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Parent Connection Guest Columnist

Summer Vacation: AAA's advice on traveling with children

Summer breaks are wonderful times to hit the road with the kids. It can be a great adventure for the entire family, but has the potential to frazzle the nerves of even the most experienced parent or grandparent. The good news is with some planning and patience, road trips can be the adventure of a lifetime for your family. Knowing how to make the journey a smooth one will help. Here's some basic advice to help.

Plan ahead - Simple advice but critical for taking kids on the road. Know the route you are taking. Are there places to stop and let the kids explore? Remember, little ones need to get out and roam every hour or two. Plan stops that have the essentials - safe areas to explore or have a snack and most importantly restrooms!

Coordinate - Include the children in the planning. Let everyone give ideas for where to go either along the route or at your destination. Having a say in the adventure helps keep children engaged. They can even map the route or look up information about their part of the trip.

Take your time - The best thing you can take on the journey is your time and attention. Children love to explore and don't always understand or care about the time pressures of travel. Add time to the schedule for exploring new places, a quick game of freeze tag or just answering the multitude of questions about the new places they are seeing will help you keep your cool and enjoy the trip even more.

Pack thoughtfully - remember young children and even teens get bored easily in the car. Keep the activities coming! Have new games, toys or activities on hand and pull something new out as their attention lags. Having a few extra games, both for the whole car (I spy, or license plate bingo) and well as individual activities (books, puzzles, crayons, etc.) can keep everyone happy and the driver focused on the road. And while the very best activities for your children are the ones that include you, there is nothing wrong with using some child-friendly apps on a phone or tablet to help pass the time as well.

Be prepared for the weather - children who are dressed comfortably for the weather and terrain will be happier in new environments.

Start a travel journal - Get your kids to draw or list things they've seen and interesting foods they've tried. They could collect postcards from places you visit and write themselves a memory message on the back to remember the trip.

Whatever you do to make the trip a great experience remember to keep safety in mind as well. Everyone stays properly buckled up throughout the journey. That way, the family comes home with fond memories of the adventure, safe and sound.

About the Author

Dr. Georjeane L. Blumling earned her Ph.D. in Urban Studies and Public Administration at Old Dominion University in 2009. She is currently the Vice President of Public Affairs for AAA Tidewater Virginia where she manages the public affairs/traffic safety department, oversees community outreach programs, and is a registered lobbyist in the Commonwealth of Virginia to advocate for traffic safety. Dr. Blumling is also a certified AAA Driver Improvement Instructor and serves on a variety of state level task forces.

Michele Tryon: No Drama Discipline

Michele Tryon

Have you ever heard those words from a friend, relative or colleague? What do those words mean? We often hear or even say those words out of frustration when we are faced with a child who is misbehaving or out of control. The word discipline is frequently confused with the word punishment, which for many means the child needs a swift and negative consequence!

No Drama Discipline comes from the work of Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and requires a shift of thinking. With this shift in our mindset, we reclaim the word discipline. Discipline comes from the same Latin root as disciple (discipula) and means to guide, lead or teach. When we see children misbehaving or overwhelmed and out-of-control, they do need good discipline. They need someone to help them regain composure, and teach them effective ways to express their thoughts, feelings and needs. Often a child who is misbehaving or out of control is a discouraged child. Although children do need consequences for poor choices, we miss half the equation if we don’t attempt to understand why the behavior is happening and what message the child is giving us. Dealing with the feelings before dealing with the behavior is one way to connect with the child and foster a relationship in which the child wants to learn and cooperate. In the short-term, no drama discipline moves a child from reacting to receiving.

In the long term, no drama discipline helps build the architecture of the brain. Teaching a child is like training the brain. The brain is pattern-seeking. The brain looks for routine, structure and familiarity to feel safe. When we give children the tools they need to gain composure, problem-solve and get their needs met in positive ways, the brain encodes those methods or choices for future use. Think of the effort as creating a GPS in the brain. We’ve been down this route before. It is familiar. I know how to get from point A to point B without becoming over-whelmed.

