When Should Kids Start Organized Sports?
September 27, 2016 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on When Should Kids Start Organized Sports?

just-letem-playBy Dr. Andrew Jacobs

One of the most popular questions young parents are asking currently is what is the best age to sign my child up for organized sports participation? This is an issue I       have discussed for years with parents, sports administrators and coaches. In today’s social environment, there is more and more pressure to get your child signed up at earlier and earlier ages. Leagues are being formed in many sports for ages four and five, for both girls and boys. For many, the pressure to get their child signed up can come from a variety of sources. Often, parents of youngsters just starting nursery school or kindergarten will feel they need to sign their child up because everyone else in the class is doing it. Social media has made youth sports accessible to almost everyone and the benefits of youth sport participation in a healthy scenario tremendously outweigh the detriments. Many are inundated with information about youth leagues in almost every sport and often feel the need to get involved or face the stigma of having their child “fall behind”.

So if you are interested in signing your child up at an early age, what should you be looking for? There are several factors that can play a role for young children when they start a sport activity. First, I remember a discussion I had with a very prominent college basketball coach. He told me that he thought all young children should participate in both an individual and a team sport. He emphasized that he felt individual sports really helped develop self-confidence, self-esteem and independence, while team sports helped tremendously with learning about sacrifice, communication, selflessness and sharing. Second, there are several factors I believe you should look for when deciding what kind of sport and organization to sign up with.

Let’s say your child is interested in a team sport like soccer, basketball or softball at age four or five. First, find out why they are interested. Many kids get excited after watching a team play on television or at an actual competition. Many want to play because their parent or older sibling participate. Check out what is available in your area and school district. Look for sport programs that focus on teaching skills and development with an emphasis on having fun. Check out the background of the coaches. Speak with parents of others who have had children coached by them. Your first negative warning sign will be if the coach talks a lot about winning and beating other teams. Also, at this young an age, stay away from coaches that want more than two practices a week. Your child will quickly lose interest at that age. Initially, it will be best to give your child some private lessons at a club that specializes in that sport. It would be best to give your child the opportunity to learn the sport on an individual basis before signing up to be on a team. However, often that opportunity is not available or is a possibility financially. The next option is to sign up on a team through the school or park and recreation department. But, make sure you take the time to find out about the league and the instructor/coach. Find out about the coaches goals for the team. As I stated before, if winning and losing are emphasized, run away as fast as possible. I have seen children’s self-confidence destroyed and the desire to play again ruined by coaches who are interested in the score and results, rather than on teaching skills and HAVING FUN.

If your child is interested in an individual sport, find a program through a sport club that specializes in teaching that sport. Check out the instructors and make sure you stay involved. Many like to drop their child off and not stay involved as if it is childcare. Practice the sport with them when you can and encourage them to have fun doing it.

There is no right or wrong age to start your child in a sport activity. Don’t let the pressure you feel from others to result in signing your child up before they are ready or excited about it. Many successful professional and Olympic athletes didn’t start their sport until the end of elementary school or the start of middle school. However, lately I have been hearing from many parents and coaches about starting their child on an organized team at ages two or three. My personal and professional opinion is that children younger than four aren’t mature enough or emotionally, psychologically and physically developed enough. Give your child the opportunity to play with other children their age. There is no reason to have them on an organized team before kindergarten. One of the main reasons leagues are starting for younger and younger ages for boys and girls in many sports is because someone is making a profit on it. As I previously stated, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong age to start your child in a sport activity, but I feel most aren’t ready until they begin elementary school. In the end, you as the parent need to make the right decision you believe is right for your child and most importantly, it should be about learning skills and HAVING FUN. Perhaps the most important factor that concerns me in today’s society is that youth sports have become so structured and organized, that the concept of play has disappeared. Make sure your child has the opportunity to play with their friends. Obviously, safety is an issue, but encourage your child to play with their friends without a parent coaching or barking instructions. Give them the opportunity to create on their own with their peers, and they will probably stay involved in that sport much longer than getting burned out by 10, 11 or 12 from going to organized practices and games since age four or five.

