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Coding for Kids: a Guide to Choosing a Coding Camp

Find various coding schools and programming courses that teach kids python, java during summer or all year-round. Get expert tips on picking the right coding camp to fit your child.

Coding Camps for Kids | Bay Area | Activity Hero Summer Camps

Technology continues to impact our world at an incredibly rapid pace. As a parent, you may be looking for a way to prepare your child for the future. Introducing a child to programming languages could be either a building block for a career or an entertaining option for your young gamer. If your child has an interest in technology or gaming, a coding camp for kids could be a great option. There are also online coding classes and camps that allow your kids to learn from home.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when choosing a coding summer camp:

  • What is the age and skill level of my child? 
  • Can my child type easily?
  • Who are the instructors?
  • What is the camp schedule?
  • What will my child be learning?

One important note is that coding for kids is not something that can be mastered in a week. It is a process that your child can build on for years, if they are willing and excited to continue learning.  

“My son is at the point where he can envision a problem he wants to solve and begin to develop the code to get there. It reminds me of student development in math and languages–it starts slowly but over time you see real progress and suddenly the child is bursting with ideas,” said a parent review.

Scratch Coding Camps

Scratch is a beginner level program that can be introduced to children in early elementary school. The Scratch coding camps focus on making sure children understand the foundational computer programming concepts. The drag-and-drop format of Scratch does not require a lot of typing skills and is suited for children who have never been introduced to coding. Games and animations are designed through ready-made blocks of code to help students build scripts. Scratch projects will encourage creativity, reasoning and problem-solving skills. More advanced Scratch coding camps will build on previous experience and children can develop more realistic and customized games. 

If a child leaves camp excited to learn more, parents can visit the Scratch website at Scratch can be accessed free online or it can be downloaded for offline usage. 

Minecraft Camps and Java Camps

Does your child love playing Minecraft or spend hours watching Minecraft YouTube videos? If they are curious about how to advance their gaming, Minecraft camps might be a fun opportunity. Introductory Minecraft camps are available starting in elementary grades and are focused on learning the fundamentals of creating fun mods. One important note is that some camps require a Minecraft account, so we recommend checking with your camp director prior to the first class.

Campers will often learn core computer science skills as well as 3D modeling and texture mapping techniques. If your child is an experienced Minecraft user, they may be interested in a more advanced camp where they can create a custom game experience using Java. Java is a widely used programming language, making it a great foundation for students interested in learning more about app development. Java camps are often paired with other coding topics such as Minecraft and Python.

Since Minecraft camps range from beginner to advanced, it is recommended to review class curriculums before selecting a camp. 

Python Coding Camps

Python is a very popular, all-purpose language. The lines of code are shorter and simpler than in other languages, making it easier to learn Python for kids. Python is a great language to learn after Scratch. However, you do not need previous experience if a child wants to skip to an introductory Python camp. While there are some Python camps available for children starting in 4th grade, many are designed for middle school children. The ability to type can be helpful for those starting to learn coding. 

If a child expresses interest in building on their camp experience, intermediate and advanced Python camps are available to take coding skills to the next level. One of the advantages of learning Python is that it is used in real-world applications such as web and software development. 

Web Design Camps

At web design camps for advanced students, Java will be used along with other programming languages such as HTML and CSS. At some camps, students will even learn to program a functional website during the week.  

Video Game Design Camps

If you have a young gamer, they may be interested in specific video game design camps or app development camps. Students will start to learn basic app development principles, including UI/UX design and advanced programming techniques using Javascript, HTML and CSS. Programmers use JavaScript to create interactive features that run on websites, such as games. It is the leading client-side programming language on the web today, making it a valuable learning experience for young coders. 

Roblox Camp

Roblox is an online gaming system where users create avatars and play games in user-generated 3D worlds. According to Roblox,”the types of gameplay on Roblox are just as limitless as the imagination of the creators themselves.”

Roblox camps can appeal to a wide age range of children because users do not have to have a strong foundation in coding to build a game. Younger campers use the built-in Roblox Studio to create 3D worlds without the need for text-based code. More advanced users can use the popular LUA coding language to create game actions, elements and mechanics. At the end of the week, campers can learn how to publish and share their game to the Roblox community.

Summer Explorations

Regardless of your child’s age or prior programming experience, there is a coding summer camp that is the right fit for your family. There are a wide variety of options available, whether your child just wants to continue their gaming or explore a future career interest. Kids can take a free trial class to make sure they like it before signing up for a longer camp.

You can find all these Bay Area coding camps on ActivityHero or download our iPhone app. You can search by location, category, age, and other criteria to help you find the best summer camps. Early bird discounts could save parents up to $200 a week on summer camp.

Friends of ActivityHero Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Mindfulness Parenting Resources

Building Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence in Children

Natalie is a high school teenager who believes she is not smart enough. Her parents noticed her self-esteem is low and want to help her regain her confidence.

Stories like Natalie’s are not uncommon in today’s high achieving environment.  Students may be influenced by their classmates and their perception that a subject is hard or challenging. In order to help Natalie, her parents reached out to certified WISDOM Coach, Aditi Verma. Together, they worked through stories and activities to find negative patterns and thoughts. Natalie and Aditi replaced them with new, positive thoughts and Natalie’s self-esteem and self-confidence grew. She was able to overcome the anxiety that she had for tests and even started getting A’s due to her newfound confidence. In fact, all of her grades improved.

Low self-esteem is a thinking disorder in which an individual views him/herself as inadequate, unlovable, and/or incompetent, according to Dr. Neuman in his post on Psychology Today. To learn more about how to help families improve their child’s outlook, we spoke to Aditi, who is also the co-founder of EmpowerandHelp.

What happens when a child compares themselves to others?

When kids continually assess whether they are “better than” or “less than” others, it creates either low self-esteem if they see themselves as “less than” or can create arrogance and entitlement when they see themselves as “better than”.  Parents and educators can discuss why differences are good and we need all different types of people with different gifts to thrive. Particularly when self-esteem is low, we can help them identify their special gifts and honor their uniqueness.

Why does self-esteem and self-confidence need to be taught?

Self-esteem and self-confidence are like the air we breathe; we need it to feel alive, happy and worthy. Children with high self-esteem have a higher value of themselves and their capabilities than those with lower self-esteem. They naturally have higher self-confidence in their abilities to do things and are more prone to try to new things and take risks, they feel loved, confident, accepted and heard. Even when they make mistakes or face failures they will know how to cope with them and move on.

What are ways that parents can help kids with self-esteem and self-confidence at home? For example, if my child says “I’m not good at math” is there a way to respond to this?

If a child says, “I’m not good at math”, dive deeper into why he or she feels that way?  Is he comparing himself to other kids who got better scores? Is he getting frustrated when he is not able to solve a problem even though he is at a higher level math?  Or there is something else?

Listen to the child’s needs and brainstorm ideas together to support that need and implement the solution that child feels more comfortable with.  It could be hiring a tutor, going to additional support classes, creating a routine at home for child and parent to sit together and practice some math, etc.

