Parenting Is Always Hard. So Stop Comparing Baby Years To Teen Years.

I find it hilarious when parents of older children tell me I’m in the easy stages.

I can’t remember a time parenthood was easy. I can think of phases when things were different, but I don’t think it was ever simple. Even pregnancy can be rough. In the beginning, you’re exhausted and maybe sick, in the middle you feel better but start to waddle, and in the end, you feel like your own planet.

Thankfully, none of that is in vain. After waiting months to see your child’s beautiful little face, you feel like things will always be this perfect. Except they won’t.

Bringing a newborn home is the just the beginning of an 18 year or longer series of curve balls. So why do so many parents downplay the struggles of the early days? Do they really think their comments are helpful? Parenting is a series of ever-changing challenges and it makes zero sense to rank them. It’s especially important that we don’t overromanticize the difficulty of the early days. Here’s why.

That first moment of love is a trick.

For some, birth starts with perfection. From the moment their eyes see their child’s face, it’s love at first sight. It becomes impossible to refrain from basking in their baby’s beauty and visions of the future are filled with images of puppies and rainbows.

Or maybe things went directly from pregnancy pains to the blood-curdling screams of sleep regression. Everything hurts and you exist in a body that feels foreign. And don’t get me started on the breastfeeding challenges and the toll it can take on your relationship. During this time, it takes everything in your power not to strangle the person who convinced you to take this leap, including the friends who egged you on.

The image of perfection fades fast though. Where’d the perfect child who stole your heart go? The answer: it was all an elaborate scheme. Evolution put bonding chemicals in our brains that having us teetering between the sweet intoxication of a new baby and the dread of new motherhood. 

You’re surrounded by opinions, but none of them are helpful.

I’ve been there — delusionally exhausted and ridiculously overwhelmed. During that time, I got some of the world worst advice. My least favorite two were: “Sleep when the baby sleeps” and “Enjoy this time, it’s as easy as it ever gets.” What better way to extend a huge fuck you to a struggling new mom than to tell her to sleep when the baby sleeps. Hello! Sleep regression means they hardly sleep. 

Inconsiderate comments set new parents up for self-doubt and feelings of failure.

I was told children get progressively more difficult with age. That basically meant if I was struggling on level one, I’d never survive the subsequent stages. Well-meaning comments of parenting stages can still be harmful.

Those comments terrified me and made me wonder if his issues were a reflection of me. Neither my son or I was getting enough sleep, and it made me wonder if he was getting enough of anything. Was he getting enough milk? Did he not sleep because I was forgetting to do something? Was his mom good enough?

Nothing stays the same.

From two weeks forward, my son didn’t sleep. He survived off quick naps to maintain the strength to keep his parents (read: his mom) awake all night. Around three months old, things changed but weren’t any easier. He’d sleep, but only while nursing through the entire night — no boob, no deal. After that stage, he would only sleep to the sound of running water. No, not a YouTube white noise clip like most babies. It had to be live action shower water. That changed with time, too.  

A new baby is a lot to process. As a new parent, you’re getting to know a person for the first time. You quickly learn that it doesn’t matter what anyone else was like, even their siblings. It’s okay to feel that process is challenging. And it’s totally unfair to tell a new parent that this is the “easy part.” 

The adjustment period might not be as difficult for some parents as it is others. But it doesn’t mean it’s universally easy. New parents need support and words of comfort, not criticisms that lead to self-doubt. Please stop telling baby parents that they have it easy. Parenthood is always equal parts beautiful and disaster.

Tips for Talking About Difficult Subjects With Your Kids

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

One of the toughest jobs of parenting is talking to your kids about difficult subjects. It’s hard enough to explain when Mr. Teddy Bear gets eaten by the washing machine. Or how their bike got stolen at school. It feels impossible to put into words the really big issues, such as violence, racism, drugs, and other weighty topics. But in the age of cell phone notifications, streaming video, and 24-hour news coverage — when even little kids are exposed to really serious stories — it’s important to face this challenge head-on. Addressing the tough stuff makes your kids feel safer, strengthens your bond, and teaches them about the world. And when you show them how to gather and interpret information, ask questions, and cross-check sources, they become critical thinkers. It’s always sad to confront the issues the world hasn’t been able to solve. But by investing our kids with knowledge, compassion, and strong character, we can give them all the tools they need to make things better.

When your kids learn about something scary or unsettling — say, a mass shooting, a suicide on a popular TV show, or graphic porn via an innocent Google search — most parents get that deer-in-the-headlights feeling. But it’s always a good idea to use your kid’s age and developmental stage as a guide to starting conversations, because kids absorb information differently as they grow from babies to teens. For example, young children are very literal. If you tell them a monster is under the bed, they’ll fly across the room to avoid getting their ankles munched. Try that with a teen, and they’ll tell you to take a flying leap. Understanding a bit about how kids perceive the world in each phase of their development helps you deliver information about it in the most age-appropriate way. Of course, every child brings his or her own sensitivities, temperament, experience, and other individual traits to any conversation. A talk about the Holocaust, for instance, can go in a million directions depending on the kid. So use your best judgment as to how your child tends to takes in information to determine how deep to go.

Photo by Janko Ferlič

There are far too many difficult subjects in the world. But most of us wouldn’t want to give up our dynamic, information-rich culture. The trade-off is frank, yet compassionate conversation that helps us all make sense of things that seem senseless. The tips below are general guidelines for discussing any difficult subject with kids age 2 through teen based on childhood-development guidelines. Additionally, we offer guidance on explaining the news to kids and talking about sexual harassment to young kids and tweens and teens.

