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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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    • Very willing to have the baby and not the man, this Chicago mom embarked on a journey to become a single mother by choice.
      My long-term relationship that had been fizzling for quite a while had finally snuffed out when it occurred to me that I should become a single-mother-by choice. I was always able to picture myself as a mother but the image of myself as a wife was hazy. Very willing to have the baby and not the man, I started to strategize on how to make that happen.
      What is a single-mother-by-choice (SMC)?
      Sometimes called a choice mom or only parent, a single-mother-by-choice is a woman who decides to become a mother with full understanding that she will be the only parent. Or as the 2015 article, the single mother by choice myth defines it, “she’s the epitome of the modern independent woman who wants to have it all, career and family ─ taking her future into her hands, acting decisively, and doing what it takes to achieve her goal of motherhood, with no need for a man. A single-mother-by-choice will pursue motherhood with the aid of donor sperm from either a known donor, with a sperm bank, or private donation. I went with a sperm bank.
      How does it work?
      Initially, my plan was intrauterine insemination (IUI), where sperm is placed inside the uterus. Some women are brave enough to do it on their own at home. I wanted to go through a doctor. In doing so, I researched the best in the Chicagoland area and went with Chicago IVF. After sharing my medical history, I underwent a hysterosalpingogram, an X-ray of my uterus and fallopian tubes. I learned that in vitro fertilization (IVF), where the sperm and egg are fertilized outside of the body and then placed inside the uterus, was my only option. Due to the rigorous care schedule, I transferred my care to the Fertility Center of Illinois in River North because it was closer to home and work. Speaking of work, in Illinois, there is a state mandate that health insurance must cover fertility treatment, including up to four cycles of IVF.
      But how does it work as a parent?
      The African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, rings loud and true for an only parent. If not to help in childcare or to have someone in case of emergency, you will need a sane adult to let you know that you will survive. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the help of my parents—without them, working from home during the shelter-in-place would have been impossible.
      Any advice for someone considering SMC-hood?
      Working to get pregnant is well, work. Don’t be afraid to ask all of the questions. Choose a healthcare team that you’re comfortable with, especially if you’re a woman of color as racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related deaths persist. Get a full physical workup before you start. Keep a journal because pregnancy comes with a lot of feelings and your journal can be your listening ear. Focus on what you have and not on what you’re missing. 
      It took me two years to become pregnant. Out of those 730 days, Mother’s and Father’s Days were some of the roughest. The first year, I was starting IVF and had no clue if it would work. I skipped church and their Mother’s Day parade and focused all the energy I had after a good shower cry on my mom. That Father’s Day was rough because I was working to become an SMC and I was already rife with worry of how my baby-to-be would feel about the holiday seeing that she or he wouldn’t have a conventional dad. 
      By the next year, I was an IVF pro, but I still needed a distraction. I spent that holiday season uplifting other moms-to-be and hosted a Twitter giveaway for a self-care kit. However, the nervousness around Father’s Day persisted. My mom was the first person I told my decision to become an SMC. “A baby needs a dad,” she said, and I agreed. But when I told her that I didn’t want to miss my chance to become a mother because I didn’t have a man, she quickly gave me her blessing. Yet, that didn’t stop me from praying that my love for my child would be enough.
      My third embryo transfer, in which my father drove me to the doctor, was a charm. That February, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Mother’s Day of that year was going to be great. My mom and I made plans to brunch with her best friend and her daughters, all of whom are mothers. I would finally get to celebrate with the cool kids. I even bought me and the baby boy matching shirts. But the Thursday before Mother’s Day, my father had a stroke. My mother spent the holiday in the hospital with my dad, while I celebrated my first Mother’s Day worrying and taking awkward selfies of me and my son. My dad’s recovery was slow but steady. He was still in the hospital for Father’s Day. Me, mom, and the baby sat around his bed and ate salads from Portillo’s.
      This year, while Mother’s and Father’s Day was off-kilter for the entire country, I’ve finally hit a stride and that blanket of burden is gone. My son is growing into his own person every single day and I’m confident in my ability to parent him, for now. This first year of parenting has already taught me that he will change and change. Even this Father’s Day felt better. My dad is doing as well as we could expect, and I’ve begun to practice my spiel on how I will tell my son know that he’s donor-conceived. I’ve even had the opportunity to connect with two handfuls of his donor siblings ─ giving him a peek (when he’s ready) into his other side, albeit extremely non-conventional. And maybe now I will channel all that Mother’s and Father’s Day tension into a holiday more deserving, like National Brownie Day. 

