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My Story: I Was Bullied in Middle School

October 20, 2015

By Jessica Vician

My Story: I Was Bullied in Middle School | Middle school is an awkward time with puberty and grooming issues. It's ripe for bullying. Here's one person's story about how bullying gave her four stitches in her head. The author also offers tips on how to address it with your middle school student. | Two students make fun of another student in the hallway.

Friendship in middle school is a complicated thing. Casual friendships can end with a mood swing or a sudden need to be more popular. But these mood swings or changes in social status can result in something more dramatic and way less cool: bullying.

I transferred to a new school district for middle school. It was hard for a new kid to make friends, but I was fortunate that a group of people welcomed me into their circle. Unfortunately, the day came that one of those girls decided to bully me.

She was the girl who chose to pick on someone new each day. I knew she did that and didn’t agree with it, but since my friend options were limited, I never stood up to her or defended those she would bully.

Inevitably, one day it was my turn. While in the library, she walked up to me and started threatening me. I was confused and asked her why she was acting like that. She responded by pushing me. I tried to leave, but she pushed me again; this time with such force that I tripped over a cart and my head hit a table. At the emergency room I received four stitches on the side of my head.

I have other, less dramatic stories about girls making fun of me because of awkward grooming issues, like knowing when to shave my legs and how to pluck my eyebrows. These comments not only injured my self-esteem, but they led to an overwhelming feeling of isolation and suicidal thoughts.

While my parents obviously knew about the bullying incident in the library, how would they know about the smaller, less severe but more frequent episodes? Like many kids, I didn’t want to tell my parents because I was ashamed and embarrassed. Instead, I acted like nothing was wrong so they wouldn’t notice. So how can parents help their children if they don’t know what’s happening in the hallways?

Worried about elementary school bullying? Read this article.

Know your child’s popularity.
According to a UCLA psychology study, popular students are more likely to become bullies, and students often become more popular if they bully others.

It seems silly to pay attention to things like popularity, but if you know where your child is on the social popularity scale, you can look for signs of being a bully or a victim.

For instance, if your child isn’t in the popular crowd, it’s important to get a sense of how he or she feels about that. If your child isn’t happy with his or her friend circle, look for signs he or she might be bullying others or be a victim of bullying.

Pay attention to behavioral changes.
Talk to your child about his or her friends and the other kids in school. Get an idea whether your child feels like he or she fits in.

If your child was once confident and starts to lose self-esteem, ask about their friends. Is your child trying to change social circles or is your child happy and satisfied with his or her social life?

If your child won’t speak to you about it, talk to his or her friends’ parents to see if you can get an idea of what’s going on. If that’s not an option, share this woman’s story about middle school bullying—it might spark a conversation and help you find out how your child is doing.

Look for physical signs of bullying. 
If your child is being physically bullied, it won’t be difficult to spot the signs: bruises, scratches, ripped or unusually dirty clothing. But if your child is being verbally bullied, it will be harder to recognize the signs.

Many children who are bullied will start feeling physically ill before returning to a place where they have been bullied. I used to get horrible stomachaches before going to the classes where students would tease me. If your child starts having more instances of upset stomachs, headaches, colds, etc., ask if kids are making fun of them. They might not expect that question and are likely to give you an honest answer.

Understand that bullying can happen anywhere: in the hallways between classes, at the desks before class starts, on the walk home from school, even—in my case—in the library with teachers looking on. Recognize the signs and reach out to your child before it takes a toll.

Learn more about bullying and how to help your child develop a healthy self-esteem in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher book series, available on Amazon.

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Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2015

By Mario Vela

Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day | Once you have a family of your own, the meaning of Mother's Day changes a bit. Here's a first-time father's story of what he's planning for their first Mother's Day with a baby, and how it's not just Mom and Dad who he has to plan for. | The author, his wife, and his daughter pose for a selfie in the snow this past winter.

