A look at issues of interest for parents and their children.
For our annual parenting guide, we wanted to explore some of the topics of discussion that frequently arise for families in the area. From caring for aging loved ones as well as children with special needs to educational concerns and the latest health and wellness trends, we draw on expert advice and insight to find out how approaching these aspects of life can help shape the family dynamic and build stronger bonds.
What the pandemic means for your summer travel plans.
With coronavirus still a threat, summer travel in 2020 is all about staying close to home.
According to a survey released in early May by the U.S. Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence, once the pandemic subsides 43% of Americans expect to travel to destinations close to home. Meanwhile, a June report from Destination Analysts, found that more than 60% of travelers are likely to choose to vacation in a familiar location.
So, whether it’s heading out to see the sights in your own backyard or taking a day trip to the coast, travel in the short-term is trending away from far-flung destinations and toward easily accessible and familiar attractions.
Playing it Safe
Alan Fyall, a professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, says this year destinations will be upping their marketing to residents.
“This year it’s local, local, local,” he says.
For many people, traveling this summer means avoiding airport crowds and not taking a gamble on places they are unfamiliar with.
This is true for readers of TravelingMom.com, according to editor-in-chief of the website, Cindy Richards, who says many families are still planning to take a vacation this summer, but are looking to get out into nature.
“[People] are searching for information on road trips, RV rentals, national parks, beaches and other healthy outdoors vacations,” she says. “They’re looking for the hidden gems and secluded beaches they can visit safely with their kids.”
Traveling with Little Ones
Family travel is often complicated by the demands of attending to children. This year, parents may feel even more added pressure with also having to protect their children from COVID-19.
But it is possible to get where you’re going even with kids in tow. Richards says it’s all about weighing your options and finding what works best for your family.
“I just heard about one mom who normally drives from her home in Florida to visit her parents in San Antonio each year,” she says. “But this year, she’s flying with her two little ones. She decided that it was less risky to take a direct flight than road trip with the two preschoolers because that would require her to stop for bathroom breaks, food and overnight stays, potentially exposing them to much more risk.”
When it comes to accommodations, Fyall says brand trust will weigh heavy in favor of recognizable hotels who can assure guests that their facilities are meticulously cleaned.
Larry McNamara, CEO and owner of Giant Recreation World in Winter Garden, says his business has seen a huge jump in sales for RVs because this mode of transportation and accommodation is a safe way to vacation right now.
“It’s like staying home, except you can bring your home with you,” he says.
Exploring the outdoors is a great choice for families wanting to avoid crowds and RVs are ideal for camping. But McNamara says the biggest draw has to be the family bonding RVs make possible.
“It’s a lifestyle and it’s rooted in family and togetherness,” he says.
Have a Plan B
Richards says her best piece of advice for families traveling this summer is to have a fallback in case your original plans go awry.
“That way, if the crowds are too big when you arrive or the destination is closed, you have another vacation option ready,” she says.
For families, booking ahead for travel was a must before the pandemic but now it seems more people are making plans on the fly. Visit Orlando economist Daryl Cronk says people are waiting to see how things play out before committing to travel.
“There is that glimmer of hope that if the situation resolves itself in a reasonable time, there could be an unusually large number of very short-term, last-minute bookings for late summer into the fall,” he said in a Visit Orlando webinar.
Although Americans are wary about traveling now, experts predict people will still try to take their vacations this year.
“People are very reluctant to give up their vacation,” Fyall says.
With all of the struggles people have faced over the past couple of months, he expects people will be itching to grab a bit of normalcy by not foregoing travel completely. Richards concurs.
“It’s important to get away from the day-to-day pressures—especially now,” she says. “Even a day trip to explore something new gives you a change of scenery and a chance to relax and just have fun together as a family.”
Sixty-eight percent of Americans say they feel safest right now traveling by car to visit outdoor destinations, according to a May survey released by the U.S. Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence. Below are some ideas to inspire wanderlust.