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    • Interviewing, screening and selecting potential nanny candidates can be a daunting task, but it is an important part of finding a nanny that is a good fit with your family.
      There is a lot to consider when hiring a nanny. Interviewing, screening and selecting potential nanny candidates can be a daunting task, but it is an important part of finding a nanny that is a good fit with your family.
      Try to use open-ended questions that will prompt for informative answers, such as questions starting with: What? When? Why? How? Where? Or tell me about… This will avoid getting yes and no answers.
      Experience and background: Look for a nanny who has experience working in a position similar to what you are hiring them for. Finding someone who has experience working with multiple families will ensure they are familiar with adjusting to the needs of your family. Ask for a resume and have them include at least three family references. Sample questions should include: Tell me about your educational background. Do you have any formal early childhood development or childcare training? How long have you been a nanny? 2. Nanny and philosophy/approach: Make sure a nanny’s philosophy about childcare is in line with yours. Discipline is an area that needs to be discussed up front to avoid any differences of opinion on how children should be disciplined. You need to know your candidate is in the field for all the right reasons, and enjoys children. Important questions to ask are:
      Why did you choose a nanny career? Why do you like being a nanny? What do you think are the qualities needed to be a good nanny? 3.    Your requirements: Make sure the nanny’s approach to work lines up with your own requirements. Your ideal candidate should be someone who has similar values, goals and work ethic to your own. Key questions should include:
      Are you familiar with the neighborhood? What is your philosophy on food and snacks? What is your flexibility with scheduling? 4.    Additional considerations: Give the candidates some time to spend with your child in home. We also suggest families schedule a working interview with finalist candidates. Are they attentive? Do they keep your children engaged? Your observations matter a great deal when you finally make decision. A few good questions are:  
      Are they comfortable holding and/or speaking to your child? Was the nanny pleasant and have a positive and upbeat personality? Are you able to communicate easily and effectively with each other? Doing your homework and asking questions that are important to you and your family will make selecting the nanny that much easier. If you allow these questions to guide your interview process, you will find a great match in no time at all.