Photo of Mario, Ana, and Mariana (clockwise from top) courtesy of Mario and Ana Vela. 

My spouse and I decided to have our first child after being married for 10 years. This month, our daughter Mariana will turn 11 months old and we will celebrate our first Mother’s Day as a family.

This first Mother’s Day is especially important to celebrate because I want to thank and appreciate my wife for our new partnership and commitment now that we have a daughter. Being new parents requires a stronger focus on our relationship and how we collaborate in raising our daughter. Because of that, we’ve developed a new kind of friendship and I’ve learned that she has the ability to show a new kind of love that I wasn’t aware of that she offers to our daughter. I appreciate her commitment to our partnership and our daughter, and want to make sure I plan a special day. 
 
Typically I would take my wife to dinner to celebrate an achievement, anniversary, or birthday, but this is an event where Mariana’s needs and preferences will be important to our experience as well. For our first Mother’s Day, I’ll have to consider the opinions and preferences of both my wife and daughter.
 
Since we live in Chicago and it’s warming up, we definitely have to appreciate the ability to be outside. Gone are the days that I would choose the trendiest restaurant. Instead I will base my choice on having the option for Mariana to walk around. We make an effort to have her try different cuisines, new visuals and stimuli, and give her opportunities to interact with people, so the restaurant will need to accommodate those things.

We’ve also learned that Mariana loves—not surprisingly—ice cream, so I’ll need to find a dessert place within walking distance.

Ana, my wife, also prefers that all our plans are seamless and in order before we go out, so I will surprise her with the day’s activities as well—carefully planned so she has a stress-free day. One of the best things I can do for Ana is to listen for anything she’s been missing the last few months. Since we haven’t been able to go out as much due to the winter and having a newborn, I want to make sure we take advantage of Mariana being a little older to appreciate the food and the ability to be outside and enjoy the springtime weather.

A key lesson I’ve learned in this first year of parenthood is that there are times when you might be overextending yourself, but when that happens you can simply adjust your responsibilities. So instead of celebrating this milestone as I would have in the past, with a nice dinner for my wife and me, we can adjust our expectations and keep it family-focused.

The important thing is to show gratitude to my wife for what she’s accomplished this past year with our family. Our friendship and partnership has been strengthened and revitalized, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Do you want to learn about nurturing your child's core areas of development? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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For the Kids: 4 Steps to a Kinder Divorce

April 28, 2015

By Amanda Alpert Knight

For the Kids: 4 Steps to a Kinder Divorce | It's tough to stay kind and civil through a divorce, but this mom shares tips she's learned while going through her own divorce that can help you and your partner team up for your children. | A young girl looks at her father as he and her mother each tug one of her arms.

I never thought I would get divorced. I never thought I would be in a position to write an article like this.

How do you divorce kindly? How do you divorce in a way that ensures your children are okay, or even better than okay? How do you divorce in a way that each parent can maintain their sense of self, their pride, their personal well-being, and their ability to be the best parent they can be?

I’m not an expert—my divorce and parenting through it is a work in progress. But through the process of separation and divorce, I’ve learned a lot about what to do, what not to do, and what we can do to not only put our children first but to ensure that the process allows each parent to remain whole and to be set up for success. That is the key to ensuring the livelihood of our children. As my ex and I make our way through this process, I see a bright future for both of us individually and for our children thanks to these four key things we’re focusing on.

  1. Don’t give up on therapy during the separation and divorce process.
    Even after you both decide to divorce, continue to see a therapist or coach to work through issues. This process should focus not on the past and who did what, but on the present and what is happening. This professional is a neutral figure who can help significantly along the way. They don’t take sides and they don’t try to solve or figure out how you got to where you are, but they can help you figure out how to strategize moving forward.
  2. Continue communication.
    Because your children are involved, you can’t stop communicating with your ex. Figure out what the best methods of communication and scheduling are for each of you and be willing to compromise. You each might have different ways of doing things and you need to find a happy medium. There are several shared calendar apps available, like Google Calendars. Use technology to assist in scheduling and communication but stay consistent.

