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Overindulgent Parenting – What is “enough” for Preschoolers?

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

We live in an environment on Long Island that encourages all of us to overindulge. There are shopping opportunities at every turn in the road, plentiful entertainment, arts, and sports activities to choose from, and many service providers for the tasks we can’t seem to find time for – house cleaning, lawn care, car maintenance, etc. Some disposable income is all it takes to slip into a little overindulgence, and Long Islanders are more likely to have this than families in other parts of the country. Those who can afford to (and some who can’t) treat themselves and their children very well. But are we also using the necessary restraint to avoid spoiling our children? If we are able, why not make children’s lives as happy and comfortable as possible?

Research into family life since the 1990’s (Clark & Bredehoft 1998, Kindon 2000) points to some very good reasons to try to stem the tide of entitlement flowing in the direction of our young children. Receiving too much, too soon, in conjunction with what is called “over-nurturing” (doing for children what they could do for themselves) seems to deter young human beings from developing good character traits like perseverance, helpfulness, cooperation, and consideration for others, and seems to encourage self-centered attitudes and behaviors.

Starting to feel uncomfortable yet? We are all guilty of this to some extent, and it is love for our children (a GOOD thing; they can’t have too much of that) that inclines us towards overindulgence and over-nurturing. Here’s some common sense advice from the experts concerning “giving” of possessions, time, and service to your children:

Learn about your child’s developmental stage

What’s reasonable to expect from a child in terms of chores and self-care? What toys and activities help to support the learning they need to do now as opposed to later? How can you tell the difference between normal frustration intolerance and tantrums that become a habitual behavior in order to get what they want? Attend parent education workshops, look for opportunities to be around other families of young children to compare notes, try to read and learn as much as you can about supporting, in healthy ways, your child’s growth and development.

Avoid the “Happiness Trap”

Be willing to say “no” when saying “yes” would not, ultimately, be in your child’s best interest, even if it makes them unhappy at the moment. Sometimes they are very loudly unhappy. Young children haven’t yet learned the boundaries of budgets and time, or the need to weigh one member of the family’s individual needs against the bigger, overreaching goals of the family. It is a parent’s job to set necessary limits. And you’ll be very unhappy if you don’t, ultimately resulting in a negative attitude towards parenting that impacts your children much more seriously than losing out on a new toy.

Empower Preschoolers to “do for themselves”

Even a 3 year old can bring their finished dish to the sink. Look closely at the level of service you provide to your children. Yes, they need our help, but “doing for” constantly sends the message that they are not very competent. Put the paper towels where they can reach them themselves to clean up messes, create organized toy storage areas so that they can put things away in a place they belong. Expecting young children to contribute to the family and their own self-care teaches life skills and builds confidence.

Watch your spending

A small collection of good toys (balls, blocks, trucks, dolls, puppets) gives young children tools for learning and exploring through play. A huge collection of toys (gathered through parents buckling under the pressure of demanding children) can create storage chaos and actually result in poorer quality play and concentration – there’s just too much. In addition, having to wait for a holiday or birthday for a special toy can be good practice in delayed gratification, an important concept to understand in adulthood when you must work towards your own goals.

Keeping the “long view” in mind is challenging when our natural inclination is to want to please our children. A little indulgence, once in awhile, spreads joy in their hearts and ours. But a steady diet of overindulgence is no gift at all.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at

Everything is canceled!

By Cara Weiner Sultan, MSW

Within mere weeks, our entire world has been upended. We have been told to shelter in place and remain at least 6 feet apart from others. Wash hands and wear masks. With these new guidelines for living in place, everything in our world has been canceled, with all “normal” events of daily life are either re-imagined, rescheduled, or moved online. Suddenly calendars worth of events, weddings, parties, vacations, concerts, sporting events, etc. have been wiped clean.

Much has been written over the past few weeks about what losing these shared events or experiences, commonly known as social rituals, does to us individually, our community, and our society as a whole. Rituals may be defined as choreographed events that create a shared experience among people that connect people emotionally. These rituals are special; they go beyond everyday experiences into something that is memorable and meaningful. Rituals mark the passage of time; they can be simple things like Sunday dinners with family or Friday pizza with friends. Rituals mark sacred events and accomplishments, weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, and graduations. Rituals may also be collective or group experiences, such as the happiness of sports fans to witness their favorite team capture a title.

When everything gets canceled, mental health experts agree these losses are all real and should be acknowledged and even grieved. Losing these rituals can invoke a sense of tremendous sorrow, grief, and isolation. These losses should be discussed, especially with children, who don’t have the life experience to put things in perspective. Allowing yourself to take the time to talk about and put names to the feelings can help you better cope with these missed experiences.