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    • Work with your future kindergarten age child on approaches to learning and self-regulation, language and literacy, math, and social and emotional development.
      Is your child starting kindergarten next year? Consider taking a proactive approach to ensuring he or she is ready to arrive at kindergarten and learn.
      Evidence increasingly suggests that the areas most critical to young children’s long-term educational success are approaches to learning and self-regulation, language and literacy, math, and social and emotional development. While early childhood education is instrumental in supporting a child’s learning and development, family engagement may even be paramount. In 2017, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) which is a new tool that teachers in Illinois are required to use to observe and document students’ “kindergarten readiness” based on these areas of development.
      Following are suggested activities and examples for how families can support their children in becoming ready-to-learn.
      [Related: Kindergarten readiness is the key to long-term success]
      Approaches to learning and self-regulation
      There is a strong connection between these two areas of development. The approaches to learning skills include engagement and persistence and curiosity and initiative. The self-regulation skills include self-control of feelings and behavior and shared use of space and materials.
      Young children sometimes have a tough time sticking to a task that is hard to do. You can encourage your child to complete tasks by breaking one big task into smaller steps, like suggesting, “Let’s clean up the toys one at a time.” If your child feels overwhelmed by tasks, you can set a timer and suggest, “Let’s clean up the toys in the next five minutes, and then you can go color.” And, tasks may seem easier to the child with teamwork, such as, “Let’s work with your brother or sister to clean up the toys.”
      Young children also are learning how to express their feelings through words and actions. You can help your child learn that feelings have words — happy, sad, jealous and angry. Describe the behavior you want to see: “It’s nice you are petting the dog so gently.” Express your feelings back to your child, for example, “I was frustrated when…” And, help your child learn that everyone has feelings by pointing out others’ expressions such as, “Look at the smile on that little boy’s face.”
      Language and literacy development
      Language and literacy skills are the foundation for learning English and can be demonstrated in any form of communication. Among the best ways to help children develop in this area are to listen, talk more and learn.
      Start out your day by talking through the activities you will do: “First, we’re going to eat breakfast, then we’ll get dressed.” As you read with your children, encourage them to describe what they see and develop new ideas. As you move throughout the day, ask your child, “What do you see?” and help them expand his or her vocabulary by adding descriptions, such as, “This apple is crunchy.”
      [Related: Focus on mistakes to help your child learn]
      Math
      The math learning domain includes knowledge or skills in classification, number sense of quantity, number sense of math operations, measurement, patterning and shapes. Sorting, organizing and classifying objects, ideas, smells and like items are important skills for young children to develop.
      Ask your child to help you unload the silverware from the dishwasher and sort the knives, forks and spoon in the right place. Use egg cartons to create an activity where children can sort like objects like coins, crayons or sticks. Or, ask them to help you cook and sort food by fruits and vegetables or colors.
      You can also help your child make sense of numbers and discover how they can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided by bringing numbers into conversation. For example, ask your child to count how many crackers or grapes they start with. After eating some, count again. You can talk about how many animals you see, such as “three birds” that have “six wings.” And, you can ask your child to help you set up an activity for a playdate with siblings or friends and create equal amounts of materials for each person participating.
      Social and emotional development
      Social and emotional development includes a child’s abilities to understand and interact with others and to form positive relationships with nurturing adults and their peers. At an early age, it is important for children to make friends, to work and play with other children who have different ideas and experiences, and to simply get along.
      You can support your child in working and playing well with other by setting a good example — most notably, by treating others kindly and with respect. Encourage your child to play with others and foster engagement with kids by pretending, building or talking together. Teach your children about the importance of sharing and positively reinforce them by saying, “You did such a great job sharing with your friends today.” And, help your child talk through his or her feelings and how other children may feel different about a situation.
      These are just a few ideas about how to engage with your children in the most important areas of development. You can access more tools and resources at www.isbe.net/kids.
       

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    • This mom knows her daughters won’t dish out or take any type of bullying behavior because of the 10 philosophies her family lives by.
      Remember the movie Mean Girls, where high school students created a burn book to spread rumors about each other? While I, too, enjoyed the movie and often joke with my friends that “on Wednesdays we wear pink,” the movie exposed some very harsh realities when it comes to bullying. Sadly, with the rise of social media, the issue has only progressed since the flick came out 15 years ago, and the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why provided an even clearer picture of the nationwide epidemic.
      Having two young daughters ages 6 and 3, I figured we’d have a few more years before we had to address the issue, but the numbers don’t lie: More than 160,000 kids stay home from school each day to avoid being bullied, and a startling 1 in 5 school-aged children report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
      I thought sending my daughter Hayley to elementary school would be sunshine and roses, but it only proved that mean girls do exist, and they’re everywhere: in my child’s class, in other classes, in the hallway, the lunch table and the playground. Hayley has a few “frenemies” who constantly give her a hard time about anything and everything, and she’s recounted stories to me about having her shoes pulled off while hanging from the monkey bars. Last year, a classmate even tricked her into throwing away her snack, telling her it was poison.

