Children & Social Media: Teaching Internet Safety for Kids

Children & Social Media: Teaching Internet Safety for Kids

Let’s face it, as much as we might want to keep our kids away from social media forever, that’s probably not realistic. It could happen at any time. Eventually, my kids may want their own social media accounts.

It’s not a political question, but I know people have strong opinions about it. This topic recently came up in my house. Obviously, both my kids have seen us use social media. My almost 12-year-old son is already on Kids Messenger and YouTube. He also has online chat in multiplayer video games like Fortnite. I know other social media apps require you to be 13 years old but even that seems young.

Is Social Media Too Dangerous for Preteens?

I remember when Facebook became popular. I was a freshman in college, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I know I probably can’t force my kids to wait until college to be on social media, but that would be nice! Not only is social media a big part of my work life, but it’s also a big part of my creative life. So, the question that came up, “Can social media also be part of my pre-teen’s life, or is it too dangerous?”

The simple answer—from both my husband and I—is yes. It can be a part of a pre-teen’s life, and it is dangerous.

Parenting in the Digital Age

Don’t get me wrong, I am very aware that pre-teens and teenagers use social media to have fun, make and maintain friendships, share and learn interests, explore identities and develop relationships with family members far away. It’s an extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions. But this is also new territory for most parents, including myself.

Instead of being terrified by the situation, my husband and I sat down and discussed it. We didn’t have social media growing up, nor cell phones or the internet. We’re parenting in a whole new world, and we know that it’s up to us to teach them right from wrong whether online or offline.

Creating a Social Media Plan for Kids

As a family, we came up with a plan that everyone agreed on.

Using social media responsibly doesn’t just happen. It requires regular conversation and routine updates. That’s why my husband and I will monitor Cohen’s social media usage. At first, I thought that seemed to be violating his privacy, but my husband reminded me that kids don’t always make the best decisions. So, when Cohen gets social media apps, we all understand that I can look at his pages any time.

Our social media plan goes back to our cell phone rules. I have his passwords and can look at his messages. We try to be proactive by teaching him online etiquette and safety before he gets in trouble and learns the hard way. The most important part of this plan is having an open dialogue with our child and setting boundaries around the appropriate, responsible use of digital devices.

Conversations about Digital Responsibility

We explained to Cohen what social media is and how it can be used in a child-friendly manner. We told him there are restrictions in place for his protection. We discussed appropriate and inappropriate online behavior. We let him know that he is vulnerable to online predators, even if he’s unaware, so to be careful with virtual strangers.

I taught my kids about responsibly uploading photos of themselves and friends. They know that whatever they post on social media stays there forever. While images, videos, tweets and messages can be deleted, information can resurface for others to still see, screenshot or save their content before it goes away.

Instead of banning my kids from all social activities online, we’ll continue to teach them how to be smart about their social engagements and keep the conversation going as they grow older.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Top 5 Things I Would Tell New Moms

Top 5 Things I Would Tell New Moms

At the end of every year, there are always top 10 lists for something. Recently, a friend asked me if I could write a blog about the top five or 10 things I would tell new parents. So, after reflecting on the last 12 years of parenting, here are the things I wish someone told me as a first-time mom.

#1: Ask for Help

Motherhood is the only job that anyone can do without experience. Somehow, we all figure it out as we’re going. But I wasn’t prepared for how tough the beginning would be.

I don’t remember much from the first few weeks home as a new mom, except feeling like I was riding a rollercoaster. There were highs, lows and days that felt like a blur. I remember wishing I had others to lean on during the process. I now know I did, but I was forgetting to ask for help. If I could go back, I’d whisper into my tired ear, “It’s okay to take the help. It doesn’t make you a failure or a bad mom.”

If someone offers to watch your child, let them—even if it’s just so you can nap. If you’re lucky enough to have parents who are willing and able to help, use them. To this day, my mom is my lifesaver when it comes to my kids.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed in motherhood, especially in the first few years. But I survived, and you will, too.

#2: Mothers Know Best

Listen to others’ advice, but make your own decisions. Whatever is best for your child is ultimately your choice. There are so many differentiating opinions on how to be a great mom. If both you and your child are happy and healthy, you’re parenting right. You don’t need to be thriving, especially in those first years!

Side-note: Breastfeeding. So many people have differing advice. Just know that it’s hard. If you can do it, great! If you can’t, don’t stress over it. A healthy, fed child is all you need. MilkWorks was my “breast” friend.