How does your course help kids understand these topics?

We teach skills through a fun short story.  Kids connect to different aspects of the stories, which helps them open up about challenges or questions that they may be struggling with.

We also create some real life scenarios that kids go through to understand how to apply what they learned.  Sometimes kids provide a scenario that they faced and as a group everyone provides feedback on how to handle that. By working with the instructor, kids develop an amazing problem solving attitude that they can use on their own.

Our goal is to increase self-esteem and self-confidence so kids feel capable of facing life’s challenges and don’t give up. They learn to achieve their goals, make progress, to help and give.

Register for the next course on Building Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Holiday Break Camps Parenting Resources

Top Holiday Child Care Options

Having a hard time finding child care during school holidays? Here are four great options to consider.

By Anita Sharma

It is holiday season, which means that there are lots school breaks coming up. For kids it’s exciting they do not have go to school or do homework for a short period of time while they spend time relaxing. But what happens when parents have to work during the school holidays and there is no one to help them watch the kids?

Here are some choices that parents face when school is out:


Parents can try to entertain kids by using screen time to distract them and keep them entertained while they work. This way parents will not have to pay extra money for child care and they will get to spend more time with their kids. We’ve all seen kids with iPads at store and restaurants in an effort to keep them out of trouble while their parents shop or enjoy their dinner.

Cons: Kids may only be entertained for a limited amount of time. Phone meetings may be challenging if the child needs your attention in the middle of the call. According the American Association of Pediatrics, there are concerns around too much screen time use because it is addicting, increases BMI, and makes children lose valuable sleep.

Price: Free

Day Camp

Many local activity providers host day camps on the school holidays such as Veterans Day or Thanksgiving Week. They usually offer full day sessions that allow parents to work from 9-5. You can find a wide variety of day camps for school holidays on ActivityHero. These camps are guaranteed to excited and engage children whatever their interests might be and give them useful skills for the future. At camp kids will make friends with other kids who have the same interests and are a similar age. ActivityHero makes it easy for parents to find and book camps for their kids, making it simple for parents. Parents can even pay for the camp through the ActivityHero website.

Cons: Parents will have to drop off and then pick up their kids.

Price: $8-18 per hour


Sitters will take care of your kids at your house, which will make it easier for you to run out of the house while your kids are eating breakfast in their pajamas. Neighbors and friends can be a good source for sitter recommendations. And the babysitter website Urbansitter taps into your network to find recommended sitters that fit your needs.

Cons: The sitter you like may not be available for the dates and times you need.

Price: $10-20 per hour for one child. Prices vary by region.

Day Care

Day care is the middle ground between camps and sitters. The caregiver may be hosting several kids at a home or center, and there are usually fewer kids per caregiver than you’d have at camp, which may be a plus if your child is less than 5 years old. You can often find daycares through your local county resource center, such as Children’s Council in San Francisco. The Children’s Council even helps families pay for childcare if they cannot afford it themselves.

Cons: Parents will have to drop off and pick up their children from day care. Not all day cares will accept new families who need care for only a few days or weeks.

Price: $10-15 per hour for full time care

Academics After-School Activities Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Sports Super Activities for Super Kids Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

5 Organizing Hacks Perfect for Back to School

Prepping for back-to-school means juggling after-school activities and loads more stuff. These 5 organization hacks will keep your family organized and ready for anything.

By Jillian Chamberlain

happy girl with organized folders

Where are my shin guards? Did you sign that permission slip? I can’t find my sheet music!  When you’re trying to get kids out the door and to their after school activities, time is at a premium. Taking a few minutes now to modify your organization process can help streamline things when you’re in a rush. Here are some of our favorite ideas from parents and caregivers who’ve been there, organized that.

1. “Stuff Station” — The One Place to Keep Everything

Photo Credit:

There’s so much to keep track of during back-to-school season, it gets overwhelming. When school is back in session, so are all of those music lessons, soccer practices, and martial arts classes. As parents of active children, you are guaranteed to be dealing with more STUFF. How do you keep it all straight and teach your children to be responsible for their things on any given day? Keep it all in one place, and color-code it! Your kids’ activity station can come in many different shapes and forms, but here is one ‘stuff station’ idea we thought was appealing to the eye and highly functional. Check out this and more organization hacks from

2. There’s a Bag for That


Once you create a ‘stuff station’ for homework, permission slips and projects are sure to add a hook for an after-school activity drawstring bag. If you have a child with a lot of various interests, consider making an individual drawstring bag that is designated as the one place to keep any and all equipment for each sport or lesson. On Mondays and Wednesdays, your child knows to grab the yellow drawstring bag with their shin guards and cleats for soccer. On Thursday the red bag is ready at the door for martial arts. has a great DIY tutorial for customizable drawstring bags. So simple!

3. Car Homework Station

Homework happens. If there’s one thing to dread with the start of the new school year, it’s the renewed battle over nightly homework assignments. Convincing kids to sit down and do their work is one of the hardest parts of a parent’s job. One way to get them excited about homework is a comfortable and creative space dedicated to them…even if that is in the car. Consider creating a homework station in the car so that your little ones can knock out some homework while you’re on the road.

4. After-School Snacks on the Go

Kids start school relatively early in the morning each day. That means a big gap between lunchtime and after-school snack time. Kids need to refuel, and every parent knows how difficult it can be dealing with cranky, “hangry” youngsters. has made it easy to steer clear of junk foods and other unhealthy quick fixes by gathering some easy-to-assemble snacks to keep ready in the car. After-school snacks can be healthy, fun and mobile!

5. Organize Your After-School Schedule, Too!

Searching ActivityHero on a phoneActivityHero can help you find local activities that work with your child’s calendar — and nurture his or her interests! Whether your child likes to dance, sports, outdoor recreation, music, or computers, ActivityHero makes browsing and registering easy.

Getting organized is about clearing the space and time for your family members to meet their needs and find focus, in whatever way works for you!

Search for after-school classes near you >>

Parenting Resources Science Science/Technology Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms Vacations

5 Kid-Friendly Podcasts for Road Trips

happy child on a road trip

Planning a summer road trip? These 5 podcasts can help keep curious kids entertained.

By Wendy Chou

Your bags are packed, the kids are strapped in, and you’ve hit the open road. As parents, we know all too well that having the right entertainment for a long car trip can make the difference between happy kids and hysterical ones. Whereas we used to have to spin the radio dial or organize our CD collections, smartphones can now fit hours of audio right in the palm of your hand. Podcasts just may be the best thing to happen to road trips since the cup holder. Best of all, more podcasts have come out that especially appeal to kids by offering engaging–and even educational–content. With topics ranging from self-empowerment to science, even adults might learn a thing or two while listening!

Start by Creating a Playlist

If you’re new to podcasts, you’ll need to use a podcast app to help you search for podcasts. Some popular podcast apps (also called Podcatchers) are Apple Podcasts and Instacast (both compatible with iOS), PocketCast (for Google Play, Android phones), and Stitcher (supports both platforms)

Now download your podcast to a smartphone or iPad. Both audio and video podcasts exist depending on your style.  

