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Prenatal Fitness Facts, Fiction, Tips & Techniques

Exercise during pregnancy is not only imperative to keep a mom-to-be fit and healthy, but it can also benefit the child’s lifelong health. This is according to recent research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, which determined that exercise during pregnancy has a distinct molecular consequence on the unborn child that essentially allows the child to be more fit. Other studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy is tied to preventing childhood obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. Of course, prenatal fitness is also an imperative for the budding mom’s own health with respect to both her physical and emotional well-being.

That said, while most understand that maintaining a pregnancy fitness regimen is beneficial, many women harbor erroneous fears and misconceptions about prenatal exercise or simply don’t know the best way to go about integrating fitness into their daily lifestyles—both of which undermine and inhibit a pregnant woman’s opportunity to optimize her health and fully enjoy the experience.

To help moms-to-be (with no applicable medical complications) gain expert-based knowledge and innate confidence relating to their fitness choices, below prenatal lifestyle expert, Amy Griffith—star of her own “Active Prenatal Yoga” Workout DVD, offers 8 tips and truths to give direction, debunk myths, and provide overall peace-of-mind to foster a fit, healthy and happy 9 months*:

Start now. If a woman becomes pregnant and has not had a structured fitness routine beforehand, she can certainly start now—and should since exercise develops muscle tone, can help prevent gestational diabetes, aids in digestion and can help regulate blood pressure. Just be sure to begin with some gentle forms of exercise. As the due date approaches, remaining active can also encourage the baby to move into proper position for birth. Even activity as simple as walking is hugely beneficial to a pregnant woman. She can even run, bike, dance and strength train as long as it still feels safe for her body. Whatever modality of exercise she decides to engage in, it is always of utmost importance that she listen to her body and recognize individual limitations.

Exercise to release endorphins. Exercise not only has countless physical benefits with keeping muscles toned, maintaining healthy body fat levels, and improving cardiovascular health among them, but it also releases endorphins that can help boost mood, improve self-esteem, reduce anxiety and depression, decrease stress, alleviate pain and improve sleep. All of these can greatly enhance the lifestyle of a pregnant woman, helping her enjoy the overall experience.

Yes, “do abs.” Pregnant women still have them and will benefit from strengthening them in advance of delivery. Exercising abs and the entire core group of muscles will help prevent back and posture problems caused by the growing stomach, will make pushing more effective pushing during labor, and will help the new mother recover quicker. For example, a pregnant mother in her second and third trimester will mainly be working her transverse abdominus, which wrap from front to back like a corset, and also the obliques. Keeping these muscles toned and active will help them to return to their pre-pregnancy state far sooner. Abdominal exercises during pregnancy can also reduce the risk of abdominal separation, which can lead to other physical ailments. Beforehand, be sure to research the safest types of abdominal exercise for the various trimesters and execute with proper form.

Try yoga: Yoga is not just about gaining strength and flexibility, and finding calm in moments of stress; it also helps slow down our busy lives.And, p renatal yoga is a very safe form of exercise. Executed with the use of props to support the pregnant woman as baby grows, the mother can maintain the standard yoga poses but in a modified way. Prenatal yoga also teaches the powerful connection of breath and movement, encouraging the woman to let go of tension trigger points in her body. All of these elements combine to cultivate a deeper understanding of how the woman’s body moves and what she can do to relax in an uncomfortable situation, both physically and mentally. Many of the elements of a prenatal yoga class can be utilized by the mother as she moves through labor and delivery, including poses to ease labor pains, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Cardiovascular exercise is a-ok. The old theory of not allowing your heart rate to exceed 140 beats per minute is no longer supported by the medical community. There is about a 50% increase in blood flow when a women is pregnant, so the heart works much harder to deliver all of these nutrients throughout the body and especially the placenta. While a pregnant woman who is exercising may tire out more quickly, there is no evidence that such exertion is harmful to her baby. The general rule of thumb is if a pregnant woman can continue to carry on a conversation while performing an exercise routine, then she is in a cardiovascular safe zone.

Set a fitness mantra. A mantra is a positive intention—a word or phrase that you come back to daily to “check in” and be reminded that everything is ok and on course.Setting a mantra will help you to trust your body, and accept the changes that are occurring physically. It can help to quiet down the ego and encourage you to slow down and even accept the temporary fitness limitations. This is a key lesson to reiterate throughout pregnancy and can help to keep the pregnant woman safe while exercising. Some mantras are, “I accept,” “I trust,” and “I am strong.” These positive reminders carry throughout the pregnancy and the birth of the baby.

Massage to recover faster. A carefully delivered massage from a prenatal massage specialist can alleviate pain in various parts of the body that can be caused by too much physical activity—exercise and otherwise. Massage stretches and loosens muscles that become tight as baby grows and the as the woman’s body changes. Massage will also benefit the pregnant woman as it relieves tension. A pregnant woman’s low back pain, headaches, sciatica, and swelling can all be eased by a trained massage therapist. When her body feels better, she is able to continue to keep herself healthy with regular exercise.

