TJ Jackson

The Family Rules Podcast

The Family Rules Podcast is officially launched! A weekly podcast where we discuss family related topics and answer family related questions and concerns from our community. Make sure to subscribe!

There are two episodes released including our most recent episode called “Talking To Your Kids About Racism.” Check it out and let us know what you think.

Love Always, TJ and Frances.

The Family Rules Podcast launched

Play: More Than Just ‘Back in the Day’ Memories

Admit it, when you get together with your childhood friends, there comes the point in the conversation where you all crack up laughing over some silly game you invented ‘back in the day’. Whether that was your nonsensical variation on cops and robbers, or the utterly ridiculous dressing-up outfits, or perhaps making each other hundreds of friendship bracelets, we all look back on these memories of spontaneous fun with nostalgia.

But did you know that these moments of running, laughing and, yes, even arguing over who gets to be cop, were actually shaping you into a well-rounded adult?

It’s true! Science has proven that free play, the type of play where children self-direct, deciding what to do and how to do it, has a myriad of benefits. Kids who engage in this kind of fun are working on their socialization skills, learning how to empathize, and even figuring out how to resolve conflicts among a group. The idea is that when children are allowed to take the helm, they will step into a role of leadership, figuring out how to teach their peers the rules of a game while keeping the peace within a group of different personalities.

That’s not all, either; there are countless reasons as to how play enables our kids to develop necessary life skills. WeTheParents has put together a comprehensive infographic detailing the numerous benefits, and the science behind them, of child-led play.

So the next time you watch your kiddo playing and think that one day, she is going to have a great story to look back on with her friends, remember that she is also building herself into a more well-rounded, happy, and fulfilled person, one game at a time.

The Best Kid-Friendly Hobbies to Support Childhood Development

Hobbies offer more than just something to do in your downtime, especially for children. Hobbies can help shape kid’s personalities by increasing their confidence and contributing to their feelings of independence. Some of the best hobbies for kids are those that teach patience, encourage their creativity, and enhance critical thinking skills. You can help your kid explore various hobbies by letting him join you in your favorite pastimes or getting him the right supplies and materials he needs to pursue his passions. Here are some ideas to get you started.

For Artsy Kids

If your kid is a creative mind who loves to draw or paint, he may also love activities like pottery, candle-making, sewing, and digital art. Making art is a wonderful way for your kid to express his feelings and learn how to see things from a different perspective. And, since art is a subjective experience, every kid can feel good about the art they create. This ultimately contributes to greater levels of self-esteem. You can help your child get started by taking him to art museums, celebrating his artwork by hanging it up in your home, and enrolling him in art class.

For Physically-Active Kids 

Some kids just love to run around and play games all day. If this is your kid, consider getting him excited about sports like basketball, soccer, or even skateboarding. Besides getting regular physical activity, these hobbies help your kid build social skills and learn how to accept constructive criticism at a young age. The lessons learned in sports can translate to academic success as children apply the same dedication to their studies in school. Try playing sports together in the backyard, taking your kid to local games, and signing them up to join a junior team in your community.

For Kids Who Love to Learn

Reading and writing are two hobbies that can increase your child’s vocabulary and sharpen his writing skills. According to AptParenting, taking the time to read through a book helps kids concentrate on and better learn the message of a story. Take your kid to events at bookstores or libraries. You can even encourage your child to write a letter to his favorite author or make up a story of his own.

For Budding Musicians

Did you know that learning an instrument can actually benefit your child’s academic performance? It helps kids with counting, recognizing patterns, and thinking mathematically. Kids who learn to play music may even process auditory and visual information faster. Scholastic recommends getting your kid to join the school band, enrolling them in music lessons, and using the internet to search for kid-oriented instrument tutorials. 

For Kids That Love the Outdoors

Most children naturally love outdoor activities. Try to encourage their love of nature so it sticks with them as they grow up. For children, being in nature increases creativity as they engage in imaginative play, and is especially helpful for kids who have ADHD or problems focusing due to its calming effects. Spark curiosity for wildlife by taking your kids out birdwatching or camping. Geocaching is another fun type of outdoor adventure that anyone can take part in and is a wonderful bonding activity for parent and child.

