Author Archives: Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae

About Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae is a work-at-home mom of three young children whose days are spent wiping mouths, playing Candyland, planning dinners and stealing time in between at the computer for her freelance writing. She's a stickler for healthy eating, with a slight exception for Oreos. She lives in Alabama with her precious children, loving husband and 13-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ricky Martin.

3 Ways to Green Your Grocery Shopping

3 Ways to Green Your Grocery Shopping

Family Circle magazine April 2012As we celebrate Earth Day today, Family Circle magazine explains how making a few simple changes at the grocery store can help save our planet.

Sometimes I feel like I spend my entire day with food. I feed five people three meals a day (with countless snacks in between) and it’s rare that I go more than 48 hours without gracing the doors of the grocery store. So it makes sense that changing the way we eat–especially as families–can make a big environmental impact.

The April 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine had some great pointers on how to make a few simple tweaks. Tanya Denckla Cobb, author of “Reclaiming Our Food,” suggests that the easiest way to help the environment is to be responsible about what we eat.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Shop locally: I love pineapple, but is it reasonable to expect to eat it year-round? It’s a question our family has wrestled with in our attempts to be better stewards of our earth. The average bite of food in the United States travels 1,300 miles before it’s consumed, according to the Food Awareness Project. We can cut down on the energy and fuel to transport all that food by buying food grown nearby when it’s in season.
  2. Go grass-fed: ”Meat production is an energy-intensive business, but you can reduce your carbon footprint by opting for grass-fed beef,” the article says. When animals eat foliage, there’s no reason to grow or transport extra hay. Plus grass-fed beef is a lot healthier, packing in twice as much omega-3s per serving as grain-fed.
  3. Buy organic: When you opt for organic food, you’re cutting out the hormones, antibiotics and pesticides found in conventional farming methods. The challenge is that it’s more expensive. But I’ve found that if you eliminate the processed, pre-packaged foods (juice boxes, individually wrapped snacks, etc.) then you often break even when choosing organic.
Game On: Why Preschools Are Reevaluating Competition

Game On: Why Preschools Are Reevaluating Competition

Parenting Early Years magazine April 2012How do you strike that seemingly impossible balance between constructive competition and an “everyone always wins” approach with your preschooler?

I’ll admit it: I’m competitive. Not in a my-child-is-smarter-than-yours kind of way–I just like to win. I’m afraid I’ve fostered this aggressive spirit in my preschoolers as well. If I’m having trouble motivating them to do something, all I have to do is turn it into a race. Who can put on their shoes the fastest? Who can finish their milk first? Who can get to the bathtub before anyone else?

I’ve wondered before if we should tone down the competition in our house, especially in this generation of kids who are being raised in an environment where everyone’s a winner. (My husband still thinks it’s funny that everyone gets a trophy at the end of every soccer season, no matter what.)

An article in the April issue of Parenting Early Years magazine asked the same question: Is competition so bad for our kids that we should nix it altogether? A few experts weighed in, and here’s how they viewed competition:

Child’s Play: Games that rely on nothing but luck–like duck, duck goose and musical chairs–don’t teach children anything and can easily be taken out of preschool without being missed, concludes Kathleen Burriss, Ed.D., professor of elementary education at Middle Tennessee State University.

Life lessons: I was pleased to read that one child psychologist quoted in the article thought the idea of eliminating all competition was a bad one because it teaches children that life always goes their way, which any parents knows is a dangerous idea for a child. “Competitive games, when supervised, help develop impulse control and coping skills when things go badly,” says Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., a child psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Pick and Choose: Like most good parenting advice, the best solution seems to be about finding a happy medium. Making everything a competition might breed unnecessary aggression, but always letting Suzy win as a child won’t do her any good in the long run. The article suggests playing childhood favorites like Candy Land, but instead of stopping after the first person wins, letting everyone finish. It keeps everyone in the game and teaches the value of perseverance.

How Your Family Can Save Money This Tax Season

How Your Family Can Save Money This Tax Season

Family Circle magazine April 2012Family Circle magazine reveals some surprising deductions that can save your family a considerable amount of money this tax season.

Everyone knows that raising kids can be expensive. But when it comes to taxes, your precious tikes might actually save you money. An article in the April issue of Family Circle magazine highlighted some not-so-well-known deductions that families can use for significant savings.

Check out some of these before filing your returns. And remember, the deadline for 2012 is April 17.