Meditate to de-stress. Meditating can connect to a mantra you set or simply help to quiet down, clear your mind, calm your nervous system and regulate your blood pressure. When employed in combination with a fitness regime, a pregnant woman can reap the rewards of both physical and emotional health. Pregnant women can quiet down fears and release them through the practice of meditation. When the mother lets go of fear, it opens her up to having a positive pregnancy and birth. Labor and delivery are certainly a physical experience, but many women say it is 90% mental. Allowing oneself to move inward and “step out of your own way” gives the body permission to do exactly what it knows how to do: birth baby! Meditation enables the mom-to-be to mentally surrender while exercise gives her physical strength and confidence.

Nationally certified Prenatal Yoga Instructor, Amy Griffith, is one of America’s leading prenatal fitness and lifestyle experts. From www.AmyGriffithworkout.com, she provides free advice, including eBook and video content, to her Army of followers and fans. A former professional dancer performing as a Radio City Rockette for 3 seasons, as well as in the Broadway musical “42nd St” and the nationally touring show “Spamlot,” Amy has spent her entire adult life devoted to fitness and healthy living. After getting married and deciding to focus on becoming a mother, Amy wanted to find the best strategies to ensure a healthy pregnancy. None of her friends had any answers outside of generic recycled advice, so Amy embarked upon on a crusade in the interest of herself, her unborn son and her family at large. What Amy discovered was that Yoga had amazing solutions and that she could teach other moms-to-be to trust their body more on what it can do naturally. She went on to study at Sonic, Center for Yoga Studies, and The Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City.

After her studies completed Amy and her husband moved back to her hometown, Erie, PA, and she has since been combining the experiences she’s had as a dancer and student of two of the top yoga institutes with the swagger she picked up in the big apple to teach the most dynamic prenatal fitness class in the region. Not only does Amy offer physical motivation for her students, but she also inspires them mentally and supports them emotionally.

Amy’s newest venture is her new fitness video that offers a safe, well-structured physical workout for expectant mothers. Learn more online at www.AmyGriffithworkout.com.

*The above should not be construed as medical advice. Individuals should consult with their own physicians before starting any fitness or exercise regime.

Sources:

http://news.virginia.edu/content/study-exercise-during-pregnancy-can-benefit-child-s-lifelong-health

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131001192015.htm

http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression

http://www.livestrong.com/article/19025-abdominal-exercises-pregnant-women/

Weight Loss Surgery for Children– Is it an Option?

Becky’s mother came into my office and started crying before the door closed behind her.

“I’ve done everything I can but my child just keeps getting bigger. She’s bullied at school, cries herself to sleep every night and now she’s been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Should she have weight loss surgery?”

Questions like this are becoming more common as childhood obesity increases and weight loss surgery becomes a more common procedure.

The statistics are sobering:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.
  • In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
  • Almost 4 percent are at or above the 99th percentile for Body Mass Index, meaning that about 2.7 million U.S. children could be considered morbidly obese. That percentage jumps higher for boys, African-Americans and the poor.

The pain felt by obese children and their parents is real and heartbreaking. Although the itch to do something – anything – to help an obese child can be overwhelming, bariatric surgery should only be used after the parents and a team of physicians consisting of the surgeon, a pediatrician and/or internist, and a psychologist have agreed that it’s the best option.

There are no hard and fast rules for which child is a candidate for bariatric surgery, and no article could possibly list all the factors and co-factors to be taken into account in making the decision. However, they fall into three basic categories: environmental, physiological and psychological.

Environmental Factors

Assessing the environmental factors requires a hard look at the reasons for the child’s obesity; i.e. why she’s overweight?

Is she growing up in a family in which everyone is morbidly obese? Does the mother derive her self-worth from cooking, making the child feel guilty if the plate isn’t scraped clean? Is there a genetic predisposition for obesity running in the family? Could the child’s eating be related to an external factor such as molestation or abuse, either ongoing or at some time in the child’s past?

The answers to questions like these may rule out weight loss surgery as an effective tool.

Psychological Factors

The entire nuclear family should submit to a rigorous evaluation by a psychologist with experience in childhood obesity. The therapist will be testing both the child’s and the family’s emotional fitness for the impact of the surgery.

What is the child’s emotional maturity? Weight loss surgery isn’t magic. It can provide initial weight loss, but losing enough and keeping it off will ultimately depend on lifelong behavior modification. Is the child willing to do that?

This includes not only the first few years of healthier eating and exercise, but vigilance for the rest of their lives. For example, gastric bypass surgery doesn’t work well for people who drink and smoke too much. Although the twelve-year-old child might be compliant, will she still be compliant when she’s seventeen-year-old young woman?

Is the family willing to make the changes necessary for the surgery to work? If the family won’t support both verbally and by example a healthy diet and lifestyle, there’s no way the child will be able to do it on her own, and failing will have enormous implications for the child’s ability to lose weight at a later stage of life.

