PLAYguide: Parenting Skills 101

Simplify Your Schedule

Don’t Let A Busy Schedule Wear Your Family Down

Words by Christina Katz

Stress, short-tempers and the seeming inability of the household to function smoothly are typical signals that you may have slightly overdone it in the commitments department.

So, you overscheduled your family. This does not make you a bad person or a poor parent. Your family simply has a voracious appetite for participation. However, it may be time to pull the plug if you’re exhausted or your family is cranky, that’s perfectly OK. There are some specific strategies you can take as a family that will help you slay the activity-overwhelm dragon before anyone gets burned.

Make scheduling a weekly event. Gather the whole family for a weekly snack break to discuss the activities for the upcoming week. Tell everyone to bring their calendars and scheduling tools, if they are old enough to manage their own. Figure out carpooling, play dates, class schedules, cooking/meal planning and whether it is humanly possible to squeeze everything in. Soon, you’ll be kicking each week off strong using the power of good, old-fashioned communication. Listen to your children. If they’re not enjoying a particular after-school class or sport anymore, have them finish out the commitment then allow them to explore other interests. Better yet, allow them to take a break from scheduled after-school activities for a few months.

Create a master calendar. Every person in the family who is old enough to write should have his or her own calendar. Assign one parent as the keeper of the master plan and update it daily. Without a master plan, you are going to lose track of the big picture. Put all your critical to-dos on it. Glance at it in the morning and before bed. Much stress will disappear once one person takes on the role of family dispatcher.

Expect everyone to be responsible. Just because you are the dispatcher, does not mean you should manage schedules for kids who are old enough to do it themselves. Taking responsibilities off your children’s shoulders does not serve them or the family. Who is the weakest link in this scheduling arrangement? Let them know how important good communication is, and then help them figure out a system that works well for them.

Keep priorities straight. If you are following these suggestions and meeting your family commitments still feels unmanageable, then some things are going to have to give. Don’t be afraid to say no to others and yes to yourself. Here’s a suggested priority list by level of importance to your overall happiness: 1. Health (exercise, doctor appointments, nutrition) should come first; 2. Family and friendships should come next; 3. Education and work should come second; 4. Special interest, activities and family outtings should come next.

Let the extraneous go. Here’s the secret to a happy life for you and your family: Don’t do what you think is expected of you. Do what you want to do. Although peer pressure may still be challenging for your kids, it should be a no-brainer for you. You don’t need to do what the Jones family does. You need to do what your family does. Period. The world needs the unique contributions of every member of your family, and no one is going to blossom if everyone is running around like a bunch of followers. So lead by example, and live the life you want to live. Steer your own course, and teach your kids to steer theirs. If you do, your kids will follow your lead and be engaged and happy no matter how busy they are.

Books to Help Simplify Family Life
In your down time, if you have any, you can dream up ways to streamline family life by checking out these books:

Author, journalist and writing coach CHRISTINA KATZ is a mother who has given up the unconscious tendency to mother the whole world around the clock.

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Gender Creative Kids

Coloring outside the gender lines.

Words by Cortney Thekan | Artwork by Erin Stork

When my first child was born, I didn’t give gender much thought. He was a boy, and it was the late ’90s, so I dressed him in a hideous navy onesie emblazoned with “Little Slugger” or something equally conventional. I painted his room blue. I bought him Thomas the Tank Engine toys. A few years later, my second child was born. She was a girl, so I dressed her in lavender seersucker sundresses. I painted her room pink and bought her Care Bears toys.

As it turned out, my daughter loved her Care Bears toys. But by age 3, she was dead set against seersucker sundresses, bellowing, “But I feel so uncomfortable!” while stomping around that pink room with her arms crossed defensively. For nearly a year, she insisted on wearing a baseball cap and a tie wherever she went. My son loved those Thomas the Tank Engine toys with a passion; he memorized the entire catalog at age 2. As a preschooler, he had an equal fervor for The Little Mermaid and Star Wars, running through the house wielding a lightsaber with a red scarf tied around his head (Ariel’s hair, of course). A few years after that, he was Hannah Montana’s biggest fan.

Gender is far more complex than toys and clothes (although that’s part of it), but neither of my kids fit neatly into society’s expectations of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Family members asked questions like, “She won’t wear a dress? Who’s the boss — you or her?” or, “Do you really think you should let him wear that? It’s for girls!” I worried about my kids being teased, or worse, harmed for not following society’s gender rules. I wondered: What does this mean? What will people think? What should I do? What if my child colors outside the gender lines?

What Is Gender?

First, it’s important to understand the distinction between sex and gender. According to Gender Spectrum (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens, sex refers to the physical and biological sex characteristics a person is born with, including genitalia, chromosomes and hormones. Gender is the intricate web that weaves together a person’s biological sex (gender biology); a person’s sense of themselves as being male, female, both or neither (gender identity); and a person’s expressions to the outside world related to their perception of themselves (gender expression).

Most of the time, things work out as we expect. This is a simplification, but it usually works like this: A baby is born. The baby’s sex is determined based on the baby’s external genitals, the world assigns the corresponding gender, and the baby is raised as that gender. So, if a baby is born with a penis, the birth certificate is marked male, the parents raise the baby as a boy, their extended circles of family and friends treat the child as a boy, and most importantly, the child thinks of himself as a boy. He expresses himself (behaviors, clothing, preferences, etc.) the way society expects boys to express themselves. That’s that, right? Not for everyone.

What Our Society Tells Us About Gender

We usually don’t even notice, but society’s gender messages and expectations bombard us constantly. Almost everything in our society is slapped with either a pink or blue sticker — clothes, toys, colors, behaviors — even toilets in some states. Society tells us that we have two choices: You can be a boy, or you can be a girl. This is the binary gender construct. Within this construct, society has specific expectations of how to be a boy or a girl. To be a boy means A, B and C, but never X, Y or Z. If a person strays from these expectations, other people may become uncomfortable or even afraid.

What Does Gender Creative Mean?

So what if a child doesn’t fit into society’s defined gender boxes? What about the boy with a passion for princesses? Or the girl who insists on wearing a Batman costume wherever she goes? What about the child whose biological sex is female but who has insisted since she could talk that the world has it all wrong, and she is actually a boy?

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist and an expert on children and gender, invented a term to describe such children that I think is perfect: gender creative (similar terms include gender nonconforming, gender expansive and gender variant). In her book, Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender Non-Conforming Children, Ehrensaft explains gender creative as, “a developmental position in which the child transcends the culture’s normative definitions of male/female to creatively interweave a sense of gender that comes neither totally from the inside (the body, the psyche), nor totally from the outside (culture, others’ perceptions), but resides somewhere in between.” These kids skip over being squished into society’s defined male or female boxes and instead invent their own sense of gender that comes from their bodies, their minds, and the world they live in.

Dr. Carol Mikulka, a board-certified psychiatrist and founder and director of the Walden Community School in Winter Park, explains, “As with most pioneers and explorers, it is only with time that the rest of the world accepts novel ideas, discoveries and facts that challenge their preconceptions of gender identity and expression. Gender creative children are breaking the bounds of convention, questioning the status quo and showing the determination and courage to experiment and explore all of who they are, want to be and decide to be.”

People who know gender creative children — the children’s parents included — have so many questions (I know I did!). Are these children transgender? Some are. And some children know this from a very young age; others discover this in time. Will these kids grow up to be gay? Some will. Gender identity and sexual identity are not the same thing, and like gender identity, sexual identity is far more complex than the binary construct of just straight or gay. What exactly is this child’s gender? Well, we have to wait and see. It’s our nature to want to classify people right away, but we have to give these children time to figure out who they are on their own.

What I’ve Learned from My Kids

As children often do, my kids challenged me to think differently and consider things I hadn’t before, including my ideas and misconceptions about gender and the prejudice and unfairness in the treatment of gender creative people — especially kids.

