All posts by Tracey Dowdy

Self-Care for Parents – Back to School

By Tracey Dowdy

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but 2020 has been a wild ride. It sometimes seems like we haven’t had time to catch our breath before the sky begins to fall again. Self-care has always been important, but perhaps never more so than in 2020. It’s also probably never felt more impossible. 

It’s why flight attendants tell you to put your mask on first in an airline emergency. You can’t take care of someone else if you’re gasping for breath. Yet, across the country, kids are going back to school on campus, and online, offices and workplaces are re-opening, and everyone is trying to find their new normal. How on earth is there time to care for oneself when you’re wearing so many hats? 

Coming out of quarantine, depression, anger, and confusion are all possible due to the loss of connection with others, making self-care even more critical. Implementing a few simple changes to your routine can clear your head, refresh your spirit, and equip to save the world once again. 

In the words of the great Gloria Estefan, get on your feet! The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of movement per week, which is just over 20 minutes a day. Have a dance party with your kids, grab a quick walk around the block or do some yoga before anyone else is up. YouTube and the Google Play and App store each have tons of free workouts if you need something more structured to get you moving. 

Not many things are better for your mental health than taking a break from social media. Simply putting down your phone and engaging in real-world conversation, making eye contact, and including physical touch boosts your serotonin levels. Create boundaries for when you are online and be sure to get your information from reputable sources like the CDC, WHO, and local health department.

Taking a few minutes a day to meditate or pray can help align your mind and put you in the right mindset to face the challenges of your day. If prayer and meditation aren’t your thing, read something inspirational, savor a cup of tea, do a breathing exercise, or unwind in a relaxing bath. All provide the same mood-boosting benefits. 

Despite the fact we’re all still social distancing, it’s never been more important to stay connected. Be intentional about creating virtual hangouts with your friends and play games, host a Netflix party or an online book club.  

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

It’s Okay to Hate Working From Home

By Tracey Dowdy

Are you among the millions of Americans for whom the idea of working from home sounded like a dream, but in reality, it’s turned out to be a nightmare? The blurred lines of work and home life, frequent interruptions, lack of dedicated workspace, and the logistics of working as a team via Zoom meetings and email have left millions of workers frustrated and longing for the structure and routine of the office or job site. 

Take heart. You’re not alone. Recently, the CDC partnered with the Census Bureau on an experimental data system called the Household Pulse Survey. They discovered that one-third of all Americans are struggling with depression or anxiety in the wake of COVID-19, up from the 18% reported pre-COVID

The effects of that anxiety and depression can manifest in many ways, but one of the most common is a lack of motivation and productivity. Ashley McGirt, a licensed mental health therapist, says, “Several studies have shown the connection between low work productivity and even mild forms of depression. A normal brain thinks about 70,000 thoughts a day; an anxious brain processes two to three times that amount of thoughts and can lean to low productivity from spending time perseverating on numerous thoughts. The current state of the world has caused immense grief, depression, and anxiety. Many people’s normal coping forms have been closed, such as going to the gym, movies, or [going] out with friends. As we have had to adapt to a new normal many of us have had to find new coping skills.” 

Alongside our rising stress levels is the seemingly relentless barrage of bad news – racial tensions, hurricanes, problems with our health care system, and a divided political landscape – while we lack human connection to mitigate those feelings. 

The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay not to be okay. This is an unprecedented season that no one outside a Cormack McCarthy novel could have anticipated. Allow yourself the grace you desperately need and accept that you aren’t at your best and may not be for some time. Beating yourself up for not meeting your pre-COVID standards only fuels your stress level. “It is extremely important to give yourself grace during this time,” McGirt says. “If all you do is get out of bed and brush your teeth consider it okay. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be productive and constantly working. It is important to slow down and rest and reflect. While we are dealing with many unknowns during this unprecedented time, it is important not to add the stress of productivity to your plate.”

One way to manage your expectations is to go through your to-do list and be merciless in eliminating what can wait. If you’re struggling to keep up with the dishes, use paper plates. If meal planning is overwhelming, switch to simple meals like breakfast for dinner or sandwiches to limit prep and clean up. 

Take breaks whenever you can, even if it’s just stepping out your front door and taking a few deep breaths to clear your head. Self-care isn’t only bubble baths and spa days; it can be as simple as savoring a cup of tea, taking five minutes to meditate, or getting up to move your body.  

