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  1. Many of us learn about sexuality from our friends, textbooks, health class, movies, or...the internet. Parents, guardians and caregivers are their children's primary educators, yet many pre-teens report they do not learn about sexuality from their own caregivers, leaving many of their questions unanswered. In this video, Jennifer Litner gives a straight-forward approach on how parents can start these conversations with their kids. Why is talking to your preteen about sex and sexuality important? What if you are terrified of talking to your preteen about sex? How do you even begin this conversation? Licensed therapist and sexuality educator Jennifer Litner answers these questions and plenty of your own, describes the benefits of sex-positive parenting, and debunks some of the myths surrounding sexuality. Download Ms. Litner's handout of resources to help you approach the topic with your child.
  2. Parenting in Chicago is hard. Two recent events reminded me of this. The first, running our two daughters out to the car parked in front of our house in what seemed like biblical rains — no attached garage to keep us dry. And the second, wading into the Chicago Public Schools application process. After reading about three different ways to apply to preschool, I realized this was the first step in a nebulous 18-year-plus journey. These are surface examples of a subtler thought that has gnawed at me for the last couple of years: This is not how I grew up. In many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I grew up in a nice suburb and have fond memories of it. That’s why I always planned to raise my children in one. If the suburbs worked for me, why wouldn’t I raise a family in the same way? Marrying a Chicago native changed things. And while we’re committed to living in the city, a review of the news headlines on any given day makes Chicago seem like the least family-friendly place to be. I’m slowly, sometimes reluctantly, learning the city is a great place for a family. What I know now is that the childhood my two daughters experience is not going to be the one that I had — and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad. Here's why: Empowerment My daughters will not be intimidated by the “big city” things that scared me. They will know how to get from point A to point B and all the way to Z. And they’ll do it by understanding the CTA routes and schedules. This ability will open up the city to them and make so many experiences instantly accessible: visiting other neighborhoods, biking by the lake, enjoying countless festivals and museums, and soaking in the world-class culture Chicago offers. Diversity The diversity of cultures, learning and day-to-day experiences my children will encounter will provide a perspective — and, I hope, understanding — that’s hard to come by in the suburbs. From trying elotes at the park to neighbors who speak a different language, their close proximity to others different from them raises an opportunity to know people and their cultures better. Social justice My girls will have a chance to see and respond to the challenges of the city. They can be part of making Chicago not just the place where they live, but the community where they thrive. For us right now it looks messy. We cart our girls to homeless shelters and imperfectly prepare meals for guests once or twice a month. But our hope is that one day they’ll lead us to the problems they seek to fix in our city and commit to serving our community. Chicago reminds me on an almost-daily basis that the things that are worthwhile are often challenging. Raising a family in Chicago is a worthwhile challenge, and one that will leave me thankful that my daughters experience a different childhood than my own.
  3. Children and teens interact with internet using a variety of social media and apps, and each presents its own safety concerns. In this 37-minute video Dr. Kortney Peagram of Bulldog Solutions discusses popular apps, the meaning behind emojis and how to keep kids safe online. This 37-minute video will help you better understand how to keep your child safe online. You’ll learn about the pros and cons of internet safety apps and monitoring systems, how to detect and prevent cyberbullying and cyberdrama, and the many online trends and how they may affect your child. We also discuss the latest social media apps and how kids use them. Visit Dr. Kortney Peagram's Parent Hub via GoogleDocs for additional resources and handouts on this topic: Parent Hub
  4. Article
    “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” Does that quote sound familiar to you? If you don’t remember those words, they were spoken by our current president two years ago during Black History Month. The clip went viral because Trump used present tense to compliment the famous abolitionist, which suggested that he thought Frederick Douglass was still alive. Unfortunately, for the president, Douglass has been dead for over a century! While this mistake was both laughable and depressing, we as a nation do not always know that essential part of U.S. history known as Black History. For too many parents in Chicago, this 28-day celebration of Black contributions to the U.S. is just another month, but with fewer days. Given the profound influence Black people have had on this country, it's quite sad that more of us are not informed about their contributions. More important, “us” includes parents. Our city, Chicago, is filled with Black history, and should be known by every parent that is a proud Chicagoan. For example, how many of these Chicago Black History facts did you or your school age child not know? • The first non-native permanent settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Haitian man. • The DuSable Museum of African American History is the second oldest, independent, nonprofit Black History museum in the country and was co-founded by Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs and her husband in 1961. • Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived on the West Side during his fair housing fight in North Lawndale. • Along with Frederick Douglass, nationally-known activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (for whom Congress Parkway was recently renamed) organized a boycott against the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for its exclusion of Black people. • Chicago was one of the main stops for southern blacks during the Great Migration. • The name “Bronzeville” was coined around 1930 by a theater editor for the Chicago Bee newspaper, who was inspired by the “bronze” color of African American skin. How did you do? How did your child do? Did it spark any curiosity? Good! For families that may not know where to start, check out your local library. Librarians can offer information on African American history events, documentaries and books that fit your child’s level of interest. It’s also an excellent place to explore stories you never knew existed. In our current climate of ignorance and hatred, we cannot afford to ignore difference and pretend to be color-blind. Teaching your children about Black history before a misinformed public figure does is important so they learn to value people's differences. We, as parents, have the ultimate influence on how our children view our segregated city, our world, and how they fit into it and relate to other people. Culturally-aware children grow up to be culturally-competent adults who can help bring more equality and justice into the world. Wouldn't it be nice to have more people like that in the future?
  5. Another holiday season is over, leaving many with sweet memories of “joy to the world,” while for others there is a bitterness of “bah humbug.” Some of those feelings derive from the surplus of things and loved ones we were surrounded by—or not. Our materialistic culture gives us both the illusion of abundance and the pressure to replace our possessions with the latest and newest version. Our motivation to consume is to make us happier. But is that what it’s actually doing? As a child, I grew up learning hard lessons about the value of money because my family had a tumultuous relationship with financial stability. The inconsistency in having things—both that I needed and wanted—taught me how to be disciplined in saving and savoring. My partner, on the other hand, grew up in material privilege. Despite those differences, we agree on shaping our children’s thinking about store-bought items as complementary and not essential to a meaningful life. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and genders highly value what our society has placed on a pedestal—smartphones, designer clothes and shoes, or other status symbols. When it comes to feeding the soul, these things mean very little. Instead, the false and temporary sense of importance they give us disappears as soon as hot new items hit the shelves. The holidays are often a hard time for parents. Once the parties are over and the gifts have been opened, all of our possessions, old and new, can make us feel both overwhelmed and empty. Given this bottomless pit of consumer (un)satisfaction, what is a parent or a shopaholic to do? A lot, if you’re striving for unshakable inner peace. It is definitely a long journey to change certain habits, but here are some steps we can all take while we and our families are on that road: Let go of old stuff. Donate smartphones, toys, and clothing to local organizations serving those in need; a school STEM program could utilize your old phone to build an app. A domestic violence shelter could benefit from the use of your unused phone. Don’t just wait until the holidays to volunteer; people are in need all year round. Share your creativities with those who value you—it could feed your soul and others. Playdates rule! The more positive human interaction, the better. Play board games together as a family. It’s a favorite routine for our family after a stressful workday. Listen to music. Name all of the instruments you hear, or play along with your own. As a mother who is aware that my personal growth benefits my entire family, I stay motivated by their watchful eyes. I am hoping that what I am planting will grow into something that will reflect our core family values. So, when my partner and I hear our oldest say that she wants to be rich so she can give money to end homelessness, my partner and I see this as a small achievement. Surrounded by our relentless consumer culture, we do our best to feed our children unconditional love, a sense of community, and the importance of justice as the things truly worth “consuming” every day.
