SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

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When students smoke marijuana, they typically do not do well in school. I was curious about whether the recent state laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use have affected the number of teens who smoke it regularly. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed the results of the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey taken before and after the laws were passed. This study determined that the use of marijuana by teens did not change significantly after the laws came into effect. What surprised me, though, was the number of students who report using marijuana in the last month is around 21 percent—two out of every 10 students!

Many teens feel that marijuana helps them deal with the stress of being an adolescent, and it is not dangerous. There is a lot of research that suggests otherwise. Marijuana affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain where certain types of learning occur. This can lead to problems studying and learning new things, and it affects short-term memory. Recent studies show that regular use causes a significant drop in IQ which does not come back after quitting. Marijuana also affects the cerebellum which is the control center for balance and coordination. This causes poor performance in activities such as sports and driving. The third area of the brain that is impacted is the prefrontal cortex, where high level reasoning and problem-solving occur. This explains why people under the influence of marijuana can make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors.

The effects of smoking marijuana start quickly and last for several hours. Long-term use may impair brain development and lower the IQ. If your child changes from a sweet, cooperative teen who cares about himself and others into one who seems more argumentative or paranoid, it is possible he is smoking marijuana. Other signs are a sudden drop in grades and uncharacteristically poor hygiene. (For more information, see NIDA for Teens.) If you suspect your child might be using, it is important to find out. The first step is a visit to his doctor. Once you know, you can get professional help for your child to help him learn to cope with normal adolescent stress in healthy ways.

See Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress for ideas about healthy ways to deal with stress.

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When kids go back to school, it often isn’t long before the first sniffles and colds arrive. Parents can’t stop their kids from getting sick, but there’s plenty they can do to help them stay healthy, and if they do catch a cold, to ease the symptoms as much as possible.

One company that understands this well is one of our sponsors, Hyland’s Inc., which has been making cold remedies for more than 100 years. Just one example: Hyland’s 4 Kids Cold ’n Cough is made with natural active ingredients that ease common cold symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, and sore throat. It’s an option for parents looking for a safe and effective product with no stimulants, sugar, dyes, or artificial flavors.

Medicine like Hyland’s 4 Kids Cold ’n Cough can fit into an overall plan to keep kids healthy so that they thrive during back-to-school time. Other steps parent can take include:

  • Stress basic hygiene rules to your children so they can avoid the common cold or passing it along. Simple steps like not sharing utensils or drinks will go a long way.
  • Remind kids of the importance of hand-washing. Often, they are just too busy to remember. We have printables and mini-posters that you can download to help remind your kids of the importance of this task.
  • If you aren’t sure whether your child should stay home, check this article that provides general guidelines for a sick day. If your child has minor cold symptoms without a fever, then chances are he’s good to go.
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One of the signs of emotional health is being aware of emotions and understanding what they mean. Teens need to be aware of the emotions they are feeling as well as the emotions of others. Unfortunately, many in our society discourage their children from expressing their emotions in healthy ways. I believe this is especially true of boys. Boys are told not to cry because “crying is for girls.” These children grow up thinking they should not have strong emotions or that they are weak if they do. Everyone has emotions, and children need to understand that. They need to recognize and name the emotions they are feeling.

If your son does not talk about his emotions (“I am so frustrated…”), you can help. The first step is for him to recognize that he is feeling an emotion and be able to tell what emotion it is. You can help by providing possibilities—for example, you could say, “You must be really proud [angry, sad, grateful, frustrated] right now.” The next step is to recognize that others feel emotions, too. You might say, “I know you are angry with Terry, but he was really hurt by what you said to him.” Finally, he needs to learn appropriate responses to his emotions. “It is OK to be angry and take that anger out on a pillow. It is not OK to take it out on your friends.”

Middle school boys who are having difficulty expressing their emotions can often write about them. I once asked a particularly rowdy group of 8th grade boys to write a letter to me about why they were misbehaving. I asked them to tell me why they did not like class, why they did not want to participate, and what I could do to make the class better for them. I was amazed to find out that they did like the class, and their behavior was related to a wide range of emotions they were feeling about things going on outside of school. One student wrote, “My grandfather is dying and he is the one person in my life who really understands me.” Several wrote, “I am sorry I have been so bad. I really do like this class.” This was an enlightening experience for me. Once the boys wrote their letters, class went much more smoothly. They expressed their emotions in writing which gave me the information and empathy I needed to support them.

