Coping with Christmas after loss

sad child wearing Santa hat looking out window at rain

The tree is decorated, stockings hung, twinkling lights and vibrant colors are everywhere. Your calendar is full of holiday parties, the to-do list is long, and the music of the season speaks of joy to the world and how it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet all that fills your mind is the void of someone you loved and lost. In the past two years, the Parenting Program team of staff, students and volunteers have experienced some significant, sudden and tragic losses. The Christmas season after loss can bring a tremendous amount of grief, during a time when the general expectation is that everyone is feeling holly jolly and full of the holiday spirit. Everyone copes differently; for some people, surrounding themselves with family and their traditions is a comfort, for others it magnifies the loss.

Here are some tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Some you may love, others not so much. My hope is that you may find something here that makes this difficult season a tiny bit more tolerable, and that there are moments of joy even amid missing those who are gone.

“Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

  • Acknowledge that the holidays will be tough and verbalize this to friends and family.
  • Consider what traditions you would like to keep, and what traditions you may want to change, even if just temporarily.
  • Create a new tradition to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Purchase a candle and when you turn on the lights of your Christmas tree, light the candle in memory of the person you lost.
  • Think about the location of your holiday celebration. Make a conscious decision whether you want to keep it the same or make a change.
  • Keep in mind that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are.
  • Put out a memory box with small slips of paper and pens so people can write a treasured memory. Take some time to read the memories aloud, or invite guests to read them individually.
  • Prepare one of your loved one’s special recipes, or something that was a favorite of theirs.
  • Be honest about how you are feeling, and what you do and do not want to do when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations.
  • Participate in a service project or activity in honor of your loved one.
  • Make an appointment with a counselor or therapist. Maybe this has been something you have putting off, but with the holidays bringing grief even closer to the surface, it may be a perfect time.
  • Consider choosing a few of your loved one’s belongings and gifting them to someone else who is grieving the loss.
  • Visit your loved one’s final resting place and leave a wreath or poinsettia.
  • Ask for and accept help, whether it is assistance cooking a holiday meal, shopping or emotional support.
  • Give yourself a gift. Treat yourself to something you have had your eye on.
  • Focus on gratitude. Even if it is something tiny, make a point to write down one thing you are grateful for each day.
  • If you have children who are grieving along with you, be sure to talk to them about what they may be feeling and consider doing a memorial grief activity or craft together.
  • Say no. If a certain event or gathering just seems too much, give yourself permission to skip it.
  • Don’t feel guilty for the moments of happiness and joy you may feel throughout the season; it doesn’t mean you don’t love or miss the person who is not with you this holiday season.

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director

Digital diet for your family

little boy using phone

Children are growing up in media-rich environments that include television, computers, phones, tablets, video games, and other mobile devices. Although these technologies open doors to a wide range of education and fun, there are risks associated with overuse, especially for young children.

Researchers found that increases in media use during childhood led to increases in BMI; fewer minutes of sleep per night; delays in cognitive, language, and social development; and poorer executive functioning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 18 to 24 months have no screen time at all. At around 18 months, the possible exception becomes video chatting with relatives and friends. From about 1½ to 5 years, the AAP recommends allowing no more than one hour of screen time. After age 5, the recommendation is that screen time decisions be made factoring in the educational value and interactive quality of the activities, and that screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep or exercise.

Under the age of 2 years, children’s brains are developing fast. They need communication, hands-on exploration, and social interactions to help develop cognitive, language, motor, social and emotional skills. They are not able to generalize images from a TV or iPad to a real-life experience.

Preschool-age children are developing higher-level skills, including task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking. These skills are best taught through unstructured play and parent-child interactions.

Remember that all children are learning from their family members’ examples, so think about your own screen use. Increased use of mobile devices by parents is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions with their children. Over 40 percent of parents report that their children ask them to put down their devices, and about half indicate that screen time takes time away from reading and other activities.

Of course, tablets and phones are a good way to calm your child in the airport or while checking out at a store, but try to avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Finding the right balance of real-life interactions and technology is important for children to learn and grow.

When you do use screens in your home, make them interactive:

  • Pause a video and talk about what you see.
  • Use the same toys, or do the same activities as what is on screen.
  • Apply information to real life.
  • Sing songs from shows during those routines at home.