About a two-hour drive from Orlando, this Gulf Coast city has sugar-sand beaches and stunning sunsets. Take a jaunt north to Caladesi Island State Park for untouched natural beauty or head to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for an educational experience with the kids. For lunch, you’ll find plenty of al fresco eateries serving fresh seafood along Clearwater Beach.
This Florida island is known for its iconic attractions and laid-back vibe. Be sure to get your picture taken at the Southernmost Point Buoy, then spend the afternoon viewing 15 acres of native flowers and greenery at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. For dinner, options abound on Duval Street.
Known as the “Old City,” this historical town is about two hours away and has plenty of sights to see. Visit the Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to learn about Spanish conquistadors and the Timucua Native Americans or stop by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park to see crocodilians up close. For a bite to eat, jump over to St. George Street for a slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream.
About an hour away from Orlando by car, this city, with its canal-linked Chain of Lakes and cultivated grounds, should not be overlooked. Start your day at Legoland for some block-building fun or journey just right outside of town to Bok Tower Gardens for a stroll through the flowers. For a sitdown meal, Winter Haven’s Main Street is where you’ll want to go for some good eats.
Seven things students should know before going off to college.
This fall, thousands of teenagers will head off to college and, for the first time, live away from their families. While this year’s freshman class is certainly stepping onto campus at a time when coronavirus is changing the college experience, there are still some undeniable hallmarks of that first year at university.
To make the transition from mom and dad’s house to school dorms or off-campus apartments easier, here are seven things for college freshmen to keep in mind when going off to school.
Be Your Own Advocate
High school students are used to teachers and parents championing them and pushing them in the right direction so they may be unskilled at being their own advocates in college. However, it’s essential they learn to do so.
Amy Parker, recruitment, enrollment and retention assistant vice president at Valencia College, says this is the time when students need to be in control of their own learning.
“It’s really for the students to take the driving wheel, really take responsibility,” she says. “A lot of that has to do with them really being engaged.”
Parker says this means keeping up with college communications by checking email and staying up to date on deadlines for things such as financial aid and dropping classes.
“On average, college students spend anywhere from 15 to 18 hours a week of actual class time, compared to the 30 to 40 hours a week you are used to from high school,” he says. “On the surface that seems more manageable, but the work you will be expected to complete outside the classroom in college is demanding.”
To not fall behind, freshman students should create a study schedule for their time outside of class.
Ask (and Find Answers) to Questions
Parker says her biggest piece of advice for incoming students is to not be afraid to ask questions.
“If you don’t know, if you’re concerned about something, you’re confused about something, you think that you’re being asked to do this, but you’re not really sure; ask the question,” she says. “I always say the people in higher education, we chose to be here. … We want to help students be successful.”
At each of Valencia’s campuses there is an Answer Center that students can visit to get responses to their questions on everything from admissions to financial aid. Currently Valencia’s Answer Centers are closed, but the college has created a virtual center for students to connect with advisors.
Colleges such as the University of Central Florida have separate offices for different matters such as financial aid or campus housing where students can seek information.
Take Advantage of Campus Amenities
A campus tour is also a good way to become acquainted with all the amenities available to students. Ellis says one resource freshman should not overlook is career services.
“Career services are not just for seniors in the same way college counseling was not just for 12th graders,” he says. “I think if you asked any career services director, they would tell you those students who are best prepared for employment or graduate school likely spent time in this area long before the last year in college.”
Parker says college tutoring centers are another underutilized resource. One benefit of college-sponsored tutoring? Unlike education help found off-campus, this service is free to students.
Care for Yourself
Living on your own and taking on a more rigorous academic course load can be taxing on those who are doing it for the first time. Parker and Ellis say students need to make self-care a priority.
“I think all these pieces are so important: getting your sleep, eating well, taking care of yourself, creating good balance,” Parker says.
Additionally, most colleges offer counseling centers. “Your mental health is just as important as your physical health,” Ellis says.
Try New Things
College is not just a time to learn new things but a time to explore.
To that end, Parker encourages college freshmen to take part in college organizations and attend campus events like lecture series.
“Trying to make connections that way so you feel a stronger tie to your institution, I think that’s really important and that helps students feel at home,” she says.