Physiological Factors

The surgery can have a major impact on the child’s future physical development. A pediatrician or qualified internist should evaluate things like:

Are the growth plates closed and the bones fully calcified? If not, the surgery could cause premature closing and calcification.

Has the child gone through puberty? If not, what are their nutritional requirements, and can those requirements be met in the first months after surgery?

What is the general state of the child’s health? For example, if you give a twelve year old diabetic child a gastric bypass operation, she’s not going to absorb calcium as well, which could cause the bone plates to close early. The pediatrician, along with the rest of the medical team, has to weigh the risks and impact of the early closure against the health risks of the diabetes to determine which will be more harmful in the long run.

So, I had no immediate answer to give Becky’s mother. Until a stringent evaluation is done of the Becky and her family’s environmental, psychological and physiological characteristics, my answer has to be “I don’t know.”

Dr. Nick Nicholson has a passion for helping people suffering from obesity. He has performed over 10,000 bariatric procedures and has been called upon by Johnson & Johnson and W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. to instruct surgeons on the use of their products in bariatric surgery.

Dr. Nicholson’s clinic has been recognized as a Center of Excellence by the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons. He is board certified in general surgery, and the holder of various patents on medical devices. With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, he completed his residency at the University of Texas Southwestern hospital.

A true renaissance man, Dr. Nicholson enjoys cycling, reading, movies, and spending time with his family. He is a proud Parrothead and lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife, sons – 8 and 11 – and Goldendoodle, Dixie.

Books can be ordered on BN.com, Amazon.com, and are available for purchase at all major bookstores. Ebooks are available on Amazon.com.

Facebook.com: https://www.facebook.com/NicholsonClinicTx

Youtube.com: http://www.youtube.com/user/NicholsonClinic

Website: Allaboutobesity.org

Make Teaching Manners Fun!

For parents and caregivers with demanding schedules, finding time to teach or mentor children is increasingly difficult. While professionals are relied upon to teach academic skills, the importance of social skills is often overlooked or simply forfeited due to lack of time. Yet, learning social skills early, especially during childhood, can shape a child’s character and greatly impact his or her life. Often, though, parents don’t want to use the time they spend with their children to seem as though they are always nitpicking or preaching, and, yet, they know the importance of raising responsible adults. So, what can they do?

As Founder of The Elegant Way Foundation, I have some tips for parents of young children on how to make learning manners not only fun, but lasting. Most children enjoy animal stories, as well as mimicking them, so using the characteristics of animals found on a safari can provide amusing and enduring examples of how to be gracious, kind and patient. Here are some examples that can be an entertaining educational tool:

Teaching Confidence

If you want to instill confidence in your child so that they know how to introduce themselves to others, call to mind the giraffe. Show a photograph of a giraffe and explain how these beautiful creatures stand tall without much effort due to their size. Have your child mimic a giraffe’s walk to practice so that when they approach new people, they will do so confidently. They will quite likely remember to greet people with poise, posture, and confidence, if they stand tall like a giraffe!

Lower that Voice

Children can become demanding if they don’t get their way. They raise their voices and stamp their feet in hopes of getting what they want. Here is an opportunity to remind them that the “kings of the jungle” often do not need to roar, brag, boast, or bully in order to get what they need. Lions are cool, regal cats and will save the roaring when they are confronted with danger. Otherwise, their behavior gets respect when they exhibit respect. Take advantage of times when you can teach your child to keep their roars only for situations that demand it and remind them how they will get more respect by showing good manners. Besides, roaring all of the time will lose its effect and no one will pay attention to the rude demands.

Remember to Say Thank You

Reminding children that even though the African elephant is the largest and strongest land mammal on Earth, they are known to never forget. This is a great point to make when teaching children to remember to write a thank-you note to someone who gave them a gift or did something kind for them. As a parent, you can ask your child, if you were an elephant, what would you remember?

Don’t Be a Whino Rhino

Unlike the lion, rhinos have short tempers. When they don’t get what they want, they snort and bellow and become cranky. They can cause fear and do not make friends easily. So, teaching children that in order to have friends they should not be a whino rhino, but instead be patient and kind. This way they will make more friends and be like a penguin that proves to be loyal companions.

Teaching children manners by using animals found in the safari, Antarctica, or maybe the farm next door, as examples will be another way to show them a bigger world in which they are a part. It not only illustrates to them how to “tame their manners” but the different personalities that animals have. More importantly, it gives you as a parent quality time with your child while having rollicking good fun.

Loretta Neff is president of the Elegant Way School of Protocol, a boutique etiquette firm represented in Fort Lauderdale, Naples, and West Palm Beach, Florida. Her beautifully illustrated book, “Tame Your Manners At K.A.M.P. Safari,” will entertain children of all ages. All net proceeds from the book go to charity. You may find out more about the book here: http://ewbooks.org/.

