Surviving a long distance relationship with your kids

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Being away from your kids is never easy, especially when it is for a prolonged period of time. Just think of the military mothers and fathers who have to leave their families behind for months or, in some cases, years.

For the past four months, and counting, my husband has been thousands of miles away. The separation, though difficult, is a necessary step towards providing a better future for our children. This is the only reason that he hasn’t packed his bags and hopped on the next flight home.

He misses his family immensely and we miss him.

I recall a story that my parents told me about when I was a baby. My mother became pregnant with me while she was on a scholarship in California. I was born during the last year of her course and, naturally, she did not want to leave me. After a lot of coaxing by my father, he encouraged her to finish what she had started and she left.

My mother’s biggest fear about leaving me, especially at such a young age, was that I would forget her. And honestly, this was my husband’s fear as well with our youngest son in particular.

It is no secret that babies do work with an out of sight out of mind type of memory, so being forgotten after being absent for a considerable period of time is a valid fear.

It may not be said, but it takes a lot of work, primarily by the parent who remains with the children, to ensure that the other parent is not forgotten and remains an integral part of the family’s dynamic.

Although, modern technology does make this a lot easier than, say, when I was a baby, it still requires a certain level of commitment to have the missing parent’s image and persona consistently present in your children’s lives.

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At our home, every day consists of video chats, phone calls, WhatsApp messages or voice notes, looking at old pictures, talking about what we miss about daddy and what we would be doing if daddy were here right now. In everything that we do, regardless of how minor it may be, we include daddy in some way, shape or form.

Doing this not only helps our sons cope with daddy not being physically present and allows them to continue to associate him with being a major part of our lives, but also allows my husband to share in every moment of their development.

The child you leave at 12 months old will be a completely different individual six months, ten months, a year down the line. In that time frame, your significant other would have missed months of new words, new abilities, new likes and dislikes and several inches of growth.

For a child, not having one parent around every day can be a miserable experience. As a parent, not being able to see your children as they grow up and experience life without you is a difficult reality to face.  But, if this is the reality in your family, as it currently is in mine, putting in the effort and devoting the extra time to preserving the memory and presence of the missing parent, will make the transition smoother for your kids and yourselves.

 

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Moving past your child’s learning disorder – Interview with Stasia Cabral-Costelloe

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Every parent has high hopes and dreams for their children. It is only natural. We hope that they will be intelligent and do amazing things with their lives. Possibly be the next Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.

Then, as life often does, you get hit with a curveball. You find out that your child has a learning disorder and you suffer from a pang of disappointment and lost hope. But why?

Being diagnosed with a learning disorder does not mean that your child’s future is destined to be a failure. In fact, all of the persons I mentioned above, and many other well-known entertainers, entrepreneurs, artists and other professionals have been reported to have various learning disorders.

What made them success stories is that they never let their disorders limit them from achieving their dreams. All children possess some talent or special ability that is waiting to be discovered and it is our duty as parents to help our children uncover these abilities, learning disorder or not.

So what can we do as parents to help our children?

I recently interviewed Stasia Cabral-Costelloe, founder and principal of The Clover Center of Learning in Trinidad and Tobago, an alternative schooling option for students with varying exceptionalities. Here she provides us with a better understanding of the learning disorders that some of our children may live with along with some great tips on what we parents could do to help our kids achieve their full potential.

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TMJ: What inspired you to start your own school for children with varying abilities and learning disorders?

SCC: After studying and working in the field of Exceptional Student Education (or Special Education as it is more commonly known) in Miami, Florida I returned to Trinidad in December 2003 hoping to continue working in this field.

I looked for positions in a number of schools, however, all of the schools that I visited were not hiring teachers at the time. When I enquired about their Special Services department, they either did not have one or it was more of remedial services that were offered.

As I was unable to obtain employment in my preferred field I worked in Advertising/Marketing for a few years.  However, during this period, I was approached by many different people who wanted me to work with their children.

So, in 2009, I decided to take the leap and leave where I was employed to pursue working with kids with varying exceptionalities.