#3: Date Your Partner

First-time moms need to work hard to maintain relationships—both friendships and romantic connections. If you’re raising children with your partner, it’s more important than ever to go on dates together. When you’re so busy raising a kid, it can sometimes feel like you have a roommate, not a partner. Dating allows you to reconnect and focus on each other.

When your kids are young, this can be difficult. Fortunately, any time together can be a date, even if it’s a trip to the grocery store. I’ve come to enjoy those simple, mundane trips with my spouse. It isn’t what we do, it’s who we’re with that makes the time special.

#4: Take Time for Yourself

The last thing I’d tell new parents is that once you become a mom, you are superwoman. You become an excellent juggler. You are now a chef, maid, teacher, personal driver, best friend, employee/employer and booboo kisser. You can do it all. Be proud of yourself. But also take time for yourself.

If you can only spare a minute or two, start your morning with a quick meditation to calm your mind or do something just for you. You may have just become superwoman, but you’re still only one person. Take care of yourself before taking care of others.

#5: Enjoy What You Can

It (mostly) goes by fast. The first year? No. You’ll be sleep-deprived and think hard times will never end. But now that my kids are older, I look back and wonder where the time went. How do I already have an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old? Now, I have more freedom to enjoy being a parent. My tiny humans can do more things for themselves, are fun to hang out with, and still think mom is cool…for now!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Helping My Son Make Middle School Friends

Helping My Son Make Middle School Friends

One quarter down and Cohen is doing great in middle school. He takes pride in his schoolwork, and really enjoys most of his classes, but hates it. He dreads going every day!

I am not worried about his grades; he is getting all A’s. Even though he says middle school is much harder than elementary he is doing great. He really enjoyed his Spanish class first quarter and has taught me several words. Even though I took 4 years of it in high school, I can’t speak a word! Now he is in a healthy living class and recently learned how to make omelets. Like I said, he likes his classes but hates school.

Struggling to Make Friends

He hasn’t found “his people”. As a parent, it is so hard to watch your child struggle to make friends. Cohen is kind, loving, social and so friendly, I don’t understand why he can’t find his core group of friends. I know it’s not a lack of social skills but maybe he’s just in an environment where people don’t have the same ideas or interests as him, and he’s just having a real challenge finding his group of people. He hates his pod. A pod is where his locker is located. Don’t get me wrong, he has a couple of friends at school, but he never sees them. His middle school is so big he doesn’t have his two friends in any of his classes or near his pod.

His “happy place” is the soccer field. There he has his teammates, who he considers his best friends. He would rather hang out with them than anyone in school. However, they all go to different schools, so he doesn’t see them every day or have those friendly faces in school.

But I do think is it important for him to find a group of friends or just a couple of core friends in school. I want to make school better for him.

Putting Yourself Out There

So, I think it’s time for him to explore and maybe join an after-school activity. There are plenty of clubs and school-sponsored events he can try out. This may be the perfect way to discover his other passions and interests besides soccer —some he may not have even known he has! It’s also a great way for him to learn something new. And fingers crossed, he may even make a friend along the way.

Obviously, having a locker in a pod is new. He tells me that he’s always in a hurry because he doesn’t want to be late so maybe he seems unapproachable. So, I told him to just smile more. It seems like such a simple thing to do but a smile can start a lot of friendships. I know it’s hard for him because he is in a place where he is not making friends, no matter how hard he tries, so a smile may seem difficult to do. However, not smiling can make you even more of an outsider.

Now I’m not talking about walking around with a grin all day because people will think he’s just weird. But I’m talking about lightening up and putting positive energy out there. I told him to laugh at his classmates’ jokes (if they aren’t funny, jokes) and smile at people when he walks by. If his exterior cracks and he lets people in a little, then he may have a much better chance of making friends.

As parents, we often want to immediately jump into problem-solving mode whenever our child is having an issue. But it’s a better idea to slow down and just listen to what they have to say, first. Giving kids the space to open up and feel heard lets them know that it’s okay to talk about emotions — and that you’re a good person to turn to whenever they need help.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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I Need to Be More Empathetic

I Need to Be More Empathetic

Growing up I was close to my mom. She was and still is my best friend. I could talk to her about anything. I felt comfortable going to her for advice. Now that I have children, I have strived to have continuous open conversations with them.

