Preserve that smile: Tips for finding the right dentist for your kids

child getting teeth cleaned

Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, so finding a good dental home is paramount in achieving dental health. Much like well-visits with a pediatrician, regular dental check-ups should be a priority. And starting dental care early can help promote a positive life-long dental experience.

Getting started

Referrals are very helpful when choosing a dentist and a good place to start is by asking your pediatrician. Friends and family with kids can also be good resources. If you’re looking specifically for a pediatric dentist, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has a great search feature by location.

Both family dentists and pediatric dentists can see pediatric patients. However, a pediatric dentist received two additional years of training pertaining to pediatric dental needs and psychology; he or she may be better prepared to address pediatric-specific dental issues including thumb-sucking.

It is a good idea to consider location as well, especially when your child is new to the dentist and may need to go more frequently than every six months. Once you have some recommendations, it is a good idea to visit the practice to get a feel for the atmosphere before choosing a dental home.

Office environment

While credentials may be of utmost importance to parents, a child’s first impression will be the waiting room and staff they meet upon arrival to the dental practice. An office with books for kids to look at and cheerful imagery will go a long way in reducing anxiety. Some small things like a step stool in the bathroom, no cavity clubs, positive reinforcement treats/stickers, and sunglasses to wear when under the bright lights can make kids feel welcome too.

Ask questions to find out who will be cleaning your child’s teeth; regardless of whether it is the dentist or the hygienist, make sure that person has experience with kids of all ages. Ask how he or she responds to a child who has some anxiety at the dentist and if you think your child may fit that bill, plan ahead and see if there is anything you can do to prepare your child. Determine what is included at the first visit and how frequently the dentist typically sees a child. Inquire as to what imaging studies may be routine and how often they are recommended. Finally, ask how the dentist handles after-hours emergencies.

As we observe pediatric dental care month, take the time to find a dental home and protect your child’s smile for years to come.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

Making writing fun!

young boy writing with marker

Did you know that the stronger a child is in reading, the better writer they will be?  Also the more children write, the better they become in reading.

Writing is a challenging skill, but one that we need in our daily lives. While you might think writing is something that a child begins in school, fostering the development of these skills at a young age before that can help your child’s success in school. It also helps develop skills as a writer, too.

Writing doesn’t need to be a chore or another huge task that you do each day. Instead make writing fun! If your child wants to do more, provide those opportunities. If your child gets discouraged, back off for a day or so. Take the lead from them.

Here are ways that will both encourage and develop writing skills.

  • Writing Corner. Find in a place in your home to set up a table and chair for your child. Make a “writing bin” and fill it with things like:
    • fat and thin pencils
    • pens and markers of different sizes and colors
    • different paper (e.g., plain, lined, construction, newsprint-size, index cards, etc.)
    • dry erase board, marker and eraser
    • scissors and glue
    • ribbon and yarn
  • Be a role model. Let your child see you write, whether it’s a grocery list, a thank you card or to-do list. While you are writing, tell them what you are doing.
  • Make a book. This can be done with children of all ages. Children can design a book cover, write a story (or you take their dictation) and illustrate it. The book can be bound in soft or hard cover at places like Shutterfly.
  • Make writing authentic.
    • Write notes. Offer your child assistance he needs to thank someone for a gift or something special. For the very young child, he can dictate the note to you and sign it at the bottom. Or surprise your child with a sweet note in his lunch box. Don’t be surprised when he sends a note back to you.
    • Make the grocery list. Get your child involved by asking her what she would like on your shopping trip and have her write it down. If your child is younger and can’t write words, ask her to draw a picture instead and you can write the word underneath it. For older children, they may be able to write the sounds they hear in the word. Tip: If your child takes the time to write something for the list, it is important that you purchas some or all of what she writes.