For Young Kids

If your child is too young to pick up an instrument or take a drawing class, you can still fuel his future interest and knack for certain hobbies with fun educational activities. For example, creating patterns with your child is a great way to improve his fine motor skills, and playing a simple game of Jenga can help hone his concentration and focus. Even playing with magnetic letters on the fridge can encourage your kid to get into reading as he becomes interested in learning new words. 

Although encouraging your kids to pick up hobbies is a great idea, try not to structure their play. Free play helps kids learn to be creative and discover their interests on their own. If possible, provide the supplies, encouragement, and assistance that your kid needs to pursue his hobby of choice and then let him take off with it. You’ll be amazed at what he comes up with!

Article by: Maria Cannon

How to Create Fun and Safe Outdoor Activities for Your Autistic Child

As the weather starts to warm, it’s natural to want to spend more time outside. Not only is it a place of fun and relaxation, but for autistic children, the outdoors can also be a stimulating space that can promote motor skills, social interaction and tactile sensory integration. Take advantage of the nice weather and encourage your child to spend time doing great outdoor activities. Here are some suggestions to consider.

Reduce Sensory Overload

Autistic children are prone to sensory overload. To help create an emotionally safe space for them, find a quiet area to be their space and obstruct their view of a busy street and neighborhood with trees or tall fences.

Give them a shady area that they can retreat to when they want some peace and quiet. Make sure you have some fixed furniture and elements in your backyard as the unpredictable can be intimidating for them. Having a few items that don’t change will help keep them comfortable.

Get Down in the Dirt

Gardening is an excellent activity to do with your child and can help them overcome any sensory issues. Slowly introduce them to a variety of textures from moist dirt to silky flower petals. Often gardening creates a quiet fascination with children and can help ease their anxiety.

This is also a great way to practice their ability to follow directions and can strengthen their social skills. Teach them how to use gardening gloves, proper tools and let them experience the joy and patience of watching something grow.

Break Out The Binoculars

Activities that the entire family can participate in are a great way to combine learning and education. Birdwatching is a great opportunity to do this and can be done from the safety of your own backyard.

Start by adding bird feeders to your backyard, or better yet make some together by rolling a pinecone in peanut butter and birdseed. Go Explore Nature encourages you to invest in a field guide and make a game of identifying the different birds. To further encourage the activity, get a pair of child-friendly binoculars or try going for a nature walk.

Set Up Camp

Backyard camping is the perfect balance of letting kids feel safe and secure while still creating a new experience. You do not need expert-level equipment for your own backyard. Parents Magazine recommends seeing what you have around your house first. You really only need a pop-up tent, some sleeping bags, a backpack and a flashlight.

Plan a night of activities and try to use the house as little as possible. Pack your dinner and clothes and try and settle in for the night. However, if your child is having difficulty sleeping and wants to go back in the house, that is OK. A good night’s sleep trumps an “authentic” outdoor camping trip.

Give Them Some Wheels

It is not uncommon for autistic children to have balance issues or difficulties not feeling in control, however, do not be discouraged from teaching them to ride a bike. It may just take more time and patience to do so. Bike riding can strengthen their motor skills, balance and sensory processing.

Keep the training wheels on until they have built up the muscles. Take your time to teach them to balance on their own. Hold on to the back of the bike until they feel comfortable with you letting go.

Safety First

For many kids, being outside offers a sense of freedom and a chance to explore. This does not mean you let them run loose. They can still feel this within a restricted and safe environment;  secure your backyard with a fence or safety barrier. Remember to supervise your children, as much for their own actions as for a car that they might not notice coming down the street.

Get Outside

There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. It offers a calming space where autistic children can explore, gain new skills and become more comfortable with their surrounding environment. Encourage outdoor play and do not hesitate to get involved. Let it be an opportunity to learn and bond.