  6. Chicagoans don’t need to wait for spring cleaning time to come around. With months of cold, inhospitable weather, there’s plenty of time to fit in a January purge beforehand. After the abundance of the holidays and the resolutions of the New Year, this is the perfect time to clear out the old. I enjoy this enforced home time to reassess what our family has and needs, and to get organized. However, while clearing out can seem like a great idea when you start, it can quickly become overwhelming. To prevent being left with heaps of random objects and fraught family members, I implement these steps to keep the project under control — and even enjoyable. [Related: How to counter consumer culture with your kids] Involve the whole family. I use these purges as an opportunity to speak to my children about giving. This is the perfect opportunity to highlight how lucky we are and to emphasize the positive qualities of generosity and empathy. Ensuring all members of the household have a say in what is donated and where, there is ownership and a willingness to participate. Set aside some time. Find a time to embark upon your purge when you’re not going to be rushed. Fitting something in between appointments is asking for trouble. Things do not always go to plan and your younger helpers might not work as quickly as you’d like. Allocating a longer stretch on the calendar keeps everyone relaxed. Then if you have some time to spare, you can reward your team with a well-earned snack. Gather bags and boxes. When you’ve set a date, the next step is to ensure that you have enough bags and boxes to sort unwanted items into. Especially now that stores aren’t giving out bags so readily, these may not be on hand. You don’t want to be left with piles of stuff that you need to deal with later. Assign tasks. Determine which areas to be purged can involve children and which might be best dealt with alone. Clothes could be an easy one to enlist help with. Little ones can understand the concept of giving away pieces that don’t fit. Toys you might have to sort through yourself, to avoid emotional outbursts. [Related: A British expat on teaching kids manners] Divide your donations. As you go, divide things into separate bags or boxes depending upon type. Having all books together, toys together and clothes together makes it easier to donate things to the right place. You don’t want to have to re-sort later. Determine where to donate. Think ahead about where you want to send your chosen items, and be sure to check that they’re accepting donations. Some places only take seasonal items or are already heavily stocked in certain areas. Another crucial thing to keep in mind is drop-off hours. Loading up your chosen items, and be sure to check that they’re accepting donations. Some places only take seasonal items or are already heavily stocked in certain areas. Another crucial thing to keep in mind is drop-off hours. Loading up your car to find that your preferred destination is closed is a waste of precious time. I keep a list of resources to donate to. The schools and church we belong to have donation drives throughout the calendar year, so we store items specifically for those. We also know which charities take clothing, toys and books, and which places we can make year-round donations to when we’re ready. Resale stores can provide another outlet for higher-end items. Then there are of course resources where you can post and sell items online. For the more creative, organizing a swap social for friends can be fun and a great bonding opportunity, too. As they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!
  7. We all know how much kids like to receive. You only have to mention Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy to understand how true that is. So how can we teach our children to appreciate that the holiday season is primarily about giving, not getting, and to understand how lucky they are? Start early. Although giving and gratitude are hard concepts for really little ones to grasp, it’s never too early to start building a culture that embraces them. I’ve heard that by the age of 4 habits for life have already been formed. So as well as teaching your kids that they should brush their teeth twice a day, you could also use this time to establish positive behaviors around generosity and thankfulness. Use their language. While some of the language around this subject may be too sophisticated for the smallest members of the family, using words they can relate to helps encourage familiarity early on. Taking advantage of the wealth of children’s books on this subject can help. Favorites in our family include Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, Thankful by Eileen Spinelli and Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud. There really is something to suit all ages. Involve them. You can also introduce youngsters to philanthropy at a tender age, involving them in donation drives at school, daycare, community center, or wherever your family is connected. It’s obviously more meaningful to have your children select something to donate for themselves, although it can be hard for them to give away something of their own (even a toy they no longer play with). But if you’re out shopping for something for them, try having them pick out something for someone who has less than they have. Or start with a less emotive food drive and turn a mundane grocery run into something more like a treasure hunt. Utilize tools. Another way to bring in the concept of charitable giving is to use a philanthropy piggy bank. We have a charming one that has a larger mama pig for saving and a smaller, nestling piglet for giving. It’s easy then to suggest birthday money is divided up between them. Finding a charity that your youngsters feel some affinity toward (a school initiative or an animal charity, for example) can help make this idea easier to relate to. Then let them know how proud you are of them for doing this. It is said that children are more highly motivated by feelings of self-worth than tangible rewards. Harness creativity. Of course, the physical act of giving something can be an enjoyable project in itself. Labeling gift tags can be good writing practice, while glitterizing or bedazzling a package is what kids truly do best. Setting up a creativity station and putting on some holiday music can make this a fun afternoon activity for the whole family. Play mail carrier. Finally, have your kids deliver gifts with you. Recipients will be touched seeing a child hand over a present, and that joy is something your kids will get to witness first-hand. Making a connection between giving and joy is a powerful tool. Giving can be pleasurable for a child too, it just takes a little effort.
  8. When I met my now-husband, he introduced himself using his middle name, Cyriac. “Cyriac” was especially difficult for me to pronounce because it was completely foreign to my ears. I remember being tongue-tied every time I attempted to say his name. Because of those earlier awkward, yet amusing, moments, I always give others grace when they have the same experience hearing his name for the first time. Because of that expected awkwardness, in certain situations, my husband sometimes chooses to offer his first name, John. Most people expect him to have a longer and more “difficult” name because his parents are from India. However, most of his family members have short, biblical names. I was intrigued and perplexed to learn of the prevalence of Christian names (both first and surnames) in the region of India where they are from. When Cyriac’s father immigrated to the US, he switched his surname from Madathikunnel to Mathew, which was his middle name. He and other family members made this change to make it easier for those they would encounter in the States. Many immigrants make similar choices when they immigrate here and start a family. Some parents are inspired by their favorite American TV characters or chose a name that will hopefully assimilate their offspring into their new society. But not every new American chooses that route. Sometimes they make another choice that aligns with other values they have. It is a freedom of choice and a privilege some of us forget we have in America. For those Americans—whether “new arrivals” or “born on American soil”—who have names or choose names for their children that are “ethnic,” “unique,” or assumed to be “made up,” they sometimes encounter people who show disrespect, sometimes unconsciously, when they introduce themselves. When this occurs, it can be described as a microaggression. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).” For example, asking to call someone by a nickname because it’s easier for you to pronounce is considered a microaggression. I understand that asking for an easier way to identify a person could be seen as an effort to meet them “halfway.” But avoiding someone’s birth name instead of training your tongue to learn it could be taken as an insult. It took time for me to finally pronounce Cyriac with ease. Today, when I perfect a new name, the smile I sometimes see on a person’s face is worth every minute I spent practicing their name. It is especially fulfilling for a child to see me, as a school staff member, make the effort to learn their name. By doing that, I show them that I value them as a whole person. Since my goal is to build relationships with people, simply pronouncing a person’s name properly is a good first impression and sets a positive foundation for future interactions. As parents, Cyriac and I chose unique, yet culturally rich names for our children. We teach our children to educate anyone they encounter to properly pronounce their names because they have great meaning and were chosen to inspire them. So, the next time you, a loved one and/or your child encounters a person with a “difficult” name, please remember that names tell a story, hold power and contain a legacy. The effort that we make to humble ourselves and seek guidance on mastering new names makes a world of difference in showing respect and building relationships with others.
