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    • Photo by Kevin Liang
      Having a baby is hard, and with COVID-19 in the mix, life with a little one can feel even more complicated than before. You have fewer places to go with your baby, and limited access to family and friends to give you a break. If your baby seems to cry more than most, doesn’t seem to sleep unless in your arms, doesn’t want to eat, or pulls away from the breast or bottle, you are managing even more stress with
      less support. It would be great if there was a perfect way to parent, but there’s often no quick fix or easy solution.
      Remember: Each baby (and parent) is unique, and understanding yours might mean going against what the books say. It’s important to trust your gut and explore what works and what doesn’t. Following are a few ideas that we encourage in our work at Erikson Institute’s Fussy
      Baby Network, which will go a long way in helping you feel more confident as a parent.
      Babies are individuals
      Isn’t it interesting that we all accept that adults differ as individuals, yet we expect babies to all act the same? Babies are individuals from the moment they’re born, and parents must figure out how to best meet their individual needs. Another way to think about it is to ask, “What fills my baby’s cup and what depletes it?” Learning what these “fill ups” are for your baby requires observation and trial and error.
      For example, some babies love to be held, while others want to move freely. “Tummy time” sessions are widely seen as a good developmental exercise for babies. But if you notice your child resists tummy time and prefers being held, use this information to make sure you “fill their cup”
      with cuddles before and after a session. By doing this, you are communicating to your baby that you understand their needs — an important component of trust in a parent/child relationship.
      Sleep begets sleep
      Parents might also find that their baby, particularly young infants, is fussier in the early evenings for a few hours, often starting around 5 p.m. During this time, they want to be constantly held and if you try to put them down, they cry and the cycle continues. There are many theories about why babies cry more around this time, and one thought is sensory overload. A newborn is taking in so many sights and sounds that by the evening, their little body can’t take it anymore. Another theory is that babies are overtired around these hours. Often they “cat nap” throughout the day so by the evening, they are sleep-deprived and difficult to sooth. Many parents assume keeping their baby awake
      will help them sleep better when actually the opposite is true. The more babies sleep throughout the day, the better they are able to fall and stay asleep.
      Take a break
      Another tip is understanding that when you feel stressed or anxious, it doesn’t automatically mean your baby will mirror your emotions. But it might mean that you have less patience and you need to find a way to take time for yourself. When overwhelmed, parents often hold babies differently or move too quickly for them. It is always OK to put your baby down in a safe place and breath for a few moments. Try saying phrases like, “I’m OK, I can do this. My baby is just trying to communicate with me.” You can also do some deep breathing and while you do, put your hand on your baby’s chest so you are both slowing down together. Notice how your baby’s breathing changes when you do this.
      Overall, it’s key to remember that babies are not one-size-fits-all. Even if you experience your baby as fussy or challenging, that does not indicate you are doing something wrong. Often as adults, when we feel safe and secure, we feel more comfortable crying or letting loose. Imagine when a loved one hugs us and we actually cry harder! The same goes for babies and as their caregiver, you can likely figure out how to sooth them best. Trust what you know about them, and remember tomorrow is a new day and there will always be room to keep exploring and building your relationship with your baby.

      Nancy Mork-Bakker, LCSW, is the Director of Erikson Institute’s Fussy Baby Network (FBN). Linda Horwitz, MSEd, is FBN’s Outreach Coordinator and Infant Family Specialist. FBN offers telephone support, virtual visits, and weekly virtual drop-in groups. There is no fee for services during the pandemic. Families can call 1-888-431-2229 or email fussybaby@erikson.edu.

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    • For families returning to school for the first time in more than a year, emotions run high.
      When Mayor Lightfoot announced that CPS children would have the option of returning in person, I went into a slight panic. It felt incredibly different from when CPS announced that the 2020-2021 school year would begin virtually, since the pandemic was still raging and a second wave was expected in the fall. But this announcement? It brought forth a sense of panic.
      We’d adjusted to virtual learning since it quickly became our new normal, and accepted that our first-grader, Amara (pictured), may not go back to in-person this school year. Our youngest daughter returned to full-time daycare back in September, which made virtual learning easier with only one child to supervise. 
      Through virtual learning, we discovered that Amara would push every technology limit available. One of our first instances was during the first month of school when her teacher emailed us explaining that Amara mistakenly deleted some pages from her assignment. My husband and I knew that it was not a mistake. Later, she started changing the teacher’s directions. For example, if the assignment stated, “In your math book, complete pages 5, 6, and 7 and then write two sentences explaining why Jim received more apples than Johnny,” she would change it to read, “In your math book, complete pages 5 and 6,” to finish her work sooner. We ended up adjusting her screen time settings to be extensive, but also realized early on that she may do better within the structure of the physical classroom. 
      Her first day back was incredible and her mental health improved almost immediately. Simply being in the school building seemed to elicit a positive reaction and a sense of normalcy. She met her teacher in person for the first time and saw a few friends from last year. She played on the playground during recess and had school lunch — all things we previously took for granted. It’s still very different; the children are spaced out in the classroom, proper mask-wearing is enforced, there are no before/after school activities, and of course, children only attend two days per week with a large virtual component. 
      The best part has been the mornings she attends in person. Getting ready for school those two days a week feels so close to the before times and gives me a glimpse of hope that we will eventually return. She looks forward to those those two days and always has an extra pep in her step. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe, in-person return to school in the fall.

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    • Given the challenges for mothers and all caregivers in this pandemic, will it be any different this year?
      Mother's Day is such a loaded holiday for lots of reasons — often tied to traditions set in place to honor our own mothers. But like it did in 2020, this Mother’s Day isn’t “normal.” Will it be any different this year? Or is it something that you're looking forward to because it's predictable? Given the challenges and victories for mothers and all caregivers who continue to prevail in this pandemic, I believe it’s a perfect time to expose and disrupt the status quo. 
      Starting with Mother’s Day. Do you know its origin?
      It started as an anti-war movement in the 1850s. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe — composer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" — issued a widely read "Mother's Day Proclamation" calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace. Ultimately, in 1914 Anna Jarvis was successful in her campaign to have the day dedicated to appreciating your own mother when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it a national holiday. 
      Unfortunately, Jarvis lost her second battle which was to keep the holiday out of the hands of consumerism. Speaking of which, how much do you think we spend on Mother’s Day? Made up mostly of greeting cards, flowers, and social outings, Americans spent $26.7 billion dollars on Mother’s day in 2020. Does the 7% spending increase (in the throes of a pandemic) from 2019 and the 45% increase from 2010 translate to a mothers' increased fulfillment and satisfaction in the day? 
      Well, that is for each individual mother to decide. 
      Let’s look at it another way that might spark your interest. Just as you are the author and director of your pleasure in all spheres of your life (wink, wink), so too are you ultimately responsible for your own “MOM-GASM!” I may be stretching it a bit with the metaphor, but the possibility for a day where everything from time with yourself to experiences with others brings you delight.
      The sky's the limit, but the key is to make it your own. Map out your day, and if you want it a certain way, you have to ask for it — your family cannot read your mind. While lovely to receive gifts and acknowledgment, one day won’t refuel you from a year of incredible stress and increased hours of unpaid labor. But you deserve to design a lovely day. 
      As women, we are generally great at caring for others, but not so adept with mothering ourselves. Empower yourself this Mother’s Day to disrupt old paradigms that do not serve you, and create a vision or intention for yourself. It’s not selfish, nor does it take away from the day to communicate your wishes and set the tone. 
      While hardly exhaustive, I offer a few ideas to get your started:
      • Do some research on May day/Mother’s day in different cultures.
      • Create your own “ritual” or devotion for the day that you may carry forward.
      • Inventory all the ways you have mothered yourself and others during a deadly pandemic.
      • Ask for a vision or wishes from your family for the year ahead.
      • Carve out a minimum of an hour, but hopefully more, of alone time.
      • Keep it real and remember it has been an incredible year, and you can feel all of your feelings on this day and beyond.
      Cheers to you, Mother.
       