Download away! If you like a particular program, browse the archives and grab as many episodes as you want. They’re generally free. The only thing limiting you will be the amount of memory on your device.

A Few Caveats

Podcasts are free to listeners because they have regular sponsors who run advertisements. These ads can be off-putting to some. Another drawback to playing lots of podcasts is the danger of running down a phone battery, though with audio podcasts, this generally isn’t a big concern. If you’re worried, pack a spare source of power or plug into your car’s power source.

If you’re used to high-quality stereo sound, consider connecting your phone to an auxiliary input headphone jack, or (if available) even using a car’s Bluetooth capability to play your phone directly through your car’s speakers.

Make sure that you set up a playlist before you turn on the engine. To prevent dangerous distracted driving, only manipulate phones and other devices when you can do so safely!  

5 Recommended Podcasts for Kids

Slip on some headphones and test-drive these kid-approved audio podcasts.

Brains On! 

In every science-filled episode, host Molly Bloom is joined by a different kid co-host who helps interview scientists and field questions from kids across the country. It’s anything but textbook fare; there’s a good dose of silliness and fun. Recent topics have included the science of cooking, how paint sticks to things, and what causes allergies. My six-year-old loves to try to identify the “Mystery Sound” (stumpers submitted by kids across the country). Probably good for ages 6 – 13.

Dream Big 

Hosted by Eva Karpman, current 2nd-grader, who brings refreshing energy and positivity to the show. Eva is also accompanied by her mom, Olga, while interviewing special guests–astronauts, entrepreneurs, artists, authors, and more–and learning about their passions and their life journeys. The message of the show: follow your dreams and do what inspires you. Suitable for all ages.

Pants on Fire

If you like a game show format, try this. Kids try to figure out which adult is truly an expert and which adult is only pretending. Hosted by Debra Goldstein and a sidekick “robot”, there’s quite a bit of musical and sound accompaniment throughout to keep kids interested. The topics are very wide-ranging with something to appeal to everyone. As a concept, it’s smart, creative, and smoothly executed. Probably best for ages 6 – 11.

The Story Pirates

Welcome to storytelling with a zany vibe. The “pirates” are actually actors, comedians, improvisers, and musicians who share a lot of enthusiasm and humor. The stories they tell are written by actual kids who also get a moment in the show to talk about themselves. This is great catchy fun for any age (my kid was hooked after one episode), though if you’re looking for something more educational, there are others more suited to that.

Book Club for Kids 

This new addition to the podcast scene amassed a listenership of 300,000 kids in 2017. The format: a rotating panel of middle-schoolers chats with host Kitty Felde about fiction and non-fiction books. Their conversations encourage introspection, touch on current events, spark the imagination, and more. Each episode also features a celebrity guest reader. This podcast will appeal to older elementary school kids and middle graders who love to read; the website also has a list of books recommended by peers.



Need more ideas for your curious kid?  Here’s more great podcasts to try: Wow in the World, Pickle, ExtraBLURT, But Why, Ear Snacks, Smash Boom Best, Tumble. And also head over to our blog post on tips for screen-free travel with kids. Happy travels!

Looking for summer activities and camps? is your all-in-one destination for updated schedules, parent reviews, and registration options.

About Wendy Chou

Wendy Chou is an environment writer and parent based in the Bay Area.

Camps Cooking Parenting Resources

Spring Cooking with Kids

focus shot of kids in cooking class

Looking to put some “spring” into your home cooking routine? We asked the head chef at a kids’ cooking school to share handy tips and a delicious recipe.

By Wendy Chou

Cooking for kids can feel like a thankless task. When kids reject new foods and haven’t got a clue how much effort went into prepping a meal, it’s easy to get frustrated. Now consider cooking with kids. Having your kid help in the kitchen can break down some of their prejudices and teach them to appreciate where real food comes from. ActivityHero talked with Chef Cindy Roberts of the popular Bay Area-based “La Toque De Cindy” cooking school to hear how an expert helps kids learn to cook. 

Cooking is Fun… and Practical

Each of Roberts’ weekly summer camps showcases a different type of cooking: chocolate, world cuisine, and handmade pizzas and pastas are just some of the tempting offerings this year. She likes to emphasize the joy and creativity inherent in cooking. Cindy Roberts started cooking at the age of 3 and believes cooking can inspire as well as educate. “I focus on the “fun” aspect of cooking,” Roberts points out, “but it’s my sneaky way to teach them the health, cost and taste benefits of home cooking.” 

Getting Kids to Try New Things

Roberts knows one way parents can broaden the palette of picky eaters: give them a say. “Have them taste test something… and suggest improvements,” advises Roberts. In her cooking classes, asking the kids to experiment directly with ingredients “gets even the most finicky eaters trying out what we made and giving it a second chance.” In other words, the more they know about how a dish is put together, the more they can keep an open mind, even about foods they weren’t keen on at the outset.

> > Find cooking camps and classes near me   

Amazed by Their Own Potential

When asked what the kids in her classes find most surprising about cooking, Roberts says that young chefs are completely “surprised at how easy it is to make some of the products they buy packaged at the grocery store,” including basics like chicken stock and mayonnaise. The homemade versions wind up being fresher and better-tasting. Empowerment and self-confidence: these two ingredients are welcome on any family menu.

Try It at Home

Here’s a savory spring-inspired recipe for you to try at home with your kids. The kid chefs at La Toque loved it (and ate their vegetables)!  

Photo by Flickr user Lollyknit

Leek and Olive Tart

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Serves 6-8
  • Adapted by Cindy Roberts from Field of Greens cookbook



  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 2 ½ – 3 tablespoons cold water


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium sized leeks, white part only, cut in half then thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 small whole olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped Italian parsley
  • 3 or 4 eggs (use fewer if using jumbo eggs)
  • 1 ½ cup half and half
  • ½ teaspoon minced lemon zest (optional)
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, about 2/3 cup


  1. MAKE THE SHELL: Mix flour, salt, butter and shortening until mixture has the appearance of small peas.
  2. Add water a little at a time until dough holds together.  Press into greased quiche pan (or pie pan).
  3. MAKE THE FILLING: Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Saute the leeks for a few minutes until starting to wilt with ½ teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper.  Add the garlic, cover and sweat for about 7 minutes. Remove the lid and sauté 2 minutes more.
  4. Mix leeks in a bowl with olives, thyme and parsley.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Beat the eggs with the half and half.  Add ½ teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and optional lemon zest.
  7. Spread the cheese over the bottom of the tart dough, followed by the leek mixture.  Pour the cream mixture over. Bake for 40 minutes until set.

Chef Cindy’s Tip:

The amount of participation is easy to modify depending on age. “Kids as young as 4 could assemble. At age 8, kids could make the crust themselves. By age 10 they could make it all on their own!”  

