Back to School Tips!

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The countdown to back to school has started, in some states, children have already returned. Regardless of whether your child is attending in person or virtually, things look a little different this year, but there is no reason it cannot be a fun and exciting event! In typical years, many children have anxiety and frustrations about the returning school year: no one wants to let go of the summer fun! This year both you and your child may be facing some extra emotions and obstacles, but that does not mean the new school year should be dreaded. Here are my top tips on how to make the start of the 20/21 school-year a positive one!

Back to School Shopping!

Every child loves back to school shopping: new clothes, new materials, new backpack. Even if your child will be attending school virtually this fall, there is no reason they can’t have a snazzy new outfit for the first day! They will be connecting with their friends again, meeting their teacher for the first time, and just like adults who work from home, getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself and makes you more productive! Giving your child the chance to pick out a new outfit and dress up is a guaranteed way to make them excited about school.

Talk to Them

Children have worries and fears just like we do, and even if your child seems completely relaxed and ready to go back, they most likely have a concern about something. It could be having to wear a mask all day, or their sport season being postponed, or how are they going to talk to their friends if they have to stay 6 feet apart? If your child is attending virtually, maybe they are concerned because their computer skills are lacking or they had a hard time reading the content in the spring, or perhaps they’re sad they still won’t see their friends face to face.


You can’t force a child to talk to you, but you can let them know the doors of communication are open. Asking a simple question like, “Hey, do you have any concerns about school you want to talk about?” lets your child know you are there to listen. Validate that it is ok to feel nervous or anxious or mad and that you are willing to listen if they decide they want to talk about ANYTHING.

Prepare Them

This year will present a new list of challenges, so send them into battle prepared for success. Teach them how to wash their hands adequately and express the importance of it. This is important for little ones as well as teens who might brush it off. As the mother of two boys, my favorite response to asking them to wash their hands post-bathroom is, “But I didn’t touch anything.” For little kids, have them sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday Twice through. Post reminders in the bathroom with pictures or invest in a timer or a flashing light to make it fun.

Go over mask-wearing, the proper way to wear it, and why we wear it. Treat it like any other article of clothing that is required for school like shoes or a shirt. Buy them masks that they want to wear! This can be an opportunity to let them express their personality. Assure them that all the other children will be wearing one too, so while it may seem odd at first, it will eventually just be another part of getting ready for school.

Play Time!

Get them outside and playing! Regardless if your child is attending face to face classes or virtual classes it is A LOT of sitting. Children in elementary school need AT LEAST 1 hour of active play every day. If they haven’t had the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy in an after care program or with a sitter, let them play when you pick them up. In fact, make it a rule that they play! Homework can wait, their brains need a break and their bodies need exercise.

Fun and Simple Outdoor Play Options

Baby Pool or Sensory tub filled with water, plastic measuring cups, large eye droppers, rubber ducks (or other floating animal) and small plastic watering can

Backyard scavenger hunt: provide them with a list of things to check off or find

Bikes, Trikes and Skateboards – if you have a safe area for them to ride and play then use it!

Sprinklers – While it’s warm enough hook up a sprinkler to the hose and let them run free

Hopscotch, Jump ropes, Bean Bag Toss, Ladder Golf, Soccer Ball (speaks for itself)

Create an obstacle course using ropes, stepping stones, a balance beam, log or 2 x 4

Beach Ball Challenge, how long can they keep it in the air!

Give Them Space

Give your child a dedicated area to work, especially if they will be doing virtual schooling. Consistency is key, so create a space for them to work and make it theirs (at least while they’re working). Make it comfortable and quiet, and add little touches that make it more personal such as a picture of their grandma, some figurines of their favorite toys, or a poster of their favorite movie. If you have the room to create an area in their bedroom, I highly suggest it, just make sure what’s in their room won’t be a distraction from their work! The idea is to provide a safe and consistent space where your child can get their work done with little to no interruptions.

Office Hours

If, like many parents, you will be working from home with your kids also home, set office hours. This can work with children ages 5 and up, but it will take some practice and consistency. Set your office hours for 2-3 in the morning and 2-3 in the afternoon and explain to your children that you are working. This is an interruption-free time, emergencies excluded (their brother taking their nerf gun is not an emergency). Create an office hours sign that you can hang near your workspace to let your children know you are not to be disturbed. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t mean the house will be silent. Instead teach your children how to use a respectable volume in their voice while playing. They are going to need reminders at first, probably for a week or two. Remain firm, consistent but not harsh. If you are going to be on a call or Zoom chat, give your children a heads up that you will be doing so, so there are no unexpected surprises. In-between your office hours lavish your kids with the attention they need and want. Play a game, go for a walk, or make and eat lunch together. You need to take a break just as much as they need some mom or dad time!