Age 2–6

Young children don’t have enough life experience to understand some of the elements involved in complex, difficult topics. They also don’t have a firm grasp on abstract concepts and cause and effect. Because they and their primary relationships (Mom, Dad, siblings, grandparents — even the family dog) are the center of their world, they focus on how things affect them. They’re very sensitive to parents’ emotional states and can worry that they did something to make you upset. All of this makes it challenging to explain big issues. On the other hand, you’re better able to manage their media exposure, and they can usually move on fairly quickly.

  • Keep the news at bay. Do what you can to limit small kids’ exposure to age-inappropriate subjects by turning off or muting the TV and choosing media that’s targeted to their age.
  • Reassure with both words and gestures. Say, “You’re safe. Mommy and Daddy are safe. And our family is safe.” Hugs and snuggling work wonders, too.
  • Address feelings — yours and theirs. Say, “It’s OK to feel scared, sad, or confused. Those feelings are natural and we all feel them.” Also: “I’m upset, but not with you.”
  • Find out what they know. Your kids might not understand the issue very well. Ask them what they think happened before giving them any imagery.
  • Break down issues to their simplest terms. For violent crime, say, “Someone used a gun to shoot people.” For hate crimes, say, “Some groups of people still aren’t treated equally or fairly.” For rape, “A man hurt a woman.”
  • Catch your own biases. We all have them. Say, “man,” “woman,” “girl,” and “boy,” not “fat guy,” “homeless lady,” “pretty little girl,” or “black boy.” Avoid describing a person’s ethnicity, sexual identity, weight, financial status, and so on unless it’s relevant to the issue.
  • Use vocabulary, ideas, and relationships that they’re familiar with. Recall a recent, similar situation from their lives that they can relate to. Say, “A man stole something. Remember when someone took your lunchbox?”
  • Use basic terms for feelings such as “mad,” “sad,” “afraid,” “happy,” and “surprised.” Young children understand emotions, but they don’t totally understand mental illness. You can say that someone was angry too much or confused too much and needed extra help. Avoid idiomatic expressions such as “blew a gasket” or “flew the coop.”
  • Communicate that someone’s in charge. Say, “Mommy and Daddy will make sure nothing bad happens to our family.” Or, “The police will catch the bad guy.”

Age 7–12

Because kids in this age group can read and write, they get exposed to age-inappropriate content more often — but younger kids in this range are still a little shaky on what’s real and pretend. As kids gain abstract-thinking skills, real-world experience, and the ability to express themselves, they can grapple with difficult subjects and understand different perspectives. Because tweens are separating from their parents, entering into puberty, and interacting with media more independently, they come into contact with violent video games, hard-core pornography, distressing news like mass shootings, and online hate speech. They need to be able to discuss things without feeling shame or embarrassment.

  • Wait for the right moment. At this age, kids are still very likely to come to you if they’ve heard about something frightening. You can feel them out to decide if they want to discuss something, but if they don’t bring it up, don’t feel you have to broach difficult subjects until they ask.
  • Find out what they know. Ask your kids what they’ve heard, or if their friends at school are talking about something. Answer questions simply and directly — but try not to overexplain (because you could make them more scared).
  • Create a safe space for discussion. Say, “These topics are hard to discuss — even for adults. Let’s just talk. I won’t be mad, and I want you to feel free to ask anything you want.”
  • Provide context and perspective. Kids need to understand the circumstances around an issue to fully make sense of it. For a mass shooting, you can say, “The person who committed the killing had problems in his brain that confused his thoughts.” For race-based crimes, say, “Some people wrongly believe that light-skinned people are better than dark-skinned people. Without the correct information, they sometimes commit crimes they think are justified.”
  • Address their curiosity. If your kid stumbles across grown-up material online, it might be time to find content that will let them learn about more mature subjects age-appropriately. Say, “Online pornography is something that some grown-ups look at. But it’s not about love or romance and it can give you the wrong idea about sex. If you want to learn more about sex, I can give you some books to look at and we can talk more if you have questions.” Or if your kid wants to explore serious topics in more depth than you can provide, say, “Let’s find some news sources that offer current events written for kids.”
  • Be sensitive to kids’ emotions and temperament. You never know what may trigger your kid. Check in by sharing how you feel and ask them how they feel. Say, “I feel angry when I know that someone got hurt.” Or, “It makes me feel sad to hear that someone didn’t get a good education or the right treatment to help them.” And, “What are you feeling right now?”
  • Encourage critical thinking. Ask open-ended questions to get kids to think more deeply about serious topics. Ask, “What did you hear?,” “What did it make you think?,” and “Why do you think that?” For older kids, you can ask, “Do you think families from other backgrounds would view this the same way as us?” And, “The news media hypes up stories so more people will pay attention. Why do you think this story is getting so much play?”
  • Look for positives. There may not be a silver lining to every cloud, but try to be optimistic. Say, “A lot of people acted like heroes at the crime scene.” Or, “Let’s find ways that we can help.”

Teens

At this age, teens are engaged in media independently — reading it, interacting with it, and even making their own and sharing it in the form of comments, videos, and memes. They often hear about difficult subjects in the news or from other places, such as in video game chats or on social media, without your knowledge. They’re much more interested in what their friends or online folks think about an issue than in your opinion — often scrolling to the bottom of an article to read user responses before they even read the whole story. They bristle at lectures — because they think they know everything — so encourage them to find media that can enrich their knowledge and ask questions that prompt them to think through their arguments.