For younger children

  • Name writing. Children love to write their names! For the very young child, write her name in big letters and have her decorate it with markers, ribbon, or something else you choose. As the child gets older, have her write her name in as many ways and colors as they can. Elementary school children can practice their name in printing, cursive, large and small letters.
  • Window painting. Don’t worry parents, it’s fun and easy to clean up. You can either buy window crayons (Crayola makes them) or make your own paint. In a plastic cup, mix two parts washable tempera paint and one part dish soap. Put a drop cloth on the floor or do this activity outside. Children can practice letters, numbers, their name, words or illustrations. Clean up with water.
  • Glue tracing. This is an excellent pre-writing activity. Using a bold marker, write letters or your child’s name on a sheet of construction paper. Use larger letters for younger children, decreasing size as they get older. Have the child trace the letter with colored glue. When it dries, children will see their writing in that color; it will also be raised so children use their fingers to trace over to feel the letter and how it is formed.
  • Letter rubber stamps. Purchase letter stamps and stamp pads. Have your child stamp the letters, their name or a message to someone they love.
  • Shaving cream. Forming letters and numbers is extra special with shaving cream.
  • Salt/sand trays. Place salt or sand on a tray or cookie sheet and encourage your child to correctly form their letters and numbers. You can get colored sand to make it more fun. The best part about salt and sand: A little shake of the tray makes it ready to start again.

For older children

  • Let’s pretend. On a piece of cardboard, have your child paint a sign for the name of a restaurant. On a folded sheet of large paper, have your child design a menu cover. Inside, write a list of the items that they will sell in the restaurant. To push it farther, give the items a price that they would see it for. You can even give your child a notepad and have them take orders from anyone willing to play along.
  • Sentence formation. Start with five or six words. Write one word a piece on a small piece of paper, 3″ x 5″ card, or popsicle stick. Have your child read the words and use the words to make a sentence. You can increase the amount of words as their skills increase.
  • Write from photos. Young writers are most comfortable writing about themselves and things that they’ve done. Print some of your vacation, holiday or special pictures and have them available for your child to write about. A young child can dictate their story and as they get older, they can write for themselves. Start with a sentence and as time goes by, encourage your children to add another. Little do they know, as children get better, they have more to say.
  • Write a comic. Use dialog bubbles for the characters to speak. Comics are fun as the child writes a limited amount and gets to illustrate, too.
  • Write a play or TV show. Starting with two characters, write a short script with a beginning, middle and end. This can be a difficult thing to ask of a child. One way to make it easier is to have your child write one sentence and you write the next. You can also do a family journal: Keep a spiral notebook out and have someone write in it each day. Starting at the beginning of a notebook and going to the next page each day is fun, but you and your child will see their progress in letter and size formation, as well as length and complexity of his writing.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Kindness counts

"be kind" in chalk

Sunday marked the beginning of “Random Acts of Kindness” week. Knowing it was coming up, I decided to run a two-week experiment in our household; I’ve heard it takes two weeks to make something a habit.

Our family dinners always include a report of the day by each family member. My husband and I ask our kids to share a banana split (something good about their day) and a banana peel (something hard). A few weeks ago, my husband decided to also ask the kids, “What was something kind you did for someone today?” In theory, this was a great idea! Unfortunately, we sometimes got side tracked by our banana splits/banana peels and forgot to follow up with the kindness question.

For the past two weeks, my husband and I recommitted ourselves to asking our kids every evening at dinner, “How were you kind today?”

Here are some highlights:

  • By the third night, the kids were reporting their kind act without being prompted by the adults.
  • The gestures progressed into more authentic acts of kindness as the two weeks progressed. For example, “I held the door open for my teacher” became “I asked John to sit with me at lunch because he looked unsure about where to sit.”
  • One act of kindness became several acts of kindness throughout the day.
  • By participating ourselves, we modeled a variety of kind acts and that encouraged our kids to show kindness in different ways (to a friend, to a stranger, to themselves, to a pet, etc.).
  • The kind acts began — and I use that term lightly 🙂 — to filter into the kids’ relationships with each other.

In our house, kindness counts. It’s a family value and now it’s become something we all practice daily.

– Andree Palmgren is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Westport, CT. She is also a mom to a 15, 13, 10 and 5-year-old.

Love scavenger hunt

scavenger hunt clue

Valentine’s Day used to mean I looked forward to flowers and candy from my hubby (And I still do like those things if you’re reading honey,) but besides my husband’s modeling this for my two young boys, I questioned how do I explain this holiday to them?