Years ago, Mad TV had a hilarious recurring sketch, “Lowered Expectations.” Though your life may not be the mess those characters were, there’s nothing wrong with lowering the expectations you set for yourself short-term. Life is far from normal, so allow yourself to lower the bar and celebrate your wins every chance you get. Accomplishing everything on a shorter-than-usual-to-do list gives you a mental boost, whereas an incomplete list inevitably feels like failure. 

So, stand up straight, look in the mirror, and give yourself a “You’re doing great sweetie,” because you are. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Beware Scam Texts About Missing Packages

The uptick in online shopping hasn’t just been a boon for Amazon; criminals have seized the opportunity to turn a profit of their own. Over the past several weeks, people have received text messages asking them to reply with their credit card information as they have a package to claim.  

Nationwide, customers across cellphone carriers have received the same message: “[Name], we found a parcel from [a recent month] owed to you. Kindly assume ownership and confirm for delivery here.” The message contains a link that purportedly connects you with your missing package; however, it’s a phishing scam intended to capture your credit card information. 

Phishing is a fraudulent practice of reaching out to people online via email or messaging (usually pretending to be someone else) and luring them into downloading a file or clicking on an embedded link. 

Along with capturing personal information, scammers often drop malware on your device (software specifically designed to disrupt, damage, gain access to a computer system). There are dozens of kinds of malware, including adwareransomware, and spyware, that monitor and collect your online activity.   

Americans lose millions of dollars to scammers every year. They’ve figured out countless ways to cheat consumers via phone calls and text. Sometimes they pose as family members, employers, or even the IRS. Other times, they use fear or threats to push you into sharing personal information to commit identity theft in others.

Here are the red flags to look for when you receive a suspicious text or email that asks you to click on a link:   

  • Is the link in an unsolicited message?
  • Is the message urgent, misspelled, or asking for money or personal information?
  • Is the embedded URL different than the link shown?

If you click through to an embedded link that leads to a website that seems suspicious, don’t share personal information or download anything. Exit the website immediately and block the number on your phone. 

Remember, the IRS will never call to confirm personal information. You should never send cash or pay with a gift card as they are almost impossible to track, lowering your chance of recovering any losses. 

If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam, contact the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker. If you’ve lost money to a phone scam or have information about the company or scammer who called you, report it at

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Filter Netflix Kids’ Shows by Title and Age Group

By Tracey Dowdy

With 167 million subscribers, Netflix is still king when it comes to online streaming, although 41% of Netflix users are watching without paying thanks to password and account sharing.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of US households now have Netflix, giving them access to a library of over 5000 Hollywood and indie movies, TV shows, and documentaries as well as Netflix 1500 original titles. 

That library covers virtually every genre and interest, including a large catalog of content for kids, though there’s definitely content you may want to keep off your child’s radar. Netflix recently enabled a setting that allows parents to filter kids’ shows by title and audience age group, plus, as account owners, parents and guardians can see a complete viewing history in their child’s profile, and turn off autoplay of episodes. You can also secure your Netflix profile with a four-digit PIN to prevent your kids from accessing adult profiles – a workaround to your parental control settings. 

“Every family is different. It’s why we’re investing in a wide variety of kids and family films and TV shows from all over the world,” says Michelle Parsons, Kids Product Manager at Netflix. “It’s why we also give parents the controls they need to make the right decisions for their families.”

To review each profile’s setting, go to the Profile and Parental Controls hub within your account settings.

To change your child’s profile setting: 

  • Log in to your Netflix account as you normally would.

  • Click on your profile picture in the top right corner of the screen to reveal a drop-down menu and select Account.

  • Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to the Profile & Parental Controls section, where you’ll see a list of all the profiles in your Netflix account.

  • Select the down arrow to the right of the kid’s profile, scroll down to Viewing Restrictions on the list of options and select Change.

  • Enter your password when Netflix prompts you for it, and you’ll be taken to a sliding bar that you can extend or shorten to permit access based on titles’ ratings — from TV-Y to NC-17. You’ll also be able to enter specific titles in the field just below the rating restriction bar.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Smartphone Photo-Editing Apps For iOS and Android

By Tracey Dowdy

With all of us spending more time at home, things that we’ve said we’d do as soon as we got the time are suddenly getting done. If going through the pictures on your phone is on that list, these photo-editing apps may be enough to salvage photos otherwise headed for the trash. 

Adobe Lightroom has long been the industry standard for professional photographers, and the mobile version is designed with the same high-quality tools. Images sync in the cloud so you can start on one device and seamlessly switch to another. 

