Keeping Kids Safe in Cars

Today’s guest post is from SCAN’s Summer Intern Iliana Panameño, who recently graduated from Union College and hopes to empower the Latino community through advocacy work and policy analysis. Her work at SCAN this summer focuses on public education and advocacy issues.

blogblock_kidsandcarsOur community has experienced two tragic deaths this month due to children being left alone in a hot car. Let’s help one another, and let’s get involved in tackling this important summer safety issue.

Mikey was the most loved and adored baby on earth.  He was our miracle baby, the last survivor of 14 embryos conceived through in-vitro fertilization.  We loved Mikey like the air we breathed…”

Mikey Warschauer’s story – from – is worth reading in full. Ten years ago, Mikey was one of the 38 children (on average) who die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths. Many have wondered, “How can a parent completely forget that their child has been left alone in the car?” The answer is that even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave their baby sleeping in the car. According to Parents Central, most deaths due to heat exhaustion occur when there is a change in a daily routine, and your partner or caregiver who will take care of the child for a few hours, forgets that your child is in the back seat.

It is important to remember that disasters happen quickly. Here are 6 tips on how you can keep your child safe from heat exhaustion this summer:

  1. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
  2. Do not let your child play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
  3. Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are open. The inside temperature of a vehicle can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes!
  4. Keep a large teddy bear or other stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty. Move the teddy bear in front of the seat when you place your child in the car seat as a visual reminder, or…
  5. Put your purse/briefcase, etc. (something you will need when you get to your final destination) in the backseat next to the baby which will force you to check the backseat when you arrive so that you see the baby is there.
  6. Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
  7. If you’re dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop-off went according to plan.

“I cannot bring Mikey back…but at least I pray that the story of his death may help prevent other similar tragedies,” writes Mikey’s father in his story here. For more information on how to protect your child and others from heat exhaustion (as well as other car safety tips) click on the following links:

True love. True story.

blogblock_sarahself2When I first began working at SCAN over ten years ago, I did not have children but was passionate about the work we were doing in the community to prevent child abuse and neglect. As years went by – and my family grew to include three young children – not only did I begin to have a more emotional connection to the things we were working on, but I also started to see a pattern in the messages we shared with parents and community members. Whether we were launching a new parenting class or distributing fact sheets at a community fair, we were often helping families learn how to better express their love. Helping a father see the power of saying, “I love you” every day to his son. Empowering a concerned neighbor to show love and support for a struggling parent next door. Encouraging a mother to believe in and love herself enough to practice self-care and not be afraid to ask for help.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t think of a better time to ask you to share a little bit of that love.

As an employee, I’ve always loved my work at SCAN. But as a mother, I will be forever grateful to have heard those messages of love first-hand and I’m quite certain they got me through some of my most challenging days as a new mom. I used to take my eldest son (now 8!) to one of SCAN’s early playgroups, at first just to learn more about the program, but soon found myself attending for the information on child development, for the voices so similar to mine who were facing daily challenges, for a reminder that I didn’t have to do it all alone or be embarrassed to ask for help.

If only every parent could connect with SCAN’s programs and support in some way – what a difference that could make to the thousands of families in our region!

In the next week, we invite you to share love for a parent you know by telling them you admire their hard work or offering to help in some small way. If you’re a parent, make a special effort to express your love to your child. We’ve collected some fantastic, creative ideas over on Pinterest here and invite you to check them out. Also be sure to visit the Attachment & Bonding page over on our Parent Resource Center this month.

Love is certainly in the air. Let’s make sure every family possible gets to take a nice long, deep breath this month.

~ Sarah Self, Public Education Coordinator at SCAN of Northern Virginia

p.s. Have any special ideas for sharing love with a child or parent? I hope you’ll share in the comments section below!

Stay-at-home Dads: On the rise and in need of support

Being a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) can be hard, especially if you’re a new parent.  SAHDs face a lot of criticism, most of which are based on stereotypical gender roles.  Dedicating yourself to raising your children can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be a demanding, confusing and lonely job.  While more and more dads are joining the SAHD ranks (some estimates suggest the number has more than doubled in the last decade), a recent article in Time reports than men are still battling stigma.  To combat the negative aspects of being a SAHD, dads’ groups have started popping up. NYC Dads Group boasts more than 500 diverse members.  They go out in groups for activities with the kids, but also plan dad-only events so SAHDs can relax and spend time with friends.