The importance of adult/child connection and positive reciprocal relationship are undisputed in the research arena. In common terms, children need adults to listen, care and connect. The catch phrase “connect before you correct” speaks to that premise. When a child feels safe and has a sense of belonging, they are open to learning. When a child is open to learning, we have the opportunity to pause and make our actions meaningful. We can ask the question, “What do I want this child to learn? How can I best teach this lesson and keep our relationship in tact?”

When we become effective disciplinarians, we invest in kids and provide them the opportunity to become self-disciplined. Someday we might hear or say, “What kids these days have is some good discipline.”

To learn more about No Drama Discipline and Dr. Dan Siegel’s work, join Michele Tryon, CHKD parent educator, for one of two FREE workshops being offered at the CHKD Health and Surgery Center at Princess Anne.
No Drama Discipline for parents - Wednesday, January 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
No Drama Discipline for professionals- Friday, January 29, 10 a.m.- Noon
Seating limited. Register at

About the Author

Michele Tryon is a certified child life specialist and parent educator. She is the community outreach coordinator for Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and provides workshops and classes throughout Hampton Roads.

"Not in My Backyard": How the Street's Most Feared Illegal Drug Has Found its Way into the Living Rooms of Virginia Beach Homes

Sara Nichols Photo

In 2014, more Virginia teens were killed by an overdose of heroin than in a motor vehicle accident. This shocking statistic has gotten the attention of legislators and municipalities across the Commonwealth, and this terrifying trend is a national one. The incidence of heroin abuse has skyrocketed across the country, and we are not immune from its devastating impacts. As parents, we assure ourselves that our children would know better; that our parenting has been effective enough to render heroin use in our children simply impossible. But, more and more of us are finding out that we are wrong. Dead wrong. And we don't find out until it is too late.

When our daughter Caitlyn was a teenager, she was a kind, funny and very athletic girl. Unfortunately, she had the back of an 80-year-old. A compressed disk caused her to be in constant pain. We took her to the doctor, specialists, physical therapists, a chiropractor, and even flew to Texas for treatment from a reflexologist. Nothing helped - not even taking long breaks from physical activity. A local doctor decided to give her heroin - he called it Percocet. In high school, during the district soccer tournament, Caitlyn headed the ball and collided with another player. This sports injury resulted in a broken nose and years of dental procedures that included nine root canals, the loss of three teeth, and more pain. A dentist once again prescribed her heroin-this time it was named Vicodin. A while later, Caitlyn experienced her first kidney stone. She left the emergency room with more heroin, this time disguised as Dilaudid.

Does this sound exaggerated, extreme and crazy? Well, it's not. I'm not a doctor, but let me briefly explain some basic drug chemistry that I've learned through my own family's experience. There are three medicines that present abuse liability: 1) stimulants - Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall; 2) depressants - Valium, Xanax and 3) opioids - Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Fentanyl, Demerol, Darvon. Legally prescribed opioids or painkillers have almost the same molecular structure as heroin. They are all derived from the opium poppy. So, how do they work?? Painkillers attach themselves to proteins called opioid receptors found on nerve cells in the brain, GI tract and other organs in the body. They reduce the perception of pain, slow respiration, and produce a state of euphoria since they effect the reward/feel good part of the brain. When you take these medicines, your body stops making its own opioids, or endorphins. Now you need more of the chemicals to make up for the loss. Your brain has been hijacked and is now a chemical mess. Your tolerance builds up, followed by dependence and then addiction. Once addicted, the body needs the drug to simply feel "normal."

In the past 15-20 years, there has been a huge increase in addiction and deaths from opioids. In 1991, Americans were the recipients of 76 million prescriptions. In 2013, 207 million prescriptions were written. Americans account for almost 100 percent of Vicodin and 81 percent of the world's Percocet use. Why? Lack of education and awareness on the part of both patients and medical professionals. Also, the notion that "a pill can fix anything," accompanied by aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies have served to exacerbate the problem.

