together. I remember when he was born – eleven years ago, but seemingly yesterday – how he had these tiny little perfect feet with nary a line or wrinkle on them anywhere. They were irresistible,  I kept coming back to them those first days of motherhood, counting and recounting the toes to make sure all ten were there and marveling: I grew these.  
Now his feet were almost man feet. They can stink something fierce if left in a shoe without a sock for too long, and the toenails are always a little bit longer and a smidge dirtier than I would like. Those feet are not mine, they are his, and their principal job is to carry an almost teenage boy into and through a big scary world. If I think about this too long and let my eyes mist over with the emotion of it all, in the blurriness I can remember:
When I was six I went out for a walk and got lost. We were visiting my grandmother in Massachusetts. I must have been especially annoying after all those hours in the car because I remember my mother shooing me out the door and saying, “Just go walk around the block. Burn off some energy.”
There was a problem with this, I quickly realized. At home, we lived on a dead-end street, and I didn’t even know what walking around the block was. “What’s that even mean?” I yelled from the sidewalk.
“Just keep turning at the corners!” The screen door slammed shut. It was warm and sunny and I had to squint to look anywhere but at my own feet, but I was also pretty excited. I had never gone out for a walk like this on my own before.
At the first corner I turned, and again after that, and pretty soon I got a little smug about how I was now basically a professional around-the-block walker. It went on this way for some time, a half hour or maybe an hour. Eventually, I realized I was really far from anything familiar. I started to panic and a woman must have seen my face because she bent down to me and said gently, “are you lost, honey?”
Instead of answering I burst into tears. Lost. Yes. That was it.
Sometimes when I am raising this boy I feel like that. I’ve been fumbling through this mothering thing since those first days, when my job was to sustain, usually with my body – my breasts or my arms or my voice in his ear, my hips swaying or my hands patting or my lips kissing those toes. I’ve been turning at each corner, sometimes on autopilot, and then one evening I looked up and years had gone by, so many streets walked down together, some I’m too tired to even remember. I’m different too.
This love for a child who has long since become a boy, and is well on his way to being a man, challenges me in ways I don’t yet fully understand.  Stupidly, I had thought the basics were covered – once he knew how to provide his own rest and sustenance and cleansing – that my job would be easier, but that is proving to be very untrue.
He can go for hours, even days, without seeming to notice that I am in the same house and then, suddenly, I look over as we drive from place to place and his hand has reached across from the passenger seat and gripped mine with a ferocity that I am unable to completely decipher. His need is unpredictable, almost raw in its intensity, but it’s still there.
I have always joked that he was our “practice” baby, the first baby born to two people who, while well educated in many respects, were completely clueless on how to raise children. It makes me ache to think of the mistakes we made along the way with him, not out of malice or laziness or any reason other than genuine ignorance. Four babies later, even as I am becoming an old pro at the basics – I can change a diaper and nurse a howling baby in the dead of the night without even having to open my eyes – the reality is we will always be doing it for the first time with him.
He was my first newborn, my first set of kissably perfect baby feet, my first to take wobbly steps on those feet, and he will be the first to walk himself right out of my house and into that world. I want to sit him down and draw a map, make sure he doesn’t make my mistakes or end up lost somewhere all alone, but I know eventually, he is going to have to forge his own path. The reality is, I’m still so unsure myself a lot of the time. Who am I to lead?
“Just keep turning at the corner,” I hear myself whisper. Whether I am talking to him or to me, I’m not sure. If (when) we get lost, at least we will be together.

Parents of Middle School Girls: Beware of the Pot Stirrer

Pot Stirrers. You can find them in various social circles from grade school on up to college and beyond.