Working with children has always been a great passion of mine, especially children with special needs. Once the decision was taken to embark on working individually with students who needed the special assistance, I started getting calls for one on one schooling.

In September 2009, I began working with two boys with different special needs which didn’t allow them to cope within our local school system or any other school with larger classrooms. After a year of working with these two boys, I began getting calls from other parents seeking this type of schooling.

It was from there that the school/learning center evolved.

TMJ: What are some of the main learning disorders that children live with? Most people know or have heard of dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and autism are there any others that we should be aware of?

SCC: In today’s world, we see many different disorders, yet the common ones that we know about are Dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and Autism. Many kids, however, experience a variety of disorders such as Low Processing Disorders, Behavioral/Emotional Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Anxiety, and Language Delay Disorders to name a few.

TMJ: How exactly does each of the disorders affect our children?

SCC: Children can be affected in many different ways by these disorders. From the way that they interact with others, their understanding of situations, their ability to function generally in day to day life and their ability to express themselves verbally as well as in writing. Depending on the disorder, every child is different as at times they may have more than one disorder which can affect them.

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TMJ: What are some warning signs that parents should look out for to determine if their children should be tested for a learning disorder? 

SCC: Depending on the disorder it is difficult to tell if your child may have one. If major milestones aren’t being met from birth or there is a delay in their speech or even the way in which he or she interacts with you as the parent or others on a whole, are some signs to look out for.

Some of these disorders are not noticed until they begin school. However, by the age of 6 years, a child would be able to have an assessment done in which the results would be fairly accurate.

TMJ: Should these tests be done before a certain age to ensure that the child benefits fully from whatever programme is put in place for him or her?

SCC: It is advised that children be evaluated from the age of 6 years. At this age, assessments done on the child would produce fairly accurate results and would allow for the best course of action in terms of the selection of schools or other programmes that would benefit the child.

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TMJ: What are some of the techniques that you use at your school to help children with learning disorders reach their full potential?

SCC: We use a variety of strategies to assist our students to reach their full potential. These strategies include a tailored curriculum in which focus is placed on the subject areas in which the student is strongest.

Instead of pushing the students to learn subject matter that they struggle with, we adapt to suit the strengths of each child, thereby building their confidence and allowing them to find their personal niches.

We also use specialized remedial strategies and allow provisions for children who may require specialized services such as an oral testing rather than a written test.

TMJ: When selecting a school or a programme for children with learning disorders what are some important questions parents should ask or certain things to look for to ensure that their children are getting the best care?

SCC: Some questions that parents can ask when choosing a school or programme are “What are the class sizes or teacher to student ratio?” Depending on your child’s needs, either one on one teaching or even one teacher to, at most, 4 to 5 students, may work for your child.

Another aspect to look at is “What curricula is used?” I would recommend finding a curriculum that can help your child want to learn, rather than demand that what is learned is timed so as to complete a test within a specific time frame. We should always remember that these kids already have challenges learning and added pressure does not always bring the best out in them.

Other questions that should be asked are “Are remedial services offered and if so what?” and “What behavioral strategies are used?”

One of the best behavioral strategies that have worked at our learning facility is when parents work together with the teachers to ensure that consequences of the child’s actions, both positive and negative, are enforced at home. This allows the child to see that the school and home work as a team for their betterment.

Some other behavioral strategies that can be used are reward charts (this can be used in conjunction with home as stated above), in which the child earns a number of points throughout the day, both at home and at school, and at the end of the week, they can earn a reward.

Another strategy is the traffic light behavioral system. This allows the student to visually see where his or her behavior is escalating and can lead to a consequence. The child then has to try to bring himself to green before reaching red. The teacher or parent could also simply try to “catch” the behavior before it escalates by giving the student gentle reminders about what is happening or sit with the child until he or she becomes calm. It is vital that a teacher knows both the strengths and weaknesses of their students for this to work.

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TMJ: What is your advice to parents about what they could do at home to help their children reach their full potential?