  • Encourage open dialogue. Teens need to know that they can ask questions, test their opinions, and speak freely without fear of consequences. Say, “We may not agree on everything, but I’m interested in what you have to say.”
  • Ask open-ended questions and ask them to support their ideas. Say, “What do you think about police brutality?,” “What do you know about it?,” “Who do you think is at fault?,” and “Why do you think that?”
  • Admit when you don’t know something. As kids move into the teen phase, it’s OK for them to see that their parents may not have all the answers. Say, “I don’t know. Let’s try to find out more.”
  • Get them to consider the complexities in difficult subjects. Forces including social issues, politics, tradition, and more all contribute to making some problems seem incurable. Ask, “What makes difficult issues, such as rape, violence, and crime, so hard to solve?,” “What key things would need to change to fix certain issues, such as poverty?,” “How do policymakers get to the bottom of an issue to correct tough problems?,” and “Should we accept tiny changes that help a problem little by little or insist on big changes?”
  • Share your values. Let your kids know where you stand on issues, and explain why you hold certain values. If you want your teens to be respectful of others’ differences, for example, explain why you value tolerance and acceptance.
  • Talk about “their” news. Prompt them to consider how different sources put their own spin on the issues and how that influences an audience’s opinion of an issue. Social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat tend to serve up content from friends — with stories that tend to confirm one point of view. How do these stories compare to supposedly objective news broadcasts on TV? How about sources designed for millennials such as Vice and Vox that feature reporters investigating stories in the trenches? Ask, “Does a reporter have to experience heroin dependency to be able to report a story on opiate addiction?”
  • Ask what they would do if they were in a really difficult situation? Teens are figuring out their own identities and can seek out risk. Considering how they would act if confronted with a terrible reality appeals to their own sense of adventure and is a way to get them to grapple with ethical dilemmas and see themselves making good choices. Say, “If you were caught in a political demonstration that turned violent and you saw people being mistreated, what would you do?”
  • Get them to consider solutions. Teens can be cynical, but they can also be idealistic. If anything is going to get better, it’s this generation who’s going to do it. Show them that you trust them for the job. Ask, “If you were in charge, what issue would you solve first and why — and how would you do it?”

 

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The post Tips for Talking About Difficult Subjects With Your Kids appeared first on TodaysMama.

How to Get Kids to Create Media — Not Just Consume It

By Christine Elgersma, Common Sense Media

During a typical day, kids and teens check out YouTube, watch TV, play video games, scroll through social media feeds, and listen to music. Overall, they’re passive consumers of the content they love — which is fine. But with a little nudging — and the right tools — they can be using that time to build creative skills while sharing their stories, opinions, and ideas.

Kids actually love to express themselves, but sometimes they feel like they don’t have much of a voice. Encouraging your kid to be more of a maker might just be a matter of pointing to someone or something they admire and giving them the technology to make their vision come alive. No matter your kids’ ages and interests, there’s a method and medium to encourage creativity.

Photo by Brad Flickinger, Flikr

 

If they have a story to share

As soon as kids start talking, it’s great to get them to tell storiesFor younger kids, encourage them to narrate their activities as they build, climb, and pretend by asking questions such as, “What are you building? Who will use it? Tell me about your adventure!” There are also apps that let kids record their stories as they play. With older kids, some will naturally put pencil to paper, but others take a bit more prodding. For those kids, digital book creation can make their writing process feel more grown-up and tangible. Having a real audience also shows kids that their writing can matter, so tweens and teens can use sites and apps where they can share creations, and they can even riff off their obsessions in the form of fan fictionFinally, if your tween or teen has strong opinions about issues or interesting people in their lives, they can use tools to document and share those stories, too.

Storytelling tools

 

If they have a directorial vision

For kids who love to watch television and movies (spoiler: Most do!), it can be exciting for them to get in on the actionWhen they’re younger, kids love to combine their toys with storytelling, which is not unlike directing a movie. To share those stories, they can play around with animated storytelling apps that let them record a mini-movie with movable characters, props, and settings. As they get older, stop-motion animation might be more their jam, and there are apps for that, too. And if you’d prefer tweens and teens to not have their own YouTube channels but you want to encourage the fun of making videos, there are tools that let kids record, edit, and share in a more limited way.

Video-creation tools

 

If they have an inner artist

When your kid is naturally artistic, it probably won’t take much prompting to get them to draw or paint. But sooner or later, they’ll want to expand their horizons. If your little kid loves to color, give them more inspiration with apps that introduce famous artists. Older kids who don’t claim to be artists but love superheroes, comics, or manga can create their own cartoons with panels, dialogue balloons, and unique characters. Even emerging fashion designers can find a tool to help them express their inner Versace. Of course, for tweens and teens, there are more advanced digital drawing and painting products to create sophisticated designs.

Artistic tools

 

If they have an ear for music

Most kids love music right out of the womb, so transferring that love into creation isn’t hard when they’re little. Banging on pots and pans is a good place to start — but they can take that experience with them using apps that let them play around with sound. Little kids can start to learn about instruments and how sounds fit together into music. Whether they’re budding musicians or just appreciators, older kids can use tools to compose, stay motivated, and practice regularly. And when tweens and teens want to start laying down some tracks, they can record, edit, and share their stuff.