The Need to Be More Empathetic

However, I realized that I was becoming the parent that gave hugs but not advice. Recently, Cohen came home from a friend’s house abruptly. I could tell something was wrong and I went to chat with him. I found myself comforting him but asked him if he wanted to talk to his dad instead of me. In those situations, I never know what to say and I am scared to say the wrong thing. When my child is truly in distress because they feel hurt, disappointed, worried or angry, they desperately need their parent. I am glad he feels comfortable with Mitch but I need to strive to do better. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to see them feeling negatively, so my first instinct is to tell them not to feel the way they do. I suck at empathy. I give hugs and kiss boo-boos but I realized that if I don’t show empathy this results in my child feeling ashamed of how they feel, compounding the hurt.

Moreover, the knowledge that their mom does not try to understand them. I don’t want them to feel alone. Basically, this teaches them that opening up, to me, about how they feel makes them feel worse. And this is something, I fear and do not want! It doesn’t help that my husband just got his master’s in counseling, so I know he is more knowledgeable and gives better advice.

During their chats, I try to occupy our daughter. My husband always fills me in on the situation, but I want Cohen to feel comfortable talking with me. In essence, the sympathy requires no emotional investment on my part because I become the powerful saver and rescuer, which makes me feel better but not Cohen. It is the easy way out. So, I have work to do. I am not an empathic person but I need to do better for my kids so they can talk to me.

Examples of How to Honor Feelings

That’s when I hit the google button and asked for examples of what I should say to honor his feelings instead of dismissing them. A few examples below:

  • That’s a big worry. I get it.
  • You are upset. I would be too.
  • You have every right to feel disappointed. I felt like that when I was your age.
  • You are mad. I understand. You have every right.
  • It hurts to see someone do something you want to be able to do but can’t yet.
  • You are mad. I’m sure you have a good reason. I want to hear about it.

So, when either of my children are hurting, I am going to try and give them a solid dose of empathy, so they feel understood and connected to me. When Mitch does this, they immediately feel better and they want his help in problem-solving. In many cases, the empathy is all they need to feel better. Simply knowing we understand allows them to feel secure and forge ahead.

Having an empathic response requires me to shift from how I feel about the situation to how my child feels. It’s me remembering how it feels to be the worst one at something or picked on so I can relate to my child. It’s selfless and it puts my child first, emotionally. Empathy creates a rugged work ethic and resilience. Hopefully, my children will learn empathy through their father, and now my ways, and will thrive on adversity instead of breaking down when negative things happen.

For now, I plan to continue to work on having empathy so I can stay close to my children. I need to remember to empathize is to empower, so the reward will be priceless.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Remaining Positive During an Injury

Remaining Positive During an Injury

We all hate to see it. The play is over, and players in the pile get up, but one player doesn’t. Sometimes you see the injury as it happens. Sometimes it is a mystery. Either way, nothing quiets a crowd like a sports injury. It does not matter whether it occurs in pre-school T-ball or the Super Bowl.

Youth sports injuries are an unfortunate, but inevitable part of any young athlete’s playing journey. The severity ranges from out-for-one-game to out-for-the-season or even out-for-the-year.

My Son’s Soccer Injury

This is a topic near and dear to me, and for all the moms out there. I am sure I am not alone. It recently happened to my son. It wasn’t during a game, but he broke his collarbone while running, well falling, at conditioning for soccer.

However, we initially didn’t think it was broken. Cohen was in pain for a couple of days, we continued to ice it and gave him Tylenol. He could move his arm and shoulder, so we thought it was just a bruised collarbone. He even went swimming 3 days after the fall. The next week he had his annual physical with his doctor before the start of the new school year. The doctor noticed his collarbone and wanted him to get x-rays. Sure enough, Cohen had a small break. He was issued a brace and the orthopedic doctor said no contact sports for at least 6 weeks.

Tears immediately followed as Cohen knew the fall soccer season was about to begin. It was so difficult as a parent to not only watch your son in physical pain but now emotional pain and blame yourself for not seeking treatment sooner. He was playing 3 days a week and now, nothing. Not to mention, he was starting middle school now, having to wear a brace and not being able to participate in PE, his favorite subject in school.

Managing Pain and Emotions

His dad and I knew we needed to talk with him about his frustrations and empathize with his feelings. We had to support him as he worked hard to return to soccer, even as we helped distract him from the injury by encouraging him to pursue other interests he could still participate in while on injured reserve.

We had him still attend practice and he sat on the bench at games and helped the assistant coach take stats. Which I believe, helped him see the game in a different way. He realized he is still part of the team and I feel that he stepped up into a leadership role, even on the bench. One of the hardest parts of being injured was him not feeling like he was part of the team. Staying closely involved helped with that.

