How to Book a Babysitter Using an App

UrbanSitter booking

UrbanSitter booking

Scheduling in-home childcare has never been easier to do. Thanks to babysitter scheduling apps, you no longer have to identify qualified babysitters on your own and check their availability individually. Using a babysitting app is a fast and easy booking method when you know how to walk through the process.

Find the Right App

While there are several apps that are designed to connect you with babysitters, some offer substantially more benefits than others. The right babysitter app will have many affiliated and qualified childcare professionals for you to choose from rather than only a few individuals in your area. A vetting process will already be completed, and this may lessen the amount of screening you need to do yourself. Some apps even have reviews from other parents who have already had experiences with the sitter.

Establish the Details

After locating the right babysitting app to use, you should define your specific needs. This should include the basics, such as the date, time, length of service that you need and whether you’re looking for a date night sitter, part-time or full-time, or recurring help. It should also include special details, such as the need for the caregiver to prepare a meal or to address other needs, including putting the kids to bed or driving. All details should be added to your service request.

Review Qualified Babysitters

Babysitting apps work in different ways, but you generally have the ability to review credentials before booking the babysitter for a needed service. You may even be able to connect with a caregiver who you are interested in for an interview beforehand so that you can ask any questions that could impact your hiring decision. This is also a time to confirm availability and to answer the babysitter’s questions about your specific needs.

Confirm the Service

When you schedule service with a babysitter through an app, it is important to confirm that all of the details are correct. This includes ensuring that the service is scheduled through the app. If possible, it includes contacting the babysitter directly to verify that he or she has all of the details necessary. This information could include your address and contact information. An added convenience of going through the app is paying the babysitters with a tap at the end of the job, so you’re not fumbling for cash or exact change.

Finding the right babysitter to hire can be challenging, but trusted apps make this easier to do than ever before. While some apps will vet babysitters on your behalf, remember to conduct your own due diligence before you leave your child in someone else’s care. In addition, when using a new babysitter, consider limiting your time away from the house to an hour or two so that you and your child can establish a comfort level with him or her.

5 Simple New Year’s Resolutions for Busy Parents

Now is your chance to freshen up those good intentions and commit to making positive changes for yourself and your family. These simple, yet effective New Year’s resolutions will help to make 2019 a healthier, happier, better balanced year. We promise these are all totally doable – no Herculean efforts required.

5 Simple New Year’s Resolutions

1. Revive the commitment to providing your family with a healthy diet by starting with what you put in your own mouth.

Considering the way you take care of yourself and your health is likely to be the way your child lives, your commitment to health should start with your own diet. We often put our needs behind those of our kids: skipping breakfast to get everyone fed and to school on time, grabbing a lousy packaged sandwich for lunch, and sometimes simply eating what’s left on our kids’ plates for dinner. We need to become better nutritional role models for our children who are soaking up everything we do. Rather than trying to kickstart a major change, make small changes that will have a big impact on the entire family’s diet:

  • Breakfast should be mandatory. Build a staple of quick, healthy foods that require little time or effort to prepare. Check out our Pinterest board – Don’t Forget Breakfast – for ideas.
  • Add a vegetable or fruit to every meal. Experts say even a few bites makes a big difference in children, but aim for more – an average adult needs four servings of veggies and three servings of fruit every day.
  • Find easy, homemade recipes to replace packaged products. There are far better alternatives to boxed macaroni and cheese and frozen chicken nuggets or pizzas, and they can be just as quick and easy to get on the table.
  • Start making bigger batches of good food so you can pack leftovers for lunch or freeze for another night.
  • Make a weekly meal plan. Being prepared is half the battle – shop for what you need, give yourself a head start by prepping pieces of multiple dishes at once, and you’ll far less likely to resort to takeout or a packaged meal.
  • Get kids involved in meal planning, shopping and prep. They’ll be more likely to try new things if they feel they have a say in the matter.
  • Replace juice boxes with water or low-fat milk and consider kicking your own 3PM Diet Coke habit or five-cups-of-coffee mornings.

2. Become more vigilant about screen time limits.

isabel-computerbaby copy

There’s no taking back the Internet or denying that even young kids can derive some education and entertainment from the iPad, but we really should be more thoughtful about the kinds of media our children interact with and how much time they spend with them.