NYC Dads Group offers these tips for stay-at-home dads (that also happen to be great tips for ALL at-home parents!) on their blog:

1. Be clear about responsibilities.
Make sure you and your partner agree on expectations about cooking, house care and how parenting will be handled on nights and weekends.  By talking about it ahead of time, conflict can be reduced or diminished.

2. Find time for yourself.
Don’t let your whole life be about parenting. Try to spend time with friends or do some activities alone.

3. Take your job seriously.
We often say parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. NYC Dads Group puts it like this: “Navigate parenthood with the goal to be the best dad you can be, the same way you strive to succeed at any job.”

4. Consider the future.
Being a SAHD may not be your job forever, so stay up-to-date on information in your field in case you return to work in the business world.

5. Connect with other parents.
Being a stay-at-home parent can be isolating, but you can beat that feeling by joining a stay-at-home parents’ group or a group just for SAHDs or SAHMs (Stay-at-home Moms). Carve out time to socialize, network and discuss childcare with other parents. There’s a group for DC Metro Area SAHDs (check it out at but there are also plenty of general parent support groups (like SCAN’s!) that can be helpful, too.

6. Establish a routine.
Having a routine is important when it comes to organizing your life and your child(ren)’s. It can reduce daily chaos and help them learn responsibility. See SCAN’s Parent Resource Center for a guide on the importance of routine, including a radio show and fact sheets in English and Spanish.

7. Get out of the house.
“Make sure you get out once or twice a day (even during winter) to take a walk with the stroller through a park, run a few errands, enroll in a parent and child class or to hit the local library or bookstore,” suggests a blogger at NYC Dads Group.

8. Seek advice or help.
It’s hard to be a parent and it’s even harder when you’re by yourself. Whether the topic is where to find good daddy-and-me classes or how to potty train efficiently, ask for help when you need it.

9. Embrace the experience.
“Sometimes it may be hard to realize, but caring for your child during the first few years of his or her life is a wonderful opportunity. You not only get to observe and witness the major milestones, but you get to share and enjoy the small wondrous moments that happen every day! “

10. Shatter stereotypes and inform society.
Many SAHDs face criticism because childcare is typically seen as a woman’s duty.  Part of your job as a SAHD is to defy those stereotypes and show that fathers can be just as loving, caring and competent as mothers.

Do you know a SAHD doing a great job? Are you a SAHD with questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Model, or Role Model? Building better body image for our children (and ourselves).

Young kids can be like parrots – they’re small, sometimes they squawk, and they have a tendency to repeat and learn what they hear. That last point is well taken. When you say, “I’m trying to lose 10 pounds” in front of your five-year-old, you have just taught them something new. And it might not be something they needed to know. The NIH reports an estimated 25% of girls ages 10-14 are dieting. Another recent study found that 50% of girls ages 8-17 are concerned about weight.

How can you tell if your child has a negative body image? One of the strongest indicators is when a child only views and values herself or himself in terms of physical attractiveness. This may be coupled with excessive dieting, frequent comments about weight (of self and others), as well as the language he/she uses to describe physical self.

It’s a tough world out there. As kids face the pressures in media and on the playground, parents have an important role to play in boosting body image. We can start by explaining that:

  • there isn’t one “good” body size
  • bodies will naturally change and grow throughout life
  • personality is more important than physical appearance

In her book You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own, author Dara Chadwick offers these suggestions:

  1. Say at least one positive thing about yourself every day in front of your child
  2. Don’t make fun of your bodies – find something else to laugh about together
  3. Try not to compliment people’s weight loss around your child
  4. Don’t refuse to do something just because you think you’ll look “too big” or other people won’t like it – just do what makes you feel best
  5. Skip looking at yourself in every reflective surface you pass

Try to love your own body and model healthy body image as you interact with your child. By teaching her that you want to be healthy but don’t obsess about your body size, she is more likely to adopt that same focus. Make sure you are modeling and supporting a healthy lifestyle (eating well and exercising) instead of focusing specifically on weight or size, and encourage your child to avoid the scale as a means of determining their self-worth. Have regular conversations about stereotypes, prejudice and using words like “ugly” or “fat” as insults and how that can change someone’s body image.

