Parenting With Playdate Planet

Is My Child Playing Enough?

posted on May 13, 2013 08:48am by
On this week’s radio show, I interviewed Darell Hammond, the Founder and CEO of, Sarah Stern, Deputy Director of Development for Right to Play’s Canadian office, and Jill Amery, founder of and a recent play ambassador for Right to Play, about the transformative power of play. If you've listened to the show and are now a play believer, you may be wondering how to determine whether your own children are getting enough unstructured play.
I recommend that you start by taking an inventory of what your children do each day. Add up the hours each child spends at school, on homework and other academic enrichment activities, and on sports and other structured activities. How much free play is he or she getting? You may be surprised at what you find. If the amount of child directed play is overly limited, commit to restore a healthy balance. If there’s no time for your child to play independently and with friends, you may need to cut back somewhere. Look at what activities you can eliminate and make sure that the ones that remain are enjoyable, and not just for “resume” building. Organized sports, for example, can be great for exercise and learning teamwork, but they must be fun, and they don't substitute for the benefits gained by unstructured play. If your child seems overly anxious, it may be another sign that he is over scheduled and needs more time just to play.
When your child is playing with you or with others, hard as it may be, try to resist over-instructing. Allow your son or daughter to explore roles and experiment with rules. Try to allow some risk. Failure is important for children and play is a great way to build up resilience. Discourage toys that do the work for a child. Kids today will get plenty of electronic interaction so don't feel compelled to add more into that mix. You are better off filling your child's play space with dolls, jump ropes, balls, blocks, pails, etc, or as Darell Hammond talks about, loose parts like cardboard, tubing, etc. Think about promoting games that enhance your child’s emotional resilience and focus, like Simon Says, and fostering complex imaginative play. Don’t forget to kick your children out of the house. Playing outside leads to enhanced physical development, less childhood obesity, vitamin D exposure (better brain & physical health), fewer ADHD symptoms, better distance vision, and even higher test scores!
When choosing a daycare, preschool, or elementary school, ask how much time is spent on play and what kind of play (free play, supervised, or planned play) and factor those answers into your decision making process. If you have the energy, try working with your neighbors to  make your neighborhood a play friendly community. If there are insufficient kids on your street or it’s not safe for play, schedule playdates or organize a playgroup for your young child. Playdate Planet can help make playdate scheduling quick and easy.
Now that you are armed with information, become a play champion and help reverse the play deficit. You can start by sharing your knowledge with other parents, school officials, and policymakers. Find out whether your child is getting recess at school and, if so, how much. If the time for outdoor play is insufficient, schedule a meeting with the school superintendent or principal or rally parents to appear before the school board. Make your voice heard to reverse the pushdown of the first grade curriculum to kindergarten and support teacher education that emphasizes development of the whole child, including the importance of play. Before voting for elected officials, find out where they stand on the movement for increased standardized testing.Take a playground tour of your hometown and participate in KaBoom’s playground mapping project. Are there safe, well-maintained places for children to play close to where you live? If not, lobby or join with others to build a park or playground in your area. You can apply to Kaboom for assistance. We especially need playgrounds in inner city neighborhoods. For children facing the challenges of poverty, play is a critically important tool to build up their resilience and help them take on their fears and create a world they can master. If building a playground is not an option, you can advocate for allocating a safe space in an under resourced neighborhood, perhaps by making available a school, library, or other community facility for use by children and parents for play and socialization after school hours and on weekends. If you have the time, you can volunteer at a Boys or Girls Club or other organization that provides after-school engagement for children. Stay informed by subscribing to the many blogs and twitter feeds that promote the cause of play. And don’t forget to lead by example; demonstrate the importance of play by playing yourself!
Please share what suggestions you have for adding play into your child's life.

What if Your Child Was Born in the Wrong Body?

posted on April 15, 2013 09:55am by Meryl

On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet show, I spoke with Rachel Pepper and Dr. Kellen Bennett about transgender kids. There's been an increasing openess about the phenomenom of children being born a gender that doesn't match with their own sense of self. Despite what some people might say, this is not something that families choose for their kids. In fact, even though society has become more open-minded, being transgender is an extremely difficult life.

I remember when my son was little and in pre-school. His close friends in his class happened to be girls and not infrequently I would arrive to pick him up and would find him happily adorned in a pink dress. I always found it harmless, and actually he looked quite cute in that dress, but I noticed with surprise that my husband's reaction was a bit different. He never said anything to my son about it, but I could tell that it troubled him a bit. When I asked him about it, he told me that during his training to become a child psychiatrist, the kids with gender identification issues were some of his most tormented patients. He knew that our son wasn't transgender, but just the thought of that possibility raised the spectre of the pain he had observed.