Have a Plan (and Be Ready to Change It)
Planning your college career, the classes you want to take and imagining the path you want to be on after graduation is essential to succeed in higher education. But, as this year’s high school graduating class can attest, things don’t always go according to plan.
Ellis says seniors experienced their final year of high school in a way no one could have predicted but, if anything, they’ve gained an ever-important skill for success in college and life: the ability to adapt.
“It is great to have plans, we encourage you to do so,” he says. “We also remind you to be flexible, to be able to adapt to the curves and adversities that come your way.”
- Get organized by having your child keep a schedule for when he or she will do homework. Use this calendar to also keep track of what assignments are due when.
- Talk through the assignments with your child. After your child reads the instructions, ask him or her to explain what the assignment is asking to make sure he or she understands what they’re supposed to do.
- Watch for frustration and if your child hits a roadblock, let them take a break.
- Give praise when your child does well. Children respond to encouragement from their parents and it will motivate them to complete their assignments.
**Source: U.S. Department of Education
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
How to talk to your kids about the pandemic.
The pandemic has significantly altered the lives of every person in America. For children, it’s been an interruption to schooling, activities with other kids and their normal routine. That’s true of teenagers as well but with the added sting of missing milestones like walking across the graduation stage and going to prom.
With such a seismic shift in their lives, children and teenagers may be feeling a range of emotions, some of which may be hard for them to express. However, with some expert advice, traversing this new terrain with your children is possible.
Signs To Watch Out For
Young children often don’t have the words to say how they feel, says Kimberly Renk, a University of Central Florida professor and clinical psychologist with expertise in child trauma.
“I think parents have to be more on alert for changes in behavior,” she says.
Parents should be on the lookout for modifications in their child’s eating patterns and sleep, as well as a more pronounced expression of sadness, aggression or frustration.
Renk says since the pandemic started, she’s seen a lot of children manifest their uneasiness through clinginess, crying and whining.
Starting the Conversation
Michael Westerveld, a clinical psychologist at AdventHealth, says starting a conversation about the pandemic with children can begin with just a simple question.
“Ask them what they know about this,” he says. “What have they heard about it? So, if they’ve heard wildly inaccurate things, you can actually give them factual information that is presented in a way that is consumable for whatever age they’re at.”
This may be particularly important for older children who may have unfettered access to social media and the internet through their cell phones.
For Little Ears
Parents speaking to young children about the coronavirus need to pick language that is understandable and talk about issues in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Renk says parents should validate their child’s feelings, too.
“The parent’s job becomes to organize that child’s feeling and provide a safe space for an ongoing conversation to occur as new things come up,” Renk says.
Talking When They Don’t Want to Talk About It
Sometimes children may withdraw into themselves because they are not comfortable speaking about what they’re feeling. Westerveld says in these cases parents just need to let children know it’s safe for them to talk about their emotions.
“So, you say, ‘OK, you don’t have to talk about it but we’re going to have a family meeting and mom and dad are going to talk about it and maybe your brother, if you have a brother, or a sister, if you have a sister, may want to talk about it,” he says. “So, you’re letting them know it’s OK to talk about it and it’s OK to not be OK at times.”
Right now, many families are suffering financially with people out of work for the foreseeable future. Renk says parents need not get into the nitty-gritty details of their finances but it’s crucial for them to address this new family dynamic with their kids.
“I think having an open discussion again is going to be important,” she says. “Where you say, ‘Well, you know, the circumstances around the pandemics certainly have affected our family. We don’t have as much money as we did when we were able to work, but that’s not something you have to worry about.’”
Parents should tell their children that this means the family may not be able to do all the things they are used to. But most importantly, they need to reassure the children this is something that will be figured out.
Take Care of Yourself
Of course, children are not the only ones going through grief and other extreme emotions right now. Parents may be feeling turmoil themselves, something they need to address before talking with their children.
“It’s kind of like putting on the oxygen mask on the airplane on your face first, before you help your kids,” Renk says. “You want to make sure that you are taken care of and your emotions are under control before you have any of these discussions, before you approach those difficult situations, because your children and adolescents are looking to you as to how to cope with these things.”
