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What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers

What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers
Keeping Children Safe

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Am Not Adam Lanza’s Mother

A very intelligent and insightful article was published in the Huffington Post. It was called I Am Adam Lanza's Mother: A Mom's Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.  In it, a mother shares her concerns for her son who suffers from mental illness. She discusses her worries about her son, her fear of her son, and her sense of helplessness to get much-needed help for him and for her. She admits that the problem is far too big for her to handle on her own. She shared her story because, as she stated, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”

I, and many other mothers across the world, have one thing in common with Adam Lanza’s mother. We all, as mothers, love our children and want them to be healthy, safe, and happy. Adam Lanza’s mother loved her son too. I should imagine that her desire was to have him be happy, healthy and safe. Perhaps Nancy Lanza tried, unsuccesfully, to get help for her son. I don’t know. Perhaps Nancy Lanza’s problems with her son were far too big for to handle on her own. I don’t know.

One thing that I do know with absolute certainty, however, is that I am not Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza (God rest her soul), in the sense that my children and grandchildren do not suffer from mental illness. I have never feared, nor will I ever have any reason to fear, my children or grandchildren. I am blessed with happy, healthy children and grandchildren whom I love with my whole heart. I am loved whole-heartedly by them, as well.

I am not Adam Lanza’s mother in the sense that I would never have a weapon of war in my home. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and all of the others that preceded it, were needless and possibly preventable.

I am heartbroken by the horrific murders of children and other innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary and by the similar tragic deaths that occurred in mass shootings that preceded Sandy Hook. Senator, Elizabeth Warren, in commenting on the tragedy stated, “I don't know how to explain their deaths, or to explain why six heroic teachers and staff members needed to make the ultimate sacrifice for their kids. And I don't know how any of us explain what happened to our children and our grandchildren.

The ultimate causes of such tragedy are impossible to understand fully, but the difficulty of untangling all the elements is not an excuse for failing to do what we can to make our children safer. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to take the steps we can to stop the violence.”

In the past two years over 6000 children have been killed by guns. That number, not only increased by 20 with the Sandy Hook tragedy, but it continues to increase daily all across this nation. Statistics show that 83 Americans die every day from gun violence.  Eight of them are children or teens. That is eight children a day, every day. That is thousands a year, and tens of thousands in the last decade.

Just expressing regrets and opening up yet another conversation about solutions to such tragedies is insufficient. It is time to take action to address the culture of violence, mental health issues, and gun reform laws in our nation.

Mental health facilities, and coverage for their services, need to be better funded There has been a decrease in coverage for mental health services and, with the looming fiscal cliff, mental health services could be in even greater jeopardy. President Obama stated in a press conference announcing his task force to address gun violence, “We’re gonna need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun.”

It is also time to take action to reform our nation’s gun laws. As Mayor Tom Menino, the  co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, stated, "Now is the time for a national policy on guns that takes the loopholes out of the laws, the automatic weapons out of our neighborhoods and the tragedies like today out of our future."

 Most gun owners are responsible people. There should be a place for responsible gun ownership in our society. But no one needs military-grade assault weapons or high-capacity magazine clips to hunt or to protect their family from intruders.

President Obama has created a task force, to be headed up by Vice President Joe Biden. The purpose of the task force is to address many-faceted solutions to the ever-increasing problem with gun violence. Senator Feinstein has introduced a bill to re-instate a ban on assault weapons and other commonsense gun control measures.

Parents and grandparents all across this nation should unite and lend support to President Obama’s reform policies and Senator Feinstein’s bill. President Obama urges Congress to support such policies, and we as responsible parents, grandparents, and other kinds of child caregivers, should also urge Congress to support such reforms.

Picture credit: Gabriella Fabbri


Friday, December 14, 2012

How to Talk to and Reassure Your Children about School Shootings

There was a time when “duck and cover” drills were done in schools as a safety measure in the event of a war bombing or nuclear missile attack. “Duck and cover” has taken on a whole new meaning now with the many incidents of school, movie theatre, and shopping mall mass  & random shootings.