I hope that we continue to educate ourselves so that transgender kids can focus on their own journey and making the right choices for themselves without the additional burden of a judgmental and dangerous world.


Can Good Kids Rape?

posted on March 18, 2013 05:17pm by Meryl

On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I talked with Mike Dormitz, founder of the Date Safe Project, about what parents can do to help their children make smart sexual choices. This show is particularly timely given the recent verdict in the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial where two young men were convicted of sexually assaulting a high school girl. There's been a lot of attention on social media to the reporting subsequent to the verdict that focused on the tragic consequences for the convicted defendants who were described as good students with a lot of potential. 

I agree with those who find this media coverage of the Stebenville conviction disturbing. The focus should not be on the perpetrators' lost promise, but the damage done to the victim herself and to women and girls at large. We must find a way to reverse the horrific rape statistics in this country. But, in reading various Facebook comments the past few days, I get the sense that people think that the two young men who committed these heinous acts are horrible kids. And that's where I disagree. I don't know these boys, and they might be bad apples, but it's also quite possible that these were nice kids who committed horrible acts. Teenagers' brains are still growing and developing. They are more impulsive and they can make extremely bad choices, especially when bolstered, like these football players were, by false adulation and encouraged by peer pressure. Mike Dormitz, whose mission to address sexual violence was sparked by the rape of his sister, also believes that good kids can commit sexual assault. 

I'm not sure that we help the cause by believing that this sort of crime is only committed by somebody else's bad kid. The statistics suggest that this is a much broader problem. 1 out of 6 women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.  38 percent of female rape victims were raped between the ages of 14 and 17.  Girls ages 16 - 19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. If we stick our heads in the sand and assume that only bad kids born to bad parents are committing these crimes, this problem will not end. We all need to do a better job educating our boys and girls about sexual decision-making and what constitutes sexual assault. Otherwise, some of us good parents of good boys could end up learning a hard lesson too late.

What to do About Bullying?

posted on March 4, 2013 10:28am by Meryl

On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show,  I tackled the subject of bullying with expert, J Richard Knapp of I put off doing this show for some time because I felt that the subject was getting so much coverage already from the media that perhaps additional discussion wasn't necessary. As I listened to the coverage, however, I realized that it wasn't fully addressing my questions as a parent. There's been extensive talk about bullying as a societal problem, and extensive talk about eradicating bullying, but I haven't found the answers that I was looking for as a parent. What do we do to keep our children safe? How do we avoid raising a bully? When and how should we intervene if we find out our child is a victim?

My children have been fortunate not to have yet faced bullying from peers, but it is my opinion that their middle school teachers have become lax with how they speak to kids and, in fact, on certain occasions, one has bullied my son. In reflecting on this, and after my interview with Jim Knapp, I think that perhaps the most important thing that schools can do to address this issue is to ensure that every administrator, and every teacher, always demonstrates appropriate interactions with students and one another. If teachers are permitted to be disrespectful to their students, they are establishing a culture that values leadership through power rather than leadership by example. If those in charge of a school or a classroom shame students, they are sending the message that it is okay to make a point or elevate oneself at the expense of another. In essence, they are teaching students to bully!

When my son was ridiculed in his classroom by a teacher for no apparent reason, one of his middle school peers had the strength of character to find this conduct reprehensible. After the class ended, she gathered up a few friends for moral support, and this soft-spoken youngster returned to the classroom to tell that teacher she did not think she had spoken to my son appropriately. And she asked that teacher not to do that again. That child is wise beyond her years in recognizing that we cannot be bystanders when others are being treated inappropriately. 

What do you think are steps that we can take to turn the tide against bullying?

Parenting Without Losing Your Mind

posted on February 25, 2013 12:08pm by

In this week's radio show on Parenting With Playdate Planet, I speak with Dr. Heather Wittenberg about being a good enough parent. She gives my listeners lots of practical tips and advice for handling some of the thornier issues of parenting young children, such as sleep, eating, tantrums, travelling, and potty training.

But my absolute favorite part of our conversation was something she said right at the beginning, which is that the research shows that parent and child are hurt, not helped, when a parent strives for perfection. How awesome is that?! We can all breathe a sigh of relief and let go of some of that parental guilt that most of us carry around.

For me, I never really strove for perfection because, frankly, I knew that I couldn't achieve it. I never thought that I could be the perfect parent. I'm not sure whether that comes from an honest self-assessment of my parenting abilities or unfounded insecurity, but there it is. However, I still feel guilty about all the ways I've possibly failed my children. 