The obvious first step, which we didn’t do, is to get a definitive diagnosis if your child is suffering from an injury and not to wait. It will be better for you and for your athlete if you know exactly what you are dealing with. When will it heal? Will they need surgery? All these uncertainties add to anxiety. Luckily for Cohen, it is healing correctly just slowly. If he continues to listen to the doctor, get plenty of rest and restrain his arm/shoulder movement he’ll be back on the field sooner. Until then, he does footwork drills, passes and shoots, and is anxiously awaiting the okay to start playing.

An injury to an athlete is devastating; however, it does not have to signal the end of sports if the doctor agrees. Cohen will heal and get back into the game. And I continuously tell him that hurrying this process is not a good idea, take the required time to heal and think long-term. A couple missed scrimmages in practice and one missed game out of many will not hinder their long-term success.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Taking Family Vacations

Taking Family Vacations

The kids are out of school, and we’ve banked up just enough vacation time for this exact moment. After a few years of travel being limited, it’s time for a summer trip!

Do you recall that one summer vacation or that one family trip as a child that was etched into your mind as one of your best memories ever? Every year as a kid my family would always go on a family vacation. It usually centered around Nebraska Football but nonetheless, it was a family vacation. I knew I wanted my children to make the same kind of memories. So, when my husband and I started a family, I knew family vacations were a must.

In the early years, we didn’t have two nickels to rub together so our vacations were shoestring budget worthy – but we made memories. We began small with a weekend getaway over spring break to Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City. It was perfect for a young family and consisted of a free visit to Cabela’s, which was kind of like a zoo.

As the kids got older, the vacations changed. We saved enough money…well that is with the help of the grandparents, to make a trip to Disney World. Like they say, “It’s the most magical place on earth,” and it truly was special.

Then COVID-19 grounded us for a while but last fall we finally brought back family vacations. We made it to Estes Park, Colorado for a week which included hiking, shopping, horseback riding and a quick trip to the Denver Broncos Stadium.

This last month we went to Branson, Missouri. And when I say we, there were eight of us. This vacation was extra special, not only did my parents come but my brother and niece joined us. This trip was filled with mini golf, a ropes course, roller coasters, the Titanic Museum and our all-time favorite Wonder Works.

Now here’s the thing. Our vacations aren’t perfect. There is always chaos. At any given moment, someone needed an attitude adjustment. We spilled stuff. The photos didn’t turn out great. We forgot to pack important things. We were crammed into one car for what seemed like forever. We got lost. We were hot and sweaty – or freezing. But all those things made the memories!

Between the numerous amounts of putt-putting, sitting around the pool, horseback riding, trying to spot a bear or a moose around the edge of the mountains, and talking about life – those are the little things and the big things everyone will remember.

On top of the memories and bonds that are built, it’s healthy to get out of the normal routine of life. Life at home is filled with responsibilities. Between our jobs, errands to run and responsibilities to be kept, vacations are filled with joy and are usually worry-free. They allow us time to breathe fresher air, see bigger cities, ride down a river and learn a little history. They also give us the opportunity to explore together. They provide the backdrop for shared memories between grandparents, parents and kids, which cultivates a closer family bond. Vacations provide opportunities to learn about the world we live in, cultures different from our own, and the benefits of being open-minded.

If you have been putting your vacation off, take a moment to think of the importance of family vacations so you can regenerate and reconnect with your loved ones.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Is it a Tantrum or a Meltdown, and How can I Best Respond?

Is it a Tantrum or a Meltdown, and How can I Best Respond?

My daughter turned eight over the weekend. We had a small slumber party with her closest friends. But the day before the party, I threatened to cancel it altogether.

It’s not just toddlers that have tantrums, even older kids can lose their cool. This happens to Collyns at least once or twice a week.

She has strong feelings that take over her entire body. This happens when she is angry, hurt or frustrated. Sometimes for no reason, sometimes over homework, most of the time when it comes to cleaning up her messes. Usually, I try to ignore the tantrum but that rarely works. Then it’s timeout in her room which makes the tantrum louder and more destructive. So now we are trying something different.

Tantrums Vs. Meltdowns

After doing a little research, I found out that tantrums and meltdowns are different and handling them requires different approaches. They are both overwhelming for her and us as parents. I then reached out to her pediatrician, and she made me realize that learning how to deal with her anger without choosing destructive responses is critical. And understanding the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown helps us properly guide her through these intense times. As parents, our support and guidance matter greatly.

The doctor said that Collyns is most likely having a tantrum. She explained that “tantrums are a normal reaction or outburst to feeling anger or frustration, a cry for attention or an inability to communicate, within a child’s scope of awareness and control, and goal-oriented.”