Experts recommend a Digital Diet for children, customized to your family. Consider the following ideas for creating rules and sticking to them:

  1. Earn screen time by completing a non-screen activity:
    • Worksheet/summer homework page
    • Real play with siblings for 20 minutes
    • Exercise or outdoor play for 20 minutes
    • Completing a household chore
  2. Require siblings to agree on a show before watching.
  3. No screens before or after certain times (e.g., not before breakfast, not after dinner, etc.).
  4. Avoid screens in the evening, as this is related to poorer sleep.
  5. Create media-free zones in your home (e.g., no technology at the dinner table).
  6. Don’t leave the TV on in the background.

For the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Media and Young Minds, visit:

Additional information can be found here.

– Kellie Bouren, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Summer slide: It’s not a dance

boy reading

We’re all excited as the school year ends and summer is upon us. Most children are so happy on the last day of school as it means sleeping in, staying up late, and best of all: no homework! But many parents know that we must keep our children reading, writing and doing math to prevent the “summer slide.”

What is the summer slide?

This is the slide in academic skills that happens over the summer. When our children return to school, they’ve fallen to a level lower than they were at when they left school in June. Typically, students can lose up to two months of learning in the summer and it takes the next grade’s teacher four to six weeks to get students back to the level where they previously were. The most profound thing about summer slide is that it is cumulative.

Over the years, the one- to two-month slide adds up and creates a gap by the time the child reaches high school. However, a parent can help your student avoid the “summer slide,” provide the opportunity to step right into the new grade level, and even learn the new grade level materials.

Summer slide is more common in lower-income levels, although no student is exempt.

Reading over the summer

Research shows that the amount of time that students spend reading outside of school is linked to gains in reading achievement. In fact, it shows that if your child reads just six books during the summer months, the summer slide can be avoided!

However, these books need to be “just right fit” books. Talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year to find the right reading level. The books can’t be too hard or too easy; they need to be just right. This video can help determine a “just right” book.

A child is most likely to read books that he or she selects. We need to give children the time needed to select books that will motivate them to continue to read all summer.

Summer reading programs

  • Most libraries offer free reading programs that are motivating and fun. Check out your library online or at your next visit, so your child is signed up and ready to participate. Libraries are meant to be a place to read, have fun and learn as a family. When my children were little, I packed a lunch, went to the library, then headed to the park to spend some time both playing and reading.
  • Some bookstores offer summer reading programs and discounts on books. One chain even rewards summer reading with a free book at the end of the summer. Also, purchasing books for your own home library may be fun for your child, especially for high interest books. Many stores have a book list for each age and grade that children love, as well as the top picks for different age groups.

Just keep on reading

One of the most important tips that I can offer to parents is to keep reading! It isn’t meant to be something we do for a half an hour a day. It can be done all day and every day.

In the morning, grab a newspaper and read the comics, the headlines or weather. In the afternoon, provide time for your child to read the “just right” books that they selected. In the evening, find time to read with your child and encourage them to read aloud to you. Talk about the vocabulary that you encounter in your reading. Reading together helps build listening skills, as well.

When your child was an infant, you may have had books all around the house. As children grow, we tend to keep books in a central location. Instead, I suggest keeping high-interest books all around the house because kids are more likely to pick up a book and read if they are conveniently set around the house. You might also keep some books in the car; children spend a lot of time while moms drive them from here to there. It’s the perfect place to keep a few books for them to read.

There are many online reading programs that find a student’s level and provide motivational activities and books for your child. Talk to your school to see if this is available for you to purchase.

Another idea is ordering a magazine that your child enjoys. It gets delivered right to your house each week or month. They can be very motivational and can keep kids reading.

Don’t forget about math

Math is another area where students slide during the summer. Provide level-appropriate workbooks to practice the skills that your children learned during the school year.

Estimation is an important skill that can be practiced whenever you can. It can be how many miles to you think it is to grandma’s house, how long you think it will take to get somewhere, how many M & M’s are in the jar. Whatever you think of to support this skill will benefit to your child.

Write, write, write

Writing over the summer is also important. Provide a fun summer journal. Each day, have your child take time to write. It can be a journal of what they are reading, or maybe a place to write a story or poem. It is often fun to reflect in writing what they have done that day. Of course, a letter to grandma is always loved and appreciated. Just find time to practice writing.

Enjoy your summer!

– 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.

Developing speech and language through routines

While all children develop language at different rates, parents can help stimulate their child’s language long before they even speak their first words. Social routines can be used to target language development in children of all ages.

Daily routines including bath time, dressing, reading books, and singing songs provide opportunities to build upon a child’s language skills. These repetitive routines provide children a structured way to develop language skills within their natural environment.

Below are a few examples of how to target language skills through routine activities.

Singing songs

Hand motions can be incorporated with many children’s songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus.” While singing these songs with your child, pair the hand motions with the words. Pause throughout the song and allow your child the opportunity to fill in the missing word or complete the gesture. When singing “Old McDonald,” try slowing down the words “E-I-E-I-O” and see if your child can imitate you. Or try singing “E-I-E-I” and pause to allow your child to fill in “O.”

Getting dressed

Dressing your child provides opportunities to work on a variety of new vocabulary words, including clothing items and body parts, as well as teaching concepts such as “on/off.” While getting your child dressed, describe what you are doing using simple language and short phrases such as “pajamas off” or “shirt on.” Use the opportunity to talk about where each clothing item goes, for example “Hat goes on our head.” Try pausing to see if your child can complete the statement, “Shoes go on our_____.”

Reading books

Reading with your child allows endless opportunities for language stimulation. While reading together, it is important to read the words, but it is equally important to look at and talk about the illustrations. Label objects in pictures or talk about what the characters are doing (e.g., “boy eating apple”). Books with repetitive story lines such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” are a great way to target early language development. When reading these types of books, pause to allow your child to fill in the missing word. For example, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you__________?” “I see a yellow duck looking at _____.” Books can also be used to target “wh” questions with older children (e.g., “What are they doing?” “Where is the boy?” “Who is swimming?”).

Delayed responses

During play routines such as racing cars or playing with dolls, use familiar phrases with delayed, emphasized responses such as “Ready. Set. GO!” or “I love……YOU.” After practicing these phrases, pause and allow your child to finish the phrase.

Routine “sabotage”

Throwing off a familiar routine can also be beneficial in promoting language. What would happen if you gave your child an empty cup or placed a favorite bath toy out of reach? These forms of “routine sabotage” allow your child opportunities to correct you or ask for assistance. Encourage your child to use their words to tell you what’s wrong. During snack time, try giving your child only one piece of snack and wait for them to point or request “more” on their own. Screw the lid on a container extra tight before giving it to your child and wait for them to request assistance.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development, discuss them with your pediatrician or contact a speech-language pathologist.

– Candice Smale, M.A. CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Single parents can turn “terrible twos” into “terrific toddler”

crying toddler

Parenting a toddler is a challenging mix of sparkling smiles, sanitizing wipes, and temper tantrums. That special blend can feel especially overwhelming for single parents. Here are some tips for managing the “terrible twos” when you’re flying solo.

It’s normal

The “terrible twos” is a normal phase of child development, but while “normal” is a good thing, it doesn’t mean it’s easy! Testing, temper tantrums and outbursts can sometimes max out even the most patient of parents. It’s important to understand what your little one is experiencing. The Mayo Clinic explains that toddlers act out because they reach a stage where they naturally want to be more independent, but their bodies and brains aren’t cooperating. They want to do things their bodies won’t move to do yet, and they can’t express their needs and desires yet. At the same time, toddlers don’t have the capacity for understanding rules and limitations, disappointment and compromise. So, of course, they express their frustration with tantrums and other bad behavior. Thankfully, with some basic routine and well-defined guidelines, your little one can learn to be well-behaved.

TLC

When you’re portioning out punishment versus affection, let your scales tip on the loving side. Dish out large portions of kisses, hugs and playful shenanigans to ensure your little one feels loved. Reinforce good behavior with lots of praise and attention when your toddler behaves well and adheres to rules.

Soft rule building

Don’t flood your toddler with lots of rules. You’ll create a perfect storm of frustration in an overwhelmed child. Instead, start with a focus on rules geared toward safety, then gradually expand your structure as time goes by. Childproof your home and remove all the temptations you can find to help support your child and set you both up for success.

Temper tantrums

Even with the best of all possible situations, you’re bound to be on the receiving end of temper tantrums on occasion. Here are some tips for navigating those outbursts:

  • Recognize limitations. Your toddler may act out when you’re asking for things she doesn’t understand yet.
  • Explain rules. Instead of telling your little one not to grab toys from others, suggest taking turns and sharing.
  • Don’t say “no” all the time; look for opportunities to say “yes.”
  • Don’t overreact. When your child tells you “No!” don’t let it get to you. As some experts point out, when you become emotional your child only sees the emotion. Repeat requests calmly and try to turn good behavior into fun games, which will be more motivational.
  • Allow your child to choose some things, such as what pajamas to wear or what story to read. This will help your child feel more independent and encouraged.
  • Routine is your friend. University of Missouri Extension explains that routine and structure help your child feel secure, and maintaining a daily schedule will help your child understand expectations.