  9. This 45-minute webinar offers information and resources about the special education process once your child enters school. Parents will learn special needs laws, terms and acronyms, timelines and strategies for advocating for your child. Watch the above video. Whether your child is in Head Start, Pre-K or Kindergarten, you'll benefit from this overview of the processes and procedures necessary for your child’s education. Topics include parent rights and responsibilities, the special education process, special education options, and where to find resources and support.
  10. As a parent and a long-time resident of Chicago, I often feel a great deal of conflict toward my changing city. Its natural and man-made beauty, as well as its diversity, are what makes many locals feel so proud to live here. Yet and still, there are things that cause feelings of shame and anguish to surface in many residents, myself included. I like how Chicago blends modernization and world-class charm with our simple family values. It’s why so many transplants come here. In one part of town, we have our chill, lakefront vibe and a surplus of fun to be had, while other parts are riddled with dilapidated buildings, underfunded public centers and schools, and conflict stemming from unresolved and ongoing trauma. It leaves many residents of this city feeling mixed emotions. When I think about these things, I feel a range of emotions in the same way Chicagoans feel a range of weather on any given day. [Related: 3 reasons I'm glad my kids aren't growing up in the suburbs like I did] I was born and raised mostly in Chicago. If it weren’t for my shy, but adventurous mother and her nomadic lifestyle, I would not have had the privilege of growing up around so many vastly different people. My beginning years were spent in Englewood. Despite what many outsiders may assume about Englewood, it provided so many wonderful childhood memories. My sense of self was influenced by the strength of community I was surrounded by in Englewood. Unfortunately, everything changed with the infiltration of narcotics. I, like so many other residents, witnessed the decline of a community that no longer looked, sounded, or felt like home. Fortunately, my mother had the means to leave an undesirable living situation, which changed my world as a child. Rogers Park and Uptown were our next places of residence. The level of diversity on the North Side was like tasting a new flavor that made me wonder why it took so long to experience such euphoria. The children in the neighborhoods where I lived were the most open-minded and kind-hearted humans I had ever met. As a result, my transition to the North Side was smooth despite the differences. I grew up learning about so many different customs, foods and religions through my friendship with classmates and neighbors. Through our relationships, my new friends and I expanded our parents’ worldview and made them realize that there were very few differences between us. We were members of the human community. It wasn’t until I moved into my first apartment in South Shore that I stopped calling the North Side “my side.” After living on the South Side for many years, I repeated history. In 2016, my partner and I took a leap of faith and relocated to the “North Pole” (my side). This time it wasn’t out of fear for our safety, but because of the difficulty in finding a reasonably priced home close to a diverse, level 1+ neighborhood school. Unfortunately (and fortunately), parts of the North Side were still incredibly diverse and economically stable compared to the “prestigious college neighborhood” on the South Side where we lived. I wanted our children to experience the ”world-class diversity” we Chicagoans pride ourselves for having. [Related: Why I didn't move after a nearby shooting] Fast forward to now: My daughter has so many friends from different countries, all of which she can identify on our world map. She pronounces their names and countries with ease. As we walk around our neighborhood, seeing a hijab, braids, a spodik, saris, locs, or a burqa is normal to her and a comfort to me. I wish all Chicagoans could experience this harmonious diversity. It might encourage us to easily identify as citizens of the world.
  11. It was February 2016—less than three months before our son was born—when my wife and I attended NPN’s Preparing for Parenthood: Workshops & Expo at the Erikson Institute. Among the people we spoke with during that event was someone from Bright Start College Savings. As we flipped through the pamphlets on the table separating us from this man in a bright orange shirt, he explained how 529s (“tax-advantaged savings plans that help put money toward your future student’s education” if you’ve never heard of these) work and the benefits of starting to save for our son’s college tuition and fees as soon as possible. I had heard of these plans, but I never put much thought into them because, well, I never had anyone’s education to save for until a couple years ago. So after the event, this frantic father-to-be who was—and I suppose still is—obsessed with finances, starting crunching numbers to determine if we could afford another hit to my paycheck (adding a child to your employee health insurance isn’t cheap). “How much biweekly paycheck deduction would I need to take so we could save X amount of dollars by the time our son reaches college age?” was the question that kept bouncing around in my head. But now, with our son quickly approaching his 2nd birthday, we’ve long stopped worrying about how we’re going to pay for his college. And it’s not because we don’t care about education (keep reading) or that we’re rich (far from it). It’s because we’ve decided not to save a penny. Why, you might be wondering? Because we would prefer to spend money on travel. My wife and I have advanced degrees—and the student loan debt to prove it—and I've been a college English instructor for nearly a decade, so we completely appreciate the value of education. But from our perspective, us not starting a college fund will not prevent our son from attending the college of his choice or earning a degree or becoming a happy and successful adult. If he decides to go the college route when high school ends, he’s free to take out loans like Mommy and Daddy did, get a job to help pay for school or, better yet, earn a scholarship. Some may consider that a harsh approach, as our son could end up going into more debt because he doesn’t have the resources to meet rising educational costs, but we refuse to stare at reports of rising college costs and panic about whether he will have the funds to cover tuition and fees starting in 2034. Our focus is on the now and teaching him that the world is much more than just the street, city, state and country where he lives. We could never fully explain to him the wonders of Paris, my wife’s hometown, by reading him a book about the Eiffel Tower or making a crêpe recipe. So we took him there. We couldn’t fully explain what it feels like to attend a luau in Honolulu by clicking open a YouTube video. So we took him there. We couldn’t fully explain what it feels like to play on the beach in the Dominican Republic. So we took him there. We understand our son probably won’t remember these trips, but by continuing to make travel a priority in our lives over the next 16 years—or however how much longer he lives with us—we’re hoping to provide a valuable education that can’t be obtained by attending a lecture, cracking open a book or firing up the Internet. There is nothing like experiencing new places and cultures, trying new foods and better understanding other people’s perspectives on the world. We would much rather see that type of growth from our son than to see a college fund grow.
