Family Files Facts for All Ages Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 How to Have a Successful Summer Wed, 20 Jun 2018 18:14:00 +0000 Ah, the lazy days of summer. Around my house, summer is a cherished time of year – for both the kids and parents. Routines are more relaxed, the pace is slower, and the "rules" are bent a little. Even though we are all enjoying a little more freedom from the frantic school year, by this time of the summer, everyone is also ready for a little more "normal."

What does having a successful summer mean to you? Fulfilled kids, relaxing days, a break from the norm? Have you ever thought what a successful summer looks like? While each family will individually define what this term means to them, I think it's safe to say that most parents want their children and family to enjoy all that summer brings.

Before long, the chorus of "I'm bored" will ring through my house and in an effort to prevent that, I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips on how to have a successful summer with kids.

Stick to a Schedule

While summer certainly offers opportunities to sleep in and stay up late, children (and adults!) generally function better with predictability. As humans, we are conditioned to want routine and structure – it helps us feel safe and secure. Children are no different! Oftentimes, when structure is thrown out the window, negative behaviors increase and chaos ensues. According to Dr. Mollie Grow, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, structure is critical for children's growth and development.

While it's not necessary to engage your children in a schedule with military precision in the summer (or at any time really), simple routines like regular waking, bed, and meal times are often enough to ensure structure and stability, while maintaining the carefree spirit of summer that we all love.

Stay Involved in Activities

Summer is a great time to cut back on your child's activities, but be sure to keep them involved in something. As more and more parents are concerned about overscheduling children during the school year, summer can be a precious three months with fewer activities. It is important to stay involved as activities can provide a sense of structure and routine. Research indicates that children who engage in learning opportunities in the summer maintain math, reading, and spelling skills over children who do not. Consider having your child try a new sport, activity, or club. Parents can even offer summer learning activities like enrolling in a class, introducing an online educational game, or even providing commercially available educational workbooks. Summer camps are another popular summer activity and there are many opportunities to volunteer during summer festivals, community events, and county fairs. The key to staying involved is summed up in one word: balance. Resist filling your child's schedule to the brim and embrace "free" time for play, exploration, and good old down time.

Set (and stick to) Screen Time Limits

If your children are like mine, screens are very popular! The t.v., computer, tablet, and hand-held games are the choice activity on most sweltering summer days. While we have guidelines for screen time that we are pretty rigid about during the school year, I've noticed my kids stretching those limits (and me letting them) over the past few weeks. It's a good idea to set screen time expectations in your home and to stick with it throughout the year. While the expectation may be relaxed somewhat during the summer, parents are strongly encouraged to keep some sort of limit on screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one or two hours on screens per day for children above the age of two. Families should aim to find balance in screen time and develop a digital use plan that works for them. Maintaining the limits you set on screen time year round provides the structure that helps kids thrive! While it may be difficult to set and keep screen time limits, there are plenty of other ways to engage your children this summer, like…

Tackle Chores and Responsibilities

At the beginning of the summer, I kindly informed my 10 year old that my summer goal for him was to learn how to make five meals and to do his own laundry. Summer is an excellent time to teach children to take on (or continue) their household responsibilities. Even very young children can help with simple household tasks and all children can grow their confidence and skills in helping out around the house! Assign chores that are developmentally age appropriate for your child's skills and abilities. It is also important that parents ensure children have all of the tools and knowledge they need to successfully complete the chore. The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service has an excellent resource for parents, Kids Can Do Chores,as well as an excellent handout listing age appropriate chores.

Read, Read, Read

Children who spend time reading in the summer have been found to make gains in their reading achievement over children who do not read during the summer. Many public libraries offer summer reading programs with incentives and prizes to encourage and entice children and families to keep reading! Take a weekly family trip to your local public library and read in front of your children. Consider making reading a part of your daily family routine and make sure that you are modeling good reading behavior yourself by showing interest in reading. Michigan State University Extension has a great article on How to Support Reading Skills During Summer.