I know intellectually that we don't have as much impact on our children as we think we do, but guilt is part of my cultural upbringing and hard to shake off! So I'm going to make a conscious effort now to remind myself that imperfect parenting is best for child and parent!

How about you? Do you agree that striving for perfection is not in your child's best interests? Are you able to let go and embrace being a "good enough" parent?

How to Teach Children Life Skills

posted on February 18, 2013 10:48am by Meryl

On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I talk with social entrepreneur and author Marlaine Cover about teaching chidren life skills. Our children are taught reading, writing, and arithmatic by trained academics. But how are they supposed to learn about being a good citizen, nutrition, balancing a budget, time management, and all the other important life skills that we all need to thrive in society? Unfortunately, these skills were never fully embraced by the traditional academic environment, and they are becoming less and less of a focus as schools race to keep up with the new curriculum standards. Yet, these basic skills remain fundamentally critical.  So it falls to us as parents to teach these things to our children. 

What do we do if we don't know all of this content? Or, perhaps, we do know how to manage our finances, but we're not sure how to impart this information to our children? Marlaine's answer is to seek out the advice and support of experts in these various fields who are committed to helping parents and children. I think that's a great start, but a lot of us don't have the time or energy to proactively seek out guidance on teaching each important life skill.

I wish that schools did a better job incorporating these skills. Why not teach math through the prism of balancing a budget? Or teach a science unit about the human body and nutrition and have students plan a weekly menu and exercise schedule?

What do you think? How do you make sure your kids are learning the life skills they will need as adults?

What To Do About Gun Violence?

posted on February 4, 2013 09:38am by

On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I speak with Kim Russell, National Director of Chapter Outreach and one of the founding members of One Million Moms for Gun Control about what moms can do about gun violence. 

Last night, I watched a chorus of children from Sandy Hook Elementary School, accompanied by actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, sing a moving rendition of "America the Beautiful" and marvelled at how they all could still take such pride in a country that they may rightfully believe has not done enough to protect them.

We have a problem with gun violence in this country. The statistics are staggering and put us entirely in a league of our own when it comes to a comparison with other nations. Guns kill African American teenagers in urban areas on a daily basis. And now even families who have chosen what they consider to be safe neighborhoods to raise their children must face the remote, but real, possibility that a disturbed individual with an assault weapon can change their life forever. 

We have to do something about this epidemic of violence. I personally believe that we need tighter gun control measures and better education and services for those with mental illness. What has given me hope after the Sandy Hook tragedy is how many people are now getting involved in this conversation. Particularly as moms, we have to speak up and claim our political power. We vote. We matter. No matter where you think the answer lies, communication and engagement is the next stop. The country needs to hear what you think. Let's start by talking here.




Parenting And Technology

posted on January 28, 2013 07:50am by Meryl
On this week’s radio show, I interview Samantha Kemp-Jackson at, about the intersection of parenting and technology. The new age of technology invokes fear into the hearts of many of us parents. The nightmare stories of cyber stalking, sexting,  video game addictions, are definitely cause for concern. But there is a positive side to technology. Cell phones can help keep us connected to children when there are walking home from school or are ready to be picked up from soccer practice. The Internet allows all of us to access endless information and research any subject we desire. Gaming offers children the option to engage with technology in a hands-on and creative way.
So how do we balance the good and the bad? My take is that you have to stay involved with your kids’ use of technology. If they are playing games on the Internet, make sure you know what games they are playing and with whom. Try to jump in and join them from time to time. If you are going to give your child a cell phone, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and not because “everyone has one.” Educate your child about the legalities of using a cell phone and the danger of sharing photos and other content. Set limits on screen time, but make them reasonable and flexible depending on what the screen time entails (research for school, educational software, violent shoot ‘em up games, etc.).
My biggest challenge so far is the last one. My thirteen year old son spends a lot of time online and playing computer games. The games are typically benign (he likes driving and flying simulation games) and he enjoys following news stories and political events. He also spends a few afternoons home alone because I’m out driving his sister to gymnastics practice and it’s hard to limit his time long distance. He also doesn’t like going outside when it’s cold and because he gets his homework done quickly he ends up with a lot of free time on his hands. I try to engage him in other activities, but I’m often distracted myself with work and life.

Do you have any suggestions for me? What is your biggest challenge parenting in the digital age? 





Parenting Post Divorce

posted on January 21, 2013 12:30pm by Meryl

When my son was born, the pediatrician told my husband and me that the most important thing we could do for him would be to stay married. Of course, that’s what we all aspire to as couples with children, but it doesn’t always work out. The reality is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and 40 % of marriages with children.   

