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The Simple Way to Be a Better Parent

November 12, 2015

By Jessica Vician

The Simple Way to Be a Better Parent | Our YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books simplify parenting with easy-to-understand tasks for each stage of your child’s life. Reading these books helps you keep track of necessary milestones and focus on balanced parenting.

Parenting is overwhelming. Rewarding, but overwhelming.

From remembering the routine but critical things—like feeding your child—to planning a larger focus—like whether to raise your child within a faith—often it’s difficult to keep track of everything you need to do.

Our YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books simplify parenting with easy-to-understand tasks for each stage of your child’s life. Reading these books helps you keep track of necessary milestones and focus on balanced parenting.

Through the Early Years
For example, you know how important routines are for your baby (and for you). In the Through The Early Years book, one of the first activities shows you how to establish a routine for your infant:

  • Choose a time to start the bedtime process every night
  • Soothe your baby with a warm bath
  • Provide the last feeding and changing of the day
  • Snuggle up with a book
  • Put your baby to sleep

Knowing what your baby’s night looks like will help you feel less overwhelmed during the day.

Through Elementary and Middle School
The books also share when you should be focusing on building skills to prepare your child for various milestones at school. In the Through Elementary and Middle School book, there is a section devoted to the importance of reading with your child that explains how to teach reading basics so that he or she is prepared to learn how to read independently at school.

Through High School and Beyond
Parents of teenagers know that parenting isn’t hands-off when the kids enter high school. The third book, Through High School and Beyond, offers checklists like how to:

  • Transition your child to high school
  • Help your teen prepare for college or the workforce
  • Keep your teenager healthy
  • Support homework and study skills
  • Establish technology rules

No matter what stage you’re at in your parenting journey, it’s helpful to have one tool that keeps track of everything you need to do for a happy, healthy, well-balanced child. Grab a set of our YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books to keep nearby. They’re a quick read that make sure you’re checking off each of the seemingly never-ending boxes.

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4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler’s Fine Motor Skills

September 22, 2015

By Ana Vela

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays at a park.

All photos courtesy of Ana Vela. 

As our infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones such as crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). We may not put as much focus on fine motor skills, which can be equally as critical.

Fine motor skills involve the movement of muscles in smaller actions. According to Baby Center, “it's equally important that kids work on their fine motor skills—small, precise thumb, finger, hand, and wrist movements—because they support a host of other vital physical and mental skills.”

I’m fascinated in watching my 15-month old develop these skills. She gets frustrated when trying something new at first, but with my persistence, encouragement, and modeling, she will eventually pick it up. And I love seeing her glow with pride when she learns.

There are many ways you can help your child develop fine motor skills while integrating them into your everyday activities. Here are some of my personal favorites to do with my daughter:

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter stacks blocks.

Play with toys.
Use stacking blocks to encourage your child to grab the block and carefully coordinate stacking them on top of each other. This will take several tries, but it’s amazing how soon your child will stack them to a nice height! Other great toys are large puzzles with knobs on the pieces, stacking toys, and Legos.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays with cymbals.

Enjoy music.
I sing songs to my daughter that use hand motions, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Through many attempts, she now knows how to follow along on her own. She also has a musical instrument set, which has encouraged her to grab more difficult instruments such as the cymbals. She couldn’t pick them up properly at first, but now she can hold them successfully between her thumb and fingers to bang them.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter eats her food with a spoon.

Encourage independent eating.
Although I hate messes, it’s important to teach your toddler how to eat on their own. Demonstrate how to hold a spoon, scoop up some food, and place it in their mouth. Sounds simple, but a lot of complex finger, wrist, and hand movements are involved.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter picks up a soccer ball.

Encourage physical play.
We live in Chicago and have a limited amount of nice outdoor weather, so when it’s warm and sunny, we spend a lot of time at parks. Help your child learn to climb, slide, and maneuver around the playground and obstacles. I’m also teaching my daughter to play with a soccer ball by picking it up and trying to kick it.

All of these activities are beneficial, but most importantly they are fun and entertaining for your toddler. As discussed in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, use positive reinforcement to encourage your child to keep trying and celebrate their successes.

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We Need to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse

August 25, 2015

By Jessica Vician

We Need to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse | Child Sexual Abuse is a terrifying potential reality. While we don't want to think about it, parents must talk to their children early to help them avoid dangerous situations and know how to tell you if something happened. Read on for how to talk about it. | A young girl sits against the wall with her head in her hands.