Get Outside

Summer offers plentiful opportunities to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. No matter your age, it is important to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Experts recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children. Families should aim to spend time together outside for maximum benefit. Family bike rides or walks, trips to the beach or pool, gardening, visiting playgrounds or parks are great ways to get out and get fit together. While the heat and humidity of Midwest summers may prevent some outdoor physical activities, there are plenty of options to stay physical indoors including indoor playgrounds/jump centers, bowling, visiting a recreation center, or even walking around a museum. As your family gets out and about this summer, it's also important to…

Stay Safe

Trips to the park or the playground, fun family outings, swimming, and attending community festivals are all at the top of my children's' summer bucket list. As summer naturally brings about many more opportunities to get outside, the risk for accidental injury increases. Keep your children safe by implementing common safety measures. Wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated are especially important on hot summer days. Supervise your children in all outdoor activities – especially water activities including swimming and water play. Prevent heatstroke in vehicles, ensuring that you "look before you lock". Ensure that everyone in your family enjoys community festivals and fireworks displays by following these tips Safe Kids Worldwide is a great resource for summer safety topics.

Keep It Fun

Whatever your plans are for a successful summer, make sure it remains fun! Everyone, including children, needs down time in life – time to relax, unwind, and restore – and summer offers a perfect opportunity for kids to do just that. Many families create summer bucket lists to keep the summer fun, interesting, engaging and, perhaps, unscheduled. The University of Illinois Extension has fantastic information on summer bucket lists and unscheduling your child.

Whether your family is breezing through these summer days or are experiencing the boredom that summer can bring, your family can have a successful, fun, engaging, and rewarding summer!

Your turn: What are your tips for a great family summer?




Six Tips for a Smooth Summer with Your Children, Michigan State University Extension

Summer Routines Help Keep Kids Thinking and Moving While School's Out, Seattle Children's Hospital

Family Life Friday: Kids Can…Do Chores!, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

How to Support Reading Skills During Summer, Michigan State University Extension

More Summer Safety Tips: Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock Mon, 18 Jun 2018 15:37:00 +0000

More Summer Safety Tips:

Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock

This article was originally published on the Child and Family Blog on July 21, 2014. It has some great tips on how to avoid this tragedy.


As temperatures across the country continue to escalate above average highs, it is more important than ever to understand the health effects for children.Infants and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of extreme heat and must rely on others to keep them safe. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child's body temperature can increase three to five times as quickly as an adult's.

On average, every 10 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle ( deaths are preventable ,and everyone in the community, especially Head Start and child care providers, has a role to play in protecting our children.

Here are a few simple things you can do:

  • Make it part of your everyday routine to account for all children in your care. Set up backup systems to check and double-check that no child is left in the vehicle. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle—even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running with the air conditioning on.Vehicles heat up quickly; if the outside temperature is in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down 2 inches.
  • Always make a habit of looking in the vehicle—front and back—before locking the door and walking away.
  • Get in touch with designated family members if a child who is regularly in your care does not arrive as expected.
  • Create reminders to ensure that no child is accidentally left behind in the vehicle.Place an item that is needed at your final destination in the back of the vehicle next to the child or place a stuffed animal in the driver's view to indicate that a child is in the car seat.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if you see a child alone in a hot vehicle.If he or she is in distress due to heat, get the child out as soon as possible and cool him or her down rapidly.

Source: Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services



Unplug and Re-Engage in Life Wed, 06 Jun 2018 10:45:00 +0000
Since Summer is here, I thought it would be a good idea to re-post this article about unplugging from our devices and enjoying our surroundings - especially our youth!  Everywhere around us, we see people constantly checking their smartphones. You might wonder "what could be so important that would have people tied so closely to those little devices?" Are they checking texts from friends? Facebook or Instagram updates? Work e-mails? I have become accustomed to seeing individuals hunched over their phones during breaks at meetings, waiting in lines, eating in restaurants, and unfortunately, while driving (when walking one evening, I was almost hit by one of these!) But recently on vacation, I really started to notice how widespread and possibly toxic this issue has become. On a beautiful remote island, I observed groups of mostly young adults, sitting together, but completely engaged in their phones, not speaking to each other and oblivious to the wonderful sights and experiences around them. Are their virtual lives better than their real lives? Is this an unhealthy habit? That would depend on if it's disrupting your work or personal life.