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    • How to talk with young children about race and racism
      As centuries of racial injustice continue to be illuminated, parents likely have lots of questions about how to talk with their young children about race and racism, and how to raise an anti-racist child. To answer some of these questions, Dr. Angela Searcy, a child development expert from Erikson Institute, shared her insights.
      When do children begin to notice race? 
      Dr. Searcy: Research confirms infants as young as 3 months prefer to look at faces similar to their own. By preschool, they begin to use information about race to make decisions about playmates.
      At what age should parents start talking to their children about race? 
      Dr. Searcy: Start talking about race as soon as your baby begins to recognize faces. Babies that don’t have exposure to people from a variety of races have a hard time noticing facial features of people from races other than their own.
      Not talking about race directly and explicitly leaves your child unaware of how you feel about different races. It will also create uncertainty about what your child knows about race and any racial bias they may have unintentionally internalized about their own race or others.
      What are some helpful conversation prompts for tackling this topic?
      Dr. Searcy: Reading books that show a variety of races is a good way to start. Point out the different races in children’s books and ask your child questions. When it comes to topics of racial injustice, parents already know what words their child understands and what examples will resonate with them. So try something like: “This reminds me of your favorite superhero. How can we ensure people of all races have equal justice?” or, “Would your favorite character think that was fair?”
      [Related: How to become an anti-racist parent]
      What behaviors can I expect to see from my young child as they start noticing differences?
      Dr. Searcy: Noticing differences is an important part of learning. Children will start reacting to differences in infancy and talking about them as soon as they can speak. If they have a negative reaction, respond with positivity and words of acceptance like, “Our differences are what make us all special.” Then follow up to understand why they might be feeling that way.
      If you respond by telling them you are colorblind, it can be very confusing. It asks children to ignore salient parts of another person’s identity and sends a message that something is wrong with having color if it must be “unseen.” Imagine the message that sends to a child of color who must have parts of their identity ignored and unseen.
      What are some helpful resources or activities that I can use to teach my child about race?
      Dr. Searcy: A few of my favorite activities include:
      ● Use M&Ms to show children how different colors are still the same inside
      ● Make a knot with a string to demonstrate how it will take time and many people to untie the knot of racism
      ● Give your child books with characters with a variety of races and ethnicities and have them look in the mirror and compare characteristics
      As far as resources, I’ve listed many on my website. A couple of my favorites are: How can I have a Positive Racial Identity? I’m White! and Woke Kindergarten.
      Dr. Angela Searcy holds a M.S. degree in early childhood development, with a specialization in infant studies, from the Erikson Institute and a EdD in education. She is an author of the book Push Past It! A Positive Approach to Challenging Classroom Behaviors and nationally recognized speaker, and currently serves as an adjunct professor at Erikson teaching Culture.

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    • How to help kids get reacquainted after a year off
      It’s been over a year since we retreated into our homes “for a couple of weeks”, to wait for the virus to pass. Weeks led to months, the new year rolled around… and we’re only now thinking of re-entering the world. So, as parents, how do we reintroduce play dates for our kids?
      Research
      First order of business is to take stock of the current conditions and guidance in your area. Be mindful that just because restrictions might have lifted, there may be reasons why others are reticent about getting together. Proceed with sensitivity and respect.
      Discuss
      Ask your child if they would like to meet up with friends. Try not to bring in your own anxieties but listen. They may well be excited to get out again, or they may be nervous. Let them know that what they’re feeling is ok, and that you’ll be there with them.
      Intros
      Start with a virtual intro, to (re)build familiarity with friends. Encourage sharing of masks over Zoom, so they can recognize buddies when they meet up in person. My daughter loves to show-off her new kitty look.
      Practice
      Most children are practiced at wearing their masks now they’re back at school (at least part of the time), but they can be reluctant to keep them on. We’ve found jersey ones to be soft and tolerable, while disposable ones are apparently “stink.” A practice run can be helpful.
      Venue
      Pick an outdoor venue, so you can relax a little. Playgrounds are obviously fun, but fraught with challenges; all those touchable surfaces and potential crowds. Try picking somewhere a little less obvious and limit the stress.
      Props
      Expecting children to pick up where they left off in March 2020 is unrealistic. Making friends is an art that children learn as they grow. Understand that they’re out of practice and may need you to facilitate. Bringing along a game — a soccer ball or drone — can jump-start activities.
      Limit
      Having a time limit sets expectations, prevents boredom, and makes it easy to leave without awkwardness. Keep first play dates short and set your kids up for success. You can build up to longer later.
      Follow-up
      Have your child send a note or text a picture. I like the Photoshop Express app since I can use an image snapped while out, and the kids can have fun personalizing with stickers. This helps pave the way for an ongoing friendship.

      Review
      Ask your child if they enjoyed themselves. What did they like best? What was challenging? Then see what you can address. Perhaps another time of day would work better? Decide together what actionable things you can do to make the next occasion fun for all.
      Repeat
      Whether the play date was successful or not, don’t leave it too long before organizing another. If your little one is timid, or needs to enhance their play skills, then it’s important to get out there again. If necessary, find an activity that involves you too, and ease youngsters into the new social scene.
      It can be daunting for any of us to start meeting up again in-person. We’re following the numbers and reading the reports, feeling optimistic one minute and doubtful the next...then layer on some rusty social skills and think how it feels to be a child. By talking and doing some prep work, then following some simple steps, this can be a more successful experience for our kids, and even an enjoyable experience for us grown-ups, too.