In the news today is the tragic and schocking school shooting and killing of 20 children and 7 adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Also in our recent history of violence were the mall shootings in Oregon, the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin and, of course, the Virginia Tech mass shootings. And who can forget Columbine? In addition, today, December 13, 2012, it was reported that 20 elementary-aged children in China were stabbed.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of such senseless and needless murders. While the murder of anyone is horribly tragic, murders of children are horrific beyond measure. The point must be made that such things happen because of the prevalence of guns and the culture of violence in our society. Those issues need to be addressed, in a common sense way, by the public and by our lawmakers.

Children who have been in schools or public areas where such violence has occurred, as well as children who hear about such violence on the news, can become fearful and even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. Such traumatic effects in children can have physical and behavioral manifestations.  Psychologists and other experts in PTSD, as well as an organization called KidsPeace, dedicated to helping children and parents deal with trauma resulting from such violence, suggest strategies for talking to your children about school shootings or natural disasters.

1. It's vital, after an event that can cause such trauma, that parents listen to their children .and encourage them to express their fears, concerns and trepidations.

2. Regardless of the age of the child, one of the most important strategies is to reassure your children of safety and security by telling them that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all dedicated to, focused on, and working for their safety.  Talk to them about people, such as police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors and all concerned adults in their community whose job it is to protect them.

3. Discussing such things with younger children is more challenging. The type and amount of information shared should be limited to very basic facts. You should use words that they can understand and are meaningful to them. Share with them that some bad people have used violence to hurt innocent people in the area. Tell them that you don’t know exactly why it happened, but the violence has occurred. Avoid going into specific details.

4. School-aged children may wonder or ask if such an event could happen to them. Be truthful to your children. Tell them that it is unlikely that anything like this will happen to them or in their community. Then reassure them by repeating how you, the police, their schools and their communities are focused on working to keep everyone safe.

5. Parents, teachers and all child caregivers should be cautious about allowing very young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or showing such violence. That kind of violence is far too difficult for most young children to process. Personal discussions with them that take place many times over the weeks that follow such tragedies are the best way to share information with young children.

6. When you talk with your preteens or teens, more detail is appropriate, as many will have already seen news broadcasts about the mass shootings. However, don’t allow them to focus too much on any of the graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and fears and focus your discussions on what they are willing to share with you. Even with teenagers, you should still be cautious of how much media they are exposed to regarding such tragedies. Talk directly with your teens about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.

7. Even though teenagers are more mature, you still must remember to reassure teens of their safety and the many collective efforts to protect them. No matter the age of your children, they must hear this message. During tragedies such as public shootings, school shootings or any school violence, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete safety plans should be discussed and agreed upon within your family. Such discussions can provide the most comfort to young children and teenagers.

8. You should watch for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate following such violence. Such anxiety may be a sign that your children, even if they aren’t directly mentioning the tragedy, are troubled by the recent tragic events. You should talk more directly to children who exhibit such signs as excessive worry, head or stomach aches, argumentativeness, irritability, sudden withdrawal, sleeplessness, nightmares, trouble eating as normal, clinging behavior, or reluctance or refusal to attend school.

If you, as a parent, are concerned about your children and their reaction to such tragedies, talk directly with their school counselor, your family doctor or local mental health professional. You can also have your older children visit KidsPeace’s, a teen help website providing anonymous and clinically approved help and resources for them. Access  KidsPeace at the website, www.TeenCentral.Net.

Schools and communities that don't already practice drills to better prepare students, staff, and community members as to safety measures to take to better protect them in the event of similar violent incursions, should immediately implement protective drills nationwide. You, as parents and child caregivers, can also access specific strategies that you and / or your children can take to better protect yours and your children’s safety in the event you or they are ever caught up in any public place where a violent intruder intending violence and mayhem may suddenly appear. Access this information through the following pdf file:

Picture credit: Blake Campbell

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Best Christmas Gifts for Children

Locating the best gifts for Christmas gifts for children can be challenging. It is especially challenging when children, who are bombarded with television ads for toys during the Christmas season, are enticed by them all. Educational toys and games, developmental toys, and toys that promote physical fitness are always very good choices for Christmas gifts to kids.
With that being said, I am posting on my Child Safety blog a list for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that I included in one of my web articles on educational and developmental gift choices for children.

