Parenting Strategies: Your Cold and Flu Season Survival Kit

Your medicine cabinet is stocked with acetaminophen, throat lozenges and saline spray for your little one’s next cold. While that can help with symptoms, they don’t do much to comfort and soothe -- that’s our job!

To help your child feel comfortable as she recovers, I recommend a few smart parenting strategies. Here are a few of my must-have items to keep your little one content and comfortable through the worst of cold and flu season.

1. Activities
Rest is key, so it’s helpful to have options on hand to keep them occupied while in bed or on the couch. Have them read, draw, color, make a craft or watch movies. I like to keep some new books and movies tucked away for sick days. To make the day as fun as possible, you can also spread out blankets on the floor or set up a tent in the family room.

2. Popsicles
To ease the ache of a sore throat, whip up a batch of popsicles with your own mold. Let your child pick out their favorite 100 percent fruit juice flavor. Not only will the chilliness soothe the pain, but the treat will also deliver some much-needed vitamins and minerals.

3. Fun foods and utensils
When they’re sick, most kids don’t have much of an appetite or can’t keep much in their bellies. But what kid likes to eat plain, bland food? My parenting strategy: Give them something to smile about by serving them in fun dishes, or using a crazy straw in their smoothie or soup. Consider using food coloring to make a smiley-face in their applesauce; get creative!

4. Touch
Research shows that touch can rev up the immune system, according to a study in The Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. And that may help speed up your little one’s healing process.

To give your child physical contact and affection -- without exposing yourself to germs -- write on her back. While you spell out letters with your fingers, have her guess the letters or spell the words. When I was a kid, this was my favorite sick-day ritual. Write out special sayings to comfort your child like, “feel better” and “I love you.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Enjoy Breakfast as a Family

You’ve heard the saying so many times it seems trite: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

But even though it may be cliche, nutritionists will tell you this tidbit is absolutely true. “Not only is skipping breakfast bad for a child’s metabolism, but it also means they’ll be so hungry later that they’re much more likely to make poor food choices throughout the day,” says Heather Cupp, a registered dietitian at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

Anyone with kids knows, however, that weekday morning meals are usually the most hectic. With a limited amount of time to get everyone up, dressed and off to camp, school or day care, it’s no wonder that fitting in a healthy breakfast can seem like an impossible feat.

No matter how busy your weekday mornings, the whole family can still eat well. All it takes are a few key planning decisions and some smart food choices. Below, our experts’ strategies for turning the rushed (or nonexistent!) morning meal into a healthy, enjoyable group activity:

1. Prep ahead. Do as much as you can ahead of time to minimize the morning rush. If you’re having blueberry pancakes for Sunday brunch, make a few extra batches that you can freeze and use throughout the week. If hot cereal is a favorite, prep a few days’ worth of servings in your slow cooker and keep a big bowl in the fridge. Save even more time by setting the table and packing the car the night before.

2. Optimize your kitchen setup. Save valuable minutes in the future by taking time now to organize your kitchen so you can easily find the things you regularly need for breakfast, says Kim Cosentino, owner of The De-Clutter Box, an organizing company in Westmont, Illinois. “Think of the cabinets on either side of the stove as prime real estate, and use them for items that you use on a regular basis,” says Cosentino. “If you cook hot oatmeal a lot, put the oatmeal box in the cabinet next to the stove.” Similarly, store glasses near the fridge and sink, and stash dishes and silverware near the dishwasher to save time unloading.

3. Think outside the box. If you’ve got a picky eater who turns up her nose at traditional breakfast foods, there’s no reason the morning meal can’t be a sandwich or even last night’s dinner. “When I have leftover pasta of some sort, I heat that up or make a point of cooking some sort of pasta the night before so I just have to nuke it in the a.m.,” says Susan McQuillan, a New York City-based registered dietitian, writer and mother. “Usually the pasta already has some sort of vegetable in it, like broccoli -- or I just add chopped-up cherry tomatoes and olives before serving.”

4. Put the kids to work. The more routine steps your kids do on their own, the more time you’ll have to prepare and serve a healthy breakfast. So make it easy for them to pick out their own outfits and dress themselves every morning by organizing their closets and drawers by type of clothing (underwear in one drawer, shirts in another, etc.). Also put a “clean or dirty” magnet on the dishwasher to get them involved in setting the table and clearing it afterwards.