Expect the Unexpected

None expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected COVID or for it to last this long. Be ready and willing to remain flexible. If your son is having a really rough day and could use some extra snuggles, cut your office hours short that afternoon. When your daughter has come home on the 5th day of school and lost her 3rd mask, don’t yell and berate, this is new for her too. If your kids consistently say they’re bored after school, look at what toys they no longer play with an consider investing in some new outdoor gear. As families, we have already spent the last six months adapting the way we do things, how we function as a family and how we are navigating this thing called life, and we will continue to adapt. You’ve Got This! You Are an Amazing Parent.

Choices in 2020 (and I am not talking the election)

Children & Choices

Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?

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You’re Doing it Wrong

I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.

Realistic Choices

The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.

Limit Options

Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.

Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.

Pick Your Battles

Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?

By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.

To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:

  1. Make Choices Realistic
  2. Be Prepared to Follow Through
  3. Limit Options to 2 or 3
  4. Pick Your Battles
  5. Tantrums Happen, Don’t feed the monster

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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Daughter to Disability; my one of a kind Dad

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My dad was always my number one fan and believed I could accomplish anything and everything. The best piece of advice he gave me was to try. I did not have to be the world’s best ballet dancer or the kid who scored the most goals on the soccer team, but if I was interested in something, I should try. If I hated it or failed, no big deal, I could stop, but only once the initial commitment came to a natural end. I didn’t have to be the best, i just had to try my best.

By encouraging me to carry on and follow through on a commitment, I learned the value of perseverance and honor. Staying true to your word is a valuable trait I hold onto to this day. It also means saying no when you know you can’t follow through. Saying yes to everything because you don’t want to let people down is a slippery slope to go down.

Germany, Summer 1996

I have many fond memories of my dad as a child, playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, being thrown in the air in the pool, and him allowing me and my sisters to style his hair with barrettes until he looked fabulous according to under ten selves. My dad was a loving but firm dad. He gave support, guidance, love, but we also knew when we crossed the line and would be subjected to a good old fashioned “dad talk.”

My dad was an FBI agent, which made him one of the coolest dads to have among my friends. I remember the sense of pride I felt when he would be a chaperone on a field trip come in for career day. I looked up to my dad in a way, and I imagine most young girls do. I was never a popular kid, geeky, awkward, and little chunky, but when my dad was around, I felt like the most popular kid in school.

Two of my favorite memories of my dad are related to those “serious” topics of drugs and dating. I remember he was sitting at our giant desktop computer in the living area, and I was in the kitchen microwaving something, and on the T.V., a commercial about talking to your kids about drugs came on. My dad looked up from the computer and said, “Do you do drugs?” I was roughly thirteen or fourteen at the time, I said, “No.” and he replied “Ok, good.” and that was that. The second was that he used to tell my older sister that he used his FBI skills to track any guy she dated. I was pretty sure this was false at the time, but I remember thinking, “Yikes!”

My dad had an excellent sense of humor and loved to pull our legs, as the expression goes. In the summer of ’92, we took a family vacation to Washington, D.C., and among the famous sites, he arranged a private tour of FBI headquarters for us. Little did I know that 15 years later, I would be living in D.C. and working two blocks from these same headquarters. During the tour, we were taken down to a basement level and told that this is where the Xfiles were kept!! It wasn’t until several years later that I realized there were indeed no Xfiles…. at least that we know of 😉

2008

My dad loved Indiana Jones, MacGyver, Crime dramas, Andrew Llyod Webber musicals, playing his guitar, and supporting his three girls in all our adventures, whether sports, musical theater, or learning a new instrument. He built us a treehouse and a lemonade stand. We went to Phillies games and out on daddy-daughter dates.