Having emotional awareness is important for developing healthy relationships. Parents can talk with their teens about the emotions they feel and how others might be feeling. Writing about the emotions a teen feels can also lead to better emotional understanding as well as knowing what is happening in your child’s life.

For more information about the importance of understanding emotions and how it affects school, read How Emotional Intelligence Is Linked To School Success.

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Tim Elmore, an expert on growing leadership in today’s youth, recently wrote, “…students who are emotionally fragile often struggle with addictive behavior…[a]ddictions [that] often begin as coping mechanisms. In fact, most of us would admit to a small addiction to help us get through our day: coffee, chocolate, television, Coke Zero, alcohol, cigarettes…” [From Addictions: One Reason Not to Take the Easy Road.]  Dr. Elmore is not speaking primarily about drugs or alcohol addiction. He is speaking of addictive behavior. His concern is that we are not teaching our youth how to cope with life’s stressors in healthy ways, so they take actions that quickly relieve the stress. We are allowing them to rely on unhealthy habits or on parents to rescue them. Parents respond so that their children never have to suffer even the slightest discomfort or embarrassment.

Recently, I learned of a student who in the middle of class sent a text message to her mother. Shortly after, someone from the office brought her the textbook she had left in her locker. Her mother had called the school office to ask someone to go get the book and take it to her. I think this is wrong on several levels: First, the student broke the rules by text messaging during class. Second, her mother rescued her by calling the school. Third, the office personnel allowed it to happen. The student learned she does not have to be responsible for bringing her book to class, because her mother will rescue her from suffering the consequences of her actions. Mom has become her coping mechanism—her “addiction.”

Here are three important strategies for developing stronger adolescents who can handle daily struggles in healthy ways.

  • You should expect your child to do a fair share of the chores at home. At the very least, he should keep his own room clean and help with cleaning the shared family spaces. There are other chores he can do, and he should have firm responsibilities at home that he does without fail.
  • Your child should resolve her own conflicts with her friends. Most of the time, teens can do this if they are encouraged to talk with one another. If parents intervene in every squabble, children will never learn to resolve their own differences.
  • Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. If he forgets to do his homework, he should be honest with his teacher and admit that he forgot. He can ask for another chance (if it hasn’t happened too many times before), and maybe the teacher will allow him to turn it in late. If the teacher does not, you should not try to rescue him.

When you require your children to do chores at home, resolve their own conflicts, and suffer the consequences of their own actions, you are teaching responsibility. Your children learn healthy coping mechanisms rather than blaming others when things go wrong (“Mom didn’t make coffee this morning.” or “Dad wouldn’t bring it to me.”). They become healthy and emotionally strong—ready to take on life’s daily struggles.


> Kids, Stress, and How Parents Can Help

> Summer Chores Teach Kids Responsibility

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Summer is the time to have fun while learning! Here are three more healthy play activities to build a child’s coordination and body control, as well as enhance gross- and fine-motor skills.
Walking the line

You’ll need a jump rope or a long piece of clothesline. This activity is best done barefoot, and can be for one or more players. Stretch out and lay the jump rope or clothesline on a grassy, flat area of yard or a park. Then brainstorm the different ways your child could travel along the line, such as:               

  • walking on the rope.  
  • walking backwards along one side of the rope.
  • hopping or jumping from side to side, not touching the rope.
  • walking with one foot on each side, moving without touching the rope.
  • any other creative way that he might want to navigate the “line.”

Plastic bottle targets
This game can be for one or more players. You’ll need six same-size plastic bottles, half-filled with water, and a marker and a tennis ball.

  • Mark a big number in the middle of each bottle from 1-6.
  • Line the bottles on the grass in your yard or in a park.
  • Have your child stand about three feet back, and call out the number of the bottle she’d like to “target.”  She has three tries to hit that number. 
  • Keep playing until all the “targets” have been knocked over.
  • As she gets really good at the three-foot distance, increase the difficulty by stepping back twelve inches to lengthen the distance of the throw.

Water painting
You’ll need pails and small, clean paintbrushes. This activity can be for one or more children.