The reason she said Collyns was having a tantrum and not a meltdown is because meltdowns are most common among children with sensory processing disorders, autism or other medical issues who are easily overstimulated or lack the ability to cope with emotional triggers such as fear or anxiety. Meltdowns are an instinctive survival reaction to being overstimulated or feeling distressed, and are not goal-oriented, meaning they are not affected by a reward system. Meltdowns are long-lasting; and children may never grow out of them like they do tantrums.

The doctor then continued to explain that once the reactive part of her brain has been triggered, the reasoning part of the brain is temporarily ‘offline’. So, explaining or rationalizing with her doesn’t work – the conflict is just likely to escalate. Which it does 99% of the time! So, in short, we have been dealing with her tantrums all wrong.

Learning to Deal With Tantrums

Being alone when she’s very upset doesn’t teach her what she needs to learn either. So, instead of sending her off into her room to calm down when she starts to lose it, we now stay with her and try to just restore a sense of safety. We found that if she feels safe, she can have a big cry, show you all those tears and fears she’s been stuffing down, and let them go. That helps her be more emotionally regulated in general. When having a tantrum, she needs to borrow my strength and calm. I remind myself to keep breathing, not to take anything she says or does personally, and of how much I love her.

Collyns is most certainly over-reacting. She stores up her feelings and waits for a safe place to discharge them and releases. She has a big “backpack” of pent-up emotion that needs to be released; she reacts to provocations that seem slight to me by having big meltdowns. So, while I may not see the reason for such a big reaction, I now see it as a chance to help her work through some feelings that she hasn’t been able to manage.

So now when she loses it, I try to stay calm, comfort her, and realize it’s the perfect time to turn a tantrum into a learning experience.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Finding Balance in a Busy Schedule

Finding Balance in a Busy Schedule

Do you ever just want to quit? Your heart is overwhelmed, the busyness is all-consuming. There are definitely seasons like this and for some, it happens more than others. Some of us can stop and look at the flowers, for others we stop, pick the flowers, run home, cut the stems at an angle and then arrange them in a vase.

Pause for a minute.

My parents rushed us from our weekend basketball tournaments to dropping my sibling off at volleyball practice, while I needed to get to my piano lesson before participating in both our late-night basketball games. My parents’ vehicle looks like a disaster from fast food wrappers to water bottles. Don’t forget our backpacks as my siblings and I try to catch up on homework in between activities.

If we believe our hearts are overwhelmed and busyness is consuming us…what about our own teenagers?

Overscheduled

Most days, if not all, I see teenagers (mine included) rushing from one activity to the next, overextending themselves in pursuit of social, academic, athletic and leadership opportunities. And, why? Because of grades; because of college; because they are told they have to; because they are told if they do not participate in year-round sports they will not find success; because their friends are doing it; because ______ (fill in the blank).

It is no wonder our teenagers are stressed both physically and mentally.

When I look back at the start of the global pandemic, everything just stopped. We were forced to declutter our lives. And honestly, some of those moments during the pandemic I hold closest to my heart. Our family spent time together completing puzzles, watching birds, gardening (or at least trying to garden) and even cooking. As we navigate into the new normal, it seems as if society is reverting back to rushing around from activity to activity. Our teenagers feel the pressure from all different angles to maintain their hectic schedules with no downtime.

Finding Balance

With our own overscheduled children, healthy conversations about commitments and truly understanding their passions helps create a healthy balance. Around our home, we also extend grace. If our kids want to sleep in, we let them sleep in. Their growing bodies need it. We protect two weeks of our summer where there can only be family commitments — no academic, athletic or social commitments. We talk about strategies to combat stress, especially when busy days occur.

As parents, we often step back and reflect on our own lives. My challenge is for parents to truly step back and reflect on the commitments they are asking of their children. Are the commitments we are asking of our children truly bringing them joy and providing the time to discover who they are?

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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My Child’s Friend

My Child’s Friend

If it hasn’t happened already, it probably will at some point: the moment you don’t like one of your child’s friends. What do you do?

I remember when I was growing up and my mom didn’t love me spending time with one of the girls in our neighborhood. She didn’t forbid me from being with her but didn’t encourage our get-togethers, either.

Eventually, I realized this friend wasn’t the right fit for me for several reasons, and the relationship fizzled. Years later, I wondered: How did my mom know?