See, my daughter rejected most things our society labels “girl stuff.” But people think it’s cute to see a little girl in Vans sneakers and pigtails on a skateboard. Our culture is OK with tomboys — as long as they’re not too masculine, yet another of society’s unwritten gender rules. It was different for my son. People don’t think it’s so cute to see a 5-year-old boy playing dress-up. It was fine for my daughter to wear a tie — adorable, even! — but if my son tied a dishtowel around his waist to fashion a skirt? No way. This made many people uncomfortable. A family friend once chuckled, “What’s he got on? Must be a kilt, right?” My son spun around and responded unequivocally, “No. It’s not a kilt. It’s my skirt.” My friend looked shocked. I stumbled over what to say next, “Umm … yep. That’s his skirt.” But I learned so much watching my son at that moment.

Over time, from the things I got right and from the things I got so, so wrong, I learned the answers to my three biggest questions about raising gender creative kids:

  1. What does this mean? The only person who knows the answer to this question is your child. You may wonder if your child will grow up to identify as LGBTQ+. Maybe. You may wonder if your child is transgender. Maybe. But there is only one way to find the answers to your questions: Listen to your child. Your child is working on figuring out who they are. And if they feel your love and acceptance, they will show you in time.
  2. What will people think? The look of shock on my friend’s face when my son told him he was wearing a skirt and not a kilt? It was the look most people have when they first encounter a gender creative child. Parents of gender creative kids should remember that there was a time when they weren’t sure quite what to say or do either. Most people aren’t intentionally cruel or intolerant; they just don’t understand — at least not yet. Give them a chance. There are people in your child’s life who will do whatever they can to understand your child. Sadly, there will be others who will not, and you will have to accept that they may never change their perspective. You’ll have to decide whether to keep these people in your child’s life or walk away. But if you ask your child to to hide who they are — even if you think you’re protecting them — you perpetuate the message that you and your child have something to hide. You don’t.
  3. What should I do? Find support. Learn more. Speak up. Fear less. Listen closely. Love fiercely. It’s not easy to be a kid — heck, it’s not easy to be an adult. Sometimes it’s difficult to be yourself. Gender creative kids — they just want to be themselves — their true, individual, colorful, beautiful little selves. What should you do? You should help them.
Support Organizations
Recommended Reading
  • The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD
  • Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender Non-Conforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD
  • My Kid Is Gay: A Question and Answer Guide to Everyday Life by Dannielle Owens and Kristin Russo
  • Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
  • Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron

Cortney Thekan lives in Orlando and is the mother of two brilliant, quirky teens. She is a professional writer and editor and serves as PLAYGROUND Magazine’s copy editor.

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Having “The Talk”

When is the right age to talk to your kids about sex?

Words by Angelique Luna

I know what some of you are thinking: Talk about sex with my kid? Never! However, in today’s tech-driven society, we don’t have the luxury of putting off “the talk.” Still, there are suggested guidelines about how much information parents should give at each age.

I thought the ideal age to talk to my daughter about sex was between 13 and 15 years old. In hindsight, I needed to start talking about sex with her when she was 2! From a young age, children need to know about their bodies, boundaries and body image. Not only will this help them develop healthy sexual relationships, but it will also transition over to having healthy relationships in business and with family and friends.

Here are some guidelines on how to handle talking to children about sex. Be prepared; you never know when it will come up! You should have a game plan so you don’t miss a teachable moment. While there are many books and resources out there, be sure you have an actual conversation with your child rather than just handing them a book. Try to make the conversation as natural as possible. And remember, even when you don’t think they’re listening, they are.

Infancy: Up to 2 Years Old

Toddlers should know the proper scientific names of all the body parts. Vagina and penis are not dirty words! Use them often and without hesitation. A very natural time to talk about body parts is during bathing. Try taking turns with the washcloth. Say, “I’ll clean your feet and hands, and you wash your face and vagina.” There — you said “vagina.” See? It’s no big deal!

Early Childhood: 2 to 5 Years Old

Children should understand the basics of reproduction: a man and a woman make a baby together, and the baby grows in the woman’s uterus. Again, use correct scientific names.

This is a perfect time to teach children that their body is their own. Teach them the difference between a good touch and bad touch. Never force them to do something they are uncomfortable with, like hug Aunt Marie who smells like cigarettes. By teaching them that they have a voice about their bodies, they feel more comfortable to tell an adult if someone is doing something bad to them.

Book Resources

  • Everyone Has a Bottom by Tess Rowley
  • Let’s Talk About You and Me Series by Robie H. Harris
  • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

Middle Childhood: 5 to 8 Years Old

Children should be taught the basics about their body and all its parts. They will begin puberty toward the end of this age span. A number of children will experience some pubertal development before age 10. Their bodies will slowly begin to change, and they need to know how and why. This give kids the foundation of sex education that will naturally build into what their body parts are used for.

Children’s understanding of human reproduction should continue. This may include the role of sexual intercourse. It’s best to stick to the science of the matter at this age. They can start to connect the dots by learning why women and men have different body parts.

    Book Resources

  • What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg
  • It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris
  • What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown

Tween Years: 9 to 12 Years Old

This stage is a challenge because tweens’ maturity levels vary greatly. As their parent, you will need to decide the best age to teach your tween about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. Before your child finishes eighth grade, you can begin the conversation about the emotions involved in a sexual encounter. They should understand what makes a positive relationship and what makes a negative one, especially during the middle school years when many of them begin “dating.”

Parents should watch the documentary Miss Representation. This excellent documentary provides critical information about how sex and sexuality are portrayed in the media. Use this information to teach your tweens about whether the images they see in the media are true/false, realistic/unrealistic, or positive/negative. Emphasize consent and boundaries, which are critical for safety.

    Book Resources

  • Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
  • Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff: A Guide to Growing Up by Jacqui Bailey
  • It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris

It’s a lot to take in. The key is to remember that it’s best that children learn about sex from a parent. It’s even better if that parent has a healthy sexual relationship and body image themselves. If you don’t, you have your own work to do to be a good role model for your child. Take charge for a happier, healthier child today!

Angelique Luna is a sex education advocate, coach, educator and entertainer. She is mom to her daughter, Diva (a nickname), and believes that education is essential in keeping our children safe. Visit her at

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Science of Parenthood : The Book for Parents who Love to Laugh

dr-oz-header-3 Author Norine Dworkin-McDaniel has parenting down to a science– a funny science. From her own experience and that of others comes Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, a book that highlights the moments that just about any parent can relate to. Dworkin-McDaniel spoke to PLAYGROUND Magazine about the book ahead of her live reading at Orlando Science Center on November 7th (more info on that below!) Here is what she had to say about her work:

PLAYGROUND: What sparked the idea for Science of Parenthood?
Dworkin-McDaniel: That was actually my son Fletcher. He’s 10 now and in middle school, but when he was in second grade, he came home from school talking about one of Newton’s laws of force and motion. As he explained over dinner that An object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an external force, that instantly made me think about him with his video games. He’d sit on the couch and play Minecraft all day if I let him. I quickly jotted down, Newton’s First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest until you want your iPad back. A little while later I posted that on Facebook. It got a good laugh from my friends, so I started posting other parenting “observations,” giving them a math or science twist, like Sleep Geometry Theorem: A child will always sleep perpendicular to any adult sleeping next to them.

Newton's Law

Friends were telling me that they really liked the posts. But I knew that these “observations” would be even more fun if they were illustrated. At the same time, I was dialing back my magazine writing and looking for something else to do. I called my friend Jessica Ziegler in Denver and asked if she wanted to illustrate a book of these science-y observations. Now when Jessica tells this story, she says she spent much of that phone call trying to figure out how to say No way because it sounded like a lot of free work and no actual money. But as we talked, she says, she could see the cartoons in her head. And by the end of the call, not only was she was all in, but she’d secured our URL, our Facebook page and Twitter account. In fact, it was Jessica’s idea to start a blog and Facebook page first, and then come out with a book. Which is exactly what we did. We developed our material and built an audience for our humor on our blog and Facebook page. And four years later, here we are. And we’ve been blown away by the response. We love it when people see one of our cartoons or read one of our satires, and say, “Are you in my house? Because that just happened to me!”