SCC: Some advice that I can give to parents is:

  1. To read every day with your child even if it is for 20 minutes. When reading, speak to them about the story, ask them questions about the story.
  2. Constantly speak to your child about their surroundings. This is how kids build their vocabulary, especially before they begin school. This is also how they learn about life and how to behave in the world.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say NO to your child. Even when you do, try to explain why. This is how they begin to understand reasoning.
  4. Don’t be afraid to appropriately correct your child when they do something wrong. This is how they learn right from wrong. Also, speak to them once their consequence is complete so they can understand the reason for the consequence. Children do not automatically know the reasons for consequences so communication is important.
  5. Don’t be afraid to allow your children to be bored. This gives them time to think and be creative to come up with a game or something to play with.
  6. Limit the use of devices or screen time. Encourage your child to play outside or with their toys. This is how imaginations are built and fostered, which can help with school.

 

About Stasia and the Clover Center of Learning:

Stasia Cabral-Costelloe is the founder and Principal of the Clover Center of Learning, a learning institution for students with Varying Exceptionalities, promoting the development and growth of children who will benefit from either remedial services or tailored school curricula. Offering both a full school program for children with Varying Exceptionalities and after-school services for students needing to target certain areas, the Center employs trained and qualified specialists, who lead small classes that allow for ample individual attention and the flexibility for students to learn at their own pace.

With over 15 years of experience in education and special needs, Stasia runs the learning center where she not only manages the daily operations but also supervises the classes to observe teachers’ interactions with students, and provides feedback and guidance when needed. She also personally works with students on a one-on-one basis and oversees admissions and enrollment for the school. 

Stasia holds a bachelor’s degree in Exceptional Student Education from Barry University in Miami, Florida.

To learn more about the school, you can visit their Facebook page at The Clover Center of Learning.

 

If you enjoyed this post let me know in the comments section below and remember to like and follow The Mummyhood Journals on Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

 

The necessary inconvenience of extra-curricular activities

At a certain point in our children’s lives, one thing we mothers will know very well is after-school activities.

During this phase in our motherhood journey, our lives will become consumed with driving to and from football practice, swimming lessons, dance lessons or whatever is the pick of the month for your little one, to the extent that the car becomes our second home.

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I am now a new member of this phase, as my elder son has just started going to karate classes. So three days a week, including Saturdays (no more sleeping in for this mama), we do the back and forth routine.

But, as tiring as all of this is for us parents, the benefits and importance of extra-curricular activities in our children’s lives are undeniable.

Discipline

Most extracurricular activities require that the child exhibit some level of discipline to succeed.

Practising simple, but important acts such as showing up on time, wearing the correct uniform, giving 100% every time they come to class and not talking while the coach/teacher/sensei is speaking, trains our kids to have discipline in school and in the working world when they get older.

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Persistence

A major element of participating in extra-curricular activities is practising until you get it right.

All of our kids probably suck big time when they start whatever activity it is that they are into (I could admit it). And depending on what activity your child does, that could probably be immensely annoying for everyone in the house (queue screeching violins).

Nevertheless, the lesson here is that if they want to be good or great at what they do, they have to keep practising and be persistent. There are no shortcuts.

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Confidence

As our kids’ skills improve, their confidence levels begin to increase. They feel good about themselves and the things that they are capable of doing (queue the unending demonstrations in the living room).

Depending on the activity, they may even have to overcome certain fears or shyness and perform in front of people.

In the case of my ninja son, every day his sensei gives lessons in speaking confidently and clearly by simply making each student enter the dojo, one by one, and say “Good Afternoon parents”. This is also a lesson in respect.

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Respect

In my son’s class, everything that they do is centred on respect. Respect for elders, respect for authority, respect for the dojo and its traditions and respect for each other.

In today’s world, respect is something that is seriously lacking. However, in most extra-curricular activities, disrespect is something that is not tolerated.

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Concentration

We all know that children’s concentration skills could be excellent or barely there, depending on what it is they are being asked to concentrate on.

For example, video games. My son could go all day without even eating if you let him. And the focus that he has when it comes to completing whatever mission the Ninjago characters have to do – unwavering.