  12. It was a Sunday afternoon last month and I found myself doing something I rarely get the chance to do: laying on the living room couch in a silent house. With our young son asleep in the other room, I was mindlessly flipping channels looking for something, anything, to keep my mind off the fact I had no workout planned. For the previous six months, I started every day looking at my workout log and preparing myself to meet that day's challenge. I followed that routine as close as the rest of my schedule would allow, as I missed just five workouts during that 26-week stretch. Each time I crossed off that day's scheduled exercise, I gained more and more confidence. Yet here I was, exactly one week removed from crossing the finish line alongside my wife at the Honolulu Marathon in what was one of the most exhilarating and proudest moments of our lives, and I suddenly had nowhere to run. I felt like a failure. While I know this isn't true, as I am blessed in many ways, the importance of setting/striving for personal goals became crystal clear for me in that moment. I can't just have my life revolve around my son and his activities. He will always come first, but I need to move me-time up my list of priorities and be running toward something—and it doesn't need to be the finish line of a marathon or any other athletic endeavor. It could be learning an instrument (which I'm considering), a foreign language, how to paint, or something else. It just needs to be something because: Whether I achieve my goal or not, just taking the steps to achieve my goal will help me experience personal growth and keeps me energized, both physically and mentally. Setting goals brings balance to my life. Not everything can be about my son. It just can’t. It gives me something to look forward to that doesn’t involve walks to the park, Wiggleworms or my son’s Saturday morning French class. It sets a good example for my child. By trying to better myself and staying focused on my personal goals, my hope is that my son will one day learn the importance of goal-setting and trying to improve himself—in whatever way he feels is necessary.
  13. Children are receiving homework as young as the kindergarten age, and some students report spending up to six hours a night on it. Many kids learn how to cope and manage the homework load, but what about children with anxiety? Anxiety negatively impacts concentration, inhibits learning, and can make it difficult for an anxious child to display her true knowledge and grasp of the material. Following are a few anxiety-ridden scenarios and how to help. Anxiety: “My logical, problem-solving brain won’t work and I feel stupid.” When children are operating from an anxious brain, their logical, problem-solving, executive functioning brain is out of reach. Can you imagine trying to complete a math problem without the ability to use logic? In addition, anxiety creates added stress, which interrupts the ability to sustain focus. A child may be able to demonstrate her true knowledge when she is operating from a calmer state, but can’t recall the information during an anxious moment. In this anxious state, 30 minutes of homework takes 3 hours, frustration rises, exhaustion enters, and your child ends up feeling stupid. How to help: If anxiety is impacting your child’s ability to demonstrate knowledge, is causing your child to spend more time on homework than his peers, or is adding significant stress after school, you may ask your teacher for some accommodations to support your child. Homework may be shortened or broken down into smaller parts, a time limit may be implemented on how much time a child may spend on homework, and in some cases, homework can be completely waived. Anxiety: “I worry so much about turning in a perfect paper that I end up procrastinating.” Children and teens will often cope with their fears of inadequacy or making mistakes with procrastination. Parents and teachers may inaccurately label these kids as lazy or tell them to try harder. This only puts more focus on the child’s struggles and shines a light on the child’s need to seek external achievements and rewards to gain self-confidence. How to help: Use your relationship to notice what you see. Say, “I notice you have a hard time finishing your homework. What’s the hardest part?” or “I wonder if you worry so much about being perfect, it’s hard for you to get started.” By opening up a nonjudgmental conversation, you may help your child gain some insight into their anxious response to homework. Anxiety: “Homework takes away from my play, and I need play to learn, relax, and reduce my anxiety.” Children learn through play. If your child compromises her free time for homework, then your child is at risk for increased anxiety, stress, learning challenges and health issues. A relaxed and rested brain is a brain that is open and ready to learn. How to help: Create a routine in which your child is able to relax his mind, body, and burn off energy he may have had to hold onto during the school day. Discover a homework routine that works best for your child. Your child may need to get some physical exercise immediately after school before diving into homework. Alternatively, your child may need to start homework immediately, but utilize sensory supports such as fidgeting, music, or bouncing on an exercise ball while working. Break homework up into small parts and allow frequent breaks. Never sacrifice a child’s after-school play or relaxation time for homework. Be the support network. Homework is mistakenly thought of to be an independent time of study. I encourage caregivers to look at homework as an opportunity to connect and spend time with their child. An anxious child’s brain will calm with your presence and support. You will also discover exactly what parts of homework are difficult for your child and in turn help your child more. You will have the opportunity to teach your child the skills she is lacking and help develop positive coping tools.
  14. There are characteristics I hope I can pass along to my 17-month-old son—my honesty, work ethic and reliability are a few. Preferring to be in the background in social situations is not one of those characteristics. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to be following in daddy’s footsteps in that regard as no matter whether he’s with my wife and me at music or French class, the local playground, or NPN’s Fright-Free Halloween Fest, he always seems to be in the middle of the action, chatting with anyone and everyone, and just being his very social self. I’m thrilled to see this, but make no mistake, it can be a challenge when my son puts me in social situations that I would—under any other circumstance—try to find a way to avoid. So how do quiet, reserved parents like myself overcome their own social insecurities when their child doesn’t seem to have any? These strategies have been, at least at times, helpful for me: Don’t be such a grownup We spend enough time paying bills, preparing meals, changing diapers and being responsible. Why not take your child’s lead, let loose a little, and, like the saying goes, “dance like no one is watching”? Scream and run around at the park with your little one. Sing with confidence with you’re asked to belt out an impromptu solo at Wiggleworms in front of a crowd of 10 parents and children. Throw on a wig and make Halloween fun for the first time since you were a kid. Besides an opportunity to make a fun memory with your child, what do you have to lose? Focus on the benefits When I go to the bakery around the corner for my small café latte, I rarely engage in small talk with any of the workers or other patrons. I’m there for my drink and then I either flip open my laptop or I head home. A few months ago, though, I was there on a Saturday morning with my son to pick up a snack and I started chatting with a man seated next to us. This man asked if I knew about the other coffee shop around the corner that had added a special kids section where kids could play with a train, toys and games while their parents could sit and drink a coffee. I had not. But now, just because of that 5-minute conversation, that other coffee shop has become one of our family’s favorite local hangouts, especially when bad weather prevents us from going to the park. This is just a simple example, but it shows how opening yourself up to others can open doors for you and your child(ren) that you may have never even known existed. Avoid those dreaded awkward silences A couple weeks ago on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took our son to the above-mentioned coffee shop so he could play and we could get some much-needed caffeine after a long weekend of activities. We were the only ones there for about 15 minutes until another family arrived with their son, who was a little older than ours, and a baby girl. This area is cramped to begin with—I started feeling claustrophobic when none of the four adults were saying anything to each other. Just thinking about this experience makes me uncomfortable, and I regret not saying something more than “Hello” when they arrived and “Have a good night” when we left. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable this experience would have been for everyone had someone struck up some sort of conversation to break the ice. Instead of worrying about saying the wrong thing, just saying anything can sometimes be all that it takes to get a good conversation going. Remember that you’re setting an example I think about this one often as our son is in that phase where he’s repeating almost everything my wife and I say and mimicking our movements. It’s quite remarkable to see this type of growth, but it has also opened my eyes to how observant he has become of our behavior. And he’s just going to become more and more aware. So it’s up to my wife and I to show him that it’s not only safe to connect with others, but he can gain a lot from these interactions.