P: Who is this book written for?
D: Parents: Expecting parents. New parents. Veteran parents. Step-parents. Single parents. Grandparents. Our humor really resonates with parents of every stripe. If you’ve ever changed a sodden diaper or despaired of ever sleeping, showering or digging your living room out from layers of plastic toys again, you’ll find a lot to laugh about in our book. It’s also great for teens. Research shows our book is 99% effective as a contraceptive.

P: This is not your average parenting manual. How is Science of Parenthood unique?
D: We didn’t actually set out to write a parenting how-to manual. We set out to write a book that would make parents laugh, but in the process we created what several reviewers described as one of the most honest parenting guides out there.

Our humor lives in the pretty sizable gap between what our expectations about parenting are (think about those lovely Pampers commercials) … and the brutal, smack-you-in-the-face reality that parenting actually is. But what makes our book, our humor, unique is our spin — we use math and science concepts to “explain” the ridiculous situations otherwise capable adults find themselves in as a result of having kids. And, like our blog, our book is heavily illustrated. Interspersed with the writing are our trademark cartoons along with flowcharts, pie charts, Venn diagrams, crazy-looking algebraic equations that calculate things like when you’ll get your grownup social life back and bar graphs. My favorite graph is the Beverage-To-TV Index that illustrates how much booze it takes to get through various preschool TV shows and movies. For instance, you can get through anything by Pixar with a glass of water. But by the time you’re watching Caillou, you’re pounding tequila shots.

P: How is the book laid out?
D: We had so much fun with this. The book is laid out like a snarky textbook of sorts. We have four sections, representing the core sciences — biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics — and within each section we cover the parenting topics that appropriate for that particular science. So, in our Biology section, for instance, we’ve got satirical pieces on the “evolution” of Mom’s Sex Drive and the “classification” of different types of moms while in our Physics section, we’ve got humor on explosive toddler tantrums and our Math section is filled with humor about all the money parents spend on kids. One of the nice things about the book — and this was absolutely intentional — is that it’s filled with quick reads, quick hits of humor, that you can pick up and put down and not have to worry about reading in order. We know moms and dads don’t have a lot of time for themselves. Everything can be read in the time it takes to quickly pee, before the kids come banging on the bathroom door.

P: What do you want readers to take away from Science of Parenthood?
D: Look, we love our kids, we love being moms. Parenting can be wondrous and exciting and delightful and awe-inspiring. But it also comes with graduate level frustration and hefty doses of public humiliation. One of my son’s favorite stories about when he was a baby happened when he was about 9 months old, and I was trying to make like I had it all together as a new mom while we were in California for a cousin’s wedding. We’d gone down to the pool at the hotel, and I had him in a swim diaper to take him in the pool. That’s when I discovered that swim diapers are not absorbent — at all. I went to lift him out of the stroller and he was sitting in a puddle of pee. Then when I went to change his diaper, he peed all over me, spraying like a firehose. I was waving my arms, trying to block the spray. All around me, my cousins are dying, they think this is so funny. At the time, I did not. But now, it’s a hilarious story, one that my son loves to hear and I love to tell.

Toxic Shock

They say comedy is tragedy plus time. For parents, I’d change that to comedy is humiliation plus time. So why does this matter? Because there’s a lot of anxiety for this generation of parents. Parents are afraid that they’re doing it all wrong, that they’re screwing up their kids and, at least for moms, we hear a lot of anxiety that everyone else has it all figured out while they are failing miserably. And it’s just not so. Some days we all have it figured out. And some days we all are failing miserably. But we’re none of us alone. We’re all going through the same things and we have the same self-doubts and fears and frustrations. When we can share those things, parenting becomes less daunting. Every parent is pretty much in the same boat, and knowing that can help us take some of the stress off ourselves. And being able to find the humor in the frustration makes it a lot easier to get through. We have a cartoon in the book called Toxic Shock Syndrome: A parents psychological state on discovering that her tot has gotten his diaper off and smeared the walls, crib, bedding and himself with poop. That actually happened to me — twice. In one day. In the moment, it was an absolutely disgusting mess. Now, I can riff on my son’s “artistry.” “Look at those bold strokes! We call this his Brown Period,” I say when I’m reading. It always gets the biggest laughs.

See a live reading of Science of Parenthood!

  • When: November 7th, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Orlando Science Center – Digital Adventure Theater
    777 E. Princeton Street, Orlando
  • What: Live reading of Science of Parenthood with co-author Norine Dworkin-McDaniel.
  • Event is open only to Science Center members. Not a member? Click Here for info.

About the Author:

ndm_solo-0292_reduced Longtime freelance writer turned “parenting snarkologist,” Norine Dworkin-McDaniel has written for just about every women’s magazine you can buy at the newsstand. She is co-creator of the blog Science of Parenthood and co-author of Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations (She Writes Press), winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Gold Benjamin Franklin Award for Parenting & Family and Foreword Reviews’ Silver IndieFab Award for Humor. Named one of TODAYParents Funniest Parents of the Year, Norine’s humor is routinely featured on Huffington Post as well as on Upworthy, Bored Panda, POPSUGARMoms and She’s a contributor to several humor anthologies, including Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures In Breastfeeding (Demeter Press). She lives in Winter Garden with her husband and son. Follow her on Science of Parenthood, Facebook and Twitter.

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Saying Goodbye

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Saying Goodbye
The Dreaded School Drop-Off 

Words by Amy Zolessi 

School’s here, and it is time to say goodbye to summer. For some families, school drop-off can be daunting. Are the crying, pleading and tears too much to handle?

The key to peaceful and happy drop-offs is to build a routine. The brain is pattern-seeking, and routines are patterns. Routines soothe the lower centers of the brain and reduce unwanted behaviors. The more patterns (routines) you provide, the better your child can focus his or her brain energy on new learning instead of worrying about what will happen next.

Here are some tips for building a routine for a stress-free drop-off: 

  • Explain how it will go down
    As you drive to school, lay out exactly what your child will do when he gets out of the car. For example, say, “You’ll put your bag away, say hi to the teacher, give mommy a kiss and a hug, and wave to me when I drive away.”
  • Hold Hands
    Hold your child’s hand and walk into school rather than carry her. It’s one less step you’ll need to make to detach your anxious child. If you carry her, hand her to the caregiver while you leave to easy the transition.
  • Use the same words every day
    Make your goodbye connection a ritual so it is the same goodbye kiss, hug and words each day.
  • Find familiar faces
    If possible, leave your child with the same teacher each morning and say, “(Teachers name) will keep you safe today!”
  • Don’t sneak out
    No one likes to be ditched at the door. Plus, doing this will leave your kiddo feeling abandoned and unsure if or when you’ll come back. Instead, let your child know when you will return (after snack, nap, etc.)

Remember: Kids feed off your energy, your confidence and your calmness. Your babies are in safe hands, so breath. You’ve got this! Just follow these tips, and soon your child will be skipping into class, and you’ll be skipping into Starbucks!


Interested in learning more?
Upcoming fall parent workshops begin at the end of August at these Winter Park schools:
First Congregational Preschool
Methodist School of Early Education
Walden Community School
Register for the workshops at


AMY ZOLESSI is a mom to three young boys and a national certified instructor for Conscious Discipline. She travels around the country and the state offering parents and schools workshops. Conscious Discipline is a registered trademark of Loving Guidance Inc. Concepts adapted from the Conscious Discipline program with permission. 


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Summer Love

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Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
Words by Jennifer Jones, MS, NCC/NCSC

Parenting 101: FIRST CRUSH

Ahh… your first crush. Maybe it was on a schoolmate; perhaps it was on a celebrity or rock star. Or maybe, like my son, it was on a teacher. Yep, a teacher. For my 5 year old son, it all started with an obsession with music class. He started talking about this class constantly, which was out of character for him. The proverbial “School was fine, Mom” was his usual response after school pickup. Soon after I noticed this, I also spotted other changes in his behavior. Instead of asking how many more days until Friday, he asked how many more days until Tuesday. He had his older brother help him comb his hair, but only on Tuesdays. He also wore a belt (although not required by school uniform policies for kindergartners).