  • Help your child fill the bucket or pail with water.
  • Take the pail with water and paintbrush outside.
  • Dip the clean paintbrush into the water and let him “paint” the side of the house, garage, or shed with up-and-down and side-to-side strokes. See how much can be done before the first strokes dry. 

This activity was a personal favorite of my children when they were little! It kept them productively busy on sunny days while toning muscles needed for coloring and writing.


> The Pleasure of Healthy Play

> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

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It’s been a challenging winter with record-breaking low temperatures and plenty of snow. Right about now, most families are wishing for spring—and the last thing they need is a cold or the flu invading their home.

So, it’s really important for everyone in the family (not just the little ones!) to get a plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy foods, and practice good hygiene with lots of hand washing.

When kids are encouraged to follow healthy routines, they stand a better chance of staying healthy through the winter. But sometimes these efforts just aren’t enough. When a family member shows early signs of a cold or flu, parents can consider natural, homeopathic cold and flu remedies from our sponsor, Hyland’s. Its Hyland’s 4 Kids Complete Cold ’n Flu, for example, is safe enough for kids as young as two years old because it does not contain commonly used pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. Instead, the homeopathic formula uses natural ingredients to help relieve the symptoms of a cold or flu, including fever, chills, body aches and headaches, and congestion*.  Also, it is available in unique quick-dissolving tablets that melts instantly in a child’s mouth.

Hyland’s also has help for parents with DEFENDTM Severe Cold + Flu, another natural product that helps relieve cold and flu symptoms without causing drowsiness or other side effects*. It contains no artificial flavors or dyes and dissolves in warm water.  DEFENDTM Severe Cold + Flu also has a great lemon-honey flavor that helps reduce the discomfort of aches, congestion, and fever.

Hyland’s products can help families get back on their feet—so they can get ready for spring!

*The uses for Hyland’s products are based on traditional homeopathic practice.  They have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

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At the start of a new year, adults often take time to reflect and think about positive changes they want to make in their lives. This is a wonderful time for children to do the same.

Here is a list of 10 simple resolutions that young students can choose from to increase their academic, physical, and social/emotional well-being for the new year.

Students should choose at least five that work for the family:

  • Read (or read together) at least 15 minutes each night.
  • Do a specific chore. On a daily basis, make the bed or take out the trash, match the socks from the clean laundry, feed a pet, etc. A consistent, simple chore helps a young child learn responsibility.
  • Write a short letter (with help, if needed) once or twice a month to a grandparent, favorite aunt or uncle, cousin, or friend. This is purposeful practice of a needed skill while bringing joy to a loved one.
  • Pick up toys. Help your child understand the importance of everyone cleaning their own mess.
  • Drink more water, instead of fruity or sugary drinks.
  • Say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” more often. Help him understand that good manners count.
  • Share more. Let a brother or sister use toys, books, crayons, etc.
  • Start a word jar. Pick a new spelling word, or word from a story. At least once a week, write the word on a small piece of paper and add it to the jar. Periodically pick a word from the jar, and have your child use it in a sentence.
  • Always brush teeth before bed and wash hands after using the bathroom.
  • Save coins in a jar or piggy bank. Once a month, empty the jar and sort the coins. Then count the coins to find the total number.


By helping children make realistic and attainable resolutions, you’re also teaching them a lot about goal-setting and self-discipline—skills that will serve them well their entire lives!

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October is National Medicine Abuse Month, a good reminder for parents to consider the possibility that their teens might experiment with over-the-counter medicines.

It’s also worth having a discussion with your child, even if you are certain he is not at risk. These days, one out of three teenagers knows someone who has abused over-the-counter medicines to get high. So it is important to talk, if for no other reason than to help your child understand why other kids are taking these risks.

Teens often try to get high with over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup and pills because they are cheap and easily available, and kids believe it is less risky to use them than illegal drugs. Some cough medicines include dextromethorphan (DXM), the ingredient that helps to suppress a cough, and, when taken in large quantities, it can cause a “high’’ feeling. But it is important for parents to let kids know that some cough medicines, while safe when used properly, can lead to serious side effects when large amounts are ingested.