Now, our nation is witnessing a spike in heroin use, addiction, and death caused by this evil opioid. The monster is here, in Virginia Beach. No longer is the face of heroin an urban, filthy, hardened criminal. The faces of this drug are sweet girls who loved soccer, college students, moms, retired folks and neighbors.

Some of you reading this may say "There is no way my child would ever do heroin. That's what we thought. After all, Caitlyn was one of five children living in a safe, loving and stable home. We did things right-read to our children, supported their individual interests and passions, went to church, encouraged education, laughed, played and ate dinner together. We also had rules, expectations, responsibilities and consequences. Not in a million years did we ever imagine that one of our children would die from this. So, how did our precious daughter slide down that slippery slope of prescription drugs and heroin?

Her siblings, Billy and I will never truly know or understand. It is simply beyond comprehension for us. At some point, however, the prescription drugs were no longer available or potent enough to ease her pain. That's when Caitlyn turned to the unthinkable and started down the path from which she would not return. Within four months of trying heroin, she was gone and the rest of us are left with memories and questions for which there will never be an adequate answer.

It is our hope that our suffering will not be in vain; that our story might shine the light into this dark place. It's a place that we, as parents, would rather not look, but the cost of ignorance is too much to bear. We can't turn back the clock for ourselves, but if we can help even one family be spared the grief we've endured, then this horrible journey won't have been in vain.

As parents and as a community, it's time to wake up. The answers lie in improved legislation, easier access to treatment and more effective communication between parents and teens. The first step, however, is AWARENESS. That's why Virginia Beach City Public Schools and Protecting Children Foundation are partnering to offer a free workshop Dead Serious: The street drug that is in your medicine cabinet. Join us Dec. 3 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center to learn more about how children are becoming addicted and hear from professionals about the local resources available to families. You can click here to register. It's a subject too important to ignore.

Carolyn Weems
Vice President, Protecting Children Foundation

About the Author

Carolyn Weems is vice president of Protecting Children Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Virginia Beach. In addition, Weems has served as a school board member of Virginia Beach City Public Schools since May 2002. She is married to her college sweetheart, Billy, and all 5 of their children graduated from Virginia Beach schools.

Sara Nichols: The First Grading Period is Over. Now What?

Sara Nichols Photo

Quarter one is down, three more to go! For some families, this concept may sound like a piece of cake, for others, it may send a surge of anxiety throughout! All report cards have some information which can be celebrated. Maybe it is attendance or effort which has been demonstrated. Focusing on past, present and future accomplishments can be key in moving forward in a positive manner.

Talk to your child about how learning is a lifetime process. Share with your child things you would like to get better at and/or learn. Show an interest in your child's education by creating an educational atmosphere in your home where homework can be done in a quiet setting. When reviewing homework, find something positive about each piece of school work you review together. Students can work with parents to develop goals. Work on the plan together and acknowledge each step as it happens. Along the way, keep contact with teachers. If you have not done so, sign-up for Parent Portal as a way to track progress. Teachers and Counselors are a fantastic resource for suggestions on goal setting and being an extra support toward each student's goals.

In addition to summative grades in Parent Portal, the Standards Based Grading model in elementary schools provides an opportunity for parents to follow the academic objectives in which their students are developing proficiency. Feedback is provided weekly on schoolwork sent home. Progress report time provides another opportunity to set-up teacher conferences to review your child's progress and where to focus effort for the remainder of the grading period. Ask teachers about formal and informal assessments. There are some assessments teachers do which are not graded and sent home, but they provide the teacher with data to aid in determining where the students are in their learning.

Homework time can feel like a hassle rather than an opportunity to reinforce skills learned in the classroom. In addition to reinforcing information learned in the classroom, completing homework has additional benefits for our students. Homework provides an opportunity for your children to assume personal responsibility for their own work. In doing so, students learn independence, diligence and time management. Not only are they reinforcing the day's instruction, they are often presented with an opportunity to utilize resources provided to them or seek out those required to complete the task. These are all valuable skills for our students to learn. For those children who struggle with homework, consider setting a timer or maybe develop a homework contract for the week.

