Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Talking to the Kids About a Tight Budget

Unless you’ve been in seclusion for the past several months, you certainly know that times are tough for a lot of people. Many families are on a tight budget and must scale back on expenses. Meanwhile, the kids are still clamoring for the latest video game, hottest new toy, or designer clothes. How do you teach the children that your family must stick to a budget? Here are some tips:

Hold a family meeting to explain your situation honestly but optimistically. “Mommy’s office closed down, and Mommy isn’t working there anymore. Mommy’s hoping to find a new job soon, but in the meantime, let’s talk about ways in which we can save some money until Mommy has a new job.” You want your children to have the truth, but don’t scare them unnecessarily.

Promote togetherness. This is a family issue. Make sure the kids know that you’re making sacrifices, too. You’ve given up your daily Starbucks run, are cutting back on clothing purchases, and cutting coupons.

Encourage inexpensive activities. Show your kids that fun doesn’t have to cost a lot. Visit parks, go to the library and local nature center, play flag football in the yard or go bike riding. Check your local newspaper for events that are free or cost very little.

Set limits without guilt. Despite what they might tell you, it won’t be the end of the world for your children if they don’t have the newest video game system. This is a good time to teach them about priorities—food is more important than games—and delayed gratification. These are good lessons to teach your children all the time, not just during an economic crunch.

Keep your calm. When times are tough, you’re going to be stressed. When your child whines for the hundredth time that he wants to go out to eat, it’s easy to lose your cool. Learn techniques for managing your stress. If you don’t think you can talk rationally to your child at a given moment, promise you’ll discuss it later and be sure to follow up.

Start a wish list. When your children want something special, tell them that certain things are not everyday purchases. They are for special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas. A wish list will also help them to see how much they’re really begging for.

Give small. Younger children, especially, are often satisfied by inexpensive items, such as stickers, coloring books, and playing cards. Visit the dollar store when a new toy is warranted.

Issue a challenge. If your kids still have their hearts set on a big purchase, encourage them to brainstorm about ways in which they can raise the money. They might want to offer pet-sitting services to the neighbors or hold a yard sale.

Tough economic times are actually wonderful opportunities to teach your children about frugality, priorities, the great outdoors, overcoming selfishness, and much more. Let your kids know that when you have each other, you have all you really need.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Review: The Baby Name Countdown

Babble recently released its list of “The 33 Worst Celebrity Baby Names,” which included names like Tu Morrow (daughter of Rob Morrow), Fifi Trixibell (daughter of Bob Geldof), Pilot Inspektor (son of Jason Lee), and Kal-El (son of Nicolas Cage). I was surprised to see they left off Tallulah, Rumer and Scout (daughters of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis)! Nobody thinks twice when celebrities give their babies weird names, but most of us would certainly get a few pained expressions or even a few “What were you thinking?” comments if we named our daughter Moxie CrimeFighter, as Penn Jillette did.

Needless to say, the choice of a child’s name is very important. According to Janet Schwegel, author of The Baby Name Countdown, “many parents want a unique name for their child, something that sets them apart.” They may choose an unusual name, like Gwen Stefani recently did when she named her son Zuma, or just an unusual spelling, like Erykah instead of Erika.

So, how do you pick the right one? Schwegel tells us, “It isn’t enough to know what a name means or where it came from; you need to know how popular that name is.” A great place to get that information is in her book, The Baby Name Countdown: 140,000 Popular and Unusual Baby Names. The book is divided into three parts:

Part 1: The Top Names
The Top 100 Girls’ Names by Region
The Top 100 Boys’ Names by Region
The Top 100 Girls’ Names from the Years 2001 to 2006
The Top 100 Boys’ Names from the Years 2001 to 2006
The Top 500 Girls’ Names—Rankings over the Last Century
The Top 500 Boys’ Names—Rankings over the Last Century

Part 2: Popular Names with Popularity Ratings, Origins, and Meanings
Popular Girls’ Names
Popular Boys’ Names

Part 3: Popular and Unusual Names with Popularity Ratings
Girls’ Names—The Complete List
Boys’ Names—The Complete List

I had a lot of fun looking through the names in this book, which have all been compiled from actual birth records. Can you imagine a poor kid heading into school and having to announce her name is Somfechukwu? And I found it interesting that my oldest son’s name, Dylan, means “the sea” in Welsh, because he is currently studying Ocean Engineering in college! My name, Susan, means “a rose,” which has always been my favorite flower. Whether you’re expecting a baby, thinking about one, or even have already finished childbearing, this is a fun and interesting book to look through. (I’d also recommend it to fiction writers who are looking for names for their characters!) The Baby Name Countdown is one of the most comprehensive sources around for choosing names.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Children and Escalators