Music tools

 

 

If they have the next big game idea

Learning to code may seem intimidating, but there are a ton of fun apps that teach programming basics in a way that doesn’t feel like work. Young kids who learn to code get introduced to ideas such as cause and effect, thinking ahead, and how little steps add up to a final product. When they’re older, they can make and share simple games using some basic block-coding tools. Tweensand teens can learn actual coding languages so they can create more complex games.

Coding tools

 

If they don’t consider themselves to be creative

Some kids are sure they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies — but they’ll play Minecraft for hours. Others will turn their noses up at art — but will jump at the chance to design a robot. If this sounds like your kid, rest assured that — no matter their age — their bones are actually brimming with creativity. Even if kids aren’t painting masterpieces, playing the trombone, or writing the next hit for Netflix, there are lots of ways for them to make things, especially using digital tools. Any app that requires kids to create a world or creature — especially those that allow them to test their designs — teaches the creative process. Even silly apps that only focus on the process and not the product can free up kids who might feel stuck.

Covert creative tools

 

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Sexual Harassment — Before They Even Know About Sex

Photo: Lesley Show, https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelesleyshow/

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

“Mommy, what’s sexual harassment?” You were hoping that the daily news reports of famous and powerful men being accused of sexual misconduct would fly right past your kid’s radar. But like other unfortunate events you’ve had to explain far before your kid was ready, the news — especially bad news — has a way of seeping into their world. And now you’re stuck: How do you talk about sexual harassment if you haven’t even talked about sex?

Take one topic at a time. Try tackling the news and the sex angles separately. Young children have a hard time understanding abstract concepts. But you can begin to teach them about the news, and that what they see and hear on the radio, TV, and other devices is information about what happened in the world. Learn more about how to teach media-literacy skills to preschoolers.

There’s no reason to talk specifically about sexual harassment with very young kids unless they ask about it. If they bring it up, be prepared. These tips can help you talk about sexual harassment with kids from preschool into early elementary:

Ask open-ended, nonjudgmental questions. This buys some time and lets you know what information you need to correct, what you can skip, and what you need to focus on. Ask questions such as: “Where did you learn that phrase?,” “What else did you hear?,” “What do you think it is?,” “Why do you think that?,” and “How did it make you feel to hear that?”

Remain neutral and reassuring. When young kids sense that the important adults in their lives are angry or upset, they can sometimes feel like it’s their fault. It may seem obvious to you, but it’s worth telling your kids that you’re not mad at them. Say things like: “It’s always OK to tell me something even if you think it’s something bad.” “This is a tough topic, but I’m glad you asked me about it.”

Be truthful but don’t over-explain. You don’t have to offer kids anything more than what they need to know to satisfy their curiosity. Use terms they’ll understand — for example, “bully,” “private,” “private parts,” and even “making babies” if your family uses that phrase. Say:“Harassment means bullying. Sexual harassment is when someone talks about their own or someone else’s body or private parts — but not when it’s appropriate, like at the doctor. Sometimes a sexual harasser will touch or hug the other person without asking permission.”

Explain why it’s on the news. Even with small children who don’t have a grasp on the concept of the 24-hour news cycle, it helps to put matters in context. Otherwise, the constant news coverage can make them feel overwhelmed and confused. If you can, keep the news turned off when young kids are listening or watching. Seek out age-appropriate news sources instead. Say: “Sexual harassment is against the law — just like taking something that doesn’t belong to you. The people in the news may have broken the law.”

Help them protect themselves and others. Take the opportunity to reinforce lessons around bullies and boundaries. Remind them their bodies are their own and no one has the right to talk about them or touch them in any way that makes them uncomfortable. If your child’s preschool or elementary school has a policy about students not touching other students, you can talk about why that’s important and what happens to other students who can’t follow this rule. Explain that they also must respect other people’s right to keep their bodies private. Say: “If someone says something about your body or touches you or if you see someone bullying someone else, you should tell them to stop and tell the adult in charge.” If necessary, explain that your kid wouldn’t get in trouble for telling, even though bullies say they shouldn’t tell.

If you’re looking for tips on talking about sexual harassment with older tweens and teens, check out Common Sense Media. 

 

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Apps You Need If You’re Traveling Over the Holidays

By Christine Elgersma, Common Sense Media

Traveling with kids is always an adventure. And anything longer than a trip across town requires some strategic planning to keep kids entertained, civil, and — ideally — learning along the way. In the mix of homework, books, music, and of course actually talking, apps can be super helpful when you’re trapped in a car or a plane. Whether you want to listen as a group, have the kids play together, or let them get their thinking caps on, check out these apps and our other travel lists to find what works best for your family.

All-Together Audio

Tales Untold, 4+. These short audio stories are in perfect bite-sized bits to get you from one rest stop to the next. With fiction and nonfiction, there’s something for everyone, including a magical adventure story, a mystery-based series, and a fact-based nonfiction series, among others. The first episode in each series is free, but you’ll have to pay for the rest. Also check out Pinna – Audio for Kids.

Leela Kids – Best Audio Content for 3-15 Yr Olds, 7+. Instead of providing original content, this app curates the best podcasts and audio content for kids, so you don’t have to do the legwork. You can choose topics based on your kid’s age and the categories that interest them most, like Animals, Music, and Space. Leela Kids is free and the quality of the content varies. But you can always switch to something else without worrying about the price. Also check out This American Life.

Backseat Bonding

RelationShapes, 3+. RelationShapes (get it?) allows for more than one finger to match shapes and solve puzzles at the same time. So if you have two kids playing on the same device, they can practice playing cooperatively and helping each other. Not only do kids match and construct shapes into pictures — a bit like Tangrams — they can make original creations as well. Parents can also set up multiple profiles if kids want to take turns playing instead of working together. Also check out Duel 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade Math Games for Kids.

Heads Up!, 7+. This classic guessing game is still one of the best co-play apps around. The person who’s “it” holds the phone or tablet at forehead level with the mystery word facing out, and the other player gives hints. After each correct answer, the player tilts the device to get the next answer on the screen. Kids can easily play while seated, but it’s better for the car versus the plane or bus because it can get rambunctious. Also check out Trivia Crack.

Off-the-Grid Good Times

Monument Valley 2, 8+. This mind-bending adventure through a surreal landscape tests your spatial sense. And its soothing, sensory environment is ideal for those who like problem-solving without pressure (who needs more of that when you’re traveling?). Once it’s downloaded you can play offline, and there are lots of levels to keep kids occupied. Though it’s not really a co-play game, kids can help each other figure things out if there’s one device to share. Also check out Zoombinis.

The Room, 11+. This creepy puzzle-based app has an involved story and lots of mystery. As kids solve complicated and beautiful puzzles, they move along in the story — and to the next puzzle. Once you pay and download, you no longer need to be connected to play. If your kid loves it and wants more, you can invest in parts two and three of the series as well. Also check out Lifeline.

Low-Key Learning

Busy Shapes & Colors, 2+. This great problem-solving app has kids sorting colors and shapes while solving simple puzzles (it can also be played offline). The difficulty increases as kids progress, which will help beat back boredom. If there’s an older sibling in a generous spirit, it’s also an opportunity for some gentle guidance and instruction. Also check out Artie’s Magic Pencil.

codeSpark Academy, 5+. codeSpark introduces the basic concepts of logic and looping in a fun game, and it’s great for kids who aren’t reading yet. Parents can include up to three profiles, so siblings can all use the app on their own. It’s free to download, but if you subscribe, kids can get new content every month. Also check out The Robot Factory by Tinybop and Thinkrolls: Kings & Queens.

Weirdwood Manor, 8+. Half book and half game, Weirdwood Manor reads like a digital book but with lots of interactivity and puzzles to solve. And the atmosphere is mysterious and eerie without being too scary. Kids can try the first chapter to see if it’s a hit, then parents can purchase one chapter at a time or the whole collection at once. Also check out Device 6.

 

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9 Ways to Raise a Reader

Photo: Josh Applegate, Unsplash

By Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media

Kids become lifelong readers for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes there’s one key book that captures a kid’s imagination and opens him or her up to the exciting world of fiction. Other times, a teacher who assigns great books in class sparks a hunger for more big ideas and fine writing. In some cases, parents influence kids’ appreciation of books by sharing their own love of literature and modeling reader behavior — always having a book to read, taking books on vacation, reading before bedtime, making regular trips to the library and bookstore, etc.

Here are our best tips for nurturing a love of reading that can last a lifetime:

Read aloud: This comes naturally to lots of new parents, but it’s important to keep it up. Kids will enjoy it longer than you think. When reading to babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and kids in early grade school, it’s wonderful to have a kid on your lap, snuggled next to you on the couch, or drifting off to sleep in bed as you enjoy picture books together. You may have to read your kid’s favorite a hundred times, but just go with it. Your kid will remember the closeness as well as the story. And try nonfiction for those who are curious about pirates, Vikings, robots, castles, history, sports, biography, animals, whatever. For second through fifth graders, read those rich and meaty books that might be missed otherwise, maybe classics like Treasure Island or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

raising readers

Many parents think that as soon as their kids learn to read on their own, they no longer need to be read to. But kids still love it and benefit from it as they hear the rhythm of the language, learn correct pronunciation, and get to relax and just take it all in. Kids will get the idea that there’s something worthwhile in books and that there’s something special about time spent with a parent.

Savor the series: It’s common for kids to become book lovers for life after getting hooked on a series. And there are lots of good ones that keep kids hungry for the next installment. Some reliable prospects: Ivy and BeanJudy Moody for beginning readers; Harry PotterA Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Percy Jackson for middle graders; and The Hunger GamesSisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The Raven Cycle for older kids.

Grab onto a genre: Kids go through phases of genres they’re passionate about, from girl detectivesto science fiction and fantasy. Don’t get hung up on whether it’s considered great literature (although some genre books are). Be happy that your kid is devouring books one after the other.

 

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Feed the favorite-author addiction: Once your kids find a writer they love, they may want to read all of his or her books — a great excuse for a trip to the library or an opportunity for book swapping among friends and classmates. Here are some good bets for favorites. Younger kids: Dav Pilkey (The Adventures of Captain Underpants), Beverly Cleary (Beezus and Ramona). Middle grade: Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book). Tweens and teens: Judy Blume (Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret) and Sarah Dessen (Just Listen).

Count on the classics: Books are called classics because they continue to engage readers generation after generation. There are no guarantees, but you could try introducing your kids to books you loved as a kid and see which ones click. Some good ones to try are the Dr. Seuss and Narnia books, Charlotte’s Web, and The Secret Garden. Check out our Classic Books for Kids list to find more.

Find books about the things your kid loves: If your kid adores horses, try Black Beauty or any of the titles on our list of best Horse Books. If he’s wild about cars, trucks and trains, check out our list of Vehicle Books. Librarians, booksellers, and Internet searches will help you find books on any favorite topic.

raising readers

 

Funny is fine: Some parents wrestle with letting their kids read Captain UnderpantsDiary of a Wimpy Kid, and other edgy humor books about kids getting in trouble. Talk to your kids about the content, but keep in mind that kids like these books not because they want to imitate the characters’ actions but because they can live vicariously through their bad behavior. Humor is a great pathway to book loving.

Comics are OK: Graphic novels are among the hottest trends in children’s publishing, and they can get kids hooked on reading. Kids may start with Squish and Babymouse and move on to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But these series can also lead to more sophisticated fare such as El DeafoBoxers and Saintsand This One Summer. Find other titles in our list of best Graphic Novels.

Engage with ebooks: Kids can cuddle up with a Kindle, Nook, or iPad before naptime or bedtime. Some recent studies say more than half of U.S. kids are reading digital books at least once a week. The electronic format has proved to be especially engaging for boys and reluctant readers, and you can download or access many books on an ereader, which make it a great choice for air travel and car rides.

 

SEE MORE: A COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO BOOKS

 

But note that some studies show that book apps and interactive “enhanced” ebooks, while fun, can be distracting and inhibit reading comprehension. So to promote reading skills and encourage your kid to be a frequent reader, you might want to stick with ebooks that have the look of a bound paper book. Some even have animation that mimics turning the pages.

Make reading a family value: Actions speak louder than words. Take your kids to the library once a week or once a month to get new books, make regular outings to your local bookstore, hunt for low-cost books at used bookstores or second-hand shops, and show kids that finding a good book is like a treasure hunt.

Fit reading into your family lifestyle. Set aside time for reading only — turning off the TV, computer, and cell phone. Encourage focused reading time, either for independent reading or reading aloud. Take preschoolers to story time hours at libraries and bookstores. For older kids, a parent-kid book club can be fun. Read to kids at bedtime. Provide time and space for your kids to read for pleasure in the car (if they don’t get car sick!), on vacation, after homework is done, on their own before bed. Warning: It could be habit-forming!

 

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How to Spot Fake News and Raise Media-Savvy Kids

9 Ways to Turn Your Teen Into a Reader

11 Books Being Turned Into Movies for Kids and Teens That We Can’t Wait to See

 

How to Spot Fake News and Raise Media-Savvy Kids

This just in! Breaking news! You don’t want to miss THIS!

If you get your news online or from social media, this type of headline sounds very familiar. What’s real? What’s fake? What’s satire? Now that anyone with access to a phone or computer can publish information online, it’s getting harder to tell. But as more people go to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and other online sources for their news and information, it’s even more crucial that all of us — especially kids — learn to decode what we read online. (Learn more about how kids get their news and how they feel about it in Common Sense Media’s report, News and America’s Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News.)

There’s so much fake news online that Google and Facebook are starting to actively crack down on publishers of false or misleading news. But ad-supported networks are in somewhat of a bind, since they get money when users click on these stories — so the crazier the headline, the more money they make. Most kids and teens get their news from their feeds, so they need to learn how to view stories critically (and they should learn that skill anyway!). Even little kids can start to think about some key media-literacy questions. And as kids get older, parents can help kids become more sophisticated critical thinkers. (If your kid’s school is tackling media-literacy issues, consider sharing this with their teachers.)

Here are a few basic questions to consider whenever you and your kids encounter a piece of media:

  • Who made this?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
  • Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
  • What is left out of this message that might be important?
  • Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?

(Thanks to Project Look Sharp for these questions.)

Older kids especially might enjoy learning tricks to spot fake news. Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Look for unusual URLs or site names, including those that end with “.co” — these are often trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but they aren’t.
  • Look for signs of low quality, such as words in all caps, headlines with glaring grammatical errors, bold claims with no sources, and sensationalist images (women in bikinis are popular clickbait on fake news sites). These are clues that you should be skeptical of the source.
  • Check a site’s “About Us” section. Find out who supports the site or who is associated with it. If this information doesn’t exist — and if the site requires that you register before you can learn anything about its backers — you have to wonder why they aren’t being transparent.
  • Check Snopes, Wikipedia, and Google before trusting or sharing news that seems too good (or bad) to be true.
  • Consider whether other credible, mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news. If they’re not, it doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it does mean you should dig deeper.
  • Check your emotions. Clickbait and fake news strive for extreme reactions. If the news you’re reading makes you really angry or super smug, it could be a sign that you’re being played. Check multiple sources before trusting.

By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media Executive Editor of Parenting Content and Distribution

(Thanks to Professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College for some of these tips.)

Watch “5 Ways to Spot Fake News”

 

9 Ways to Turn Your Teen Into a Reader

Photo: Germán Poo-Caamaño, Flickr

By Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media

Parents know how to inspire a love of books in babies and toddlers: Just put ’em on your lap, and start reading. But as kids get older and go to school, reading can be seen as work rather than fun — and kids, especially teens, may stop reading for pleasure. Here are nine ways to get teens reading, either again or for the first time.

  1. Find the “why” in YA. YA (young adult) novels tackle the edgy issues teens struggle with, from peer pressure and romantic longing to grief and trouble at home or school. Whether they’re personally grappling with these issues or seeking vicarious thrills, teens gravitate toward subject matter that’s relatable. Check the YA bestseller lists and Common Sense Media’s book reviews for ideas.
  2. Merge movies with books. Hollywood is turning to teen lit for ideas more than ever. Offer your teen the print version to read before or after a big film adaptation comes out, and talk about the similarities and differences between the two. Try a few of these awesome books being turned into movies. 
  3. Get graphic. Gone are the days when graphic novels were dismissed as comic books. Now recognized as literature, they may be the key to getting some teens hooked on books. They’re available in a wide range of genres — from adventure and fantasy to historical fiction, memoir, and biography — so certainly there’s a graphic novel out there to suit your teen’s taste. See Common Sense Media’s picks for Graphic Novels and Graphic Novels That Teach History.
  4. Lure ’em with adult books. Find nonfiction titles on subjects your teen’s curious about, such as climate change, race, political corruption, or true crime. Check adult nonfiction bestseller lists to see what’s catching fire. Funny adult books also work (by David Sedaris or Tina Fey, for example), as do horror (Stephen King), mysteries (Agatha Christie), thrillers (James Patterson, John Grisham), fantasy (George R.R. Martin), science fiction (Isaac Asimov), and sports (Michael Lewis).
  5. Try poetry. Novels in verse are a popular trend. All that white space on the page makes them easy to read, and the spare, lyrical approach can really pack a punch. Try Sarah Crossan’s One, Stasia Ward Kehoe’s The Sound of Letting Go, or Ellen Hopkins’ Rumble. Memoirs in verse are taking hold, too; check out Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry. 
  6. Let them listen. Spark teens’ interest by getting an audio book to listen to on the way to school or on long drives. Let them download audiobooks to their smartphones. (They won’t risk looking uncool, because they’ll be under headphones or have their earbuds in.)
  7. Model reading. Read at home where your teens can see you. Talk about what you’re reading, and express your enjoyment. Always take a book or magazine along when you go to the beach or face waiting in a long line. Send your teen the message that reading is a pleasure, not a chore.
  8. Keep reading material around. Kids who grow up with lots of books around tend to read more. Stock the bathroom, car, dining table — wherever there’s a captive audience — with comic books, graphic novels, and magazines geared to your teens’ interests; first books in hit YA series; or classic sci-fi and mysteries. There’s nothing wrong with “micro-reading.”
  9. Give the gift of reading. Hand your teen a gift card to your local bookstore. They’ll discover the treasure-hunt fun of looking for a good book.

The Frazzled Moms Guide to Staying Sane This School Year

For some less than perfect, unorganized moms, the return to school brings more than the average level of stress and yes, even dread. I don’t know when the descent took place, but somewhere between Generation X and millennial movement, school has become so much more involved for parents, and so much more complex than it used to be. Any mother searching for three pairs of matching socks for multiple children each morning while couch-diving for lunch change at 7 a.m. knows this is where it gets real. I can hardly keep track of the school calendar alone, admittedly standing at the bus stop not once, but twice last year before realizing it’s a professional development day, therefore, no school. Sigh.

With more homework signature requirements than a congressional bill, checks needed for book fairs and candy-o-grams and parental involvement in a hundred different little projects, school can feel more bureaucratic than the IRS. In one month I’ve had to create a foot-long boat, decorate a turkey in ways that symbolize our family culture (who makes this stuff up?!), and write two handwritten notes as my children’s “pen pal,” thanks to another program initiated by an over- zealous PTO president. And who on the green earth do they think makes these projects for first graders? My youngest can hardly wipe his butt, let alone construct a watercraft with raw materials.

stay organized back to school

And let’s not forget the most overlooked, underappreciated school task that is the making of the lunches, lovingly prepared by executive chef mama at 9:30 p.m. with one eye open each night. No amount of blasting my favorite Jesus Culture Pandora station makes this assembly line of joy a rewarding experience. Although there are exceptions. I have a friend with six kids who makes a regular practice of posting a photo of her homemade, aesthetically pleasing lunch lineup on Instagram. And Facebook. Each day a different ensemble, but always with a fresh side of arugula-mandarin salad. I’m happy her children are experiencing culinary magic at lunchtime, but stuff like this drives me into deep dejection, comparing this to the squished Ziploc bags of pepperoni wraps and PB&J my kids pull out every day. I’m always tempted to upload a photo of three Lunchables with the caption: “Lunches are done—time for a bath!” I know I’d get more likes.

Managing school activities and requirements can be exhausting, but I’ve found some helpful tips and tactics to help maintain sanity, especially with school-aged kids:

  • Always. And I mean always, plan outfits (socks are the key!), pack lunches, hunt down school library books, sign homework, complete permission slips, and find any necessary money, the night before. There is nothing worse than dumpster diving in the couch for hot lunch quarters at 7:30 a.m. “Who took the singles out of my purse?!” or cringing as your first grader boards the bus with flagrantly mismatched socks. “Navy and turquoise are both in the blue family, honey—now run!”
  • Resist the overwhelming temptation to ignore school and teacher newsletters. If you can fight your way past the clip art, emojis, and superfluous details about which life cycles, seasons, sight words, and number charts your child is learning at that exact moment in time, you’ll find some informational treasures. I deleted all e-newsletters until standing at the bus stop not once, until sending my kids to school in their pj’s after missing the “slumber party Friday has been rescheduled” email. Sigh.
  • Turn homework time into quality time, especially if you have more than one child, where it can be difficult giving them undivided attention. Even when they don’t necessarily need help, I think kids like knowing you’re there and their work matters to us. Sometimes it can be the only twenty minutes of alone time you really spend together.
  • Try to bang out the homework before dinner, or right after dinner, if the kids have afterschool activities. There are few weeknight surprises as frustrating as your child announcing he has an extra homework page, reading assignment, or heaven help us, some kind of project he “forgot” about at 8:00 p.m. Any mother cutting up library-loaned magazines (Jesus forgives) in search of warm climate amphibians need only learn this lesson once.

Here’s to a new year of fresh starts, pre-packed lunches, readily available ice cream money, endlessly matching socks, and scoring the good bus driver who smiles at the kids no matter what. Amen.

Jessica Kastner is the author of “Hiding from the Kids in My Prayer Closet,” and a contributor for Beliefnet.com, Huffington Post’s Christianity blog, and CBN.com.  When she’s not on the trampoline with her three boys in Connecticut, she offers her “fluff free” commentary at www.JessicaKastner.com.  

 

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/authorJessicakastner/
Facebook Community: #UnMom

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JessKastner

 

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4 Ways to Tell You’re an “Un-Mom”

For those of us who find motherhood less ‘natural’ than we expected, life can feel more like a circus than a life choice. We love being a mom, and cherish our kids, but we’re a bit less Proverbs 31 woman and more Lucille Ball when it comes to the daily tasks of mothering.  But rather than feeling defeated or “less than,” when compared to our more organized, ‘together’ kind of friends, God’s showed me how to let go of my need for perfection and appreciate the free-spirited, joy-centered mom I am, despite endlessly burnt dinners and Pinterest fails. Here are ways that you can identify, and celebrate, if you too, are an un-mom:

 

Child-centered activities send shivers down your spine

All it took was one “mommy & me craft time” at the town library to realize I must be missing a maternal chromosome causing other moms to seemingly feel complete joy while gluing pipe cleaners to rocks and begging their kids to stop eating crayons.  I felt similar dismay after loneliness and boredom led me to the unthinkable act of joining a local “mom’s club,” in hopes of scoring some adult company and snacking with both hands if my toddlers detached long enough. But instead of adult conversation about hobbies, current events, or perhaps pre-child stories of days past, there was only chatter about proper breast milk storage and organic baby food recipes. “How ‘bout that Trump?!” Silence. Same goes for activities like volunteering for the church nursery, and basically any other activity related to other people’s kids. Bless each lamb of God, but the last thing we want to do is swaddle someone else’s newborn or ration Cheerios when this is the first time we’ve left the house without yoga pants all week.

 

Your domestic life isn’t for the faint of heart

We’re not talkin’ a little clutter and dishevelment that a quick run ‘o the Dust Buster can’t  remedy. We’re talking the kind of disorder and mess that causes a dead panic when an uninvited visitor arrives, or when a friend texts she’s stopping by in ten. Because for un-moms, “keeping house” brings more than the average amount of difficulty for those of us who’d rather do just about anything other than vacuum or chart the kids’ chores on a white board. It takes focus, self-discipline and constant reminders that if we don’t put the laptop down (okay, yoga mat) and do laundry, our kids will be left wearing their birthday suits, or a Halloween costume to school tomorrow. Dinner looks more like a health risk then a meal time, and I’m fairly certain my only food-related Instagram post was that of a meatball so over-cooked, it permanently melded to the oven tray.  Who wants pizza guys?

 

not a pinterest mom

 

School activities

True un-moms immediately recognize there is no need to expound beyond this heading. Because for us, school-related activities like finishing a science project the night before… “you have to bring in how many pics of tree frogs?!”… searching for ever-elusive school library books, and trying to “help” with eighth grade algebra can be altogether overwhelming. I don’t know when the descent took place, but somewhere between Generation X and millennial movement, school has become so much more involved for parents. We’re talkin’ endless amounts of signatures, checks needed for book fairs, candy-o-gram forms and a hundred different little projects that require our participation. In the course of one month last year I had to construct a “green” boat, decorate a turkey symbolizing our family culture (who makes this stuff up?!), and write handwritten notes as my children’s “pen pal,” thanks to another stellar program initiated by an overmedicated PTO president. I think we celebrate more than the kids on that last day of school, clicking our bare footed heels in the air to embrace a three month break from making mediocre lunches with one eye open at night or tearing apart the house for school store money at 7 a.m.


It’s not that we can’t manage to keep sharp objects out of reach and sanitize plastic all day.  We just sometimes question our very existence after getting stuck atop the McDonald’s play scape or massacring another weekly Cub Scouts project. Especially come summer time, we can be tempted to skip our quiet time with the Lord because we’re so busy with the kids, and well, it’s hard to find time. But I’ve learned to somehow get my time in daily, even if it means hiding in my prayer closet, because I’m more patient and energized when gaining strength from him, not just the Death Wish Coffee. We need the Lord, and we need him now. Jesus, take the wheel…

 

Jessica Kastner is the author of “Hiding from the Kids in My Prayer Closet,” and a contributor for Beliefnet.com, Huffington Post’s Christianity blog, and CBN.com.  When she’s not on the trampoline with her three boys in Connecticut, she offers her “fluff free” commentary at www.JessicaKastner.com.  

 

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/authorJessicakastner/
Facebook Community: #UnMom

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JessKastner