5. Make it quick, easy and healthy. “The ideal breakfast includes protein and fiber, both of which fill kids up and sustain them all morning,” says Elisa Zeid, a New York City-based registered dietitian and the author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. By contrast, a couple of hours after eating a sugary, high-carb breakfast like a donut or pastry, “a child’s blood sugar will drop, and he won’t be able to concentrate.” Preparing a well-balanced, nutritious breakfast doesn’t have to take a long time. All of the following kid-friendly meals can be put together in just a few minutes:

· A peanut butter and banana sandwich with a glass of milk

· Trail mix made of nuts, dried fruit and whole-grain cereal

· Yogurt parfait made with high-fiber cereal and fresh fruit

· Slice of leftover veggie pizza, warmed in the toaster oven

· Corn tortilla with melted cheese and salsa

· String cheese, a handful of nuts and a banana

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

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10 Tricks to Stay Positive in Stressful Times

When everyone in your family is down for the count with colds and the flu, you're often the one who continues to be the family cheerleader. But keeping a positive perspective can be tough under some circumstances.

Being upbeat during stressful times is difficult," says Dr. Eva Ritvo, vice chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "To stay positive, you've got to work it."

What's the best way to maintain an upbeat attitude? Ritvo offers these useful suggestions for rising to the challenge, no matter what you're up against.

1. Sleep on it.
Busy moms know from experience -- observing their own children -- that getting enough shut-eye helps banish blue moods. So why not apply the same principles to yourself? "As adults, we forget about these things," says Ritvo."It's difficult to stay upbeat when you're working with a sleep deficit. For a positive outlook, getting a good night's sleep of at least eight hours as many nights as you can is really important.”

2. Fuel up .
The right diet is as crucial to keeping a positive perspective as getting enough sleep. If you're not eating properly, you're stressing your body, and when your body is doing all it can just to function, a happy-go-lucky attitude is hard to obtain, says Ritvo."Avoid things that send your blood sugar rising, like alcohol, diet soda or candy. You're not going to have a positive outlook if your basic nutrition is not attended to.”

3. Get moving.
Experts agree that regular exercise can boost mood thanks to the feel-good endorphins it releases. "Our bodies were designed for a lot of movement," says Ritvo. "Exercise makes you feel good, helps circulate your blood, gets rid of toxins, maintains your weight and stimulates your brain." It does so many things that are essential to everyday happy functioning. Try to work in at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, whether it's a power walk, a bike ride or Pilates.

4. Try something new.
To keep a positive perspective, introduce variety into your daily routine. A study conducted at the National Institute on Aging found that the novelty of performing new activities has wide-ranging positive effects, including extending your life.

Do something you haven't done before, which is very stimulating for the brain," says Ritvo. Make a new friend who doesn't fit the mold of your old friends. Take a language class if you've never spoken a language. Take an art class if you've never done art. Give yourself the opportunity to grow in different ways. That's very energizing.

5. Pair up.
Looking to change your perspective? Surround yourself with positive people. "Everybody knows someone who is the life of the party and looks at things in fun ways, so put yourself near them," suggests Ritvo. "Ask them out to dinner. I like going to a book signing where everyone is excited to be there, or a sporting event where people are excited to be. Be around positive energy.”

6. Set aside time for yourself.
It’s very easy to attend to people all day or attend to work and neglect ourselves, but that doesn't work for creating a positive outlook," says Ritvo."It doesn't matter what you do, but be sure to honor yourself and allow yourself to be in a space that works for you." Ritvo suggests setting aside time for a bath, reading for half an hour or meditating to pump up your attitude.

7. Talk about it.
Sometimes, using positive language is all you need to shift your perspective. Ritvo suggests talking with a friend and making a pact to share with each other the things that you're grateful for each day. "Tell each other two things, such as ‘I'm grateful for my health,'" she says. "Or ‘I'm grateful that I could walk up the nine flights of stairs today without being out of breath.'”

8. Put your best face forward.
The old saying goes: When you look good, you feel good. "You don't have to compete with a fashion model, but it's a good idea to look your best whenever you can," says Ritvo. "Pamper yourself -- if you like to have your nails done, take time to do them yourself. Beauty can be an instant boost and it matters." Buy yourself a great handbag or a fabulous coat. It's something you can carry or wear everyday and feel terrific.

9. Have faith.
Having confidence in yourself and your ability to tackle any challenge is key to keeping a positive perspective. "I like to call it a ‘faith lift,’" says Ritvo." Tell yourself that you can survive these things, and it will come true. Having faith is very important. For some people, it might be a religion, for others it might be spirituality or just an inner confidence. Tell yourself you're valuable, and the world will see it too.”

10. Practice being positive.
To make a positive mood a part of your permanent psyche, Ritvo suggests this experiment: Challenge yourself to pinpoint one appealing thing about everyone you encounter in a day. "One person might have a beautiful smile, and another a kind word to say," she says. "Train yourself to zero in on positive things (even if it's just one day a week), and (in time) you'll see a change in your overall perspective.”