You can learn more about Dr. Jacobs on his website www.winnersunlimited.com and read his book Just Let ‘Em Play

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Understanding the Dangers of Social Media Apps
June 28, 2016 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Understanding the Dangers of Social Media Apps

By Hilary Smith

As our young girls and boys enter the tween and teen years, it is essential that we empower them with skills and strategies to safely navigate the digital world. It’s no secret that texting and social media have drastically changed the way our kids and society communicates. We need to try to stay a few steps ahead of our kids as they enter the world of social media.

Our little digital natives adapt to devices with relative ease, often mastering the technology before we can figure out the volume and power buttons. Social media is no exception. Today 71 percent of teens are already using more than one social media site and 70 percent of our children will take measures to hide their online activity.

Given this secrecy and the potential danger online we can help prepare our children for living in a digital environment by familiarizing ourselves with popular apps and the dangers associated with them.

Start with these 4 apps

Line. Line offers a wide range of services including voice chat and the ability to create short videos. Children like this app, because it has a lot of features that works across all types of devices. One area of concern is “Hidden Chats”, that allows users to send disappearing messages that automatically delete after being read. While this fleeting quality can promote authentic communication, it can be a playground for cyberbullying and other undesirable behaviors.

Ask.fm. This is a popular “anonymous” app that hides users’ identities while allowing them to ask and answer questions. At first glance, this app offers a unique way for people to interact. However, in recent years this site has been associated with multiple cyberbullying cases.

Tinder. This very adult dating app admits that 7 percent of the users on the site are between 13 and 17 years old! In the sites defense, they have created a teen section, using filters to sort users by age groups. Unfortunately, many children use false birthdates to register for social media apps that can inadvertently expose them to much older and experienced individuals who are looking for a good time.

Burn Note. This app strives to maintain a user’s privacy by using self-destructing messages and a spotlight feature that only allows a section of the message to be read at a time. Burn Note was created to protect users from prying eyes, screenshots, and forwarding messages making it difficult for parents to catch cyberbullying or inappropriate conduct if a child utilizes this app.

For a better detailed explanation of Burn Note, please check out this video produced from TeenSafe:



Hilary Smith has parlayed her love of technology and parenting into a freelance writing career. As a journalist, she specializes in covering the challenges of parenting in the digital age. She loves all things tech and hasn’t met a gadget that didn’t peek her interest. The Texas native currently resides in Chicago, IL and braves the winters with her two children, ages 4 and 7. 

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Putting an End to Summer Brain Drain
May 24, 2016 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Putting an End to Summer Brain Drain

PrintBy Rose Howell, Academic Liaison at Thinking Caps

As the school year comes to a close, your child’s attention will turn to playdates, summer camp and the screens of his or her iPad, iPhone and TV. The mental stimulation provided at school inevitably takes a dive, leaving many parents wondering how to react. A study from Bell State University shows that Americans now spend more time on electronic devices than doing anything else, and kids are no exception. Further, we now know that excessive electronic usage causes memory loss and waning communication skills (eye contact, interaction), as well as weaker observational skills, language articulation and vocabulary. Too much screen time indoors also underlies health issues such as inadequate exercise, headaches, eye fatigue and tendonitis. Here are some realistic ways for you to combat “summer brain drain,” expand your child’s education and keep his or her body and mind active.

Harness your child’s natural curiosity:

  • Your child is still absorbing his or her surroundings like a sponge. If you move with the momentum of their natural curiosities, you’ll have more success keeping them engaged.
  • Find a special notebook for your child, and suggest that he or she writes down any questions, hopes or musings about a topic of interest. Then, carve out a day or two each week to go exploring within that theme. Take him or her to the library for books on the topic, a museum, or explore the haunts of that famous individual in the city. If your child often has questions about the world that you can’t answer, encourage him or her to write them down for future investigation.
  • Encourage them to learn more about a topic so they can tell everyone at dinner time what they learned. If your child is competitive, challenge him or her to learn 10 new things that day. Need an incentive? Have something scheduled at the end of the summer which he or she can attend if they promise to stay active.