Lastly, remember your child's teachers and counselors want to be part of the team that makes your child successful. If you find your student is struggling, appears overwhelmed, or is showing signs of frustration and anxiety; conference with your child's teacher and/or counselor. It may be your child needs additional help with getting organized and/or study methods. There are many professionals in your child's school who can aid in coming up with strategies to help your child be successful in the classroom!

About the Author

Sara Nichols in the school counselor at Christopher Farms Elementary School. She has lived in Virginia Beach for approximately 24 years and is beginning her 12th year working for the school division. Nichols holds a Master of Science in Education from Old Dominion University.

Dr. Cliff Hatt: When Children Are Exposed to Violent Events in the Media

Cliff Hatt Photo

Imagine, you are watching a favorite television show with your family and suddenly there is a breaking news story. You are brought face-to-face with a live picture of a tragedy - a mass shooting with heavily armed police patrolling the area, a destructive storm complete with devastating images of ruined homes and sobbing residents, or a train wreck with broken cars and shocked passengers walking dazed through the scene. As riveting as these images are, you are struck by the expressions or lack of expression on your children’s faces as you glance over at them. The joy and the fun that you were just experiencing as you were watching one of your favorite shows evaporates quickly into stunned silence. As parents, we seem conditioned to protect our children, reassure them that they are safe. Sometimes we are stunned and unable to think or respond ourselves.

Seeing repeated images and reports of these events on the news and in other media can often cause distress in children and adults. Parents may watch for signs of stress, fear, or anxiety following exposure to these types of traumatic events. Children may experience a wide range of emotions including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief or anxiety. You might notice some changes in their behavior. They may experience trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, or difficulty concentrating on their school work. This may be quite normal given the situation and the level of exposure. As parents, we should encourage our children to put their feelings into words by talking about them, writing about them, or expressing their feelings in art.

Talk with your children about their worries and fears. This will be a first step toward making them feel safe and helping them cope with the events that are happening. Finding the right time to talk is sometimes difficult. It seems that many children will talk more when they are riding in the car, before dinner or at bedtime. You will probably be the one to start the conversation and let them know that you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information that they are getting. Listen to them, don’t interrupt, and allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond. Express your own opinions without putting down theirs. Let them know that it is OK to disagree and that you are there to support and comfort them.

Even though your children may want to keep informed of the event from the Internet, television or newspapers, have them take a “news break” and limit the amount of time spent watching the news. Constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, it is important that you recognize the effects that these events may have on you. You need to take care of yourself, so that you are able to care for your children. Schedule some breaks and spend some time in activities that you enjoy. This can serve as a good model for your children.

[Based on information from the American Psychological Association]

About the Author

Dr. Cliff Hatt is the administrative coordinator for Psychological Services and a licensed clinical psychologist. He has worked for the school division for 36 years. He is past president of the Virginia Psychological Association and the Virginia Academy of School Psychologists and a member of the school psychology faculty in the School of Education at the College of William and Mary.

Susan Tolley: Getting Ready For Back to School

Susan Tolley Photo

Hard to believe! The start of the 2015-2016 school year is almost here. After a summer that probably alternated between stretches of go- go-go and periods of pure, delightful sluggishness, it is time to get children ready for back to school.

There is a simple answer to how to get children ready for school. Put them to bed, feed them, dress them, and put them on the bus. But as are most things in life, it isn't quite as simple as it sounds. Let's examine each step.

Put Them to Bed

Start early! School begins this year Tuesday, Sept. 8, so start thinking of putting your children to bed earlier a week ahead of time. Depending on how late your children have been up during the summer, start making bedtime 15 minutes earlier Tuesday, September 1st, then 15 minutes earlier than that Thursday, the 3rd and so on. Just plan how much earlier you need to get to before school and start in enough time to get there.