The Gift of Compassion and Empathy

One thing I wholeheartedly believe in as a parent is fostering empathy and compassion in our children. Sadly with the pace and the direction our world is going in, it seems that those basic yet important altruistic traits aren’t being developed in our youth like they should be. Yes it is statistically proven violence around the world has generally decreased over the years but it is also apparent our world seems to be more emphatically divided and disconnected. We seem to have more bullying, more teasing and more individuality than in any time since the civil rights movement helped set a morality code of humanity for all. Some will say social media is to blame. Reason being person-to-person contact is diminishing with distant communication methods taking its place thus leading to people freely expressing their negative opinions without a visual display of any hurt they may cause. For evidence, look at any message boards or comment sections with over a hundred comments. They are filled with hatred and disassociation comments. It’s really sad and disappointing. But that me against you attitude doesn’t have to take hold in our kids, does it? No it doesn’t. No. It. Doesn’t. So what can we do? Beyond the traditional talks we give our kids about “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” we as parents can do one simple thing to help instill that compassion and empathy.

Recently my daughter Dee Dee penciled a circle around wheelchair and crutches from a recent American Girls magazine. These were toys she really wanted for her upcoming birthday. We were not only ecstatic but also really proud of her selection. There were so many other great choices from exotic dollhouses to cool pets to stylish clothes that she could have chosen but she chose equipment that was devised to help people feel better. Wow! We were so proud. Truthfully, I didn’t expect it and was happily caught off guard. We ordered the toys immediately and gave them to her as soon as they arrived. Yes before her birthday. And to see her elated face when she unwrapped her gift was a feeling of pure joy for us parents.

To summarize, along with gratitude, I would argue being unselfish and finding the joy in giving are the most important skills we need to drive home to our kids in today’s world. The world is turning more into a “me, me, me world” and we must fight the tide Therefore, parents, guardians, grandparents, uncles and aunts it’s our job to make sure our kid’s show those injured, hurt or less fortunate the love, respect and tenderness we all want to be treated with. Instead of buying that perfect outfit for your child’s doll strongly consider buying them a wheelchair to roll their doll in. It will not only make your child more empathetic and compassionate (and ultimately happy) but it will also make the world a better place.


As a family we are just heartbroken. Totally speechless. We are in so much pain for all the victims and their families who are directly affected by the tragedy in Las Vegas last night. We had several friends at the concert and this one really touches home for us. We have to remember one senseless loss of life is one too many. And to know many more individual lives and their families are forever disrupted simply pains us. As parents, we have to remember to teach our kids to love and to know they are loved. We have to make sure they are connected. It must be a priority. We have to let them know they can make a positive difference in the world. In addition, we have to remember life is precious. We have to remember to love our kids and our loved ones every chance we get. No one is promised tomorrow. Give love and practice empathy. #lifeisprecious #prayforvegas #prayfortheworld

Be The Example

One question new parents always ask me is “what can I do to be a good parent?” It’s a simple question and one that I’m happy is asked. Why? Because it shows there is real interest in wanting to do good in what I consider the most important job in the world. However, it’s obviously not an easy answer because there are so many things that can and should be done. Nevertheless, the single easiest and most important thing I tell new parents to do is to be a good example. Do and be as what you want your kids to be. If you want an honest kid, value and be a person of integrity. If you want a giving child, give to those in need. If you want a reader, read yourself. Kids are more than likely to be and do what they see and value. And if your kids value you above everyone else (which most kids do) they will rely and revert to the example you set.

As a father I am mindful of what example I’m setting, especially for my daughters. Of course my boys will learn a lot from me but so will my daughters. Because one thing I’ve learned is the husband of their choice will very likely resemble my characteristics and my personality. If I’m a yeller or an abuser mistreating their mother or themselves I can’t be surprised if they choose a husband 20 years later that is doing the same. On the contrary, if I tell them I love them and show them I love them they will naturally search for a spouse that loves and cherishes them.

Case in point, my 10-year wedding anniversary last week. My best friend said to me, “Well done, bub. You made her (Frances) really happy.” My response to him was blunt, yet honest. I said, “This may sound rude but I didn’t do this just for Frances. I did this also for them.” I was pointing to Dee Dee and Jo Jo who were both as happy as can be with overjoyed smiles from ear to ear. Sure the night was for Frances but she wasn’t the only beneficiary. Our kids saw, felt and experienced their happily married parents honor and celebrate their love and respect for each other. Simply put, they benefited just as much as we did. In closing, although it was a lot of work putting the surprise event together it was a 1000% wo

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