I didn't find a lot of research articles on this topic, but I would like to share what I did find. According to Pew Research Center, 2/3 of Americans now own a smartphone and from one of their studies, 46% said it was something they couldn't live without. The Pew Research Center also revealed that 93% of 18-29 year old smartphone owners used their phone at least once during a one-week study to avoid being bored, and 47% of young smartphone owners used their phone to avoid interacting with the people around them. 42% of cell-owning 18-29 year olds in serious relationships reported that their partners have been distracted by their mobile phone while they were together. In a study of 1600 managers and professionals conducted by Harvard Business School, researchers found that: 70% checked their smartphone within an hour of getting up and 56% within an hour of going to sleep. They also found that 48% checked their phones over the weekend, including Friday and Saturday nights and 51% checked continuously during vacation.

What about people who are checking their phones while at a game, doing housework, watching a movie, or listening to a lecture? You will hear people profess to be excellent multitaskers who can carry on many activities at one time, but researchers are finding out differently. There is more scientific evidence that multitasking leads to lower overall productivity and more mistakes. You may be able to do many things at once – but none of them very well. When trying to switch your focus from one thing to the next, there are "switch costs" or periods of time that the brain needs to adjust and get back to where it was before the distraction. This prevents us from thinking very deeply and solving complex problems. One study in particular found that multitasking with technology (watching TV, checking e-mail, texting, etc.) decreased grey matter in the area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex which is responsible for decision-making and emotional regulation. Those same structural changes are also associated with issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety.

Maybe some people want to scale back, but they don't know how. Here are some tips for unplugging from smartphones and other devices:

1) Set aside times of the day (and night) that you will put away your phone. This could be during meals, walks, and yes, bathroom breaks. For families, set up no phone zones in your home and have agreed upon rules and expectations regarding smartphones and other devices.

2) Turn off your app notifications – especially for social media. This includes audio also. It will help you resist the temptation to just quickly check, and then be hooked for a lot longer.

3) Keep the phone out of the bedroom. We need quality, uninterrupted sleep to be fully functional during the day. Use an alarm clock – they still exist.

4) Get out and enjoy nature. Don't ignore those palm trees or whatever happens to be growing around you.

5) Practice mindfulness meditation. It has been found to help increase focus and attention, combat multitasking and improve emotional regulation.

There is a project called National Day of Unplugging that happens each March and it encourages people to get off their devices and relax, get outdoors, and get back in touch with loved ones. You may want to check it out at

When researching this topic I came across an article I really liked on from Sophia Breene. You can read it online here:
So unplug and enjoy life!
Building Baby's Brain: Attachment Relationships Wed, 23 May 2018 10:20:00 +0000

The University of Illinois Extension has permission through a partnership with University of Georgia Extension to utilize information from the Better Brains for Babies website for educational purposes.

What is attachment and why does it matter in the overall development of my baby?

Attachment is the relationship that develops over time between you and your baby, beginning at or even before birth. When you rock your baby, respond to their cry, or comfort them when they fall down, the attachment relationship become stronger.

How does attachment effect brain development?

The impact of early attachment on your baby's brain development is significant. Infant's experiences are vital to the brain's wiring process. Wiring for attachments happen in the limbic system of the brain, which is the where we process emotions and store emotional memories. They amygdala receives emotional information and the hippocampus stores them. Over time the limbic system is wired for secure attachment. When your baby's needs are responded to with a gentle touch and calm loving voices, their basic needs are met and your baby learns they can trust you.

What are the benefits of building secure attachment relationships?

  • Less stress reactivity. A securely attached child tends to react less extremely to stress. Because he is confident that adults will take care of him, his body releases less cortisol under stress and he is less likely to get upset by mild stressors.
  • More independence. By about 18 months, a securely attached child tends to be more willing to try new things and to explore because his limbic system is wired to trust the adult to be there if he needs help.
  • Better problem solving. Some researchers have found that securely attached children tend to be better problem solvers at age 2 than insecurely attached children, possibly because they are willing to try new things and to risk failure.
  • Better relationships: A child who was securely attached as an infant tends to form better relationships with other children in preschool. Secure, early attachment helps the child better understand negotiate later relationships.

