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How to Have a Good Play Date

FAM, kids By August 30, 2011 Tags: , , No Comments

So, you found the perfect play date mate for your child! This is an important step, helping to ensure a well-balanced, socially-adept childhood. No pressure or anything. You’ve never had a play date before; likely you’re as nervous as you were on your first real date! No worries, though, because here are some simple, practical tips for making your kid’s play dates simple and fun, the way they’re supposed to be!

First, Stop Stressing. Unless you picked a preppy, pretentious family with whom to have said play date, just dress yourself and your child normally, in play clothes. You don’t need to get the car detailed or get a bikini waxing—and your child doesn’t need his teeth whitened or highlights put in. Just you and your kid are enough for a good time.

Have an Exit Strategy. Not wishing the whole thing badly, but have something in reserve for if things fail miserably. Sometimes it’s a terrible match between your child and theirs, but you never know until it’s happening. So, keep the date short to start out with, and it doesn’t hurt to have an errand or event afterward that could suddenly become more urgent in the event of a kid-sized meltdown.

Easy Does It. The last think you should do with a shy child is to plunk him or her down in the middle of a busy play-date with a bunch of strange kids and expect miracles. That is a recipe for disaster, actually. Start slow and start small: one new kid, on your home turf, or on a common ground your child is familiar with.

Don’t Push. Think of it a bit like a date: don’t push it. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Sometimes it will take a bit of time to elapse before they truly start warming up to each other.

Choose Play Friends Wisely. If you have a shy child, don’t ask the rowdy, rambunctious neighbor kid over as your first choice. Try to find someone more like your child, who won’t frighten or overwhelm them.

Provide Common Ground. If the date is on your home turf, have some cool stuff to play with and do available, to avoid boredom. Do something fun, like go to a kid’s museum or animal exhibit, where the kids can get tactile. Get outside so they can roughhouse. All these things are conducive to bonding.

Put the Pets Away. No matter how wonderful Fluffy or Whiskers is, it’s best to put all pets out of harm’s way until the play date is over. Some kids are afraid of animals, some get crazy over them and can cause strange reactions in a normally tranquil pet, while others are allergic. Always ask about pet allergies before volunteering to host a play date, to avoid uncomfortable moments.


How to help encourage friendships with other kids

FAM, kids By August 30, 2011 Tags: , , , 1 Comment

Friendships are important to every child. Peer relationships allow kids to see themselves against a larger backdrop, to learn empathy and sympathy, and how to fit in with society at large.Some kids are naturally shy or more reticent than others; it’s as basic as introverts and extroverts. Still, introverts, or people who are not as bubbly and public about everything, have friends, too—usually very deep and long-lasting friendships. Making friends isn’t always easy for some people, especially some kids who are naturally more withdrawn. So how on earth do you encourage friendships for your a child?

Tips for parents to encourage friendships with others:

Start Slow. The last think you should do with a shy child is to plunk him or her down in the middle of a busy play-date with a bunch of strange kids and expect miracles. That is a recipe for disaster, actually. Start slow and start small: one new kid, on your home turf, or on a common ground your child is familiar with.

Don’t Push. Think of it a bit like a romance: don’t push it. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Sometimes it will take a bit of time to elapse before they truly start warming up to each other.

Choose Play Friends Wisely. If you have a shy child, don’t ask the rowdy, rambunctious neighbor kid over as your first choice. Try to find someone more like your child, who won’t frighten or overwhelm them.

Provide Common Ground. Have some cool stuff to play with and do available, to avoid boredom. Do something fun, like go to a kid’s museum or animal exhibit, where the kids can get tactile. Get outside so they can roughhouse. All these things are conducive to bonding.

Teach Manners and Courtesy. No one worthwhile wants to be friends with a rude bully. So, do your kids a favor and teach them how to be polite, courteous, and kind. It goes a long way in fostering friendships and earning a good peer reputation.

Do Team Events. Encourage your child to participate in team-based events. This doesn’t mean just sports; it can include debate and other intellectual teams, clubs, volunteer groups, etc. They will meet like-minded kids and spend time with them in a positive arena. When they’re small, try out Gymboree, baby gymnastics, music and other groups, where they can get used to socializing with other kids early on.

Should Kids Choose Their Own Clothes?