I’m lucky in that I met my hubby in college and we’ve been together ever since. We have had our share of bumps in the road, but by and large it turns out we are very compatible and share similar views on life and parenting. Not everyone is so fortunate. Because many parents face the real challenge of parenting after divorce, I dedicated a radio show to this important topic. My guest, Melinda Roberts is a child of divorce and ended up divorcing from the father of her children. She is now raising kids in a newly re-married blended household and has written a wonderful book about parenting post-divorce called 42 Rules for Divorcing With Children.
Are you parenting after a split? Do you have any challenges or tips that you would like to share? I would love to hear your thoughts.


To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate That Is The Question

posted on January 14, 2013 07:28am by
I’ve always been one of those people who value expertise. I don’t want to fly my own airplane or build my own car. I trust my safety to those I believe have greater education and/or abilities than I do. Having said that, I’m not a fool. I would always seek a second opinion before having major surgery, and I wouldn’t get onto a plane if I saw the pilot stumbling drunk down the jet-way. But just as I know that I was a darn good litigator, I recognize that we each have specialized training and talents. As the daughter and wife of physicians, I am particularly aware of the years of schooling and hands-on clinical practice that they received before treating patients.
For that reason, I was surprised when (some years ago) a few moms in my son’s play group revealed that they weren’t vaccinating their then toddlers. Instead, they were looking for kids with chicken pox so they could expose their kids “naturally.” That seemed bizarre to me, but these women were no dummies, so I looked into the issue more carefully. I could find no solid scientific basis to avoid vaccinations. Sure, there were risks, and for certain vaccines, those risks could be serious. But the odds clearly favored vaccination. Even in the area of autism, a condition I found hauntingly scary as a parent, there were no proven links to vaccinations. So I continued to have my kids receive their scheduled shots, much to their displeasure.
I’ve kept an eye on this issue and had the opportunity to have some peripheral involvement with the making of a documentary about the development of the polio vaccine. As part of that process, I read quite a bit about polio and vaccinations in general, and became more convinced that those refusing to vaccinate their children were placing their kids and others at risk.
When Markus Heinze approached me on Linkedin and asked me to read his anti-vaccination book, I told him that I was not a member of his camp. He politely offered to send me the book anyway and I consented. After reading about his journey to find the cause for his daughter’s Type 1 diabetes, I felt sympathetic to him and his family, but nothing in his book changed my opinion about vaccinations. None of the studies that he cited, and some of them were studies only in the loosest of terms, actually showed a causal link between vaccination and diabetes (or any other illness). 
And Markus’s book revealed a frightening paranoia that he and many other anti-vaccinaters exhibit towards the Center for Disease Control and physicians in general. They seem to believe that there are thousands of doctors who are intend on supporting pharmaceutical companies, even if that means harming their own patients and families (the pediatricians for my children routinely vaccinate their own kids). To me, that defied credibility.
In addition to being sympathetic to his daughter’s condition, I fully understand Markus’s need to understand how it happened. Before I became pregnant with my son, I endured years of infertility with intermittent miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy. I was sure that if I devoted enough attention to researching my medical history, I could find the thread that would explain what was wrong with me. I never did. Instead, I have learned over the years that there are a lot of mysteries inherent in life. Some of them we will undoubtedly solve over time, as medical science continues to evolve, but there are likely others that will never become clear. Life isn’t always clear. We don’t know why some people suffer illnesses and tragedy and others do not. We don’t know why Markus’s daughter developed diabetes, like many other unfortunate children. Because his family doesn’t have a history of diabetes does not mean that vaccines caused her illness. It doesn’t mean that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Center for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization, are all conspiring to make pharmaceutical companies rich by encouraging our children to get harmful vaccines. It means that for now we do not know why his daughter became ill. But our children are still better off vaccinated.
I invited Markus on my radio show to “debate” Stacy Herlihy, a journalist and writer who has recently co-authored a book outlining the scientific validity of vaccinations and debunking the commonly held misconceptions against them. Markus knew my bias, but he gamely agreed. I thought the show would be helpful because it would allow parents on the fence to hear both sides presented directly. I invite you to take a listen and let me know your thoughts.

Since we recorded the show, there’s been lots of debate between Stacy and Markus and their supporters online. I hope we can continue that debate here, in a civil fashion. After hearing Markus’s arguments, I did additional research myself on the vaccination question and I will post the results of that research either as updates to the blog or in the comments as applicable. This is an amazingly important subject and I welcome everyone’s input