      In acknowledgment of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, let’s teach our children to be kind. I did, and I’m already seeing the payoff. Will my children always be perfectly behaved? No, but I am content knowing they won’t dish out or take any type of bullying behavior. Here are the 10 philosophies we live by:
      Encourage self-acceptance
      Research shows that children who bully others often do so because they are unhappy with themselves and want to deflect the attention. Talk to your child about what makes them different and unique, and encourage them to celebrate these differences. When my daughter was picked on because she was short, I wrote the book Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All) to show her she is special. Books are a great way to promote self-acceptance. Build a healthy dose of self-confidence
      Praise your child for their intelligence, personality, appearance and abilities. Celebrate their wins with them, and let them know it is OK to come in second, or even fail. Be a shoulder to cry on when they do. Teach empathy
      Acknowledge to your child that not everyone is the same as them and that it is okay. Roleplay and ask them how they might feel in someone else’s shoes. When they can understand empathy, they will learn to genuinely care about others. Highlight the golden rule
      My grandma always said you catch more bees with honey. Reinforce to your child that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. Remind them that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Suggest they show small acts of kindness that can yield big results. Stress the importance of inclusion
      Has your child talked about another classmate who is withdrawn? These kids are likely the targets of bullies. Encourage your child to show they care by acknowledging and including them. It can be as simple as inviting them to sit together at lunch or play together at recess. Raise upstanders, not bystanders
      Even if your child isn’t bullying anyone, acting as an audience for the bully and saying nothing is just as bad. Often times, bystanders don’t know what to do. Speak to your child about the importance of using their voice to take action to tell the bully to stop or to report the behavior to an adult. Speak nicely about others, and yourself, too
      A child’s mind is like a sponge—they absorb everything. Make a conscious effort to only let your child hear you speak about others—as well as yourself—in a nice way. Model positive behavior
      Children take cues from their parents, so what you do is more important than what you say. Let your kids see you opening the door for strangers or giving up your bus seat for someone who is elderly. Simple, kind gestures like this help you role-model the behavior you want to see from your kids. Give back
      Whether it is organizing a toy drive for needy children or serving meals to those less fortunate, provide meaningful opportunities for your child to experience giving back to the community. Keep the conversation going. Schedule an informal “check-in” with your child to talk about their friendships at school. Take them out for ice cream, and show genuine interest in their day-to-day life at school.

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    • A child passenger safety instructor from Lurie Children's Hospital offers practical tips on how you can buckle in your kids safely and quickly during winter.
      We sure know how to bundle up in the Midwest. We don’t let winter stop us from living life and enjoying the parks, zoos and fun outdoor activities. But it’s a lot of work to get all that winter gear on, and then there's that “no coats in car seats” rule. Madness! As a child passenger safety instructor at Lurie Children's Hospital (and a mom), I have some practical tips on how you can buckle in your kids safely and quickly during our never-ending winters.

      Why can’t my kid wear a coat in their car seat?  
      Let’s start out with a refresher of how to buckle up safely. Kids should always be buckled into their car seat snugly. To check this, use the pinch test—once your child is buckled up, try to pinch some harness webbing between your finger and thumb near your child’s shoulder. If you can pinch some slack, the harness needs to be tightened until your fingers slide right off and you can’t pinch any extra webbing. Once kids are snug enough, pull the chest clip up to armpit level. Kids need to be snug because the harness will stretch during a crash. This stretching keeps our bodies from stopping too quickly. 

      When a child wears anything bulky in the car, it creates too much space between their body and the car seat harness. If a crash happens, a child who is wearing a coat or snowsuit isn’t buckled in snugly enough to begin with, so when the harness stretches, that child can pop out of the car seat harness.  Even if they don’t come out completely, their little body is subjected to too much movement and they are more likely to have head contact with the interior of the car or with another passenger.

      Sometimes parents try to solve this coat problem by pulling the car seat harness even tighter and squishing the coat material down.  This doesn’t totally compress all the bulk though, and it can create a few other problems, too. We don’t want to overheat our babies and increase their risk of SIDS. Pulling the harness tighter when a child has a coat can also squish the coat material closer to their face, creating a suffocation risk for babies and young kids.  

      Then how can I keep my kids from freezing during a polar vortex?
      There are lots of ways to keep kids warm in the car, but only one way to keep them safe in the car. And kids don’t freeze to death in the short time it takes to get out to the car, buckle up and start driving. The warm air will be blowing through those vents in a matter of minutes.