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    • Do you think you have PTSD from a Covid-related stressor? Here's how to manage it.
      COVID and PTSD. Both of these words are in all-caps because they are words that mean more than the one word itself. COVID is our generation’s first and only pandemic that has been so charged that we often find ourselves saying phrases like, “I have PTSD,” or “I am OCD.”
      However, it is important to define the words we are using. In narrative therapy, we focus a lot on wording as a way to validate and change our negatives to more positive biographies of our life. My goals for this piece are to define PTSD and provide ways to increase self-care.
      My hope is that after you read this, you will be able to help those who are struggling, and validate your own trauma if the terms resonate with you. In the end, I want everyone to know that therapy and self-regulation can have successful and lasting results.
      PTSD defined
      According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD has several qualifiers. I have condensed the criteria to the most common symptoms related to one’s experience in relation to COVID. Please keep in mind that only a licensed professional can diagnose PTSD and that symptoms must last more than one month and create distress and impairment with your daily activities at work, home, school, etc.:
      The person was exposed to: death (watch the virus take hold of a loved one) or threatened by death (having the virus and fearing death). After such an event the person re-experiences the trauma through upsetting memories, nightmares, or flash-backs. A person then avoids trauma-related stimuli such as thoughts or feelings or external reminders (hospitals, masks, etc.). Followed by negative thoughts or feelings for example, the inability to recall key features of the trauma, decreased interest in activities, feelings of isolation, negative affect. All of these symptoms then create alterations in arousal and reactivity such as: irritability or aggression, risky or destructive behavior, hypervigilance, heightened startle reaction, difficulty concentrating, and/or difficulty sleeping.
      [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] 
      PTSD and COVID
      In the context of COVID, here are a few ways that PTSD can come about:
      If you witnessed your loved one suffer, panic, or gasp for breath. If you have seen you love being taken in an ambulance to the hospital not knowing if they are going to survive. If you are a first responder who has been treating COVID patients for several months and inevitably losing patients along the way. If you didn’t know if you would make it through after getting COVID. Medical trauma is being talked about more and more with COVID. PTSD can be caused by birthing trauma, strokes, heart attacks, or any operation/illness in which one is fearing death. It is important to note that feeling afraid to go into crowds is not a symptom of PTSD in and of itself. There is a lot of anxiety that has increased as a result of the virus, but unless you have witnessed or been threatened by death, it is not PTSD.
      Once you have identified symptoms of PTSD and been diagnosed, you will be able to start the path of healing. These are real experiences and the way that the body tends to process trauma is to RELIVE it until you can REPROCESS it and allow your body to RELEASE it.
      How to start healing
      Therapy, therapy, therapy. I am a therapist so you won’t be surprised to hear me say that everyone should try therapy at some point in their life. For individuals with trauma, therapy becomes even more important. Talking it through with someone who is trained in working with trauma will allow you to have a space to share your biggest fears and to release that fear in order to heal and find peace. There are other modalities that we are finding to have awesome results as well, such as: biofeedback, EMDR, and Stellate ganglion block (SGB). Whatever process you choose, I can guarantee you won’t regret it.
      [Related: What it's like to be a parent with COVID]
      Mercy and grace
      Offer this to yourself and others whenever possible. Let yourself off the hook for not doing the dishes, take a self-care day with Netflix, ask for an extension on a work project, go for a long drive to clear your mind. No one can take better care of you than you.
      Care kit
      My recommendation for all of my clients right now is to make yourself a care kit. Take a big basket or box and fill it with items that you love and that bring you joy. My box has a cozy blanket, my favorite raspberry herbal tea, lemon and rose oils, fancy hand cream, crochet needles and yarn, embroidery kits, sudoku books, magazines that I haven’t read but have wanted to, snacks, a list of movies I want to watch, etc. What will yours include?
      Once you’ve put on your metaphorical oxygen mask, make a box for everyone else in your house. Think of the fun your kids will have on a rainy/snowy/boring day. For couples, this could be a fun activity! In making boxes for each other you will both be truly showing each other you care and giving items that will help increase one another’s mood and joy. Above all, please remember to be safe, check on your strong friends, and ask for help!

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    • Before committing to a pet, be sure to ask yourself these questions first.
      I remember the day my family welcomed Zoomy Zoom (pictured) into our home. We were filled with anxiety, excitement and love.
      Yes, you heard that right: our Yorkie Terrier’s name is Zoomy Zoom. We brought our pandemic puppy home on a drizzly March 29. Even though I had been researching hypoallergenic dogs for about a year, the first three months of having Zoomy in our lives were still an adjustment. From the vaccine schedule to the poop collecting to the food restrictions, our lives changed under quarantine.
      The best parts were of course the play and cuddle time with our “furbaby.” We have truly enjoyed our new family member’s rambunctiousness while playing inside and outside of the house.
      The not-so-fun part was the potty training. In the beginning, it felt like Zoomy and I were battling over who was more stubborn. There were a few moments where I wanted to put a diaper on his furry butt, but at last, I can finally say that we have reached a place of potty harmony.
      Despite the rare moments of annoyance, it’s been such a joy to have added a pet to our home.
      [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year]
      Following are a few items on our checklist whose exploration ensured the smoothest transition possible. Before you commit to getting a pet, be sure to ask yourself these questions first:
      Do you want an accessory, or a family member?
      Once the quarantine is lifted, most of us will be less attentive to our new pets. Is that fair to them? It’s important to consider training your pet to be alone for a few hours a week in order to prepare them for more independence in the home when you return to “normal” life. Perhaps hire a dog walker so they can socialize with other pups. Researching boarding facilities for long travel they may not be allowed to experience is another possibility.
      [Related: To the moms running on fumes, this is how to refill the tank]
      Can you handle picking up poop and cleaning up urine?
      This will definitely feel like a repeat of that first year with your human babies. Until your dog is fully trained, be ready to clean...constantly.
      Can you handle a beloved object being chewed on if it’s left unattended?
      It happens, so be prepared: Breathe in, breathe out, and hide your valuables!
      Are you OK with possibly being the main caretaker?
      As much as my kids stated they wanted a dog to play with and take care of, Zoomy and I are the dynamic duo — indoors and out. Most days I don’t mind, but other days I demand a break from the additional mommy duty.
      Can you afford the responsibility?
      If your pet gets sick unexpectedly, pet insurance may not cover it. (Yes, you need pet insurance.)
      Are you ready to talk about death?
      Having had several pet-death traumas in my childhood, I thread this topic in with my children every so often so they know that it is a part of life. We do our best to cherish Zoomy while he is with us, rambunctiousness and all.

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    • Screen time can be beneficial—to you and your kids. Here's how one mom interprets the AAP guidelines.
      I remember being pregnant with my daughter (kiddo #1), and having very ambitious plans about what kind of parent I was going to be. Make homemade baby food? Of course! How organic. Sign up for a variety of baby/toddler classes? Yes, swimming and music galore! And screen time? No way! I’m going to be a totally involved, dedicated parent focusing on real-life experiences.

      Fast-forward slightly to balancing work and life with a kiddo, and in comes the kid-friendly shockproof iPad case so we can start with Sesame Street and Chu Chu TV. At that point, we were still limiting the time to when I’m cooking dinner or taking a quick shower.
      [Related: I feel no guilt about my kids' screen time]
      Fast-forward a bit more to introduce kiddo #2, a global pandemic, a lifestyle shutdown, still working and balancing life, and trying not to lose my mind. (Thank you, iPad Screen Time Alert for reminding me how much my daughter’s use increased when that happened. Ugh.)
      Obviously we are all trying our best just to survive right now. Most kids are at home e-learning, and most parents are balancing working from home with parenting and schooling at the same time. Times are not easy. So what is the right call these days?
      The American Academy of Pediatrics — which, depending on the child’s age, generally recommends no or very limited screen time for kids — has recognized that kids’ media use will likely increase under these stressful circumstances. (See the AAP’s article on HealthyChildren.org’s COVID-19 link.) Among their recommendations are:
      Keep a routine Use screen time for positive, social connections Choose quality content Use media together Recommended screen times are definitely fluctuating now, too. Obviously if you have a middle-schooler who needs to virtually attend classes, their necessary daily screen time is likely more than a toddler’s. But the recommendations for keeping media use useful and also balanced can be broadly applied across different ages. Our family’s pandemic pendulum is more or less in a balanced state, and thankfully it seems to follow the AAP’s suggestions. Here’s what it took to get us there:
      Routine and schedule
      When the lockdown started and we were going bonkers trying to figure things out, screen time was whenever I felt stressed or didn’t know what else to do. But it felt panicked, disorganized, and lazy to consistently use it that way. So we wrote up a schedule and had very specific times on when screen time was allowed. It’s still very useful when I need to focus on cooking dinner.
      Positivity and socializing
      We have all been Zooming and FaceTiming more, and when my daughter started asking to call her friends, it was a great way for her to feel like she had some control over her own socialization. Bonus: Watching two 4-year-olds have an in-depth conversation about how much they like mac & cheese is pretty cute.
      [Related: For young kids, technology should be like ice cream: a sometimes food]
      Quality content
      This is really important to me. I’m pretty strict about being on YouTube. Kids can go down some weird wormholes watching videos of other kids eating gross food or strange adult hands playing with kids’ toys. We like Numberblocks and Cosmic Kids, videos of kids building with engineering-related materials. We also have total veg-out options, of course, like Disney+ movies on Friday nights and Saturday-morning cartoons.
      Togetherness
      Sometimes I sit with my daughter to chat with her about what she’s watching. Hearing her tell me about how multiplication works or how she is calming her yogi energy makes me feel reconnected with her, and allows her to process the information she’s absorbing and explain it in her own words.
      Not in AAP’s guide, but equally important: Forgive yourself
      As parents, we are often our own worst critics. There are times when I’ll need to jump on my computer when I’m wearing my Mom Hat and we are supposed to be having a no-iPad lunch. Guess what? Sometimes the schedule changes, and my daughter gets a bonus movie-with-PB&J time. Don’t feel guilty if it happens. Structuring your kids’ screen time within this framework can help you achieve a more successful balance in these crazy times.
      Using media as a limited tool — or an emergency helper! — is very normal. You know that you have some time to focus on your own tasks while your kids’ brains aren’t turning into mush. And a no-mush brain is always a win for a parent!

