3 Fun Ways to Involve Children in Decorating and Setting the Thanksgiving Table

Can you believe it’s already Thanksgiving? Are the kids ready for a few days off?  This is the time of the year where families come together to celebrate one another and give thanks for what we have. You might be wondering how to get your kids into the spirit of the holiday, be thankful, and work together in a healthy way. Below are three ways to help your children learn positive independent skills while decorating for the holiday.

Craft Projects for the Kidsnsfs-thanksgiving-table-shutterstock_322123175

  1. Handmade Turkey Place Settings

Materials: Scissors, construction paper, and crayons/markers/colored pencils

Procedure: Have your child trace his/her hand on a piece of brown paper.  On the thumb draw the face of a turkey. In the palm of the hand, write the person’s name who will be sitting at the table.  On the other four fingers (the feathers) write four positive things about that person.  Cut out the handmade turkey and place it on the table where that person will be sitting. It will be a nice surprise for your family and friends!

  1. Painted Tablecloth

Materials: Paint (orange, red, brown, yellow, green), markers, paper plates, white tablecloth (easily found at the dollar store), and leaves (from outside)

Procedure:  Have your child pick out four leaves from the front yard. (There are always a ton in the yard around this time of the year). Place the the white tablecloth down on the table. Use the paper plates to pour the different color paint on each plate.  Dip the leaves in the paint and onto the cloth. Repeat with the different colored paint and the different leaves to make a colorful cloth. Lastly, have your child dip their hands in the brown paint to make hand turkeys. This table cloth can be used as an unique cloth for the appetizer, dessert, or kids table.

  1. Turkey Napkin Rings

Materials: Construction paper, wiggle eyes, scissors, markers/crayons/colored pencils, glue, empty paper towel tube (cut in about 1 and 1/2 inches)

Procedure: Have your child cut out a circle for the head of the Turkey on brown construction paper ( it should be half the size of the paper towel ring). Glue the wiggle eyes on the circle and draw (or cut on yellow construction paper) the beak. Glue the head onto the ring.  While that is drying, cut out different colored feathers on the construction paper. Glue them on the inside of the ring behind the turkey head. When it is finished, slide the napkin into the ring and put it on the plate. It is a festive way to add a personal touch!

Remember to be enthusiastic and proud of your child’s work. This helps encourage positive self-esteem and independent skills. Remind your kids that things don’t need to be perfect, but they just need to have fun!


Help! My Teen is a Perfectionist!

Is Your Teen a Perfectionist?

  • Is perfectionism and the pressures of daily life controlling your teen?
  • Does your teen have difficulties starting or completing a new task for fear that he or she will fail?
  • Is your teen struggling with schoolwork or participating in their after-school or athletic activities?

For many teenagers in our society, aiming for perfection and the overwhelming fear of failure is an unfortunate reality. Unlike “high-achievers,” many teens will often set lofty goals and assume complete failure if the goal isn’t met with sheer precision and perfection. These teens run the risk of constant disappointment, which can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and potential family and peer conflict. In order to mitigate the potential effects of perfectionism, consider the following strategies to help your teen find more balance in their daily life:

1) Promote Hard Work Rather Than Perfectionism

Encourage your teenager to consider goals that feel realistic and manageable, while still aiming for a challenge. It can be helpful to have conversations at the start of the new school year with your teen about his or her expectations and goals they have in mind. This can be a great opportunity to help your teen modify or eliminate goals that may be too overwhelming, such as participating three honors classes. Instead, encourage your teen to participate in one advanced class so they are able to dedicate their time to a challenge while also finding time for self-care, social events, and after-school sports and activities.

2) Defeat Negative Patterns of Thinking

Perfectionism is often associated with negative and self-defeating thoughts. These irrational thoughts will only exacerbate your teen’s anxiety and make it more challenging to find small successes and confidence within themselves. Teens will often use “all of nothing” thinking (such as failure or perfection) or engage in “catastrophic thinking” (a small mistake or error on a test will predict an “F” in the class). Encourage your teen to use a basic Cognitive Behavior Therapy technique called cognitive restructuring, where he or she can reframe or challenge the irrational thoughts. Help your teen to replace the irrational thought with a more positive thought or fact that is more grounded in reality. For example, we can change “I failed my science quiz and I’m going to fail the class” to “I didn’t do my best on this quiz, but I have many opportunities to ask my teacher for and the remainder of the semester to work hard.”