What can you do as a parent to build secure attachment relationships?

  • Be sensitive to your baby's needs. Pay attention to cues. Does he have a certain cry when he is hungry? How does he let you know if he is tired or even bored? As you respond according to your baby's needs you deepen the level of trust and build a secure attachment relationship.
  • Offer positive and consistent guidance. A baby feels safe and secure when age-appropriate boundaries are set and consistently followed.
  • Respect your baby's feelings. Take time to understand why your child is angry or upset. Use appropriate language to help your child express his feelings. You might say something like "It looks like you are upset because Susie took you toy."
  • Have fun together! Do this as often as possible….make it a daily activity. Spend time singing, playing, reading and even dancing. These activities build relationships that strengthen the connections in the brain and they are times your child will remember the most.
  • Choose high quality child care. If you are placing your child in child care or having someone come to your home, make sure the person is loving, warm and knowledgeable about child development. Ask lots of questions and make a visit to potential child care centers to observe interactions with staff and the children.

For more information on brain development visit


Bales, D.W., Falen, K., Butler., Marshall, L. E., Searle., L & Semple, P. (2012) Better Brains for Babies Trainer's Guide. (2nd ed.)

Better Brains for Babies Tip Sheet: Nurturing Positive Relationships

Unschedule Your Child Thu, 17 May 2018 12:56:00 +0000

Summer break is coming up and parents are busily trying to make arrangements for their children to be safe and occupied during the next few months. Ask yourself - does your child's schedule have more on it than yours? Do you feel more like your child's secretary and driver than their parent? Is your child irritable and constantly tired? Piano lessons, scout meetings, baseball practice, play dates, dance class, youth group, and on and on. Maybe your child is overscheduled and needs more "free" time or time for unstructured activity. I think back to when I was a child, when there were fewer activities available for children, and the ones that were available (including sports) never happened on Wednesday nights and Sundays. The pendulum seems to have completely shifted to children having several events- any given day of the week- and no time to do…. nothing.

Why should our children have more free time? According to the Illinois Early Learning Project, children need some relief from demands and expectations placed on them. They are still growing and developing and they require rest to help them stay healthy and ready to learn. Allowing children more unstructured time helps them to make choices and their own decisions and allows them to learn to occupy and entertain themselves. Children also need time to reflect on what they learn so they connect new information with what they already know. Daydreaming may help them figure out the solution to a problem. Also, if they choose to be active during free play, this will help them have a healthy body and will help them learn to pace themselves.

If you are not sure if your child is overscheduled, just check in with him and ask if he feels overwhelmed, or does he want more time to relax? Review his schedule and honestly answer the question of whether he really needs all those activities – or can some of them wait until he is older? Also ask yourself if you are overscheduled – if you are, your family might be!

Unstructured activity does not have to follow certain guidelines or look a certain way – it is unstructured! But, if you find your child needs a little guidance or encouragement on what to do during free time, you can:

  • Encourage creativity
  • Provide outdoor experiences
  • Show how to play games
  • Visit interesting places
  • Make time to just be together

I would like to add limiting screen time to this list, to help give children a break and allow them to be mindful of the moment and time to think on their own. Let kids have time to be kids!

The Importance of Health Screenings Thu, 10 May 2018 10:48:00 +0000 See the source image
Regular preventive care exams are key to identifying risk factors and health problems before they become serious. Many diseases and deaths can be prevented by making healthy choices such as not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating right, keeping active and getting recommended screening tests.

Take charge of your health today! If you have not already done so, schedule an appointment with your health care provider to discuss what screenings and exams you need and when you need them.

"Prevention" is a buzzword in the health community. We hear it often, but what does it mean when it is put into action? One of the main ways that we can utilize preventive medicine is by engaging in health screenings at the recommended ages. This way, we can catch certain diseases and cancers before they progress and are hard to manage. In some cases, we are not necessarily preventing the health problem from developing in the first place. However, we are catching it in time to treat it effectively.