Teaching Children the Art of Happiness

These days, with so much to do, so much on our minds, lots of information – often negative; feeling stressed can become a way of being. People tend to live in a state of turmoil without realizing it. When we are constantly worrying about the future and every little detail, without seeing the big picture, we can forget about the importance of simply being happy. Unfortunately, children see and feel what their parents are inadvertently modeling.

Everyone wants a wonderful life for their children. But how can life be wonderful without happiness? We are all responsible for our own happiness. What can we do to help our children live a happier life?

First of all, adults need to work on their own happiness. It is helpful to take a gratitude break every day. Simply stop for a moment and give yourself a chance to think about what is good in your life. Be thankful for even the simplest things – a tree, the sun reflecting off of something, your own breath, a sip of water. Turn off the news and stop worrying about the latest disaster for a few minutes.

Everything in life happens in the present moment – now. So, true happiness has to come from making the best of what is happening in the present – right now. Make an effort to stop and enjoy something about the moment you are in now. Trust me, making this part of your daily routine can transform your life. Let your children know what you are doing for your own happiness. You are setting an inspiring example.

Below are some great activities you can pick and choose from to help teach your children how to grow their own happiness:

  • Allow your children some down time each day that doesn’t involve video games, computers, phones or television. Encourage them to make something with popsicle sticks or Leggos, do a puzzle, draw, listen to music, dance, toss a ball around, or anything else they enjoy doing.
  • Encourage your children to spend time with a pet. The pets in our lives bring us joy. They teach us unconditional love and can lighten up some very tough times with their presence. They make us laugh and bring us comfort. Pets give us the opportunity to focus on nonverbal communication which can pull us into a deeper level of awareness. Pets and children share a special bond. Most children love animals.
  • When your child complains about something, listen and acknowledge their feelings. Discuss whether or not the situation is something they can control or change. Let your child know that if they can’t change a situation, they can picture something else in their mind that would make them happy. Encourage your child to practice using imagination to create a happy picture. (Closing your eyes makes the picture clearer.) This activity will work best, and be more fun, if you do it too.
  • Help your children create a “Happy Thoughts List.” Ask them to list positive things that make them feel happy. Keep it as simple as possible. (Some good examples would be: a beloved pet, a stuffed animal, a favorite sport or activity, a favorite place, a happy memory, etc.) If a child enjoys drawing, encourage illustrations of some of the favorites on the list. (You can draw some items together.)
  • Encourage your children to choose and picture something from their “Happy Thoughts List” immediately when they need to move away from an upsetting or negative thought. Unhappy thoughts can be left behind by focusing on a new thought.
  • Teach your children how to take a “gratitude break”. Have them list or draw at least 5 things they love or feel grateful for. Help your child set up a “gratitude journal”. They can add a drawing, a picture cut out from a magazine, or a few words relating to anything they are grateful for. Something new should be added on a regular basis.
  • Take quiet walks with your children. Focus together on observing simple things like colors, movement (leaves moving in a tree, a plane moving across the sky, etc.) and sounds.
  • Suggest that your children pick something peaceful from nature to focus on when they feel worried. Encourage them to practice sitting quietly and breathing deeply, while picturing a special, peaceful place. (This is a perfect time to imagine pictures from the “Happy Thoughts List”.)
  • We can’t always have or do what we want. There’s often no control of what life puts in front of us. But, we can make every moment better by replacing hurtful, negative thoughts with positive images. We can remind ourselves and encourage our children to make the best of each moment.

Ethel K. Coffey worked as a reading specialist and special educator for more than 30 years. She has written other children’s books, including “Cloud Watchers.” Coffey was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and currently lives there with her husband David, their dog Baylee and their two cats, Cougar and Benney.

For more information, visit bookstore.balboapress.com. “How Meg Changed Her Mind” By: Ethel K. Coffey Available at bookstore.balboapress.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and inspiredtales.net.

Preschool: The Key to Your Child’s Future

Remember that sense of awe you felt when you first held your child in your arms? How you wanted to protect him (or her) and make sure he had the very best life possible? A great preschool education probably wasn’t top of your list of what would shape his future but, as it turns out, it is one of the most important factors.

A child that doesn’t go to preschool is at risk for the rest of his or her life. They’re 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to never attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. (Source: OunceofPrevention.org)

Those are some pretty alarming statistics. No parent would knowingly expose their child to these experiences. Yet 39 percent of children ages 3 – 5 years of age in the US are not in preschool.

School Readiness

One of the major benefits of a good preschool education is that it sets your child up to do well in school. Back in 1989 President Bush and the state governors established six goals for education in America. Goal number one was that “by the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.” We’re still a long way from achieving that goal.

Kentucky’s first statewide kindergarten readiness screening showed that 51 percent of students who began school in the fall of 2013 were deemed “not ready” – lacking basic literacy, math or cognitive skills such as knowing shapes, letters, numbers or knowing right from left. Numbers released by Ready Set Soar and Learn to Earn showed 63 percent of kindergartners in Montgomery County, Ohio are not ready to start kindergarten.