Stay strong when it comes to screen time:

  • Of course, this is always easier said than done. However, you are the parent, and your children will thank you later if you’re able to nurture their relationship to reality over mind-numbing hours in front of a screen.
  • Treat gadgets like you treat dessert—they are not a given. Set limits for screen time by being honest with your child about the effects that this time is having on him or her. If your child refuses to give up the gadget, that time will come out of his or her allotted time for the next day.
  • Encourage your child to engage in imaginative play, exploration in nature and activities outdoors. There are hundreds of places around the city, as well as summer camps that encourage this kind of stimulation. Teach your child to plant flowers, go on a scavenger hunt or play capture-the-flag. Do not be fazed if your child claims he or she is bored—a healthy dose of boredom triggers new ideas. Electronics can rob children of the natural process of brainstorming, discovery and initiation.

Fight the academic slide:

  • Reading is one of the best ways to keep your child’s brain sharp. Go with your kids to a library or bookstore, and let them pick the books they want. If they don’t like to read, read out loud and leave off at a moment of suspense. Before you know it, they’ll begin picking up the book themselves. Also, try graphic novels—they still require the child to read, but provide accompanying visual stimulation. Books on tape are another good trick; any travel time can be an opportunity for learning.
  • Use a workbook series, like Summer Bridge Activities, created by Michele Van Leeuwen, mother of three. Such workbooks often contain exercises for reading, writing, arithmetic and language arts, which can be done in transition moments like breakfast, snack or winding down before bed.
  • Consider tutoring sessions. If your kid is behind or struggles in a certain area, summer is a great opportunity to seek support. At Thinking Caps, we match students with compatible tutors who provide individualized guidance and learning for school subjects, study skills/executive functioning, and test prep. Even one hour per week of support can make a huge difference come fall.

These strategies can provide your children with a fulfilling and substantive summer that will leave them refreshed and prepared for school. There’s no need to let summer brain drain take its toll—it’s time to fight back!

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Why are our Children Their Worst with Us?
March 24, 2016 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Why are our Children Their Worst with Us?


How many times has your mother-in law said, “She wasn’t like this with me!” Or your nanny comments that your son goes down for a nap like an angel with her. Or you go for a parent teacher conference and the description of the child, “first to clean up, so empathetic to other children, what a helper!” is not the child you know. Parents come in for consultation time and time again embarrassed to report that they are in a deep struggle with their child–but that it doesn’t seem to be going on with caregivers, teachers or with other adults.

This is because our children are at their worst with us! They are supposed to be. Parents are exactly the ones you want your child to be struggling with the most. You mean the most, you are the safest person in their lives, and you are the person that can most teach them lessons about life and relationships.

Why bother struggling with your nanny over nap time? It’s not her that you are fighting sleep to see. Why whine and throw a tantrum with grandma? She is probably giving in to your every whim. Why show your tiredness, worry or frustration in school? Show your mom or dad so they can help without you feeling embarrassed in front of your friends.

The next time the comment tinged with judgement comes, “He was a such doll until you came in!” You can proudly say, “I know, he really knows how to behave out in the world, but with me he can show all his feelings!”

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The Challenge of Parenting Teens
July 14, 2015 · Posted in Parenting, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on The Challenge of Parenting Teens

logospBy Elyssa Ackerman, LCSW and Founder of Strategic Parent

Communicating with your teen can really test your patience.  One minute your teen is asking you for money or permission to hang with friends, the next they are slamming the door and stomping out. It is no wonder parents of teens find themselves frustrated and confused.

Teens are irrational, and, according to Dr. Mike Bradley, author of Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid without Losing Your Mind, “Adolescents are temporarily brain damaged.” What he means is that the parts of the brain responsible for emotional control, impulse restraint, and rational decision-making aren’t fully formed or connected.  Therefore, teens are confrontational, unpredictable and often overwhelmed by the stresses in their lives.

Your job is to be the bigger person and act rationally.  Try to stay calm and settled while your teen wrestles with his/her feelings. When your teen is rude, disrespectful, and nasty, practice saying “I will not speak to you when you are disrespectful, come to me when we can talk civilly.” Try not to hold grudges. Sound like a big challenge? It is.