Ready to explore more cooking? Find cooking camps and classes near you by visiting  


Parenting Resources Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Score Some “Me Time” this Summer

Photo by Flickr user *michael sweet*
Photo by Flickr user *michael sweet*

Soon the kids will be out of school, but don’t panic — here are some ways to enjoy some much-needed “me time”.

By Sarah Antrim

Remember when you were a kid and summer meant you were totally free—free from the daily grind of homework, free to sleep in until the early afternoon, and free to spend every waking hour splashing in the pool with friends?

Fast-forward some 20 years… now summer means anxious kids bugging you for entertainment and plenty of skinned knees and bee stings to attend to. Their schedules clear which means your only alone time is in the bathroom (if you’re lucky enough to have a lock on the bathroom door).

Here are a few tips on how to get the kids out of the house and score some much-needed me-time this summer.

Summer Camps & Classes

Even a camp that takes kids away for an hour a day can save your sanity.

Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once commented on that kids who go away to summer camp have a real opportunity: “[kids] are away from [their] mother and father to make [their] own decisions.” If your kids are new to the camp scene, start small with a class that only meets for an hour or two a day or a few times a week. Sleepaway camp is great for the seasoned camper but make sure that you’re both ready to make that commitment.

Visit Activity Hero and find hundreds of camps featuring dance, music, sports, arts, computers, and more.

Schedule Play Dates

After being trapped in a classroom for 9 months where everything from lunch time to bathroom breaks is scheduled to the minute, some kids become overwhelmed at the thought of having free reign over their routine. Instead of walking outside or hopping on their bike, they’re likely to park themselves in front of anything with an LCD screen.

While decompressing like this might work for a few hours, it’s definitely not a good way to spend an entire summer.

Coordinate with other parents in your area and take turns supervising so everyone gets an occasional break. Schedule a time for the kids to get out and play together. Whether it be at the pool or street hockey, it forces them to get outside for something more stimulating than screens.


Kids cringe at the thought of cleaning up after their own pets, but send them to an animal shelter and they’re a different person. Sign them up to play with the kittens or walk the dogs at the local Humane Society for a few hours every week.

Volunteering builds character and a sense of responsibility, great for kids that are always begging for that puppy but can’t even manage to put the cap back on the toothpaste.

Put Them to Work

Many older kids are mature enough to start babysitting. Check to see if your park district has babysitter certification courses where kids will learn the basics of keeping another tiny human being alive.

If your kids don’t quite fit into that mold of responsibility, just about any able-bodied child can do yard work. Teach them to cut the grass and pull weeds, then send them off to the neighbors. They’ll benefit from the extra money in their pocket and you’ll have a quiet house for an hour or two.

Sleepover at Grandma’s

When in doubt, ship ‘em off to Grandma’s. You know they’ll be safe and she’ll get to fulfill her duty of letting the kids eat ice cream for dinner and stay up past their bedtime.

Don’t limit yourself to doting grandparents, either. Aunts, uncles, and trusted neighbors — it takes a village! Kids who have the support of other loving adults besides their parents have a richer set of experiences and an expanded worldview. Meanwhile, you’ll appreciate some precious moments to recharge.


Whether you love yoga, strength training, cycling, or Zumba, try to find a gym or rec class that offers child care options. You’ll have the opportunity for an hour of healthy exercise and come back to parenting feeling more rejuvenated–a definite win-win.

To kids, summer means freedom. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a little bit, too.

Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Parenting Resources

Parenting Tips for Raising Self-Reliant Kids

Many parents understand the importance of always being there for their kids. But what about the flip side–learning to let go gracefully so kids can develop their own identity?

Julie Lythcott-Haims, a mother of two, former dean at Stanford University, and author of How to Raise an Adult, explains that parents can set their kids up for success by knowing when to step aside.

By Wendy Chou

Make “pitching in” an early habit

Kids age 4-7 often enjoy doing things for themselves and feeling helpful. Give them simple opportunities to contribute around the house by putting away toys, making a snack, and choosing clothes they’ll wear in the morning. (A side benefit: these things fall off your to-do list!) Practicing completing tasks now will prepare them well for more challenging expectations later in life.

Allow time for critical thinking

When a child talks about a problem she’s having, a normal parenting reaction is to quickly offer a solution. This might be efficient in the short run, but in the long-term the child won’t ever have the chance to problem-solve for herself. Also, allow kids moments to discuss current events or even a book or movie you just shared together to help them find their own voice.

Discover the pursuits that matter to your kids

Teach kids that hard work, grit, and dedication really pay off when it comes to excelling at sports, music, and other activities. But make sure you’re enabling their dreams, not yours. According to Lythcott-Haims, it’s best to offer lots of choices in activities, then step back and let kids lead with their own passions. Ask your kids what they love to do, and be supportive of those interests and hobbies.

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Seek growth, not perfection

Making a mistake is a fundamental life experience that can lead to growth. Lythcott-Haims lists several milestones that we shouldn’t shield a child from, including “being blamed for something he didn’t do”, “coming in last at something”, and “regretting saying something she can’t take back”. These kinds of mistakes can be very painful, but also represent opportunities to become more resilient.

As parents we all wish for our children’s ultimate success. Over-managing children, however, is probably counter-productive to this goal. The best definition of successful parenting, according to Lythcott-Haims, is when our children develop into individuals who can look out for themselves, without us needing to hold their hands.

Reference: Julie Lythcott-Haims, How to Raise an Adult

Find Kids’ Activities Near You

ActivityHero is an online resource that helps parents find great camps and after-school activities for kids.

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Top Questions to Find the Right Summer Camp

With so many choices available, how do you find a summer camp that fits your family’s style? Here are key questions to ask when starting your search.

By Wendy Chou

Some parents see summer vacation as a chance to try new skills and challenges, and some would rather that their kids unplug and unwind from the pressures of the school year. Whether you are researching camps for the first time or looking for some refresher tips, these simple questions may come in handy when considering a camp for your child.

Staff Involvement

  • What is the ratio of campers to staff?  
  • Is the program staff composed of college students, more experienced teachers, or a mix?
  • Do students roam independently or stick closely with one counselor throughout the day?
  • Does the camp offer more free time or more structure?

[Find camps near you]

Philosophy and Content

  • Is the focus on learning, on fun, or on a combination?
  • Do campers tend to return year after year?
  • What sets it apart from similar camps in the area?
  • Does the camp cover gap subjects (ones that your child sees less of during the school year)?

Special Features and Accommodations

  • For skill-based camps (for instance, coding or sports camps), how do you accommodate different ages or abilities?
  • How would staff try to accommodate the needs of my introverted camper, or my spirited camper?
  • If needed, is before or after care available (if so, how does it differ from the main day’s activities?)
  • Are transportation options (e.g., bussing) available?