3) Cope with Stress and Anxiety in Healthy Ways

Foster a safe space for your teen to express their emotions and talk about their stressors. Often times, having an outlet and using healthy emotional expression skills can drastically reduce the pressures and anxiety your teen is experiencing. Encourage your teen to cope in positive and healthy ways, rather than internalizing and shutting down, Avoid negative coping skills such as immersing themselves in screens and electronics or napping to avoid the stress. Validate your teen’s concerns and anxieties while also challenging him or her to cope in healthy ways. This will look different for each teenage but can include playing sports or talking with his or her peers, listening to music, going for a run, journaling, drawing or even downloading a breathing or guided mediation app on their smartphone.

Talk with your teen about how he or she can view mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than total failures. Model positive self-talk and encourage your teen to “aim high” without resorting to perfectionism and self-defeating patterns of thinking in their academic and social worlds.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” – J. K. Rowling



Homecoming- No Date?

It’s Homecoming Time

The weather is getting cooler, the leaves will be turning soon, football season is underway, and of course, pumpkin spice is back! This all means that Homecoming is just around the corner.  homecoming

Maybe your teen is excited because they already have a date, the dress picked out and they have been practicing the newest dance moves. However, some teens may find this night creeping up a little too fast because they don’t have a date. They may be thinking that everyone else has a date but them. They may be worrying that they will be the only one without plans on that night.

Dateless for Homecoming

No Date? No problem! Here are a few tips to make being dateless a little less stressful.

  • Ask around! Not everyone has a date. Encourage your teen to use their networking skills! Whether they ask friends, friends of friends, or even someone from a different school, there is someone out there that doesn’t have a date and is just waiting to be asked.
  • Encourage them to go with a group of friends! Dates are overrated and purely optional for homecoming. Have your teen grab a group of friends and go to the dance! This can be more fun anyway. They wouldn’t be tied down to any one person; they can mingle with other people at the dance, or just hang out with their friends all night. There is also no pressure to match their dress with their date’s outfit. There is no pressure to dance those awkward slow dances. They can just have fun, dance, and enjoy the night.
  • Help them make some alternate plans! They may not want to ask just anyone and they don’t want to go solo to the dance. Help them make some plans. Take them to a restaurant they have wanted to go to or take a train ride to the city and go window-shopping. Take a drive to look at the changing leaves. Find something that will take their mind off of Homecoming and allow them to have a good story of why they couldn’t make the dance.

Not having a date for Homecoming seems like a disaster to your teen, but it doesn’t have to be. Encourage them to get involved with the school spirit days and the rivalry Friday night football game. Remember, Homecoming isn’t just about the dance!



TEENS – Summer Fun without Screens

Summer: School’s Out/Now What

Summer is a time to relax and enjoy without the stress of school.  The weather is hot, the pools are open, friends are in abundance, and the excitement is in the air. By the end of July, the summer excitement begins to fizzle out and the pool, beach, and usual activities are becoming redundant (read: BORING) to teens.

They Only Want to Be on their Phones/Tablets/Games

As the end of summer freedom approaches, it gets more and more difficult to keep the teens entertained without their electronics. However, too much screen time can lead to sleep, mood, and cognitive problems. Going overboard on screen time can interfere with the brain’s reward system making electronics addictive. Electronics and video games can release dopamine in the brain, which is the feel good chemical.

Too much stimulation can cause the reward system to become less sensitive and need more to get the same effect; like a drug.  So what’s a parent to do?

Here is a list of 21 screen-free activities.