Available on iOS and Android – some functions available for free, or $4.99 per month for full access. 


Photoshop Express offers many of the features you’d find in Lightroom but cuts out some of the pro tools and cloud syncing found in Lightroom’sLightroom’s paid version. You’ll still have access to editing tools, including exposure, contrast, and color editing options, plus a selection of filters and overlay textures. You can also create photo collages, so though it’s not as extensive as other options in this list, you can’t beat the price. 

Available on iOS and Android – Free. 


Prisma isn’t your basic photo editing app as it’s filters transform your photos into art. Many of its effects are inspired by artists such as Salvador Dali and Picasso to create bold, painting-like images. Not every filter will work with every photo, but you’ll enjoy tweaking and playing with the effects. 

Available on iOS and Android – $7.99 a month or $30 a year.


Google-owned Snapseed is robust enough for serious amateur photographers, but its easy-to-use controls make it accessible for beginners. The toolbox includes exposure and color tools and filter options from vintage to modern styles, as well as HDR looks. 

Available on iOS and Android – Free. 


PicsArt offers a wide range of editing tools, from exposure and contrast to cinematic color grading plus a collection of dramatic filters to transform your images into painting-like artwork. You can even morph the tone and shape of your face in those not-quite-right selfies.  PicsArt also offers an Instagram-style social sharing element so you can show off your creations.

Available on iOS and Android – limited functions for free or $48 a year for the complete suite of tools.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps that Double as Math Tutors

By Tracey Dowdy

Sooner or later, it happens to every parent. One day you’re helping your child learn their multiplication tables, the next, you’re elbow-deep in quadratic equations and sinking fast. Don’t get me started on the sorcery involved in Common Core math. Do I look like Professor McGonagall? 

When that day comes, don’t despair. If an in-person tutor isn’t an option, these websites and apps can act as an online tutor, so your child doesn’t fall behind or figure out just how much smarter they are than you – at least not yet. Keep in mind that some of these options will solve the equation for them, so watch for cheating to ensure your child is learning, not just having the site do their homework for them.

Khan Academy will always be at the top of my list. It’s a free website and educational app that includes thousands of educational videos aimed at self-paced instruction, so if your child doesn’t get it the first time around, there’s no pressure to push ahead. The site offers tutorials from early learning through college-level courses with an almost unlimited library of practice exercises, organized by topic, providing students with instant feedback through a personal dashboard that tracks their progress. Most videos are short, and content is both user friendly and engaging. 

MathPapa – Algebra Calculator walks students through algebra problems step-by-step. The free version functions as a calculator: Students simply enter their algebra equations, including variables, and watch as the solution is worked through. The paid version includes algebra lessons and additional resources. The site does all the work, so you may want to monitor homework assignments to prevent cheating. The paid version is $9.99 /monthly or $59.98 a year.

Course Hero allows students to ask a tutor questions by submitting a photo of a problem or describing via text. A subscription is required, but a selection of downloads and questions are given for free. The site is peer-supported (content submitted by other students), giving users access to notes and materials for a range of courses — primarily for upper-level high school and college. Course Hero offers a Basic Membership for free with online tutors access at an a la carte price. Premier members may unlock up to 30 documents and/or User Questions and access all Textbook Solutions and Explanations in Course Hero’s library and receive up to 40 Questions. Paid plans start at $9.95 a month. 

yHomework is designed for students and teachers. Enter the math problem and, in one click, get a complete step-by-step solution, including explanations and the answer, in all methods of solving. Content covers multiple levels and topics, including basic math and arithmetic through pre-algebra, algebra 1, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. Students who struggle with multistep equations and reverse numbers or make minor calculation errors will benefit from the detailed explanations. Again, keep in mind that yHomework will solve students’ equations, so keep an eye out for cheating on homework assignments. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Turn Off Political Ads in Your Facebook Feed

By Tracey Dowdy

Did you know there’s a presidential election coming up in just a few weeks? How could you not? Everywhere you look, there are ads, campaign signs, and reminders to register to vote. 

Most of us don’t need a reminder, and I, for one, am done with the relentlessly combative tone of this particular election season. Thankfully, there are ways to block some of the content coming at you on social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. 

Facebook, who also owns Instagram, now allows users to turn off all political ads on both sites and apps ahead of the November 3 election. 