While it’s really, really nice to be able to plop kids in front of an episode of Paw Patrol while you make dinner, screen time can really start to add up. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. They advise parents to create “screen-free” zones at home, turn off the TV during meals, and to limit screen time to no more than two hours per day.

If we pull our kids away from computers and television, they will spend more time playing outdoors, reading, and using their imaginations in free play. It also bears reminding, be sure to spend the time getting to know the technology your kids are using, making sure parental controls are in place and know exactly what they are seeing and doing.

3. Find time to take care of yourself.

Regardless of employment status, we are all working parents. Few would argue that parenting is anything but a full-time, incredibly rewarding yet demanding job. We all deserve not one break, but a steady dose of them. Find a way to build personal time into your daily life and keep at it.

Make a deal with another parent to take turns caring for the kids while you workout or simply take care of responsibilities without the company of a child. Check your favorite sitter’s availability posted on UrbanSitter to find a time that works with your schedule and book her weekly or bi-weekly. If you and your spouse have some flexibility with your work schedules, make a deal that allows you each to come home early one night a week and take over kid duty while the other enjoys some personal time. If you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s pretty dang hard to take care of anyone else.

4. If you really want to make it happen, scheduleand commit tofamily time.


Most of us would agree we’d like to spend more quality time with our families, yet it’s often an elusive wish. Despite our best intentions, we get caught up in day-to-day commitments and demands – free time to simply spend together just doesn’t exist, at least not as often as we may like it to. The solution is to become better planners.

Sit down with your family and make a list of places you’d like to visit or activities you’d like to do as a family in the New Year. Keep reality and your budget in mind, but let loose with the creativity. Once you have a good list of ideas – exploring a just-outside-of-town zoo or aquarium, sticking the baby in a backpack carrier for a family hike, spending a weekend afternoon at an indoor pool, or having family game night – get them on the calendar. If they are scheduled activities, you are far less likely to whittle your precious weekend away taking care of chores or splitting up to do your own thing.

5. Make your home a warmer, more nurturing environment that promotes creativity, literacy and fun.

This year, make it a priority to tweak your house to make it serve you and your family the best it can. A playful home will help your kids learn to play independently, foster creativity and learning, and help children become more self-sufficient, organized and even focused. While you might not be able to bust out the back wall to build a library or an indoor climbing wall, chances are you can make some small changes to make it easier for kids to play, entertain themselves, cuddle with you and a good book, or let loose with finger paints. See our post on super cool playrooms, reading nooks, art spaces and cozy spots to give you some inspiration. You’ll see it’s really pretty doable to create inviting spaces that entice kids to settle in with a book, dabble in a new hobby or maybe even take a little nap.

Whatever you commit to in the New Year, we hope your year is filled with an endless stream of happy, memorable moments with those you love and cherish. Happy New Year from your friends at UrbanSitter!

Are You Afraid? A Message to Daughters, From a Daughter

By Eliza Reynolds

Are you afraid? I know that I am sometimes. There are moments when I have been so afraid of life beginning —like becoming-a-grown-up beginning—because then I might discover that I’m a failure, or a total disappointment, or maybe (whispers an especially dark part of my brain) never truly, fully lovable, except by my parents (and they have to love me).

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, something began to creep up on me—like an itch on my back that I couldn’t quite scratch—and my parents started to drive me crazy (plain bonkers, red in the face with frustration, irrationally ticked off, justifiably loony, and the like). Frankly, most of the time it was for dumb reasons (“MOM, did you have to move the pans so loudly??”) or for reasons I couldn’t understand (“DAD, I don’t want you to ask me about my day. No, I just don’t feel like talking about it!”). My reactions to them, and the way I began to judge them through every millisecond of every day, were new. And I found that after the first flush of anger or frustration passed (and I huffed out of the room or screamed in the confines of my bedroom closet), it scared me. These new changes made me feel, well, lonely.