The truth is that teens still need us to think the world of them.  It is easy for us to highlight what teens do wrong, so try implementing two positives for every negative.  Refrain from advice giving and moralizing, and listen, really listen.  Put down your phones: don’t text while they are talking to you, email can wait.  Even if you disagree with what they are saying, let them talk. If given the space to do so, they will come to trust you.

Communicate with your teen by setting clear and consistent limits. Try not to yell, and do let them negotiate. Be matter of fact about his/her curfew, responsibilities in the home, and your drug and alcohol (use or no use) policy.  Enforce limits through incentives, not ultimatums, and encourage them to act responsibly. If rules get broken, let them play a part in deciding upon the consequences. They will attain the freedom they so desire by demonstrating their willingness to do their part.

Most importantly, keep connected. If your teen sees that you are interested and available through all the ups and downs, the payoffs are priceless.

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Marriage Vows are Really Parent Vows
May 11, 2015 · Posted in Fatherhood, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Marriage Vows are Really Parent Vows

When times are good with your children, you can’t even imagine not wanting to be a parent. When difficulties arise, from the typical and small, like constant temper tantrums, to the  unthinkable, like a diagnosis of Asperger’s, or juvenile diabetes, or your teenager in the grip of an eating disorder, your mettle as a parent is tested to the limits.

You may wish for an escape–that is natural. You may seriously doubt your capacity to parent, but as with nothing else, you are committed for life. You are on the journey no matter what. This lead me to think that the marriage vows, which can be and are retracted for many of us, really belong to our children.

“I take you______to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, till death us do part.”

It is to our children that we make this vow. Everything else in life can really be changed.

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How to Help Your Child Understand Mixed Feelings
April 9, 2015 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on How to Help Your Child Understand Mixed Feelings

Our children’s emotional inner lives are complicated. Even by the beginning of the second year you can see ambivalence emerging. “Pick me up, put me down”, all at the same time. As they grow and develop, blends of feelings, and even opposite feelings can — and do exist at the same time. This can be confusing. Imagine your preschooler wanting to go to a friend’s party and also being scared. Or your school-age child wanting to give up on learning something hard and feeling angry about not getting it easily. How about your teenager wanting to have sex with her boyfriend and worrying about how it will impact the relationship. These conflicts are the stuff of life.

As a parent you can help them by pointing out, “A part of you wants to go, and a part of you is scared.” “A part of you feels like giving up and a part of you is frustrated because this is so hard to learn.” Instead of seeing only one overriding sentiment and overreacting to it, it helps parents to recognize that our child is not, “a scaredy cat”, or a “quitter”, those are just parts of them.

As you teach your child about mixed feelings, they start to find center and are more able to find what they most want to do. “I can hear you have mixed feelings about having sex and I have faith that as you make room for all those feeelings, you will make the best decision for yourself.”  Giving a voice to these different aspects of your children calms them down as they feel known and understood.

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Summer Reading List
August 6, 2014 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Teens · Permalink · Comments (2)

As the semester came to an end in college, I remember excitedly making my summer reading list. Nothing I had to read, just things I wanted to read. Creating the list was a signal that summertime was near, with less responsibility and a little more breathing room. I loved making those lists with my kids and doing the ritual trip to Barnes and Noble to pick out a stack for each of them. They ranged from Caldecott winners to The Babysitter’s Club.

Making this a ritual supports the idea that reading is fun and valuable even when not in school. In the age of Amazon, the actual bookstore experience is a special one, you stumble onto things you never even thought about, you look carefully at book jackets and have the solid feeling of a book in hand. This is a great summer ritual for you and your children.