Finally, I decided to clear the air and ask him why he was so interested in music class. His eyes opened wide, he clenched his lips, and he clammed up! He hid under a chair and very irritably responded, “I don’t want to tell you, and I don’t want to talk about it!” It was crystal clear that my son had his first official crush- on his music teacher!


So what is a crush? Crushes are a very common occurrence among boys and girls alike and can happen very early in a child’s life. According to Dr. John Chirban, crushes can be a child’s first “introduction to their feelings that are a part of every healthy relationship.” Crushes seem to affect their whole body, emotions, feelings and desires. Dr. Chirban also explains in his book How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex that crushes are often not grounded in reality. This aspect really hit home for me. I, like many girls my age, hung life-sized posters of John Stamos, Bruce Springsteen, or even New Kids on the Block (ouch, that one hurts) on my bedroom wall. I spent hours daydreaming about meeting them and falling in love. Then, one day, it hit me. These stars weren’t going to fall in love with me, but it felt very real. It was real for you when you were a child, and it’s real for your child now.


Crushes can be very overwhelming to your child; after all, this may be the first time he or she has felt this way toward another person. Your response to your child’s first crush will impact how your child approaches conversations with you regarding feelings and interactions on future relationships. In the case of my son, who was hiding under the chair, I said, “It looks as if you feel embarrassed about liking your music teacher in this way. Did I get that right?” Quietly, with his head down, tears welling up in his eyes, he said, “Yes.” He continued in a sharp manner, still under the chair, ‘I think she’s pretty. I just like her, but I don’t want anyone to know, and I don’t know why this happened.” As you can see by his response, he was totally confused about why he feels this way. It was causing some roller-coaster emotions for him. Part of me wanted to say, “Really?” Yet, I knew I needed to be intentional with my response.

How do you respond? What does your child need from you? Put down the phone, get up from the computer, turn off the TV, and give your child undivided attention. What he or she is feeling is real. Your child needs to know you care enough to not be distracted. The child also needs to know that it’s OK and normal to feel this way. If siblings come in unexpectedly, ask for privacy. Remember, these are pure, raw and real feelings. These feelings range from fear and confusion to disappointment and excitement. Your child needs to know that you won’t judge and ridicule him or her for feeling this way. This will help build trust for any future conversations.

Next, you must be empathetic. You must be able to understand the child’s perspective, whether he or she is 5 years old or 14 years old. Think about how it may feel to have these strange, new feelings toward another person. It’s perfectly OK to share an appropriate, positive and personal experience with your child to let him or her know that it is completely normal to have these feelings. Your experiences do affect your responses, so be conscious of and intentional with your person story. Finally, offer your support and guidance. Let your child know that you are willing to talk about his or her feelings, as well as offer guidance on how to handle them when around this person. Dr. Chirban suggests shapes the understanding of realistic relationships. Crushes can, and often do, go on for a long time. They usually involve investment of real emotions. Your child deserves a well-intentioned and sincere response from a parent.


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War Stories

Originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Playground Magazine.

Kanagawa, Japan

I’m writing to you from our bomb shelter, or at least that’s what is feels like since we never leave the house anymore. I am documenting the battle in hopes that other new parents can take solace in knowing they are not in the trenches alone.
Written by Jason Skipper. 

Torture Chamber                         21 January 2008, 0300 HRS
Operation ‘Desert Parenthood’ is no more than 48 hours old and we have officially lost the battle. We’ve dug in for a long war. The responsibilities of a newborn have hit us hard and fast. Wide-eyed and shell-shocked, we are up at 3 a.m. swaying back and forth with our crying baby. “Medic! We need some sleep here, STAT!” If we make it out of this, I am writing Senator Mel Martinez to insist that sleep deprivation officially be listed as an unlawful ac of torture.


Code Violation                              24 February 2008, 0400 HRS
I am beginning to think we should have packed more food. Earlier, I decided to call in reinforcements- my buddy Steve. But things weren’t right; he was fidgety and avoiding eye contact. Then I had a moment of clarity. I was sitting next to my wife while my infant son was “eating dinner.” Occasionally, there was a flesh-flash that would make the FCC knock down my door. Turns out, my buddy was doing everything in his power to keep from violating “Military Code Section IV, Paragraph II” – Though shalt not look at thy brother’s wife’s naked breast. It seems my son is not only sucking milk, he’s also sucking the fun right out of the room.


Battle Wounds                              5 March 2008, 0245 HRS
The scars of these battles may not be as dramatic as missing limbs, but trust me… they exist. I always thought a ‘tick’ was something you pulled off a dog. Well it turns out anyone can grow a ‘tic’ of their own. Combine a total lack of sleep, an abundance of loud crying, then mix is some fiscal fallout and BAM! My eyelid moves on its own, as though it were trying to drag the rest of my body to bed. (Without much luck, might I add)


Days of Yore                                  12 March 2008, 1900 HRS
As the battles grind on, I long for the days of lounging in Longwood outside of Tijuana Flats with endless time on my hands. I used to think the only thing I could fit into 30 minutes was vegging in front of the TV. With 30 minutes free now? My drill sergeant (wife) kicks into high gear and I can change a diaper, clean the kitchen, have sex, and take a nap. Please spare what is left of my manhood while considering which activity takes the most time.


Mutiny                                              20 March 2008, 1100 HRS
We are starting to feel the effects of long-term exposure to ware. When you’re pushed this far, your nerves are fried and then re-fired. A simple comment like “Honey, the diapers go on the second shelf…” descends into a sleep-deprived frenzy of foul-mouthed insanity. “Wait! We’re letting it get to us…” Like our baby is some foreign agent breaking us down. Huddled in the corner of his room, we make incoherent plans for escape, “You sneak first, if he cries, don’t look back for me, just RUN!” No amount of technology can help us; battery powered swings, vibrating bouncers, event the best 007 gadgets are all rendered useless when confronted with the crying baby.


On rare occasions when I do escape the bomb shelter, you can spot me carrying my son down Park Ave., and you’ll see my new found strength in action. Women swoon to his coos, they cannot resist his tiny toes and fingers. His giggle is like some sort of primordial woman-call. Although I am sworn to use my powers for good, I wear him like a badge of honor. This little guy is worth every backbreaking, eye-twitching minute.

The battle rages on… in my home, and in the home of new parents everywhere. However, the future of our children is worth the fight.


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Your 2015 Parenting Checklist


17 Resolutions to Make This the Year of Conscious Parenting

We have the best intentions, but most of us parent on autopilot more than we’d like. Here, Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, shares 17 resolutions that will help you to bring consciousness to your parenting in 2015.

As parents most of us have the right intentions, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life, it’s difficult to parent positively. As a result, a lot of our interactions with our kids are reactive. According to Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, it’s important to become more aware of our parenting behaviors.

“Just like professional development and getting your finances in order, becoming a more conscious parent involves identifying areas in which you need to improve and keeping those goals at the front of your mind,” says Klebanov, coauthor of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. “As we enter into a new year, it’s the perfect time to become more intentional about how we do and don’t want to be when we’re with our children.”

Here, she shares a list of 17 things you can do to parent more consciously in 2015. (“Remember, no parent is perfect, and we all make mistakes,” she reminds. “These items are meant to be gentle reminders, not indictments! You might even find it helpful to print this list out and post it on the fridge or bathroom mirror as a daily tickler.”)