It began to dawn on me that my parents weren’t the perfect people I had imagined them to be. I wondered: if they weren’t always consistent and on top of it, then what is consistent—always steady and reliable—in life? And if my life is beginning, like I-am-not-a-little-kid-anymore beginning, like in-a-few-years-I-will-be-leaving-home beginning, then what and who can I depend on? What won’t change? What is safe?…

Now, if you met me, walked up to me, and shook my hand for the first time (or even hugged me for the hundredth time), you couldn’t tell on the outside that I was afraid. No, you’d still see a tall, cheery nineteen-year-old, with hair twice the size of her head and feet that defy semi coordinated brain commands. But I’m telling you now what’s on the inside: the fears that line the innermost layers of my thoughts, my heart, and maybe even, if you believe in such things, my soul. These are the fears that aren’t cute enough to whisper under the blankets at a sleepover. I’m not always afraid but sometimes—often first thing in the morning, before I’ve seen anyone’s face, and the alarm is buzzing me into a new day—I feel empty, alone, like the bed is a bit too big, and yes, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all. Nah, I’m not an emotional train wreck or a “basket case” either, I’m just being brutally honest. I know you’ll get it, because here’s the secret I think we all know: I think, deep down, we are all afraid.

I don’t mean we are afraid all the time—not every moment. But sometimes in bed at night alone, or staring dismally at another English test, or looking around the dinner table, or scanning Facebook late at night, you and I are afraid. And I don’t think it’s a light passing fear, like that anxiety you get when you pass by that certain dodgy street in town. No, it is a deep question that seems to echo in our very soul, in the very heart of our bodies. And I know I don’t have the answers to the questions that keep bubbling up inside and you may not either (most people don’t). Questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I going to make of my life?
  • What happens when I die?
  • What is the meaning of life? Why am I here, literally, on this earth? Do I matter any more than the ant on the hot pavement?
  • What is love? Does marriage mean you love each other forever? Do I have a soul mate?
  • Why is my mom the way she is?
  • Does God exist? Or “goddess”? Or any other kinds of higher power?
  • What do others think of me? Is this important? Why?
  • What will make me happy? Is happiness the most important thing in life? What is the most important thing in life?…

We will, all of us, have many “dark nights” in our lives—those moments, weeks, or months when we feel utterly lost and afraid in the change, chaos, or darkness that seems to be all around…[They] help me see my lonely or scared or overwhelmed feelings as meaningful. They are there for a reason: these questions, fears, obsessions, frustrations, and the oh-so-human pain all help me grow.

Excerpted from Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong Through the Teen Years by Eliza Reynolds & Sil Reynolds, RN. Copyright © 2013 by Eliza Reynolds & Sil Reynolds. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.

Photograph via Creative Commons

Downtime for Dad?

By Julia Cameron

Today, as a father with two sons ages six and eight, Todd laments no longer having time to read as he pleases. “I haven’t opened a classic since I had kids,” he says. “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I resent that. I’m careful not to take my feelings out on my kids, but every time I look at the untouched book on my bedside table, it’s another little reminder that there’s no time for my interests anymore.”

Deciding that there’s “no time” for something we love is a though that is well worth examining. If we decide that there is no time to read for pleasure—because it isn’t important, because it would “only” make us happy—we are deciding that there is no time for ourselves, for our own spiritual balance, and we are making a dangerous decision indeed. Not only are we putting ourselves at being at risk of becoming resentful, we are modeling this behavior for our children.

“I come home from work and want to spend time with my kids,” says Todd. Of course he does. But all kids take naps when they are young, take movie breaks when they are older, become consumed in a project they are focusing on. The trick is to conserve our energy, grab the moments we can, and allow ourselves to spend them as we please.

The act of spending time doing something we want to do as opposed to something we have to do takes courage. Baby steps may be necessary here. Be gentle with yourself, and be willing to try something small.

Giving ourselves fifteen minutes a day that is our own can turn anxiety into optimism. Our children lie down for a nap, and we rush toward the dirty dishes, the unopened mail, the business calls that we haven’t returned. We push our desires away as we push ourselves toward the imaginary finish line of being “done” with our ongoing list of “things to do.” It has been said that the average person has two to three hundred hours of “things to do” to be “caught up.” We will never be caught up. But we can adjust our course in small, daily ways to bring more balance into our lives. When we allow space for our own desires, we discover the unexpected paradox: by taking a selfish moment, we actually become more productive—and more available to our children.

“What book do you crave to read right now? For pleasure?” I ask Todd. He looks away, guilty that he craves this luxury, wishing he hadn’t admitted it to me in the first place.

