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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.

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