Homework, on the other hand, a little less unwavering.

However, what I have noticed is that, since starting karate, his concentration skills have improved. Even when doing something that he isn’t too fond of.

In his class, he is forced to concentrate and focus. If he doesn’t, two things happen.

  1. He would miss what is being taught and wouldn’t know the moves
  2. Sensei would probably give him push-ups, and no one, even overly energetic kids, wants to deal with push-ups.

But the constant repetition of being required to focus in the dojo is slowly transforming the previously difficult to maintain skill into a habit.

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Team Work

In activities that are team related, our children can learn how to work with others as a part of that team.

During practice or during the games, they have to remove themselves from selfish tendencies and work together to achieve what is best for the team.

Even in my son’s case, although karate isn’t necessarily a team sport, the members of the dojo are all a family. The stronger ones help the weaker ones. There is no mocking or jeering if someone gets something wrong, instead, they offer encouragement and moral support.

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As a karate mom, observing from the sidelines, I can acknowledge and appreciate the lessons that my son is learning from participating in an extra-curricular activity.

It is not just about being able to fight or defend himself, but about life lessons that will make him a stronger, confident and well-adjusted person.

 

 

 

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Dental health tips for kids – Interview with Dr. Tricia Percival

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The Mummyhood Journals started as a way for me to share my experiences as a young mother and to connect with other mothers over these stories. As the blog continues to develop, it is my intent to start including posts that are genuinely beneficial to other mothers.

Looking through my social media feeds I have noticed a lot of questions from young mothers regarding health advice for their children, so, I thought that it would be a useful idea to include interviews with actual doctors/medical practitioners, who could answer some of these questions better and more accurately than I ever could.

On that note, The Mummyhood Journals is pleased to introduce the first post of its “Healthy Kids” series.

In this post, I interviewed Dr. Tricia Percival, a paediatric dentist (and my son’s wonderful dentist) on some of the questions and concerns that some of us new mothers may have about our children’s oral care.

Thank you, Dr. Percival, for agreeing to the interview.

TMJ: At what age should we carry our toddlers for their first dental visit?

DP: It is recommended that your child should see a paediatric dentist/ dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday. The purpose of the age 1 dental visit is to learn about your child’s oral health and how to best care for your child’s unique needs before any problems occur. Many dental problems can be prevented or more easily treated in the early stages. By establishing a good working relationship with a paediatric dentist/ dentist, parents will ensure that their child receives proper dental care beginning at an early age. Setting a precedent for dental appointments at an early age also helps children to become accustomed to a proper oral care routine.

TMJ: What should we expect at this first visit?

DP: At the visit, you should expect the dentist/ paediatric dentist to:

  • Review your child’s history
  • Respond to your questions and concerns
  • Talk with you about your child’s overall oral health, including:
    • Development
    • Teething
    • Bite (how your child’s teeth will come together)
    • Soft tissues such as gums and cheeks
    • Oral habits such as finger sucking
    • Factors that affect the risk of cavities, such as diet, hygiene practices, fluoride use and whether others in the family have had cavities
    • How to prevent trauma to your child’s mouth
  • Perform a thorough assessment of your child’s mouth
  • Show how to clean your child’s teeth and give you a chance to practice
  • Give specific advice about home care, including hygiene, diet and use of toothpaste and other fluorides
  • Tell you what to expect as your child grows and develops in the coming months
  • Suggest a schedule for follow-up care

TMJ: Are there any questions that parents should be sure to ask the dentist at this visit?

DP: The best way to prepare for this visit is to consider what you want to know, what you want to look for and what you should expect. Be prepared to ask about any concerns you may have.

TMJ: Are there any red flags that parents should look out for when selecting a dentist for their child?

