How Families Can Change Their Routines for the Better

(Family Features) Routine can be a good thing. Regular bedtimes and nightly family meals help foster healthier kids who are better prepared to tackle challenges. But some of your family’s routine habits may be getting in the way of something better.

Habits get established for any number of reasons – busy schedules, convenience, or not realizing you have other choices. Shortcuts and timesavers can give you more time to spend together, but they could also be shortchanging your experience.

How to Change a Habit

Breaking habits can be tough, but luckily there are many ways to reach your goals. Here are some simple questions and tips to help you break any bad family habits, and establish new, better ones.

  • What’s the habit?
    Get everyone together and talk about what family habit you would like to change. Is it unhealthy eating? Too much TV? Always running late? Start small and keep it simple. If everyone is involved in the conversation, you’re more likely to get everyone’s buy-in and meet with success.
  • What’s the reward?
    People stick to habits because something rewards that behavior. The reward makes it easier for the brain to put the behavior on autopilot, and before you know it, you have a habit. But the reward may not be that obvious. You may have to try out different rewards to discover what the true payoff for the bad habit really is. For example, you might discover that the real reward of watching TV after dinner is spending time together as a family.
  • What’s the plan?
    Once you identify the habit and understand its reward, you can come up with a family plan to start a new habit with new – and better – rewards for everyone.

Ideas for New Routines

Here are some common family habits that could use a little revamping – and some easy ways you can make a positive change.

TV Habits

After a long day, the couch seems to be calling you to just sit and watch TV – even though you know you could or should be doing other things. But you don’t have to be stuck in a TV rut. Talk about it as a family and see if you can figure out what your reward is for watching TV. Is it time together? Is it relaxation? Or is it enjoying a good story? Once you identify the reward, look for some other ways to get it.

  • Togetherness
    If it’s about being together, brainstorm some other family activities. Think about family game night, backyard soccer, arts and crafts projects, or time at the neighborhood park.
  • Relaxation
    If it’s just about chilling out, try substituting other relaxing activities like listening to music, or even just talking.
  • Story time
    If you all enjoy the story element of your favorite TV shows, how about looking for new stories? Set aside some individual reading time, or let everyone take turns reading aloud from their favorite book. Reading a whole story as a family is a fun activity – and younger kids may enjoy acting out their favorite scenes.

Information Habits

Families need to get information about pet grooming deals, kid-friendly restaurants, or vacation tips and deals. With a time crunch – and the force of old habits – it’s easy to rely on the same source for answers. But using the same search engine out of habit could be letting you down. For example, when it comes to search, people chose Bing web search results over Google nearly 2 to 1 in blind comparison tests.* In addition to useful results, Bing also offers access to your social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora and more, letting you exchange ideas and discover what your friends are searching – to help you spend less time hunting and more time doing. You can test if changing your habit is right for you with the Bing It On Challenge at

Eating Habits

Full schedules often lead to fast food dinners or junk foods for snacks. While a quick meal when you’re busy may seem like a reward, it really adds up to spending extra money and adding extra calories. These ideas still get you food quickly, but with a much healthier payoff.

  • Take a look at your weekly schedule and plan meals and snacks accordingly. If you know a particular night is hectic, you can plan a make-ahead meal and healthier on-the-go snacks to take with you.
  • Keep healthy options handy. Apples are the perfect fast food – just pop one in your bag or stash one in the cup holder in your car. Pre-measure individual servings of trail mix or nuts and keep them in snack sized containers so you can just grab one and go.
  • If you do have to grab a fast food meal, try to make smarter choices. Go for grilled chicken instead of breaded and fried, salad instead of a burger, and apple slices instead of fries.

Remember, while some habits and routines can be helpful, it’s a good idea to re-examine them now and then to see if, with a few small changes, your family could be better off.

*Based on a comparison of web search results pane only; excludes ads, Bing’s Snapshot and Social Search panes and Google’s Knowledge Graph.

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Stand Up to Bullying

(Family Features) Going back to school can be stressful for many kids, especially if they have been the victims of bullying. According to Youth Ambassadors 4 Kids Club, an organization dedicated to eliminating bullying, a student is bullied every seven minutes in our country, and an estimated 77 percent of students will experience some form of mental or physical bullying during their school years.

While the statistics are worrisome, there are measures parents and caregivers can take to help identify the signs of bullying and the anxiety it can induce so they can help their children manage through this difficult situation.

Recognizing Bullying

Bullying can take many forms, including hitting, threatening, intimidating, maliciously teasing and taunting, name calling, making sexual remarks, stealing or damaging personal belongings, and indirect attacks such as spreading rumors or getting others to exclude another student.

It’s also no longer limited to the classroom, lunchroom or playground. Today, cyberbullying -bullying through electronic outlets such as text messages and social media sites – has made this issue a 24/7 challenge.

“Bullying can have a significant impact on students,” said University of Phoenix College of Social Sciences instructor and expert on bullying Dr. John Nixon. “Children and teenagers who are bullied suffer from anxiety, fear, withdrawal, low self-esteem and poor concentration. Recognizing the warning signs is the first step toward ending the behavior.”