A Camp Director’s Perspective

Parents should feel free to call or e-mail camp directors “if they want to know more,” recommends Rory Judge, who has 40 years’ experience with the Bay Area’s Adventure Camps. Chatting with parents one-on-one about their summer camp questions is the perfect way to help “even the most nervous first-time parents warm up to camp,” Judge explains. For starters, he likes to find out a prospective camper’s age, how much camp experience they already have, and what school they attend. With websites, reviews, and other online tools becoming more popular, Judge finds that parents today seem comfortable doing their own research online in lieu of calling in.

Whether you like to gather information online or talk to camp staff, keeping these questions in mind can help you narrow down the field of camps that really fit your family’s style. And to easily find camps that match your child’s age, interest and available dates, check out the search tools on ActivityHero. You’ll find reviews from parents and can book your camps with one convenient registration form.

[Find camps near you]


Parenting Resources

Extra Drivers to Help With Kids’ Drop-Off and Pick-Up

Ever wonder if there’s an Uber or Lyft for kids? Find out about 6 new services that promise to safely transport your child to and from their classes, camps, practices and more.

By ActivityHero Staff
(updated on Sept 19, 2017)

kids in the car

A carpool can be a lifesaver for busy parents with active kids, especially if your children are enrolled in after school activities that conflict with your work hours. But scheduling a carpool with other (equally busy) parents and caregivers can be time-consuming—and cause friction if some parties feel they’re in the driver’s seat more often than others. It can also be a challenge if you don’t have kids in the same activities, or a large network of friends and family who can help out. Fortunately, where there’s a demand, there’s generally a supply, and today there are a number of companies in California that supply transportation options to get kids to their destinations safely and on time.


HopSkipDrive originated in Los Angeles and Orange County and now serves the San Francisco Bay Area for ages 6 and up. HopSkipDrive was created from the real frustration of three working moms who, as busy, safety-obsessed parents, struggled to get their children to all of their activities.

Safety: Drivers pass a highly selective 15-point certification process that includes fingerprinting, extensive background checks, vehicle safety inspections by a licensed mechanic, ongoing DMV checks, reference checks, driver training, and an in-person meeting. Drivers have at least five years of childcare experience and clean driving records.

Vehicle: As part of HopSkipDrive’s certification process, all CareDriver’s vehicles must pass a 19-point vehicle inspection by a licensed mechanic and be a 2006 or newer model.

Carpools: HopSkipDrive recently launched a carpool feature, so families can organize rides with other families. Drivers can make multiple stops, and they are offering carpools for just $10 per family for a limited time.

Cost: Pricing is based on time and distance, and rates are as low as $16 per ride in Los Angeles and Orange County. $18 is the minimum fare in San Francisco.

Lead time: Rides need to be scheduled by 7 pm the day before.

Try It:  Download the app and enter promo code “HERO20” to receive your first ride free.

Find Fun After School Classes Near You >>



The Kango service offers rides and child care for preschoolers to high school throughout the Bay Area, including Marin. Toddlers as young as two years old can ride alone or with their nanny. Parents can even interview (first 30 minutes is free) the driver beforehand or ride-along to help younger children ease into the experience. Once you start using Kango, you can request your preferred driver or sitter, and message your driver directly from the moment they have accepted the ride.

Safety: Kango drivers undergo a rigorous screening process that takes up to 4 weeks to complete. They must must be at least 21, have at least two years of childcare experience, a clean driving record, and pass reference checks as well as two background checks including fingerprinting for Trustline certification by the state of CA. All drivers are interviewed and trained in person. Kango’s drivers are female.

Vehicle: Cars must be no more than 10 years old and pass an inspection by a certified mechanic.

Cost: Ride fares are based on time and distance. Minimum fare is $16. Hourly sitter rates range from $18-$22 for one child. There is a monthly $9 subscription fee after the first month.

Lead time: Kango doesn’t require a minimum lead time, and drivers are introduced to you as soon as your ride request is accepted, which might be within five minutes. Advance scheduling is helpful to get ensure that a driver is available or to request a specific driver.

Try It:  Download the app and enter promo code “KANGOHERO” to receive up to $20 off your first Kango ride, and the first month subscription free.


Tagsi is a ride share service for kids serving the East Bay and South Bay areas of the SF Bay Area. It offers pick-up and drop-off service for kids of ages 5-18. Parents get notifications on the app after the kids have been dropped off.

Safety:  Tagsi drivers go through extensive interviews, background check, TrustLine certification, reference checks, and training. Tagsi has insurance to cover and protect child passengers. Tagsi also tries to maintain long-term continuity of drivers for increased security and familiarity between the child and the driver.

Vehicle:  All Tagsi vehicles undergo 20-point vehicle inspections by a licensed mechanic. Tagsi also verifies that all cars have up-to-date on registration and insurance.

Cost:  Families can purchase individual rides or packages of rides. Discounts are given for ride packages or carpools.

Special Perks:  First-time customers get one ride free when they buy a package of rides. Also, booster seats are provided at no extra charge for younger children who may need them.  Sign-in and sign-out from schools, after school programs, and camps can also be scheduled.

Find Fun Classes >>

Zum (pronounced “zoom”)

Zum (formerly known as Liftee) is available throughout the SF Bay Area and Orange County CA and serves kids age 5-15. Founded in 2014, Zum was created by grads from Stanford and Harvard with backgrounds in technology, logistics, and operations. Founder Ritu Narayan herself is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a busy working mother of two. Users can also add on options like babysitting, laundry pick up and drop off, and grocery/food pick up. After you download the Zum app, a Zum personal concierge helps coordinate rides and services.

Safety: Drivers must be at least 21 years old and undergo a series of interviews, a driving test and checks (such as a DMV record review). Also required of drivers: at least two years’ experience working with kids and three years’ experience behind the wheel.

Vehicle: Cars must be no more than 10 years old and undergo a 20-point inspection.

Cost: Zum offers rides both locally (up to five miles for a flat rate) and long-distance. Cost is based on time and mileage. Parents receive driver details and vehicle information prior to pick up, and a support team monitors your child’s ride.

Lead time: Rides must be requested by 7pm the night before the pick-up date.


KidsKab vans transport kids ages 3 to 18, whose primary service area includes Cupertino, Saratoga, South Sunnyvale, and surrounding California cities, including shuttle service to or from many local schools. Shuttles run from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and on weekends if requested.

Safety: Certified trained drivers undergo criminal background checks, fingerprinting, random drug testing, and other checks. They’re also certified in first aid and CPR.

Vehicle: Kids will travel in KidsKab labeled company vans that undergo a rigid daily 48-point inspection. Vehicles are also inspected by a certified auto technician every 45 days. Appropriate car seats and booster seats, as well as seat belts, are provided.

Cost: Varies based upon number of riders and plan selected; an annual or summer registration fee also applies. A single one-way ride is $22, but siblings riding together cost just $15 each.

Special Perks: Kids can also be transported outside of the primary service area for an extra charge of $2 per mile. Also, if a child is not found at the scheduled pickup location, the driver will not leave until the child is located. Also, if requested, the driver will walk kids to the door or wait until they’re indoors before moving on.


