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Acclimating to American Culture for Your Children

January 22, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

American flag

Moving to a new country is always a complicated journey, especially when learning a new culture and following a different set of social rules. Families face new values that often conflict with their own beliefs. Suddenly, parents have another difficult task to tackle besides adapting themselves to the recent challenges of their daily life: they are forced to negotiate a balance with their children between their own customs and what they want to adopt from their new culture.

Your child wants to belong and even though you shouldn’t leave behind your own beliefs, you need to understand your new culture in order to help your child adapt to his or her new home.

Here are a couple of things that are considered normal in American culture and that you might want to know beforehand in order to understand and adapt to the circumstances:

  • Dating at a younger age. In this country, children start dating more seriously in high school. Of course, it is your right to decide what sort of rules you set before you let your child go out with a romantic interest. However, just be aware that is generally considered normal to let two teenagers go out to the movies together, to have dinner alone, or to even go as a couple to a school event such as a prom. To feel more comfortable, have your child call to check in during the evening and speak with other parents about what they do to keep their children safe while dating.
  • Sleepovers. Your elementary school child might get invitations from same-sex friends to stay over their house for the night. Usually the host family will prepare activities for the kids to enjoy: movies, board games, or snacks, for example. If you feel a bit uneasy, ask the host family to please explain in detail what are they planning for the night. Leave your phone number and address so you feel at ease that they will have enough information to reach you if your child feels homesick during the night or if something else happens. Tell your child that if he or she is ever uncomfortable at a sleepover, your child can call you to come get him or her. Again, you can also create check-in times with your child and call him or her to know the status of his sleepover experience.
  • Parent engagement in school. In many cultures, talking or questioning teachers or school authorities is seen as disrespectful. In the United States, parents are expected to get involved in school and to talk to teachers about their concerns. Parents are welcome to schedule an appointment with school authorities once in a while to discuss their child’s academic achievements and opportunities for improvement. Don’t feel intimidated—rather, take this opportunity to speak up for your child.
  • Leaving home to live on campus. In some other countries, teenagers still live with their parents when they go to college (if they study in the same city). In the United States, leaving home to go to college is almost seen as a rite of passage. In some universities it’s even mandatory to live on campus at least for the first year of college. See this as a great opportunity for your child to be independent, to learn how to tackle daily life chores, and encounter new experiences and cultures.

It might be difficult for you as a parent to get used to a different "normal" in American culture, but by working with other parents to establish trust and by doing what feels right to you, you will soon feel more at ease in this new environment. By building up your confidence and getting to know more of your adoptive country, you will be able to help your children with any obstacle they encounter in their path towards success in America.


Encourage Your Child to Keep His or Her Resolutions

January 21, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

A list of family resolutions

Commitment is a big word, even for adults. So when it comes time to teach this to your children, it’s important to first do a self-evaluation of how we, as parents, are handling our commitments. This can be a learning opportunity for the entire family. Have a family meeting to talk about goals for the new year and come up with an action plan to keep those resolutions.

Instead of focusing on goals and resolutions that impact only ourselves, make some resolutions that involve the whole family. This will help ensure you are modeling the behavior that you want your children to inherit. It will also make achieving the goals you set easier as everyone works toward them together. Here are some family resolution ideas:

  • Personal communication. If one of your goals is to send birthday cards to all of your friends and family next year, your son or daughter could help by keeping a calendar in the kitchen or on the family computer. Let him or her contribute to the message or pick out the cards. Point out that this resolution is important for maintaining strong relationships by staying in contact with the people you care about. This way you are instilling in your son or daughter that constant communication is important.
  • Healthy family habits. Keeping a healthy New Year’s resolution is much more involved than sticking to a diet plan. It means changing your behavior for a healthier life overall. This type of resolution opens the door to a number of ways to model positive behavior. Devising a plan to walk to school or work, even if it is just once or twice a week, and then sticking to it, will show your son or daughter that you are committed. Even grocery shopping and eating out take on a new meaning as you see your choices begin to mold your child’s behavior in these situations.
  • Admit mistakes and try again. When I have failed to stick to a plan, I make sure to point it out to my daughters so that they see I am willing to admit I am not perfect, but that I am working hard to meet the challenge. We then come up with a plan for being successful the next time around. Starting the new year with a resolution to keep trying and to lean on each other for support can strengthen your family and your resolve throughout the year.