Should Kids Choose Their Own Clothes?

FAM, kids By August 30, 2011 Tags: , , , , No Comments

How many of us have seen them, strolling gamely down the street: a child who looked like she ran blindfolded into their closet and put on the first few things they found by sense of touch, no color, pattern or style coordination whatsoever? Usually finished off with a tiara, pair of fuzzy antennae, fairy wings, or a knee-high pair of Ugg or galosha boots? The big question as a parent is – should kids choose their own clothes?


How to Handle a Temper Tantrum

FAM, kids By August 11, 2011 Tags: , , , , 2 Comments

Temper tantrums are not exclusively the province of small children; adults have them all the time. Sometimes throwing yourself on the ground and kicking and screaming is highly therapeutic. However, it is something that should be kept to a minimum, because it’s embarrassing in public, and it’s disheartening at home. Here is how to handle a temper tantrum.

1. Prevent the Tantrum. The absolute best way to handle a temper tantrum? Not letting it happen in the first place. You know your child pretty well, you know his or her “triggers”. Often, tantrums happen when a child is over-tired, over-stimulated, hungry, bored or confused/scared. When possible, try not to let a kid get stressed out like that, especially when you’re in public. Going on a trip? Plan ahead–schedule traveling when the child is sleeping if that’s an option for a road trip, but for flying try to stick to the morning, when they’re not fatigued. Limit their exposure to new stuff and other stressful situations as much as you can; introduce new people, places and things in small bite-sized chunks, to minimize overkill.

2. Short-Circuit the Tantrum. Although kids love going out and spending time with you, after a while they get grumpy, bored and tired. If you’re planning a shopping trip or know you’ll be out for a long time, leave them home when you can. If not, bring some small diversions: load kid-friendly apps onto your phone or iPad, bring coloring supplies, etc. You see Junior getting grouchy and restless? Give him something to do. Or, start talking, playing or singing with him directly, making the experience more fun. Distract them from their boredom, and give them something positive to do rather than grouch.

3. Don’t Fan the Flames. OK, so, little Jane is getting wound up. She’s whiny, restless, irritable. What do you do? Well, it’s more about what NOT to do. Don’t encourage it by paying attention to (and therefore reinforcing) the bad behavior. Don’t give in an gripe back, or get impatient with them, or speak angrily–it makes everything worse. It turns into a vicious cycle that no one benefits from. Again, try distracting and redirecting. Be lighthearted and try to ignore the behavior. Offer hugs. Look your child in the eye and tell them, calmly and lovingly, that they need to calm down, or there will be consequences, like loss of privilege or something. Don’t threaten (“Wait till we get home!!”) or be negative (“I can’t believe you’re being so bad!”). Say something like, “Sweetie, I know you’re upset/angry/frustrated right now. But crying and yelling won’t make it better. Stop kicking the shopping cart/gnawing on the chair/throwing rocks right now, or you’ll lose the Xbox.”

4. Get YOURSELF Under Control. Now you’ve got a full-blown wail and kick session going on? Or crying and yelling? Perhaps he or she has started hitting things? Feels like the eyes of the world are on you, and it sucks. Try to take a deep breath and count backward from ten. Close your eyes for a moment and attempt to get yourself under control, because you accomplish nothing by getting your OWN tantrum going. Remember: you’re not a failure because your kid is a little out of control…ok, maybe a lot out of control. You’re not a bad parent. You don’t have a bad child. You just have a situation, and it will end eventually. Just get through it.

5. Change the Venue. Sometimes, when it’s gotten bad and you’re running out of option, the only thing to do is to remove the kid from the situation. Yeah, it seems like you’re giving up and giving in, but a change of scenery will often disrupt the tantrum. Are you in the grocery store in the middle of the line? Ignore the reproachful eyes of snotty and judgmental people (there are probably a lot more sympathetic moms and dads than judgmental jerks, though it may not feel like it at the time), ask the clerk to let you put your cart aside for when you come back (often they know exactly what you’re dealing with), and take your child out of the place.