Educational Toys:

Toys that are considered educational can be designed to address a specific learning skill such as math, reading or spelling. Such narrowly targeted educational toys are generally for older elementary school-age children. Such toys and games include computer games and software that address the specific learning skill desired.

Child development experts at, suggest that educational toys for younger children are based on constructivism, a psychological theory that believes children generate knowledge and meaning from their own experiences. Educational toys for younger children, such as infants, toddlers and preschoolers, allow children to create their own knowledge by being active in the learning process.  However, most toys can be educational through play for all developmental stages of childhood and can enhance children’s creativity.

The packaging for most educational toys and games is marked with the age for which the toy is appropriate. That is helpful information. However, in choosing a toy, it is best to choose a toy that is appropriate for the child’s stage of development, regardless of the age.

The Best Educational Toy Choices for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers:

Infant toys should have contrasting patterns, colors and simple sounds, such as stuffed animals, mobiles, and toys that infants and toddlers can manipulate.  DVD’s, such as the Baby Einstein series, are highly recommended as both educationally and creatively developmental. Even simple building blocks are good gift options for infants and toddlers. Plastic toys that make sounds such as rattles or battery-operated toys with flashing lights or musical tones are also good developmental toy choices.

Toddlers and preschoolers are at their educational learning peak. Educational toys for toddlers and preschoolers can include intermediate level educational DVDs, play sets, puzzles, and introductory musical instruments. Toys for this age bracket should be sturdy as they will take a beating. One can not overlook the educational value of books for children. Books are an easy and great educational gift option for children of all ages.
The Best Educational Toy Choices for Older Children and Adolescents:

Educational gift choices for older children and adolescents should revolve around their personal interests as well as age appropriateness. Books are especially important for this age bracket because books develop reading skills, imagination, and creativity. Other gift ideas include video game consoles and educational video game selections that benefit intellectual development and hand-eye coordination.

Activity Toys:

Children have a natural tendency to play hard, but many are not doing so. Unfortunately, for many children, getting exercise by playing outside has been sacrificed to sitting in front of the television, the computer, or video games. For that reason, gifts for children that are activity centered games or toys are wise choices. Such games or toys should motivate children to be physically active, give them cardio exercise, and develop strength and motor coordination.

The Best Activity Toy Choices for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers:
The best gift options for infants, toddlers and preschoolers are any toy choices that involve physical activity, movement, pushing, pulling, crawling, walking, skipping or jumping. Bouncy seats give infants and toddlers physical exercise. Baby walkers allow babies to walk around and get physical exercise until they can walk on their own. The best active toy gift options for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and even for older children, can be located at * Fat Brain Toys: Active Play.

The Best Activity Toy Choices for Children and Adolescents: 
Children and adolescents will benefit most from sports equipment that will get them actively playing outside. Such options include baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls and tennis equipment. Alternatives include swing sets, sliding boards, see-saws, skis, snowboards, skateboards, rollerblades, bicycles, trampolines, jump ropes, and hoola hoops.

Since children and adolescents are fascinated with video games, the Wii game consoles and the games selections that involve active play, such as Wii tennis, baseball, boxing, Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and Wii Fit Plus are excellent gift alternatives. Dance Dance Revolution, the pioneer in the rhythm and dance video genre, has for a few years been a popular game choice to motivate children to “bust a move” and get physically fit as well.

Points to Remember:
To quote American author, Tom Robbins, “If little else, the brain is an educational toy.” The best gifts for children of all ages and developmental stages should stimulate the brain, foster creativity and imagination, and develop an active, physically fit child.

Relevant postings:

You may be interested in viewing a relevant posting in the archives of my blog (November 2011).  It is called Children Believing in Santa Claus.

Picture credit: Amy Burton

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are Your Children Addicted to the Use of Smart Phones?

