Tag Archives: children

Every Kid’s a Critic

Kid Food CriticIn the June 2011 issue of Disney’s Family Fun magazine, I came across a great idea to get my child to sample new food.

An article in the magazine suggested encouraging kids to critique the restaurant as if they were a professional restaurant critic.

The kids graded the restaurant’s food, service, menu, and decor and they had a great time doing it.

Not only did it get kids excited about trying new foods, it also helped them develop critical thinking skills and practice their writing.

I thought it was a fantastic idea – after all, school-age children are nothing if not critical!

If your budget is tight and you can’t splurge on restaurant meals as often as you’d like, you can easily modify this activity for meals at home.

First, set up the ground rules. I suggest NOT making every meal an exercise in criticism. I know my cooking confidence would deteriorate. Set aside one night or one meal when the kids will play professional critic.

Second, use the meal as an opportunity to try a new recipe or food item that you’d love to have the kids try. You can develop the meal around one country or culture or cuisine. But give yourself plenty of time to put it all together.

Third, I recommend taking decor and service out of the equation. Let the kids judge you on your menu – for added fun, type it up on the computer and add some clipart – and the food itself. No one wants to hear their child/restaurant critic complain that there are dirty dishes in the sink, ruining the ambiance.

Finally, after a few times when the kids play critic, turn the tables on them. Instruct them to develop a menu that you’ll help them prepare and that you will critique. It’s a great way to teach the kids how to give and receive constructive criticism.

The best part of the activity is that the meal is in the house, even if it’s not exactly on the house.

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Self-Esteem & Respecting Others

Diverse KidsEvery parent has been faced with the dilemma of a school-age child tearfully making one or both of these claims:

  • I hate my hair/skin/eye color/eye shape;
  • I’m not cool like FILL IN THE BLANK, s/he has the “perfect” hair/skin/eye color/eye shape.
It’s the worst feeling in the world and it can be exacerbated when you – the parent – possess what is deemed to be the “right” hair/skin/eye color/eye shape, according to the mystical (and completely mythological) thinking of grade-schoolers.
In a perfect world there would be a self-esteem booster shot that parents could request from the pediatrician or local pharmacy. But there’s not so we, as parents, have to provide that self-esteem booster.

Share Your Story

One of the first things I did when my child told me that he had the “wrong” hair type (curly) was to tell him that I had always longed to have curly hair when I was a little girl, which was true. I told him about the many perms I’d suffered through, the chemical smell that clung to my head, the embarrassment I felt when the perm didn’t come out just right, and all the time I’d spent getting my hair done or trying to curl it myself with a curling iron and tube of first-aid creme next to me to put on the inevitable burns.
I told him that his father had faced similar criticisms – that it’s just a part of life, unfortunately – but that you can’t let other people’s opinions about things like that consume you.
I let him know that there is always going to be someone who will tell you there’s something wrong with you. And I challenged him to ask what made those people the experts on what was right and wrong.
It was an early lesson in what I know will be one of the greatest tools I can give my child: the ability to question authority (even if that “authority” is a first-grader) and to think critically.

Media that Looks Like Them

It’s important to me that my child sees lots of different books, newspapers, magazines, TV, and online media that reflects diversity. For a long time after he first complained about his skin color, we would excitedly point out people on TV or in magazines who had the same skin color as he. I also tried to tell him about the people in those articles and show why they were exceptional or noteworthy. He may never be a politician or a tennis star, but it helps him to see successful people who look like him.

Building Your Child Up

I admit it: I think my child is the most beautiful person in the world. And I tell him that. I also tell him how kind he is. I compliment him when he shows good manners or helps a neighbor or younger cousin. I want to reinforce all the wonderful character traits he has – from physical beauty to sense of humor to academic skill to music ability and on and on. I want to help him see all the things that I value in him so that he will learn to value that in himself.

Making Connections

I try to make sure that my child sees my relationships with people of different races, religions, ages, economic status, etc. I want him to know that I care about these people and am happy to have them in my life because of all the things that can’t be seen. But at the same time, I compliment these friends to my child so he can understand there is no one definition of beauty.

Family Reflections

We are fortunate to have a diverse family and I point this out to my child. I talk about the attributes he got from me and from his father and I let him know that he is the perfect blend of the two of us and I would never change a thing about his appearance.
As far as we’ve come as a country and a culture, we still have a long way to go before we are truly able to see others clearly. But teaching our children to have respect for themselves will ultimately enable them to have respect for others, as well.
Here are some more resources that may help as you grapple with the right way to handle these issues with your own child:

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Talking to Kids About Bin Laden

Child watching TVMany American parents woke up May 2 to the news that Osama bin Laden, the strategist behind the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and the American embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, along with many other attacks on innocent people around the world, had been killed.

As we watched the news coverage we struggled with what to say to our children, most of whom had been born after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In order to explain today’s news and why people were celebrating, we had to weigh how much to tell our children about the events of Sept. 11, a day which was  for many of us the worst day of our lives.

There’s no one right way to deal with news events like this. Parents have to trust their instincts on how much to tell their children, depending on their age, sensitivity, and other factors.