High School Drop Outs

With such a high percentage of our kids starting school at a disadvantage, it should be no surprise to learn that the high school dropout rate in the US has ballooned over the last 70 years. After World War II, the United States had the best high school graduation rate in the world. Today we’re at number 22 out of 27 industrialized nations (OECD 2012). The US Department of Education reports that more than 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States each year– that’s one student every 26 seconds, or 7,000 per day.

According to the California Dropout Research Project early education is one of the most effective ways to increase school graduation rates. If the US raised education performance to the level of Korea, where 93 percent of all students graduate on time, we’d improve the US economy by more than $2 trillion. (International Youth Foundation) That would make a huge difference to our economy.

Technology Can Solve the Problem

There are many barriers to providing universal preschool education for every child in the US – money, trained teachers, schools, to name just a few. But we do have something that we’ve never had before that can go a long way towards fixing this problem: technology and the Internet.

Many schools are using technology and tablets in the classroom to improve K-12 education. Now there is an online preschool resource that makes it possible for every child to get a quality pre-K education: a free online preschool.

CHALK Preschool Online has developed a curriculum based on the proven program used in their five preschool locations in Chicago and Los Angeles. With literally thousands of video lessons now online, there are unique lesson plans for each day.

Lessons are divided into age-appropriate classes with videos covering math, science and literacy led by a teacher. There are fun activities to do to reinforce the lesson and “teachable moments” that take advantage of activities and craft projects done both indoors and outside.

CHALK Preschool Online can be used at home by parents or care-givers, in day-care facilities or playgroups. It is the perfect solution for families who homeschool their kids and those who cannot afford to send their children to a quality preschool. However, it is just as valuable a resource for those children who are in preschool as a supplementary program of activities, songs and educational games that parents, grandparents and children can do at home, after school or on the weekends.

And the best part? It’s 100% free. Every child can now look forward to the best possible start in life. To register your child and get them started on this journey visit www.chalkpreschool.com

Chris Simber is the cofounder and president of Jazer Solutions, LLC. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in management. He has researched personal finance for over a decade seeking out trends and transitions from the last century, which has culminated in the creation of his new guide “Personal Finance Simply Understood.

11-Year-Old Author and Black Belt Shares Tips for Kids with Big Dreams

One of every five adults are procrastinators, and college students are even worse — 70 percent of them put off tasks, according to a DePaul University study.

At just 11 years old, Walter Levin knows that is not the way to get things done.

“Both kids and adults need to set goals and then get into the habit of working toward them,” says Walter, who recently published his first book, “The Kid Who Went to the Moon,” (www.spacekidbooks.com), and is working on his second in the series.

“I set aside a day and time, or days and times, every week to work on whatever project I’ve got. When it becomes part of your routine, you just do it!”

Walter’s book is also about a kid with a big goal, and the creative ways he and his best friend go about accomplishing it, including creating YouTube videos that go viral.

“Even though my book is fiction, I wanted it to be believable, partly because I like fantasy books that have enough real elements to make you think, ‘This actually could happen,’ but also because I want the kids who read it to really believe they can accomplish whatever they dream of,” Walter says.

Whether you’re a kid – or an adult – who procrastinates on working toward goals, Walter offers tips for success based on his first-hand experience.

• Focus on how you’re going to feel once you’ve made some progress.

“If you’re a person who has a hard time sitting down to work on something, whether it’s an essay for school or cleaning your bedroom, think about how good it feels when you’re almost done,” Walter suggests. “Being almost there can actually feel even better than finishing!”

(Numerous studies back up Walter’s observation: We’re happiest when we’re making progress toward our goals as opposed to when we achieve them.)

• Have faith that whatever you’re trying to do will get a lot easier with practice.

Walter is also an avid unicyclist, but he lost his balance more than once when he first tried to pedal a unicycle.

“I’m really glad for the experience of learning how to ride a unicycle because it was so hard for a long time. I thought, ‘This is impossible!’ and I wanted to give up,” he says.

Something, though, made him keep trying, day after day. Eventually, it became the easiest thing in the world.

“Whenever I’m trying something that seems like I’ll never get it, I think about how I felt when I first started unicycling,” Walter says. “You really can do anything with practice!”

• Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or other help.

Sometimes we forget that we’re surrounded by people who know things we don’t know, and who can help us out just by giving some advice or showing us what we’re doing wrong, Walter says.

“It’s not a fail if you need to ask for help to keep you moving toward your goal,” he says. “It’s actually really smart. Some people waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel when they could be using that time, and the wheel that’s already been invented, and creating something cool and new!”

Walter Levin is 11 years old, a black belt in tae kwon do, a unicyclist and a rock drummer who ran his first 10K at age 8. He lives in Orange County, Calif., with his family and two guinea pigs named Butterscotch and Fenway, who is named in honor of the Boston Red Sox. “The Kid Who Went To The Moon” is Walter’s first book.