If you, as parents, have decided that your children are responsible enough to have cell phones, it is imperative, for your children’s safety and well-being, that you set ground rules and monitor your children’s cell phone use, especially if your children are using smart phones.
Because smart phones are so fun to use and readily make staying in touch with anyone incredibly easy, and because smart phones can do just about everything, they can become quite addictive. I must admit that I am at a loss if I don’t have my Blackberry with me at all times. Smart phones can also be very addictive for some children and teens.
How can you know if your children might be addicted to smart phone usage? There are some signs that you can watch for to determine if your children have a serious problem with smart phone addiction.  If the answer is yes to the majority of these questions, your children may have a smart phone addiction:
·       Do your children become stressed, anxious, glum or grumpy during times that they cannot use their smart phones?
·       Do your children persistently break the house or school rules that may forbid smart phone use at certain times?
·       Do your children stay up late at night to text, play game apps, or use any other features of their smart phones?
·       Have your children lost interest in alternative activities that don’t include smart phone usage?
·       Do your children persistently check their phones for messages, even when they are involved in other activities?
·       Do your children frequently text people who are in the same room or building?
·       Do your children spend too much money on apps, ringtones, and music downloads?
·       Do your children frequently isolate themselves while in group social settings in order to use their smart phones?
·       Do your children routinely interrupt face-to-face conversations to answer text messages or calls?
·       Do your children display an inability to focus on studies because of their smart phones?
If your children seem to be addicted to their smart phones, it doesn’t mean that they are unstable or that they are not developing normally. It may simply mean that they have not yet learned to strike a proper balance between staying connected and being unconnected in order to focus on alternative activities. Parents can help their children strike the proper balance by monitoring and limiting smart phone use and by setting good examples themselves in their own smart phone usage.
Picture credit: Zanetta Hardy

Friday, November 2, 2012

Looking Out for Our Children: Which Presidential Candidate is the Best Choice for the Well-being of Children?


Weighing in the balance in the 2012 presidential election is the education, health, and well-being of America's children. It is my considered opinion, as a staunch advocate for child safety and for the future of children, that President Obam offers the best hope for our nation's children. He has the best plan for their education and for their health and health care coverage.

President Obama plans to prepare our kids for success by educating every American student to graduate from high school prepared for college and for a career. That is a national imperative. He doesn’t consider higher education a luxury. It’s his belief that earning a post-secondary degree or credential is a prerequisite for 21st century jobs and one that everyone should be able to afford.

President Obama believes in supporting great teachers. He believes that we need great educators to teach our children the math and science skills that will enable them to compete for jobs in the future. His plan calls for hiring more and better teachers.

President Obama’s educational plan is designed to help early learners.  He has stated that a child’s first years offer a critically important window of opportunity to develop skills that determine their success.

He has advocated the Race to the Top program. Now 22 million K-12 students are benefitting from President Obama’s historic reforms. Obama’s agenda has amplified ideas that have been simmering around the country, including those championed by Republicans, among them the push to give parents more choice about where children attend school and to blast apart a long-standing system that rewarded teachers for longevity but not necessarily effectiveness.

The president has said changes are needed to close the persistent gap between poor and privileged students, drive up high school graduation rates, and produce a workforce that can compete globally.

President Obama, in instituting the Affordable Care Act, has greatly benefitted children as well as Americans of all ages. Under the Affordable Care Act, young adults under age 26 can stay on their parent’s health insurance plan until age 26 – a change that has already allowed 3.1 million young adults to get health coverage and given their families peace of mind.
The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan in every State offers an option to people who have been locked out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition like cancer or heart disease. And under the new law, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children under age 19 because of a pre-existing condition like asthma and diabetes. Starting in 2014, health insurers will be prohibited from discriminating against anyone due to pre-existing conditions. Obama Care also has preventive benefits. All new health plans must now cover preventive services ranging from mammograms to vaccinations for your child, without making you pay a co-pay or deductible.

Quoting part of Republican New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his endorsement of President Obama, “When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties' nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.” Like Bloomberg, I also feel that President Obama is the clear choice for the well-being of all our sons & daughters, and grandsons, & granddaughters. When I cast my vote for President Obama on November 6th, I will certainly be thinking about my children and my granddaughters and the world that they will be living in, even long after I’m gone.