Moby Dick,” he says quietly. “But I’ve read it before. I don’t really need to read it again. I’m so behind on everything else—it’s ridiculous for me to waste time re-reading a book for no reason. My kids need me to be available to them.”

“What do you love about Moby Dick?” I prod. I myself have many favorite books that I have read over and over.

“Each time I read it, I see something new. The larger themes inspire me with their constant relevance. I feel connected somehow.” Todd’s eyes light up as he speaks.

“Great,” I say. “You have to find fifteen minutes a day to read Moby Dick. Giving yourself that gift is as important as anything else on your list. Just try it for a week and see what happens.”

When Todd phones me a week later, his optimism is palpable… “My younger son, Sam, was fascinated,” Todd [says]. “He wanted to know what I was reading, what the story was about. I told him I had read the book many times before, and that it gave me pleasure to read it again. I found myself being more patient and efficient at home and at work. I was excited to talk to Sam about the story, and it made me realize that when I was constantly running from one job to another, even when the job was something for my sons, I wasn’t really able to talk to them anyway. To my surprise, no one seemed to mind that I was taking a moment for myself every day. I almost thought no one even really noticed, until I discovered Sam last night, sitting in my leather chair, feet up on my ottoman, with a book in his lap. When I asked him what he was reading, he replied, ‘I’m reading a great book, Dad. It’s about a whale.’ He held up the book, showing me its cover: Pinocchio.”


Excerpted from The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron,  Tarcher/Penguin, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House. © 2014.

Photograph via Creative Commons.

3 Misconceptions About Twins, Busted!

photo by goonsquadsarah
Photo by goonsquadsarah

By Dawn Van Osdell

There’s a lot of contradictory and downright erroneous parenting info floating around out there. We’re not afraid to tackle it head-on!

Societally, we have a fascination for twins, likely because they used to be a pretty rare thing—only about 2 percent of births resulted in twins just a couple of decades ago. But today, due to women having children at an older age and to the continued rise in infertility treatments that often cause multiple births, we’re seeing more twins than ever before. And the likelihood of having twins continues to rise. Even as twins become more common, the mystique around them prevails and feeds misconceptions about what it’s like to be a twin—and about how to parent babies who are seen by the world as part of a pair.

To shed some light on the topic and the misunderstandings around it, we spoke with Joan A. Friedman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and prominent twin expert. As an identical twin herself and the mother of five children, including two sets of fraternal twin sons, she is uniquely suited to the task. Here she sets the record straight about three common myths related to twin-dom.

Myth #1: Twins are always best friends and soul mates. If mine are not, I’m doing something wrong.

Truth: “There’s an idealized sense of what twins are supposed to be, including best friends,” says Friedman. While many twins are each other’s closest allies, it’s often because they are together so much—sharing a bedroom, classrooms, friends, and family. They are viewed by others—and even by themselves—as a two halves of a whole. If they don’t live up to the stereotypic expectation of being a perfect match, their parents can feel like they have somehow failed.

Rather than try to force an exclusive friendship between them, Friedman says families should recognize that twin siblings are often torn between their strong connection to one another and their frustration over wanting their own friendships. “Break through the stereotype that twins should be inseparable and help them develop individual identities and friendships,” says Friedman. Helping twins individualize will ultimately help them adjust to separate lives when they leave home and go their own ways.

Myth #2: Twins can read each other’s thoughts and feel each other’s pain.

Truth: Friedman, who has talked with countless parents of twins, says she’s heard the claim that twins share ESP too often not to consider it with some amount of seriousness, although she doesn’t buy it. She and her twin do not share telepathy between them and there is, in fact, no scientific proof to confirm that that power exists. How then do you explain it when one twin knows what the other is thinking, picks the same shirt to wear to school, or chooses the same present for a friend?

“They grow up in each other’s face all the time,” says Friedman. There is a familiarity with each other’s personality, reactions, habits, and routines, and there’s a deep emotional attachment that produces a powerful empathy for one another. The phenomenon is similar to the connection an old married couple may have, and their ability to finish each other’s sentences and predict each other’s next step. Like twins, they share a strong tie—though it’s unlikely a psychic one.

Myth #3: Competition between twins is no different than rivalry between singleton siblings.