Without regulating your own feelings first, it can be difficult to help children through their own. Ultimately, how parents handle this crisis is how their children will also.
“I think parents always have to keep in mind that our children are the best observers of our behavior and they look to us—they socially reference us for so many things,” Renk says.
NUTRITION IN THE PANTRY
With kids at home now more than ever, it is helpful to have lots of ready-to-eat or quick-to-prepare snacks on hand for when they’re hungry. Of course, you’ll want these snacks to be healthful and filling. For that, we have you covered with advice from Gracie Barresi, a registered dietitian at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children; and nutritionist and cookbook author Carly Paige.
- Look for snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein and fiber. “The combination of these nutrients will help kids feel full and satisfied,” Barresi says.
- Bring kids into the process of cooking or assembling their snacks. “This gives them a sense of ownership and helps them become familiar with healthy ingredients they would otherwise turn their nose up to,” Paige says.
- Skip the cookies, chips, high-sugar yogurts, muffins, Pop-Tarts, etc.
- Set up designated snack times to avoid mindless eating. “It is important to start conversations with kids on why they are actually eating,” Barresi says. “Are they craving a food, eating out of boredom, eating when sad or another form of emotional eating?”
- Try healthier takes on kids’ favorites such as sweet-potato brownies.
Low-sugar but high in fiber and protein, these snack options are ideal for kids, according to Gracie Barresi, a registered dietitian at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
- 1 small apple, sliced + 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
- 3 cups low-fat popcorn
- 1-ounce of cheese + high-fiber cracker
- 1-ounce of nuts + 1 handful of fresh fruit
- Hummus + fresh veggies
- Dry roasted edamame or chickpeas
- Low-sugar granola bar
- Rice cake with peanut butter and banana
- Green pea crisps
- Yogurt with less than 10 grams of sugar, topped with fresh berries
Safety within elder communities in the age of coronavirus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed senior living communities around the United States, causing them to go on lockdown to protect residents from a virus that is killing older adults at a higher rate than other age groups. With over 40 percent of the reported coronavirus deaths in the country coming from long-term care facilities, precaution is warranted.
Luckily, for the most part, Central Florida’s assisted living centers and nursing homes have not taken as hard of a hit as other regions in the U.S. and some industry leaders are crediting the quick actions of the state and by local caretakers as the reason. But the coronavirus is still a threat today and it stands to reason that senior living communities will not be the same for a long time.
To keep residents safe, senior living communities rushed to put a number of safeguards in place as soon as awareness of the coronavirus began. New protocols they undertook included restricting visitors, roping off common areas, suspending group activities and urging residents to stay in their homes, all of which are recommendations put forth by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC).
President and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, Steve Bahmer says many of the association’s senior communities reacted quickly.
“Some of our members began taking steps in January to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” Bahmer said in a press release. “In many cases, our members were temperature checking residents and staff, and taking numerous other preventive steps, well in advance of any directive to do those things.”
Keeping in Touch
Restricted visitation has been hard not only for residents of senior living communities but also their families who’ve generally only been able to communicate with their loved ones through phone or video chat.
“It’s been pretty traumatizing and it’s taken an emotional toll for sure,” says Ignacio Quiñones, president and managing partner of North Star Senior Advisors, an organization that provides guidance to people looking for placement in an assisted living community.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, researchers had linked isolation and loneliness among the elderly to increased health risks.
Some organizations have been trying to help during this time of separation. In April, the Alzheimer’s Association partnered with the State of Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs to distribute senior-friendly customized tablets to residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities so they could more easily connect with their families.
Many older adults who were looking at transitioning into a new living situation—whether that be assisted living where residents are mostly independent and only need minor assistance or a nursing home, which is for seniors who need medical supervision and a higher level of care—are now nervous about moving forward.
Quiñones says he’s already fielding lots of questions from people who are caring for an elderly family member themselves. He advises families to put safety first.