The key to helping a teen is having a conversation about medicine abuse that is based on the facts. The Stop Medicine Abuse website has good information to share with kids about the possible side effects, which can include rapid heart beat, double or blurred vision, and nausea and vomiting. The website also has useful information for parents, including a list of possible warning signs that your child may be experimenting with these medicines. The warning signs include an usual medicinal smell coming from your child’s room, missing cough medicine bottles, and changes in behavior or mood in your child. The good news is in getting the facts from websites such as StopMedicineAbuse.org; parents can get the conversation underway with their kids.

Tagged in: Healthy Kids Teenagers
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Chances are your child will stay out of school because of illness at some point during this school year. Often parents aren’t sure when to make that call. Many of us have been there: Is my daughter sick or does she just want to stay home with the new puppy? Is my son really sick or does he just not want to participate in the spelling bee?

As the makers of Triaminic® point out, when in doubt, seek medical advice from your child’s doctor. But a good general rule to follow is this: If your child is too uncomfortable to participate in all of the school day activities, then it’s best to keep him home.

It’s important to check what your child’s school guidelines are, as well. The school may have this information on its website or may have published in the parent handbook as to when they recommend you keep your child out of school. Also, you can check with the school nurse for guidelines. As always, call your pediatrician if you are uncertain of how your child is feeling or if he displays any of these symptoms:

  • A fever of 100.4⁰F or higher
  • Has vomited twice or more within the last 24 hours
  • Flu-like symptoms that would include chills, aches, and headaches in addition to fever
  • Cold symptoms that are severe enough to impede his ability to learn
  • Sore throat
  • Pain, including persistent pain like earaches, toothaches, and headaches


It is a good idea to have a sick day plan in place in case your child does need to stay home. You may need to have backup help, such as a neighbor, who can pick up your other children from school. Another good step is to work out a plan with your employer that may allow you to work at home or adjust your hours so you can be with your sick child. Sometimes distraction is the best medicine! When your kids are feeling under the weather, keep them busy with these fun coloring worksheets! Once they’re back in action, keep your kids on a well-balanced diet with these healthy recipes.

And to find out more about cold and flu symptoms in your area, check the Triaminic Flu Tracker.


(c) 2013 Novartis Consumer Health, Inc. U-00485-1

* Disclaimer: Triaminic products are not intended to treat all the symptoms listed above. Please read all product labeling for directions and warnings before use. This information is not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor. If your child has any of the symptoms above, call your pediatrician immediately. Parents should also be aware of sick day guidelines specific to their child's school. In general, a child should stay home if he/she is too uncomfortable to participate in all activities and stay in the classroom.


When Should You Keep Your Child Home Sick from School or Daycare? Mayo Expert Offers Tips

When to Keep Your Child Home from School

Your Child: Too Sick for School?

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When kids go back to school, it often isn’t long before the first sniffles and colds arrive. Parents can’t stop their kids from getting sick, but there’s plenty they can do to help them stay healthy, and, if they do catch a cold, ease the symptoms as much as possible.

One company that understands this well is one of our sponsors, Hyland’s Inc., which has been making cold remedies for more than 100 years. Just one example: Hyland’s 4 Kids Cold ‘n Cough is made with natural ingredients that ease sneezing, coughing and sore throats. It’s an option for parents looking for a safe and effective product with no stimulants, sugar, dyes, or artificial flavors.

Medicine like Hyland’s 4 Kids Cold ʹn Cough can fit into an overall plan to keep kids healthy so they thrive during back-to-school time. Other steps parent can take include:

  • Stress basic hygiene rules to your children so they can avoid the common cold or passing it along. Simple steps like not sharing utensils or drinks will go a long way.
  • Remind kids of the importance of hand washing. Often, they are just too busy to remember. We have many printables and mini-posters that you can download to help remind your kids of the importance of this task.
  • If you aren’t sure if your child should stay home, check this article that provides general guidelines for a sick day. If your child has minor cold symptoms without a fever, chances are, he’s good to go.
Tagged in: Healthy Kids
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Giving Kids Enough Unscheduled TimeOne of my favorite things in life is watching my grandson play. He doesn’t need toys, although he does like them. He sometimes picks up a stick and one moment it’s an airplane. Then it becomes a car, then a train, then a monster from the lagoon. What amazes me about this is his creativity and delight as he plays. 