  1. Challenge your kids to complete 3 activities each day before using their electronics.
  2. Bake cookies, cakes, pies, etc
  3. Walk to your local library and check out a book!
  4. Go bowling
  5. Make a collage of your favorite pictures, quotes, etc.
  6. Organize your room
  7. Check out one of your local parks and trails for hiking
  8. Ride you bike
  9. Go Rollerblading or ice skating at your local rink
  10. Design a scavenger hunt for a future party with your friends
  11. Visit a museum
  12. Make a piñata
  13. Learn to play an instrument – check out garage sales to find one!
  14. Make an obstacle course
  15. Carve a watermelon
  16. Play some board games – complete a game of Monopoly.
  17. Make a time capsule, bury it for 5 years.
  18. Make your own candy
  19. Take pictures in your local park or city.
  20. Go fishing
  21. Make a kite and fly it


Make your own list of activities.  If you need some resources, check out these sites:




A New Year in Elementary School: 8 Tips for Maintaining Success throughout the Year

Fall means that summer temperatures begin to drop, leaves start to change color and school is in full swing. The onset of a new school year is exciting for some kids as they settle back in to school, reunite with friends and resume learning. For other kids, a new school year may evoke less desirable feelings, such as anxiety Shutterstock girl excited about schoolabout the  year to come. As parents and caregivers, it is important to be aware of how your child experiences that transition back to school and the pressures they experience throughout the year, in order to support them and set them up for success.

1) Attend Open House, parent-teacher conferences and other school events. These opportunities provide the opportunity to form a relationship with your child’s teacher and other adults that interact with your child on a daily basis. This effort is also a way to lead by example. This action demonstrates your commitment to the school and investment in your kid’s education.

2) Have an open dialogue with your kids about school. Make sure your kids know that they can talk to you about the good, as well as the bad, regarding school.

3) Validate any feelings of frustration, dislike, sadness or worry they might have. Kids need to know that their feelings are normal and they will get through this.

4) Remind them that other kids feel the same way and that adjusting to a new year, as well as maintaining rigor, can be hard, but that we adapt and persevere.

5) Provide examples of other instances that your son/daughter demonstrated persistence. Reminding kids of their success in difficult times helps them become more resilient, giving them the “I can do it” attitude.

6) Expect some ebb and flow of emotions. Kids may change their mind about school by the day, hour or even minute! This may indicate excitement surrounding areas of confidence and success, as well as those aspects of school that trigger anxiety or dislike.

7) Help your child to acknowledge the positives and problem solve surrounding the negatives. For example, if your child is concerned about keeping up in math, brainstorm some solutions, such as, relying on the on the skills they already have, asking their teacher for help and working on homework together.

8) Involve your kids in signing up for extra-curricular or social activities. Extracurricular activities can provide a great opportunity for further learning, enjoyment and character development, if you child wants to be there. When kids feel that they had a role in the decision making process, they may present with increased dedication. By soliciting their input in activities, kids may experience an increased sense of control over the situation. When extracurricular activities are school-sponsored or engage kids your children see at school, they provide an additional opportunity to form a positive connection to school.

Kids at the elementary age need to explore which activities they enjoy and have success. Allow them these opportunities without “over scheduling” them where they resent not being able to have downtime to play with friends.

Good luck! Have a great school year!


Lollapalooza: What Parents Need to Discuss with Teenagers

shutterstock_195516488This weekend, Chicago hosts one of the biggest festivals in America, Lollapalooza. Lollapalooza is compared to Woodstock, perhaps because of the free-for-all, hippy-freedom atmosphere, not to mention the incomparable music. It draws over 100,000 people each day for the three day festival and is well-attended by teens. They love the music and hanging with friends. Yet, the lack of supervision can pose great risks too.

Lurie Children’s Hospital reports that during last year’s festival, 102 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 20 were admitted to the hospital for drinking related incidences. This was over twice the number of admits at the second highest weekend festival, Spring Awakening. Reports indicate that a majority of the people who are admitted to the hospital are white females from the North Shore. So, it DOES happen with OUR kids here in the ‘burbs.