Combining Birthday Parties

Our boy and girl twins were approaching their seventh birthday, and for every year previously my wife and I have been able to do a combined birthday party with our kids’ blessings. You might ask why we bother and not just do two separate parties. Two reasons: less difficult and cheaper. There are very few economic benefits to having twins, but only one birthday party has saved us money, as well as time. I also know of parents with different aged children who combine parties, and those that wish they could! But how do you do it when your twins are either of different genders and/or have very different interests?

Since our son and daughter have mostly dissimilar interests, we had to really research to find an idea that they both would be excited about. My son is very sports oriented, but my daughter has very little interest in them, but instead enjoys the arts, especially dance and music. It turns out that there are several possibilities in a variety of price ranges and I shall attempt to illuminate several of these.

At Home

You can always have the party in your own home if this is what you and the children desire and you have the space. But you might want to avoid themes, because it could be hard to combine a “Princess” theme with a “Superheroes” theme. Some themes that can work are ones based on movies or tv shows that both your twins enjoy and are into. For example, Toy Story allows for many possibilities, or Diego and Dora (two shows that are closely connected).

When your twins are younger you can always do a party with a variety of activities or games. If both your twins are really into a sport such as soccer, you could have a party that includes playing a game of it. I have also seen entertainers such as birthday clowns or children’s singers or even a costumed character coming to the home to do a performance for the children. There are also local companies that may bring exotic small animals into your home for the kids to see and even touch! Once again though, you would probably require some consensus from the twins for any of these ideas.

The other limiting dimension to most at home parties is that the majority of homes cannot accommodate a large number of guests so that your children may each be limited in the number of invites they each get. One other in-home idea that has proven successful is showing a DVD or a Blue Ray movie provided that you have a large screen television and enough viewing space for the number of guests that you want.

Outside the Home

There are a variety of options for combined birthday parties outside the home, and I will key on a few that seem to have mass child appeal. When our kids were both one year old and three years old, we had parties at a play center. Play centers offer an indoor playground atmosphere with jumping castles, ball pits, climbing equipment, and slides. They usually include a private party room with the option of either ordering food and/or bringing your own, and some even will create loot bags for you for an extra charge. Many also have a party host, and best of all to parents, clean up is often included!

The other great thing about play centers is that they can usually accommodate a large number of kids, even thirty or more in some cases. But be aware, that while some offer private play space for your party, many indoor playgrounds are not only available to other parties at the same time, but also to private individuals who want to use the facility. You may also be limited to a certain block of time, with very little flexibility. It is also true that play centers or indoor playgrounds can be expensive, but when everything is taken care of for a large number of guests, and two birthday children, it actually seems more reasonable. When kids are very young, however, you have to factor in food for the adults too, who have to stay with their children.

Cooking parties are also great, as long as your twins can agree on what to cook. When our kids were four years old, we did a party at a supermarket’s cooking school. It was a pizza and cupcake making party and both our kids and their guests had a blast making and eating their own individual pizzas, including rolling the dough and choosing toppings! Then they decorated a series of six mini cupcakes that became their loot bag to take home. It was a drop off party, and most parents did just that. We provided coffee and a fruit tray for the adults, and the party cost was quite reasonable. This particular place could accommodate a large number (up to about 30 children), but some cooking party centres may limit numbers.

We held their sixth birthday party at a trampoline center, and this was, and since has been a popular party with both boys and girls. Other similar and popular types of parties are bowling and glow-in-the-dark mini golf. Bowling parties, which are still quite reasonably priced, go back to when I was a kid. Parties at restaurants such as Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Busters are fine too, but it is still the games and winning tickets and prizes that are most exciting to the kids, rather than just the eating. Seeing a movie at a theatre is another idea, however, you might have to send out the invitations right before the party because sometimes theatres don’t know exact show times until a week or so before the date.

That brings us to this year. For our twins seventh birthday, we went back to the same play center that we used when our kids were three. No, we haven’t lost our minds! This particular one offers a wide variety of parties and you can even combine them. This is exactly what we did as we had a sports and games (such as soccer, dodge ball and relays) theme, along with a karaoke option. The party began with the kids having a choice of the two options, was broken up with the food and cake (which we provided), and then finished off in the gym with some more games for all the invited guests. The cakes and party plates and napkins were themed: Spiderman for my son and Monster’s High for my daughter.

A Few Final Tips

There are a few things that you should consider no matter what you choose to do for your party. We have always tried to get separate cakes, if at all possible. One party, the cake that was being provided was so large that we divided (but not cut) it in half, and decorated each half differently for our son and daughter, according to their requests. We always sing happy birthday twice. If the place you are holding the party provides a gift for the birthday child, insist on a second gift, and, if necessary, pay for it begrudgingly! One way to reduce the cost of food is to hold your party in between meal times (such as mid-afternoon) and just have snacks and cake. If all else fails, hold separate parties for each of your twins, and let me know how it goes!

Steven Jeffries is a father of twins and author of the book, Twice Blessed: A Parent’s Guide to Twins which is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. For more information on the book or to read his blog, go to http://atwinsdad.blogspot.ca.