In 2015, I resolve to:

  1. Stop spanking. Many of us grew up being spanked, and it’s an easy response when a child is misbehaving. “While spanking can get the desired results in the short term, the truth is, there are no long-term benefits, and it can lead to quite a few issues down the road, including adversely impacting cognitive development and behavior,” Klebanov comments.
  2. Stop fighting in front of the kids. To be clear, Klebanov isn’t referring to basic constructive arguing, which can serve as a good lesson to youngsters, but to arguments that involve put-downs, name-calling, insults, or threats. “This is a negative, destructive communication pattern you don’t want to model to your children,” Klebanov comments. “Seeing parents fight is incredibly stressful to kids and can spark feelings of fear and anxiety that last long after Mom and Dad have made up.”
  3. Model kindness and compassion. We all say we want to raise kids who are kind and compassionate—but be honest: How often do you demonstrate those values in action? “Kids notice things like whether you’re nice or rude to the cashier, whether you help or ignore others who are less fortunate, and how you respond when someone makes a mistake,” Klebanov notes. “The values that stick will be the ones you live, not the ones you preach about.
  4. Back away from teasing, yelling, and threatening. To your child, these behaviors are demeaning and sometimes frightening. And long-term, they negatively affect kids’ self-esteem, social skills, and even academic skills. “It’s important to limit your expressions of anger toward your kids, especially for behaviors that are developmentally appropriate—even if they make you feel frustrated or angry,” Klebanov says. “Go to therapy if necessary.”
  5. Promptly and lovingly respond to my baby’s cries. Science has shown that a caregiver’s signals and availability are critical in infancy because they directly impact the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development. “Even if you’re tired, busy, or frustrated, it’s very important to promptly respond to your baby’s distress in a positive, supportive, understanding, and compassionate way. Don’t leave infants to cry.”
  6. Criticize less. Parental criticism comes from a good place. We want our children to learn, improve, develop good habits, avoid mistakes, and generally be the best they can be. But we don’t always stop to consider the impact our criticism has on their self-image and confidence. “This year, strive to be more sensitive of what you’re criticizing, how often you’re criticizing, and whether or not it’s constructive or destructive,” Klebanov advises.
  7. Hug and kiss more. When parents are affectionate and loving, it positively affects children’s mental health, as well as their social and emotional development. “So hug and kiss your children as much as possible, as long as they’ll let you,” comments Klebanov.
  8. Give them the responsibilities and freedoms they’ve earned. You may want your kids to stay little forever, but they’re growing physically, emotionally, and psychologically every day. Even if it’s bittersweet for you, give them privileges and responsibilities that are appropriate for their ages and maturity levels.
  9. Spend more time with family members—even those I don’t particularly like. Children deserve positive and meaningful relationships with their family members—even those you’d rather not spend time with. (For instance, if you’re divorced, allow your children to spend time with your ex and your ex’s family, if your kids so desire.)
  10. To improve behavior, use rewards more and punishments less. Rewards create positive connections in a child’s mind because they link good behavior with happiness, unlike punishment-based discipline, which instead trains them to behave out of fear. “Remember that parental praise is an important reward, too,” Klebanov says.
  11. Spend more positive time with my kids on their terms. Don’t forget that your kids are unique human beings with their own interests, abilities, and strengths—many of which may differ from yours! “Help your kids develop their interests and compliment them frequently for their efforts and successes,” Klebanov recommends. “Care about and support your kids’ friendships, too, and their happiness in general.”
  12. Think about my own childhood more. Take a mental journey back in time. What was happening during your childhood when you were the age your child is now? Are you acting or sounding just like your parent in a way you aren’t proud of? Are proud of? Are you projecting your childhood experiences onto your own child? “Address your own childhood problems and traumas in therapy,” Klebanov instructs.
  13. Be more aware of the example I’m setting. “Pay closer attention to the example you’re setting when you’re actively parenting and when your attention is on other things,” Klebanov notes. “Be the best role model possible. Always look in the mirror before judging your kids’ behaviors.”
  14. Read, read, and read some more. “Read to your kids often when they are young and model reading as they get older,” Klebanov recommends. “Share your favorite stories with them and allow them to explore their reading interests. Reading together will boost their brain development and strengthen your bond.”
  15. Parent with a better understanding of my child’s stage in life. Children’s behavior can sometimes be baffling and frustrating to their parents. That’s why it’s important to have a basic understanding of each of your kids’ developmental stages and to be understanding. “Be grateful for their curiosity, not impatient with it,” Klebanov advises. “Understand the significance of their learning and brain development. Encourage and support their efforts to talk, walk, learn, and develop—yes, even after the 500th question of the day!”
  16. Spoil them more. Within the structure of appropriate limits, give your kids a sense of plenty. “Don’t be afraid of spoiling your kids,” Klebanov says. “Love begets love.”
  17. Share my interests with my children. If you love tennis, take your kids to the court and teach them how to play. If you enjoy painting, create a masterpiece with your little ones. “Teaching your kids about things in a positive manner and exposing them to your interests is a very important and positive part of being a parent. And who knows? You may spark a lifelong passion or hobby in them!”

“Always remember that the goal of parenting is to create happy, healthy, moral, successful, positively contributing adults—not to have a convenient child for you in the present,” Klebanov concludes. “If you keep this principle in mind as you consciously parent in 2015, you’ll find that the best path to take becomes much clearer.”

# # #

About Marianna Klebanov:
Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, is the coauthor of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. She works as an attorney with a specialty in matters relating to child welfare and family violence. She writes a column for on issues relating to parenting, child abuse prevention, and brain development. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors and on the Executive Committee of Family and Children Services, a large nonprofit organization focusing on mental health services. Klebanov chairs the organization’s Program Committee, overseeing the board’s relationship with the organization’s mental health and counseling programs. She is the legislative liaison to the Board of Supervisors for the Juvenile Justice Commission and serves on the Child Abuse Prevention Council. Klebanov graduated with honors from Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and earned her JD from the University of California at Hastings, where she served as a journal editor.

To learn more, please visit

About the Book:
The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development (Routledge, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-138-02513-4, $46.95, is available for purchase through Routledge, on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and through a number of additional booksellers.

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Donate, Shop, Save & Create

Donations RESIZED

Donate, Shop, Save and Create

Goodwill Industries of Central Florida is encouraging local parents to pull off the quadruple play this summer! It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4:

1. Donate last year’s school clothes to Goodwill.
Start by going through your closet and dresser drawers, and looking for items you no longer need. Gather that stuff, and take it to Goodwill.

2. Pick up some fresh threads for the upcoming school year.
After you’ve dropped off your donation, take a few minutes to do some back-to-school shopping. If you haven’t shopped at a Goodwill store in a while, you might be surprised at some of the great bargains and cool clothes you can find.

3. Keep your wallet happy by not spending a lot.
At the checkout, you’ll realize your wallet didn’t take the hit it usually does during back-to-school shopping—saving you cash for more important things. You’ll also realize that your acts of donation and purchasing have helped the Central Florida community.

4. Help create a job for someone in your community.
The money raised through the sale of donated goods goes to fund Goodwill’s main mission—providing job training and career services to help people gain job skills, earn employment and advance in their careers. For more than a century, Goodwill has been meeting the needs of job seekers with programs for those with disabilities and other barriers to employment.

“Summer is the time of year for getting the most things accomplished with the fewest moves,” said Bill Oakley, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. “When it comes to back-to-school shopping, you can get four things done at our retail stores and Donation Xpress locations.”

Last year alone, Goodwill Industries of Central Florida helped more than 32,500 people prepare for careers in such fields as banking, IT and health care. It all stems from Goodwill’s belief in the power of work to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families—and it all starts when you donate items that can be sold in Goodwill’s retail stores and online.


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5 Car Seat Cleaning Tips by Clek

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 11.08.03 AM


Spring is just around the corner. Clek, the award-winning car seat manufacturer known for its ease-of-use and modern design, has shared with us a few of their simple suggestions for how to clean and refresh your child’s car seat.