Child sexual abuse is something that no parent wants to face. The horror of this potential reality prompts many of us to avoid discussing it with anyone, including our parenting partners, other parents, and especially with our children.

Many of us think, “If I tell my son or daughter how to recognize wrong behavior, I will introduce them to a world of fear and scary things.” While that worry is valid, it’s more important to educate them early on to help prevent it from ever happening.

According to the National Children’s Advocacy Center, parents should talk to their children in early childhood before they might be targeted by an abuser. The NCAC also lists 10 things you can talk to your children about regarding abuse, and what to do when a child tells you about abuse.

To better understand why early conversations about abuse are important, watch this animated video from The Times of India. It illustrates one scenario of how Komal, a 7-year-old girl, deals with sexual abuse and suggests how you can talk to your child about preventing it.

Hopefully you never have a reason to seek this kind of help for your child, but if you do, or if you just need additional information to prepare for your talk, try one of these hotlines and their websites.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
Talk to a counselor, learn about the signs of abuse, report abuse, and seek emotional support.

Child Abuse Hotline
This list of child abuse hotlines in each state allows you to locally report abuse or neglect.

It’s a difficult topic to think about, and even more difficult to talk about. As the second half of the video demonstrates, starting the conversation early can help teach your child how to get out of a bad situation and how to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

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How I’ll Raise Feminist Sons

August 20, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

How I’ll Raise Feminist Sons | Just because you don't have a daughter doesn't mean you can't raise a son to be pro-gender equality and a feminist. | A boy pushes a stroller with a doll in it.

A few weeks ago I was at Barnes & Noble looking for a gift for a little girl who had invited my son Bobby to her birthday party. I was walking past one of the display tables in the kids’ section when a book called Rosie Revere, Engineer caught my eye. (For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a book about a girl named Rosie who dreams of becoming an engineer and whose great-great aunt is the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter.) I loved the concept of the book—a female character who is interested in a field that has been traditionally viewed as masculine—and I am a huge fan of Rosie the Riveter. I immediately decided that the book would be a great gift for Bobby’s little friend. For an instant, I sighed and thought about how, as a mother of two sons, I would never be able to buy these types of books and share my passion for girl power and leaning in.

Then I had a thought: By assuming that I could only pass on my beliefs to a daughter, wasn’t I contributing to the problem that made gender equality initiatives necessary? In other words, why couldn’t I raise my boys to be feminists?

The idea that traditional women’s issues—topics such as domestic violence, paid parental leave, and affordable childcare—are men’s issues, too, is a rather recent development. The NO MORE campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault was launched in 2013 (and gained a massive audience with its PSAs featuring NFL players), and the HeForShe movement for gender equality was kicked off in 2014 with actress Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations. Both efforts emphasize the idea that women and men will benefit from gender equality.

With regard to my sons, I know that the younger they are when I begin teaching them about gender equality, the better. I also know that as they get older the lessons are going to get much more complicated than “both boys and girls can wear pink or blue.” I know it’s going to be an uphill battle because stereotypical notions of what it means to be male and female are all over our media culture. Finally, I know that I am going to need my husband's help with the plan because it’s important that our boys see both male and female role-models practicing what we preach.

Fully aware of these obstacles, here are some thoughts on what we as a society can do to raise boys who truly see women as equals:

Avoid gender stereotypes in language use.
So many gender stereotypes have become common expressions in our culture, but they still subtly reinforce the notion that men are stronger than women. For instance, the phrase “throw like a girl” is used to indicate weakness in boys and girls alike, whereas someone who “mans up” is seen as strong and stable. 

Discourage aggressive behavior and encourage a healthy expression of emotion.
The expression “boys will be boys” is often used to justify aggressive behavior in young males. It implies that there is an uncontrollable biological urge behind this behavior, and therefore, that men shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. In addition, men have it drilled into them from boyhood that the expression of any emotion except anger is a form of weakness. However, research has shown that suppressed emotions can make people more aggressive. 

Don’t divide household responsibilities along traditional gender boundaries.
Boys should see Mom (or another female role-model) tackle traditional “male” chores, such as mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, or fixing a leaky toilet. They should witness Dad (or another male role-model) performing traditional “female” chores, such as changing diapers, doing laundry, or loading the dishwasher. Boys should also be expected to perform a wide range of household chores across traditional gender boundaries. 

Be conscious of gender bias when choosing toys and activities.
It’s so easy to subconsciously steer boys away from toys and activities that are considered “feminine”—especially when stores guide us into this way of thinking by categorizing products as appropriate for boys or girls. Kudos to stores like Target, which recently announced that it is eliminating gender-based signage in its toy, bedding, and entertainment departments.