These New Year’s resolutions will teach the importance of making and keeping commitments, all while making memories that draw your family closer through each challenge. Remember throughout the year that you’re all in this together, and you can help each other be the best that you can be.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Education

January 20, 2014

"The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence and character-- that is the goal of true education." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968, Civil Rights Activist

Illustration by Leah VanWhy

5 Important Bath Safety Tips

January 16, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

Parents take care of a baby while bathing him.

January is Bath Safety Month, which is an important time to discuss the importance of water safety with caregivers of a young child. I remember working with a family 10 years ago who had a beautiful and healthy baby boy. One day, the mother was busy, as we all are. She had food on the stove for dinner, she still had to bathe her baby and her five-year-old, and continue her many tasks at home.

The mother thought it would be okay to multitask as she usually did. She left the water running in the tub without the stopper and left the baby and brother in the tub while she ran to check dinner in the kitchen, which was only a few steps away. In a matter of seconds, the older brother decided to play with the toilet paper in the tub. The paper began to clog the water and it began rising. Remember, only an inch of water is needed to drown a baby. When the mother returned, her baby was face down, his skin was blue, and was unresponsive. She called 911 and did the best she could to provide aid to her baby. He survived, but he now needs intensive therapy, has a g-tube for his nutrition, and needs lifelong medical care. I’m sorry to begin with such a sad story. Accidents like this one occur frequently, but can be prevented.

The Center for Disease Control reported that the highest drowning rates for children are between the ages of one to four. Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional deaths in the United States. Nearly one in five people who drown is a child. As a parent and caregiver, remember to always supervise your child when he or she is around water. There are five tips I want to share to make bath time safer for your child.

  1. Never leave your child unattended in a bathtub and/or around water.
  2. Never rely on a child to supervise another child near water.
  3. Do not use bath seats or rings without supervision.
  4. Limit the amount of water in the bathtub. Do not use too much soap or shampoo, which can cause the child to be slippery and fall face-first into the water.
  5. Ask about CPR classes and get trained as a safety precaution.

Remember that drowning can be prevented. You can learn more about water safety through the Start Safe: Water program. We can never be too informed about how to keep our children safe.


A New Parent’s Guide to Taking Care of YOU

January 15, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A new mom cares for her baby

It has been my personal experience that when we become mothers, we instinctively become selfless. We focus on our child wholeheartedly, attempting to make his or her world perfect in every aspect. We read every parenting book we can find, research nutrition that will maximize our child’s development, and are ready for every doctor’s visit. Our child’s health and development is and will remain a priority for decades to follow until the cycle of life runs its course. But what about you? Are you prioritizing your health and your continued development? Are you reading, researching your nutrition, and preparing for your doctor’s visits with the same focus and priority that you dedicate to your child? In my experience, probably not.

I have been a parent for twenty-three years now. I have watched my two children grow into amazing, independent beings. I have been witness to their successes and their struggles, their joys and their sadness. I know that I could not have supported their development as well as I have if I had not taken the time to focus on me. By taking care of my overall health (mental and physical), I was able to participate in their lives to the fullest as the best parent I could be.

  • Simple things such as personal grooming, exercise, and social activities helped fight the reality of a post-pregnancy body (which no one tells you about) and the many emotions that come with parenting.
  • During the first months it is suggested that you establish a routine for your baby. Why not establish a routine for you and your baby? When he or she naps, exercise, take a shower, dress for the day (no sweats, no pajamas), or eat a nutritional snack. You would be surprised how far this goes towards your post-pregnancy survival and establishing a strong, consistent parenting style.
  • As you look toward reaching milestones with your child, establish milestones for yourself to reach along the way as well. Take time to reflect on what you want for yourself now that you are a parent. How will you manage your life while being responsible for the development of another?

Once you discover those things that will bring balance to your mental and physical health, you will instinctively be the best parent you can be. Whether you are staying home on leave or will remain home, establishing this routine for both of you from the start will shape you and your child’s relationship for the years to come.

Nely Bergsma is the co-founder and executive director of the Penedo Charitable Organization (PCO). Nely co-founded PCO, along with her sister and our program author Sunny P. Chico, to support at-risk girls in the same Chicago neighborhood where she and her sisters grew up. PCO works with teachers, psychologists, and social workers to mentor at-risk girls from sixth grade through high school, providing full scholarships to those who complete the program. Founded in 2009, PCO now serves 40 girls, adding 10 new participants to the PCO family each year.

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