1.    When it comes to your child’s car seat, safety is always first, so be sure not to use any harsh chemical cleaning products, soaps or scrubs.
2.    Avoid disassembling the seat itself and do not wash any straps or detachable devices in the washing machine (this can cause deterioration, and potentially damage your car seat). A damp cloth may be used on the straps.
3.    Mix two cups of warm water with one teaspoon of enzyme laundry detergent (e.g. Nature Clean or Tide Free) to form a mixture that works well on most stains.
4.    Follow these simple steps to spot cleaning your messy seat:
        Remove excess soil (can use a soft brush or a vacuum)
        Apply the soap mixture to the stained area
        Agitate stain with a soft brush
        Allow solution to remain on stain for one minute
        Blot up the stain with a dry, white towel
        Thoroughly rinse any remaining soap (can use a spray bottle with water to do this) and blot the area     again
        Repeat if necessary
5.    Go the extra mile with a do-it-yourself, organic, fabric refresher spray:
        Fill a spray bottle with a diluted vinegar and water solution
       Add half a teaspoon of essential oil (whichever your preference, can even mix them to create a custom scent)
       Add half a teaspoon of vegetable glycerin, to help emulsify the essential oil(s)
       Move harness straps to the side so as not spray them
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Hanukah Heshie


Local dad creates Hanukah alternative to Elf on the Shelf

Written by Tracey Velt

As an animator who worked at Disney for 10 years, Jason Peltz with Peltz Productions knows a thing or two about creating characters. So, when his daughters, Jadyn (7) and Jennavieve (4), begged for an Elf on the Shelf, Peltz convinced them that a plush Hanukah Mickey Mouse Ty Beanie Baby was a great alternative. “It worked for awhile. Our Hanukah Mickey would show up in places throughout the house. Mickey didn’t report back to Santa like the Elf on the Shelf, instead he reported back to mom and dad,” laughs Peltz.

Peltz says that Hanukah Mickey set his creative wheels in motion. “I wanted to develop a character that was educational and fun,” he says. Thus was born Hanukah Heshie and a book about Jewish holiday traditions. The book features Heshie, a lovable little guy who is feeling overshadowed by the “jolly man in red.” Heshie sits in a driedel-shaped sleigh that is pulled by candles from the Menorah. “Heshie teaches the traditions of the Jewish faith that not everyone knows about,” he says.

While there is no plush Hanukah Heshie yet, Peltz hopes to expand on the story and create a plush figure that is similar to the popular Elf on the Shelf.


Hanukah Heshie creator, Jason Peltz, and family.

The book is a hit at home and characters in the book are modeled after his children. “My kids love it. They come into my home office and take turns learning how to draw Hanukah Heshie,” he says.

The book is currently available as an ebook (for iPad or Tablets) on However, a print book will soon be available to purchase through Peltz’ website:

“I’d love to see Hanukah Heshie sitting right next to the Elf on the Shelf in all the major stores.”



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Tips for Teaching Children to be Thankful this Holiday



The holidays are such a festive time of year, with many opportunities to entertain, enjoy good food and friends and celebrate the season. However, it’s easy to be swept up in those activities and forget the meaning behind the holidays, in particular Thanksgiving.

As parents, we strive every day to instill good values in our children and provide teachings that will help them grow to be well-rounded, self-sufficient, happy adults. With Thanksgiving upon us, the spotlight is on thankfulness and appreciating all we have in our lives. As adults we can comprehend this, take time to reflect upon it, but how do we teach our young children to be happy for the clothes on their backs, the food on the table and the love that surrounds them?

Christina Fecio, education director for Doodle Bugs! Children’s Centers, provides some of the little things parents can do to help foster thankfulness in their children.

Ages 1 – 2: Thankfulness is an abstract concept for toddlers, but they are certainly capable of learning about and beginning to demonstrate empathy and good manners.

  • Model good manners, drawing attention to the fact that we are always “feeling thankful” for being surrounded by our families and friends. Good manners will draw attention to the fact that we can show friends we feel thankful and happy by being kind and polite.
  • Turn common songs into thankful songs, such as:

I’m Thankful (to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)

I’m thankful for my friends and for my family

I’m thankful for the food I eat

I’m happy to be me!

Ages 3: Preschoolers have the ability to say “thank you” and know basic manners. Parents can guide conversations that encourage them to share what they are thankful for.

  • Talk to your child about Thanksgiving and what it represents. Focus on what it means to be “thankful” and the things you are thankful for in your life.
  • During the Thanksgiving celebration start a tradition: have each attendee finish the sentence “I am thankful for…” and write it on a paper feather. Place all the feathers on a large turkey cut-out and read the feathers aloud after it’s finished.

Ages 4-5: As children prepare for kindergarten and beyond, they are more aware of their actions and able to vocalize their emotions better than ever. Continue conversations about what it means to be thankful and things you are thankful for.

  • Use books as a means to further articulate the thankfulness concept, such as: Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland.
  • Create thank you cards. Show your child how to fold a piece of paper so that the edges match. Have a conversation with him about who he is most thankful for in his life. Write down his words, exactly, and let him decorate his card.

Ages 5+: Older children can comprehend the meaning of friendship, kindness and generosity, as well as point it out when they observe it. Parents can identify fun activities to be done at home that focus on the true “gifts” of the holiday season.

  • Update the paper chain idea from school to be focused on meaningful acts. Have a stack of colorful precut paper to be used for the loops. Whenever you or your child observe an act of kindness, thankfulness, generosity or friendship, write it on the strip and add the loop to the chain. At the end of the holidays, you’ll have a lovely chain to reflect upon.

Doodle Bugs! is a leader in educational child care and offers programs for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. Visit  for more information on Doodle Bugs! and their BRAVO! Curriculum. Doodle Bugs! will be opening a Lake Worth, FL location early 2014, with more Florida locations to follow. 

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Sealed by Santa

You know how I know you’re nice?
There is finally an answer to all of those letters to Santa! Check out these one-of-a-kind authentic letters direct from Santa’s workshop, complete with Santa’s wax seal! There are 12 different letters designs, each personalized just for your child. They also come with two free Santa videos from and Magical Reindeer Food. If ordered by December 1, the letters will be postmarked from the North Pole!
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Back To Your Regular Time-Sharing Schedule


Extending the Season: Adjusting Smoothly from Summer to Fall Time-Sharing

By Sarah Kinbar,

Over the summer, we spent a lot of time at the beach, in the pool and on the lake–loose, silly, unstructured time. Thanks to the vacation clause in our time-sharing agreements with our exes, our four children (Todd’s two and my two) spend two vacation weeks with us in addition to the regular time-sharing schedule. These stretches of summer together time breed intimacy that we all cherish: the hugs and “I love yous” increase many times over. But once the kids go back to school and the normal schedule kicks in, it’s harder to maintain that closeness because we just don’t have as much time together.

As we get closer to the first day of school, I’ve been thinking about the issue of diminished impact that most blended family parents deal with. You can teach, guide, love and support your children when they are with you, but the rest of the time, when they are with their other family, your parenting shifts from hands-on and active to something more nebulous (unless you are the type to frequently call them when they are with their other parent!). You can pray for your children, plan ahead for their return home and practice self-care (and those are all good things) yet the parental instinct inside you wants to be sure your positive influence is instilled in their hearts so they feel your support every day, wherever they are.

If you share custody with your ex, how do you keep ties strong once you’re back on your regular time-sharing schedule? Nothing can replace time spent together, but some of these tips can help.

 1. Create a summer memory book or photo album.

Last year I uploaded images to my Shutterfly account throughout the summer. One night per week I would harvest the pics from my phone and Todd’s camera and choose the cutest ones to upload. When the kids went back to school and I wanted to make an album that portrayed our summer together, it was easy because the images were already uploaded–procrastination was not an issue. All I had to do was select which images would go where in one of the site’s photo album templates. It was inexpensive to print and I made extra copies for relatives. The album not only reminds our family of the fun we had, it also cultivates togetherness for our extended family who have been supportive of our blending.