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    • With so many great cold-weather options from Chicago, you should consider a vacation closer to home.
      As the days grow shorter and colder, the temptation to go south can be irresistible. But what if the winter season inspired your plans instead? Some of my family’s favorite vacations have been to northern destinations that delivered the perfect combination of festivity, coziness, and invigorating outdoor adventure.
      This year, consider one of these escapes:
      Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Festive decorations and seasonal activities for families completely transform this popular summer retreat once the cold weather sets in. Lake Geneva’s proximity to Chicago, slower pace and smaller scale make it an easy getaway for Chicagoans. Don’t miss the Santa Cruises that run through December 31.
      Traverse City, Michigan Dramatic sand dunes overlooking northern Lake Michigan, picturesque farms and vineyards dotting rolling hills, and a celebrated yet unpretentious food scene have made the Traverse City area my family’s favorite Midwestern destination. The five-hour drive might seem daunting, but charming Saugatuck and reinvigorated Grand Rapids provide enjoyable stops along the way. Resorts like the Homestead and Grand Traverse boast suites with fireplaces. Nestled in the snowy woods, they offer the perfect base for days filled with sledding, ice skating and even skiing down sand dunes.
      Quebec City, Quebec, Canada A visit to Quebec City feels like stepping into Old World France. Beautiful seasonal decorations line the cobblestone streets and ornament almost every building, which date as early as the 16th century when the city was established as the French colony’s capital. This UNESCO World Heritage Site brims with infectious joie de vivre. Fortunately, the friendliness gets communicated as fluently in English as it does in French. Comfortable explorations of this compact city require the right gear (when we visited in December, a Manito stroller cover and 7 A.M. Enfant blanket kept our toddler toasty warm). The opulent Le Chateau Frontenac sits atop the walled city like a castle and provides a surprisingly family-friendly stay. And don’t miss out on a meal at Aux Anciens Canadiens. At the oldest house in Quebec, you can dine on traditional comfort food like poutine and maple syrup pie in a wood-paneled dining room warmed by a gigantic stone fireplace.
      Chicago Staycation The Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards ranked Chicago as the top big city in the U.S. in 2019. If heading out of town isn’t feasible, try playing tourist at home. Many of the hotels and restaurants in River North, the Gold Coast and around Millennium Park offer excellent hospitality to every age group, and Chicago’s iconic architecture provides the perfect change of scenery. Make sure to visit Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Despite how many times you’ve seen it, it never loses its appeal for children.
      Looking for more ideas? Consider Galena, Illinois; Boyne City, Michigan; or Kohler, Wisconsin as other fun, family-friendly escapes. Wherever your travels take you, enjoy your break, and the chance it will give you to create new memories with your family.

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    • Chicago history is full of amazing women who have made a difference in the city and the world.
      During my daughter’s bedtime reading, we’re exploring all the extraordinary women in history. Though we love learning about women all over the world, it began to pique my interest to see what kind of gems Chicago has produced. Fortunately, I found and rediscovered many reasons to be proud to be a Chicagoan. 
      Here are just a few notable Chicago women who have broke ground and a few ceilings.
      Throughout Chicago’s rich history, women have played pivotal roles in bringing forth real and vital change. As a youth advocate, I admire the arts and science–based program called After School Matters, an opportunity for urban youth to explore a wide range of careers and trades. The late Maggie Daley left a gift for youth to accumulate their own income while nurturing a creative interest. This program has positively affected the lives of so many teens under the age of 16 who seek legitimate ways to earn an income. Let’s not forget, she also has one of the coolest parks in the city named after her.
      She was the first Chicana woman to sign with a major American publisher, is a MacArthur Genius, and has taught at many universities. Who is it? Sandra Cisneros, that’s who. This Humboldt Park native is best known for her 1984 book, The House on Mango Street, which is taught in many schools around the world. 
      Last year, my family and I were fortunate to see a play about the literary legend Gwendolyn Brooks. Her contributions to American literature gave voice to the African American perspective in a way that captured the attention of avid readers; she was rewarded for her work with a Pulitzer Prize. It’s no wonder that she has a Chicago Public School school named after her. The high school continues to produce just as many gems as she has left us in her writing.
      Speaking of culture, the theatre is a favorite past time for me and the circle of moms I know. Thanks to women like Jacqueline Russell, who founded Chicago Children’s Theatre in 2005, there’s another great venue for our children to attend year-round the West Loop. 
      Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based firm managing $10 billion in investments, was co-founded by its president, Mellody Hobson Lucas. Hobson grew up on the South Side, then left to attend Princeton and returned to become one of this city’s most extraordinary success stories (much like another South Side native, Michelle Obama). Hobson is now the wife of Star Wars creator George Lucas and mother to their daughter.
      As we wait for our city to elect our first African American woman mayor in April, another chapter in Chicago history will unfold. Because this city has birthed so many legendary women, their legacies must be told by parents like you and me. Sharing these stories paves the way for more opportunities to influence those who have yet to know their purpose in this city of big shoulders.
      Related articles:
      Take the time to learn how to pronounce 'difficult' names
      What living in Chicago has taught me about the world
      Black history is American history

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    • Your family will love this easy, 4-ingredient London broil dinner recipe.
      As parents, we hope to instill in our children the importance of traditions. Many of our family traditions revolve around food. For example, our Sunday evening tradition has become a London broil dinner. All my kids love this meal—which is quite a miracle—and I hope it might become a tradition in your home, too.
      London broil 
      1 ½-2 lb. London broil
      ¾ cup Italian dressing
      ¼ cup soy sauce
      ¼ cup honey
      Mix Italian dressing, honey and soy sauce in a large Ziploc bag. Add London broil to bag and, if possible, let it marinate for several hours in the refrigerator.
      Grill on low heat 12 minutes each side (4 minutes longer per side if you like it well done, but who likes it well done?!). Can you believe that’s all it takes? Enjoy!
      Tips:
      This is a great recipe to quickly throw together in the morning and let marinate in the refrigerator during the day. Just put the meat in the oven or grill it when you get home. If you are living a cold climate and aren’t brave enough to grill in the winter (we Chicagoans grill in the snow), then preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the London broil on the lowest rack uncovered in a disposable pan for 1 hour. As always with red meat, let it sit after cooking for 5-10 minutes before cutting to seal in the juice. This London broil is great served with grilled asparagus and brown rice (my favorite is Trader Joe’s frozen brown rice) Related articles:
      Bring these easy-pack snacks and gear on your next family picnic 
      5 simple ways to help your picky eater
      Your kid will hate some foods, and that's ok