Feed Them

If your home is like most of ours, breakfast in the summer is pretty laid back...get what you can whenever. Once school starts, you need to make sure your child has something filling and nutritious in the morning. You may choose to have your children buy breakfast at school or you may choose to fix something in the morning. Plan with your children which of those two options you want. But ensure your children do have something for breakfast the first day of school and every day. It is so difficult to concentrate while at the same time trying to quiet a growling stomach.

Dress Them

This will take more time than you would think. Children of all ages will go through the thought process of what to wear the first day. After all, we've taught them first impressions matter. Some children will just choose and be fine; others will try on several back to school outfits. Plan on doing this in the days before school starts. Make sure the decision is made and the clothes laid out for the morning the night before school. Doing this ahead of time limits the stumbling around and confusion in the already hectic mornings.

Put Them on the Bus

Please plan to put your children on the bus! Schools have worked out systems to ensure students get on the bus they came in on in the morning. If you drop off your children, it is more difficult to get them on the right bus in the afternoon. If you can't stand it and must accompany your children to school that first day, follow the bus in your car; still let your children get on that bus. Remember, though, your child's teacher will be getting the class settled in and this is not a time for a conference.

Also make sure your children have the supplies they need. Schools all have supply lists that you can fill before school begins. If you cannot purchase the needed supplies, contact your children's school. Often they have resources for helping fulfill the required supplies.

Getting Yourself Ready

I've spent this whole column writing about getting your children ready, but the truth is that getting your child ready for back to school is really about getting yourself ready. Notice how often the word plan shows up. That isn't by accident. Getting ready for back to school requires planning...on your part. It also requires structure, not just for your children, but for you too.


Going back to school is such an exciting time of year. It really is a gift, a second new year. So don't forget to celebrate the first day of school. Maybe start a new family tradition. Do something different that you could do every new school year. At dinner that night, have ice cream for dessert...perhaps with sprinkles. If you want something a bit healthier, steal a tradition I grew up with...apples dipped in honey for a sweet and fruitful new year! Just remember to enjoy this time of the year and remain upbeat. Your children will pick up on your positivity and delight.

About the Author

Susan Tolley is a retired educator from Virginia Beach City Schools. She was an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, and principal and also worked in curriculum development and human resources. She now speaks nationally and internationally to school systems about the importance of building relationships and how to do it. But the very favorite thing she does is being Ganny to Zack and Will.

Tina Batty: Children, Pets and Learning

Tina Batty Photo

“C” is for cat, “D” is for dog. Children, learning and animals just seem to go together. Why is this so, and how does it happen? Children, as young as infants and toddlers, are captivated by observing the behaviors and antics of animals. Perhaps in your own family there is a child who exclaimed “Doggie!” or “Kitty, meow” among first words spoken. Associations with our family pets span many developmental domains for children. Consider the following examples. Cognitive skills are enhanced by observing and reading about animals, social skills develop as children talk with others about their pets, emotional bonds are formed as a child strokes and cares for an animal, and aesthetic appreciation is fostered as children look at illustrations, photographs, or draw their own pictures of their pets. Physical activity turns to fun when it involves walking a dog or playing movement games with a puppy.

In our current society, pets have become an integral part of our family life. According to the Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership has tripled since the 1970s. In 2012, 62 percent of all households included at least one pet. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that dog owners top the list of households owning pets. This means that for a majority of our children a companion animal, most often a dog, is part of their everyday family life. Sadly, approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year according to American Society of Prevention to Cruelty to Animals.

Given the above statistics, there may be a dog in your household, or perhaps you have considered adding one to the family. You may have even experienced a son or daughter begging you for a dog with the familiar “Pleeease? I promise to take care of it!” Dog ownership can be a joy and an enriching developmental experience for your children. Not be overlooked is the responsibility that it entails for all family members. How can a family increase the likelihood that all members of the family will safely benefit from the warm bonds and learning opportunities that dog ownership brings? What kinds of benefits can be expected? Here are a few ideas to consider.