      Here’s what my family does on those bone-chilling days:
       
      Start the car to warm it up, but not in a garage (carbon monoxide!) Actually, I’m lying. I’m always running late, so I don’t have time to warm the car up. I totally skip this step. Put on coats and hats, then run out to the car.   Get in and start the car. Yank those coats off and get buckled up.   Now here’s the best part—you can put those coats back on! Toddlers and older kids can put their coats on backward, over the car seat harness or seat belt.* The hood will end up on the front of their body when you do this. Now the bulky material isn’t between your child’s body and their harness or seat belt. If they start to overheat, it’s easier to remove. But this isn’t safe for babies, because the coat and hood could create a suffocation hazard.  So… Dress baby in thin layers. Once baby is buckled in, tuck a blanket around baby’s torso and under their arms so they can’t accidentally flip it up on their face and create a suffocation risk. Thin layers and blankets are okay for big kids, too. If you have an infant seat, bring the seat in overnight so it’s not cold when you go out to the car. Once you switch to a convertible seat, it isn’t practical to bring it inside, obviously.     * This is advice for toddlers and big kids who have good head and neck control and who don’t have any special needs that could compromise their airway safety. Always listen to your pediatrician about your child’s individual needs and safety.

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    • There are many sleep-training methods out there, but which one is right for you and your baby? Our guide breaks down the most popular methods.
      Just like babies, the idea of “sleep training” is something of a mystery. Depending on whose advice you’re following, there are conflicting rules. Even among experts, there are different methodologies. And given any methodology, there’s probably going to be a whole lot of trial and error to get it right. But above it all, there is the promise of sleep — beautiful, precious, sleep — for baby and you. To help those of you who are especially sleep-deprived, we consulted with some experts to break down the basics.
       
      What is sleep training?
      At its core, sleep training is behavior modification — which means that if you do it consistently, you will see change. Babies like consistency. So some argue that sleep training is a natural extension of reinforcing baby’s routine. 
       
      What are the different methods?
      “There are really just three different ways to change sleep behavior in children,” says Linda Szmulewitz, owner of Sleep Tight Consultants. There are many different methods coined by different doctors and experts, but they really boil down to one of the following:
       
      Extinction, aka “cry it out” method: Putting your child in their crib and leaving, not returning again until the morning. “This can work well for some children,” Szmulewitz says, “but many parents have a hard time essentially ‘doing nothing,’ especially if their child is very upset.” Graduated Extinction, aka the Ferber or “check-in” method: Putting your child in their crib and leaving, but coming back over intervals of time. “There is no magic in the actual timing of the interval checks,” says Szmulewitz, “but it is important to monitor yourself. If you are coming in and out too frequently, it can make children more upset and overstimulate them.” Behavioral Fading, aka “the shuffle” method: Staying in the room with your child while they are going to sleep (and staying until they are fully asleep), and then gradually over a period of time, working your way out of the room. “It is great with toddlers and preschoolers who want their parents with them,” Szmulewitz says, “but then their parents are stuck in the room with them, so we need to work them out of the room in a way that their child can tolerate.”  
      What’s the best age to start sleep training?
      It depends on who you ask. Kim Schaf, Founder and President of Sleep Training Solutions, uses weight as a gauge. “A great time to start thinking about sleep training is when baby is at least 13–14 pounds, having doubled birth weight.” Typically, this baby is at least 3-4 months old and there are no lingering medical issues — like reflux — that could be affecting their sleep. Szmulewitz cites that there is no science that supports sleep training for children under 4 months. “While some children are ready at 4 months, some are not and need to be a bit older, in which case sometimes 6 months is better,” she says. Most important is that both parents are ready and on board with a plan.
       
      How can you know if sleep training is the right solution?
      For starters, always check in with your pediatrician to make sure they support you beginning sleep training. After that, says Schaf, “I truly believe it's a gut feeling. When parents know their baby is ready and not getting enough sleep (or they're so exhausted that they can't function), it's the right time.” But, she warns, there is going to be some crying. “If parents know they can only hand X amount of crying, they shouldn't start.”
       
      What are the myths?
      Szmulewitz says that the biggest myth is that the Extinction (aka “cry it out”) method is the only way to sleep train. A close second: sleep training at a specific age, like 4 months old, or not at all. “This is absolutely not the case,” says Szmulewitz. “There are other ways to teach children these skills without leaving them alone crying. And there are many children (and parents) who aren’t ready at 4 months old.” Schaf says one of the most common myths she’s come across is that parents can decide to start sleep-training on a dime — i.e., get home on a Friday night and go for it. “It's so important to ‘preplan,’ to figure out which sleep training method is a fit for your baby's temperament and their parenting style,” she says. 
       
      Not sure which method is right for you? When in doubt, ask an expert. “That's my job,” says Shaf, “to develop the right plan to minimize crying, and make this process as easy and simple as possible for baby and parents.”

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    • Pregnant in Chicago? Here are tips and tricks from seasoned Chicago moms about being pregnant and giving birth in Chicago.
      Preparing to give birth in the City of Big Shoulders? Get ready. In addition to a generally friendly Midwestern vibe from passers-by, there are a handful of little-known watch-outs and hacks that Chicago moms of yore have discovered along the way. For advice, we asked our Member Discussion Forum and social media channels to weigh in: What would you tell a first-time Chicago mom? Here’s what we learned.
      [Related: 12 truths about giving birth from an OB nurse]
      Bundle up, but don’t buy a maternity coat
      Given our long winter, chances are you’re going to need a coat. But don’t fall prey to buying an expensive maternity coat — especially since you may only wear it for a short time (depending on your due date, Groundhog Day, or both). Many on our Forum advised buying a used maternity coat for the months you need it, then selling it again when you’re done. One mom said she lucked out with purchasing a plus-sized coat during Black Friday sales just after Thanksgiving: “It was great, and hundreds less expensive than a ‘maternity’ winter coat.”
      Begin your childcare search early 
      In a city as big as ours, there are a lot of childcare options...but there are a lot of new babies vying for those spots. Many NPN moms have said that they were forced to join waitlists for childcare, many of which can be more than six months long. One mom advised that especially in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, registering “by the second trimester” is a good idea. Considering a nanny? Peruse the NPN Childcare Classifieds to see what parents are saying about the nanny they're recommending. Typically, parents start looking for a nanny about 2 months before they go back to work. 
      Riding the CTA? Wear a button — and speak up.
      In fall 2019, the CTA partnered with The Mom Project to produce “Baby On Board” buttons for expectant mothers riding the El. Thing is, they’re only effective if other riders notice them and follow suit. Most moms we heard from complained that they were seldom offered seats on trains or buses, even during late-stage (read: obvious) pregnancy. Sadly, this anecdote is a common one: “One time, during a curve, my stomach smacked a rider’s face as I was trying to hold on for dear life; didn’t even phase him.” Word to the wise: Even if you’re wearing a button, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. In Chicago, seats are prioritized for expectant mothers. Claim what’s yours!
      [Related: The best-kept secret about breastfeeding]
      Plan on traffic
      Whether you’re attending those final, frequent check-ups with your doula or planning your route to the hospital, know that Chicago traffic jams can strike at any time — rush hour be damned. We’ve heard of several moms who didn’t quite make it to the hospital and had to give birth on the expressway...but we also know a mom who had the shortest hospital commute ever early on Easter Sunday. No matter your destination, try to have an alternate route that doesn’t include Lake Shore Drive or the expressway.
      Get a car seat before discharge...
      Unfortunately, some Chicago parents have found out this rule the hard way: Major hospitals, including Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern, require new parents to procure a car seat for use at discharge, whether it will be installed in their own vehicle, or a shared vehicle such as a cab or Uber. Tip: If you need help with the installation, you can have it done for free at any local fire station.
      ...even if you’re taking the El home.
      Some moms said they gave birth back in the days before car seats were required, and were able to walk or take public transit home from the hospital. But just in case, bring your car seat. Compared with births from even a handful of years ago, we heard from other members who said that they were required to bring a car seat to the hospital — even though they’d planned to head home by other means. It’s just policy.