I have thought a lot about the way he plays. In order for a child to be able to play like this and be inventive, he needs unscheduled time. But many parents do not give their children time to just do nothing. Every minute is filled with things to do and places to go. Most families overschedule children to the point that they have no time to be creative and entertain themselves.

If you have children in middle or upper school, consider some of the ramifications of overscheduling your child’s day. Families can become so busy, they do not even have time to sit down together at dinner. This is important bonding time and allows kids time to tell parents how things are going for them at school. Students need an hour or two each night to complete their homework. If their schedule is too crowded, their schoolwork will suffer.

They also need time to relax—to wind down from their stressful day at school. High-stakes testing and raised expectations add a huge level of stress into students’ lives. And it is important to exercise some every day, especially during adolescence when children are establishing healthy habits for a lifetime. Lastly, adolescents need to get plenty of sleep to be healthy and do well in school.

As the new school year begins, take a few minutes to think through your child’s weekly schedule. Does she have enough time for all of these important things—time with family, homework, relaxation, exercise, and sleep—every day? If not, it’s time to sit down with her to discuss what is important to hold on to and what can be let go. “Finding Balance for Busy Families” offers helpful suggestions for how to prevent having an overscheduled child and family.

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As parents, we talk to our kids about healthy living, but sometimes those messages are, well, boring. But here’s a really fun way to promote good vision care from Transitions Optical. 

Consider taking the My Eye Promise pledge on the Transitions Optical web site on behalf of your family. With the pledge, you are promising that you and your kids will take good care of your eyes and practice good habits, such as regularly visiting an eye doctor, wearing glasses if you need them and protecting your eyes from the sun by wearing a hat or UV-blocking eyewear. 

And here’s the really cool part: For each My Eye Promise submitted, Transitions Optical will donate a new book to Bess the Book Bus Inc., a mobile literacy initiative. Your family gets to help other less fortunate kids with a book donation. Plus, by connecting the book donation to the My Eye Promise, kids can learn about the relationship between good eye health and the ability to read and learn. 

Bess the Book Bus was founded by Jennifer Frances. She wanted to pay tribute to her grandmother Bess, who helped her learn to love reading. In addition to promoting literacy, Bess the Book Bus focuses on getting books to underprivileged children. To date, Bess the Book Bus has distributed more than 400,000 books to kids across the country. 

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The phone rings and I recognize the school’s number on my caller ID. It’s not a number I want to see. The school doesn’t call to say hello. It’s the school nurse, and she’s calling to tell me that my daughter has ringworm.

My first emotion is humiliation. No, it’s not concern for my daughter’s wellbeing or relief that it’s not something serious. Instead, I’m embarrassed, and I feel like a bad mom. My belief that it’s okay to go six nights between baths has caught up with me.

At least she doesn’t have head lice.

I pick Celia up. There it is, a dime-sized ring over her eye. I saw it a few days earlier and thought she scratched herself in her sleep (she chews her nails to the nub, so I admit that theory was weak). I just wasn’t concerned. Bad mom!

When we see the pediatrician, I learn that ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s a fungus. She could have picked it up anywhere. It is not an emblem of poor hygiene (or six nights between baths). And it’s no big deal. Yes, it’s contagious. But the infection is harmless and treatable. The doctor writes the name of an over-the-counter ointment and orders Celia back to school.

 6 Childhood Illnesses That Are Icky, Gross, and Disgusting (but Harmless)

When I take Celia back to school, I get raised eyebrows from the front office staff and the nurse. I deliver Celia to her teacher and explain that we put ointment on the fungal infection and that she has been cleared to return to school. (I sidestep the word ringworm.)

I kiss my child and return to work.

For today, at least, I’m not a bad mom after all. But why do we let intense, irrational emotions throw us into a tailspin when it comes to our kids? Why are we so quick to assume we’ve failed every time the school calls?

Sometimes kids get icky illnesses or things. Warts. Cold sores. Pinkeye. There may be ooze and pus involved, and that can be disgusting. But instead of worrying about whether we’re bad moms (we’re not), it’s better to face the yuck factor and deal with it.


Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, winning several awards, including a public service citation from the Associated Press for her exposure of grade inflation. Since becoming a freelancer in 2007, her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Adoptive Families magazine. Ghezzi lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?