  15. When you ask your kids the question, “How was school today?”, count yourself lucky if you get an “OK” or “fine.” As parents, we all want to know: Are they having fun? Are they playing nicely with others? Are they nurturing healthy relationships with their friends and peers? And the one that worries us the most, Are they eating lunch? Every day, tons of us suffer from not being able to communicate effectively with our children. As a mother of three and a parent educator, I’ve had to learn how to communicate with young children, especially after school. Here are some tips and examples to get the communication between you and your child started. Be mindful. Know that they have been sitting for most of the day (at least six hours!), and some days they may be frustrated about the day and not ready to talk. Bite your tongue and resist the urge to wear your FBI hat. Do not interrogate them. You may want to wait until dinner or bedtime to ask. In the meantime, concentrate on making the time fun and relaxing by asking easy questions, e.g., example “What would you like to eat for dinner?” Ask open-ended questions and be specific: “Tell me about something new you learned in Math today.” “Where is the coolest place in the school? Why?” “Who is the funniest person in your class? Why?” Share something about your day and ask about theirs: “I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. What about you?” “I am getting ready for a meeting tomorrow and need to create an agenda. When is your next exam and what is it going to include?” Use their artwork as a conversation starter: “Which technique did you use here?” “What were you feeling when you drew this?” Ask silly/fun questions: “Tell me something that made you laugh today.” “If you could be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach and how would you teach it?” Know the school schedule: “Today is Thursday: Tell me about the new song you are learning in music class today.” Don’t forget the not-so-nice questions: “Tell me about something that made you sad today.” “Is there someone in your class that needs a time-out? Why?” “What can you do when you feel sad or frustrated in school?” Finally, listen. As soon as your child gets in the car, stop whatever you are doing and be present in the moment. Let them be the first to say anything and do not come up with conclusions before you hear the entire story. Children gain confidence as they relate their day and you affirm them. Be aware of signs. Your child may be showing off more than just having a bad day. Remember to stay in constant communication with the teacher. Teaming with the teacher helps the child be successful because after all, it takes a village! Nilmari Donate is the founder of HKC Parenting and School Consulting Services. She holds a BA in Public Health and an MA in Parenting Education and Support from DePaul University. She is the mother of three young bilingual and multicultural children.
  16. Parenting a toddler can be hard enough without the pressures of finding that “perfect” school for your curious, inquisitive, rambunctious and eager little one. You’ve heard the rumors before: ”Get into the right school now so that your path to Harvard is assured. If you miss your window, you’ve missed your chance!” But is that really true? Is there even such a thing as a “golden ticket” to those coveted universities? Are we doomed to let go of those lofty dreams if we send our child to the up-and-coming school down the street? Does it really all start with preschool?! [Related: Play all day? That's exactly what your preschooler should be doing] Rest assured that the biggest predictor of student success is engaged, involved parents versus a hefty tuition bill or a storied, exclusive school. As parents, our main job is to make sure our child is thriving, growing, staying inquisitive and learning how to get along with others in whatever environment they find themselves. While rumors abound among new parents (especially from the exclusive and pricey enclaves of New York City) that a child’s path to educational nirvana starts with the right brand-name preschool, the real skinny is that it simply isn’t true. Here in Chicago, we are lucky to have a breadth of school options that can all spark a lifelong quest for knowledge. Plus, the diversity of our city makes for a rich educational experience in its own right. Angst-ridden nights worrying about how and when to get into the “right” preschool become unnecessary when parents realize that not only do kids at “top” high schools come from all pathways (public, private, well known, under the radar, selective, traditional, etc.), but the coveted colleges only accept a small number of students from each high school, no matter the caliber of students. In the end, the goal for parents is to find schools that allow your child to unleash their potential and develop their self-confidence, no matter the name on the school’s door. [Related: What's up with Universal Pre-K? Here's what we know] But what about entry years and getting into a certain school? Is it worth the anxiety? While it’s true that more spots can be available if you apply when a program starts, there is always attrition and families can and do make school changes based on a child’s evolving needs and desires as he/she grows. The array of Chicago school choices means that finding a great school fit at any time along your child’s school journey is possible. From the play-based preschool to the Reggio-inspired elementary to the international baccalaureate high school, all experiences shape each child’s unique skills, interests and goals, which combine into the thoughtful, empathetic and well-rounded high schooler that the coveted universities are looking for. Research different types of school options at NPN’s Preschool & Elementary School Fair to learn about the many school offerings in and around Chicago. Remember: If a child begins his/her early education at a school that feels right for your family but isn’t necessarily a “big name” draw, don’t fret or feel pressured to make a change. That “happy fit” preschool is creating the spark that will go on to shape the innate curiosity and interests of your future college-bound child, wherever they ultimately attend!
  17. Article
    It was Father’s Day morning, so I took our 13-month-old to the park for a little father-son bonding. It was early, so I was surprised to see a few families already camped out near our favorite pieces of equipment. What I wasn’t surprised to see was one mom with a phone pressed against her ear and paying little to no attention to her young son. If you’ve read my blog, you know one of my pet peeves is parents focusing on their phones instead of their children, so the sight of this woman on her cell while this young boy kept asking if he could play with us really annoyed me. I felt bad for this little boy—who doesn’t want attention?—but I just wanted a little uninterrupted father-son time on Father’s Day. Well, that didn’t quite happen. Using a stick he picked up off the ground, my son was doing his best drum solo effort on this small rope swing when the little boy came over. Again. He took the stick from my son and after fiddling with it for a second, he turned it toward my son and hit him in the middle of his chest. Thankfully my son wasn’t hurt, although he had that why-did-you-just-do-that look on his face. Clearly, this other boy had no malicious intent, but if I (a first-time dad) see someone do something that could possibly injure my son, and especially if this person should have been supervised closer, the quiet and reserved part of me that most people know will quickly disappear. I can’t remember the exact words I used toward this boy after checking to see if my son was okay, but it was to the effect of, “We don’t do that. It’s not nice to hit other people.” The boy’s mom had pried her phone off of her ear long enough to hear me speaking to her son, and the gloves were off. Her defense was that she saw my son throwing wood chips before her 3-year-old hit him with the stick, so therefore my boy wasn’t innocent either. My response? I told her that her child was older and should know not to hit people with sticks. Beyond that—and I knew this was my chance to stick it to her—this all could have been avoided if she wasn’t so focused on her phone. “You’re an a&*%$#@,” she told me as she grabbed her son and left. Thankfully I’ve avoided further conflicts with parents since this episode, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before my son or someone else’s child will do something in a public place that will put me and another parent in what Catherine Main, Senior Lecturer and Program Coordinator at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, refers to as “incredibly awkward and uncomfortable” situations for parents. Main offers tips that could make these situations a little easier for everyone: Keep your cool. “The key to the situation is for everyone to keep level heads,” Main said. “A 3-year-old does poke others with sticks. It doesn’t mean they’re bad children. It also doesn’t mean their parents are bad people. It’s part of their developmental process. What happens if I poke this little guy with a stick? … There’s no malice involved. They’re just experimenting. The frustrating part is probably that this parent is on the phone and not guiding her son’s exploration and experimentation.” Safety first. “As a general rule, I think parents should be very cautious about (disciplining other children),” said Main, who has a 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. "But always err on the side to make sure everyone is safe. You could have just picked your son up and moved him away from the situation that wasn’t safe. That would have been modeling for the other child.” Support other parents. “It’s really important that parents have a lot of empathy for one another—and try to be supportive of one another,” Main said. "This is not easy. There are not right and right wrong ways all the time. You also have to be able to forgive yourself, because you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. And that’s okay. Your kids will forgive you.” Walk the walk. Main added: “The key thing is always keeping in mind I want my child to realize that 1) I am a safe adult and always will be that safe adult and consistent and calm, and 2) remember, they’re watching you and that’s really where they learn. You can think you’re telling them something, but they learn from watching you.” It seems like both me and the mom I got into the confrontation with on Father’s Day have some room for improvement. Make no mistake, there will be plenty of opportunity for that.