A big problem in our society is lack of knowledge and awareness when it comes to what health screenings are needed and when they are, appropriate. Although everyone is different, there are certain guidelines that are recommended by governing public health bodies such as the National Institute of Health. Listed below are the general recommendations for health screenings. Earlier or more frequent screenings could be recommended depending on someone's past medical record and family history.

Annual eye exams –

Not only are vision screenings important, but comprehensive eye examinations are necessary. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the most effective detection method for open-angle glaucoma. These annual examinations will help you determine if you are experiencing normal age-related changes with your eyes or disease-related problems such as glaucoma and cataracts.

Bi-annual dental exams

Dental exams are often skipped over when it comes to maintaining oral health. It is important to be checked bi-annually to screen for throat cancers and periodontal disease.

Annual total skin exam

Another often-overlooked health screening is the total skin exam. Although the frequency of these skin checks is at the discretion of your doctor, BlueCross BlueShield recommends annual skin examinations to check for skin cancer.

Blood pressure

To screen for hypertension, it is necessary to have your blood pressure screened. BlueCross BlueShield recommends that you are checked once every two years if your blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg, and every year for 120-139/80-89 mm Hg.


At the age of 18, everyone should be screened for lipid disorder, better known as high cholesterol. More regular and frequent screenings may be needed afterward depending on the risk for heart disease.

Pap smear

For females aged 21-65, pap smears are helpful in identifying cervical dysplasia or cancer. BlueCross BlueShield recommends that women receive a pap smear every 3 years.

Prostate exam

To detect and diagnose rectal tumors, prostate disorders, digestive disorders and other cancers, prostate exams are important. These screenings should begin between the ages of 40-50 years old in men. Your doctor will discuss with you how often to get prostate exams depending on your risk level.


Because many forms of breast cancer are significantly more treatable if detected early, mammograms are imperative. During a mammogram, an x-ray picture is taken of the breasts to detect tumors and calcium deposits. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that women begin screenings around the age of 40.


A colonoscopy is a screen for ulcers, colon polyps, tumors and areas of bleeding or inflammation in the inner lining of the large intestine. This health screen could help catch early signs of colorectal cancer. The NIH recommends this test be done at age 50. After the initial screen, the frequency of future testing is determined by presence of abnormalities.

Bone density

The NIH recommends that men and women over the age of 65 receive bone density tests. These tests screen for osteoporosis loss of bone mass.

*Written by Family Life Intern Brittany Albrecht
Effectively Communicating With Your Teen Mon, 23 Apr 2018 11:00:00 +0000

Sometimes talking with your teenager can be a real challenge. I feel I have made a major breakthrough if I hear more than "fine" when I ask my teen how his day was. Sound familiar? In reviewing the current literature on the topic of communicating with teenagers, I have read that although teenagers are becoming more independent, they still want to communicate with their parents. They want to hear their parents' values and opinions, but will become very defensive of themselves or friends if parents' opinions feel judgmental or condescending toward them. They also tend to tune parents out if they feel they are being lectured or if parents act as if they have all the answers. I cringe when I think of how many times I have said "well, when I was your age….." or "you really need to just ……"

Teens will feel more like they are being heard if parents practice active listening. Getting rid of distractions, paying complete attention, not interrupting, and repeating back the major points goes a long way to make teens feel as though parents are listening – and care about what they have to say. Also, following up on the conversation at a later date by asking your teen how things worked out and how they are doing will also prove this as well.

A fact sheet on positive parenting strategies I found from the Department of Health and Human Services, lists these additional tips to follow when talking with your teen:

  • Keep any judgmental thoughts to yourself – stick with the subject at hand
  • Allow your child to talk without interruption until he/she gets to the point
  • Show respect for your child's point of view, even if you don't agree with it
  • Develop common interests with your child such as a sport, hobby or favorite movie
  • Seize the moment – catch up with your child whenever you have an opportunity
  • Build some structure and routine in your family schedule i.e. at least one dinner a week where family can come together to catch up and focus on each other

Fact Sheet can be found at: