6 Tips for a Safe Halloween


More than 157 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year, with total spending on the holiday—decorations, candy and costumes–topping $6.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

However you spend October 31—at a harvest festival, church trunk or treat, local shopping mall or knocking on neighbor doors—here are six tips on staying safe this Halloween.

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc./FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc./ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember all kids can get scared. So many times, we forget that our older children still can be frightened by realistic costumes, dark shadows and things that go bump in the night. Walk with them around the neighborhood to talk about the decorations. Don’t tease them if they jump or cry at a particularly scary house or encounter.

Check costumes. This seems like a no-brainer, but take the time before Saturday to check your child’s costume. Does it fit right? Can she see out of the mask? Such an easy thing to do but it can eliminate skinned knees and lost candy.

Shine in the darkness. Check flashlight batteries or your glow stick supply before heading out the door. Even in neighborhoods, streetlights don’t reach onto every sidewalk equally, so having portable light is essential to making it home without incident.

Practice manners. It’s essential that our children not be rude when asking for candy. No matter where you go, make sure your children are drilled in how to approach the candy-giver: with a smile, a polite “Trick or treat,” and an audible “Thank you.” Some will ask what the child is dressed as, so be sure to go over that as well.

Decide on your candy policy. Will you let the kids gorge themselves that evening? Have only a few pieces? We generally let the kids eat as much as they want on Halloween evening, but then we restrict it to one piece of candy a day thereafter. One family designates Saturdays as all-you-can-eat candy days, with no candy during the week. Letting your kids know the policy before they actually have candy will make it easier for you to enforce it come Halloween.

Have fun too. So many times, we forget to enjoy the holiday with our children. Relax, smile, greet your neighbors and eat some candy.

How will you celebrate October 31?

Until next time,


Tips on Media Usage for Families

I recently spoke with Dr. Yalda Uhls, a child psychologist and director of creative community partnerships for Common Sense Media, about her new book, Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.

How can parents develop realistic guidelines for media consumption for their kids?
Yalda: The best thing is for parents and kids to develop the expectations around media use together, using a family media agreement as a guide. Partner with your kids to make sure they are on board and agree with the rules. You will have better buy-in. I refer to several family media agreements in Media Moms & Digital Dads. For easy reference, here is a guide on the Common Sense Media website that parents can use for kids in grades K-5.

How does our own use of media impact our relationships with our kids?
Yalda: Our kids learn from us and watch us. For example, according to the AAA Driving School, kids start learning to drive at the age of five as they watch us and begin to internalize what we are modeling. So your own use of media will affect how your child views media. If you are always staring at your phone, they will want to stare at it too. Younger kids especially crave their parent’s attention; many kids are quite frustrated when their parents “don’t look up” when they are supposed to be “playing” with them.

What are some ways parents can teach their kids the importance of screen-free interactions and screen-free time?
Yalda: If we want to help our children navigate the digital world safely and responsibly, we must consider carefully our own media behavior. The best way to do this is to model the behavior you want from your kids. Kids can spot hypocrisy; if you say, “Do what I say, not as I do,” they will intuit this at a very young age.

I recommend device free time, where everyone in the family puts down their devices, even for as little as 10 minutes. During this time, you are showing your kids that family time should be valued and face-to-face communication is important.

In addition, if you see examples where people are ignoring each other, in a restaurant perhaps, to look at their devices, point that out to your kids. Ask them what they think of the situation, point out when their friends ignore them to look at their phones or screens. Help them process these situations and develop a point of view.

Public Whining

Q: What do I do in public when my 3 year old starts whining? When I’m home, she goes to her room for a bit, which seems to work, but I’m at a loss as to what to do in public.

Also, she’s started adding, “but…” when asked to do something. Example:

I say, “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt.”

Child responds, “But I need to look at something.”

What are your thoughts?

A: There’s nothing more grating than a whiny voice. I think all parents would agree on that score! But the fact of the matter is, most kids do whine. The key is nipping that habit in the bud and moving on.

So for the whining: Ignore her. Yes, I know that’s extreme. Whenever my kids talked to me in a whiny voice that I’ve told them is unacceptable (usually again and again), I simply act as if I hadn’t heard what was said. A reminder of how to talk in public (not in a loud voice, not whining, not interrupting) is always good, especially when accompanied by silly role playing (like you do what she’s NOT supposed to do and she offers corrections, etc.).

The “but” response is just like the “why” response (or the shrug response, etc.): She’s basically trying to avoid doing what you told her to do. I’ll bet that she doesn’t add “but” when you tell her to get on her shoes because you’re going out for ice cream. If you go back over the times when she says, “but,” I think you’ll see a patter emerge of her “butting” in response to your command that she stop what’s she’s doing and do something else.

So for the “butting”: Raise your eyebrows and stay silent. Don’t respond to her argument (because make no mistake, she’s trying to engage you in an argument as to why she shouldn’t have to obey). A steady, silent stare works wonders and she’ll likely comply (even if she grumbles about it or continues to give reasons why she shouldn’t have to do so).

Or you can shrug and repeat the original command. If she still tries to argue with you, send her to her room and put her to bed directly after supper. You can say that the doctor said she must not be getting enough sleep if she can’t obey on the first instance. That should fix things in a short order because no young child likes to go to bed early..

One final thought: stop giving explanations to your commands. “Get out from under the table” is a command. “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt” is an explanation that invites pushback—which your daughter is happily doing. Keep your commands short and sweet, and that should cut down on the “buts” as well.

Frustration With Frustration

Q: My 9-year-old son struggles with frustration and has for years. He’ll break objects, yell or become disrespectful when he reaches his breaking point. He is otherwise a typical loving boy. What can you recommend my husband and I can do to tackle this issue?

A: All kids deal with some level of frustration—as do all adults. But the biggest difference between adults and kids is that we grownups have learned how to control our frustrations (for the most part), while kids generally have not.

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The key is to helping him is to avoid his getting to a breaking point. Some things that work—and are easy for kids to do—include breathing exercises, counting to 10, putting his head down on his desk at school, going to a “take a break” corner at home or school, etc. These are ways a child can learn to calm himself down. One of my daughters struggles with frustration–she would often erupt like a volcano and spew lava over all who got in her path. Very messy and not pretty to watch.

So we started talking about her frustration when she wasn’t frustrated. We practiced together some of the calming methods mentioned above. I encouraged her to walk away from situations when she felt herself becoming more frustrated. We talked to her teachers about allowing her to put her head down at her desk for a few minutes to regain composure or go to the take a break corner each of the classrooms have for just that purpose. Those things did help, but it took some time for her to remember to use the calming methods. She still erupts but it’s much less now and she’s much happier and not as down on herself as she was before when frustration got the better of her.

When you see your son start to get frustrated, tell him to take deep breaths. Count to ten. Run a lap around the outside of the house or jump on a mini-trampoline. He’ll need your help in redirection for a bit as he learns when he should “take a break” to avoid the blow ups.

Remember, he’s probably as frustrated with himself for blowing up as you are from seeing his struggles. These tips can help him see that there is a way to break the cycle.

Computer Usage at School

Q: Is there any hope at all of public schools teaching children without the continual use of computers? We refused to sign the computer access papers for two of ours, and yet the teachers are putting the kids on computers every day throughout the day. We will go argue our case. Again.

A: Probably not. With four kids of my own in Virginia’s public schools, we have stood firm on some things related to computer usage, such as not sending in devices with our kids (they don’t have tablets or smartphones—even my middle schooler—and share an old computer in the main area of our home with strict time limits on usage). We’ve also asked that assignments for those in the younger grades be turned in handwritten rather than typed/printed from a computer (believe me, they need the practice in hand writing!). We even have a set of encyclopedias that we send the kids to instead of allowing them to look up stuff on the computer.

Image courtesy of supakitmod/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of supakitmod/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And yet, we’re not Luddites. We do see the value in computers (hey, my husband and I are on them constantly for our work), but we also see the dangers from overuse. The problem today is that many educators have jumped on the electronic devices bandwagon whole hog without waiting to see if the benefits outweigh the pitfalls (including shorter attention spans and less reading ability). A more cautious approach would benefit our kids, but with many parents clamoring for their children to have the latest and greatest educational tools (and let’s face it, many times, computers and tablets are more sexy than old-school methods of learning that have a more proven track record).

So I think we as parents must shoulder some of the blame for the current atmosphere of any-learning-done-on-the-computer-is-good, so let’s do more of it. Perhaps one day the pendulum will swing more toward the middle and there will be less of a push for screens in education, but that day is not today.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel completely. There are small things you can do, but unfortunately you are not going to win the bigger fight to keep your kids off computers completely at school. In my opinion, it’s smarter to have your own rules at home, enforce them, talk with your kids about Internet safety, help them navigate computers/Internet in a safe way, and stop worrying about it. If it still really bothers you, you can always homeschool your children and limit access as you see fit.

 Tips on Raising Do-Gooders

They say that children are inherently compassionate and have a natural tendency to share, which is perfect for parents who want their children to grow up to be empathetic, charitable adults who make a conscious effort to positively contribute to society. While charities and nonprofits benefit from children and teens’ generosity and effort, philanthropy also has been scientifically proven to improve a child’s development. President and founder of Dollar Smart Kids Enterprises, Inc. Nancy Phillips explains that once your children see that they have the capacity to help others, whether it be in their community or across the globe, they’ll realize that they possess the power to make a positive difference in the world, boosting their self-esteem and self-confidence.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a couple tips in guiding your children to become philanthropists.

Happy family encouraging giving at a donation center
Happy family encouraging giving at a donation center

Introduce them to charities early on. The best time to start talking about donations and giving is between the ages of three to five, or their formative years. This is when you can discuss the importance of money and how it can help others, even if they aren’t old enough for an allowance.

Help children that are similar in age as your own. Volunteering at an orphanage, helping students at an afterschool program, or even exposing them to child sponsorships in war-torn countries will allow your kids to imagine themselves in the impoverished or at-risk children’s shoes, therefore developing a deeper understanding of the world’s injustices.

Get friends and family involved. To make volunteering a more enjoyable experience, turn it into an opportunity for family bonding or invite your children’s friends along. As parenting expert and educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba said, “The more people in the group, the more energy they have to make a difference.”

Plan a volunteer vacation. Author of Raising Charitable Children Carol Weisman suggests that families use their time off with a volunteer vacation so that the whole family can dedicate a good amount of time for a good cause while also being productive and spending quality time with the family.

Overcoming Sibling Rivalry

Overcoming Sibling Rivalry

By Mary L. Hamilton

A favorite family story recalls the torment inflicted on our youngest brother. His white-blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes and wide, toothy smile melted hearts everywhere we went, but of course, the rest of us thought he was spoiled. We took every opportunity to impress on him his lack of status in the family hierarchy.

The school pictures Mother displayed on the fireplace mantel came in gray cardboard frames that were open on three sides, making it easy to slip the pictures in and out. I’d pull out my brother’s picture and slide it back in upside down–or even backwards so only the white showed. It never failed to upset him.

Sibling rivalry was alive and well between us back then, but somewhere along the way, I developed a deep affection and admiration for my youngest brother. Those childish jealousies and ill feelings don’t have to grow with us into adulthood, haunting our relationships forever. With my siblings and my own children, I believe three actions helped promote a sense of camaraderie rather than rivalry.

  1. Laugh together. Keep a sense of humor. Whenever our daughter used the bathroom, our youngest son liked to crouch outside the door and pretend to place a fast food order in the air space beneath the door. It deeply irritated her, but we often explained to her how funny it was to see her little brother on his hands and knees saying, “Cheeseburger!” under the door. Now, the mere utterance of the word sends us all into gales of laughter.
  2. Encourage and recognize thoughtfulness. Whether the kids are sharing a cookie, finding a lost toy or giving a spontaneous hug, the simplest acts of kindness can be used to point out “What a nice brother!” or “See how much your sister loves you!” Such phrases not only help children see what love looks like, they also encourage more such acts of kindness and giving.
  3. Recognize each child’s personal strengths. Rarely are two children equally gifted in the same area, and their interests or gifts are usually identifiable at an early age. At 18 months, our athletic oldest son was bobbing a basketball in the toilet, and our youngest figured out how to get on the Internet in the early days when it was new and required several steps. Our daughter’s servant heart became obvious through her continual pretend game of waitressing. Sometimes, it’s difficult for children to see where they excel, especially when it’s not always in subjects taught at school or on a sports team. Pointing out your children’s unique gifts and strengths dampens the temptation to compete with each other.

In my parents’ home, graduation pictures hung on the wall eventually replaced those school pictures on the mantel. Today, there are few people I’d rather spend time with than my siblings. We still laugh about finding those graduation pictures mysteriously hanging upside down—all except the one showing the teen with the sparkly blue eyes and the wide, toothy grin.

7-21-15   Mary L. Hamilton grew up at a youth camp in southern Wisconsin, much like the setting for her Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series. While raising her own three        children, she was active in her church’s youth ministry, including serving as a camp counselor for a single week (once was enough!). Mary is an award-winning    writer, a graduate of Long Ridge Writer’s Group and a member of ACFW. When not writing, she enjoys knitting, reading and being outdoors. Connect with Mary  on her website: http://www.maryhamiltonbooks.com and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/maryhamiltonbooks.

What To Do With Kids in Summer?

Summertime, that magical time and place where kids are released from the fetters of school and tossed out into the wild to while away the lazy, hazy days. We spent many hours exploring our neighborhood, playing with friends, visiting relatives (usually after a long, hot car trip!), and figuring out that you really can’t die from boredom.

These days, kids are more apt to go from one camp to another or one enriching activity after another. Sometimes, that’s by necessity because of work schedules, but more times than not, it’s because parents don’t know what to do with their children when school is out.

Of course, parents don’t need to do anything, not really. I always encourage parents to have as much fun as they want with their children—only as long as it’s as fun for Mom and Dad as it is for the kids. Here are three ways to balance between too much and too little with your kids this summer.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Figure out your tolerance level. Rather than feel guilty for not doing enough, work on shelving the guilt and enjoying the activities you accomplish instead. If you love to go places all the time, then load up the kiddies and take off for adventures on a weekly basis. But if you don’t? Then pick a few things to scatter throughout your summer and enjoy those outings to the fullest.

Make learning part of everyday. So many times, parents panic when summer rolls around, thinking we have to whip out the math worksheets or Junior will forget everything he’s learned. I suggest using everyday things instead, sort of “stealth” math and science and reading and writing. A trip to the grocery store is great for practicing math (how much will we save with these coupons? what is the lowest price on dried beans?). Encourage science experiments outside (can you really fry an egg on the sidewalk when the temperature is in the upper 90s?). Make the library a frequent stop for new books and participate in summer reading programs.

Build in “down time.” Give kids plenty of opportunity to utter the phrase, “I’m bored.” Boredom leads to all sorts of discoveries, shores up imaginations and allows kids to dream and wonder about a whole host of things. Studies have shown that letting kids have nothing to do for long stretches of time—nothing formal, that is, like organized sports, camps, etc.—reinvigorates their brains and gives them time to grow and stretch.

Until next time


Summertime Blues

School is ending across the country, and with it, wails of distress from parents as they scramble for ways to fill their children’s time during the hot, sticky days of summer. I’ve heard numerous parents express dismay at the end of school, and have felt in the minority that I don’t feel as miserable as they do about having my children around all the time.
For families with both parents working, or for single parent households, I can well understand the need to find adequate childcare or camps in the summer. But for families that have one parent at home, summer is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children—and it doesn’t have to mean you are responsible for entertaining them day in and day out.
Fighting chants of “I’m bored,” or “I don’t know what to do,” or “I have nothing to do,” can be downright exhausting if you hear those or similar phrases as soon as your little darlings wake in the morning. But do not despair! I have a solution that, if followed to the letter, will ensure a summer filled with innovation and inspiration, all with just a little bit of work on your part.
First, draw up a list of things your child or children can do on their own. This can be as simple as play with a certain toy or read a book. Tailor it to the age of your child. Write down as many things as you can think of that require a minimum (read barely any) assistance from you. Type it up and label it “Things to Do When You’re Bored” or something equally catchy.
Note: Your summer will go smoother if you limit electronic screen time (TV and video/DVD watching, computer, and hand-held electronic games, etc.). Studies have shown—and, if you have ever interrupted a child involved in one of those activities—that screen time is highly addictive. Better to encourage your children in other pursuits in their leisure time. This is not a popular view, I know, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the hassle to get your kids disconnected for most of the summer.
Second, write down a list of extra chores not included in the daily or weekly list for your children. Cut into slips of paper with one chore on each slip, fold and place into a jar or other container and label “Chore Jar.”
Third, on the first day of summer vacation, sit down your kids after breakfast and hand them the “Things to Do When You’re Bored” list. Tell them that this is what they can do when they’re feeling bored or have nothing to do. Inform them that if anyone utters the words “I’m bored,” or “I have nothing to do,” or any variation thereof, that child picks a chore to do from the Chore Jar. That chore must be completed immediately to the parent’s satisfaction. Failure to do so will result in being confined to his or her room for the rest of the day and to bed after supper. This is called “making them an offer they can’t refuse.”
Fourth, follow through. When I introduced this last summer to my two older girls, they immediately said they were bored to see what kind of chores were in the Chore Jar. After completing a particular onerous task, I didn’t hear “I’m bored,” the entire summer.
For those of you who need ideas, my booklet Boredom Busters has dozens of ideas for children, as well as some chore ideas for the Chore Jar. Boredom Busters is available on Kindle and Smashwords (for the Nook, iPad, and other e-reader devices, as well as in a PDF) for only 99 cents. Leave a comment under this post for a chance to win a copy of the Boredom Busters.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

Do Not Disturb the Family Peace

As I sat down at my computer to write a blog post for this site, I heard a ruckus upstairs. Sounds of screaming that didn’t sound quite so happy. With four children between the ages of 3 and 9, one gets used to a certain amount of loudness, but my mother’s radar detected something different in these sounds.
I followed the source to my girls’ room, where the 9-year-old was attempting to drag the 7-year-old out of the room because she “wanted her room to herself.” Never mind that the room was both of theirs, she wanted to be alone. I separated the pair for a cooling off period, thinking that a 9-year-old was a little too young to pull a Greta Garbo.
Sibling conflict can be overwhelming, especially when you have a mix of ages and genders. Most of the time, my children do play well together with a minimum of fuss. But it’s inevitable that conflict will raise its ugly head at times.
The way you as a parent handle sibling clashes can help—or hinder—how your children interact with each other. Here’s how we handle sibling clashes.
We decided that we would not play referee. It was not our job to intervene when the wailing started out of sight. We would not judge who was right and who was wrong. No assigning roles of victim or villain for us. If we happened to actually see the wrongdoing, that was another thing. But we would not participate after the fact in their disagreements. We would give kisses, but would not encourage tattling.
To enforce this, we created a chart and stuck it to the refrigerator. Titled “Do Not Disturb the Family Peace,” the chart outlined what would earn every child a ticket:
  1. Keep it down. (Do not become too boisterous or noisy.)
  2. No hurting each other. (Do not hit, punch, push or otherwise maim your siblings.)
  3. No tattling. (Do not become a snitch on your siblings.)
Clipped to the fridge beside this chart are three tickets, pieces of laminated paper. For each infraction, the entire group loses one ticket. If all three tickets are lost, the entire group goes directly to their rooms for the rest of the day and directly to bed after supper.
This eliminates the problem of trying to figure out what happened. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault, does it? What this system is doing is putting the resolution of conflict onto the children, where it belongs.
When I heard my two girls going at it, I simply walked in, said they were disturbing the family peace and directed one to get a ticket. No arguing, no drama. Then I walked out.
So far, in the two months we’ve had this system in place, they have yet to lose all three tickets. And if they do, I’ll enjoy a nice day without kids underfoot, and a more relaxing evening with my husband.
Now, would it be terrible of me to wish they would lose all three tickets one day….?
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.