    Agree to share all information about the children (schools, childcare, afterschool programs, friends, etc.) with one another. No one should be left in the dark. There is no advantage to one parent trying to be the “superior” parent. And when other parents see you, as exes, being cooperative and supportive of one another, they gain so much respect and admiration for you.
  3. Keep a family dinner night.
    While I don’t know that this will last forever, we have informally continued to have family dinner nights one or two times a month with just the four of us (my ex, our two kids, and me). I hope we continue this tradition to show our children that we are still a team—we are co-parents who support and love them.

    As our children get older, it will also show them that they cannot pit us against one another. We work together as parents—we aren’t silos. This will not be an easy task if and when other partners come into play, but it’s a lofty goal that I hope to maintain.
  4. Express gratitude.
    Thank you goes a long way. I was really bad at this in the beginning of the separation. But it’s important to be thankful for what the other parent does, not only for the children but also indirectly for you. Swallow your pride and say “thanks.” 

It takes a lot of strength and determination, but parents can work together to make divorce kind and civil for the kids. Show compassion, cooperation, and support despite this life-altering event.

As an educator and a parent, I’m struck by all of the stories I hear about divorce. I think it’s time for a movement toward Kind Divorce—a movement where we don’t forget that life is short, childhood doesn’t last forever, and what we are teaching our children now will last them a lifetime.

Marriage is difficult and divorce is even harder (as it should be). So put in the effort to make it kind. Your kids, friends, and families will appreciate it.

For a holistic approach to parenting well-adjusted kids, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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My Story: How I Found Great + Affordable Daycare in Head Start

April 2, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

My Story: How I Found Great + Affordable Daycare in Head Start | Struggling to find affordable daycare? Depending on your household income, your child may be eligible for Early Head Start. | In the photo, a group of preschool kids join arms together and smile for the camera.

Like most parents, I want what is best for my child. One of those things is daycare. The benefits of daycare are well-worth the cost, which include developing social, emotional, and academic skills, providing supervised physical activity, and taking some of that responsibility off of a parent’s plate. But it can be a struggle to afford daycare, especially if you are a single parent, one-income household, or have multiple children. According to Michelle McCready of Child Care Aware America, a childcare advocacy group, “it’s the highest single household expense in most regions of the country.”

As I added up the numbers, I realized that three days of daycare a week for my son would cost me as much as a month’s rent. Some daycares cost even more. I became very discouraged that I couldn’t give my son the daycare and education I knew he would benefit from because I wasn’t making enough money. As my search continued, I discovered a program called Head Start.

According to their website, “Head Start promotes the school readiness of young children from low-income families through agencies in their local community.” There are two programs: Early Head Start serves infants, toddlers, and pregnant women; Head Start primarily serves three and four year olds. Together, these affordable programs support a child’s development from birth through age five, addressing mental, social, and emotional development.

You can learn more about these programs on their website, including locations, how to apply, and how much funding the state provides for the programs. Having gone through the application process, from initial research to acceptance, I can offer some tips to help you pick a program that fits your and your child’s needs.

Research
Take the time to research everything you can about the program you wish to enroll your child in. I found Yelp quite useful. The reviews are honest and most are directly from the parents.

Update your child’s information
Make sure your child’s doctor appointments are up-to-date, including their shots, dental visits, and anything else.

Plan a visit
Most Head Start programs will allow you to bring your son or daughter to sit in for a half day at the facility. This is a great opportunity to check out how the place is run, how the children act and most importantly, to see if it’s a good fit for your child. Observe and ask as many questions as you need to in order to make the right decision.