It’s all part of Facebook’s efforts to encourage voting, including its goal of helping 4 million people register, the largest voting information effort in US history. Their new voter center gives individuals information about how and when to vote, voter registration, voting by mail and early voting, and information on their efforts to prevent election interference

Both apps allow users to block all electoral or political ads from candidates, anything regarding social issues, and Super PACs or other organizations with the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them from showing up in your feed.  

You have two options if you want to turn off political ads on Facebook and Instagram. 

Here’s how.


  • Go to Settings & Privacy > Settings > Ads > Ad Preferences. 
  • Tap Ad Topics > Social issues, elections, or politics.
  • Tap See fewer ads about this topic. 

If you scroll past a political ad in your feed, there should be a tag that says Confirmed Organization in the top-right corner of the ad. When you click on that tag, a window will pop up at the bottom of the screen. From here, choose from three options: Who paid for this ad? Why am I seeing this? See fewer ads about this topic. 

A new window will open. Tap to confirm that you want to see fewer ads about social issues, elections, and politics in the future.


Go to your account settings. Select Ad topics and then See fewer ads about social issues, elections, and politics. 

Alternatively, if you see a political ad in your feed, tap where it says Paid for by and then select See fewer ads like this. 

Currently, these options are available only in the US, but Facebook has plans to roll out the same features to countries where they can exercise enforcement on ads about social issues, elections, and politics.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Top iOS 14 Features

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple’s September 16th release of iOS 14 is one of Apple’s biggest iOS updates yet. The update features Home screen design changes, updates for its existing apps, new features, improvements to Siri, plus a host of tweaks that include – finally – Widgets to streamline and customize your home screen.

Here are some of iOS 14’s best and already most popular features.

Custom Widget Stacks – Apple has finally added widgets for your Home Screen in iOS 14 – something Android users have had for years. Users can pull them right out of Today Center and onto your main iPhone display. iOS 14 also features Widget Stacks, so you can create one widget space on the Home Screen that houses multiple widgets you can swipe between.

Improvements to Siri – Siri just got smarter and can answer even more questions, and users can now use Siri to send audio messages.

Picture in Picture – iOS’ new Picture in Picture mode allows users to watch videos or talk on FaceTime without exiting another app. Your FaceTime call or a video will continue playing in small window users can resize or drag to any corner of the iPhone’s screen.

Approximate Location Sharing – Plenty of apps want to know your location, whether or not it’s relevant to the functionality of the app or not. In iOS 14, users have a new privacy option that lets us use location-based features while hiding our exact location.

On-Device Dictation – In iOS 14, dictation improves over time as you use your device with all of that learning done directly through your phone’s hardware rather than through Apple’s servers. Plus, all processing is now done offline, so when you dictate a text message, note, or email to your iPhone, it stays on your device.

Redesigned Apple Music – “For You” in Apple Music is now “Listen Now,” offering better than ever suggestions for what you might like to listen to. Search now provides recommendations based on genre and mood, and your playlists now feature animated artwork. And, to further improve your listening experience, Apple Music now includes Continue Playing that will seamlessly transition from one song to the next with music in a similar style, so there’s no dead air.

App Library – App Library allows users to find any downloaded apps in the App Library. It lets you eliminate Home Screen pages and hide apps providing users with a much more organized iPhone interface.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Managing Virtual Learning for Kids with ADHD

By Tracey Dowdy

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that teaching, particularly homeschooling, is not for the faint of heart. For many parents, work/life balance is as impossible as life on the surface of the sun, and we can finally agree that whatever teachers earn, it’s not enough. 

Parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder face unique challenges. Consider that teachers are trained in classroom management, studying for a four-year degree, passing state exams, then applying for a state license. “The special education teacher wears many hats. Unlike other teachers who focus primarily on academics, the special education teacher serves as an educator and advocates for students with special needs. His or her schedule is divided among planning, instruction, assessing students, and managing their individualized education programs (IEPs).”

ADHD stems from underdeveloped or impaired executive function and self-regulation skills, so parents of children with ADHD aren’t the only ones overwhelmed and struggling. Students with ADHD often find switching to virtual learning at home complicated and even chaotic, so staying on-task for more than a few minutes is a monumental challenge.

Minnesota, says these students benefit from traditional school settings’ structure and routine. “What’s happened with Covid-19 is we’ve shifted from having that infrastructure and support from school,” she says. “And parents have had to pick up a lot of the things that can’t be provided with virtual learning. And maybe they don’t know how best to help them because they haven’t been trained in that particular area of need.” Because parents have had to shoulder that responsibility while still trying to manage their duties, keeping a student with ADHD focused has become twice as hard. 