  18. My parents live in the suburbs and don't get to see our almost one-year-old son as often as they'd like. So my wife and I do our best to email them photos and updates so they can feel like they’re experiencing our boy’s growth each step of the way. Maybe we need to do a better job updating them because one of the first things my mom said about our son during a recent visit was: “He’s changing so much. You probably don’t even realize it.” It took me a second to respond. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I never really thought about it.” But now that I’ve had time to reflect, it makes sense that the physical/other changes our son has experienced will be more noticeable to someone who doesn’t see him on a daily basis. However, this has got me thinking – what have I missed even though I’ve been with him every day since he was born? I think parents, even if they're physically present in their children’s lives, are sometimes (maybe often?) not truly there. They’re thinking about challenges at work or emails they need to respond to, wondering how they're going to find time to clean the house and make dinner, or imagining what it must be like to finally see the bottom of the laundry basket. Parents have so much on their minds and expend so much energy just trying to navigate the day-to-day challenges that they can forget to enjoy the now and appreciate the changes their kids are experiencing. Next thing you know, the baby they brought home from the hospital is taking his first steps, waving goodbye as he gets on the bus for the first day of school, then one day leaving the house for good. While we can’t slow down the hands of time and keep our little ones little forever, we can be a little more mindful and appreciative of the day-to-day changes they’re experiencing. Here are a few ways: Practice positive self-talk. Your child will stop crying and fall asleep. You won’t be this tired forever. Eventually you will have time for yourself. Do your best to keep your spirits up, especially when your energy and patience are down. Think about those who can’t have children. Kids can test parents’ physical and emotional limits, but there are many people who would give anything to be woken by a crying baby, or face a toddler meltdown in public, or deal with any of the other countless challenges that sleep-deprived/overworked parents can sometimes view as annoyances. Remind yourself that you can’t hit rewind. Your children will never be the same age again, so make the most of every second you have with them. No amount of photos or videos will help you get that time back. Unplug. If possible, turn off the computer, phone, and TV and keep your focus on your child. The emails, text messages and other electronic distractions can (usually) wait. Focus on your senses. What do you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell? Ask yourself and your child. If you take a stroll around the neighborhood, be mindful of your surroundings. Listen to the birds, stop and touch the trees and the leaves, smell the flowers and fresh-cut grass, talk with your children about what they see.
  19. How do we equip girls with a positive body image? It’s a perennial question that doesn’t seem to fade no matter the advances of women in society. Articles in the press in recent years suggest that girls’ attitudes toward their bodies are most influenced by their mothers. While media messages, stereotypes and peer judgments may contribute to poor body image, mothers are their daughters' primary teacher when it comes to attitudes toward the body and physical appearance. How do mothers influence their daughters’ body image a positive way? They focus their attention on the function and ability of body. When mothers appreciate their own and their daughters’ bodies for what they are capable of—strength, endurance, flexibility, resilience, defense against illness, healing—they help their daughters develop a positive perspective on their bodies. This one may be obvious, but is worth saying for those who have any doubts: Mothers should not make negative comments about their daughter’s bodies or body parts (e.g., “Wow, you sure got my thick ankles, didn’t you?"). It’s even best to keep favorable comments about body appearance to a minimum to prevent over-identification with the body. Another “no-no” is encouraging your daughter to diet or “watch her weight” (unless it’s medically necessary). Even if dieting is her idea, or she just wants to do it to “see if she can,” or because her friends are doing it, discourage it and take some time to discuss the issue with your daughter. Here’s the best tip I can offer: If you really want to help your daughter develop a positive body image, project one yourself—or at least fake it till you make it. For example, don’t comment negatively on your own weight, body size or body parts; try not to get upset, angry or defensive if your body is the subject of comments from others (e.g., your own mother, the guys on the construction crew); and don’t deprive yourself of healthy meals with the family in order to follow a restrictive diet. And, finally, just say “no” to judging other girls’ and women’s bodies, including celebrities. Watch yourself on this last one—for some reason, body size is considered fair game for ridicule in many social circles where negative comments about race, gender status and immigration status would not be tolerated. Projecting a positive attitude toward our bodies can be difficult for those of us who were conditioned early in life to over-identify with the body. As much as we may try to avoid transmitting conditioned beliefs and attitudes about our bodies to our daughters, as long as these beliefs endure deep in our psyches, it’s challenging. What can we do? Get to the root of the problem. Be mindful of negative thoughts about your body, many of which are subtle and barely on the conscious level. This includes thoughts along the lines of, “I’m a loser/failure/weak/flawed person because I’m overweight (or can’t lose weight),” or, “I won’t be happy/loved/accepted until I’m thinner.” Every moment you become aware of a negative thought about your body, try to drop it. Don’t give these thoughts energy—ignore them…let them go. They are of no benefit to you. In fact, they very much work against your efforts in the long run. This is not the fast route to a healthy body image. It is a life-long process of rooting out the very deepest, basic reasons for our struggles with body image.
