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The Holiday Brady Bunch: Blending Families

December 9, 2013

By Sunny P. Chico

The Holiday Brady Bunch

Holidays are about spending time together as a family and celebrating. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re always growing and changing. One of the things I love most about my own family is how it grew over the years to include some of the people I now hold most dear. When my husband and I married, I was blessed with what I call my three bonus daughters from my husband’s first marriage, while I brought with me my two children from my first marriage.

To be honest, I never had a big conflict. We may not always see eye-to-eye on different things, but as I can attest, the same is true for mothers and daughters everywhere. Even though my stepdaughters were raised Jewish and my children are Catholic, we celebrate holidays through our cultures and the uniqueness of our religions. 

So, during this time of the year when families get together, how do you avoid conflict between blended families?

  • Be patient. I remember our first Christmas together as a blended family. I made my traditional Christmas dinner: a Cuban meal. My husband’s girls, who at the time were 10 and 11 year-olds, wouldn’t have any of this. Now, about thirteen years later, this meal has become one of their favorite meals of the year!
  • Learn about other customs. Don’t make your new family members do anything they don’t want to do and instead try to make them feel welcome. Make sure that you are taking the time to learn about their customs and try, as much as you can, to be a part of them. Christmas is about celebrating each other’s uniqueness, cultures, and beliefs. But most of all, it is about celebrating each other and the gift of family.
  • Create new memories. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon old ones, though. You can come up with new traditions like a family sleepover on Christmas Eve, for example. In my family, everybody expects my famous breakfast quiche on the morning of the 25. It has become a true family tradition!

Remember why you are together. If there are major conflicts, remember that this isn’t just because you are a blended family. All kinds of families have issues. There’s a lot of stress during the holidays and at a certain point conflicts are normal. Remember to respect each other’s differences and remember what you love about each other.

Understanding and a true sense of family don’t happen overnight. I can’t stress enough that this takes time and you need to be patient and consistent. Family is forged through our shared joys and struggles. Be there for each other and you will grow stronger together. It can and will happen!  

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Early Childhood Food Aversions

December 4, 2013

By Noralba Martinez

Early Childhood Food Aversions

The holidays are coming and food is always part of them. We all have different food preferences and so do children. I have worked with many children who do not enjoy eating as much as other children their age. Some children, however, have medical issues that arise because of their eating.

I remember working with an 18-month-old who would refuse to eat any food with texture. He preferred yogurt, milk shakes, broth, and bananas. His mother thought it was only a picky eater phase and that he would be over it fast. He would gag, vomit, or simply refuse to open his mouth if the food his mother offered had any bumps or clumps. His special diet caused a lot of stress on his mother. It was a long struggle for this family. Together, with an occupational therapist, the family slowly introduced gradual textures and helped this boy tolerate new foods. After several months of therapy, he now can eat a variety of foods without a battle.

Significant food aversions can directly affect each child's family and can typically make eating together a stressful event. It’s important to understand what a food aversion is. According to Zerotothree.org, a food aversion is categorized as sensory difficulty and is a common feeding disorder found in early childhood. There is a combination of inability to tolerate oral stimulation, anxiety, and defiance when experiencing a food aversion.

Your child’s relationship with food begins when you first introduce solid foods. Talk to your pediatrician about when to begin introducing your child to cereals and baby food.  You need a lot of patience and time to begin feeding your baby with a spoon. Remember until now, your child’s mouth muscles are used to nursing. With practice, your baby will graduate slowly to table foods. If not, then you could be facing some stressful times. This problem could be related to food aversions.

What are the signs of food aversion? Around 6-10 months of age, when you begin to introduce your child to a variety of baby foods, he or she may begin to show dislike for certain textures, colors, temperatures, and smells of foods. Since your baby is too young to tell you that he or she does not like the food, your baby will tell you in some other way, such as:

  • Spitting
  • Gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Refusing to eat

What should you know about addressing food aversions? There are different approaches to helping a child overcome this issue. Remember that your child cannot control this and needs your help.

  • Never force your child to eat.
  • Be patient.
  • Work closely with your pediatrician to seek the appropriate help for your child.
  • Be consistent with the sensory diet and strategies that you try.     

With patience, consistency, and the right support, you and your child can overcome food aversions and children can grow up with a healthy relationship to food.

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Modeling Good Behavior to Prevent Bullying

November 25, 2013

By Sunny P. Chico

Model Good Behavior For Your Child

Whenever I think about bullying, I can’t help but think about what kinds of things we may be unintentionally teaching our children. As an educator, parent, and grandparent (as well as an aunt, a sister, a daughter, and a friend), I’ve seen how closely children model their behavior after their parents. How we treat each other and those around us will be how our children treat the people around them at home, in school, and well into adulthood.

This is why, as parents, it’s so important to think about what values we model at home. First, we have to show how to communicate respectfully, whether it’s with our children, our partners, or with our own family and friends. There’s a respectful way to have a disagreement where nobody is wrong, where you agree to disagree. We all lose our cool, but it’s important that when that happens, you go back and explain to your child why you lost your cool and that this was not a good way to behave.

It is also important to remember that the behaviors we allow in the home are behaviors that our children will practice out in the world. Recently I’ve seen how my daughter models this with my grandson, David. He says to me, “Nana, I don’t like it when your voice is raised.” I tell him, “I’m not raising my voice, it’s a different tone, David.” But still, I see that my daughter has instilled in him a sense of how our words, actions, and even tones, affect each other, and that it’s always important to be aware of how we’re treating each other.

As parents and grandparents, this awareness can help us guide and shape our children in a way that can prevent bullying later in life, but we can’t always prevent it at first. All we can do is deal with it as best as we know how.