Photo by pauldevoto 

Truth: More so than singleton siblings, twins are under constant comparison from the world and positioned to fight each other for top dog status. “They are in competition with each other before they are even born, fighting for their fair share of nutrients in the womb,” says Friedman. Even twins who get along well grow up competing for their parents’ time and attention, for dominance, and for independence.

The competition is tough on twins and also on their parents, who often attempt to put an end to the bickering and whining the competition causes by struggling to treat each child fairly and equally. But, “When you’re invested in treating them both the same, it’s a death sentence for all,” Friedman says. She advises parents to avoid seeing twins as a unit and instead, focus on treating them as individuals with unique needs and abilities. “Champion personality traits, abilities, and inclinations and avoid labels and comparisons,” she says. Spending one-on-one time with each twin is also a helpful way to curb the competition.

Although, the rivalry isn’t all bad. “It’s very motivating to have someone to compete with,” says Friedman. “And if someone has to lose, it’s a little easier to lose when you’re losing to your twin.”

Photos via Compfight

How to Help Kids Deal With Rejection

Girl being left out

By Denise Daniels

If your child has ever been left out on the playground, left un-picked for a sports team, or overlooked for the school play, you understand the heartbreak and humiliation of rejection. Being snubbed is painful, especially for younger children, who lack experience with and perspective on peer relationships and haven’t yet developed the socialization skills necessary to navigate the complex world of emotions.

When kids feel rejected or are left out, they don’t feel important or valued, accepted or wanted.  They may try to avoid certain situations that could cause them pain, missing out on enriching opportunities that would make them happy and fulfilled. Studies show that kids who experience consistent rejection can have lower self-esteem and anxiety, which can lead to depression and other emotional problems. Which means, early intervention is key! Learning new social and emotional skills can help children feel more competent and confident trying to fit in with peers.

So how can we teach kids to cope with rejection?  First of all, by teaching them to understand and manage their emotions.  Emotional awareness gives us important information about what we are experiencing and helps us know how to react.  It also helps us build stronger relationships.  When I work with kids, I tell them that there are no right or wrong feelings, that all feelings are okay!  Some feelings are big and some are small.  Your child can even rate on a scale of I to 10 how she is feeling.  It’s always good to think about how we feel about ourselves and our situation.

Here are some tips for accomplishing all this:

1. If your child has been rejected, try not to minimize or be dismissive of her feelings. Listen with empathy and validate her feelings, so she knows that you understand.  You can even share a time when you felt left out, and reassure her that even grow-ups feel rejection from time to time.

2. If your child is feeling left out, acknowledge it! Instead of denying that anything is wrong, encourage her to think about how normal it is to feel that way given what she has experienced.

3. Help her voice what she is feeling.  Sometimes younger kids need help finding words to express themselves because they lack a vocabulary for feelings.  It’s okay for your child to say, “I felt really bad when I wasn’t picked for the team because all my friends got picked and I didn’t.” You can also encourage her to talk to a friend or someone who cares about her and who is a good listener.

4. Don’t let her dwell on her rejection. Instead, help her think positively and use “self-talk” to help get her over it and move on. Helping her thing about what she does well and what’s good about her can help ease the pain and start to rebuild her confidence. Then she can keep it in perspective by seeing that there will be other opportunities for her.  Yes, being rejected can hurt but it isn’t the end of the world!

Why Creativity Matters for Kids

By Clark Burbidge

The importance of creativity in our lives has been supported by study after study, but in our current public school system, the curriculum rarely supports creative thinking in our children. Too often, we find standards that are driven by tests, or by the desire to deliver curriculum in the most economical way. Such efforts do not train our children to think; rather, they teach memorization without meaning and regurgitation on demand, without understanding.

Measuring students’ skills by using a grading scale, while critical in schools, does not take into account the full spectrum of learning development necessary for our children to achieve success in many aspects of their lives. By taking our children away from art, music, performance, and other creative offerings that historically round out primary education, we are sliding ever more toward teaching what the answer is, rather than why the answer is important and how to get there. And as a result, our children are losing touch with the actual beauty of life on this planet.

Fostering creativity in children builds confidence, self-esteem, understanding, empathy, and emotional health. And if they aren’t getting it in the classroom, we parents must provide it ourselves. Below are a few great ways to help foster your child’s creativity outside the classroom environment—beyond art and craft projects.