Anyone could look up the history behind St. Valentine and end the discussion there. However, I’ve been on a mindfulness journey recently and taking an extra minute to really think about the decisions I make for my family. Do I want to show my children that this holiday is another event for candy? (There are just too many of those already!) Along this journey, I’m also paying extra attention to the lessons and traditions that I start for my family. After all, this will shape their lives and eventually how they celebrate this “holiday” in their own adult lives—maybe even one day carry on the traditions with their own children.

Instead of candy, giant teddy bears, or a love explosion concentrated in one day, I started the tradition of a Love Scavenger Hunt.

I created little rhymes and riddles that lead my oldest son, who is almost five, on an adventure throughout our house to highlight the everyday kind of love we have in our family. Once my youngest is old enough, he will get his own set of clues to play detective and join in on the fun.

My husband will tell you that I’m not the best at rhyming, as evidenced by my constant questions of “What rhymes with …..” in bed while writing the clues, but I’m the best at being grateful for everyday moments with my kids. I’m a big fan of gentle tickling my little ones wake them up, bedtime stories, card games at the kitchen table, and movie cuddles. So why not highlight these ordinary moments of love to show my boys that my love isn’t overflowing for them on Valentine’s Day? My love for those two rambunctious boys overflows for them every day.

I will disclose that at the end of the scavenger hunt my 5-year-old boy gets a big prize of dinner and movie (both his choice) with mommy or daddy. I feel this prize is fitting because it highlights that the importance of Valentine’s Day isn’t on the present or candy, but with the people who you love.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Fabulous winter outdoor photography tips

silhouette of boy and girl jumping at sunset

You’ve been waiting for what seems like forever. Gazing wistfully through the icy windowpane, you sigh in impatience as each day passes with less-than-ideal conditions. Just as you reach your breaking point, it comes: An overcast day … and it’s just what you wanted.

The lighting is finally perfect for your outdoor photo shoot!

OK, so it seems strange to desire an overcast day. But believe it or not, sunlight isn’t the best to work with when taking pictures outside. Why, you might ask?

When mixed with clouds and trees, sunlight can cast erratic shadows that are difficult to erase even with editing software. Your subjects may be well-lit in the front, yet they’re squinting because of the light shining into their eyes. Put the sun behind them and their faces might be draped in darkness. The best solution is to remove the sun from the equation completely.

With the lighting set, you should consider your setting. Winter can seem very stark and bland—void of color. So instead of color, focus on texture. Tree bark, bricks and stone are all great options against which to pose your subject. Weather-beaten boards, such as the side of an old barn, look great too. If you do want some color, look around for some graffiti; some buildings in Berkley and Royal Oak feature buildings on which an entire side is dedicated to a gorgeous work of art.

You have your lighting and your setting. Something else to think about is your style. Do you want all posed shots, where everyone is facing (and smiling at) the camera? Do you want everyone centered? Go ahead and get some of those. Then consider sneaking in some candid shots. Get the one where everyone burst into laughter because someone tooted.

The “Rule of Thirds” is a popular one in photography; there are different levels of complexity to this. In the simplest terms, the subject(s) are in one-third of the frame, be it the left, right, or bottom. Shoot some off-center. Also consider tilting the camera and snapping faces from a different angle. Lie down on the ground and shoot up. Climb on a picnic table, gather everyone close to you, and shoot down. You may find that some of the best pictures are captured when conventional poses are tossed out the window.

If Mother Nature somehow confounds you and presents you with one sunny day after the other, you do have some recourse. Find a hill. At sunset, have your subjects gather at the top of the hill and take some pictures as the sun dips down towards the horizon behind them. Use your editing abilities (this can be done on a phone as well as with computer software) to tone down the amount of light in the image. The resulting picture is a timeless silhouette, framed in the vibrant colors of that darn winter sun.

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and a huge fan of silhouette photos.

Raising healthy girls through sports

two girl soccer friends

As the mother of two daughters, a prime focus of mine is raising them to become strong, confident women. One way to encourage this is through sports.

Even for those not athletically inclined, introducing sports from a young age encourages development of physical strength and confidence, which helps create a healthy body image and increased self-esteem. Sports can be introduced in the form of individual sports or team sports.

Fostering a love for individual sports, such as running or swimming, can provide a later groundwork for future stress relief. If you and your child share that individual sport, it is a great way to bond with your child and sharing a lifelong love of a similar activity can be beneficial later in life as a constant to bond over.