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    • You can achieve an amicable separation when you remember your common goals and focus on your and your children's mental health.
      We are now nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and have experienced the accompanying challenges and bright spots of quarantine, working remotely, and e-learning. As we acclimate to the new normal, you might be experiencing some clarity in your relationships. Some people are realizing their relationship with their significant other may bring unhappiness rather than satisfaction, or strain rather than ease. Are you staying for the sake of your children? Have you tried couple’s therapy but still cannot get along?
      If you relate to any of these issues, you may be already considering separation or divorce. This can be incredibly difficult to process, but the struggles we have all experienced over the past year may have alerted you to a desire for change. This realization may be enlightening or potentially distressing, but the next steps do not have to be strenuous or daunting. You can separate peacefully and amicably by taking into consideration the following tips.
      [Related: Have a difficult ex? Co-parenting is possible with these tools]
      Communication and compromise
      The best thing you can do now is communicate with your spouse, either directly or through a therapist or your lawyer, in a respectful manner. Compromise and cooperation are key.
      Peaceful processes
      Consider mediation, which involves a neutral third party to facilitate the separation or an uncontested divorce process, where either one or both parties can have representation and the divorce will move forward seamlessly so long as there is agreement amongst the parties. Another idea is to begin or continue in therapy for communication or co-parenting counseling. For other couples, separation may become contentious but if you can keep level-headed and communicate your thoughts with your spouse, this can help exponentially. Keep in mind that the common goal is to separate civilly and expeditiously.
      Children come first
      Remember your common goals of keeping the children happy, safe and healthy are priority; always consider their wants or needs and how to align those with your requests in the separation. You and your co-parent must cooperate and act in your children’s best interests. There are a variety of professionals that can facilitate this process: a Child Representative or Guardian ad Litem may be appointed to represent the children’s interests, or a Parenting Coordinator may be appointed to help with communication.
      Self-care
      Something many people forget during separation is taking care of themselves. Try to do activities you may not have done with your significant other or even with your children — anything from starting a new fitness class online to spending more time with your friends and loved ones. Recognize that self-care is one of the most important routines you should preserve during this time.
      If you keep the above tips in mind, separation and divorce during COVID-19 may actually enhance your life. Remember: Your and your children’s happiness is indispensable.

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    • Looking for a job after 18 years of raising her kids at home, this Chicago mom wishes she could put that experience on her CV.
      I am a 47-year-old mother of four girls who has been out of the paid workforce for 18 years. Right now, I’m in full-blown job search mode to get back into it, so I think about my resume a lot. 
      Not surprisingly, getting back in has been quite a challenge for many reasons. But recently, after yet another informational interview, I realized my resume doesn’t represent who I am at all.  
      Sure, it has my degrees and all of the very impactful and important volunteer work that I’ve done over the last eight years, but it has a huge, gaping hole. It doesn’t include my most challenging, most rewarding, and most acutely painful work experience. It doesn’t include the work experience that changed me from a self-centered narcissist into a grown-up and made me into the person I am today. 
      My resume is missing my work as a mother. 
      Can you imagine if I included what I’ve accomplished and learned as a mother on my resume? Hiring managers would think I was crazy. They would send it to their colleagues as a joke and write, “You’ve got to look at this one!” 
      But as I thought more about it, I realized a lot of my experience as a mother would translate well to corporate America. 
      [Related: How to hire more moms? Corporate America needs to learn to share]
      Conflict management and resolution: I had a child between the ages of two and four for eight years straight. I've resolved a lot of conflict, to put it mildly.
      Creativity and tenacity: After trying many, many, many ways to get my daughter to sleep through the night over an 18-month period, I finally did. (The solution: I put her in the same bedroom as one of her sisters. Thirteen years later, all four of my daughters still sleep in the same room.) 
      Diplomacy and discretion in discussing difficult subjects: More than once I’ve had to call a fellow parent and tell her that her child shared thoughts of suicide with one of mine.
      Empathy, patience and assiduousness: I’m seven years in on a total of ten years (in a row) of helping my daughters navigate the friend drama of middle school. 
      Humility: I've had my teenager tell me I don’t like or understand her and then had to put my own bruised ego aside to figure out how to convince her that isn’t true.
      Project management skills: Planning and scheduling the logistics and schedules of four children in three different schools playing up to ten different sports; planning, shopping for, cooking and cleaning up after four meals (including snacks) for six people every day (even when I’m on vacation) for 18 years; planning and executing a budget that satisfies as many different people’s needs as possible for 18 years; planning and executing a variety of events where failure would mean disappointing those you love most (no pressure!) for a variety of ages, audiences and needs including birthday parties, all family and national holidays (Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), classroom parties and team parties; coordinating all personal-care appointments, such as doctor appointments (well and sick), dentist appointments and haircuts. I could go on and on.
      And my work ethic? Well, I’ve been parenting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for 18 years, and I’ve got seven more to go. I think I’ve got a pretty strong work ethic.
      I think we should live in a world where my parenting skills and experiences are viewed as a valuable part of my resume. But I know that right now we don’t. So while I’m not going to add my parenting experience to my resume, I am proud of the person that I have become because of it. It will make me a better employee than I was before I had children. I just need to find an employer willing to let me prove it.

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    • Job sharing would allow a huge untapped resource of moms who want to work part-time to get back into the workforce.
      When I had a four-year-old, a two-year-old and an infant (and a seven-year-old who was in school all day), I had a preschool carpool that was one of the most dependable and important parts of my life. 
      It was the linchpin to my getting a few moments to myself. After I dropped off the four-year-old, if I managed to get the two-year-old and infant to nap at the same time, I had a few blissful hours to do things like go to the bathroom by myself or eat a meal sitting down. Nothing stopped me from fulfilling my side of the bargain—not snowstorms, temper tantrums, lice, swine flu—NOTHING. Luckily for me, Rebecca, who did the pick-up, also had four kids and knew how critical this potential window of sanity was for me, was just as dedicated. We kept up that carpool for six years, and I’m still grateful for it to this day.
      Now I’m 47 and my kids are 18, 15, 13 and 11, and I’m trying to get back into the paid workforce after 18 years outside of it. I’m still not ready to go back full time for many reasons, and I’ve found that part-time work is extremely difficult to find. Ideally, I’d love to share a job, just like I did with that carpool, but that option is nonexistent as far as I can tell, and I think that corporate America is making a huge mistake by ignoring it.
      [Related: What if I put my parenting experience on my resume?]
      During my 18 years in the unpaid workforce, almost all of my jobs have been job shares with other women. The carpool is just the tip of the iceberg. I was a PTA co-president with three other women, and we were able to divide and conquer everything that needed to get done efficiently and with ease. Right now, I’m a volunteer leader on a political campaign with a good friend, and part of what has makes us successful is that we have different but complementary skill sets and trust each other’s opinions and instincts. By working together, we make each other and our efforts so much better. And, yes, we have a lot of fun doing it.
      Outside the paid workforce, women partner together all the time in ways that allow our society to function. Why then, hasn’t that dynamic been incorporated into the paid workforce? I’m not talking about being a “team player” and pitching in to help colleagues; we know women do way more than their fair share of that at work. I’m talking about letting women partner together to share one job—dividing the work, dividing the responsibility and dividing the skills necessary to fill the position. Can you imagine what kind of creative and economic power would be unleashed if companies started doing that? It also would open up opportunities to a huge, untapped population of workers.
      [Related: Working mom hacks: Tips and tricks to make your life easier]
      Employers might object that job sharing would be disruptive and confusing for other employees and clients. But here’s the answer to that concern: This job-sharing dynamic is happening all the time, all around you (and most definitely in your own household), and it happens so seamlessly that you don’t have to see it to know it exists. Why, when we manage to make it work so well in our personal lives, would we not be able to translate that to a work situation? The answer: We would.
      Corporate America, when you’re ready to start allowing employees to job share, I’ve got an army of incredibly accomplished and competent women ready to go.  