While adults and children alike all face the roller coaster of ups and downs, and look ahead to uncertain opportunities to celebrate rituals, finding ways to look for the silver lining of this crisis can be helpful. After grieving what is missed, refocus on creating new rituals, both online or within your own home. There has never been more time for connecting virtually with old friends, reunions, family dinner time, fort building, movie night, bake offs, and finding charitable ways to help others. Even collective rituals like blasting sirens for healthcare workers at the same time each night may foster connections. Refocus on things in your life that you do have, not things that you are missing. Take the time to notice new experiences that build memories. Supporting others and facing these challenges will help to build strength both within ourselves and our children. As a society, we must learn to refocus and build resiliency during these life changing times.

Cara Weiner Sultan is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at

Overloaded with Covid-19 News?

by Erica Posniak, MD

Breaking News! This familiar and inviting alert flashes across our televisions, smart phones and computers 24 hours a day. It calls us and it’s difficult to resist. After all, it might be telling us there is new information we need to know in order to survive. Especially during a pandemic, we need to be informed, and having updated, current information can make us feel more in control. The so called Breaking News, however, is often an endless rehash of the same negative information.

Mindfulness teaches us that what you bring your attention to and what you take in determines how you feel. Taking in disturbing news about Covid-19 many times a day can cause us to experience heightened stress, fear, worry and anxiety and can even result in sleepless nights. Often functioning on automatic pilot, without thinking we turn to the news on our televisions and devices. While it is important to be informed, constantly turning on the news can become a habit. If you are frequently experiencing an urge to check the news, you are not alone.

What can we do?

Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in changing habits.

Becoming aware of the choices we make is the first step.

The next time you feel an urge to check the news, notice how you are feeling and what sensations are present in your body. Ask yourself, where in my body do I feel the urge? Bring curiosity to the exploration.

Take a cleansing breath and then ask yourself, why do I want to check the news?

After watching or reading the news, notice the physical sensations that are present in your body. Observe your thoughts. Are they calm or racing? What’s present for you?

Notice what emotions you are feeling and if the experience is pleasant.

Ask yourself, was seeing the news nourishing and what did I get from it?

Noticing, with curiosity, the urge to check the news and becoming aware of how the news makes you feel can take you out of automatic pilot so that you can start to change your habit. Sometimes, just by watching it, the urge will pass. Other helpful strategies include limiting your news consumption to once or twice a day, and taking news alerts off your smartphone and laptop. It’s not easy to change a habit, so treat yourself with kindness, congratulate yourself for starting this journey, and approach any attempts at change without self-judgment.

With all the negative news, it can be hard to remember that there is so much more going on in your world. Ask yourself, what else is true in my life in this moment? Looking out the window or going outside and noticing the color of a tree, the sound of rustling leaves, and the appearance of the sky, or bringing your attention to something in your environment that gives you joy, can bring you into a positive state of mind.

Dr. Erica Posniak is a physician focused on wellness who teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. She is chairperson of the Family Health and Wellness advisory committee and a member of the Board of Directors of CCE-Suffolk

Beat the Heat During Pregnancy!

By Laura Keiley, RN

Being pregnant is hard work, especially during the hot summer months. Because your body works so hard to protect and nourish your baby, you are more likely to experience negative effects from the heat than someone who isn’t pregnant. Your body is trying hard to cool itself and your unborn baby, and also keep you both healthy. This means that you need to take extra care when you are exposed to very hot conditions.

Here are some tips for staying cool and safe on hot days:

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • On very hot and humid days, seek shade and air-conditioned areas when possible
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Avoid exercise outside in very hot and humid weather

If you are exposed to high temperatures and experience the following symptoms, seek medical care:

  • Unusually warm skin
  • Unusual headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Temperature over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Braxton-Hicks, or ‘practice contractions’

If you experience any of the above, move to a cooler area if possible, apply cool, wet cloths to skin, and/or sit in a cool bath until you can receive medical care.

Laura Keiley, RN

Diabetes Educator


Laura Keiley is a Registered Nurse and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Anxiety in Children

By Cara Weiner Sultan, MSW

Since 1949, National Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May. The goal of this initiative is to bring attention to mental health through education, media, local events, and screenings. The hope is to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and embrace the notion that mental health is something everyone should care about.

Anxiety and depression are common mental health issues on the rise in children. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have been diagnosed with anxiety, and 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have been diagnosed with depression. According to the Child Mind Institute, some anxiety is normal, natural, and part of everyday life. When feelings of anxiety and worry begin interfering in everyday life, it becomes problematic and needs more significant intervention.