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    • How one Chicago mom learned to appreciate the upsides of quarantining during the pandemic.
      Looking back at the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, as much as I was telling myself that everything was OK, I was dealing with my own internal panic:
      I can’t go to Trader Joe’s anymore because they don’t do Instacart. Eek. I am going to have to live with Instacart never getting my grocery order right. Eek! I am not going to get any work done because I will have to share my workday schedule’s blocks of free time to homeschool. Eek. My kids won’t have their normal Saturday activities and are going to become brain-dead from too much screen time and no social interaction. Eek. I will never have any space or time for ME. EEK! I am going to have to spend Mother’s Day with my family and not at the spa. Eek, eek, eek! I am not going to be able to hang out with my girlfriends because we really should be just hanging out outside (this was early in March/April). Eek. I like to work out online, and if I don’t work out I am not going to fit into my summer clothes. Eek, eek, eek. Summer camp is canceled and I still have to work full-time so they are probably going to have one of the worst summers ever (major mommy guilt). EEK. I internalized my personal freak-out as to not add to the anxiety my friends were already experiencing (but definitely let my husband hear it a couple of times). In the absence of a full-on panic attack, these were the thoughts going through my head the first 45-60 days. There was no silver lining—just me holding on as tight as I could to “normal,” all while trying to help keep my family safe and healthy.
      [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year]
      After a while, I unintentionally fell into a new groove—and one not marked by rushing home from school pick-up to do dinner and homework; one free from spending Saturdays running ragged trying to fit in grocery store shopping between kid activities. (Because yes, I am the mom who tries to fit in too much in an unreasonably small amount of time.) I slowly started to experience what I am calling my “pandemic slowdown”:
      Sleep: I was not waking up for 5am workouts after too little sleep, and I was allowing myself to wind down and actually get in the bed at a decent hour.
      Cleanliness: Something about a house out of sorts increases my stress level, so I became more consistent at doing a little every day to keep the house clean and neat, versus saving it all for Sunday afternoons and burning myself out. Not only did it bring my stress level down, but it actually allowed me to enjoy my home.
      Hobbies: Typically, I used vacations as an excuse to dive into books. But with nowhere to go, I fell back in love with reading light, fun fiction. I also discovered adult coloring books (great for mindless relaxing!).
      Exercise: Live Zoom classes are not that bad; they give me a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to in the absence of not yet being ready to go to the gym.
      I have actually grown to enjoy this new normal. While I have never been a fan of working from home, I appreciate the absence of fussing with the kids to wake up and get dressed, and then rushing home from work and doing homework and cooking. I choose not to think about the brain cells that my children are annihilating every day with the exorbitant amount of screen time they are getting because, at the end of the day, they are not going to die from it. I have physically felt myself slowing down. And although my 7- and 9-year-old can’t articulate it, I know that they have felt the slowdown, too (in the absence of Mommy and Daddy fussing at them to move faster and hurry up).
      [Related: A pediatrician's guide to keeping your kids—and your community—safe from flu and Covid]
      Now, don’t get me wrong. While the slowdown has been awesome for my physical and mental health, I still grapple with my fair share of mommy guilt. My kids are literally screen zombies for a ridiculous amount of time each day. I still give my husband the occasional side-eye when I feel like he is not doing his fair share. Homeschooling while working is still like oil and water.
      But at the end of the day, I feel blessed because when we do get back to normal (whatever that new normal will be), I know I am going to PAUSE and make sure that I am not just throwing my family back into the crazy tempo we once had. If there are any blessings from this pandemic, it will be me and my family slowing down and focusing a little bit more on what matters most. I hope that you are encouraged to do the same.

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