If you ever learn that your child is bullying or being bullied:

  • Talk to your child. Try to understand the situation.
  • Seek assistance from the teacher. Find out what the teacher has observed and what he or she recommends.
  • Review the school bullying policy. Many schools are legally obligated to follow their stated bullying policy exactly as written.
  • Work with the school to make an action plan. Determine what steps will be taken, what the ideal outcomes are, and when to assess progress.
  • Sometimes, it may be best to call the other child’s parents and say, “I need your help.” You should make this discussion as positive as possible, and not angry or negative. Let them know what is happening. Tell them, “My son told me about this today, and I was wondering if I could seek your help with it.” 

We all want the best for our children and want to protect them from any pain or heartbreak, but so often the best protection—and prevention—is to be a positive role model for them.

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Teach Your College Student to Embrace Diversity

November 11, 2013

By Jessica Vician 

Teach Your College Student to Embrace Diversity

Racial and ethnic diversity is a great strength of American colleges and universities, as young adults are exposed to people from many different backgrounds and learn about other cultures. They will take these lessons with them through school and careers all the way into retirement. However, for some teens, this instant exposure to people from different backgrounds can create a culture clash. 

I grew up in a moderate-sized Indiana town about an hour from Chicago. Despite its close proximity to a large city, my elementary and high schools did not have much diversity, nor did we have a lot of people move to our town from outside the Midwest. 

When I went to college at a large state school, I met a lot of students from another part of the country who happened to associate with a different religion from the one I was raised. I found that many of those students stuck out from the other Midwesterners because they were rude, loud, and unfriendly toward others. At the time, my friends and I associated that behavior with their religion and I failed to realize that my perception of their behavior was merely a culture clash between two very different geographic regions of the United States.

We blamed these students’ religion for their behavior, failing to realize that first, their religion did not make them behave negatively; and second, their behavior wasn’t necessarily rude—they just didn’t express themselves the same way we did. We inappropriately judged a group of people because they acted differently from us. 

I am sharing this story not because I am proud of it—instead I’m terribly ashamed—but so you can learn from my mistake and take the opportunity to teach your teen not only tolerance but to embrace other cultures. When your child returns from school for the Thanksgiving holiday, talk about how he or she is coping with culture clash.

Here are a few talking points:

  • Ask your teen about the different students he or she has met. Where are they from, and what differences have your teen noticed? If your teen seems to dislike certain groups, ask why and try to give him or her a greater perspective about that group or culture. For example, people raised in cities might behave differently than people raised in small towns.
  • If your teen has met someone from a different country, encourage him or her to ask questions about the country’s political system, culture, food, etc. It’s a great opportunity to learn!
  • Remind your teen that exposure to diversity prepares him or her for a future job. Today it’s more common to work for international companies that have their own work ethic and customs. 
  • Talk to your teen about his or her perspective on other cultures. Encouraging a greater perspective fosters self-knowledge, which will help your teen make informed decisions about professional and academic issues.
  • If your teen is part of a minority in college, he or she might feel like an outsider. Suggest that he or she use this cultural distinction as a chance to educate others and engage in discussions about diversity. Part of the college adventure is being exposed to different ideas and ways of life in classrooms, dorms, cafeterias, and in general campus life activities.

Encourage your teen to use the university experience not only to obtain academic knowledge, but also to hone social and cultural skills. Remind him or her that college offers a unique chance to connect with both people with similar mindsets and with those from different backgrounds.

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Thanksgiving Lessons for Kids

November 11, 2013

By Amelia Orozco

Thanksgiving Lessons for Kids

New learning opportunities for your children abound on a typical day, but when a special holiday approaches, it can be one of the most memorable ways to teach some of life’s greatest lessons. A holiday such as Thanksgiving can provide abundant ways to learn. From teaching its origin through stories and activities to developing emotional and social activities that, in time, become cherished lifelong traditions, you can use this time to connect with your child in meaningful ways.

If your family or your children were not born or raised in the United States, it is a great way to learn Thanksgiving facts and traditions. Appreciating the intricate details of history makes for a greater understanding of your immediate community and the world.

Here are some ideas of Thanksgiving activities for you and your child to enjoy together: 

Tell Stories
Share the story of the first Thanksgiving dinner with the original English settlers and Native Americans. This story can help even your youngest child remember the true meaning of the holiday. Use words like “exploration,” “feast,” “celebration,” “families,” “neighbors,” and “sharing” when discussing the story. In my family, we pause before each meal, whether it is a holiday or not, to reflect on what we have, which makes it a more natural practice at Thanksgiving. See National Geographic Kids for a brief story, which includes photos of people and artifacts.

Give Thanks with Notes
As the holiday approaches, hide thank you notes for other members of your family to find, and encourage your children to do the same. These notes can say anything from, “Thank you for taking out the trash,” to “Thank you for being a good listener.”  

Draw Pictures
If your children cannot read or write yet, they can still participate by creating a special picture by tracing leaves and then coloring the shapes in. You can leave them notes with smiley faces. These will remind him or her how much you appreciate them. Read this inspiring article of how writing shapes your child in more ways than you may think.

Donate to Charity
It is also a wonderful time of year to make a list of local charities. Your children can help organize a drive for food, toys, or clothing at their school or playgroup. Inspiring them to take action will make them conscientious citizens who aspire to help others. It is exciting to see how these activities awaken a desire to ask more questions.

Share the Cooking Process
Making a list of ingredients, shopping, and finally, preparing a favorite Thanksgiving recipe will give you together time, a learning opportunity, and unforgettable memories. 

Memories are made through these emotional and social activities, but they are most remembered by the hands-on activities during the holidays. By using age-appropriate tasks, everyone in the family can feel they have contributed to the Thanksgiving feast, and when the food is finally served, it will have taken on a much deeper significance.


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.

 

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