Team sports can also provide a lot of benefits for girls by encouraging teamwork and facilitating positive social interactions. Sports also help to teach discipline, which can positively impact behavior at home and in school. Introducing sports from a young age can help girls to appreciate their bodies for their strengths and not just their beauty as many stereotypes focus upon.

Getting started

Introducing young girls to sports is easy even if you aren’t passionate about sports yourself. Many individual sports such as running can be practiced at home or in a nearby park. It can be fun to use a timer to track a child’s pace, help her achieve her goals, and monitor progress.

Most team sports start as young as age 3, but it isn’t necessary to wait until kids are preschool age if you’re able to join them for some parent/daughter bonding time. Once kids are about 18 months, there are many parent and child classes offered in the surrounding communities. Some common early-organized sports available to young girls are soccer, t-ball, dance, basketball and tennis. Once girls are preschool age, many of these organized sports are offered in a team setting through local YMCAs, community centers, and studios. Public schools also are a great resource as their varsity and JV teams sometimes have outreach programs offered to introduce school-age children to their corresponding sport. And, if you’re like me when introducing something new, a great place to visit is the library. After watching a few innings of a local elementary school softball game last summer, my daughter happily checked out several books on softball and baseball.

There are also many low-cost ways to introduce your daughters to sports with minimal equipment. Many local school playgrounds are open to the public during after-school hours and in the summer. There are often basketball hoops, soccer goals and baseball diamonds available at these schools. Investing in some kid-safe equipment and joining your daughters in practicing sports can build confidence and can be a fun bonding experience. In addition, some good sidewalk chalk can go a long way in creating a baseball diamond at home, although encouraging a younger brother to run to second base may still pose a challenge!

Above all, what is most important when introducing sports to young girls is to help foster a healthy appreciation of sports. By instilling this healthy habit, girls can increase their confidence through strength and positive social interactions, which in turn can help them to become strong, confident women.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

Two-step bus stop

girl painting ceramics

My life changed on a late day in November 2007 and again on an early day in May 2011 when my daughters were born. I went from a carefree, newly married guy to an overprotective father when each of them cried in the delivery room. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this as a bad thing but more as an important piece to a nearly deadly incident involving my youngest daughter.

There was talk around the house that we were going to make our triumphant return the local daddy/daughter dance put on by our local parks and rec department. Sadly, for us, the tickets sold out in a heartbeat so we needed to make alternate plans.

Do the three of us go out to dinner? Movie and a trip to the ice cream shop?

After careful consideration, we decided to do separate daddy/daughter dates, which  led to much more discussion on what to do. After much thought, and back-and-fourth, my youngest picked going to paint pottery and hit one of her favorite restaurants, Noodles and Company.

Date night came; we dressed nicely but not too nice just in case we got paint on ourselves. We hopped in the truck and headed to the next town over. I missed the turn for the parking structure, but we found some street parking. We needed to walk about five blocks though, but no big deal because we were having fun chatting.

We came to the corner of a four-lane road and a side street. I explained the difference the between the red icon that was lit up and the white “walk” icon that eventually showed itself. We took a couple of steps off the curb and I had to pull my daughter away from an oncoming bus. We were within inches of this being a totally different blog article.

The sleepy-eyed driver “didn’t see” us nor the other woman coming the other direction; she had to use some fancy footwork to avoid becoming part of one of those bike racks every bus seems to have nowadays.

What really happened? The driver wasn’t paying attention and jumped the light because, as only I can guess, he had something more important to do or place to be. He didn’t make it on his scheduled route for a few minutes because the protective dad came out of me and I had a few choice words for him.

I said a few things I wish I hadn’t, not because he didn’t deserve them—which he did tenfold—but because my screaming scared my daughter more that the actual near miss did. That put a damper on part of the evening, but we had a talk about why I reacted the way I did and she seemed to understand and even asked for a hug.

Any parent, aunt or uncle, or grandma and grandpa changes with the first cry of their child, niece or nephew, or grandchild. It’s up to us to control that protective behavior so that we don’t do more damage than what we’re trying to protect them from.

After the hug, we painted some pottery and chatted about stuff we’d never talk about with her sister around; it was quite the bonding moment. And if you were wondering, she got her favorite dinner from her favorite restaurant.

– Jim Pesta is a past Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.


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