KidzJet ( serves all the major areas in the SF Bay Area, including Marin, and provides pickup and dropoff at a large number of schools and after school programs. But parents can’t book them for an individual ride — they work exclusively through schools and programs to schedule service.

Safety: KidzJet staff are TrustLineTM-certified and must pass rigid background checks, drug tests, and driving tests. They are all certified in both first aid and CPR. Also, this company’s shuttle vans are equipped with the latest stabilization technology and meet or exceed state health and safety requirements.

Vehicle: KidzJet uses only company vans that undergo regular inspection and routine maintenance checks.

Cost: Packages are based upon individual needs, and fees can be calculated per trip, per week, or per month. Discounts are offered for groups and siblings, and special packages are offered for summer camps.

Special Perks: KidzJet is proud to protect the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road—and they further protect the ecosystem by keeping all communications paperless/electronic. The company also hosts KidzJet Adventures, which are unique theme-based science camps designed to help kids explore nature through outdoor experiences, tours, and instruction.

Editor’s note: Information provided was as accurate and up-to-date as possible at the time of posting. For more details and the latest prices and services, please see the transportation providers’ websites. Our original version of this article also included Shuddle and Boost by Mercedes Benz. As of May 2016, these companies are no longer operating in the SF Bay Area.

Some ActivityHero providers offer after school transportation to their program. Search now to see activities near you.

After-School Activities Parenting Resources Sports Super Activities for Super Kids

Fun Columbus Day Camps in the San Francisco Bay Area

Columbus Day & Indigenous People’s Day is coming up and you know what that means… kids have a long weekend and are looking for something to do! Skip the TV and the mall this year and give them a new and exciting experience. From sports to coding, there are many school holiday camps for your kids in the San Francisco area.

Does your school has the whole week off? You can find week-long October break camps too.

Adventure Camps

In San Francisco: Adventure Camps is a unique mobile day camp for children for kids 4 years and older. For over 45 years, the Adventure Camp staff takes kids on a different adventure each day to create a fun, learning experience. View Adventure Camp Columbus Day schedule for more information and pickup spots.

Camp Bladium

In Alameda: Bladium, the sports complex in Alameda, offers a day camp and specialty sports camps for Columbus Day and other school holidays. Children can experience a wide variety of games and activities: Rock Climbing, Basketball, Dodgeball, Karaoke, Kickball, Arts and Crafts, Laser Tag, Cheerleading, Soccer, Lego®. Ages 5-14. See schedule for Columbus Day camps.

AYSO Soccer Camps

In San Mateo, Foster City and other locations: AYSO Soccer Camps have full day and half day camps to keep kids active and practice soccer skills. Different programs for different ages and soccer abilities. See locations and Columbus Day camp schedule. Also full week camps.

Tech Rocks

In San Francisco and San Mateo: Tech Rocks reinforces kids’ technology skills and extends their digital knowledge in a full-day format. Kids learn multimedia, game design, web development and app development as well as basic computing skills. See the schedule for October school holidays camps.

CD’s Kids Art Studio

In San Jose: Kids use different art mediums to express their unique creativity. Paper mache’ animals, glass mosaic stepping stones, fused glass art, woodwork, and painting are some of the kids’ favorite projects. Open for San Jose school breaks and holidays.

<< See all October school holiday camps for Columbus Day, October Break and Indigenous Peoples Day.

Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Be a Hero: Review Your Favorite Camps!

It’s the perfect FREE way to say thanks to your kids’ favorite camp counselors and activity instructors. And with these tips, it’s easy, too!

By Laura Quaglio

boy giving thumbs up to his favorite camp
If your kids simply love their instructors, coaches, and other leaders of their after school activities, you probably are more than happy to spread the word in your community! Who doesn’t want to see their favorite businesses thrive and grow? Glowing reviews are good for them — and for the kids (including yours!) who attend their classes, camps, and events. Typically, the more successful a program becomes, the more resources, camps, and classes they can offer.

We know that “word of mouth” accolades feel easier to share … but we’d love for you to sing those praises on the ActivityHero website, too. Doing so means your glowing words will reach more parents and caregivers — and help more kids connect with the camp counselors and activity instructors whose camps, classes, and programs you love.

To make review-writing super-simple for busy parents, we created this quick and easy “template.” Simply answer these 5 questions based on your personal experiences, and you’ve got a great write-up in just minutes! (Remember, all reviews on ActivityHero must meet our review guidelines.)

1. What did you expect when you signed up?

Did you want your child to have fun, to learn a skill, to stay active, or to achieve something specific?

Example: “When I signed my son up for art classes at this location, I hoped he would learn some basic painting skills and do something creative and fun after school.”

2. How did this provider meet or exceed your expectations?
Did the provider do what was promised, or even go above and beyond?

Example: “I was excited to see that this art school taught my son about Da Vinci and the color wheel, and also explained various styles of painting and techniques. He learned so much more than I expected during those four weeks!”

3. Is there someone in the program you would like to thank personally?
Was there a particular person in this program who did something special for your child? Consider thanking them by name in your review!

Example: “When I told Jane Miller that my son had special needs, she worked with us to develop a program that would work for him.”

4. What has your child gained from the experience?
Has your child been able to do better in school? To build a particular skill? To get on a competitive team? To earn an award?

Example: “Today, my son has several finished paintings that he loves — and that now are on our mantlepiece.”

5. Submit your review!
When your review is written, find your provider’s page on ActivityHero. Click on the “Write a review” link just below the provider’s name and description at the top of the page. Then cut-and-paste your review into the window, click “submit,” and you’re done.

Last, enjoy basking in the good feelings that come from helping out an after school instructor or camp counselor who works hard to teach your kids!

What if Your Favorite Provider Isn’t on ActivityHero?
Tell us about them by filling out this quick form. Our researchers will make sure they’re listed on ActivityHero — and then you can post a glowing review to help them build their business.

Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Parenting Resources Sports Super Activities for Super Kids

Summer Camps for Teens

Discover summer camp options (and alternatives) that are perfect for teenagers. From sports camps to robot camps, volunteering to leadership training, there’s lots to consider! Here, tips to make an amazing summer for your teen.

By Sarah Antrim

summer_camps_for_teensThe transition from childhood into the teenage years presents a lot of changes–changing bodies, attitudes, and of course, changing interests.

Things that your kids might have found interesting before are no longer “cool” to teenagers which may leave parents at a loss as to how to fill up their teens’ free time, especially during the summer.

So how do you find productive activities for teens during the summer?

1. Explore Summer Day Camps for Teens

Many camps have been designed specifically with teens in mind. Below are just a few selections which have multiple locations across the U.S.

See all teen day camps near you >>

Digital Media Academy – Coding, video production, photographic, graphic design, game design and other technical topics are available for teens.   

Gamebreaker Lacrosse Camps for Teens

Gamebreaker Lacrosse Camp – Play lacrosse and get specialized training from college coaches.