 2. Choose summer activities that can extend into the fall.

Because we live in Florida, in many cases there’s no distinguishing between our summer activities and our year-round activities. Swimming and boating continue well into the fall, so there isn’t an abrupt shift in our our free time shapes out. But even if we lived up north, there are things we do year-round that translate across seasons, like family outings to the science center and YMCA, and playing favorite board games. Over the past year we’ve made church a more regular part of our lives. The continuity helps keep us strong.

 3. Feel out your involvement at your step kids’ school(s).

Some schools are great about communicating information and volunteer opportunities with both households a student lives at, but let’s be honest: most aren’t. There’s a mom culture that tends to exclude not just stepmoms, but even dads. Since schools rely so heavily on moms to support their programs through volunteer efforts, they are going to support them politically and show favoritism, so you’ll have to make a special effort to get even basic information. This year, my partner hasn’t received basic information directly from the school about his daughter’s enrollment there, and my ex hasn’t gotten any messages from our daughter’s new school either. The best way for this to be corrected is for the child’s mom to clearly and kindly inform the school that dad and stepmom should be fully informed, and to provide their contact information. The second best approach is for dad to contact the school and ask for direct communication. The third avenue–and this is the path of most resistance, unfortunately–is for the stepmom (or blended family mom) to seek interaction with the school.

Once you’ve found a way to connect, though, volunteering at all your family’s children’s schools, including your stepkids, is a great way to support the kids and maintain your relationships with them even if they aren’t staying over at your house as frequently. If being involved at school isn’t possible due to your work schedule or the school’s resistance, make an effort to track their curriculum and know what they’re learning from week to week. That approach is less intimate than physically showing up at their schools, but it’s something.




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No Parent is Perfect: Forgive Yourself


When life’s normal challenges weigh you down and make you grouchy, parenting a blended family can be harder than usual. If you lose your cool with your spouse or kids, acknowledge it, forgive yourself, and move on! Being lovably imperfect doesn’t make you a bad person.

Usually when I get home from work, I am thoroughly excited to have fun with my family, make dinner and hang out. I love cooking, and we have a big upholstered chair in the kitchen where the kids sometimes pile up and talk to me while I prepare our meal. Once in a while, they chip in with the prep work.

But sometimes an unreal story deadline, a bi-polar customer at the flower shop or Orlando’s hideous commuting traffic will put me in a bad mood. One day not too long ago, I arrived home to children who needed my patience and understanding, and I had none to give, or at least I thought I didn’t. I barked at one and made her cry, and then marched off to the kitchen to begin my nightly routine in front of the stove.

Todd gave me the stink-eye, but he didn’t need to. I already felt bad, and I went on to feel bad for a week. My own behavior really bummed me out. Long after everyone else had forgotten about it, I was still feeling guilty. I had to let go of that nagging weight, and the only way to do so was to apologize. Forgiveness comes readily from our kids, and what a relief it is. When I told our little sweetie I was sorry for losing my temper, she thought about it for a minute and then said, “Oh, I weememboo dat. You were mad. But dat’s okay.” And she reached out her hands to me.

Forgiveness is good for the forgiver and the forgivee. It heals the soul for both.

Our kids are small, and so eager to please and stay connected. When children get older, they can hold grudges, taking longer to forgive. As parents, we have to continue to parent in confidence and not get caught in the guilt trap when our teens hold our mistakes over us. It takes strength and maturity to guide your family even as you and they bear with your human flaws. That’s a bigger topic for another day, but what’s equally relevant to parents of children of any age is this: forgiving ourselves is the first step to moving forward, however small or large our blunders are.

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Co-parenting: It's Not All About the Kids


When you’re divorced and things are going smoothly with your ex in the co-parenting department, you can’t take anything for granted. The lack of gratitude you may have felt in your marriage gives way to thankfulness for how he (or she) has stepped up as a co-parent. If you’re like me, you also feel a huge sense of accomplishment that you and your ex have been able to coordinate for everyone’s benefit–not just for the kids but for each other and eachother’s families.

Everybody counts

There’s a popular notion in in circulation that when it comes to co-parenting, “it’s all about the kids.” Actually, happy, healthy family systems on both sides should be the goal; and yes, the kids are a very important part of that. But the well-being of both parents should not be forgotten. Each parent should respect the other’s right to experience the joys of parenting and to influence and shape the child. A flourishing family life for both homes the child participates in is ultimately best for you, too–even if you don’t like your ex or think your ex doesn’t deserve it.

Co-parenting with an ex is a delicate matter, and to say that all decisions need to be made to put the children first is an oversimplification. I liken co-parenting to core strengthening. You can do 200 standard sit-ups a day and get a reasonably strong stomach, although you might hurt your back. Or you can do ten different kinds of core exercises (muscle confusion) that work your muscles in nuanced ways. You’ll get a much stronger core (and better definition) all around. Similarly, children benefit from the different parenting styles each parent brings to their lives.

Co-parenting is not all about the kids. It involves considerations for your children, your ex, your extended family, your ex’s extended family, your blended family (if you have one), your ex’s blended family…you get my drift. There’s just a whole heck of a lot to consider, and you have to be a magnanimous person to take all this on. You have to grow exponentially. And you absolutely can–you’ve already begun.

Jolted into co-parenting

I have a friend who wondered why evolution has allowed the newborn stage to be so challenging for first-time parents. “You aren’t getting any sleep. You have no clue what you’re doing. Your baby needs you for every little thing. Disaster seems more likely than not.” Why isn’t the human condition such that new babies break their parents in gently?

My theory is that we need to be jolted into parenthood, shaken up by the demands of our  infant, because nothing short of a transformation will usher us into the state of mind of a connected, attentive parent. Never before have we been entirely responsible for the life of another.

Divorce is another big shake-up, and I have a theory about that, too. Divorce flattens you. It really levels you, and forces you to totally re-group. It’s an opportunity to rethink your life and start fresh. It’s an opportunity for growth. Divorce opens you up to life’s possibilities, and if you have children, divorce delivers you into the hands of a co-parenting relationship. Could it be that the upheaval of divorce is what allows you to be the kind of person who can deal with complexity and thereby become a competent co-parent?

Who’s to say what’s best?

I find it suspect when I hear a divorced parent say about their ex that he/she “is so selfish and doesn’t think of the kids first.” Really? Or do you have a different idea of what’s best for the child and therefore reject your ex’s ideas and plans? Have you gotten so caught up in what you believe is best that you’ve transferred that to your child and convinced both yourself and the child of what is best, to the exclusion of the other parent? Then you’re dancing dangerously close to the parental alienation zone. Don’t do it! Step away from the parental alienation zone.

There’s no one way that’s best for a child. Mom might think certain schools, friendships and activities are best based on her subjective view of the world; dad could have an entirely different perspective. To co-parent effectively, parents have to be willing to let go to some of their parenting agendas, however deeply ingrained they are, and try to coordinate with one another to create a life for their kids. A whole new agenda emerges: one where working with the ex to build a set of values and plans to raise the children takes priority over individual preferences. This applies to choosing schools, cultivating relationships, encouraging activities and fostering religious beliefs. You might even consider accepting your ex’s leadership sometimes. Be willing to view your ex as a person bursting with valid ideas, whose vision for your child’s life is every bit as justified as yours is. ~by Sarah Kinbar

Side-note: I recognize that there are some situations where healthy co-parenting is not possible because there is a parent in the mix who is not committed to child-rearing; one parent is very ill or incarcerated; one parent is an abuser or addict; or one or both parents are hard-headed extremists who are incapable of being flexible. If any of these describe your situation, my heart goes out to you. 

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Listening to Autism

One mom’s struggle to get the help she needs for her autistic son.

The Stadler family of Oviedo, photographed by Virginia Bogert Photography. L to R: Lena, Ed, Fran, Jack and Daniel Stadler

The Stadler family of Oviedo, photographed by Virginia Bogert Photography. L to R: Lena, Ed, Fran, Jack and Daniel Stadler

“Is autism good or bad?” My son Jack was 9 years old at the time he posed this question to me. I hesitated while I searched my mind for the best way to answer his question — it wasn’t an easy answer.