We’re always saying, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” – perhaps it’s time we backed up this statement with some action in our families?

We’d love to hear how you have modeled and supported a healthy lifestyle for your children! Please share in the comment section below.

Co-Parenting: It’s hard, but worth it.

Putting your kids’ needs ahead of your own is a defining part of being a parent (that, and sometimes DNA plays a role).  But what happens if you and your spouse decide that separating as a couple is what you want?  It’s not the end of your road as a parent, and it’s certainly not the time to stop working as a team to raise the children you have together.  Co-parenting is best for your children, but many divorced or separated parents have a difficult time adjusting. We thought we’d share some great tips we found at, a non-profit that serves people looking for information regarding healthy living, childhood and family issues, as well as mental and emotional health.

  1. Set aside your anger and hurt feelings. The best way to do this is focus on your children – remember that your child’s best interests are the most important.  You should also make sure you are not using your child as a messenger or talking negatively about your ex.
  2. Be peaceful, consistent and purposeful when communicating. Before you contact an ex, think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. suggests setting a business-like tone, making requests (“Would you be willing to…?”), listening, showing restraint, talking consistently and keeping your conversation child-focused.  If you are interested in rebuilding a relationship (not necessarily a romantic one), keep three things in mind: relax, apologize sincerely when you feel badly about something, and ask for your ex’s opinion.  Keep topics simple (do not ask his or her opinion with a topic on which you know you disagree), and make sure you are ready for a relationship.
  3. Parent as a team. The real key to this is consistency. Parenting styles don’t have to be exactly the same, but it won’t work if one parent is trying to undermine the other.  Make sure you have general rules (you don’t need the exact same rules at both homes) so your child knows what to expect going between parents and there isn’t a radical change.  Another idea to keep in mind is making sure you and your ex are disciplining similarly. If your child loses dessert privileges at one house, make sure your ex carries the punishment over to their house.  The same goes for rewarding good behavior! Lastly, children need schedules.  Make sure dinner, bed and homework times are the same at each house so the child feels like they aren’t being disrupted. Important issues need to be talked about and agreed upon by both parents.  These topics include medical care, education and financial decisions. If you have disagreements, try to be respectful, keep talking (not arguing) and be prepared to compromise.
  4. Make transitions easier for your child. Separation or divorce can be very hard on a child. There are two specific times to make sure your child is comfortable: when your child leaves and when they return. During these times, do not exchange more than pleasantries with your ex, you are only there for your child at that time.When your time with your child is coming to an end, remind them they will be going to see their other parent (this should be a day or two ahead of time) so they are prepared. Make sure your child’s things are packed so they don’t forget anything they will miss (a special toy or stuffed animal, for example). Finally, always drop off your child – do not “pick them up.” If you go to the other parent’s home to get your child, you might interrupt a special bonding moment between your child and ex. Make sure there is an agreed upon drop-off time (5 p.m. or ‘after dinner’) so you don’t worry and your ex gets all of their time with the child.When your child is coming home, keep things relaxed and low-key – for example, you can read a book together or talk about their time away. It’s important to allow them some space to transition.  Make sure there are two sets of necessities like toothbrushes – one for each house – so the child isn’t worried about unpacking. Have a routine for their return, such as a special dinner or game night.Something many parents deal with (and worry about) when going through a separation or divorce is “visitation refusal.”  This is when a child doesn’t want to leave one household to go to the other. Something important to keep in mind is that this is common!   Find the cause, go with the flow and have a respectful conversation with your ex about the problem. And remember: most visitation refusals are temporary!

Listen to our recent radio show on Co-Parenting and download a Fact Sheet on our Parent Resource Center here, or visit these other useful links:

YOUR TURN: Have you and your ex found creative ways to make co-parenting work? Please share with us in the comments section below!

SCANning the Web: Talking about the tough stuff

[NOTE: We have a fun giveaway this week…2 tickets to ShamrockFest! Comment below for a chance to win…]

For lots of parents, starting a meaningful conversation about their child’s day at school is hard enough. The thought of trying to talk about anything remotely difficult (think bullying, sex or any other taboo subject) can be downright scary for parents and kids alike!