6 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Nasal Congestion

Children’s nasal congestion is a problem that every parent has to deal with at some point. Especially with the spring here, there is a good chance that parents will have to contend with this issue at least for a few days during the season. A challenge for parents is finding effective ways to help their children breathe better.

“Watching a baby suffer from nasal congestion can be difficult,” explains Peter Champe, owner of Baby Comfy Care. “Babies breathe through their nose, so when they are congested it can be quite difficult on them, as well as the parents who see them suffering.”

The good news is that the more parents know about nasal congestion and what to do about it, the better off the baby will be. Here are 6 things every parent needs to know about nasal congestion:

  1. It’s common. Nasal congestion is a common condition among children. The problem is that with babies it can have a serious impact on feeding and sleeping, while with older children it is usually just an inconvenience.
  2. Beware bulb syringes. The blue bulb syringe that the hospital sends you home with after delivery, like everything in the hospital, is meant to be disposable. Instead, we reuse them over and over again, exposing our children and their siblings repeatedly to the germs we just removed from their noses. Bulb syringes can often not be cleaned out and are just not that effective at removing nasal mucus.
  3. Reasons vary. Nasal congestion can have many different causes, including common cold, flu, sinus infection, and allergies. Incidence of allergy soars in the spring, resulting in many more children with nasal congestion.
  4. Swollen membranes The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that congestion is often due to swollen mucus membranes and it creates a situation where the mucus has difficulty passing through the swollen area. While swollen membranes will not be addressed by nasal aspiration, removing excess mucus can still provide significant relief in children.
  5. Possible interference. Babies breathe through their noses during the first few months, often referred to as ‘obligate nose breathing.’ According to the NIH, nasal congestion can interfere with other things, such as sleep, nursing, hearing and speech development.
  6. Using effective treatments. Many products on the market are not all that effective in helping to clear nasal mucus in children. Choosing the right product makes all the difference. For example, the Baby Comfy Nose nasal aspirator, available at all Walgreens retail locations, is the most effective method to remove deep nasal mucus and is easy to use.

“Every parent wants congestion relief for their children,” adds Champe. “That’s exactly our goal with the Baby Comfy Nose. It’s safe and gentle because you control the suction and it works like nothing you’ve ever tried before.”

The Baby Comfy Nose aspirator was designed by Champe, an engineer, who was seeking a solution to his own children’s nasal congestion. The aspirator is BPA-free, made in the U.S., dishwasher safe, hygienic, and highly effective at removing mucus.

In addition to the Baby Comfy Nose aspirator, the company has also created a sun poncho for children, and a revolutionary safety nail clipper. The Baby Comfy Products are sold online at the company site, while the aspirator is also sold at all Walgreens retail locations. For more information on the product or to purchase it, visit the site at: www.babycomfycare.com.

Baby Comfy Care is a Longmont, Colorado-based company that specializes in unique baby care products. Founded by a dad and engineer, their premier product line includes the Baby Comfy Nose nasal aspirator, which is uniquely designed for effectiveness, comfort, and hygiene. The products were designed as real-world solutions to problems that their family encountered with their children. For more information on the company, visit their site at: www.babycomfycare.com.

Are YOU a Reality Parent?

If you are reading this, chances are you are a parent or one to be—a mother or father whose life doesn’t look anything like the “reality” television shows, movies, and books you’ve been introduced to. But this wasn’t always the case.

Growing up in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, I watched family friendly shows like The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss?, Growing Pains, Charles in Charge, and Family Ties. There were no Survivor islands, Jersey shores, weight loss resorts, or camera crews following a bunch of spoiled celebrities around all day, every day.

The shows I watched generally taught family values even if in short episodes and through exaggerated humor. There was safety in the consistent and quirky parenting style of parents like Dr. Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and Mrs. Keaton (from Family Ties), who parented with unconditional love and steady discipline. Parents who were always present in their children’s lives. Every day. Every show.

Then things started to change. Hollywood started dishing up two extreme perspectives on a nightly sitcom basis when it came to family entertainment. On one extreme, sitcom fathers are typified as spineless, philandering deadbeats unable to hold down a job or keep commitments, while mothers in many of these shows are portrayed as uneducated, superficial divas who aren’t able to care for themselves or their children. And according to contemporary programming, all children are spoiled, dysfunctional misfits who despise their parents. There are exceptions, but they are hard to find.

On the other extreme, family life is portrayed with the glitz, glamour, and paparazzi of a Kardashian reality show.

In real life, most mothers can’t afford a nanny to raise their children while they get daily massages, makeovers, and a personal trainer to help sculpt their buns into steel. Yet, prime time TV is where Americans spend their prime time; getting a snapshot into the life and follies of fictional families while laughing at their misadventures and dysfunctional lives.