Start a family book club. Reading with our kids is a great way to develop imagination. Take it a step further by spending time talking about the book afterwards. To avoid this feeling like just another homework assignment, start with an informal dinner conversation, asking questions like, what was the motive of the main character? Did he make a morally right decision? What would you have done in that situation? Help your kids look at the story from different angles and think of new possible outcomes.

Start a family blog. Creative writing can help improve a child’s vocabulary, as well as his creative muscles. A blog can be a great medium for a fiction series (like, what if we lived in space?) or to explore a topic your child is interested in, like cooking or science.

Take advantage of YouTube. There are a great many educational shows on YouTube and some of them are terrific—like TED’s Education channel. So many subjects are left out of traditional education these days. Discussing them will expand your child’s view of the world, and may even lead to a new passion! Ask your child what her favorite building is and why (maybe you have a budding architect on your hands), or her favorite scene in a TV show (maybe she’d like screenwriting), or favorite magazine (journalism). If you have middle- or high schoolers, discussions about social interactions and problem solving will develop creative and critical thinking skills and help them work out social interaction strategies.

You don’t need to be an expert in any of these things. Just get started—from wherever you and your child happen to be. Don’t overlook simple opportunities like museum exhibits, city festivals, and other cultural events. Then, make these creative interactions a regular part of your family life. That’s when the miracles will begin!

Photograph by Lotus Carroll via Creative Commons.

What Kids Really Gain from Arts Education: One Mom’s Personal Reflection

By Lela Nargi

It’s a late evening in early December and I’m sitting with my tween daughter in a stiflingly heated, baldly lit, packed-to-the gills auditorium near Coney Island, waiting for Mark Twain middle school’s winter concert to begin.  We’ve come out to see a friend of my daughter’s sing with her 7th grade choral class. It promises to be a long night, with three grades’ worth of choral performances, three of band, three of orchestra, and a few extras thrown in for good measure. But I’m used to these sorts of engagements. As the parent of a kid who’s been lucky enough to attend public schools that vigorously buck the current trend of defunding arts programs, I’ve been sitting in on biannual music, dance, drama, photography, and broader “talent” shows since my daughter was in Pre-K. I hardly give the enterprise any thought.

Arts education has been a big educational talking point for years, but possibly never more than since the advent of the test-driven Common Core curriculum. As across the country the arts have been cast aside in favor of reading comprehension and STEM subjects—as well as the high-stakes exams that supposedly determine a child’s competency in them—the findings of multiple studies have been invoked to champion the ability of painting, drumming, ballroom dancing, playwriting, to enhance creativity, fine motor skills, and language development in our kids—with even more significant and lasting boons for low-income children.  Many parents with kids who are painting, drumming, dancing, and playwriting through school, both where I live in Brooklyn and elsewhere, accept these benefits as a given. But they’re not what are on my mind as the lights in the auditorium dim and the first orchestral group streams onto the Mark Twain stage.

The students are wearing the customary on-stage uniform of white shirts and black bottoms. They march purposefully out from the wings in a steady and orderly manner, delicately carrying their instruments. They quietly find their seats, set their music on their stands, and follow along with their section leaders in tuning their instruments. When Jamie Baumgardt, Mark Twain’s strings teacher, appears on stage they stand, then await her cue to sit again. As anyone who’s ever watched an orchestra knows, this is business as usual. But if you’ve ever spent any time with a large group of rabid tweens and teens, you know how exceptional this sort of behavior is.

And if you’re an educator, you know it even more acutely. I’ve listened to my sister-in-law, a 20-year veteran of elementary school classrooms, bemoan the mounting inability of her students to sit still and focus. She chalks it up to the use of smartphones and tablets, devices that encourage them to eschew human interaction and reward them for making fast, unconsidered decisions. For years, my husband taught literature to community college students and every night came home with frustrated stories of kids who didn’t know how to behave in his classroom: truly didn’t know they shouldn’t text and take phone calls, didn’t know they shouldn’t gobble sandwiches and bags of candy, didn’t know they shouldn’t listen to music through one headphone as he led them (or attempted to lead them) in discussions of Kafka and Chinua Achebe. Children are losing their understanding of basic courtesy and in the process, are becoming ever more removed from their peers and larger society. With this loss, life becomes less pleasant and more challenging for all of us. Because the loss is palpable everywhere we go. Think of the people texting through movies. Refusing to let you pass as you haul heavy grocery bags down the sidewalk. Shoving you aside to get onto the subway car first.