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    • Talking about your failures while also being kind to yourself shows kids it's ok to make mistakes and do better next time.
      Did you know that mistakes are integral to the learning process? It’s true. Failure actually helps students develop their ability to improve and hone fundamental skills. Those who don’t view failure as an opportunity can find themselves struggling later on. Of course, our achievement-obsessed culture doesn’t help matters. We don’t often hand out awards for most spectacular failures. Only when that failure is turned into a success do we typically offer praise.
      When my own children were young, I felt like a constant failure. Balancing work and home while keeping a family of five happy was no small feat. For a long time I carried that guilt. I was hard on myself, as many parents are. Eventually, I realized that my children were picking up on my reaction. I knew I needed to change how I approached failure, so they wouldn’t accumulate the same guilt. Following are some of the lessons I’ve learned, and share with parents in similar situations.
      [Related: Focus on mistakes to help your child learn]
      Model failing forward
      I encourage parents to approach their mistakes as an opportunity to model a healthy response to failure. Try to embody failing forward — learning from mistakes and embracing failure as a necessary part of progress. One way to do this is in your demeanor. Children notice how you react when you “mess up.” You can spend all the time in the world telling your child that it’s okay to make mistakes, but if you melt down when it happens for you, they’ll remember. By being gentle to yourself, you teach your child it’s okay for them to do the same. There should be no shame associated with an honest mistake.
      When discussing failure with your child, avoid language that assigns negative value, i.e. “I made a stupid mistake.” Instead, talk about what you learned and what you might have done differently. Emphasize how important it is to move forward despite this setback. If you’ve failed while learning a skill or performing a task, touch on how you’ll improve.
      Lead by example
      In this chaotic world, parenting can seem like a constant string of mistakes. Yet we adapt for the sake of our children. So why not let them in on this process? If our children see us being uncertain, failing, or even flailing, but still managing to grow and learn, they will learn they can, too. Our failures can be their guideposts.
      Improve confidence and chances at success
      Failure is valuable for boosting confidence and promoting resilience in young people both in and out of the classroom. Children and teens who can persevere in spite of repeated setbacks and without the validation of success are well-equipped for the realities of adult life.
      I saw it in my own children. When I adjusted my own attitude, when I allowed myself to fail forward and lead by example, my children were less afraid of their own failures. Instead of mistakes, they saw opportunities. Instead of giving up, they embraced their innate creativity. How will you embrace failure within your home?

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    • Incorporating kindness and generosity into your family's daily routine ensures these habits will likely stick.
      Want your kids to develop a strong sense of belonging and great self-esteem? Then teach them to show kindness. It can be easy to take action during Random Acts of Kindness Week (in February) or holiday drives, but weaving kindness into your children’s daily lives can take a bit more effort. However, the benefits to both them and society are worth it.
      [Related: These thoughtful gifts prove showing someone you care doesn't cost a thing]
      Kind manners
      Of course, the most obvious place to start is by encouraging manners. “Please,” “thank you” and other words of respect and gratitude are important to use from an early age. Try expanding this with “Are you ok?”, “What would you like?” and similar language to encourage empathy and other kind traits.
      Kindness books
      Modeling language and behavior is important, but sometimes you need examples outside of your everyday life, or to reinforce concepts. Starting a book list can provide resources to draw from. Parenting magazines, blogs, your school counselor, and the library can all be good sources. In our house we let everyone select a bedtime book, then at the weekend we incorporate parental choice.
      Kindness role models
      There are plenty of positive role models to share with youngsters. Youth literature is full of them, and shows featuring superheroes are a big hit. Turning to real life, there are many historical figures to learn about, while the good deeds of doctors and other community workers are easy for them to relate to. Look for reported kind acts to share with them.
      Kindness goals
      Setting weekly kindness goals can provide structure and ensure some consistency. Try adding these to the weekend dinner table conversation. A leisurely meal can become a “family meeting” if everyone is asked for input. Our goals have ranged from making hug cards for older church members to delivering confetti balloons for some new year cheer.
      Kindness conversations
      Family conversations can also be a time for more in-depth exploration. Pick a topic and involve everyone. National Geographic magazine, Time for Kids or one of the kindness/empathy conversation starter cards available on Etsy are all good places to start. The natural compassion of little ones always amazes me.
      [Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners]
      Kind deeds
      From bringing youngsters along on errands for friends to serving at food pantries, there are opportunities to do good deeds or volunteer at every age. By incorporating their skills – as performers, conversationalists, or organizers – they will likely enjoy the process and seek out other opportunities to give.
      Kindness coins
      We use kindness "coins" to reward examples of generous behavior, something our children take great pride in receiving. They’ve also passed them along to the crossing guard, teachers and their peers, in recognition of the acts of others. We like this idea of recognizing positive actions without resorting to bribery.
      Sometimes it can seem like there’s just too much to get done to add anything else to the mix. But the kindness of kids will warm your heart, while allowing them to become the considerate and humane beings they’re destined to be.

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    • When should you start searching for schools, both public in private, in Chicago? This guide gives you important timelines for preschools and elementary schools.
      While Chicago is replete with hundreds of school choices ranging from public options (open enrollment, magnet, selective enrollment) to private religious and independent options, all schools will require some forethought in planning except one school into which you are automatically accepted and there is never a deadline: your assigned neighborhood Chicago Public School. Each Chicago address is guaranteed an assigned neighborhood elementary (K-8th grade) and high school (9th–12th grade) that allows for immediate enrollment any time of year. Find your assigned school.
      All other schools (including other neighborhood schools) can be viable options for families but typically do require at least an application to be filled out and, in the case of private schools, can require a lengthy, multi-step process that begins one year before your child will start the program. Some private schools do have rolling admissions, but most schools start their application processes one year prior to enrolling.
      The key for families is to be prepared and not to miss their window of opportunity, with the “entry year” (i.e., age or grade a program starts) of a school typically being the time when most spots may be available. Most Chicago schools also have a fairly strict cutoff date of Sept. 1, so if a school accepts students who are 3 by September 1, you should apply the fall when your child is 2 by Sept. 1. With the exception of Suder and Drummond (both start at 3 years old) and Inter-American (starts at 4 years old), CPS schools start in kindergarten, when your child is 5 by Sept. 1. Private elementary schools typically start at 3 or 4 years-old.
      While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have a centralized application portal (www.go.cps.edu) with a set open and closing date for applications (typically the 1st Monday in October to the 2nd Friday in December), private schools have varying application deadlines that can start in late August and end in February. Be sure to check with each private school to determine application requirements and deadlines.
      Public schools may offer tours and open houses, but attendance is not a requirement for admissions. Their applications are also straightforward with one for up to 20 non-selective programs and another for up to six selective (test-based) programs.
      Private schools, however, typically do require participation in a coffee/tour, as well as require a playdate or shadow day, parent interviews, and recommendations. While some private schools share online documents (via Ravenna or similar online platforms), each has its own application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to keep track along every step.
      Whichever schools or programs you are interested in, the key is to be ready to apply by understanding the timeline. It really is a process that requires at least a year foresight so we recommend families of any age visit NPN’s Preschool & Elementary School Fair to ask about entry years and find the open house dates and deadlines for each school they are interested in.
      Updated Spring 2021