One of my four-year-old twins and I were heading up the escalator at Barnes & Noble yesterday when he made a wrong move and started tumbling down the stairs! Fortunately, we were still close to the bottom, but his fall down four or five steps was enough to give him some serious cuts and bruises on the bottom of one foot (after his flip-flops came off; see photo) and on one knee. (I’d also like to express my disappointment in the shoppers there who no doubt saw him tumble and heard him screaming in pain, but didn’t bother to see if he was okay.) Fortunately, he is now recovering. I Googled “elevator injuries” later on and now realize how lucky my son was. I saw some really gruesome pictures where children had skin and even fingers or toes ripped off in escalator accidents. I never realized how dangerous escalators can be, especially for children.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not telling you never to go on escalators with your kids! But I do hope, like me, that you’ll be extra careful to ensure their safety whenever you use one. Hang on tightly to your children so they don’t stumble. It can be tricky trying to catch a moving step, as well as step off one. Also, I wouldn’t recommend they wear flip-flops or Crocs on an escalator, as they can become trapped and leave the bare foot exposed.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 7,300 escalator-related injuries occur in the US every year. Most of them are the result of falls, but some of them occurred when clothing or parts of the body became entrapped. Here are some safety precautions recommended by the CPSC:

• Remove drawstrings from your children’s clothing as they can become trapped in escalators. Loose shoelaces, scarves and mittens are also an entrapment hazard.
• Always hold your children’s hand on an escalator. Do not let them sit on the steps or play around an escalator.
• Do not put strollers, carts or walkers on an escalator.
• Face forward and use the handrail.
• Stand in the middle of the step, not on the edge.
• Find out where the emergency shutoff buttons are in case you need to use them. Most are at the top and the bottom of the escalator, on the right side when you’re looking up.

I’m so grateful that my son survived his fall with nothing worse than a painful foot and a new fear of escalators. I know we’ll be much more aware of the risks next time we approach one…although I have a feeling we’ll be heading for the elevators for quite some time!

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Life Is Hard...but Not That Hard!

Whenever I think I’ve got too much work to do -- laundry, meal preparation, cleaning, driving, pet care, child-rearing and much more -- I like to remind myself how fortunate I am to live in today’s times. Women of the past had it so much harder! The following facts reported by Smithsonian magazine were a real wake-up call for me:

Life in the 18th Century

• All cooking was done in or around the fireplace
• Women could not vote, hold public office and, unless widowed, own property in most colonies
• Travel was slow and uncertain: by water, ships relied upon the wind for locomotion; by land, a rider on horseback might hope to cover 30 miles in a day, a passenger in a coach, just 20
• Aside from sunlight, the sole source of heat was fire, usually in an open fireplace; after sunset, illumination was either by moonlight or candlelight
• There was no indoor plumbing: the flush toilet, the bath and the kitchen faucet are 19th-century innovations -- chamber pots, outhouses and buckets were a way of life
• Privacy was a rare privilege for most: people, including children at home and strangers at inns, routinely shared beds
• Aside from a minority of city dwellers, almost everybody was a farmer
• There was no anesthesia for surgery or childbirth
• Every household produced some, and in many cases all, of the candles, soap, foodstuffs and clothing it required
• The medieval notion of the four humors still dominated medical theory, so bloodletting and purging were employed to restore the balance of black and yellow bile, blood and phlegm, and thus, presumably, good health
• The average child had a roughly 50 percent chance of surviving to adulthood

Now, don’t those statistics make you want to count your blessings? All of a sudden, I don’t feel so overworked!

Source: Smithsonian magazine, December 2007

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Giveaway: Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign

When my twins were little and started to show frustration at telling me what they wanted because their speech hadn’t yet caught up with their demands, I began to teach them how to use sign language. Since I had never used sign language before, we bought several videotapes designed to teach sign language to young children (and their parents). At first, the twins didn’t seem to get the “connection” between signing and communication merely by watching the videos, but as I continued to reinforce the lessons with them through our interactions, I was amazed at how quickly they caught on.

When the twins started signing, their signs were very primitive as they didn’t have the hand coordination to do them properly. But as they matured, their signs got more and more recognizable. Some of their favorite signs included “more,” “cookie,” “book” and “cheese” (naturally, the things they wanted most!). Best of all, it was wonderful to see the look of satisfaction on their faces when they knew they had been understood. For instance, before they knew sign language, Austen would point to things he wanted and hum. If he pointed to the cupboard and made noise, I would have to guess at what he might want, which got very frustrating for both of us. But when he made the sign for “cookie,” and I said, “Oh, you want a cookie?” he jumped up and down with glee because he had been understood! Toddlers naturally use a crude form of sign language merely by pointing to things they want or raising their arms when they want to be picked up. Therefore, teaching sign language is just providing them with more gestures to aid in their communication.