Questioning Friendships

Recently, my son had a friend over. This friend was not very nice to my daughter and his attitude towards me made me question my feelings towards him. Granted it was a mild irritation. I found this friend annoying because he’s loud, destructive and the fact that he’s obviously never been taught to say please or thank you. It also made me worry that this friend may be a bad influence on Cohen.

A friend of mine recently said, “As long as my kids live in my house, I choose their friends.” And I don’t disagree. What I’m saying is this: There are a couple of things that a parent should and shouldn’t do when it comes to a child’s friends.

I choose not to verbally tell Cohen my feelings about his friend. I did not forbid him from hanging out with that friend. If I would say this out loud, Cohen is likely to blab, announcing publicly, “My parents say I’m not allowed to play with you!” This would make me seem mean and could cause conflict with the other child’s parents. It’s also possible that forbidding the friendship could make that friend seem more attractive to Cohen.

Forbidding Cohen seems a little bit overstepping. Unless he is in immediate, physical danger, trying to dictate who he can or can’t be friends with strips him of an important piece of autonomy (what’s more personal than our relationships?) and gets in the way of him learning to navigate the social world. If Cohen continues the friendship, even without my support, it creates a rift between us.

So, I decided that I needed to get to know the other child better and figure out what Cohen finds appealing about this friend. Most people have some likable qualities and discovering these might help me put my irritations in perspective. I try to keep in mind that children are constantly growing and changing, so the behaviors that annoyed me before may fade away as the friend matures.

Modeling Good Social Skills

Cohen doesn’t have a lot of close friends at his school, maybe just a handful. So, I’ve found that laying compliments on thick for my son’s friends who are well-mannered, responsible and kind, tends to be a successful tactic. This is part of those subliminal messages I’m sending to his brain, so he’ll start to feel that emotional reward deep inside his brain when he’s hanging around the “good” kids (the ones I like) and will eventually – God-willing – start to be turned off by the other kids. Instead of discouraging playdates with the kid I don’t like, I went out of my way to set up playdates with his friends that I do like. The goal here is to help Cohen nourish those positive friendships.

You don’t necessarily have to love everyone who your child chooses to befriend, but by being a gracious host, you support your child and model good social skills. A side benefit is that you can keep an eye on things if you have concerns about the friend’s behavior. For example, if things start to get heated, you can diffuse tensions by asking, “Who wants a snack?” or “How about going outside?”

If there’s something that the other child does that annoys you, it may help to explain your rules. Different families have different ways of doing things, and it’s not fair to be angry at a child for failing to respect your rules when you haven’t said anything, so he doesn’t even know what those rules are. Fuming silently will cause your resentment to build and won’t change what the child does.

Listening To Your Gut

Lastly, I listen to my kids and my gut. I ask questions about their friends. Moms can pick up on the very slightest detail being off if we’ll just listen. Cohen is such a sweetheart and has a good head on his shoulders, he needs to discover what friends work in his life. However, I set boundaries at our home to keep him safe, until he’s mature enough to loosen the reigns a bit and to make sure he’s showing kindness. He is smart enough to know that this friend has good qualities and bad qualities and likely knows better than to let those bad qualities rub off on him.

Ultimately, my goal is for my kids to make wise choices in their friendships.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Is She Trying?

Is She Trying?

School is supposed to be a fun time where children learn new and exciting things about themselves and the world around them. But sometimes children can lack motivation in school and not give it their best effort. As parents, all we want is to see our children succeed in life and that starts with school.

2 – Approaches district expectations.

That’s what I saw on most of my daughter’s report card. But this wasn’t a surprise. At parent/teacher conferences, I knew she was struggling. When I met with her 2nd grade teacher, we talked about a plan and identified the areas where she was not applying herself.

So, I wonder, is she trying? Does she care?

Setting Achievable Goals

Do you remember when you were in school, how overwhelmed you would feel with a big project or test? Maybe Collyns might be feeling too overwhelmed to do any schoolwork. So, we decided to help her by setting achievable goals that she can hit. Breaking something big into smaller milestones is a tool she has enjoyed and will use her whole life. Smaller goals make her feel accomplished and inspire her to continue working to keep this feeling up.

We started small. We decided she needed extra help in reading. She now works with a para and has a fluency folder – which is a 1-minute read at home every night, over the course of the week. She gets books from the library that she seems to enjoy reading. But to be truthful, she still hates it. She also has a hard time with reading comprehension. She tends to rush through her tests and guess on the questions rather than look for text evidence. She again despises these tests and wants them over with and so she doesn’t seem to care. During these tests, her teacher reminds her to slow down and focus and the task on hand.