DP: In recent years, most dental schools have prepared new graduates to provide care to young children, however many dentists are less familiar and less comfortable with infants and toddlers. Here are two ways to find a dentist who cares for young children:

  • Look for an office that suggests your child be seen when the first tooth appears or by the child’s first birthday. Call the dentist’s office and ask, “At what age does your office recommend that children be seen for their first dental visit?”
  • Look for a paediatric dentist who specializes in the care of young children. To find a paediatric dentist, try one of the following:
    • Ask your family dentist for a name.
    • Contact the Dental Council of Trinidad and Tobago for their paediatric dentist listing

TMJ: Should parents start brushing their children’s teeth as soon as they grow out and what toothpaste/toothbrush is the best?

DP: Cleaning and brushing teeth removes plaque (the build-up on teeth) that causes tooth decay.

  • Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water.
  • Parents should use a tiny smear (similar to the size of a rice grain) of fluoride toothpaste to brush baby teeth twice daily as soon as they erupt and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush.
  • Once children are 3 to 6 years old, then the amount should be increased to a pea-size dollop and perform or assist your child’s toothbrushing.
  • Children should spit out toothpaste after brushing but do very little or no rinsing. They should not swallow excess toothpaste after brushing.
  • Remember that young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively and will need an adult to help them brush their teeth.

TMJ: Do we need to brush our toddlers’ teeth twice a day, every day, as older kids and adults do?

DP: Yes, it is important to brush your toddlers’ teeth twice a day, every day as older kids and adults. Clean all surfaces of the teeth and gums twice a day (after breakfast and last before bed).

TMJ: At what age should we introduce flossing and mouthwash? What mouthwash would you recommend for children?

DP: As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. You can use regular floss to do this. Again, parents will often need to perform this for their kids. Although many kids have spaces between their teeth, many of these spaces can close especially between the ages of 3 to 4 years old.

Mouthwash is not a must-use for every child. It is not typically recommended for kids under the age of six but it is often a way to get an added dose of cavity protection in children over the age of six years.

 There are reasons for this: The first is that some types of mouthwash for children contain fluoride and although fluoride is great at preventing tooth decay too much too early can also cause a problem for the developing teeth. Secondly, children below the age of six years may not be able to swish well without swallowing a little.

Kids having fresh breath is often a common parental concern. Diluting popular adult mouthwashes to assist, can, however, be harmful. Many of these mouthwashes contain high levels of alcohol and are quite harsh for the child’s mouth.  A chat with the dentist/ paediatric dentist can determine if and when mouthwashes are recommended for the child according to their dental needs and risks.

TMJ: Are dental X-rays safe for children?

DP: Dental X-rays are imaging techniques that may be used to highlight any abnormalities in dental tissues. They help to check for holes or decay in the teeth and make sure that the teeth are developing in the correct position, including teeth that have not yet emerged through the gums

There is very little risk in dental X-rays. Paediatric dentists/ dentists are especially careful to limit the amount of radiation to which children are exposed. Adequate radiation protection including high-speed film and digital x-rays are some of the techniques used to ensure safety and minimize the amount of radiation.

TMJ: What should we expect when our children start to lose their baby teeth? Is it normal for the tooth to be painful?

DP: Usually when a child is about 6 years old, his/her teeth will begin to become ‘shaky’, ‘wobbly’ or loose. Keep the teeth and gums as clean as possible as many kids are afraid to brush these shaky teeth. Let your child wiggle the tooth until it falls out on its own. This will minimize the pain and bleeding associated with a lost tooth. Be aware that ” shaky baby teeth” can occur from age 6 years all the way to the age of 12 years as adult teeth erupt.

TMJ: How often should my child visit the dentist?

DP: A schedule for follow up visits will be determined by your child’s oral health professional. Visits can often occur twice a year but can increase to as many as 4 times a year for children who are assessed to be at high risk for dental disease.

 

About Dr Percival:

Dr Tricia Percival is a lecturer in paediatric dentistry at the University of the West Indies (UWI) School of Dentistry and has been a practising paediatric dentist for the past 15 years. She received her undergraduate training at the UWI Dental School and completed her postgraduate degree at the Eastman Dental Institute, University College London. Among other areas of interest, Dr Percival also has a focus on treating children with special needs.