Signs that your child may be a victim of bullying include:

  • Coming home with damaged or missing clothing or belongings
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Frequent complaints of headaches, stomach aches or feeling sick
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Loss of interest in friends or going to school
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Trouble sleeping and/or having frequent bad dreams
  • Feelings of helplessness or not being good enough

What You Can Do if Your Child is Bullied

Establishing a process for detecting, discussing and monitoring bullying can help in more effectively reaching a solution. “It can be embarrassing for a child to admit that they are being bullied,” said Nixon. “And many kids don’t tell parents about it because they are afraid of either being blamed for the situation, or they are afraid of how the parents will react.”

Nixon offers some tips for what you can do:

  • Increase awareness – Parents must educate themselves on the signs of bullying and realize that they are not alone.
  • Communicate – Ask children questions about how they slept or what they are looking forward to doing in school that day. Their responses can provide a wealth of insight.
  • Gather more information – Ask teachers if they have noticed anything that would signal the child had been bullied. Also, check a child’s text messages and Facebook profile for signs of cyberbullying.
  • Develop an action plan – Put steps in place to monitor the signs of bullying to see if it persists and engage your child regularly to open up communication about the problem.
  • Follow through – It’s important to keep at it. Be active to both spot the signs of bullying and discuss them with the child to work toward a solution. If bullying persists, take action. Discuss the problem with the parents of the child who is bullying, if it is appropriate. Talk with your child’s teacher. If the teacher is not responsive, escalate the discussion up to the principal or superintendent if necessary.

There are more participants in bullying scenarios than just the bully and the victim. “More often than not,” said Nixon, “there are bystanders. These are students who know what is going on and either encourage it in some way, or sit back and do nothing. We need more kids to stop being bystanders and take a stand against bullying.”

You can find additional information on University of Phoenix degree offerings by visiting, and more resources for helping students deal with bullying at, and

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Summer Fun With Science

Kids love summer vacation, but parents often find it difficult to keep them engaged in productive activities. And most kids experience a summer learning slump during their time away from school. According to the National Summer Learning Association, at best, students show little or no academic growth over the summer, and at worst they lose one to three months of learning.

It’s possible to give kids a fun way to keep up with learning by providing engaging books that feature hands-on activities. Three new books from DK Publishing will help kids of all ages fill their summer with science fun.

“One Million Things: Space” (July 2010). Perfect for backyard sleepovers and camping trips, this book serves up imagery and information about all things cosmic: from planets, moons, and comets, to black holes, nebulae, distant solar systems and more. Young readers won’t be able to wait until sunset to start exploring. Elementary-aged kids will:

  • Learn about spherical and irregular asteroids by playing a computer game.
  • Find out about volcanoes in the solar system by comparing them to firecrackers.
  • Explore the universe with stunning photographic galleries.
  • “I’m a Scientist: Backyard” (July 2010). Part of a new series for younger readers, this book introduces kids to the world of science with a wealth of outdoor experiments. With clear, step-by-step instructions, the book is full of bite-sized experiments that help children absorb science easily. Preschoolers and early elementary students will learn how to:

    • Make a sun dial and tell time using the position of the sun.
    • Find out a tree’s age and then measure its height with just a stick and a piece of string.
    • Learn about centrifugal force with a simple bucket of water.

    “Big Idea Science Book” (July 2010). A comprehensive guide to key topics in science with a unique difference – an online component with 200 specially created digital assets that provide the opportunity for dynamic, hands-on, interactive learning. Older children can learn from video clips and interactive animations that take them:

    • Inside plants.
    • Around the human body.
    • Deep below the surface of the earth.

    Help kids flex their mental muscles during the summer with exciting projects and experiments that make learning fun. For more on these and other summer learning books, visit

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    Are Help Guides a Help for College Prep Test Studying?

    Each year, millions of students gear up for a battery of pre-college testing. In order to help students do their best, Americans spend about $4 billion dollars on classes, tutors, study guides and books.

    While helpful, many test prep resources can be dull, making it more difficult for students to stay focused. To help make effective test prep more engaging, Wiley Publishing, Inc. has created a unique and exciting way for students to build their vocabulary and raise scores using Stephenie Meyer’s popular “Twilight” series.

    The “Twilight” books have a very loyal following, particularly among teens. Many parents looking to harness that passion into constructive study time find that the “Defining Twilight” guides are a perfect fit.

    The series first began in June 2009 with “Defining Twilight” and then expanded to include “Defining New Moon.” The third and latest book in the series, “Defining Eclipse: Vocabulary Workbook for Unlocking the SAT, ACT, GED, and SSAT,” will arrive in stores on May 24, just in time for the release of the movie “Eclipse.”

    Author and test prep expert, Brian Leaf says, “Every time I see a newly administered SAT test, I am amazed at how many of the vocabulary words appear in the ‘Twilight’ books – words like solicitous, macabre, inexorably, inure, baleful, ecstatic, blithe, placate, haggard, belligerent, stymie and nebulous. Students who learn all the vocabulary words in the “Defining Twilight” series will absolutely raise their test scores.”

    “Defining Eclipse” has 40 four-page chapters with well over 600 vocabulary words and synonyms. Just grab a copy of “Eclipse,” refer to the page where each vocabulary word appears, read the word in context, and come up with a definition. Then check definitions against those provided in the workbook, make corrections, and complete the drills. Students will acquire vocabulary skills, learn synonyms, word parts, and memorization tools, and get drills and quizzes to integrate what they’ve learned.

    To find out more about “Defining Eclipse” and other books in the series, visit places like


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