  20. “Parents should be supportive. We can’t dictate to him what he can be and what he cannot be. So as a consequence, what we do is we participate with him in golf, and if it was bowling, we would participate with him in bowling. Each and every one of us has our own life to live. And he has a choice to live his life the way he wants to live his life.” In this “That’s Incredible!” episode from the early ‘80s, the late Earl Woods, father of Tiger Woods, discussed the role he and his wife, Kultida, played in how they raised their son and supported his interests. While some didn’t—and will never—believe Earl Woods’s denials that he pushed his son into golf, what is undeniable is that before be passed away in 2006, the elder Woods watched his son hoist 10 major championship trophies and become one of the most dominant golfers ever to tee up a ball. Until I became a dad last year, I never gave much thought to the sense of pride Earl Woods or the parent of any Olympian or professional athlete must feel while watching his or her child competing at the highest level of their chosen sport. My thoughts always centered around being the one circling the bases after hitting the walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series or nailing the game-winning jumper to win the NBA Finals. But reality has finally sunk in (unless the Cubs are in need of an almost-40-year-old right-hander with little to no control and hardly enough velocity), and I realize that my only shot at making the pros is through my son. The problem with that, besides it sounding like I’m placing all my unfulfilled sports dreams on my son’s shoulders, which I guess I kind of am, is that even if he did play sports in high school, the odds of him competing after graduation are slim. According to NCAA research, the estimated percentage of boys who play high school athletics who end up competing in their sport in college ranges from 2.8% for wrestlers to 12.3% for lacrosse players. The odds are even more daunting to move past the collegiate level, as the estimated percentage of male NCAA athletes who go on to play their sport professionally is: 9.1% for baseball 1.1% for basketball 1.5% for football 5.6% for ice hockey 1.4% for soccer I don’t like those odds. I also don’t like thinking that analyzing all these numbers and trying to convince myself that my son will be the exception and not the rule may all be for naught as there is the possibility that he will break the news to me one day that he’s just not into athletics and he would prefer to pursue other interests like art or playing the piano (my wife’s hope). This wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit, as our son has already shown an affinity for instruments and he’s mesmerized by different sounds. Playing with a ball? Not so much interest in that yet. But he’s still young, I like to tell myself. So when it’s time for my son to start making the decisions that could impact the rest of his life, am I going to follow Earl Woods' advice about supporting my son no matter what, even if his heart takes him to a place that could break mine a little bit? I’m sure I will. Thankfully I have some time to come to grips with that in case it does happen.
  21. Article
    It was a Sunday night, and we were settling in as a family to watch a Blackhawks game when the game broke away for a nightly news update. The newscaster mentioned a looming storm, a car accident on the Kennedy and showed a clip of the President-elect behind a podium. My five year old looked at the television, looked at me, and then asked me why the President-elect was yelling. And to be honest, I wasn’t really sure since there was so much yelling going on for months and months in the political arena and it was beginning to wear on my heart…and my ears. [Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners] But here’s the thing: As parents and citizens it is our responsibility to weed through all of the politics and the ugly bickering that comes along with it and instead focus on the issues that we are passionate about. As an interfaith family, race relations are always on the forefront of our minds, as well as education, since we have two young boys who will be entering the public school system next year. Since these topics are complex and it can be difficult to explain why they are such “hot button issues” in this political climate to young kids, we focus on something they can understand that affects everyone in the world: kindness and respect. As we live our daily lives, we are always talking about kindness and respect. When I tuck my boys into bed each night, I ask them how they were kind that day. If they can’t think of anything, we talk about different situations in their day when they could have made a choice to be kind, such as inviting a friend to join in on a game or sharing a toy. We also make a conscious choice to fill our family library with books that showcase all of the different ways that people can and do make a positive impact on the world. NPN is another great resource to find ways for your family to volunteer and give back to the local community so you are truly practicing what you preach. [Related: Kid birthday party etiquette for parents] Respect is a bit trickier for young kids to understand, but it is now more important than ever to show everyone respect. During the election, our neighborhood, like many others across the country, was littered with lawn signs supporting one candidate or another. When my boys asked me what all of the signs were about, I tried to make my explanation, although imperfect, as simple and impactful as possible. I told them that everyone wanted to make the world a better place, but that different people had different opinions on how to make it better. The most impactful part of our conversation was when I explained that even though people disagreed, it vital that they listened to one another’s ideas because maybe, just maybe, they could blend their opinions to make one unstoppable idea. If you ask me, politics aren’t important. People are. And that’s what kids really need to know.
  22. If your child starts to become attracted to someone of the same sex or wants to break away from typical gender expressions (e.g., a boy wearing a dress), you're probably wondering, Is this just a phase? Buckle up, because it’s not simple. The answer is yes and no. Some children have a clear sense whether they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender from an early age and it never changes, while others might question and experiment with those identities only for a period of time. Most people report they have a sense of their orientation and gender identity in late childhood or early adolescence, around 10–13 years old. But that does not mean several people won’t experience periods of time where they may be attracted to someone of the same sex or wish to express their gender differently at any age. Thinking about whether these changes are temporary is really just the beginner step to asking, What should I do? And luckily that answer is simple and can be summed up in three tactics: Be loving, ask questions and educate yourself. Before I explain the benefits of why you should follow these steps, I’ll make a case against why not. Imagine coming to your parents to talk about something that might cause you to feel confused or even shameful. On top of that, what if you knew this thing you wanted to talk about could lead to being bullied, stigmatized and victimized? Then imagine your parent ignored what you said, argued against it, or plainly didn't believe you. Reflect on what that experience might be like. Fortunately, you don’t have to just rely on your imagination. Several research articles correlate negative parent perceptions of their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity with disrupted parent-child relationships, exacerbated mental illness symptoms and in some cases self-harm. Those are not inherent components of coming out. These outcomes happen when a child perceives they are a burden to those around them because of who they are. Extra emphasis on perceives. As an adult, you hold the power to reduce that psychological pressure by being loving and supportive, helping them to understand their experiences, and through education. Offer love and support. If a child comes to you with questions or statements about orientation or gender identity, first and foremost you need to offer reassurance that your love will be unrelenting. If nothing else, that is the takeaway. Ask questions. In addition, be curious about what your child is experiencing and ask questions. It communicates interest and acceptance. Convenient as it would be to have a simple path and timeline for LGBTQ experiences, there just isn’t one. In the same way that not every aspect of a religious or racial minority perspective can be explained in just one book or just one person’s story. Delve into your child’s experience and take in what she says about herself. Educate yourself. However, you don’t want to have your child be your only source of information. Ask LGBTQ friends, family members, local organizations and professionals for input. If you’re curious about what language is most appropriate, check out GLAAD.org. For the academic, look to scholar.google.com for peer-reviewed journals on LGBTQ research. And for those who prefer the medium of podcasts, listen to Unicorn Youth, which asks young people for their opinions firsthand. These resources are just a small starting point. When weighing the choices of how to react to your up-and-coming child or adolescent, I hope this piece tips the scales toward you offering support, because the risks of responding negatively to these changes carries a much heavier cost.