There are many types of anxiety:

  • Separation-characterized by a child’s extreme distress when separated from a parent or caregiver
  • Social-characterized by a child’s intense avoidance of social situations, excessive fear of being humiliated in social situations
  • Selective mutism-characterized by a child’s persistent and intense inability to speak in some situations but not others
  • General anxiety disorder-lasting and excessive worry about a range of things, may be worried about perfectionism, and may cause sleeplessness in addition to restlessness and irritability
  • Specific phobia-strong fears of objects or situations (fear of dogs, snakes, the dark, the doctor)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-characterized by children who have intrusive thoughts or impulses that interfere with functioning and cause excessive worry. Compulsions are the actions kids perform to get rid of their worry.

Many of these feelings are normal in a developing child, especially at times of transition or change. The time to be concerned is when your child experiences anxiety for a long period of time, which then interferes with school, home, and play activities.

The good news is that anxiety is very treatable! Mental health professionals are adept at helping children change the way they think about things, and reset their minds from thoughts of worry to more positive thoughts. Left untreated, anxiety can have physical and behavioral manifestations that cause stress. If you are concerned about your child, reach out to teachers, counselors, and friends for help. It’s more common than you think!

Resources on anxiety in children:

Child Mind Institute


Anxiety and Depression Institute of America

Harvard Health-Harvard Medical School

Cara Weiner Sultan is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at

Spotting Sneaky Sugar

By Cristina F. Toscano, RD

What do tomato sauce, yogurt, cereal, ketchup, soup, and even protein bars have in common? They are all examples of foods that often contain large amounts of added sugar. In fact, sugar is added to a whopping 74% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets. We know that excess sugar intake has been linked to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease. So how can we cut down on sugar when it seems to be lurking everywhere?


Next time you go to the grocery store, read the ingredients label on any packaged food item that you may purchase. But watch out – sugar is disguised as many different names. In fact, there are more than 61 different names that may be used, but they all mean sugar! Some examples are corn syrup, cane sugar, brown sugar, sweetener, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, raw sugar, sucrose, turbinado sugar, and beet sugar. Some of these words sound like they are healthier, but when it comes down to it, added sugar is added sugar. Rather than memorizing every single word for sugar, use these quick tips:

1) When reading the food label look up any words you do not know.

2) Check the “Nutrition Facts” for Added Sugars. Any number above 0 means that there is added sugar in the food item.


The best way to know that there are no added sugars in the food you eat is to prepare your own food. When you cook, using fresh ingredients, you’ll be in control of what goes into the food you are eating!


Cristina is a Registered Dietitian, Diabetes and Family Health Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Healthy Fats

By Ruchi Shah, MS, RD, CDN

One component of a heart healthy diet is healthy/good fats. When thinking of fats, we think of foods that are not good for us. In fact, about 20-35% of our calories should come from fat. There are good fats and bad fats. We should consume good fats, also known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. We should reduce consumption of bad fats, also known as trans-fats and saturated fats. These bad fats can cause many health problems such as obesity and heart disease. Good fats such as fish, olive oil, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds provide omega 3 fatty acids which provide many benefits of protection and prevention against diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Good fats also fight against inflammation of the body. If you have elevated LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), the recommendation is to add healthy fats to your diet. Good fats help increase HDL and fight against the LDL that has built up. Even when eating these healthy fats, make sure that you consume them in moderation. Eating lots of fat, even good fats, is not recommended.

What foods are considered good fats?

  • Olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil
  • Fish
  • Nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.
  • Peanut butter or almond butter
  • Hummus
  • Avocado
  • Seeds such as flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Low fat mayonnaise

Increasing good fats in your diet is easy. There are lots of fun ways you can add these foods to your usual meals. For example, try this simple oatmeal recipe for breakfast:


  • ½ cup of oats
  • 1 tbsp of chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp of peanut butter
  • ½ cup of blue berries
  • Cinnamon to taste


  • Cook oats with water or low-fat dairy and chia seeds in the microwave or on the stove
  • Remove mixture from microwave or stove and place in bowl
  • Add peanut butter right away, melting it on top
  • Add blueberries and cinnamon on top

Ruchi Shah is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



Poison Alert for Parents and Grandparents during Covid

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, families live in close quarters, day in and day out. Grandparents have been enlisted to care for their young and school-age grandchildren all day or night if their parents are essential workers. Children are under foot and into everything. What can these conditions lead to?

A February, 2020 study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that more than half the poison cases in American children under age 5 are poisoned by prescription pills they find and eat! Parents and grandparents often take these pills out of their original, child-resistant packaging, making it easy for curious children to discover. In fact, there are 50,000 emergency room visits each year involving children who swallow dangerous pills when adults don’t see them. Adults tend to place pills in easy to open containers, baggies, or daily pill organizers and leave them on kitchen counters or bedroom night tables. They might also drop or spill pills and fail to find them all.