“What we’re saying is make sure they’re safe, make sure they have the resources at home to stay home safe,” he says. “The moment it becomes in question, or they’re not getting the care they need at home, that can be a higher risk that COVID itself. … It’s a delicate balance.”
The continuing pervasiveness of the coronavirus makes it unlikely that senior communities will go back to how they were anytime soon.
“I think we’re going to see, definitely within this industry, a new normal,” Quiñones says, adding that he believes restrictions may soon loosen to allow visitors again but that screening and the use of personal protective equipment will continue.
Bahmer agrees. “The virus can spread very quickly, and despite the outstanding efforts of the professionals in our field, it has, and likely will continue to find its way into senior living communities.”
Seniors can be the most vulnerable to financial frauds. To protect yourself and your loved ones, be on the alert for these coronavirus-related scams.
Impersonating government agencies is a leading way scammers succeed in falsely obtaining sensitive information from people. A couple of impersonation scams spawned from the coronavirus pandemic include:
- A robocall message purporting to be from the U.S. Department of Health warns you that there is an outbreak in your area. The message then offers to connect you to a “health advisor.” This is a scam and is not a tactic of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- A text message requests you “update your information in order to receive the economic impact payment” from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The text includes a link to a form asking for your date of birth, social security number, etc. This is not a text from the IRS and, in fact, the agency never initiates contact through text messages.
Offers for supposed cures for the coronavirus are rampant. But there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccine for COVID-19 and any product that claims to be a cure is being illegally marketed.
- The FDA also reports that many fraudulent COVID-19 test kits are being sold online. At this time, the only way to be tested is to go through a health care provider.
- One version of this scheme targets people with diabetes. A robocall message will offer to get you a diabetic monitor and complementary coronavirus testing kit. The Federal Communications Commission has identified this as a scam.
Phishing emails with suspicious links are another way fraudsters may contact you. Phishing emails that are crafted to look like they are from reputable companies or organizations. Instead these emails are from scammers and are intended to extract personal information from recipients.
- The Florida Attorney General says some coronavirus phishing emails have been set up to look like they are from the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People are cautioned to not click on suspicious links or open attachments in these emails.
- People should verify emails by checking the sender’s email address or contacting organizations directly.
Information Sources: Federal Communications Commission, Better Business Bureau, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody
Uplifting the siblings of special needs children.
Children who are brother or sister to a sibling with a developmental disorder such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc., face their own unique challenges. They can feel isolated because they do not know other kids who have a sibling like theirs. And as children with special needs often require greater attention from their parents, siblings can end up feeling left out.
But parents can take actions to make sure all of their children, with and without special needs, thrive. We spoke with two experts to learn how to strengthen families that have children of differing abilities.
President of the Autism Society of Greater Orlando (ASGO), Donna Lorman says the siblings of special needs children often shoulder more responsibility than other kids their age. Many of these children are expected to help their parents with their brother or sister and they are asked to make sacrifices too.
“I think the No. 1 thing is they feel the weight of the world,” Lorman says. “They feel the weight from a very early age. … And I think one of the challenges is how do we get them an opportunity to just be a kid.”
Siblings also struggle with being unable to talk to others about how their brother or sister’s needs affect them.
To help siblings open up about their feelings, local organizations have created events to foster community among children who have brothers and sisters with special needs. Often billed as “Sibshops,” these events are led by facilitators who have been trained on a specific curriculum from the national Sibling Support Project.
Sibshops are attended by the siblings only, without the brother or sister who has a special need, and include icebreaker games and fun activities.
Judith Samuels, an autism disorders specialist and events coordinator at the University of Central Florida’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), is a facilitator and has led Sibshop workshops. She says they create a support group for these children and young teens.
“What we’re trying to do is to make them understand they’re not alone,” Samuels says.
One mainstay of the Sibshop program is a Dear Abby-esque chat where the facilitator reads out a letter from a sibling about a family conundrum and asks the attendees what their advice to the letter writer would be. Lorman is a facilitator for the Sibshops program through ASGO and says that this portion of the program really helps the kids open up.