6. Let it Run its Course. There will be times when nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can or want to do will change the tantrum. If you’ve removed the child from the situation, try to find a place to let them go to town. A grassy area. The backseat of the car. Somewhere they can have a meltdown and not hurt themselves or others. If you’re at home, make sure there’s nothing breakable or valuable nearby, and let them shriek it out in their room. Close the door and walk away (stay within earshot), indicating you don’t approve. Trying to hold them down, yelling at them, or physically punishing them only makes things worse. Usually a tantrum only lasts a few minutes, although it feels like an eternity to you and the child. And if they don’t have an audience, it often ends quickly.

7. Be Irreverent. I confess, I have been lucky with my kids, I have only had a few tantrums to report. My strategy? I’m silly. When a kid starts being a grouchy butt, make them laugh if you can. Are they on the floor kicking and screaming? If you can (I only suggest this at home), get down on the ground with them and do it, too! 99% of the time the kid will stop what they’re doing to watch you in bewilderment, which will quickly turn into amazement and then hilarity. For real, ladies. It works. AND it feels good to let loose a little, too. Or, an alternative technique (for home) is to start doing something else silly, such as tossing stuffed animals or pillows their way. Start singing a funny song, or do a goofy dance (I recommend the Funky Chicken, they can’t resist it). Stop taking it so seriously. Your anger and negativity is like gasoline on a fire when it comes to a tantrum: it makes it all worse for both of you. Vicious cycle, remember.

8. …Bribery. I confess, some tantrums have been short-circuited by a well-placed, small-yet-effective bribe. I’m not talking about buying them a go-kart or a a pony or a new game console. Maybe a tiny toy, or a little piece of candy. Don’t do this once they’ve progressed into a full tantrum, because that validates their bad behavior, saying they’ll get a reward for being bad. But it can circumvent the progression from grouchiness to tantrum…just don’t do it all the time, or you’re setting another negative pattern.

Don’t beat yourself up if your kid flies off the handle every now and then, especially if you have a special needs child or you have multiple kids stressing you and each other out. Things happen. Relax, breathe deeply, and don’t take everything so seriously. The tantrum, like all things, will pass.

Teaching kids to dress themselves

Teaching Kids to Dress Themselves

FAM, kids By March 20, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

Teaching Kids to Dress Themselves will always be challenging.  But we bet you can make it fun too! “Don’t you love Katie’s outfit?” my girlfriend asked, “She dressed herself today.” At three, her daughter had proudly chosen a red shirt, blue pants, and to “match” them, one red sock and one blue one. Genius, I thought – both Katie’s choice and the fact that her mom chose not to “correct” her “out-of-the-box” approach. But what do we do with the child who resists dressing themselves, or for that matter the one who has trouble expressing themselves? Here are a few tips on how to allow your kids a little delight when it comes to self-adornment.

1) Don’t micro-manage. It doesn’t really matter whether we like their outfit as long as it does the job. If what they choose is inappropriate in some way, offer sensible guidance. It can feel overwhelming for a child to navigate their way through a series of decisions. Simplify their choices for them – okay, blue socks or green ones? Ramones shirt or Star Wars? After you guide them through the process a few times, they’ll know what to start with and how to put together an outfit. Limit their options. Offer one to three ensembles and have them mix and match. Start with velcro and snaps; move gradually to laces and zippers. Let them wear their shirt backwards or their sock inside out. Compliment them! A toddler with a sense of pride? Totally cute.

2) Make their clothing accessible. Hanging a row of hooks along a wall at about four feet up will be an easy way for kids to hang up and retrieve frequently used pants, skirts, sweaters, pyjamas and tees. Shoes and slippers can go underneath. Set up easy-to-reach cubbies with durable storage bins in them for other clothing and footwear. A bench is especially helpful to those who get wobbly while lifting a leg into pants, socks and such. Give each child their own hamper if you can. In a shared closet, a locker room look will be practical and encourage them to respect it as a communal space. Whatever works in your home for your kids!

3) If, like my almost four year-old, your little one CAN dress themselves but prefer not to, try to engage them in other ways. By asking my son to put on his own socks and then his little brother’s, he is given an opportunity to feel helpful, which for him is a motivator. Being the older child, he misses the attention his brother still gets when dressing; I often get down on the floor and have him sit with me while I lead him through the process. He feels supported but is still accomplishing the task himself. If resistance is an issue, figure out the source of it. Is your child afraid of something, or worried about making a “wrong” decision? Did they have a bad experience? Are they frustrated that they don’t know how to use a zipper? Be patient and allow them lots of time – rushing them will likely add to their stress.