This is not a new phenomenon. The Poison Prevention Packaging Act was passed in 1970 to cope with this dilemma, and childhood deaths from accidental medication poisoning dramatically decreased. In the 2000s, however, prescription use in the U.S. greatly increased due to the rise of statins, antidepressants, asthma, diabetes, and opioid medications.

It is not possible to watch children every minute of the day. Here are some practical recommendations for parents and grandparents to follow:

  1. Keep medications in child resistant packaging.
  2. Make sure to close the container after opening.
  3. Keep pills out of sight and out of reach!
  4. Make certain medication is not left in clothing pockets or purses.
  5. If medication is spilled or dropped, vacuum the entire area.

It’s a good idea to keep the CDC Poison Control Hotline Number on your cell phone:  800 – 222 – 1222. Don’t hesitate to call if you think your child/grandchild may have ingested any medication. Look at each room from a young child’s point of view and place anything potentially dangerous out of sight and reach. We are living in a very challenging time. Vigilance and extra care will help to keep our young ones healthy.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

But they like it

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

While presenting a program on children and screens recently, and for what seems like the hundreth time, parents told me that they have a difficult time restricting their children’s use of screens because “they like it”.  I know it can be difficult to tell your children “no” when it causes so much disappointment, especially if they carry on about it.  In truth, you are not doing your children any favor by giving them everything they want.

Children need boundaries, especially when it comes to time with screens (smart phones, tablets, computers, TV, etc.).  There are very few things in this world that impact our health and children’s development as much as screens and technology; and not necessarily in a good way.  If you think of the acronym P.I.E.S. you can see all areas of development: physical, intellectual, emotional and social.  For both adults and children, time with screens has a negative impact on all of these areas if it is out of balance with more beneficial activities.  Here are some ways in which screens impact each domain of development and health:

  • Physical – Screens are watched in a sedentary manner and have been connected to decreased physical activity and increased obesity.
  • Intellectual – Screens are passive; therefore children become passive learners rather than curious, active learners and thinkers. Research shows that as screen usage increases, academic performance decreases.
  • Emotional – Since the advent of social media, we are seeing higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, not to mention general unhappiness.
  • Social – With more screen use, we have less face to face interaction, leading to language delays in young children and a decrease in the development of social skills and ability to read body language.

Screens, much like junk food, are fine in moderation but you wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.  If all you ate were cookies and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you would miss out on all the more nutritious foods our bodies need to be healthy such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  So even though your kids’ might like cookies and ice cream, I’m sure you are serving them well balanced meals, at least most of the time.  Please do the same with their free time.  Kids benefit from being outdoors, reading, interacting in-person with other people, sleeping, and playing (using screens is not play).  Unfortunately, many of these important and “nutritious” activities have been replaced by “junk food”, aka screen time.

Even though screens are easy, everywhere, and your children like them, please be thoughtful in your and your children’s use of them.  The recommendation for screen use is no more than 1-2 hours of entertainment media per day.  Most children and many adults exceed that time.  There are now systems in place to track your usage on phones, tablets, etc.  Use them and then develop a plan to get your or your child’s use down to the recommended hours daily and start enjoying a more balanced life.

For more information on screens, read my other blogs which are archived under “Smart phones, computers, and tablets, Oh My!” on

Also look for my podcast under Parenting Tips on or iTunes

Or visit our website:

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at



Need a vacation from covid19?

By Erica Posniak M.D.

There is no escaping the fact that Covid-19 is a part of our reality. We are taking steps to keep ourselves and our families healthy and strong. Despite this, so much is out of our control. When our minds are occupied with thoughts of the future, worries, and planning, we experience heightened stress and anxiety. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting!

Mindfulness practices can help by cultivating an awareness of the present moment. Daily chores are an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Next time you wash your hands or take a shower:

Notice what you are thinking about and how you are feeling emotionally and physically.

Are you planning your day, worrying about what’s to come, or mulling over past events?

Simply notice what is present.

Take a deep cleansing breath.

Bring your attention to turning on the water.

Allow yourself to experience the moment just as it is.

Open all your senses and see, hear, and feel all there is to be sensed.

Listen to the sound of the water.

Feel the warmth or coolness of the water on your skin.

Feel the sensation of your fingers and hands as they touch one another.

Notice the feeling of soap and water on your skin.

Notice the scent of the soap.

If your mind wanders to other thoughts, that’s ok! It’s going to happen. Gently and with kindness, bring your thoughts back to the water.

When youre done washing, notice how you feel.

You can approach any of your daily tasks in this manner, including brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, and taking out the garbage. The list goes on! Simply bring all of your attention to what you are doing, open all of your senses and notice!

When practiced mindfully, these activities can be an opportunity to come into the present moment and this can be refreshing, centering, and calming.

Dr. Erica Posniak is a physician and teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. She is the chairperson of the Family Health and Wellness Advisory Committee of CCE- Suffolk.

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