I always recommend that parents try sign language with their babies and toddlers, and I recently came across a great new book and CD called Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign by Anne Meeker Miller, Ph.D. This book focuses on the signs that children can use during those times when they really need something, such as milk at dinnertime or their blanket at bedtime. The book features more than 90 signs arranged alphabetically, along with photos for demonstrating how to do each sign. The CD is filled with wonderful songs that allow you to practice signing with your child. Five songs are about food and meals, five are about bedtime, and two are lullabies. You can bring the CD along with you in the car to get to know the songs, and then use them with your signs when you get home. It’s both entertaining and educational!

Dr. Miller writes in Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign, “In groundbreaking research, child psychologists Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn found that using sign language with children at an early age supports the natural development of their ability to speak. Babies who learn sign experience less frustration and often verbalize sooner than their peers, and most importantly, sign language strengthens the bond between caregiver and child.” So, by learning sign language with your child, you’re not only improving his language skills, but you’re building a closer relationship through your interactions. Best of all, it’s fun! I can still see my twins’ little hands making the cookie sign, which looks like you’re using a cookie cutter on cookie dough!

Would you like to win a copy of this remarkable book and CD? Just leave a comment below telling me why you’d like a copy by October 1, 2008. I’ll randomly pick a winner from the posted comments. One comment per person please, but if you add a link to this blog, Susan Heim on Parenting, on your blog or website, and write back to tell me about it, you’ll receive a bonus entry. You can learn more about Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign at www.babysingandsign.com.

Congratulations to Kam, who won the Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign book and DVD! Go say hello to Kam on her blog, Blueberries & Peanut Butter!

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Book Review: I Brake for Meltdowns

I’ve always thought that taking care of babies is a breeze compared to raising toddlers and preschoolers. Parents would definitely have it much easier if there was a “baby boot camp” for children between their first and fifth birthdays. Although these are wondrous years of learning and discovery, they are often overshadowed by power struggles, tantrums, and battles. It can be a very frustrating time for both parents and children. As I’m currently in the throes of raising twin four-year-old boys, I immediately jumped at the chance to read I Brake for Meltdowns: How to Handle the Most Exasperating Behavior of Your 2- to 5-Year-Old. Finally, a book has been written to help me cope when life with little ones makes me wonder if I’m truly adequate for the job of parenting!

What I really like about this book is that it’s practical. It gives real solutions for how to handle very specific scenarios, such as when your child:

• has a tantrum in the store
• becomes aggressive toward playmates
• clings to you when you leave
• won’t stay in bed
• won’t sit at the dinner table
• refuses to eat
• takes off his diaper
• won’t go in the potty
• bites other children
• uses offensive words
• misbehaves while traveling
• sucks his thumb
• won’t get his fingernails clipped
• won’t get into the car seat

…and much, much more! In fact, the list is so extensive that you’re sure to find a solution to your particular parenting problems. Written by Michelle Nicholasen—a mom who had five children in five years (including triplets)—and Barbara O’Neal—a mother of three children (and three grandchildren) who has worked with preschool-aged children for more than 40 years—the authors bring a wealth of wisdom and experience to the table. I plan to initiate many of their strategies with my own kids, who have recently been heard to call each other “potty head” and whine when they don’t get their way! Every parent with a 2- to 5-year-old needs to pick up I Brake for Meltdowns. It will give them hope that they can survive the trials of raising toddlers and preschoolers!

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Families in Baton Rouge Are Still Reeling from Hurricane Gustav

The good news about Hurricane Gustav is that it was no Katrina. New Orleans fared far better this time. However, that doesn’t mean that Louisiana families haven’t been adversely affected by the storm. Angelice Tyson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sent me the following update on her family’s plight:

It’s two days post-Gustav and still no energy (hoping to have it in a week, if we are lucky). Thanks to portable generators, we are somewhat comfortable. One window A/C unit and some fans do wonders for south Louisiana heat & humidity.

So, what is next? To stay cool we need gas for the generator. The lines at the gas stations are an hour or more, and grocery stores are just beginning to open, not to mention they have nothing on the shelves. Thank goodness for churches that give away free hot meals and supplies. We enjoyed a nice warm lunch today.

Kids are getting used to the new routine. It certainly was not what we were planning on this week. Yesterday was supposed to be the first day at their new school. Needless to say, they have a lot of energy to burn off. Oh, how I wish I was 10 years younger with three toddlers. :o)

We spend our evenings cleaning up the yard, kids included. Good quality family time for us. Funny how I have time for cleaning on a daily basis and other things. No TV or internet = more time to do things around the house.

Okay, my thumbs are tired. Looking forward to the days ahead. Thank you for your prayers.

Angelice is very grateful that her family and her home are safe, but it will be a while before their lives will get back to normal. Angelice is the owner of Gemini Greetings, a line of greeting cards for families of twins and multiples, so she’s hoping to get back to business very soon! Please lend your emotional and/or financial support to families like the Tysons who were in the path of Hurricane Gustav.

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