Working Together at Home

At home, we also work on her spelling words. She likes using a dry-erase board to work on her list instead of pencil and paper. At night we work on 5 words from her 15-word list, so she isn’t overwhelmed with the entire list every night. Then the night before her test we work on the words she questioned during the week.

We continue to help her with math. Even though every night seems to be a fight she tries and eventually finishes the problems. She seems to understand the lesson that they are working on but must be reminded. Recently, I started to set a timer for 5 minutes. She must see how much math homework she can do correctly in the time. Most of the time she gets it done and looks at me and says, “that didn’t take as long as I thought it would.” She continues to gain confidence in her work. If she is overwhelmed, we take a break. I don’t make her do all her work in one setting if she becomes frustrated.

How you represent school and learning in your house is how your child is going to view school overall. So, if you are yelling or disciplining your child for doing bad on a test or report card, they may start to resent school and stop trying!

We’ve all done it. Used the threat of taking away something our child loves in order to try and motivate them. ‘If you don’t start doing your homework in the next 10 minutes, there will be no iPad after dinner.’

I’ve learned that doesn’t help motivate Collyns. It makes her angrier. If she starts her homework with a bad attitude, it will take her twice as long and it will most likely end with me yelling and her in tears. She will continue to hate school and feel less confident and continue to not try either at home or in class.

Staying Positive

This is not how I want her to see school. Instead, I remind myself every night to remain positive, talk about what she is doing well and see why she thinks she is not doing well in other subjects. I try not to talk down to her, but instead be the positive force she needs in her life. Fingers crossed, some of these strategies will pay off for the spring semester.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Listening to Your Body – Living with Endometriosis

Listening to Your Body – Living with Endometriosis

Imagine being a senior in high school excited for your senior prom then hearing the words, “You might not be able to have kids.” That was me. Obviously, as an 18-year-old I wasn’t thinking about my future children right then but as previously mentioned, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, all I wanted to do was be a mom. So here I was in high school and hit with the thought that my dream may never come true.

Getting Diagnosed

Throughout my senior year, I would have this sporadic pain in my stomach. It was so debilitating I had to stay home from school. It would come and go, and I didn’t think it wasn’t associated with my cycle. I saw multiple doctors, but no one could diagnose my pain. Luckily, my mom believed me and fought for her child. We eventually saw a gynecologist in hopes she could figure it out. After several tests with no results, the gynecologist didn’t think the pain had anything to do with my ovaries or lady parts and the ultrasound didn’t show anything. I was sent home with the response “come back next time you have this pain.” But since the pain would come and go and I had no indication of when it was coming it took several more months for anything to be diagnosed.

People say it all the time — “listen to your body.” Some people feel really in tune with their bodies, others feel like they’re completely disconnected. Sometimes the phrase feels like it’s lost its meaning altogether. Especially when doctors keep telling you nothing is wrong.

The next time I had the pain we went back to the gynecologist, still with no conclusive reason. The doctor scheduled me for a laparoscopy. Through this procedure, she eventually diagnosed me with endometriosis. My first reaction was, “I’m not crazy – there’s really something wrong here!” My next response was to learn as much as I possibly could about the disease and its treatment.

Endometriosis is a chronic and painful disease that occurs when the endometrium (tissue that originates from the lining of your uterus) starts growing outside of your uterus, where it doesn’t belong. The endometrial tissue that grows outside of your uterus is called a lesion or an implant. These lesions are fueled by a sex hormone called estrogen. When estrogen levels rise, these lesions (patches of endometrial tissue) can grow. Later in the menstrual cycle, they may break down and shed. This can cause pain throughout the month.

Through this procedure, the doctor saw that the lesions were so severe they had to open me up through a bigger incision and remove my left ovary and fallopian tube. The lesions were encapsulating both and they couldn’t be saved. Not only that, but the doctor also didn’t want the lesions to come back so they prescribed a hormone treatment that put my body into menopause for a year.

Here I was, spring semester of my senior year going through menopause. On the plus side, I wouldn’t have a period for the next year. However, with menopause came hot flashes, mood swings and other symptoms. Try explaining that to your friends. The doctors also said conceiving a child may be difficult, but we’ll have to wait and see.

After a year of menopause, I was put on birth control to regulate and somewhat control my periods. I didn’t have any problems. I was in college and felt like my normal self again. Fast forward several years, the good news, my periods are back to normal, and I didn’t have any problems conceiving. We are blessed with 2 beautiful children.