1. Claim your kids: Most families already take advantage of the exemption for dependents, which allows you to deduct $3,700 for each child. But depending on your modified adjusted gross income, some families may also be eligible for an addition $1,000 per child under the age of 17. Working moms and dads should definitely take advantage of the child and dependent care credit. Working parents, as well as anyone who is disabled, in school full-time or looking for a job, can deduct 20 to 35 percent of the costs of childcare. The maximum amount is $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two.

2. Claim their education: If you have children in college–or if you’re saving for children to attend college–you may be eligible to write off up to $5,000 for those filing singly or $10,000 when married filing jointly. Currently, 34 states allow you to deduct a portion of your contributions to a qualified college savings plans called a 529.

3. Claim your charitable giving: Don’t gripe about all the PTA solicitations for cash. Instead, write them off! I didn’t know it until I read this article, but writing a check to the PTA counts as charitable giving as long as the PTA is registered as a non-profit. The next time you clean out your closets and drop a load off at your local Salvation Army, be sure to assign a value to every item. It’s all deductible.

4. Claim any special needs: Parents raising children with special needs get a break–Uncle Sam allows the medical-expense deduction. If you spend more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income on school or therapy for a child with special needs, you may qualify.

Parents magazine April 2012

How to Keep Your Kid from Giving Up

Parents magazine April 2012Sure, we think our kids are great, but is our excessive praise just setting them up for future meltdowns?

I’ve always tended to heap on the praise when it comes to my kids. Raising self-confident kids has long been my goal, and so I set out early on to let them know how fabulous I thought they were–starting at a very young age. While my motives were in the right place, it turns out that my cheerleading might not have been as good for them as I intended. A fascinating article about how to raise kids that won’t give up in the April issue of Parents magazine says that when kids are constantly praised, they become addicted to the spotlight and can fall apart when things don’t come easily.

The article was a very helpful read for me. My oldest tends to shut down when he can’t master something on the first try. Writing his name, kicking a soccer ball, even putting on his socks, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “But it’s too hard!” No parent wants to raise a kid who quits easily, and this article gave some really good advice on how to squelch the “I can’t” response.

Here are a few of the best tips I took away:

Tone down the cheerleading. This was a huge eye opener for me. I totally identified with the writer who admitted, “I dole out kudos to my three children the way I do tissues for runny noses–often and abundantly.” Instead of praising children for their results or abilities (“What a beautiful picture!”), parents should highlight the effort (“You must have worked really hard at that!”) The key is teaching children that achievement is linked to hard work.

Break down goals. Learning a new skill can be daunting, so help your children develop a game plan when they want to learn a new skill like ice skating or cleaning their room. “When you show a child how to do something step by step, it’s a lot less intimidating for him,” says Dr. Jim Taylor, author of “Your Children Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You.”

Build on Past Successes. Learning perseverance carries over into all areas of a child’s life. Once your little guy masters Lego-building, he’ll have an easier time tackling a tricky task in the future like learning to write his name. Remind your child of past triumphs to encourage her in the challenging task she faces today. Jane Bonenberger of Wyndmoor, Penn. helped her son improve at guitar by remembering his success in baseball. “We talk about his first season, when he couldn’t hit at all, compared with now, when he’s smacking the ball and loving it,” she says.

How to End Your Kids' Obsession with Television

How to End Your Kids’ Obsession with Television

FamilyFun magazine March 2012Meet one couple who cured their kids’ television habit by letting them watch as much as they wanted.

In a perfect world, kids would quietly entertain themselves with books and crayons in the late afternoon as parents made dinner for the family. Wouldn’t that be nice? But in reality, dinnertime often brings out the whines in families, and many parents (myself included) have given in to the temptation to let television distract our children while we cook dinner, check our email or return phone calls. But what do you do when screens begin to rule your family? One mom in Northampton, Mass., tells the story of how she cured her kids’ addiction to television in the March issue of FamilyFun magazine.

Naomi Shulman and her husband hated how much television their girls watched. They rushed through dinner, homework and music practice to catch episodes of their favorite shows before bed. The Shulmans had rules about television (the girls couldn’t watch it until after 5 p.m., for example) but they still felt like it ruled their family. Then one day, Naoimi decided to implement a radical change. All screens (TV, iPhones, computers) would remain off during the week. But on the weekends, the girls had unlimited access to their favorite shows.