If your child is struggling, Nordmeyer suggests the following strategies to help keep your student engaged and minimize everyone’s frustration. 

Mimic the school environment as much as possible. 

For kids with ADHD, the struggle isn’t merely paying attention. It’s maintaining focus and concentrating on the right things. Anything can pull their attention from something as simple as a family pet walking through the room to a favorite toy or game within their eyeline. If possible, set up a space that mimics a classroom and is within your sight so you can redirect when necessary. Working in their bedroom may seem ideal because it’s a quieter place, but remember that for most children, it’s where they go to relax and play, so it may not be conducive to learning. 

Structure each day and stick to the schedule as much as is possible. 

When trying to structure your child’s day, parents should practice structure, not micromanagement, Nordmeyer said. Try starting the day with your version of “Circle Time” or a “Morning Huddle” to run through assignments, Zoom meetings, and break times. Nordmeyer recommends the Pomodoro method – available as an extension for Google Chrome – that sets a 25-minute timer for work, then gives a five-minute break for play. Looking at everything that has to be done can be overwhelming for any of us but breaking it down into segments makes the day seem less daunting. If 25 minutes seems like 25 years to your child, break it down into shorter increments. While a schedule is valuable, it’s not as important as supporting your child. The goal is success – not just survival. 

Get up and get moving. 

Sometimes the best way to get your child back on track is to go off-track. If they’re melting down, off in another world, or distressed, take a break. Let them run around the backyard like a golden retriever, walk around the block, or take a dance break. Some children with ADHD are hyperactive and have a kinetic connection to how they learn and process information, so fidgeting often helps them pay attention. Sitting at a desk for long periods is physically and mentally exhausting for them. “Exercising really counteracts that and [can be] a normalizer when it comes to those neurotransmitters, which means that students, after exercising a lot, can concentrate better,” Morgan said. “The children again feel like they’re a little bit more in control,” says Anabelle Morgan, head of school at Commonwealth Academy in Alexandria, Virginia.

Offer social and emotional support.

If your child is defeated and starts every day anxious, talk to their teacher, school counselor, or principal for ways you can better support your student. Many are willing to meet for a virtual one-on-one to discover the source of the frustration and provide both of you with the tools you need. Remember, your child’s educators and chose education because they’re invested in your child’s success too. They want your child to become life-long learners and to reach their full potential. 

Go with the flow. 

Going with the flow sounds counter-intuitive for a student that needs structure, remember that it’s not a competition and no one wins if homeschooling becomes a power struggle filled with meltdowns and tears. If your child is coming to the end of their rope, take a break. Don’t chastise, don’t rebuke, and don’t tell them to calm down – have you ever felt calmer after someone told you to calm down? Instead, practice self-calming techniques with them – chances are you need to settle your emotions too. 

Take inventory and ownership. 

At the end of the day, over dinner, or perhaps at bedtime when things are quieter, talk to your child about the day’s hits and misses. Thorn, Rose, Bud, is an excellent option for evaluating the day and setting tomorrow’s goals. Thorn is somewhere your child can acknowledge they fell short, like “I wouldn’t put down my Legos when it was time to go back to work.” You follow with, “I wasn’t patient with you when you were struggling to focus while the teacher was giving instructions.” For Rose, have your child tell you something they’re proud of, something they did well that day like “I did all ten math problems before the timer went off.” You follow up with something you’re proud of them for, like, “You did a great job transitioning from your lunch break to social studies.” Bud sets a goal for the next day. “Tomorrow, I will do my best to write out my spelling words without complaining.” You follow with, “Tomorrow, I will do my best to be patient when you’re struggling to stay on task.” 

My daughters and I used to do “Best thing? Worst thing?” every day after school. Sometimes the best thing was lunch; some days, it was acing a spelling test. Some days the worst thing was indoor-recess; some days, it was a bully that made them cry. Either way, it gave me a window into their day and insight into what they were struggling with. 

Above all, remember to give your child and yourself the grace and mercy you need. You and your child are not the only ones struggling. This season, like all seasons, will end. Your child’s teachers are just as ready for your child to be back in the classroom as you are. Don’t stress over skills your child may be falling behind on or what you perceive as a lack of progress. When kids start kindergarten, the teacher faces a room full of children at varying skill levels – this will be no different. Together, you’ll work to fill the gaps, celebrate the successes, and help your child get back on track. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.