Reinforcing Academics

Pet ownership can reinforce all areas of academics. To reinforce the language arts, children can read about pet care in books or on the Internet, or dive into any of the multitudes of fictional stories about animals in picture books and novels. Mathematics is reinforced through measuring dog food, comparative shopping for pet products, or estimating the number of repetitions it might take for a dog to learn a new trick. The sciences are reinforced through behavioral observations. Biology is involved in watching animal growth and development, and those all-important wellness visits to the veterinarian. The themes of social studies play an important role in understanding where and why certain breeds were developed to do the important jobs that helped humans survive throughout history. These are just a few examples of the academic connections children can make as they develop bonds with their companion animals.

Developing Empathy

The dictionary definition of empathy is the ability to share and understand another person’s experiences, situation or emotions. Social scientists tell us that while empathy toward people and empathy toward animals are not exactly the same, it warrants our attention. Further, explicitly teaching empathy can improve our chances of raising children who are empathetic to the plights of others. Parents can take advantage of these “teachable moments” as they team with the child to care for the animal. A preschooler who observes that the dog’s tail wags when it is petted kindly can be taught that our kind interactions also make family members and friends happy. Understanding that comforting a scared or hurt pet to help it feel secure transfers to how we relate to a scared or hurt classmate for the school-age child. Adolescents are able grasp the concept of respecting needs versus practicing cruelty when pets are well-cared for in the home. Daily interactions with a pet provide the opportunities to model, teach and discuss empathy, an important skill that a child needs to develop and carry into adulthood.

Learning and Managing Responsibility

You decided that your sixth-grader was old enough to begin to handle the responsibilities of a dog so you got a puppy this summer. Homework, music lessons, and sports practice may fill in your child’s schedule as we turn the calendar page to September. The challenge (and learning opportunity) of pet care with busy family life becomes a reality. How do you we teach our children to manage all of these responsibilities? Prioritizing and shared responsibility can help. Understanding that a living, breathing, being has needs that can’t wait is an important lesson for young pet-care givers to learn. Feeding, exercise, training, and grooming the dog are just as important as other scheduled events, and can be treated as such. A calendar schedule, checklist, or an automatic reminder are just a few ways that pet care can be scheduled. Older siblings can learn the advantages of mentoring younger siblings with duties of pet care. A collaborative “team approach” can be modeled as the family chips in to care for the puppy’s needs. Time management that all important skill for success, can be learned in scenarios such as this.

Safety Always!

Finally, it is important to remember that adult supervision is necessary when children and dogs interact. Parents and caregivers in the home should have enough knowledge of animal behavior to be able to “read” the dog’s behavioral signals to know if the dog is not enjoying interacting with the child. Parents should be able to model appropriate handling, petting, and positive talk toward the canine family member. Teaching children that dogs need “down time” to get away from the activity of family life is important. Expecting a new baby in a home where a dog resides? Or, is there a busy toddler who is demanding the dog’s attention? Extra diligence is required under these circumstances. There are resources available to educate parents on setting up the environment for success, both for the family and the well-being of the dog.

Enjoy, learn, grow... parents can create a safe opportunity for human-animal bond experiences, the fruits of which can last a lifetime.


Fine, A. H. (Ed.) (2006). Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Jalongo, M.R. (Ed.) (2004). The World’s Children and Their Companion Animals. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International.


About the Author

Tina Batty is a professional educator with over 35 years of experience in teaching, evaluating, developing and designing special programs, supervision and teacher training. Ten of those years included animal-assisted therapy and learning. She saw firsthand the strength of the human-animal bond and the power it has to motivate and educate. Her professional passions include educating children and families, combined with her passion for integrating dogs into families, schools, hospitals and the community. Mrs. Batty has completed a Certificate in Animals and Human Health from the Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver. She holds a Master of Science degree in early childhood education and Bachelor of Science degree in special education. Mrs. Batty is licensed presenter of Dogs & Storks® and Dogs & Toddlers™ programs through Family Paws® Parent Education. She is the owner of dogday LLC, a consulting business which focuses on all aspects of successful integration of dogs into families and communities.

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Last Modified on Thursday, March 2, 2017