And this is what I’m thinking about as the strings students finish their performance, again await Ms. Baumgardt’s cue to rise, and quickly, silently take their bows and leave the stage. An orchestra has many governing rules. To survive and thrive in this setting, an orchestra member not only has to know them, she has to tacitly agree to follow them. As these rules govern how members of an orchestra treat their leaders, their equals, and the audience that has come out to see them—in addition to expectations for their own personal responsibility to practice—an orchestra, quite simply, offers a blueprint for how to behave in a society.

“My music students learn professionalism and that, regardless of the context of the setting, there are times and places to be professional,” Ms. Baumgardt tells me. “Running around in the park you can be kids and throw Frisbees. But in a professional setting there are expectations. What values should musicians have that translate to the rest of their lives?” Plenty. Do we want our children to be able to make eye contact with friends and strangers as they politely converse with them? Do we want them to be able to show empathy for others, both locally and globally? Do we want them to understand the positive influence of their hard work, not only on their own development, but on the achievements of an affiliated group? Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Baumgardt and other teachers of music, dance, drama, and plastic arts such as sculpture and drawing, they’re getting an excellent footing. “I show them that being committed leads to success, and that can make you feel great about yourself,” says Ms. Baumgardt. “But it’s also about the bigger picture. The efforts they contribute, in the long run, are going to make everyone successful.”

In some cases, that even includes their own parents. As my daughter’s friend takes the stage with her fellow singers, a dad sitting in front of me becomes animated. After snapping photos with his stage-obscuring iPad, he begins to wave his arms over his head, trying to get his kid’s attention. She ignores him. He tries again. And again. She finally acknowledges him with the meager-est of nods. By behaving professionally, as she’s been taught, she’s given her own father a subtle clue about how to behave with professionalism and courtesy. Hopefully, that tiny trend will radiate.

The very fact that my daughter and I are here tonight is proof that the lesson transcends beyond the classroom and the stage for kids, too. My daughter has come out to show support for a friend, just as this friend came out to support her a week earlier, when my daughter danced in a performance of The Nutcracker. The older they get, and the more serious about their various artistic pursuits, the more supportive they become for each other. Empathy (in the plastic arts, critiques would be miserable without empathy) is built right into the framework.

And empathy—along with discipline, listening skills, manners, the ability to articulate and to work as a team—will serve these kids whether or not they eventually choose careers in any arts-driven field. Sarah, a violinist in Ms. Baumgardt’s 8th grade ensemble, wants to be a doctor—and feels the emotional connection she’s developed to music will help her have an emotional connection to her future patients. Tricia, an 8th grade violist, thinks teamwork and intuition are the two lessons she’s learned from music that will be most valuable to her possible future career as a children’s dentist. Ultimately, the goal of arts education is not to churn out professional artists. As Mark Twain’s principal, Karen Ditolla, puts it so succinctly, “By helping children learn these crafts, we’re helping them grow as people.” There isn’t any goal finer.

Photograph from the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, #LC-B2-3849-6

5 Ways to Teach Kids the Value of Volunteering

Cooking in kitchen

By Mark Palm

Parents today face an uphill battle when it comes to getting their kids interested in doing anything besides burying their faces in the screen of a phone or tablet. They might put their devices down to eat, play sports, and sleep, but otherwise engaging them in the physical world around them can be a serious challenge. Especially when it comes to generating interest in volunteering and humanitarian work.

Most parents don’t have the opportunity to do what I did; 10 years ago, my wife and I moved with our three young children to Papua, New Guinea, so I could establish a local service organization, Samaritan Aviation, through which I fly emergency rescue missions into remote jungle villages, picking up injured and sick people who would otherwise never receive professional medical care, and transporting them to the only hospital in the region. My wife and children have worked by my side over the years, helping to care for strangers in desperate times of need.

But to inspire yourself and your kids to help others, you don’t have to look any further than your own neighborhood. Here are some tips for getting the whole family involved in volunteering—a great way to start off the New Year!

1. Set an example. It’s hard to expect your children to want to give up their free time to help others if you are not doing the same. Talk about previous experiences you’ve had in helping others, even if it was a long time ago, then take steps to get yourself involved, even if it’s just volunteering to collect cans for a food drive at your office.