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    • If you plan ahead and bring the right supplies, it's possible to safely fly with young kids during Covid, says one Chicago mom.
      It’s not really ever easy to fly with kids. But the reward of getting to your final destination for a family vacay and creating amazing memories makes it all worth it. Right?? That’s what I tried to remind myself when my husband surprised me with a family trip to San Diego for my birthday. During the midst of a global pandemic.
      Part of me was so excited to go somewhere, to have an adventure with our family, to get out of the normal day-to-day routine. The other part of me was panicked. How on earth was I going to get through an airport and sit on an airplane with a 4-year-old and an 8-month old, when germs today have a whole new meaning?
      Something important to note here: I am a BIG germaphobe. I’ve always been very aware of hand-washing, antibacterial gel, trying not to touch “public” surfaces. Add that to a worldwide virus-spreading crisis and you have the perfect recipe for someone who should be terrified to go anywhere.
      But we went. And it was amazing.
      I would never try to talk anyone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with, but coming from someone who is very germ-adverse, I have some tips that could help you understand that it is possible to travel with kiddos these days.
      [Related: 7 tips for parents of young kids navigating Covid-19]
      Plan your antibac kit
      For me, this is pretty typical for any flight, but I felt good having my antibacterial wipes, sanitizing hand gel, and seat tray covers in my carry-on. When you board your flight (and check with airlines on pre-boarding options for families with kiddos!), wipe down everything in your seat area: tray tables, seat belts, window “sill,” armrest and buttons, video screen and overhead vents and buttons. Remember that while you might not touch something, your little ones might. So wipe it all. (Another side note: We flew Southwest; the flight felt very clean — although we still wiped down everything — and we had priority family boarding.)
      Masks
      We wore our masks the whole time we traveled — through the airport and on the flight — unless we were eating or drinking something. Masks can start to get uncomfortable after wearing for a long time, so find one that doesn’t pull on your ears or smush down your nose. Test masks out with the kiddos before traveling to make sure theirs fit well also.
      Have a bunch of extra masks, too. Kids might accidentally drop theirs on the ground or decide the mask is a napkin. And a fresh mask always feels good. (Yes, we are actually saying that these days!)
      [Related: The secret to traveling with kids? Planning, planning, planning]
      Car seat for the bambino
      If you have a baby, I highly recommend buying an extra ticket and bringing along a car seat. Babies love to be held. Until they don’t. Having a spot to tuck your little one away snugly so they can have a bottle, babble at you, or take a nap is a lifesaver.
      Bring snacks & activities
      This is something we do anyway when we travel, but I definitely made sure to pack some healthy snacks (fruits & veggies) as well as fun ones (fruit strips, M&Ms, crackers). On our flight, Southwest had limited food service, but they did offer canned water and a small bag of snack mix.
      Be patient
      We didn’t encounter long wait times, probably due to the overall reduced travel, but we gave ourselves extra time just in case. And we felt like people in general had more patience for one another, and it was nice. We really felt (and expressed) gratitude to everyone working at the airport. There’s something about this pandemic that can bring out the We’reAll-In-This-Together mentality. Silver linings…I’ll take it!
      Travel looks a little different these days, but with some planning, flying with your family is still possible. I’m so grateful I avoided any germaphobic meltdowns, and we had the time to make new memories. And not surprisingly, I’m already trying to plan the next adventure!

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    • "Our goal is to avoid being racially stereotyped as angry Black parents and change the narrative to 'strong parent advocates.'"
      As the doctor held up our firstborn, the feeling of joy and overwhelming love was quickly followed by a heavy pit in our stomachs. My husband and I looked at each other and without words, we both had the same feelings and thoughts: While we were so happy, we also knew that raising a Black boy in America is a daunting task. Fast-forward two years and the words, “We recommend your child receive the diagnosis of Autism,” shattered our world. All of a sudden, we now had to raise a Black autistic boy in America.
      My husband and I were emotionally ill for weeks. My husband, especially, had a hard time accepting our new reality. His first reaction was to not follow through with the diagnosis. As a Black man, he had first-hand experience of the stereotypes and challenges our son would face. He knew that the world may never see him for who he is as a person; he knew he would be judged by the color of his skin and his diagnosis. He knew, because of this, people may give up on him or put him in a box and never give him a chance to show how great he really is. Ultimately, we followed through with the diagnosis because, without it, our son would not get the intervention he needed. We knew that without OT, speech, or ABA therapy our son’s development could stagnate and, as an adult, this would be more harmful. It’s an important reminder: Do not let fear stop you from making the hard — yet right — decision for your child.
      [Related: How to be an anti-racist parent]
      “The Talk”
      Every Black person in America knows what “the talk” is. It is not about sex. “The talk” has been something parents in the Black community have been doing for years. During “the talk,” we learn about our history; we learn some people still see us as inferior, some people hate us, and some people may use their power and position to hinder us from achieving our goals. We learn that the educational, financial, and housing systems in this country were set up to keep us out of the American dream. We learn that some community helpers, like police, overreach their power and sometimes hurt or kill us.
      So, we wondered: should we have “the talk” with our son? He has been taught to see the police as helpers, who will be kind to him if he gets lost or is in danger. The reality is, some police officers may see the color of his skin first and view him as a threat. The reality is, as our son gets older his meltdowns will probably be misunderstood.
      My husband and I decided to have “the talk” in phases. We took into account our son’s developmental understanding of social dynamics. We have talked about slavery, we have talked about the Civil Rights movement, and we have talked about racism. We have chosen to leave out certain details because ultimately it may be more confusing and traumatizing. We still need him to seek out the help of a police officer if he is ever lost or in danger, so we decided to be proactive and not reactive. At age 10, we took our son to our local CAPS meetings and introduced him to some of the officers present. We have also taken him down to the local precinct and introduced him to officers, as well. Our hope is that proactively communicating his diagnosis will help just in case, God forbid, our son ever has an encounter with police.
      [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs]
      Angry Black Parent vs. Advocating Parent
      One of the nuances of raising Black children in America is that as parents, we have to fight stereotypes as well. Every single ER visit, we have been met with the questions, “Does Dad live in the home?” and “Do you have the same last name?” Our answer, which is “yes” to both, has always been met with surprise and sometimes shock. I even had a nurse say out loud, “Wow, that’s a first!” We have also shocked hospital staff with our organized documentation of our son’s medical history, our knowledge of his rights as a patient, and his benefits under his insurance plans. This is very important; we never want to be in a position in which racial stereotypes prevent our son from receiving the best healthcare. Make sure you are always prepared; do your due diligence.
      In addition, our approach when advocating for our son has always been from a place of knowledge. Our goal is that we, as parents, can avoid being racially stereotyped as the angry Black parents and change the narrative to “strong parent advocates.” My husband and I use this approach in other aspects of our son’s life as well.
      Raising children is hard; raising a Black autistic boy in America is even harder. My husband and I do not have all the answers, and we take each situation as it comes. Yes, we get angry and scared. Yes, it sometimes feels overwhelming. Yes, we have shed many tears. However, no matter how disheartening, exhausting, and stressful the journey may be, we never lose hope.