How to Talk to Your Teen about Drinking/Drugs/Risky Behavior at Any Music Festival:

  • Discuss with your teenager that staying with friends is important. Safety in numbers. Always.
  • Never accept anything or give anything to anyone you do not know. I know it sounds like common sense, but teens are not the least impulsive people and sometimes do not think clearly about what is happening around them.
  • Be mindful of their own surroundings. If it seems “off”, it probably is.
  • Have them discuss a plan with friends about not drinking and watching out for each other. Make sure they STICK to it!
  • Keep their money in a location in FRONT of them, so they have access to it easily, but pick-pocketers don’t.
  • Have access to money if something happens and they need to take a cab or buy food/water quickly.
  • Eat well before they leave home. A full stomach slows the absorption of alcohol if they choose to drink (and don’t tell you)
  • Make sure that even when they are drinking water or non-alcoholic drink that they never put their drink down or hand it to someone else. Most “date drugs” are colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Establish rules and consequences. Rules might include no underage drinking, leaving parties where alcohol is served and not riding in a car with a driver who’s been drinking. Agree on the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.
  • Come up with a shared code word that will help both of you understand your teenager needs you as soon as possible.

The links below share more information about the festivals and alcohol consumption risks and statistics.



What other advice would you tell parents to tell their kids prior to music festivals like Lollapalooza?


Cabins, Campfires and Canoes! Tips for overnight camp success!

NSFS shutterstock camp cabin 1470231Going to overnight camp is a wonderful gift for kids and teens. It’s an opportunity to make friends, have fun and develop an increased sense of independence. Some kids may board the bus and seem to never look back, where as other kids experience some hesitation in taking that step. Parents too may experience some stress associated with getting their kids packed and ready for camp, as well as for their time spent away from home. Below are some tips for kids and parents to help create a successful overnight camp experience. Happy camping!

Tips for Kids

  1. 1. Try something new – Camp provides many opportunities that are not available on a daily basis when at home. Try something that you haven’t done before. Sign up for horseback riding, water skiing or ceramics. You may unexpectedly find an activity that you enjoy or are good at. This is also a good opportunity to meet new kids that you may not have hung out with before.
  2.  Include others – Just like at school, some kids will feel the need to create social “drama.” Sure, there will be some people in your cabin that aren’t going to be your best friend, but still treat them with kindness. Including others prevents negativity and drama that takes away from the true fun of overnight camp. No one wants to be on the excluding end, so treat others how you want to be treated.
  3.  Create your support system – All kids experience some degree of homesickness throughout their overnight camp history. Homesickness can be very difficult and may feel lonely, if you do not have a close friend or counselor that you can share your feelings with. You may not want to share your feelings with everyone in your cabin, but it is important to confide in another camper or counselor. Likely they have experienced similar feelings or can share that other kids are feeling that way too. Friends and support systems are there to help us when we are feeling down. They may be able to offer a hug, help to distract you or cheer you up. Likely, you will feel a sense of relief knowing that you can talk with someone and that you are not alone with your feelings.

Tips for Parents

  1. Label clothes – As much as you’d like to imagine that cabins are neatly organized, clothing inevitably gets mixed amongst campers. Overnight camp is full of dress-up and themed nights, not to mention the sharing of tank tops, headbands and bandanas. Labeling clothing is an easy way to help your kiddo stay organized and provide you with peace of mind that he/she will come home with all (or most J) belongings.
  2.  Validate feelings, but instill confidence– In the days and weeks leading up to departure to camp, he or she may be nervous, afraid, excited, or all of these at once. It is important that you keep your own emotions in check in order to validate his or her feelings. Make sure s/he knows that the feelings are normal and that lots of kids going off to camp have those same feelings. Remind them that the unknown is ok and that they will soon feel at-home at camp. Be sure to communicate a sense of confidence in your kid’s ability to be successful at camp, even though they may experience some uncomfortable feelings. Kids look to their parents in times of uncertainty and if you are confident, they are more likely to adopt the same perspective.
  3. Let go of the control – Remember that the take away from overnight camp is not the number of times per day teeth are brushed, how well clothes are organized or how many letters are written each day. Kids remember and feel fulfilled by the relationships they form, their newly found sense of independence, the frequency of laughter and a strong sense of belonging. Communicate some self-care and organizational suggestions, but allow your son/daughter the freedom to navigate the daily routines of overnight camp.

Overnight Camp: Survival Guide for Parents

shutterstock summer camp_173428661The kids are off to overnight camp! Which parent of summer campers are you? Are you one of the “I can’t wait till they’re off” folks, or the “I can’t wait till they come home” types? The former are often parents of veteran campers, or moms/dads who had great overnight camp experiences themselves, and eagerly envision their children experiencing the same. The latter is admittedly more challenging. It’s an uncomfortable feeling…the sense that something is a little “off,” a perpetual worry that plays in your gut, a pensive anticipation at random moments…this is the stuff that extended separations from our children produce in parents of fledgling overnight campers. But fear not, because the experience is not only temporary, but growth-promoting, for parents and kids alike.