The choice is a clear one.  President Obama believes a woman's right to choose should be protected for future generations. He believes that a woman, rather than politicians, should be making her own health care decisions. President Obama believes in equal pay for women. That is why the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29, 2009.  Equal pay is, , an economic stimulator, and President Obama recognizes that fact. Governor Romney does not support any of the aforementioned protections for women.

In the wake of the devastating destruction of Hurricane Sandy, I must state that President Obama’s position on global warming and his plans for protecting our environment to address the very real threat of global warming is the clear choice for leaving a safer planet for our children. President Obama sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet. Governor Romney does not. Quoting again from Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of President Obama, “I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”

This Child Safety Blog strongly endorses President Obama for a second term. We must move forward!




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Keeping Children Safe on Halloween


This old Scottish saying captures the appropriate ambiance of Halloween: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!”
Parents need to be aware of the potential dangers that children can face trick-or-treating on Halloween if safety measures aren’t taken. One danger for children while trick-or-treating is the risk of not being seen by drivers. Parents should be sure their children wear costumes that are highly visible. Children should wear reflectors, and carry flashlights. Halloween-themed flashlights and reflectors can be purchased in most stores that sell Halloween paraphernalia.
Small children should never trick-or-treat without a supervising adult. Parents or some other responsible adult should accompany all children while trick-or-treating. Very young children need to have the parent or other responsible adult walk them up to the door. It is ok for older children to walk and trick-or-treat a house or two ahead, but they should always be within eyesight of their parents or other accompanying adult.

Some parents may elect to use some form of GPS tracking device that can be attached to the child’s costume or make using of the tracking feature on most cell phones. This would be one way to help locate a children who may have strayed away or got separated from their parents or accompanying adult.
Children, before going trick-or-treating, should learn about stranger safety and learn about the common predator lures. Such safety information is presented in a very kid-friendly way in my award-winning book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers.
Finally, parents should inspect their children’s candy once the child gets home. Suspicious looking candy or candy that has open wrappers should be disposed of right away. Homemade treats should be disposed of, as well.
It’s important that children have a fun and memorable Halloween experience, but it’s even more important that they are kept safe in the process.


Picture credit: Nick Goodchild  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teaching Children to Stay Safe from Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation or Abduction: Tips and Educational Conference Information for Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, and Other Child Caregivers

I want to share with my readers some very helpful information and resources about the role of adults in teaching children to take a pro-active role in staying safe and becoming street-smart kids. Street-smart kids know when and around whom they need to exercise caution. They know the safest actions to take in the face of potentially threatening situations, and they are wise to the common predator lures. Street-smart kids also know that they should always tell a trusted adult anytime anything scary or bad happens to them.
It does, indeed, take a village to raise a child. That is why I want to share with my readers two important educational conferences that parents, grandparents, teachers, child caregivers, and any adults concerned about the safety of children can attend in order to learn how to raise and educate street-smart kids. These are conferences in which I will be presenting such vital information to registrants. I also want to share with my readers a sneak peek / tips from the parent and teacher chapter of my award-winning book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers.
Conference Information:
Headline Books is offering an educational conference  (“Festival of Writers” ) at the Holiday Inn Express on Civic Center Drive in Charleston, WV. The conference will be held on Friday, October 12th, with the WV Book Festival to follow in the Charleston Civic Center on Saturday, October 13th and Sunday, October 14th. Some Headline books authors, myself included, will be presenting workshops on October 12th at this educational conference and will be in attendance at the WV Book Festival on October 13 - 14th. Please read more information about and register for the Headline Books Conference.
The West Virginia Reading Association Conference at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV: I will be a presenter at the WVRA Conference being held on November 15 – 16, 2012. I will be presenting to the conference, on November 15, 2012, a session called, The Role of Educators in Protecting Children from Abuse, Abduction, or Predator Harm: A Teaching Unit.
To attend my session at the conference, please read more information about and register for the WVRA Conference.
A sneak peek / tip from the parent and teacher chapter of What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers:
“Parenting in these increasingly complex and troubled times is challenging to say the least.  Recent headlines of child abductions and of children who have been the victims of sexual predators heighten parental concern and make the challenge an even more difficult one.  How can you, as a parent, protect your children from such harm without making them afraid and distrustful of people in general?  It is a difficult balance, but it can be done. 
The key is to teach your children, in a non-threatening way, to exercise caution, to be empowered, and to trust their instincts.  You must start by retiring the phrase, stranger danger.  Such an expression can make your children think that all strangers are dangerous and bad.  That is a misconception, of course.  It is necessary, however, that you help children determine whom they can trust.  The best way to do that is to teach your children to think of categories of people.”
(The above is excerpted from chapter 5 of the book. The category system is explained in detail in chapter 5 of the book.) 
( Below is the second excerpt from chapter 5, the parent / teacher chapter. Detailed information about the safety measures referenced that child caregivers can take to better protect children are itemized in chapter 5.)
“This guidebook teaches children to take a proactive role in staying safe by having them brainstorm solutions to possibly threatening situations.  Such a solve-it-yourself strategy can make children feel more in control of frightening topics they hear addressed in the nightly news.   The precautions, safety strategies, and self defense techniques taught in the handbook are measures that are encouraged by law enforcement officials and networks of organizations dedicated to child safety, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other child safety resources. 
Parental rules for children can be varied from one family to the next.  So be sure to review and discuss with your children the strategies suggested in the guidebook and appropriately adapt them to your own circumstance and age of children.
Empowering children is just one step though.  There are safety measures that parents, grandparents and caretakers can employ to better ensure that their children stay safe.”
  • For more information about my award-winning book and to access useful educational resources for children and child caregivers, please visit my book website, Melissa HarkerRidenour Books.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting Children Started on a Safe and Positive New School Year

"Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like a snail, unwillingly to school." This quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, give us a vivid description of the dread and trepidation that some children face when starting a new school year. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.

Parents can play a very effective role in getting their children off to a good start for the new school year. To do so, parents must see their role as being one that involves more than just purchasing their children’s school supplies and new school clothes. Parents have an additional and important role that can positively impact their children’s attitudes about school, success in school, and safety in school.

Affecting Children’s Attitude about School

Ted Feinberg, EdD and member of the National Association of School Psychologists, advises,
“Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence children’s attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically. The transition from August to September can be difficult for both children and parents. Even children who are eager to return to class must adjust to the greater levels of activity, structure, and, for some, pressures associated with school life.”

Parents can help their children have a better attitude about returning to school by planning ahead and exhibiting a positive attitude about school themselves. Before school starts, parents should make sure their children are in good mental and physical health with medical, dental, and visual check-ups.

Parents should carefully review any material sent by the school before school begins and during the school year. Parents should familiarize themselves with their children’s teachers, room numbers, school supply requirements, sign-ups for extra-curricular sports and activities, school calendar dates, bus transportation, health and emergency forms. Parents may also want to consider taking advantage of any school volunteer opportunities. Parents who stay involved in the school foster better attitudes about school in their children.

Affecting Children’s Success in School

With the start of the new school year establish bedtime and mealtime routines. Parents should talk to their children about the benefits of school routines so that they will not become overly tired or overwhelmed by school work and after-school activities.

Part of the routine should be to turn off the television shortly before bedtime and, instead, encourage them to play quiet games, or do puzzles and flash cards. Parents should endeavor to maintain this practice throughout the school year.

Parents should designate a spacious and quiet place for their children to do homework. Parents can give older children the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Parents with younger children, however, should designate a quiet area in the family room or kitchen in order to facilitate adult monitoring, and any needed supervision or encouragement. In addition, parents should encourage children to do their homework before any television or play activities. Homework should be done without the distraction of television or any other kind of auditory or visual distraction.

Affecting a Safe School Year for Children

Parents should talk to their children about school playground safety and about riding the school bus safely. In addition parents should teach children how to stay safe in going to and from school. My book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, teaches that the buddy system is a good safety strategy for children. Children should never walk to and from school alone. Young children should be accompanied by an adult if they must walk to school. Older children should walk to and from school with a friend.