Pot Stirrers.
You can find them in various social circles from grade school on up to college and beyond.
Pot Stirrers are easily identifiable, although they establish themselves in a deceptively innocent way. Often the instigators, Pot Stirrers can be found at the center of any drama. Friends who stand beside them are vulnerable to unsuspecting betrayal as they could easily become the next target of their attacks.
Pot Stirrers seem to always have something to complain about, and they are in constant need of validation and attention. They will do just about anything to get either.
Pot Stirrers aren’t malicious, but they can be manipulative and self-serving in how they engage with their friends, often setting little fires of he said-she said and fanning the flames into a wildfire of conflict among peers. They are skilled at weaving webs of connections that brilliantly display solidarity with the subconscious motive of leading the pack and staying in the spotlight.  
This dynamic grows risky during the middle school years, when girls are exploring new friendships, growing in awareness of the world, and trying to figure out their place in it. Middle school girls develop a tight network of friends during those early adolescent years. Peer groups are often the most important part of their lives. If there is a Pot Stirrer in the group, the social dynamic can become harmful, dysfunctional, and futile.
Pot Stirrers often have a loyal band of friends, who will forever come to their rescue, because no one likes to see their friend hurting. The Pot Stirrers are not always fully aware of their manipulative techniques, but possess an uncanny skill of raising a call to arms for any perceived bruising or wound inflicted upon their reputation and, ultimately, their psyche. Their stirring often leads to messy mayhem.
“Support your sisters!” is something we urge our daughters to do – a principle we can all value. We embrace backing up and standing up for the rights of others, while taking the necessary steps to help those in need.
Herein lies the problem: Sisters can get pulled into the muck of the stirred pot and often can’t see the passive, self-serving motives of the Stirrer. This can cause shifts of alignment among those involved and fracture friendships within the group. Whatever the issue might be, friends are forced to take sides, and the truth gets buried in the rubble.
This gets dangerous.
If your child is a compassionate care taker, who easily gets pulled into helping other people with their problems, I urge you to equip her with the knowledge of the Pot Stirrer’s ways. The kids most vulnerable to getting pulled into the pots are the ones who may be gullible and easily deceived as they trust quickly and give freely to their friends. This may become detrimental to their own mental health because they often don’t realize the grip the Pot Stirrer has on them.
Help your child become aware of her role in friendships like this, and empower her with ways to detach and honor their own self-preservation. The last thing you want is to watch your own kid get thrown under the bus, or possibly worse.
If your child is continually manipulated by a Pot Stirrer, she may be denied the liberty to develop her own individual identity and thus be less likely to pursue new friends and healthy relationships.
We’ve all experienced this type of friendship in one way or another. Pot Stirrers are an inevitable part of all our lives, and it’s up to us to be aware of the dysfunction that can develop with these types of friends.
I vividly recall being sucked into the pot with a friend, who flew into my life and quickly started a storm of emotional drama within my group of friends. I adored her and naturally believed her and wanted to help her resolve the conflicts with those who, she claimed, had hurt her. After months of trying to affirm her ongoing complaints with the other friends in the group, I slowly began to realize the divide she had caused among us all.
Other friends identified her manipulative behavior long before I did, because she convinced me that she was the victim. I was finally able to recognize her destructive behavior and the impact it was having on my own mental health and decided I needed to end the friendship. It wasn’t easy to do, but I knew being friends with her impeded my other friendships. Her needs were dominating my life.
A hard life lesson to learn, and one I wish I’d learned sooner.
This isn’t to say that we must end all friendships with Pot Stirrers. That was the best decision for me in my own circumstance. It’s most important to recognize the Pot Stirrers in our lives and remain vigilant in protecting our own mental health and friendships. We must teach our children to do the same.
There is a fine line between friendship and foe with a Pot Stirrer. Although we never want to promote judgment or exclusion, we must encourage our kids to be socially aware and teach them how to care for themselves while caring for others. It’s an excellent life skill to master.

Loving difficult people can be difficult. And Pot Stirrers need our love.
But in loving difficult people, we must sometimes make difficult decisions for the sake of our own well-being. Learning to set and keep healthy boundaries is one of the greatest lessons we can teach our kids as they mature and dive deeper into various relationships.
Help your kids become aware of these traits in Pot Stirrers so they can develop a better understanding of the dynamics that can play out in some friendships as well as the pressures of social group thinking.
If kids can identify the dysfunction and danger with these kinds of people, they will be more equipped in dealing with them as they grow older and the stakes get much higher.