What Your Kids Need

They need to know that you’re ok…so that they can be ok! If you focus too much on telling your child how much you will miss them, or anticipate every possible issue or concern that might potentially arise, they may begin to question your belief that they can handle the experience. It is best to envision the best possible outcomes your child may have, and keep that in mind when interacting during the weeks and days leading up to their departure.

They need to know that you believe they are capable. Most overnight camps don’t allow parents to call or text their child while at camp for this very reason: to allow kids to adjust and be successful away from their parents. When your child starts to think of all the “what ifs” that can happen at camp, reassure your camper that she can think through options and problem-solving, as well as taking appropriate risks in reaching out to new friends and camp counselors. The potential for developing self-confidence starts with sons and daughters meeting new challenges with an open mind, and a silenced cell phone.

What You Need

As important as enabling your child to feel competent, is to recognize that you as the parent are capable of enjoying a summer camp break as well! It’s great to spend some time focusing on yourself, or engaging in a little extra couples-time, or perhaps spending some special one-on-one time with other kids or family members while your camper is away. Replenishing your own energy and resources is a great gift to yourself, and provides an important example to your kids about good self-care, as well.

Life Lessons

So…what happens if your kid struggles during camp, or wants to come home? Rather than over-react, consider the possibility that a teaching moment has arrived. Would you hop in the car and bring Junior home, acknowledging that it’s too difficult to tolerate loneliness or upset or anxiety (and yes, that includes YOU tolerating those feelings in yourself)? Or, would your child benefit from encouragement that there is something she/he can do to feel better, that the difficult feelings won’t last forever and that they can make choices, both attitude and action-based, that will help them tolerate the experience with an open mind and heart. When a kid learns how to make themself feel better, even just a little bit, it


4th of July: 7 Creative Ways to Celebrate

NSFS Shutterstock 4th of July_106943369 It is July 4th, the perfect day to spend with your family. Of course, it’s a day to celebrate with our friends and family, but it is also important to teach our kids the meaning of this day and explain that it isn’t just about parades, carnivals, barbecues, and fireworks. Talk with your kids about why today is called Independence Day. I challenge you to find some engaging activities outside the run of the mill Independence Day favorites. Need some inspiration? Here are 7 new ideas.

1. Bake red, white and blue treats. You can bake cookies shaped like flags or cupcakes with red, white, and blue frosting

2. Try making this Fourth of July Wand. It’s a simple, colorful craft that will provide the festive aesthetics of fireworks and sparklers. This is great for all ages!! http://www.allkidsnetwork.com/crafts/4th-of-july/4th-of-july-wand.asp

3. Set up a relay race or water balloon fight with two teams: Americans and British!

4. Have an old-fashioned pie-eating contest in the backyard that relatives of all ages can take part in.

5. Make your own flag. Use Popsicle sticks, poster board, and markers to design your own special flag!

6. Make a Red, White and Blue Spritzer Fill a glass with frozen blueberries and strawberries, and top with Sprite or 7UP. This refreshing, patriotic treat encompasses the colors of the flag — and cools you off for summer! You could also freeze red and blue Kool-Aid in ice cube trays, and add the colorful cubes in place of the frozen fruit. Both are simple and rejuvenating.

7. Make a fourth of July Confetti Popper. This reusable popper lets you launch paper “fireworks” during Fourth of July parades and barbecues — or wherever confetti is needed.

a)  Cut the top 2½ to 3 inches from a clean plastic bottle and discard the rest.

b)  Cover the cut edge with tape.

c) Stretch the mouth of a party balloon over the bottle’s opening.

d)Work the neck of the balloon over the threads of the bottleneck

e)  Cut paper into confetti, then pour the pieces into the popper.

f) Hold onto the bottleneck with one hand, and pull down on the bottom of the balloon with the other.

g) Let the balloon snap to launch a shower of confetti.


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