But the thing is, we HAVE to have these conversations with our children. Because if WE don’t do it, then someone else will. And that someone could be a misinformed child. Or – worse yet – an adult taking advantage of a misinformed child. So…

  • What can we do to start the dialogue without making our children (or ourselves) too uncomfortable?
  • How do we turn taboo subjects into safe discussion topics?
  • When is it okay to bring this stuff up?

We’ve got some simple answers: DO YOUR BEST. BE HONEST. NOW!

We’ll admit – simple answers do not translate into a simple task. It’s okay to be nervous when it comes to talking about things like drug use, sex, death or other trauma, etc. These topics aren’t easy for most adults to discuss, and a child entering the discussion brings up entirely new concerns including maturity, communication skills, and social & emotional development.

The first steps for parents should be to find resources, talk with other parents and start talking to their kids immediately no matter how old they are. Here are some great online resources that give tips, sample dialogue and encouragement to start talking today:

  1. TALKING TOUGH TOPICS Fact Sheet (from SCAN’s Parent Resource Center)
  2. 10 Steps to Talk With Your Kids from Children Now and The Kaiser Family Foundation
  3. “Talking about tough topics” web page from PBS
  4. Talking to Your Child About Drugs from Nemours (with a great breakdown by ages)
  5. Talking With Kids Booklet from Nickelodeon

Now it’s your turn–how have YOU started meaningful discussions about tough topics in your family? Share your stories, tips and ideas below for a chance to win 2 TICKETS to ShamrockFest on March 24, 2012 from our friends over at National ShamrockFest! Comment all week…we’ll announce a winner in just a few days!

SCANning the Web: Holiday Stress, Family Style

Publishing this post just a few days before the biggest holiday week of the year might feel like perfect timing. Or it may feel as though your family (like many of us) finds itself so caught up in the craziness of school programs, work parties and endless to-do lists that you won’t even have time to sit down and read a blog post, let alone check out the links we provide below. But we’re making a special request to parents: please take a moment to do so.

The holidays are a mixed bag: families have the opportunity to spend extra time together, share traditions and celebrate special cultural and religious events. But they can also max out our already busy schedules and make us feel like we’re never doing quite enough to make it special for those we love. Holidays can also be just plain painful if they remind us of financial difficulties, strained relationships or the loss of loved ones.

Nevertheless, here we are. This year, why not gift yourself the time and tips to keep the focus on your family (rather than the gifts or party invitations or endless other things it can turn into)? Click here for fact sheets on Holiday Stress, Family Stress and Helping Children Manage Stress. And then, take just a few minutes to consider trying one of these tips this year:

1. Ask your kids how they feel about the holidays. Are they over-tired? Stressed? Have they had a chance to spend a quiet night at home with you recently?

2. Set family priorities. If you talk about options together (baking Christmas cookies at home vs. attending a large party, for example) you can make decisions together. And your kids’ answers might surprise you!

3. See the opportunity in front of you! Many children are home from school and parents take time off from work over the next two weeks. Try and plan one or two special, family-focused events to enjoy together. Even just a mid-day walk around your neighborhood or cooking a meal together can be a nice break from the fast-paced routine of daily life.

4. Give a gift with lasting value. Sure, you’ve probably already purchased the latest video game or toy for your child. But why not write them an end-of-year letter about why you love them and how they’ve made you proud over the past year? Enclose an old photo or two and read it together during a quiet moment at home.

Remember: no family is perfect. Neither are the holidays. Do what you can to make your time together full of meaning, not stress. Your kids will thank you for that some day.

Calling all creative thinkers! And parents! And, well, everyone else who wants to make a difference…

Launching a brand new Child Abuse Prevention Campaign is not an everyday occurence around here. And yes, we get pretty excited about it.

In 2009 we launched our popular Pause for a Child campaign. For three years we spread the word about how everyone could take just a moment and make a difference in a child’s life. Now we’re at it again. In 2012 – with funding from Verizon and other campaign supporters – we’ll unveil a new message to Northern Virginia. So what’s the new campaign? That’s where YOU come in!

Right now we’re in the planning phases. Lots of brainstorming and lively discussions, with feedback from a special Campaign Task Force, staff, Allies in Prevention Coalition members and parents involved in our classes and support groups.