Managing My Endometriosis

But here I sit at the age of 35 with this sporadic, debilitating pain in my lower abdomen again. After seeing the gynecologist and doing an ultrasound, once again there was nothing suggesting why there is pain. So, the doctor gave me my options: 1) exploratory surgery 2) hysterectomy 3) deal with the pain every so often.

Right now, I am dealing with the pain. The doctors and I agreed that a hysterectomy was probably in my future but wanted to wait until I was closer to 40. So, I started to keep a pain journal. I’ve found this to be very important both in managing my own illness – I was able to see, for instance, a link between my caffeine and alcohol consumption and pain – and in helping doctors to see patterns that can guide treatment. People, doctors and friends alike also take you more seriously when you’re able to demonstrate exactly what you’re experiencing and when you felt it. I made a chart based on a 28-day cycle and kept track of things I ate or drank that might be potential triggers, when I had discomfort, and what seemed to make me feel better.

I sought out the support of other women with endometriosis. No one can really understand until they’ve been through it themselves. In the meantime, I keep looking after myself! A diagnosis of endometriosis may feel like the end of the world, especially at first, but I continue to find that it’s not!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Let’s Talk About Santa

Let’s Talk About Santa

The holidays are fast approaching, and with them, a question that has haunted me each of the past few Christmases: Will this be the year my kids stop believing in Santa? If they ask, how do I tell them the truth? And how do I tell them the true meaning of Santa? The holidays are a magical time of year, but for parents, the Santa issue can pose a real dilemma.

The Questions Have Already Started

My son is 10 and in 5th grade. For the last two years, he has questioned the realness of Santa. And of course, there are those kids who try and spoil it for everyone and make him wonder. Even though I know it’s natural, I’m not ready for my wide-eyed, innocent, trusting baby to be a logical, thoughtful, questioning human. I don’t want the days of his implicit trust in me to be a thing of the past.

I know the magic of being a kid can only last so long. But this year, I am trying to hold on for one more moment. But inevitably, I will have to tell him that Santa Claus is not really one single, human with a big belly, a white beard, flying reindeer, and an arsenal of magical tools without which Christmas would not happen. On the plus side, I might not have to do elf on a shelf anymore.

My son continues to ask me if Santa is real and my response, “If Santa weren’t real, who bought you these gifts?” He never assumes it’s me because he thinks that I’m cheap. Plus, he knows I would never create the mess the elves make so it can’t be mom or dad.

But this made me realize that maybe we shouldn’t be telling our kids about Santa from the beginning. If I could do it all over again, I would have been honest about Santa. It may sound strange, but I truly think it’s possible to believe in Santa without believing he’s real.

One Way to Keep the Magic Alive

I would have explained to them that, no, Santa isn’t a real person like me and you. He doesn’t really live at the North Pole with a bunch of cute little elves and reindeer, and he doesn’t really fly around the world in one night jumping down chimneys and delivering gifts. But I’d also tell them that this is a magical story that a lot of people love to pretend is real when it’s Christmas time. However, this idea of Santa may be the way I break the news to Cohen.

Another mom shared this letter, and if Cohen asks again this year, I believe this is how I will respond, maybe not in a letter but with similar words.

Dear (Child),

You asked a really good question. “Are Mom and Dad really Santa?” We know that you want to know the answer and we had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.

The answer is no. We are not Santa. There is no one single Santa.

We are the people who fill your stocking and choose the presents under the tree—just as our parents did for us, their parents did for them and you will probably do for your kids someday.

This could never make any of us Santa, though. Santa is lots and lots of people who keep the spirit of Christmas alive. He lives in our hearts—not at the North Pole. Santa is the magic and love and spirit of giving to others. What he does is teach children to believe in something they can’t see or touch. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe in yourself, in your family, in your friends and in God.

You’ll need to be able to believe in things you can’t measure or hold in your hands.

Now you know the secret of how he gets down all of those chimneys on Christmas Eve. He has help from all of the people whose hearts he has filled with joy.

With full hearts, people like Mommy and Daddy take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible. So no, we are not Santa. Santa is love and magic and happiness. We are on his team and now you are, too.

Letting Our Kids Make Their Own Story

So, whether your kids are on the cusp of seeking out the truth about Santa, or whether you’ve got a few more years of childlike innocence to capitalize on, hold this mom’s words in your heart. You can empower your kids to spread love, joy and peace, and the true meaning of Santa.

When it comes down to it, the most important thing isn’t whether Santa is real or not; it’s all about the space you create around the story. Ultimately, the way you deal with Santa in your home is a very personal choice and something you have to decide for yourself.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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