Adidas Tennis Camps – Learn from college tennis coaches.

See all teen day camps near you >>

2. Consider Overnight Camps for Teens

As teens develop more independence, they may be ready to travel to an overnight camp, ranging from academic to adventurous. Be sure to check out our tips to help you find the right overnight camp.

See all overnight camps for teens >

3. Counselor/Leader Training Programs

One of the most popular option for summer camps for teens is a counselor-in-training (CIT) or leader-in-training (LIT) program. Many camps offer these training programs to teens as an unpaid position or at a low fee to parents, sort of like an apprenticeship or internship on the road to becoming a camp counselor. Best of all, once they finish the required training, your teenager will have a job opportunity lined up for them!

See teen counselor/leader training programs near you >>

4. Look for Volunteering Programs

Summer is a great time for kids to learn about community service. Not sure where to get started? Check out our blog post with 6 tips to help you find volunteering opportunities for tweens & teens.

Teen Boys at Summer Camp

Parenting Resources

Mother’s Day Brunch Ideas

Want a special way to celebrate Mother’s Day with your family? Get the kids in the kitchen to help cook these homemade brunches mom will love.

by Reesa Lewandowski

After many years of spending one too many Mother’s Days in crowded, overpriced restaurants, I realized what I loved the most was spending the day with those I loved, in the comfort of my own home. With that in mind, I’ve pulled together this quick list of make-at-home brunch ideas that any mom would love to wake up to.

These recipes are kid-friendly, so be sure to enlist the help of your little ones. Put on a pot of coffee and get cooking! Here are eight easy ideas to inspire you:

Berry Bruschetta

Slice up strawberries and cook 8-10 minutes in a pan to warm them up.  Let the natural flavors and juices release. Spread cream cheese on top of sliced french bread and top with the berries. Younger kids can help with the cream cheese spreading; older kids will enjoy strawberry slicing, too.

Granola Parfaits

Layer Vanilla Greek yogurt, granola, and fresh berries to make a delicious parfait. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprig of mint. Kids of all ages can help with all the steps on this one!

Mini Quiches

Create these mini quiches by Jennifer Pallian of Foodess in about 30 minutes — right in a muffin pan. The recipe includes details about which tasks the kids can do, including egg stirring (younger kids) and cheese grating (older kids).

Breakfast Kabobs

Slice your favorite french toast or pancake recipe into bite sized pieces and skewer onto wooden sticks with berries and bananas. Serve with warm maple syrup on the side. Kids of all ages will love the skewering! Older kids can help measure ingredients and help with cooking, too.

Egg in the Hole

This protein-packed brunch favorite is so easy and delicious. For an extra-special treat, use heart-shaped cookie cutters to create the hole for the egg! Crack an egg in the center and cook until the bread is crispy and the egg is set. Kids will enjoy cutting out the hole and cracking the black pepper.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Create a light salad with spinach, walnuts, strawberries, and a vinaigrette of salt, pepper, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Kids can help shake the vinaigrette and toss the salad.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Here’s a great way to add a touch of flare to a plate of bacon and eggs. Quarter red bliss potatoes and coat them in olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Older kids can help cut the potatoes; younger kids can help toss the potatoes in the oil mixture.

Fresh Orange Juice

Pick up some delicious fresh oranges and have the kids get busy squeezing some juice for their mom. If your little one wants to take charge of this task, be sure to check out these OJ-making tips for preschoolers from Sugar Spice and Glitter.

Finishing Touches

Make your brunch special with fresh flowers arranged by the kiddos. Whether you opt for store-bought blooms or find wildflowers around your home, mom’s heart will be warmed when she sees what the kids have created. Here are tips to help the kids with flower arranging basics from Kids Activities Blog.

And while everything cooks, kids will also enjoy making these handmade mothers day cards from Cute DIY Projects, too.


Now that everything is ready for mom, wake her up with hugs and kisses, flowers, and tasty treats. Even if every dish doesn’t quite come out perfect, the excitement the kids will have from helping to create the meal will make this a day she’ll love!

Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Surprising Secrets About Summertime Sibling Wars

Kids getting on each other’s nerves … and yours? Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., a registered clinical psychologist, shares insights that can help restore peace.

By Laura Quaglio

sisters fighting

Why does it seem like kids argue more often during the summer? Because it’s probably true. “The amount that kids get on each other’s nerves depends on the amount of contact they have,” says registered clinical psychologist Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., who has worked with children, adults, and families for more than 35 years. During the school year, kids are only together in late afternoon, evening, and on weekends. With after-school activities, homework, and weekend play dates, there is even less time for them to interact. “In summer, if kids are hanging around the house and they’re bored, they’ll find that torturing each other is an amazing pastime,” jokes Dr. Phelan, who is author of the best-selling book 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2 – 12, which has sold more than 1.8 million copies in 22 languages.

Knowing you’re not alone in this parenting predicament helps a little … but only a little. When you’re tired and frazzled, you don’t want to listen to your kids’ disputes. That’s why we asked Dr. Phelan for his recommendations on dealing with this age-old issue. His insights may surprise you — and make you feel better about the state of your household. The first tips will give you some reassurance about this common sibling experience, and the latter ones will help you bust up and even prevent some of those squabbles.

Need a break from the battles? See summer camps near you >>

Truth: Sibling Rivalry Is Normal

According to Dr. Phelan, the first step to managing sibling rivalry is to change how we think about it in the first place. Lots of parents worry that there’s something wrong with their kids because their behavior toward each other can seem idiotic, childish, and senseless. In reality, he says, it’s completely normal for siblings to quarrel. “It is basically ingrained — evolutionary,” he says. Sibling rivalry is actually a manifestation of basic competitive instincts like those that enable animals to survive in the wild. Baby birds, he says, will actually try to flip their siblings out of the nest.

“Siblings are in natural competition for resources that include food and shelter and, with humans, parental attention,” he says. “Don’t expect your kids to have a glowing, warm relationship all the time. It’s not in their makeup.”

Sibling rivalry does not mean your kids are mentally ill either, adds Dr. Phelan. “And it does not mean you did anything wrong as a parent. It’s a horrible burden on parents to think that sibling rivalry is your fault. Parents have to accept that sibling rivalry is chronic and aggravating but totally normal.”

Truth: Siblings Are Best of Friends, Best of Enemies

Most of us behave worse at home than we do outside the house, says Dr. Phelan. Home is where we’re most comfortable and, deep down, we know our family will love us even if we’re cranky sometimes. Beyond that, people show their absolute worst behavior when interacting with siblings, he says. So when siblings are at home together, it’s natural for battles to ensue at least once in a while.

The good news is that most siblings also have wonderful times together. “The way of thinking about it is ‘best of friends, best of enemies,’” says Dr. Phelan. “They will fight half the time and be wonderful playmates half the time.” Try to remember the good times when you see your kids gearing up for another showdown.