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    • Erikson Institute offers simple ways to begin incorporating media literacy into your everyday media encounters.
      Children are now using media at very young ages. Touchscreen phones or tablets make swiping, tapping, and clicking easy enough for even a 1-year-old to manipulate. Voice-activated speakers allow children to request their favorite songs with simple language commands, and an endless amount of content seems to be at their tiny little fingertips. Add streaming networks, YouTube, video chatting and child-directed apps to the mix, and it becomes clear that our young children are active and regular media users.
      [Related: Limit screen time for a happier, healthier kid]
      Even those families who restrict or limit exposure to media tend to regularly be pushing a smartphone in their child’s face to take all of those cute photos. It is nearly impossible for children to be completely removed from the media that surrounds us all. So why are we not supporting them to develop strong media literacy skills as early as possible?  
      We define media literacy in early childhood as the emerging ability to access, engage, explore, comprehend, critically inquire, evaluate and create with developmentally appropriate media. 
      Here's an analogy: When children are young, we talk to them about healthy eating. When they complain about eating vegetables, we explain their value in helping them grow healthy and strong. When they request ice cream for breakfast, we share that ice cream is a “sometimes food.” We talk about healthy eating as early as possible because we know this impacts their later eating habits. The same mindset is helpful when approaching media literacy: supporting strong media literacy skills early on will impact their media engagement habits. 
      While there are many concepts included in media literacy education, there are also simple ways to begin incorporating media literacy into your everyday media encounters. Here are some examples:
      [Related: I feel no guilt about my kids' screen time]
      TV shows. When watching a show with your child, ask questions to see if they are understanding the storyline and message. Explain the ways media creators use cuts, zooms, flashbacks and music to tell a story. 
      YouTube. Talk to your child about what happens when the video they selected is over. How is YouTube different from shows on our TV? Why does it suggest another video for you to watch? How did it decide what video to show you next? Explore (in kid-friendly terms) how the creators of YouTube want you to stay on the website. You can even bring up advertising here!
      Tablets and smartphones. Consider how your child uses these types of devices. Provide tools and opportunities for them to explore and create with these devices. Use the features that empower them to tell their own stories, like voice recording or photo editing apps.
      These actions and discussions may seem simple, but they are critical in early childhood. 
      Also written by Jenna Herdzina, MS, Program Manager of the TEC Center. 
      Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center is a trusted source for digital-age educators and parents seeking information about the intersection of child development, early learning and children’s media for children up to age 8. For more activities and ideas for supporting media literacy skills, check out our Media Literacy Implementation Plan. To find out more about how to support media literacy in early childhood, explore our full Media Literacy in Early Childhood Report, which includes a framework, child development information and Tips for Caregivers.

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    • Erikson Institute offers tips on how to help young children manage the stress and anxiety brought on by COVID-19, even as pandemic fatigue sets in.
      The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to mount as parents, caregivers, and families across the country navigate unprecedented challenges. Anxiety and uncertainty have become the norm, and as pandemic fatigue sets in, parents are grappling with ways to support their children’s healthy development and help them cope. 
      At Erikson Institute, a graduate school specializing in child development, our mantra is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” In the challenging circumstances we’re all facing, supportive relationships with each other are what can sustain us the most. Think about what you want your child to remember most from this unusual time, and try to create as much connectedness and joy as possible for all of you.
      Here are 7 tips for parents of young children navigating COVID-19. 
      1. Take care of yourself first. Children look to the adults in their life for cues about how safe they are. Having solid self-care routines and their own healthy ways to cope can help parents be as steady a role model as they can for their child. When children see you coping, it helps them to cope, too.
      [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] 
      2. Speak honestly and openly with children about the pandemic, but keep it simple and brief. Young children don’t understand everything going on during difficult times, but they feel better if they know&nbspsomething. Reassure them about how people can stay safe, using examples they can see like wearing masks or washing hands, and talk with them about any fears they might have. Point out the people who are responding to the crisis. In the words of Fred Rogers, “look for the helpers.”  
      3. Try to keep a routine at home. Young children thrive on routine—it helps them know what to expect so they can have a sense of control. A simple visual schedule for breakfast, playtime, nap, etc. is one strategy parents can use. Let your kids come up with items to put on a calendar, and don’t forget to include special events they can look forward to, like virtual playdates or a pillow fight night. If you’re working from home, creating your own simple visual schedule can help your children know when you’re available to them.   
      4. Let them play! Encourage your child to follow their own interests for play and (safe) exploration. It may look like “just play,” but there is a lot of learning going on. Pretend play is an especially important way for children to work out fears and stresses. Invest time in finding high-quality children’s tech content. If you can’t watch or use the technology with them, find content they can engage with on their own.
      [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year]
      5. Make a game of social distancing and hygiene, or do a project together. This can give children fun ways to retain important information and can help them feel more in control during this scary time. Help them create masks or handwashing signs to put around your home as reminders, or give them turns to be the “reminder boss.” Consider doing a project together to help other people, like thank you emails or drawings that can be sent to hospitals or grocery store workers.  
      6. If you or someone in your family gets sick with COVID-19, try to help children anticipate what will happen. Illness during this time can create even more worry and stress for you and your children. Talk about what’s going on in words children can understand. Explain clearly what is going to happen, especially if they have to be separated from you or a loved one, and emphasize what you and others are doing to make things better.   
      [Related: What it's like to be a parent with COVID]
      7. Don’t hesitate to seek help from an outside source. Erikson’s Center for Children and Families offers therapy sessions with parents remotely (by video or phone). They can be reached at 312-709-0508.  

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    • Don't want more toys cluttering your home? Here are some alternative ideas for kids' birthday gifts.
      “No gifts, please!” We’ve all received those invites, but rarely do we feel empowered to act upon those instructions. Who wants to look like a thoughtless guest, and what kids will really understand?
      Like many others, we’re trying to balance the excesses of childhood with a sense of value, while at the same time building environmental and fiscal responsibility. While we have tended to be traditionalists on the party gifts front, I've come up with these ideas to help avoid the glut of birthday gifts for future parties.
      Build a library
      Parents living in the city always appreciate getting books. Aside from being mutually approved by grown-ups and kids alike, they critically take up little space. We’ve been invited to parties where the hosts have suggested bringing a favorite book to build a library and it’s been fun for everyone.
      Book exchange
      Making the book concept even more guest-friendly is a book exchange. No need to buy a new one, just recycle one you already have. Kids love the concept of recycling and reusing, so this green option will appeal to their imaginations. A post-party trip to the bookstore can help mitigate a lack of parcels while keeping on theme.
      Secret Santa
      To avoid getting an overload of gifts you don’t need, a secret Santa concept could be helpful. Invitees each bring one gift that will go to a random child at the party. To ensure the party princess/prince remains happy you can supplement their gift with a trip to the store for a wished-for item.
      Monetary donations
      We’ve also been to parties where the parents have requested donations to a family cause. Involving your child in the steps along the way gives them a sense of responsibility. Offer them a reward for completing such a worthy project: choosing a museum to visit or selecting a new movie to see.
      Donation drive
      For those who are uncomfortable with a monetary ask, consider implementing a donations drive. Would collecting old sneakers appeal to your child’s interest in running, or would a school supplies drive be more meaningful? Creating a certificate or awarding a medal can instill a sense of pride – which can be fashioned into a gift, too.
      Artwork/poetry
      Harness your kids' creativity by asking guests to bring a picture or a poem to the party rather than a present. Use these unique pieces, alongside party snaps, to create a custom book. Then watch their face when it arrives in the mail.
      Video clips
      If you’re feeling really creative, ask for video clips instead. Give guests a prompt: advice for turning five years old, something you like about the birthday girl/boy or a crazy birthday dance. These can be used to make a special movie to share at the party. Your child is guaranteed to feel like a star, especially when they get to watch this over and over.
      Potluck contributions
      And if you don’t want to ask people to bring any kind of gift, however untraditional, asking for a food contribution can be made fun. If it’s an ice cream party, ask for toppings. If it’s a brunch party, ask for breakfast items. Purchasing a kitchen item (such as a popcorn machine or s’mores maker) for the family to use later can help kids overcome the no-gifts barrier.  
      Fiona Royer lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, Randall, and their three young children. Originally from the U.K. with a business and creative background, she now works in the Chicago philanthropic community. She believes that giving is the key to a fulfilling life.

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