“I was thinking of the old-fashioned aversion therapy technique for quitting smoking–you know, where you let someone smoke til they literally get sick, thus creating lifelong repulsion,” Naomi says.

When “Operation Lost Weekend” arrived, the parents watched and waited–and were horrified with the results. “Picture a perfectly gorgeous late-summer day, neighborhood children happily running down the block, the crack of a baseball bat in the distance … and where were our kids? Sitting slack-jawed in front of the television.”

The Shulmans worried their plan had backfired but stuck with it a few more weeks. Then slowly, the girls became less interested in their TV-filled weekends. Weekdays were great. The kids worked diligently on their homework and came up with fun projects to fill their time like knitting, making a restaurant on the back porch and writing and directing a play.

Naomi says her girls still enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted screen time on the weekend, but they’re also just as likely to turn off the tube and go outside. Even her 10-year-old recently admitted that the new “no TV during the week” rule works. Naomi thought she’d say it was because it gives her time to do her homework or learn other fun activities, but Lila had a different answer.

“No,” she said, “It’s because we watched everything there was to watch that first weekend.”

How to Become a Regret-Free Parent

How to Become a Regret-Free Parent

Parents magazine March 2012When you raise young children, the days are long but the years fly by. This month, Parents magazine gives perspective on how to savor those fleeting moments.

“Listen to this,” I said to my husband as I read the latest issue of Parents magazine. “This article says that there are only 940 Saturdays between a child’s birth and her leaving for college. And if your child is five years old, 260 Saturdays are gone,” I told him. Only 940 Saturdays? That’s nothing when you think about it. And it made me wonder: Am I really making the most of our short time together?

The article in the March 2012 issue was an excerpt from a new book, “No Regrets Parenting,” which carries the enticing subtitle “Turning Long Days and Short Years into Cherished Moments with Your Kids.” The book highlighted a trend I’m seeing in lots of parenting magazines, books and blogs about how we need to unplug and slow down and really engage with our children.

I’m fortunate that my freelance job allows me to be home all day with my kids. But how often do I sit down and play with the dollhouse? I might be there physically, but am I there in spirit as well?

Recently, several of my Facebook friends posted a link to an article by a mom who was tired of everyone telling her to enjoy every moment of her young children’s lives. Her point was that you don’t have to enjoy every moment of the world’s most challenging job–and I agree completely. But I loved that the Parents article talked about optimizing the time you do have. “Not every day with your kids will be perfect,” writes the book’s author Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a pediatrician of almost 30 years, “but hopefully one day you will greet their departure with a profound sense of satisfaction because you’ve given them what they need to succeed and also given yourself what you need to feel like a successful parent.”

How do we do that? How do we parent successfully when sometimes all we want is for everyone to stop talking for just five minutes?The article gave some great tips that we’re going to implement in our house:

Take pajama walks: After everyone is completely ready for bed–bathed, teeth brushed and pajamas on–take a walk around the neighborhood (weather permitting) in the stroller or on their tricycle. There doesn’t have to be lots of conversation; just quietly enjoy the final moments of the day together. Dr. Rotbart promises that when you return home your kids will be “in a fresh-air trance and ready for bed.”

Have a taco night: Dinner at home is important, but creating traditions makes it even more special for kids. Maybe you have Taco Tuesdays or Pancake Wednesdays or whatever. Having a set menu one night a week helps you get dinner on the table faster because everyone knows his or her job–leaving time for conversations about what happened at school that day.

Don’t drive everywhere: It’s much faster to hop in the car, but if you live in a place where you can walk sometimes, take advantage of that. It offers a way to slow down and engage with your children. If you’d normally drop them off at an activity and run errands during the tennis lesson, play date or karate class, take along some work or reading and find a quiet place to relax yourself. Hold hands on the walk home and savor a simple afternoon.

As much as I enjoyed the article, I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I know that by tomorrow evening, I’ll feel stressed about my messy house, my whining toddler and the two emails that needed responses hours ago. But when that feeling creeps in, I’m going to remember this advice from the article:

“Imagine your biological parenthood clock wound forward to the time when your children have grown and left home. Picture their tousled bedrooms as clean and empty. See the backseat of the car vacuumed and without a carseat or crumbs. Playroom shelves neatly stacked with dusty toys. Laundry under control. Then rewind the imaginary clock back to now, and see today’s minutes of mayhem for what they are: finite and fleeting.”