“I read some of the questions that have come from siblings and I say, ‘What do you guys think about it?’” she says. “And then they open up with, ‘That happens to me.’ And then you’ll hear all around the circle, ‘Me too.’”
Some topics of discussion include commonplace scenarios like a sibling having friends over and feeling embarrassed because of a brother or sister’s actions or a sibling feeling resentment because his or her brother or sister seems to get most of the attention in the family.
Currently, Sibshops are unable to happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some are now being held online. That is the case for Sibshops provided through UCF’s CARD and its partner nonprofit PALS.
Samuels says these virtual sessions are done over video conference. In the past, PALS and CARD have held in-person workshops quarterly but for a while the events had dropped off the schedule because there was a lack of demand.
Samuels says COVID-19 might be a factor in the resurgence in demand for this event because right now some special needs children are going without their therapy and other care support.
“I’m sure that the household is different,” she says. “And it’s hard, for everybody. So I think that’s why now we’re getting that push again to support those siblings.”
Schedule Quality Time
Lorman, who is a mother to an autistic son and a typical daughter, says one piece of advice she has for parents in similar situations is to make sure they spend quality time with their children separately.
“Build that into a calendar system,” she says. “So that they have that private time that they can talk to you freely.”
Additionally, Lorman implores parents to not treat their daughter or son as the “default babysitter” for their child with special needs.
Vocalizing your appreciation is another way of making sure your child feels valued for all the help he or she gives to the sibling with special needs. Even though it may be routine for your child to help his or her brother or sister, that assistance should still receive a “thank you.”
“It doesn’t always have to be tangible, but hearing those words over and over and over again—it can never be said enough,” Lorman says.
Connecting with Other Siblings
As Sibshops demonstrate, having others to talk to who are going through the same experience can be a life-saver for struggling siblings.
Samuels says parents should seek out a Sibshop if possible but they can also ask around at the organizations they are a part of to see if other families have similar situations at home. From there, parents can set up a play date for their children.
“[The siblings] themselves will start to open up and talk about their brothers and sisters,” she says. “So, it’s a nice networking system for them.”
The Power of Siblings
Although being the sibling of a special needs child can be challenging, it is also a blessing for many kids. These children often grow up to be strong advocates for their brother or sister and for all individuals who have different abilities.
“The siblings will change our world,” Lorman says. “They’ll become the doctors and the teachers and the police officers. They will become them to make a difference of everything that they see in the world that doesn’t necessarily fit for our kids with special needs. And I think we just have to empower them to be the best they can be.”
Identifying Signs Early
Associate Medical Director and Chief of Pediatrics at Community Health Centers Inc., Dr. Roshni Patel leads a team of pediatricians that routinely screen children for autism. Below, he answers a few questions about autism spectrum disorders.
At what age should a child be screened for autism?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians screen for Autism Spectrum Disorders at 18 months and 24 months.
What are some of the early signs of autism?
Autism spectrum disorders can vary in degree between children, with some having mild symptoms and others with severe symptoms. Children can show signs in their social interactions and language skills. For example, they may make limited eye contact, don’t respond to a caregivers facial expressions, may not be interested in playing with other children, may not express interest in things others are interested in.
What are some other noticeable traits of an autism spectrum disorder?
With regards to communication, they may have speech delay, may repeat what others say without knowing the meaning or have difficulty conversing with others. Some children may have stereotypic behavior such as rocking, swaying, twirling fingers, walking on tip-toes or hand-flapping. They may be very focused with certain activities for a long period of time, i.e. lining of cars or other toys. A diagnosis of autism is made by a licensed healthcare professional and is not based on any one behavior. Many children without autism may exhibit one or more of the behaviors above.
What should parents do if they’re concerned about their child having autism?
It is important that if parents have any concerns, they discuss those concerns with their pediatric provider, so the child can be properly evaluated and referred to early intervention services, if needed.
This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s July 2020 issue.
A look at issues of interest for parents and their children. For our annual parenting guide, we wanted to explore some of the topics of discussion that frequently arise for families in the area. From caring for aging loved ones as well as children with special needs to educational concerns and the latest health and [… […]Read More