Offer feedback. Ask questions. Tell us what you think!
We’re asking friends like YOU to take a look at some of the messages (and notes from our meetings) we’ve developed so far, then share your thoughts/ideas/comments below!

1. Family Relationships Matter
Here the focus is on the family…showcasing the importance of connections between a child and his or her family, as well as the family’s connection to the community, no matter who makes up a particular child’s family. When those relationships are healthy, the family “works”: children are nurtured, parents feel supported and the community is healthy.

2. The Little Picture
We’ve all been encouraged to look at “the bigger picture” before. But what about every “little picture” in our community? It’s these little pictures – individual children, family units, small neighborhoods – that create our very own “big picture” of a community. How we “see” our small pictures forever changes what our big community looks like for years to come.

3. Love. Time. Hope. Invest them in a child.
We are each responsible for investing in children, the future of our community. And there is more than one way to invest: spending time with our children, reaching out to parents, etc. We actually liked the simple “Invest in a child” concept, but so does the Boys & Girls Club, who currently uses that very same campaign!

4. Every child contributes to a healthy community.
Simple but true: healthy children = healthy families = healthy community

Look forward to hearing from you all!

Kids. 9/11. Questions. As parents, how do we help them deal?

Last week our country faced the traumatic memories of 9/11. A decade after the terrorist attacks that day, millions of children – many of them not even born in 2001 – also had to see images of the attacks, talk about it in their classrooms and hear stories of those who lived through the devastation. As parents, many of us continue to struggle with our own feelings about that day. And now we have children asking us questions, feeling scared and vulnerable, or just confused about recent history.

How do we respond?

The most important thing is that we DO respond. Talk openly with your kids about how they feel. Ask them what they already know and what they’ve heard from friends. There are some fantastic resources available to help families talk about 9/11:

  • One of the best is a document produced through a collaboration of the American Psychological Association and NickNews (of children’s TV station Nickelodeon). Their “What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001” booklet offers 20 pages of worksheets, children’s activities and resources to help kids learn about the facts, address their feelings about what happened and take action to be both safe and productive as a healthy response to those feelings. They also offer a wonderful video (click on the image above to watch the 22 minute video, but first a disclaimer: it does include advertisements).
  • Sesame Street’s “You Can Ask” project was developed in response to 9/11 as well. It’s an online toolkit – including videos of Sesame Street characters experiencing difficult events – to help families create dialogue with their children about fear, anxiety and shock.
  • SCAN’s Parent Resource Center also provides a fact sheet on Helping Children Deal with Trauma (in English and Spanish!). Here you’ll find tips for talking about sensitive subjects with children at different ages, as well as steps to help you and your child deal with difficult subjects.

Unfortunately, bad things do happen during every childhood. And we can’t always protect our children from the details or the fear that may accompany those events. From extreme weather to a death in the family to a historic attack, parents need to be ready to respond in a positive way when kids ask questions about a wide range of traumatic events. There is support out there! Reach out for your own support during difficult times, arm yourself with tools and do the best you can.

Back to School Bash + Fancy Free Friday!

It’s that time of year…our kids are hitting the books, schedules are filling up and families across our area are getting back into the swing of school. With all of the excitement, we sometimes forget about the stress kids (and parents, too!) experience in the rush of September. Take time this week to start the school year off right:

1. Set aside time to talk with your kids every day after school. Ask questions. LISTEN to answers without judgement!

2. Make a commitment to meet their teachers, coaches and other adults in their school life.

3. Celebrate their success in school all year long (see below for a great way to kick off the party this week!) – how YOU approach school rubs off on them.

Our Parent Resource Center offers a variety of resources on topics including Advocating for your Child in School, Stress Management, Handling Bullying, Parent-Teacher Relationships and more. Be sure to check it out!

And now back to celebrating…we have a great FANCY FREE FRIDAY giveaway to help your family have its own Back to School Bash this weekend:

We’re giving away One Dozen Mini Cupcakes from Bittersweet Bakery in Alexandria. To enter to win, simply share one way you connect with your kids after a long day at school.

We’ll announce a winner Friday just in time for the weekend – can’t wait to hear your great ideas!