And this is how we, as a society, help proliferate skewed paradigms concerning what family life should look and feel like. It’s time we awake from our hypnotic allegiance to the “tube,” stop watching someone else’s reality, and start living our own. Fortunately, most real families are actually functioning relatively well despite our unique dysfunctions and in spite of the entertainment industry. Our reality can probably be more accurately defined as continuous chaos interrupted by rare moments of peace . . . usually when the kids are in bed.

Being a good mother or father is far from being glamorous and doesn’t come with commercial breaks. It’s unmade beds, endless laundry, exhausting days, and three-week-old leftovers in the fridge. It’s pushing through to the weekend just to discover you actually don’t have a weekend anymore; it’s been sacrificed to the soccer, football, gymnastics, and dance gods.

This is reality parenting! And it has always been the reality. We just have to look away from the screen to find it. Reality parenting is also the small kisses and unconditional hugs, the sweet memories and hundreds of “first times.” It’s those moments when you overflow with so much emotion that your eyes cannot contain it all. It’s holding on tightly and knowing when to let go. It’s smothering with love and allowing freedom to grow. It’s hard to endure at times—and even harder to express—but like the millions who have gone on before you, it comes naturally. You just know what to do. This is reality parenting! The precious moments that cannot be felt or captured by reality TV, only in your heart and home. While everyone’s reality is a little different, we also have much in common.

Since becoming a father, I look at parent–child interactions a lot differently. I used to judge other parents and take note of what I wouldn’t do if I were in their situation. I am ashamed of my pre-parental self-righteousness. Reality has humbled me. What before was a noisy brat at the grocery store is now just a child testing his boundaries. I no longer hear crying babies in airplanes, just the sweet music of heaven in a frustrated infant’s melody.

And I feel for the mom or dad who is picking up the cereal boxes his screaming child has dumped in the grocery store aisle. Yes, as parents we continue to grow and learn just like our kids.

Reality Parenting is my attempt to share what I have learned from raising five children in a reality world without cameras or scripts. It is my candid and honest opinion on parenting—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

AN EXCERPT from the book, Reality Parenting: As NOT Seen on TV. Available at Amazom.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Treion Muller is a self-proclaimed “father in motion” of five delightful—but not perfect—children. Treion moved to the United States from South Africa in 1995 to attend college where he graduated with honors and married the most beautiful woman in the world. After working for a time in the “real” world” he continued his studies and received a master’s degree in adult learning, which he uses daily as FranklinCovey’s Director of Development, Digital Learning Solutions.

In addition to authoring parenting books, Treion is also a business book author, national presenter, and social media and online learning expert. Treion also draws inspiration from his experiences as a professional dancer, medic in the South African Army, missionary, university student body president, university mascot (the Thunderbird), and professional speaker.

Treion is the author “Reality Parenting: As NOT Seen on TV”, “Dad Rules: A Simple Manual For a Complex Job”, “Mom Rules: Because Even Superheroes Need Help Sometimes” (Coauthored with his wife, Soni). He has also coauthored two business books, “The Learning Explosion” and “The Webinar Manifesto”.

Reduce College Debt

Four ways to reduce college costs in high school

College is a significant investment and how to pay for it can be a major source of concern for parents and students. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of debt you take on when preparing for higher education.

Outstanding student loan debt has now reached $1.2 trillion, according to 2013 estimates from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Yet there are ways to help reduce the amount a family or student has to borrow to fund a college education, if families start early.

“It’s never too late for families of college-bound students to reduce costs, if they consider options well before senior year,” said Cynthia Tidwell, CEO and president of Royal Neighbors of America, one of the first women-led life insurers in the U.S.

Royal Neighbors has also awarded more than $4 million in college scholarships since 1962. “The key is to think creatively – whether it’s earning college credits in high school, using financial tools that allow for cash savings, or researching scholarship options – don’t mortgage your own financial future or saddle your child with debt that could keep her or him from reaching their dreams,” Tidwell added.

Four Ways to Reduce College Costs

  1. Earn college credit in high school. Many high schools offer students the opportunity to earn dual high school and college credit, before college, through advanced placement (AP) courses. You can learn more about AP programs online.
  2. Consider a community college. Average annual community college tuition and fees are less than half those at public four-year colleges and universities and one-tenth those at private four-year colleges and universities, according to a 2008 report from the National Center of Education Statistics.
  3. Learn about college savings financial options. There are many different financial products to help save for college. Under certain circumstances, some colleges and universities lock in tuition for all four years. Even certain life insurance policies offer cash savings options to help pay for expenses such as college tuition, weddings, or starting up a business. Look for permanent or whole life policies with cash value accumulation options.
  4. Research scholarships early. Scholarships are available for traditional and non-traditional students, but don’t wait until senior year to research. Some require organizational membership, volunteer hours, or criteria that may take time for the student to be eligible.

“Royal Neighbors of America believes that every woman and her family should be financially secure and that education is the key to a brighter future,” said Tidwell. “Don’t be discouraged by rising college costs. There are ways to save if you plan ahead.”

To learn more about scholarships and other member programs available through Royal Neighbors of America, log on to www.royalneighbors.org or call (800) 627-4762.

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