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  1. “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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Recently I was in NYC for work, and as I was walking through the city it became clear English is not the only dominating language. You could hear Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese spoken at shops, and chattering among street vendors in Hindi and Arabic. This is definitely a phenomenon in the United States of America—a country of immigrants. In addition, when I look around, there are many kids nowadays from cross-racial families, like mine. Looking exotic is fun, and being able to comprehend and speak multiple languages is a bonus. In the past generations of immigrants, people abandoned their native tongue or didn't encourage their kids to speak it because the common desire was to learn and to only speak English so they could immerse themselves into the new country quickly. That notion has changed completely in the modern parenting, especially for those whose families have diverse ethnic backgrounds. Linguistics and early childhood education shows a child can learn a seocnd language three times faster before age 7, and pretty much slows down (or becomes difficult) after age 14, compared to an adult. Many of my friends lament that their kids can't speak their ethnic language. The moment their kids started elementary school, they refused to speak other language besides English, unless other immersion learning environments were provided. Otherwise, you are pretty much stuck with learning a language in school, which will never encourage fluency. Which is a pity. Therefore, my takeaways are: 1) The golden learning window is small, better optimize than regret later; 2) Learning a second language stimulates the brain in a different way. (Even if simultaneous translation glasses become available for our kids' generation, the cultural aspect of learning a language will never be replaced by robots!) The following is the language program I've developed for my almost 3-year-old and 8-month-old: English: They will master on their own by living in an English-speaking country. At home, we only focus on reading books (yes, paper ones) every day for 20-40 minutes, by me, by Daddy, or any guests visiting when I have a chance to outsource the task. Mandarin Chinese: We have some advantages on this front, and I am leveraging them as much as possible: a Chinese nanny (who speaks no English); a Taiwanese educational program "Ciao Hu" shipped by my parents from Taiwan every quarter with seasonal toys and a DVD; Mandarin language class every Saturday at Language Stars; one-month winter vacation in Taiwan with my parents once both kids are potty-trained (escaping unbearably cold Chicago is a bonus). Romanian: We also have some advantages here (my husband is Romanian), but due to Daddy's work and travel schedule, we are still trying to improve the learning opportunity: part-time Romanian nanny (who speaks no English); Dino Lingo apps for games, books and video; spending the summer at their grandparents' Transylvania orchard country house, where they'll learn how to milk a cow and how to make Romanian crepes from scratch. Spanish: Look, 1 out of 4 people in the U.S. speak Spanish, so why not? We are doing Spanish circle time at preschool, Urban Child Academy and Language Stars every Sat morning. So, how do my kids do? My 8-month-old takes all in, no complaining. And my almost 3-year-old is totally confused between Spanish and Romanian when she is asked to count to 20 (a natural occurrence, according to linguists). However, she is able to translate for our Chinese nanny to place a food order at Navy Pier during their weekly Children's Museum excursion. The fact is my own four-language journey (Mandarin, English, Japanese and French) started after 7, which is clearly too late, so I am not good at any of them. However, I'm starting to feel it could be mission possible for my kids. Stay tuned.
  8. I remember it being a relatively uneventful Monday afternoon at work when this sobering message from 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman hit my inbox: “According to the Chicago Police Department, at approximately 10:30am today, there was young man shot on the 900 block of West Buena Avenue. The victim was approached by two offenders and was shot in the chest. Police say he was taken immediately to Illinois Masonic Hospital where he is undergoing surgery and remains in critical condition. Chicago Police detectives are working with neighbors and nearby witnesses to try and gather accounts and surveillance footage. Police have stated that the victim was most likely known and targeted by the shooter.” I was horrified. No, I wasn’t lamenting another Chicago shooting that’s made our city the poster child of the gun-violence epidemic in our country. And, no, even though I understand families in the city are burdened by shootings and the threat of gun violence on a daily basis, I admit I wasn’t thinking about the victim or how this act of violence must be affecting his family. My concern as a hyper-vigilant father-to-be was that this was news happening a block from my home. There was no changing the channel and ignoring this shooting. I walk along the 900 block of West Buena Avenue all the time. It’s where one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants is located. It’s also where my then-8-months pregnant wife, Ewelina, and I envisioned we’d be taking our son one day for story time at the Uptown Library. But plans change. Shots fired, shell casings and yellow police tape steps from your home will do that. Before I finished reading the rest of Alderman Cappleman’s email, my thoughts shifted to my pregnant wife and how there was no way we were going to let our first-born child be raised in a neighborhood like this. Where it isn’t even safe to walk around the block on a Monday morning. After forwarding the news to my wife (with the hastily written subject line: “WTF … from Cappleman”), I did what any overprotective father or father-to-be with the ability to move his family would do—check the real estate listings for homes in safer areas of the city. Hell, let’s even give the suburban ads a peak while we’re at it, I told myself. Maybe my wife, who was raised in Paris and has made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that we will forever be city-dwellers, would finally accept moving to the suburbs (gasp!) after what happened down the street. To give some context on why I reacted the way I did, I was raised on the not-so-dangerous streets of Schaumburg. Where getting my bike stolen in front of the local swimming pool was the biggest danger I faced during my adolescence. When we found out last year we were pregnant, I understood that our son would have a far different experience growing up than I did. At the same time, I never imagined that that experience would be dealing with gun violence. Maybe that’s just me being naïve or not living in the city long enough to know that that’s the sad truth of being a Chicago resident these days. However, as a first-time father who never thought having a child would be possible, I think you tend to overreact to certain things, and you tell yourself you will do anything possible, even uprooting your family on a moment’s notice, to prevent your little one from facing any pain or negative experiences. I guess that’s just faulty thinking, though, because you can’t insulate your child from the realities of the world. I’m glad we didn’t end up moving—although my wife will attest that for a couple days after the shooting I pushed hard to pack up and leave—because I would regret not having our son grow up in Chicago. He won't have a backyard like I did. Instead, he'll be just minutes away from a beautiful lakefront path and many, many parks. He won't just be watching the Cubs on TV when he gets home from school like I did. Instead, he'll be able to walk the 15 minutes down Sheridan and Sheffield and catch the game in person. He probably won't have a pet like I did (sorry, kid, but I'm not cleaning up after pets after 20-plus years with cats and litter boxes in the house). Instead, he'll be able to ride his bike or walk to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Not everything about living in the city is as ideal as spending an afternoon by the lake, in the stands at Wrigley, or at the zoo, as this shooting near our home, and the many others that occur in Chicago every day, give people plenty of reason to leave. But we're not going anywhere with our son. This is our city. This is our neighborhood. This is our home.

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