But here are some things to keep in mind to help you – and your children – understand the situation.

Make sure children feel safe.

In talking about what happened at the compound in Abottabad, children are likely to feel afraid. Children interpret every event in relation to themselves. Could bad people hurt me and my family? Are we in danger? Help your child feel as secure as possible. Tell him or her that you are there to protect them and that nothing bad will happen. Children need reassurance in order to feel secure. Insecurity in children can lead to behavior problems, nightmares, and more.

Help children understand why people are celebrating.

As much as we would like to protect our children from some of history’s darkest moments, we need to explain and interpret that history for them. This is an opportunity for parents to frame these events in ways children can understand and in keeping with your religious, ethical, and moral beliefs. You cannot teach children how to process frightening events, which they are certain to experience in their lifetimes, if you don’t talk to them.

Listen to – and answer – the question they’re asking.

You don’t have to give a multi-part lecture on the rise of extremism or provide an in-depth geography lesson on south Asia. What your children really want to know is how this information affects them, their family, their school, and their community. You don’t have to be an expert on global terrorism to answer those questions.

Know when enough is enough.

Sometimes parents over-talk a topic. It’s important to give children information appropriate to their age and understanding and then talk about something else. Answer their questions, but don’t revisit the topic again and again without them asking about it. If you do, you’ll unintentionally diminish your credibility. Children will believe you’re hiding something or that you’re more concerned than you’re letting on, and that will lead to greater fear on their part.

Model the behavior you want them to copy.

Show your child how to react by modeling the behavior you want to see them imitate. If you rely on prayer in challenging times, let your children see you pray and permit them to pray with you. If you seek out a lot of news and information, let them see that, too.

Keep in mind that children have a hard time understanding that when news stories are repeated on television or the Internet that they are not happening over and over again.

There are many times when parents wish they had a guidebook for how to deal with some issue confronting their children or their family.

At such times, it’s important to remember that no one knows your child the way you do. Only you can determine how much and what information is appropriate for them at a given time.

Do not try to prevent your child from knowing about – and participating in – world events but instead give them the tools they need to process the information.

It’s a skill they’ll need throughout their lives.

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Talking to Kids About Japan

kids watching TVIt’s been just over a month since a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis first rocked Japan.

Since that time:

  • More than 188,000 people continue to be displaced;
  • More than 125,000 blankets; 183,000 items of clothing; 26,000 relief kits and 11,000 sleeping kits have been handed out to survivors staying in Red Cross evacuation centers.
  • Several aftershocks as well as significant tremors have struck;
  • Scientists, workers, and government officials continue to deal with a nuclear crisis that is now judged to be equal to the Chernobyl disaster;
  • Millions of dollars – including donations from schoolchildren around the world – have been pledged by individuals and organizations to help the people of Japan deal with the crisis;
  • The American Red Cross has collected more than $158 million for Japan relief. The Japanese Red Cross has collected more than $800 million and is beginning to disburse some of those funds to affected people this week; and
  • The first 36 of 70,000 temporary homes were presented to displaced families in Iwata prefecture.

Because there is still so much bad news mingling with the good work people are doing to help the victims of the multiple disasters in Japan, it can be difficult for children to cope with the situation.

Even thousands of miles away, children can be profoundly affected by the news.

Because this crisis is ongoing, it can be even more difficult for children to deal with how they are feeling.

Download KidCulture’s free PDF, Tips for Talking to Children About Global Crises, to help you talk with children about the crisis in Japan and identify strategies to help them feel more secure.

Keep in mind that one of the best ways to help children deal with bad news and scary situations is to give them something over which they have control.

Whether it’s holding a bake sale, lemonade stand, or yard sale with the intention of donating the proceeds to the Red Cross or another Japan relief organization, every child can make a difference. And that helps give them the confidence they’ll need to deal with crises when they get older.

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Russian Kasha

Russian FeastKasha is one of the oldest Eastern European foods. For more than a thousand years, Russians, as well as other Eastern Europeans, have enjoyed kasha, or buckwheat groats, in a variety of ways.

Originally conceived as a food for ceremonial events such as weddings and celebratory feasts, kasha came to be a staple of the Russian diet.

Long before Americans began to incorporate whole grains into their diets, the Russians habitually enjoyed a plate of kasha as part of their meal.

Although there are many ways to enjoy kasha, I cannot promise you that your children will fall in love with it unless it is slowly introduced and – probably – heavily camouflaged by things they do like.

You can try this recipe from AboutKasha.com that sounds intriguing, or modify the recipe I created below.

Kasha with Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and SpinachKasha with Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Spinach

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 c. spinach

1 c. white button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the kasha according to the directions on the box. In a sauce pot, add olive oil and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic, onion, and mushrooms. Saute until softened, about 4 minutes at medium high heat. Add tomatoes and cook for about 3 more minutes. Finally, add spinach, stir and cover. Remove from heat. After 3 more minutes, stir and add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over the kasha. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.


Filed under Eat, Europe

Cherry Blossom Festival Unites Japan, USA

DC cherry blossomsOn March 27, 1912, American First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, planted the first two Japanese cherry blossom trees near Washington, DC’s Tidal Basin.