Stress management
All parents struggle with stress at times, and as a single parent you can’t tag someone in when you’re feeling maxed out. It’s vital to find healthy ways to cope with your stress and not take it out on your child. Some experts suggest maintaining a good self-care program to manage stress levels, and that you brainstorm “the activities that will help you feel relaxed in a healthy way, and try to do at least one a day in order to reduce stress”. Find some healthy outlets including exercising, grabbing lunch with a friend, or reading a good book. Remember this is just a phase and take a deep breath! In the grand scheme of things, those temper tantrums are small and one day you might even miss them. And don’t be too hard on yourself. As RaisingChildren explains, single parents often feel responsible for every little thing that goes wrong. You don’t have super powers and sometimes things won’t be perfect. It’s OK! Don’t set the bar too high and be gentle with yourself.

Terrific toddler

Single parenting is stressful, but you can set yourself and your child up for success with these tips. Provide lots of love, make your expectations practical, keep your routine and enjoy some self-care. Instead of viewing this phase as the “terrible twos,” you can enjoy your terrific toddler!

Daniel Sherwin is a single dad raising two children. On his personal blog, he aims to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.

Tips for traveling with babies or young children

mom with baby and young boy on airplane

Cropped image. Lars Plougmann, Flickr. CC license.

Which statement best describes your thoughts on traveling with your baby or young child?

  1. I’d rather organize a sock drawer and find matching lids to my Tupperware® than travel with my infant or toddler.
  2. Did someone say family trip? Give me an hour and our bags will be packed.
  3. I’d love to get away but I don’t know how we’d do it with our little one. It’s so much work to pack all the baby supplies. Plus, what’s the point? Our child won’t remember the trip anyway.
  4. Who wants to watch our baby while we’re gone?
  5. It would be great to go on vacation but there’s no way I’m taking my kid and there’s no way I’m leaving her home either.
  6. We’re going to my parents for Thanksgiving. Wish us luck.

As a Beaumont Parenting Program speaker on traveling with a baby, I’ve heard all of the above from parents. While moms and dads do take road trips and hop on planes, they are understandably apprehensive, especially before their first trip. Granted, it’s not easy to travel with a baby or young child, but for those who love to get away or need to travel, there is no reason to stop post-baby. And there are many things parents can do to ensure a hassle-free, safe and, yes, even fun trip.

Simple organization

During my talks, I offer a variety of advice to make traveling as smooth as possible. Did you know that when packing, zip-close bags could be your best friend? Infant and even toddler clothes are small enough that you can organize everything in these self-sealing bags. For example, onesies can easily fit in one bag, socks can go in another and shirts can also be placed in their own bag.

Don’t over pack

You can always buy what you need at your destination. However, do plan for delays and bring extra supplies like diapers, wipes and snacks. Consider where you’ll be staying. Do you have access to a washing machine and dryer? Will there be a dishwasher or will you have to wash bottles, breast pump supplies and feeding utensils by hand? If so, bring some dish soap and a few sponges.

The same rule also applies to toys. Even if you’re traveling by car, avoid the temptation to bring too many. Putting a baby into a new environment is stimulating enough that you probably won’t need to bombard him with toys. 

Air travel made easy

Air travel is stressful enough these days, even without taking a family along for the ride. Consider this scenario: Get to the airport two hours early. Wait in a long line to check in. Wait in a longer line to pass through security. Pray your flight isn’t delayed. Cross your fingers your luggage makes it to your final destination. And, if you’re a nervous flyer, the list grows even longer.

Does baby need a ticket?

You don’t have to purchase your child a ticket for domestic travel until he or she is two years old. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of a car seat for those weighing under 40 pounds. If you are not using your car seat on the plane, you can typically check it (and the stroller) at the gate, but put them in a decent bag so they stay clean.

Start with security

TSA agents confiscate a lot of stuff because travelers don’t know or forget the rules. Regarding some of the most common baby supplies, here’s what is on the do and don’t list.