4) Play dress-up! Keep a tickle trunk full of hats, tops and bottoms, costumes, socks, accessories and footwear. They can layer things as they like. Character play is loads of fun; each child can invent a personality, dress to develop them and then engage in a pretend tea party, pirate ship invasion or fire rescue mission. Go to the thrift store on a rainy day and have everyone choose a few things for the dress-up collection. Fun!

5) Lead by example. Set up your closet like a personal boutique. Keep the things you love on display or hang whole outfits up as visual cues. Let your kids hang out while you get ready for date night with your partner, but also try to have fun when you’re just heading out to the market. Allow yourself to be enchanted by…yourself. Yes, it’s kind of corny. Do it anyway. Let your kids see it! Encourage and offer ideas for creative expression. Even a simple flower stuck in a barrette or a pair of coloured shoelaces can make a kid feel like a rock star. Remember, too: you are the role model. Grown-ups really shouldn’t wear crotch-grazing skirts, lingerie as clothing or spandex outside of the gym. Equally true: five year-olds never look good in thigh-high boots, heavy makeup or painted-on jeans! There are so many ways to have fun with what we wear…don’t wreck it for your kids by giving clueless council! If you’re not sure about your fashion sense, find an episode or two of TLC’s “What Not To Wear” and pay close attention! Gotta love Stacy & Clinton…

Now, go play dress-up with your kids. Preschoolers with pinache? Heck yeah.

– Samantha Agar has two little boys who love to dress up as dinosaurs.

recipe for a play date

Recipe for a play date (that keeps kids & moms happy!)

FAM, kids By January 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , , 2 Comments

Recently one of my oldest friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, got in touch. “We’re coming to town! Can we see you?” I was thrilled – between us we have four boys under five and have wanted to get them together for ages. With our visit being last minute and later in the day than the kids are accustomed to, though, it was mayhem for all of us. Without specific activities set out for them, our little ones bounced off the walls accordingly. My friend and I couldn’t finish a sentence, let alone a conversation. For two families who rely heavily on structure for sanity and functionality, being without a plan took away from the experience. Worth it? Yes! But by the time we were done she and I were exhausted. Here’s our recipe for a play date that keeps kids and moms happy!

In a nutshell, there is a better way. Kids need to know there is a program in place. If you do things in the right order they will be too occupied by what you’ve got them doing to get bored and into trouble. Make a schedule for the play date and plan activities that accommodate their needs.

My suggestion is to start with some kind of exercise. I’m talking about real physical exertion here. The more fun, the better, so if you’re at home, set up a potato sack race or an obstacle course in the yard (no horseshoes, though – you don’t want some poor little person getting winged in the head with one of them). If you’re planning to be out and about there are places popping up everywhere offering both indoor and outdoor “adventure zones” for kids of all ages. If you don’t want to spend money on admission fees, use what you have at home or go to the park. Whether it’s to be a day inside or out, make sure the kids get an opportunity to burn off some steam! They will feel great and it will calm them for the rest of your time together. You should plan to participate in this part of the play date. It’s an opportunity to determine a feeling of safety and set forth ground rules for the remainder of your time together; your young guests should feel comfortable treating you as their go-to grown-up and it’s your responsibility to establish this.

After a workout, everyone will need to rest and refuel. When I host a play date, I always make sure I know if those joining us have any allergies, food aversions or requests. This is not to be confused with being a short order cook – the point here is to make everything easier, not to wait on everyone the whole time. The nice thing about apprising yourself of what people like or dislike is that no one is going to criticize you for ordering takeout or serving store-prepared foods if they know you’ve taken the time to consider them when doing so. Once I have my information, I plan an easy snack or meal and get as much of it done in advance as possible. Fun food for kids is imperative! Involve them in the preparation – make mini pizzas they load themselves or have them spread their own peanut butter and jelly. Put out finely cut fruit or veggies and let them make funny faces on their pancakes or toast. If you want to keep them calm, don’t overdo it with the sugar. Go with bananas rather than chocolate. Make smoothies (you can call them milkshakes!) instead of serving pop. No hard and fast rules, and by all means splurge on burgers and milkshakes from time to time. It’s all about balance.