After all, in Jack’s world, things are good or bad, up or down, friend or foe, and nothing in between. He also has a very literal understanding of language, so I had to choose my words carefully. My son has Asperger’s syndrome, or high-functioning autism. He was aware enough to recognize that he was different from other children. We had just told him that he has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). And now he wanted to know if that was good or bad. I didn’t want my son to think he was bad. But I couldn’t say autism was good, either.

Early Intervention is Key
Some traits of Asperger’s syndrome could be considered good, including an almost photographic memory, the ability to retain vast amounts of detailed information on certain topics. But certainly there were plenty of bad traits I could list: the tantrums, the struggle to communicate, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, repetitive language, difficulties in social situations and difficulty sleeping. However, Jack is a different child today than when he was diagnosed. Early intervention was the key.

By the time Jack was 18 months old, we knew something wasn’t right. He was our second child and suffered compared with an older brother who was textbook in every way regarding early childhood milestones. It wasn’t that Jack wasn’t talking at the age children typically begin to put words together. Jack wasn’t communicating. He wasn’t gesturing or making back-and-forth exchanges of any kind. But God placed me in a circle of friends where three of my closest confidants were a pediatric occupational therapist (OT), another OT specializing in traumatic brain injury and a pediatric speech pathologist specializing in children with ASD. I turned to them, and they set us on a path that has made all the difference in the life of a special needs child.

Our Journey Through Treatment
We started at The Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families. There we tapped into The Developmental Center for Infants and Children/Early Steps. This is an early intervention program that sees children up to age 3 who have (or who are at risk for) developmental delays or disabilities. At the Developmental Center, Jack was evaluated by a team of experts that included a developmental pediatrician, psychologists, speech and language pathologists, audiologists, and occupational and physical therapists. They prescribed a combination of occupational, speech and behavior therapies, which filled four days of every week for the next year and a half.

At the age of 3, Jack was no longer eligible for services through the Early Steps program, so he transitioned over to the pre-K program for exceptional student education (ESE) in Seminole County Public Schools. Here he was able to continue to receive speech and language and occupational therapy services through the school system. Because Jack was high functioning, we enrolled him in a typical preschool as well as the ESE pre-K.

Forget the Label
This is the point at which many parents struggle with the label. I know I did. Every parent fears something in his or her child’s “permanent record,” a label that may follow the child for the rest of his or her life. Perhaps it’s denial or that deep-rooted fear that we somehow failed as parents. However, I can’t emphasize enough — don’t be afraid of the label! The label can be your friend. The sooner a child receives therapy, the quicker and larger the gains can be. A recent study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children diagnosed with autism early in childhood reach “optimal outcomes” with levels of function similar to their typical peers. An accurate diagnosis will allow your child to receive the proper therapies that will target his or her special needs, as well as the necessary accommodations in the classroom, providing a pathway to success in school and life.

Today, Jack is in sixth grade. He’s fully mainstreamed, in typical classes at his middle school, but still receives needed services and accommodations in the classroom. His favorite classes are band and physical education, and he’s earned straight A’s in all subjects. The transition to middle school has not been without adversity, but he meets each challenge as it arises.

After pondering for a moment, I answered Jack’s question, “Is autism good or bad?” I explained to him that autism isn’t good or bad. It’s just different. We all have something with which we struggle. But the one thing we all have in common, regardless of our abilities, is our feelings. If we can’t have compassion for a special needs child who experiences these emotions, who will feel compassion for us? How we, as a society, treat the most vulnerable of our population speaks volumes about who we are. Autism speaks. Are we listening?

Autism Is an Epidemic
According to the latest CDC numbers, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with autism today (1 in 54 boys). These numbers represent a 78 percent increase in autism over the previous five years. This is stunning. If your family isn’t directly touched by autism, the odds are you know a family that is.

APRIL: Autism Awareness Month
April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 is Worldwide Autism Awareness Day. Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, is encouraging everyone to LIGHT UP BLUE to shine a light on autism. Iconic landmarks around the world will light up blue to help raise awareness (
What you can do:
• Change your porch light to blue.
• Wear blue on April 2 to help raise awareness.
• Join the Autism Society of Greater Orlando’s Annual Walk and Family Fun Day on May 25 at the Orange County Convention Center ( 100 percent of the proceeds from this event will stay in the Central Florida area.
• Join the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks, November 9 at Cranes Roost Park. Visit the website to find out how you can support this cause (

Where to Get Help
Most parents feel that something just isn’t right with their child during his or her first three years. What can you do? Here are some valuable websites and local programs:

The Autism Society of Florida serves as a centralized point for Florida autism information, with links to existing resources, including information from Florida’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), state agency websites and the Dan Marino Foundation.

Autism Speaks is an autism science and advocacy organization dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments of, and a cure for, autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities provides information about the Department of Education’s Part C program, which provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Orange County Public Schools website provides information about support services, programs and resources for parents of children who have autism.

Seminole County Public Schools‘ exceptional student support services offer support services and a wealth of information for parents of children who have disabilities.

The Developmental Center for Infants and Children/Early Steps is an early intervention program that sees children from birth to age 3 who have or who are at risk for any kind of developmental delay or disability.

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Thank God Our Kids Are Being Raised in a Bad Economy!

Thank God!

Buh-bye overindulged snotty brats.
Adiós cell phones for toddlers.
And see ya’ later overstocked playrooms.

Written by Jason Skipper

In case you haven’t been watching the news, there is a nasty little rumor circulating that our nation is choking on a financial crisis, meltdown, recession, tsunami (take your pick). You can blame the “evil” banks or your neighbors foreclosing on homes “they couldn’t afford in the first place,” but realistically there is only one reason: Greed. And we are all guilty. We are the generation of excess.

Don’t want to include yourself as a member of our little group? Go ahead and count the number of digital screens in your household. (Yes, cell phone screens count… Yes, Gameboys count … And the portable DVD player … and the iPods … the GPS … and the TVs!) Got a number yet? We’re not bad people, we just have (well, had ) more than our parents. And even if we don’t, many of us still spend like we do. How is that a bad thing when it comes to our kids? Well, thanks to Dr. Bredehoft of Concordia University, we may have an answer. In a recent study, spanning numerous countries, he found that overindulgence, including giving too much, over-nurturing, and too little structure, has negative effects on children, which last into adulthood. Oops.

Our ability to provide children with luxuries like designer denim (KaChing!), cell phones (KaChing!), and over-the-top birthday parties (KaChing! KaChing!) has kept their heads firmly located in the clouds. “We have gone a little overboard on spending for our kids,” explains Christina M. Pinto, Certified Financial Planner at Moreno, Peelen, Ruggie, Pinto and Clark. “Think back to your birthday parties. Mine consisted of a group of friends with a birthday cake, balloons, and a piñata! Not catered champagne-filled kid soirées. This type of extravagance has long-term negative effects on your family’s finances.”

What possible benefit could there be for a family that cuts back? Whether you drop the cell phone, a few extra-curricular activities or your high-speed Internet, you might actually be left with some extra time. Time to linger at dinner and enjoy an actual family conversation. Time to teach your kids to save money and shop wisely. Time to open that lemonade stand and watch your kid work his tail off for five hours just to earn $15. Time to take him to the store to see just what five hours of his time can buy (after you subtract the 10% for his piggy bank savings). That’s right, Diesel jeans cost money, and earning money requires a lot of hard work. You’ll know the light bulb went off when he asks, “You mean I don’t get an allowance for just being alive?” That’s called starting the process of raising a financially responsible adult.

All of this reminds me of a fantastic quote from my Grandpa, who said, “Son, the Universe will never tire of hitting you over the head … start ducking.” THANK GOD OUR KIDS ARE BEING RAISED IN A BAD ECONOMY! Hard times are forcing us into a financial “duck” that just might result in a happy medium between spoiled and spurned.


Read more of what Jason has to say on his blog at
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