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Spillover Between Teens’ Conflict with Family and Friends
October 6, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Media, Parenting, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Spillover Between Teens’ Conflict with Family and Friends
The July issue of Child Development highlights the impact of conflict at home for teens. It highlights the spill over on their peer relationships and vice versa.
“Adolescents experienced more peer conflict on days in which they argued with parents or other family members, and vice versa. Effect of family conflict further spilled over into peer relationships the next day and 2 days later, whereas peer conflict predicted only the following day family conflict. Adolescents’ emotional distress partially explained these short-term spillovers between family and peer conflict.”
Given the impact of teen-parent conflict, here is a script that, if used regularly, is guaranteed to reduce unhealthy communication between parents and children. Below is an example of a parent and child initiated conversation using the Conflict Script. It may seem contrived initially, but overtime it becomes the default of how to handle disagreements. This communication tool will have positive spillover into your teens relationships outside the home.
The conflict script has rules for the speaker and listener. Both parties have to commit to calm talk and careful listening.
Rules for the Speaker:
1. Permission to speak
2. Objective description
3. Primary Feelings
4. Internal Interpretation
5. Request for the future
Rules for the Listener:
1. Cop to what you did do
2. Apologize
3. Reassure
4. Commit to change
Part 1: Mom is the speaker, daughter listener
Mother: Can I talk to you about what happened this morning? (1. Permission to speak)
Daughter: Sure.
Mother: This morning, when I asked you what your plans were for after school, you didn’t answer me and walked out of the apartment. (2. Objective description)
Mother: I felt anger, shame  and sadness. (3. Primary feelings)
Mother:What I made up in my head is that you don’t respect me and don’t see that I am trying to care for you. (4. Internal interpretation)
Mother:What I would like in the future is for you to answer me when I ask a question or tell me you don’t know if you are not sure of your plans. (5. Request for the future)
Daughter: I did walk out of the house without answering. (1. Cop to what you did)
I am really sorry for doing that. (2. Apologize)
I do respect you even if I don’t show it all the time and I do know that you want what is best for me. (3. Reassure)
I will answer you when you ask me a question. I know how annoying that can be.(4. Commit to change)
Part 2: Daughter is the speaker, mom the listener
Daughter: Is now a good time to talk about our fight last night? (1. Permission to speak)
Mother: Let me glass of water and we can sit down on the couch and talk.
Daughter: Last night you into my room without knocking, snuck up behind me and read my Facebook chat out loud.  (2. Objective description)
Daughter: I felt angry and scared. (3. Primary feelings)
Daughter: What I made up in my head was that you don’t respect my boundaries and don’t trust me. (4. internal Interpretation)
Daughter: I really want you to knock before you come in my room and if you are worried abut something going on just ask me. (5. Request for the future)
Mother: I did sneak up on you and read your Facebook. (1. Cop to what you did)
And I apologize for not knocking. (2. Apologize)
I do understand your need for privacy. (3. Reassure)
And I will be more direct about questions that I have about what is going on with you and your friends. (4. Commit to change)
Guaranteed results!

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Sometimes, Ya Just Gotta Suck It Up!
August 9, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Discipline, Parenting, Spoiling, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Sometimes, Ya Just Gotta Suck It Up!

The energy us parents put into using “positive discipline” – not yelling, speaking from the “I”, and trying to listen to our children. Feeling sick about ourselves if we do, eventually, lose it.

Lately, I have been getting a different slant on the parenting of college age children/adults. Stories right and left of kids acting like tyrants when they are sick, insisting their parents pay more rent because they “refuse to leave the Lower East Side”, or just plain old constant complaining about every slight ache or worry.

Parents, me included, lament to each other, “What happened to just sucking it up?” Didn’t our parents give the –“This is life-deal with it,”– message sometimes? And, though we didn’t like hearing at the time and felt misunderstood, angry and alone–didn’t it work?

So you worked the crappy job at the mall, plowed through the day even though you didn’t feel good, so you lived in a share with 4 friends in a sketchy neighborhood. Didn’t we survive these things and aren’t we the better for it? Yes. And so did every generation before who went through the same thing with their parents.

Resiliency comes from working the muscle of sticking with discomfort and seeing you can come out the other side. Confidence often comes from seeing that you can control yourself and get to a better place.

So along with the slogans, “Because I Say So”, “I Am The Head of this Family”, that we swore we would never say, but now claim them with delicious self-righteousness, let us add,”Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Suck It Up!”

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