Now, I am a huge advocate of turning off the damned TV when sitting down to dinner. Playdates can be an exception to this – and no, it doesn’t make you a lousy parent. Getting the kids exercised and fed is hard work and you will need some down time! Turn on Peep and the Big Wide World or put in a Disney movie – something appropriate for all ages present. You can do this during the feeding frenzy, as it may serve to distract them and cut down on the mess, or you can wait until they’re done. Hopefully you’ve remembered to brew the coffee or make yourself a snack too, because now is the time to enjoy the relative lull in activity.

The next important element is to have a few alternatives available for those kids who just can’t sit still. A train set, an accessible book selection, some coloured pencils and paper and a collapsible tunnel would be a great combination of options. The more straightforward the activity, and the less pieces involved, the more it will appeal to kids of different ages. Puzzles, climbing equipment and musical instruments are great things to have around, but as long as there are several opportunities for creative play most children will happily occupy themselves.

Don’t forget the magic! Add some whimsy by having the kids cut and arrange flowers as they set the table, or sprinkle some “fairy dust” (sure, glitter is hard to clean up, but life is short) while they play. You can always turn off the TV and throw on some Raffi instead. Have a dance party. Jump on the bed. Go puddle jumping if it’s rainy; a canoe or trail ride if it’s a beautiful day. These are the moments you will all remember later on.

Finally, the best trick of all: if you can swing it, hire a nanny for the afternoon and let her execute your master plan! If your young guests’ mom is a friend of yours, get out the martini shaker or the chocolate or whatever floats your boat. Then, get the hell out of dodge and take a break! Go put your feet up and have a good conversation. Feed your sanity a little.

Coming soon: further explorations on dealing with other people’s nannies, your obligation to other parents hosting your kids’ play dates, correcting or disciplining other people’s children, and whether you should assume your older child’s sibling is invited to that birthday party!

– Samantha Jeffers Agar loves to get her kids laughing and has even been known to sew the odd potato sack.
hair lice

Treating Head Lice

FAM, kids By December 14, 2010 Tags: , , , 1 Comment

Lice are a parasitic infestation of the hair and skin. The most common site of the parasite is the scalp of the head and hair of the host. The insect feeds on the blood of the host and bites from the parasites often cause itching. Yeah, yuck. Cases of this parasitic infestation are widely common in children but the good thing about it is that it is not known to be a vector of any disease.  As parents, we must pay attention not only to the infection, but to the emotional ramifications of acquiring and treating head lice.

kids shoe size chart

Kid’s Shoe Size Chart

FAM, kids By September 15, 2010 1 Comment

Do you ever see a great deal on cute little leather Mary Janes or winter snow boots and then, well, AAAGH.  You can’t remember the exact size of your children’s’ feet! They change so fast – don’t they? Well, with our little cheat sheet Shoe Size Chart, you will be fine.  Cross off their current size as they are wearing it, and you’ll be one step ahead.


Backyard Popsicle Soccer Party

FAM, kids By September 3, 2010 Tags: , , , No Comments

Needing birthday party inspiration?  Summer is the perfect time to come up with unique party ideas, and this one is a keeper.  The Backyard Popsicle Soccer PartyPopsicle sent us a rockin’ duffle bag filled with pylons, soccer ball, gloves for the keeper (goalie) and water bottles.  Oh… and gift certificates for popsicles.  And it gave us an excellent reason to make the husband cut the grass.  Devious. We invited kids with their parents and a couple of cute British soccer coaches doing Challenger Sports Camps in our area.  (Just for the story – really). Voila… we had a party.

summer hydration tips for kids

Summer Hydration Tips for Kids (and parents too!)

FAM, kids By July 7, 2010 Tags: , , No Comments

With temperatures rising, it’s a great time for parents to head outdoors and get active with the family.  but as the kids play, mommies and daddies tend to focus on their children’s needs, neglecting their own bodies as a result. So we thought it would be practical to post some summer hydration tips for kids (and parents too!)

“Only 25%* of parents hydrate properly,” says Dara Duff-Bergeron, mom and personal trainer. “While juggling carpool, volunteering in the classroom and taking care of a sick child, parents often forget to drink fluids and replenish lost vitamins and nutrients.”