Mrs. Taft was an excellent advocate for bringing the Japanese cherry trees to Washington. For three years, she lived with her husband and children in the Philippines while her husband served as the Governor-General of the Philippine islands. She was considered remarkable at the time because she welcomed the opportunity to learn about the language and culture of the Philippines and to befriend the Filipino people.

In addition, Mrs. Taft enjoyed traveling to Japan and China and she brought a respect and appreciation for other cultures to the White House when her husband was elected in 1908.

Ninety-nine years after the two ladies planted the first cherry blossom trees, visitors to Washington still enjoy them, as well as the 3,000 others that subsequently joined them.

This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival is being conducted while the original givers of this beautiful gift – the people of Japan – are struggling with unbelievable challenges and tragedies.

More than two weeks after an earthquake and a tsunami changed life for people of Japan and set off a nuclear crisis in their country, many Americans are using the National Cherry Blossom Festival to reinvigorate American donations to help the people of Japan.

For more information about the history of the cherry trees in Washington, DC, check out the National Park Service’s website.

More information about the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 26-April 10, click here.

The American Red Cross is one of the best options for donating funds to help the people of Japan.



Filed under Asia, Learn

A Cookie By Any Other Name


Photo: Real Simple

Known as palmiers in France, palmeritas in Spanish, ventaglio in Italian, and elephant ears in English, these little cookies have a devoted, global following.

It is believed that they are French in origin, where their name translates to “palm leaves.”

They are widely available in bakeries and from companies such as Goya, but they are also easy to make – so long as you don’t try to make your own puff pastry!

Here’s a recipe from Ina Garten that was posted on www.foodnetwork.com. Try it and let me know what you think.


Filed under Eat, Europe

What Kids Should Know About Libya

Libya has been in the news recently as the United States and other nations enforce a “no fly zone” to help protect Libyan citizens who do not agree with their current government.

Without going too deeply into the situation in Libya, which may be overwhelming for children, it is an opportunity to teach kids about Libya and its place in the world.

Libya – whose official name is Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – is located in North Africa. It is the fourth-largest country in Africa and the 17th largest in the world.

The country is mostly covered by the Libyan Desert, which is one of the driest, hottest places on earth.

Some parts of the desert have not had rain for more than 13 years. The highest temerpature that has been recorded in the desert is 136 degrees Fahrenheit!

The majority of people live in cities and are primarily concentrated close to the coastline with the Mediterranean Sea.

Islam is the major religion in Libya. While most people practice Sunni Islam, there are also Coptic Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

Arabic is the primary language spoken in Libya but there are many people from other countries living in Libya, including people from Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Egypt, and Italy. Italian and English is sometimes spoken in the larger cities.

Libya is a very young country – half of the people there are 15 years old or younger.

Fortunately, every child in Libya has access to a free education through secondary (high) school.

In fact, Libya has the highest literacy rate in Africa. More than 82 percent of the people can read and write.

Family is very important to Libyans and they are accustomed to living close to each other. There are more than 140 tribes or clans and people strongly associate with their tribe.

Libyan food is very similar to the rest of North Africa. Staples of a Libyan diet include: couscous, olives, soups, dates, grains, and milk. Following the meal, most people consume several glasses of black tea.

Libya is a beautiful, historic country facing many challenges but hopefully the Libyan people will soon be living in peace.

Libyan Desert

Photo courtesy Wikipedia


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Hear the World

kids listening to musicLike most people, I love listening to lots of different kinds of music.

From Edith Piaf to Bob Marley to Loretta Lynn to Ali Farka Toure, I’m interested in many different voices.

I’ve succeeded in getting my son hooked (a little). He enjoys French children’s music; in fact, it’s his favorite CD to listen to in the car.

And we both enjoy a CD of African lullabies that I bought him when he was a baby. 

I’m always looking for new ways to broaden our collection and a relative recently gave us Putumayo’s  Picnic Playground with fun children’s songs from around the world.

The Putumayo World Music company and their Putumayo Kids collection is a great resource for CD’s from different countries and regions of the world. According to their website, their goal is to “introduce children to other cultures through fun, upbeat world music.” As a result, they’ve been acknowledged by the Parents’ Choice Awards and the National Parenting Publications Association. 

But you don’t have to buy a CD in order to get your child to listen to different music from around the world. YouTube has many songs from other cultures that are fun for kids. As always with YouTube, you have to monitor it carefully to ensure your child doesn’t accidentally see something inappropriate.


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Talking to Kids About Egypt

For the past two weeks, Egyptians have been protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty years in power.

Close on the heels of a similar – but more quickly resolved – crisis in Tunisia, the situation in Egypt has been fascinating to watch on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and – oh, yes – the evening news and in newspaper accounts.

Those accounts have shown that children have been involved in the protests – almost from the beginning – and that they are playing a role in Tahrir Square as well as in their own homes, pushing their parents to join the protests.

This is not a revolution being waged by children, but it is clear that they have something to say – and it’s a great way to encourage greater understanding of power, politics, and personal freedom in your own children.

If you’d like more information on what’s happening in Egypt, read the Washington Post (yes, a daily newspaper) timeline here.

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