  23. The causes or consequences of why boys aren’t seen as emotional would make for a long and lively debate, but for busy parents just looking for practical ways to improve young boys’ emotional IQ, here are some quick tips. The best kind of care is preventative, and it’s useful to help boys explore emotions by starting with what they know. Look to the people they interact with daily—in person or in fantasy—as a way to discuss feelings. Bring up emotions in their territory and space. Television shows and video games are all driven by character interactions and are full of openings to start a conversation about feelings, especially if there is a mismatch and incongruency between what someone is saying and what someone is doing. If boys mention that someone was embarrassed or upset, you could ask, “How did you know?” Inquire about what cues they observed: Facial expressions? Body language? Words? It can often feel safer to talk about other people’s experiences and emotions instead of ourselves. If they can begin to identify what others are experiencing, it opens the door to understand their own responses. With that in mind, be careful of putting words or vocabulary at the top of the hierarchy for emotional competence. One can read apprehension in a person from how they take a jump shot in basketball or when being invited to a playdate or party they are uneasy about attending. Give due credit to emotional literacy based on nonverbal cues. Boys are naturally exposed to feelings of jealousy, sadness and anxiety—as we all are. However, boys often lack the security that would armor them when talking about emotions that may negatively influence how you see and perceive them. As a result, it is critical for adults to praise expression of emotions in men. If a boy can see that you have a consistent attitude about a man despite his changes in emotional state, then he can begin to feel more comfortable expressing his emotions. If you’re a man, you can promote this idea by comfortably sharing your own emotions. Exercise vulnerability and expression in public and private settings about moments that make you feel irritated, nervous or sentimental, not just the more acceptable emotion of anger. Modeling this kind of behavior and permitting it in others drops the veil of false expectations. From a child’s perspective, if it is okay for you to talk about and express, and if it is okay for others (both females and males) to emote and share, then the message for the boy will be, “It's okay for me too.” When talking about feelings with boys, paint the picture that emotionality is a human quality and that it can be dealt with in positive and negative ways. If someone throws their Xbox controller at the screen when they’re angry or suppresses a desire to cry when they feel extremely hurt, address those instances as inappropriate ways to handle emotion. Validate their feelings, but point out and discuss those destructive behaviors in men and women alike so they can be seen harmful or less than ideal for everyone, not just boys or men. Also, praise boys when they express emotions in a positive and healthy manner. It isn’t revolutionary to say that we influence the next generation in ways we don’t realize. But it is helpful to remind ourselves we do influence future generations. I give this advice as a reference point. Obviously it won’t make you an emotional guru overnight, but it does begin a chain of events to bring these ideas to the forefront of your relationships. Exploring, modeling and sharing emotion make it more acceptable for young boys, and eventually expressing emotions for boys becomes part of any normal day.
  24. Article
    My wife and I have been taking our 8-month-old son to swimming class for the past couple months, and each time we’ve gone, I’ve noticed something about the parents lounging in the deck chairs near the floor-to-roof glass wall that separates them from the pool. Most of them have their eyes locked on their phones instead of watching their kids in the water. It’s crossword puzzles, Gmail, CNN.com, games—you name it. I see it when we’re waiting to enter the pool deck and when I’m in the swimming lane with my son. I get it. Kids’ practices and activities can be a much-needed respite for sleep-deprived parents who just need to veg out for 30 minutes or an hour and mindlessly surf the internet, send an email or play a game (my alarm goes off at 4am every Monday through Friday, so I feel your pain). But, can we be honest? The smartphone has also taken some, sometimes much, of our attention away from our children when they’re sitting right in front of us. I never thought I would become one of “those parents,” but I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty at times. Sometimes I jump at my phone with each notification, refresh ESPN.com every couple minutes to see if the football score has changed, or habitually check my email instead of keeping my full attention on my son. There are only so many wooden block towers I can construct and nursery rhymes I can repeat before I need to turn my attention elsewhere, even if it’s just for a few seconds. So for me, and any other parent who sometimes can’t resist the urge to have our phones in our hands or near us when we’re playing with our kids or when they’re participating in an activity, I thought I’d do us all a public service by listing a few ways to use the basic functionality on our phones (I’m not a big app guy, so feel free to stop reading if you were expecting one of those top parenting app blogs) that could put the attention back on our kids and away from the work email that can wait until Monday and the crossword puzzle or game that will still be there when the kids go to sleep: Take photos/video of your child. They’ll never be in this moment again, so why not snap a few shots and create an online album or email the photos/videos to loved ones? It’s incredible how fast kids grow—savor and save this moment. Write a quick note to your child. I’m so glad that before my son was born that I wrote him a letter every few days throughout the length of the pregnancy. Sometimes it was just a quick note to let him know I was thinking about him. Other times it was several paragraphs about how I felt about an upcoming doctor’s visit or the fears I had about how life would change when he finally came home from the hospital. Soon after he was born I compiled these notes in a self-published book and presented it to my wife. Have your child “call” a relative. Even if your child is just babbling and cooing and can’t yet form full words, I’m sure there are plenty of relatives, especially the out-of-towners, who would love to hear a few sounds from your little one. Throw a ringtone rave. Kids love to move and dance, so why not get some good use out of all those ringtones you’ll probably never use? Teach how to count. Practice counting 10, 9, 8, … with the hourglass feature. Use your phone’s stopwatch to practice the other way … 1, 2, 3 … . What might be the best tip of all (although I know it’s infeasible for some of us) is to keep the phone out of reach, or just turn it off, when your children are around. I know I don’t have memories of my parents playing on their phones or some other piece of technology and not giving me their full attention, so I don’t want my son to have those, either.
  25. Thirteen years of parenting and dozens of parenting books later, I’m here to offer my own advice for parents: Forget about it. Advice, that is. We need an antidote to all the “do this, do that” out there for parents. Why? Why not use advice if we can learn from others so that our own journey with children is more joyful? Because, bombarded by so much advice, we can’t retrieve the applicable “to do” from our cluttered memory banks when faced with a particular parenting challenge. Especially when it’s sandwiched between all the other advice we absorb on a daily basis—advice on what to eat, how to get fit, how to save for college, how to maintain our homes, how to navigate office politics, etc., etc. It’s advice overload. And if the adage “keep it simple” applies to anything in life, it’s parenting. As parents, we have a natural intuition when it comes to nurturing and guiding our children. The problem is, these days it’s very hard to access that intuition because are minds are so full of all the things we need to do, forgot to do, want to do and wish we had done. The average human brain generates 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. These thoughts, along with keyed-up minds and bodies due to stress, cloud our deeper sense of the right action for any particular situation. I say the only advice parents need is this: Be calm, be present. Calm parents make wiser choices for their children. So find out your best source of relaxation and make use of it. Is it a bath, a leisurely walk, a few moments of quiet in your car before you enter the house, a phone call to a light-hearted friend, a cuddle with the family pet? If you start by being quiet each day, allowing yourself to just “be” for a few minutes, you are likely to find yourself naturally drawn to the calming experience your nervous system craves. As you discover what calms you, allow yourself time for it on a regular basis. What else can we do to tune into our natural parenting wisdom? Be fully present. Research shows that the average person’s mind wanders nearly half of the time, and the trend is upward thanks to our device-addicted, information overloaded, schedule-packed lives. Mind-wandering and multi-tasking are recipes for disaster when it comes to parenting. How can you possibly tune into your deeper intuition if your attention is divided two or three or six different ways? When we are distracted, we tend to react automatically, out of habit, often with an underlying desire to dispense with the problem as quickly as possible. When fully present we are alert to the essence, and subtleties, of the moment—the look of joy or pain on our child’s face, our natural compassion for them, our sense of our own limits and boundaries, and the spontaneous growth opportunity the moment offers. Strengthening your mind’s ability to stay present is like strengthening any muscle. You have to work it. The more you discipline your mind to be present, the more presence becomes your mind’s default mode. You can give your mind a workout by setting aside time each day to focus on being present, sometimes referred to as meditation. You can also give your mind a workout by returning your attention to the present moment whenever you find it has wandered, the essence of mindfulness. But don’t take my advice! See for yourself.

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