  • Liquids and pastes are allowed in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or less per item. TSA recommends placing these items in a small bag and separating them from your carry-on baggage to facilitate the screening process.
  • Formula, breast milk, and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted in reasonable quantities. TSA also suggests removing these items from your carry-on bag for screening and informing the TSA agent if you have more than 3.4 ounces of formula, breast milk or juice. The agent may need to test these liquids. Also, you do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk through security.
  • Ice packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in carry-on bags. You can also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers as well as canned or jarred baby food in your carry-on. However, these items may be subject to additional screening.

To pre-board or not? That is the question.

If you fly to Orlando, there may not be an opportunity to do so because, as a gate agent once told us, “Just about everybody on this plane is traveling with an infant or child.” However, almost every other flight will give families the option to be among the first to get on the plane. If two adults are traveling, consider having one pre-board with all of the carry-on luggage while the other stays in the boarding area with the child and is among the last to board. This strategy minimizes the amount of time spent in a restricted space on the plane.

Ease pressure change discomfort

This is some of the most common advice for air travel so most likely you’ve already heard it already, but it is still worth repeating: Feed or nurse your baby during takeoff and landing because it helps alleviate discomfort in baby’s ears. Don’t stress if your child refuses to drink doing those times.

Other helpful travel tips

  • Try to stay on baby’s schedule but remember that babies can adapt.
  • Consider bringing crib/pack-and-play sheets because they have a familiar scent and feel.
  • Download a white noise app to drown out unwanted noises.
  • Bring scented bags for dirty diapers.
  • Baby-proof your hotel or wherever you are staying as best as you can.
  • Most of all, take pictures, have fun and try not to sweat the small stuff!

Traveling as a family, even when your child is just a baby, can be such a positive bonding experience for everyone. There are not the responsibilities of home so you have more time to really focus on your family. Developmentally it’s great for the little ones because they tend to progress by seeing new things in new environments. So although they won’t remember the trip, you will and most likely you’ll have some great pictures to share with them when they’re older and those great memories of your own.

– Jen Lovy is a Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer.

Time to celebrate reading

Boy reading to his stuffed animals

Modified image. John Morgan, Flickr. CC license.

March is National Reading Month, a time when schools across the country celebrate and promote reading. However, reading and literacy can start as early as birth. In fact, researchers state that promoting early literacy is in direct correlation with reading success when children enter school. That means it is never too early (or late) to encourage reading.

This month, find time to read and have fun with your children. Here are some reading activities you might like to try together. To make this extra special, make a tic-tac-toe board and have your child choose nine activities from this list. Put them in the squares and mark them off as you complete the activity. When they get a tic-tac-toe, create another game.

  • Read books from your child’s favorite author.
  • Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2) by reading a book of his every day this month.
  • Record number of books or pages read for the month.
  • Visit your local library.
    • Introduce your child to the children’s librarian.
    • Get a library card in your child’s name. Check with your library to see when a child can get his own card. Some libraries have a guideline that a child must be able to write his first and last names legibly.
    • Spend extra time there and really look around to see what is offered.
  • Make a “reading place.”
    • Get a large appliance box and decorate it as a special area for reading.
    • Read under the covers with a flashlight or headlamp.
    • Make a tent with blankets over chairs as a special reading place. Use flashlights or headlamps to see.
    • If you have the space, decorate a special corner or area in your home for a reading space.
  • Bring reading to life.
    • Change your voice for the different characters in the book.
    • Dress up like the characters when you read your child’s favorite book.
  • Read as many different genres as you can.
  • Read and make a recipe from a child’s cookbook.
  • Get a book on drawing and learn to draw something new.
  • Read about things they are interested in. If they are interested in animals, visit a zoo.
  • Have your child read a familiar book to a pet or favorite stuffed animal. Reading aloud to a non-judgmental furry friend can improve reading skills and confidence.
  • Meet an author.
    • Some bookstores and libraries invite authors to speak and read aloud to children.
    • Get a book signed especially for your child by the author.
  • Read something other than a traditional book.
    • Listen to an audiobook. You can even follow along in a printed copy if you’d like.
    • Order a magazine for your child to come in the mail.
    • Comic books and graphic novels are unique options.
  • Read together at bedtime.
    • Take time to snuggle and read to your child, even after your child can read.
    • Start bedtime early or extend it by 5 to 10 minutes for extra reading time.
    • Read a chapter a night from a favorite author.
    • If your child can read, take turns reading a page.
  • Other literary-supporting ideas
    • Play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
    • Play rhyming games.
    • Let your child make up a story and tell it to you.
    • Plan a scavenger hunt in your home, with a book being the prize at the end.
    • As a parent, model reading for your child.  Let them see you read everyday.

– 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.