2. Incorporate their interests. An easy way to spark a child’s interest in volunteering is to find a charity that involves a sport or hobby they already enjoy. For example, if your child is artistic you could suggest ways for them to earn money to purchase art supplies for less fortunate children. Or, if your child loves animals, get her involved with a local rescue organization that needs volunteers to feed the cats, for example. The possibilities are endless.

3. Get friends involved. Talk to the parents of your children’s friends and find out if they would be okay with you bringing their children along on a volunteer experience as well. Kids can bond with their friends while helping others and having a friend along can help them to be bolder when trying new things—and to have a lot more fun while they are at it.

4. Provide a variety of experiences. Volunteer as a family at a local food bank, help out building a house with Habitat for Humanity, walk dogs at a local animal shelter, or help clean up at the local zoo. By introducing your kids to a variety of volunteer experiences, they can learn which appeals to them the most and find one they will be willing to contribute to long-term.

5. Let your kids take the lead. Help your kids organize a lemonade stand, bake sale, or car wash in your neighborhood to raise money for a charity of their choice. Around the holidays, give them supplies to decorate a wagon and have them go door-to-door, while you supervise, to collect coats and toys that can be donated to clothing and gift drives. Take them with you to drop of the donations, so they can experience the gratitude of the organization first hand.

Photograph by John Vachon, via Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 060596-D

Good News About Fighting Sibs

Kids on beach

By Dr. Laura Markham

I wasn’t prepared for my son’s reaction when his little sister was born. At four, he’s had only a few tantrums in his entire life. But when the baby appeared, he seemed to panic. He was clingy, he was angry, he was scared. I was trained as a psychologist, but I was out of my league.

Like me, most parents look forward to the awe on our older child’s face as he or she gazes for the first time at our newborn. We imagine the baby laughing as her big brother entertains her with funny faces. When one child gets hurt, the other will repay the care he’s received from us, offering his sibling a hug and a blankie. Over time, romping through the sprinkler will give way to bike rides and camping out, which will give way to arguing over who gets the car on Saturday night and consoling each other over lost games and broken hearts They might head their separate ways after high school, but that bond will continue through all the ups and downs of adulthood. We want to believe we’re giving our children a priceless gift: a friend for life.

But sometime in the first year—maybe even before the baby arrives—most parents begin to realize things may be quite so simple, as I hear from the families I coach:

“She loves her brother…In fact, she hugs him so hard that it scares us…Her hands always seem to end up around his neck.”

“I can’t even drive the car safely because they can’t keep their hands off each other.”

“He really pushed me to my limit when I came out of the shower and he had peed on his nine-month-old brother!”

There’s no way around it. Sibling rivalry is universal. After all, every human is genetically programmed to protect resources that will help him survive, and your children depend on and compete for what are, in fact, precious resources—your time and attention. Even when there’s plenty of love to go around, young humans haven’t developed much impulse control, so they’re bound to get into conflicts. Finally, temperament colors every relationship. Children who tend to be challenging will be even more challenging when you introduce a brother or a sister, and some siblings simply clash.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t know how to help their children with these strong emotions, so hurt feelings can lead to aggressive acts, which can spiral into negative patterns of interacting with each other. Those feelings can set the tone in a sibling relationship right through the teen years, and even have a way of popping up at family stress points across a lifetime.

But there’s good news, too. The sibling relationship is where the rough edges of our early self-centeredness are smoothed off, and where we learn to manage our most difficult emotions. Siblings often become good friends, and because they know each other so well, they can provide each other a deep sense of comfort. Even siblings who fight a lot usually do gain respect for each other and eventually get along. When they’re grown, may siblings feel a deep connection to the only other people who understand what it was like to grow up in their home.

And here’s the best news of all. Parents can make a tremendous difference in shaping the sibling relationship. Sibling jealousy is unavoidable, but it’s almost always possible to help children develop a strong, positive bond that trumps the natural jealousy. It’s not always easy to raise siblings who appreciate each other, who become friends for life—but a committed parent can make all the difference.

Excerpted from Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham. (c) 2015 Dr. Laura Markham. Perigee, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.

Photograph by Daria Nepreikhin via