Circa 1983

In my early teens, my dad was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a condition being made more mainstream recognizable by the new T.V. show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. PSP is a condition that slowly creates the loss of your motor skills. It affects one’s ability to eat and swallow food, speak, walk, and perform essential functions for yourself. Over the next two decades, my dad held on much longer than any medical expert predicted. He carried on through bouts of pneumonia, a broken hip and pelvis, seizures, and depression. He received the diagnosis in his 40’s, much younger than people are typically affected. But even through this massive change in his and my family’s life, he continued to take joy in life and to be his children’s number one fan.

2012

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to go through this process, to experience the loss of the use of your body, nor would I try. But despite the adversity, my family and my dad had to overcome; I can say I was lucky to have the dad I did.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible men out there that make a difference in a child’s life, your presence matters.

To learn more about PSP please click here.

It’s OK to be scared, I am too.

I was recently researching a writing project, and I came across the term Re-Entry Panic Syndrome. I had not heard of this, and as I read, I began to relate to the feelings being characterized by the syndrome. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge created this name, and it addresses anxiety pertaining to concerns of re-entering the workplace. Dr. Capanna-Hodge is a mental health expert based out of Connecticut. She describes the syndrome as follows, “… it is when feelings of panic come over you like a wave and you can’t leave your home, or you have to return to work or school. You are afraid of leaving your cozy quarantine abode because you don’t want to get sick or feel unsafe.” I totally get that. It is not that I don’t want to be out in public, and I miss my students terribly, but there is a sense of worry and fear about what will happen if I go out?

Being “blessed” with diagnosed anxiety, it made sense to me that I would exhibit some of the symptoms related to Re-Entry Syndrome. I had already been feeling this dread of going back to the world. I am an introvert by nature, and because of that, I have not found quarantine to be as challenging as many others. That, unlike having anxiety, indeed, has been a blessing. We had a COVID-19 related scare in my house recently, just when everything is supposed to be dying down and becoming safer. Thankfully, the test results came back negative. Still, the fact remains, coronavirus is very much alive and thriving in parts of this country, so why would I want to go out?

Add to that, I have young children. And while I understand completely that deaths related to COVID-19 are substantial to the adult side, why take the risk? I do not personally believe I suffer from this syndrome. People I know and love have been working this whole time or have returned to work, but I am decidedly worried and cautious. I would be able to return to work without adverse psychological effects but currently, my children have no one to watch them and nowhere to go. Three of the four summer camps I enrolled my older son in this summer have been canceled, and I have no option for my younger son. It’s not exactly like I can leave a six-year-old boy and nine-year-old boy home during the day… I am sure nothing bad would happen. Oh yeah, it’s also illegal. In the words of Olaf, “This is fine.”

Like anxiety and panic disorders, those who have Re-Entry Panic Syndrome may have shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, difficulty sleeping, mood fluctuation, and irritability. However, the unique symptom is becoming upset, stressed, and worrisome when someone close to them re-enters and goes back to work. If you believe you are suffering from these symptoms, there are many steps you can take to help set your mind at ease. Use disinfectant wipes if you travel via public transportation or in a carpool. Wear your mask as much as you like, even in places it is not required. If it makes you feel mentally secure, then wear it. As we’ve been told all long, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and face. A key point is to remember is germs on electronics. Frequently clean your phone, mouse, TV remote, keypad, etc. If wearing gloves makes you feel safe, then do that too, but please keep in mind wearing gloves and a mask are not a fail-safe prevention system. Gloves serve little to no purpose unless you are taking them off each time you touch something and then wash your hands immediately. When wearing gloves as soon as you touch a surface, any germs that were on that surface are now on your gloves. So guess what? The next thing you touch now has those same germs. I have worked in early childhood for fourteen years; trust me, gloves are not a magical intervention. Please wash your hands.

If you feel you need to talk to someone or may require professional help, you can go to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America or the ADAA’s website. It offers resources and a directory if you want to search for treatment in your area. Providers offer video and/or phone sessions. You can also reach out to the SAMHSA’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-622-4357. Anxiety Anonymous is another resource if you want to reach out and talk to others. They are currently holding daily sessions to which you can call in and participate.

Re-entry panic syndrome, depression, general anxiety, whatever the case may be, it is OK to seek help. The recent situations in America have made us all feel uneasy, broken, confused, angry, and more. To quote my favorite musical, “Into the Woods,” No one is alone. If you know of someone to whom this post may be of value to, please pass it along and share it. For more information on Re-Entry Syndrome, please visit Dr. Capanna-Hodge’s website here.