Find teachable moments in our media culture.
Since it’s nearly impossible to get away from it, take advantage of mass media to draw attention to gender roles and how they are portrayed. For instance, lead a discussion about how stereotypes are perpetuated in advertising and on sitcoms. How many commercials for household cleaning products feature women versus men? How many sitcoms portray fathers as incompetent when it comes to taking care of the children?

I have the next 18 years to practice these suggestions as I guide my sons from infancy through adolescence. I hope that in doing so, I raise strong and sensitive men who believe women are their social, political, and economic equals—and that’s what feminism is all about.



Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats. 

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Help Your Toddler Adjust to a New Sibling

July 21, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

Help Your Toddler Adjust to a New Sibling: 3 Common Problems and Solutions | It's tough going from being the only child to having a baby in the house, especially for toddlers. As this mom navigates the behavioral changes, she shares three common problems and solutions to help your toddler adjust. | A sister kisses her baby sister.

Last month I shared strategies my husband and I used to prepare our son for the arrival of our new baby. Bobby has been a big brother to Baby Henry for almost six months now, and I have to admit that the adjustment period is still a work in progress.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between the ages of two and four have the most difficult time adapting to a new arrival since they are still very attached to their parents and may be sensitive to change. Bobby fits this definition to a T. Following are some of the observations I’ve made about toddler behavior in response to the arrival of a new sibling, along with strategies we’ve been using to cope.

The Problem: Acting Out 
When we first brought Henry home from the hospital, it seemed like Bobby would choose the minute I sat down to nurse to do something he wasn’t supposed to do. Numerous times, I found myself trying to feed a hungry newborn while trying to get my toddler to stop unrolling an entire roll of toilet paper, pulling the cat’s tail, or doing some other “no-no.” 

The Solution: Offer Alternatives 
Bobby was obviously trying to get my attention, and he figured that negative attention was better than no attention at all. I dissuaded him from this behavior by finding a special activity he could do while I was nursing. I knew he was obsessed with the ceiling fan in the master bedroom, so I would sit on the bed to nurse while he snuggled up next to me and blissfully turned the fan on and off with the remote.

The Problem: Regressing to Baby-like Behavior 
I thought we were going to get away without encountering this phase, but a few weeks ago, Bobby started to act less like a toddler and more like a baby. Instead of using words to ask for something, he started pointing and whining, and his interest in potty-training all but disappeared. He also wanted to be picked up and held all the time, and he suddenly “forgot” how to put his shoes on by himself.

The Solution: Point Out “Big Boy/Girl” Benefits 
Bobby obviously saw how much time my husband and I spent doing things for Henry and, in his two-year-old mind, decided that we would do the same for him if he stopped doing them for himself. We’re still working on this solution, but we have been trying to emphasize the positive side of getting older.

This past Independence Day, we let Bobby stay up to watch the fireworks and made a point of telling him that Baby Henry was too little to stay up late. We’ve also been consciously trying to praise him whenever he does something for himself. And, of course, a little babying doesn’t hurt every once in a while. I know the day will soon come when he no longer wants to curl up in my lap, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

The Problem: Competing for Attention 
This behavior reared its ugly head during a recent long car ride. Henry started crying, so my husband turned to try to soothe him. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bobby started wailing at the top of his lungs—completely outdoing Henry. In other instances, whenever one of us praised Henry for some new accomplishment, Bobby would immediately do the same thing and say, “Bobby, too! Bobby, too!” 

The Solution: Turn Competition into Collaboration 
For two years, Bobby was used to being the center of attention . . . and then he suddenly had to share the limelight. My husband and I have tried to minimize feelings of competition by encouraging Bobby to help us care for Henry and then praising him for his good work. For instance, we’ve gotten Bobby to help us when giving Henry a bath. He loves pouring water over his brother’s body to keep him warm while in the tub. 

We also try to turn certain activities into things the boys can do together. Every month, we take Henry’s picture in the same chair so we can capture his growth during his first year. After we get some shots of Henry alone, we take pictures of both boys in the chair, followed by a few solo shots of Bobby. That way, he feels included in the process. 

None of these solutions are foolproof, but my husband and I hope that we are making the transition from only child to big brother a little easier for Bobby while also fostering a bond between our Bobby and Henry that will continue to grow as they get older.


Learn more about infant and toddler care in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher 3-book set, available on Amazon

Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats.

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