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash

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Smart Parenting Strategies for Family Travel

Where are you planning on spending the holidays? According to a recent national survey, more than 40 percent of families are planning on packing their bags. Unfortunately, traveling can leave kids cranky, bored or upset -- and parents frustrated. But you can steer clear of these bumps in the road with a little advance preparation. With the following simple strategies, your next trip will be less stressful -- and more memorable.

1. Discuss your destination.
To prepare your kids for the unfamiliar, tell them what they can expect. If your sister has three dogs and two cats, for instance, prepare your kids for a wild week: “Aunt Linda’s house is a little loud with lots of people and animals, but that is what makes it fun!” Children are better able to handle change when they’re in the know.

Also, remember to stay positive. Even if you’re dreading the traffic to your in-laws’ home, avoid griping in front of your kids. Instead, discuss topics that will help create positive memories, like how excited you are to decorate the tree with grandma and grandpa.

2. Gradually change their schedule.
If grandma’s house is in another time zone, shift your kids’ bedtime by 10 to 15 minutes in the week or two leading up to your vacation. This adjustment will prevent them from becoming exhausted on the trip. Also don’t forget to plan for a week of readjustment when you return.

3. Pack activities.
To keep your kids from chorusing “are we there yet,” bring plenty of toys and games to keep them occupied. Ask your kids what they want to do in the backseat or on a flight, whether it’s playing a handheld video game, reading books or drawing on a new sketchpad.

When they get bored, bring back travel games from your own childhood. Some favorites from my family: finding license plates from every state, searching for letters of the alphabet on road signs and punch-buggy contests.

4. Bring touches of homes.
Children thrive on the familiar. When you’re out of your normal routine, providing things they know helps to ease the discomfort of unknown situations and unfamiliar surroundings. Pack five small items that you use in your child’s daily life, such a favorite spoon for breakfast, his toy train, a plastic fish for the bath, a favorite book and his own pillow. These touches provide consistent reinforcement throughout the day that home isn’t that far away.

Photo by Martin Kallur (IG: @mkallur) on Unsplash

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Hugs and Kisses: Nature's Perfect Cold Remedy

As a parenting expert, I often teach one simple, free way to get your kids to stress less, fend off colds, and sleep more soundly. It sounds too good to be true, right? But these are just a few the benefits of one simple action: touch.

Children need physical touch as much as they need the air they breathe. After all, it's the only one of the physical senses that humans can't live without. That's because our skin plays an important role in the stimulation of hormones and function of the internal organs. In fact, a growing body of research shows that touching has many rewards, such as

  • Healthy growth and development. Research from the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute found that infants who received regular massages from their moms grew more and gained more weight after a month.
  • Less stress and anxiety. Touch can improve the relaxation response, lessening stress and anxiety, reports a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience.
  • Better sleep. Need more shut-eye? Give a few more snuggles. According to a study published in Infant Behavior and Development, babies who were given regular massages slept more soundly than those who didn't.
  • A stronger immune system. Massages boost the production of natural killer cells, cells that fight off viruses and other invaders, reveals a study from the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute.
  • Reduced aggression. In a study of 17 teens, those who received 20-minute massages twice a week reported feeling less hostile after about a month. Their parents also said they seemed calmer and less aggressive.

But even with all these proven benefits, children receive little physical contact from their parents -- and even less in day care and preschool settings. According to a study published in the journal Early Child Development and Care,  preschool children receive physical contact less than 12 percent of the day, and boys receive much less than that amount.

To foster more contact with infants and toddlers, I recommend that parents incorporate the following actions into their daily routine:

• Bathing

• Breathing

• Breastfeeding

• Giving kisses

• Gently massaing your baby or toddler with soft strokes

• Snuggling

• Engaging in physical play, like tickling

Holding and/or carrying your child in a soft baby carrier (just keep in mind that the overuse of strollers, swings and plastic carriers can prevent young children from getting the physical touch they need every day)

As children grow older, it's only natural that they begin to pull away. But their need for touch always remains. While you want to respect your kids' developing individuality, you won't want them to stray too far. To stay in touch (literally), try changing it up with:

• Snuggling

• Back rubs

• Neck and shoulder massages (and don't forget to ask for one yourself!)

• Rough-and-tumble play -- without competitiveness or aggression

• An occasional kiss, but respect the child's cues as to what makes him or her comfortable

What About Dad? 

It's just as important for fathers to make physical contact with their children. Rough-and-tumble play is one way that even the most reticent dad can handle touch, without feeling too uncomfortable.

If you didn't receive a lot of touch when you were a child, this may all seem a little too much. But just remember that our bodies need the sensation -- just like they require food to eat. So if your kid is feeling a bit under the weather, make an effort to comfort her with some extra snuggles; you just may speed up her immune system and help her get more of the quality rest she needs. And with time and practice, those hugs, snuggles and massages will become a natural and joyful part of your daily routine -- and that will help your kid stay happier and healthier year-round.

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

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