Truth: Sibling Rivalry Can Turn Abusive (But It Doesn’t Have To)

Just because tiffs are normal doesn’t mean they can’t turn ugly. If a child is being physically hurt or if there is emotional abuse occurring, it’s time to seek professional help. One of the signs that there is emotional abuse: when one child is always the aggressor and the other is always the victim. Oftentimes, says Dr. Phelan, a younger sibling will idolize an older one, but the older one despises the younger. “Some studies are indicating that this kind of abuse can take a big whack at self-esteem,” says Dr. Phelan.

What to do? Don’t tell the older child that they have to like their siblings; people have a right to their own feelings. Dr. Phelan says this demand is unrealistic, though understandable. We parents feel deep love for each child and want them to feel the same way toward each other. But you can’t dictate who someone likes or loves. What you CAN dictate is how your kids treat each other. “You can tell the older child, ‘You don’t have to like them, but you do have to treat them with respect. You cannot be verbally or physically abusive,’” he says.

Truth: Parents Don’t Have to Stop Every Squabble

Here are a few of the rules from Dr. Phelan’s book 1-2-3 Magic:

  • If you can ignore the battle between two siblings, let them work it out themselves  provided that there’s no abuse going on and that you can stand to listen to it.
  • If you can’t stand to listen to the argument, count both kids. In 1-2-3 Magic, when a child misbehaves, they know they will be counted. The parent says, “That’s 1,” at the first offense, then “That’s 2,” if the child continues to misbehave, and “That’s 3” if they still persist. If a child reaches “That’s 3,” they are told to go sit on the step. (You can learn more from the book or the website 1-2-3 Magic Parenting.) If you absolutely know that one child was the aggressor and started it, you can count that child by themselves. But if you’re not sure, don’t ask what Dr. Phelan calls “the world’s stupidest question,” which is “Who started it?” If you don’t know who started it, both kids should be held accountable.
  • Never expect older kids to be more mature in a fight. “Even at age 50, siblings will have the emotional maturity of 3-year-olds when they are arguing,” says Dr. Phelan.

Truth: Family Fun Is Overrated

“Family fun is a constant dream of parents, especially moms,” says Dr. Phelan. But in reality, he explains, the “divide and conquer” approach works better. What this means is dividing the kids up and doing things separately with them — one parent with one child. “Kids cherish alone-time with a parent,” he says. “You can just see them blossom when they have you all to themselves. And the second thing is there is no chance for sibling rivalry when you’ve divided them up.”

How does this work in real life? Instead of going out to eat as a family, Dr. Phelan suggests having each parent take one child to dinner separately. You can go to different venues or just sit across the room from each other in the same eatery. Do the same one-child/one-parent routine when standing in line for rides at an amusement park or when going to a movie (selecting different rides and sitting in different rows).

You can also split up the family for vacations. Dr. Phelan used to take his son on vacation and his wife would take their daughter, and then vice versa. “We’d stay in a motel room and goof off,” he says. These getaways created fond memories for all involved, and there’s no sibling rivalry when siblings are miles apart!

Dr. Phelan does acknowledge that the more kids you have, the more difficult one-on-one fun becomes, but it’s worth trying to plan for it. You’ll deepen your connections with each child in addition to limiting the time that they can be bothering each other.

One more note: Dividing-and-conquering with the kids doesn’t mean that you should always be separate from your spouse. Make sure to schedule date nights, too. Dr. Phelan reminds us that dating was a time when you and your spouse got together and had fun. When you’re married, however, challenges of everyday life can take precedence, and you could stop seeing each other in the same enjoyable light. Date nights (or lunches or getaways) ensure that you retain some of that original spark, camaraderie, and fun.

Truth: You Can Limit Sibling Rivalry

Some things can aggravate sibling rivalry, while others can reduce its occurrence, says Dr. Phelan.

  • If possible, allow a few years between children. “Competition is based on similarity,” says Dr. Phelan. “Anything that makes two siblings more the same can aggravate rivalry.” If you have kids who are close in age or are the same gender, for instance, that can make sibling rivalry more prevalent. He recommends spacing out when you have children (if possible) to can make things easier for you down the road.
  • Help siblings have fun together. Encourage your children to associate each other’s presence with having a good time. Dr. Phelan suggests sitting down kids together to watch a movie. “It’s almost like parallel play,” he says. “There is very little interaction, but they are having fun at the same time.” They also will have that shared experience, so they can talk about the movie and the characters.
  • But give them alone time too. If kids are going to be in the same house, hotel room, or vehicle for a long time, ensure that they can have a little peace and space. For instance, if your children each have a designated amount of screen time per day, let them watch different shows in different rooms. (This seems to fly in the face of the previous tip, but sometimes your kids may have a shared fondness for a movie but a strong dislike for each other’s favorite TV shows.) In the car, if kids are old enough to sit in the front (or if you have a van with extra seats), don’t seat the kids next to each other. Put a parent or grandparent with each of them, and then switch things up when you get out of the car at a rest stop.
  • Get kids out of the house. Sending kids to summer camps, classes, and workshops like those listed on ActivityHero — even if they go to the same location — will help limit the opportunity for tempers to flare. If kids need a sitter, it might be better to have them go to the sitter’s house or another venue like a zoo or park. (Remember the earlier tip about kids acting their worst at home?) Bringing along a friend for each kid can also keep them from bothering each other; kids don’t want their friends to see them being a pain in the neck … or getting scolded by their parents.
  • Engage in physical activity together. Swimming, biking, hiking, taking a walk in your neighborhood — these kinds of activities will keep kids busy. And the busier they are, the less bored and the less likely to aggravate each other. What’s more, you can keep kids away from each other in terms of distance simply by placing a parent in between them. (Along the same lines, when at church, movie theaters, etc., parents shouldn’t bookend their kids, as we often do. Instead, always keep an adult between the kids to reduce negative sibling interactions.)

Truth: Family Meetings Can Help Activities Go More Smoothly

“The worst thing to do is to rely on having a spontaneous discussion of what you’re going to do in the next hour,” says Dr. Phelan. If you’re planning a family vacation or activity, Dr. Phelan recommends sitting everyone down together to discuss it well in advance. Talk about what you’ll be doing and answer any questions they have. Kids should also tell you what they’d like to do (or not). This way, people won’t have different expectations, and everyone is likely to have something they look forward to.

Dr. Phelan notes that most kids will balk about taking part in a “meeting,” but once they start participating and realize they have a voice, they really become involved. If you’re not sure how to run a meeting smoothly, follow Robert’s Rules of Order. This strategy, used in parliamentary procedure, explains how to ensure that everyone is heard and that the discussion remains positive and productive. “You can even have a family meeting to talk about sibling rivalry,” adds Dr. Phelan.

Truth: Sibling Rivalry Diminishes Eventually

“If you have kids who are the best of friends sometimes and the best of enemies other times, that best-of-enemies part starts dissolving,” Dr. Phelan assures us. “That will warm your heart. But you’ll have to wait to have your heart warmed till they leave home.” As a father of two kids who have “grown and flown,” he knows this to be true.

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