If parents normally drive their children to and from school, parents should instruct their children always to wait in a safe place to be picked up by them after school, and parents should strive to be on time in picking up their children after school. If children can wait inside the school, that is the safest thing to do. If children must wait outside, however, parents should insist that they wait in a safe spot right in front of the school where there will be other children and teachers around.

My book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, also offers safety strategies for children who must wait at a school bus stop. Children should never wait at a school bus stop alone. The safest strategy, particularly for small children is to have their parents wait with them. Parents may consider organizing with other parents to take turns waiting with children at the school bus stop. Such an organization of parents is sometimes referred to as Block Parents. After all, as it has been said, “It takes a village….”

My book also teaches children, while waiting at the school bus stop, to stay as far away from the street as possible. The more children at the bus stop, the safer. Small children should stand in the middle of the group of other children for better protection.
Bullying can also present a serious problem for children and teens when they return to school. Bullying is an increasing threat to the happiness, security, and safety of children.  Parents can better help their children deal with any potential bullying dilemma by reading and teaching their children the strategies offered in my article
CopingWith a Bully: How to Stop Bullying”

In conclusion, parents who employ all of these back-to-school practices can better guarantee a healthier, happier, safer, and more successful school year.
Photograph credit: Guillermo Ossa

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The following post is a guest post by Brooke Kerwin. Brooke is a creative writer from Central Michigan University. As an aspiring writer, she specializes in writing about local community issues.

 Preventing and Treating Alcohol Addiction in Children

Alcohol addiction and abuse are well documented problems for adults in society across all demographics. Unfortunately, it is a problem that children and teenagers can also encounter while growing up. The prevalence of alcohol in homes and the media portrayal of its use sometimes cause children to experiment with the substance before their bodies are able to process the chemicals. Additionally, misconceptions about the social acceptance of alcohol abuse can make the problem even worse.

There are many reasons why a child might start to experiment with alcohol. Peer pressure can have a dramatic impact on the actions of a child. It only takes the behavior of one friend to influence an entire peer group. This can establish behavior patterns that result in binge drinking or drinking while at school or home. Another contributing factor can be the alcohol consumption habits of the parents. Children who watch parents drink regularly might not understand the actual effects of the liquor on the body and mind. Finally, some children are thought to have genetic predispositions that make addictive behaviors more likely even without other external factors.

Parents need to be especially concerned about alcohol addiction
in children. If the problem is not identified and dealt with early on, then it can establish habits that will carry on into adulthood. Another problem is that even very minor alcohol consumption by young children and teenagers can have detrimental effects on growth and development. The nervous system and brain could develop abnormally because of the effects of alcohol. This can result in long-term problems such as learning disabilities and potentially brain damage if enough liquor is consumed.

There are several steps that parents can take in order to prevent children from experiencing problems with alcohol. Parents should avoid drinking in front of children or should only do so responsibly. Liquor that is kept in the home should be stored in a location that is not accessible or even visible to children. This will prevent innocent experimentation that can lead to bad decisions later. A very important step is to establish a dialog with children so that the issue can be discussed. There are many media images that can be confusing or that might seem to endorse alcohol abuse. Talking to children about these incidents will help to establish a firm understanding that alcohol abuse is not socially acceptable, healthy or, in any way, glamorous.

Parents should remain very aware of any issues that could indicate that a child has a problem with alcohol. Smells and empty containers should be a simple indication that something is happening. Changes in normal behaviors could be the result of intoxication and should be questioned. Long periods of time spent alone, sudden poor grades
, missing money, and new unknown friends can all be the result of an alcohol addiction that has grown out of control. The addiction will eventually result in increasingly risky behaviors that become harder to stop the longer they are allowed to continue.

A parent who is dealing with a child that is abusing alcohol has several options. The most effective is to place the child in an inpatient alcohol treatment center. This is a program that will work to break habits and provide the child with tools that can be used every single day to combat the addiction. This should be followed by outpatient treatment where regular counseling is received as frequently as needed. A very severe alcohol addiction can affect a child straight into adulthood if actions are not taken to break the psychological and physical dependencies early.