Timing + Pricing
Once you select a program, there may be a waiting period, but it might be quicker than you expect. I called a few facilities and was told I could bring my son the following week. The Head Start directors will ask you a variety of questions, including your living situation and monthly income, to help give you the best monthly fee they can. In my opinion, it is extremely affordable compared to a daycare and worth looking into.

Are you already using the Head Start program? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.

Want to learn more about early childhood? Our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books help parents from birth through high school graduation and beyond. Now available on Amazon

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My Story: Why I Chose to Stop Breastfeeding

February 10, 2015

By Ana Vela

My Story: Why I Chose to Stop Breastfeeding | There's a lot of pressure in the parenting community to breastfeed for at least a year. Why this mom decided to stop after seven months. | The image shows a baby breastfeeding.

Ever since I was pregnant, medical staff, family, and friends all talked about the benefits of breastfeeding. It made perfect sense to do it. Once my daughter was born, our pediatrician insisted that I breastfeed her until she was at least one year old. In the first weeks, my daughter and I struggled a bit, but once she latched on and I was fully producing milk, it felt like nothing would stop us from reaching that one-year goal.

Maternity leave was surreal. It was a time where I wasn’t working, had minimal obligations, and all I had to do was focus on my baby. Once that time ended and I returned to work, I instantly felt the pressures of returning to the person I used to be prior to having a baby: an executive director who worked long hours, a friend who was always willing to socialize any day of the week, a spouse who had a strong and attentive relationship, and someone who had household responsibilities. Now there was also a baby at home waiting for her mother to provide her breast milk, love, and attention. As someone who considers herself a strong and independent woman, I took on the challenge to still manage all of these roles.

Finding the time to pump became increasingly challenging. My work habits made it difficult to pause during the day to pump. I wanted to cram in as much work as possible in order to leave at a decent time. Traveling for work for several days at a time also became a burden. Planning ways to continue pumping while being in all-day business meetings was no easy feat. Socializing was tough, too, since I had to be more aware of my alcohol consumption and couldn’t stay out as much as I wanted to. Needless to say, I was losing this battle.

And then it happened. My milk supply began decreasing significantly. I took it as a signal that I was failing my daughter. There are several causes linked to a decrease in milk supply. I was experiencing several of those causes in my life and it was showing, which continued to add more stress on me. At some point it felt like I was formula-feeding more than breastfeeding because I couldn’t provide enough milk for my growing baby.

In the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, the importance of modeling positive behavior comes up a lot. I realized that if I wanted my daughter to be happy, I needed to be happy. As the end of the calendar year approached, I analyzed what I could eliminate in my life to be happier—breastfeeding was on the top of my list.

With pressure in parenting to breastfeed, I was starting to feel uncomfortable letting people know I was willingly quitting. I didn’t want to be judged, or feel worse than I already did. Even my daughter’s pediatrician was not very supportive when I asked for medical advice in stopping. Not much research is out there where women openly discuss this, so I wanted to offer some personal advice.

  • Make sure your baby is comfortably consuming formula milk through a bottle.
    Knowing your baby is getting the proper nutrients before you quit breastfeeding will ease the stress. My baby’s pediatrician and I discussed this before I quit, and I recommend that you speak to your doctor to ensure your baby is ready for the transition.
  • Set a goal to quit and establish a gradual transition.
    I set a date to quit based on an upcoming weeklong business trip. Gradually, I decreased my feedings fewer times a day as the weeks went by and my supply continued to decrease. Stay strong in your plan—your body will naturally show signs of wanting to continue breastfeeding.
  • Enjoy your decision to quit.
    Although I felt guilty at first, I started to fully embrace not having to breastfeed anymore. Remembering why I made the decision in the first place helped. I continued to bond with my baby, began socializing more, and even focused on exercising. I was very fortunate to also have my husband be very supportive of my decision.

I’m proud to say my daughter and I had an amazing breastfeeding journey for her first seven months. Breastfeeding is a different experience for everyone, and only you know what is best for you and your baby. With less stress in my personal life I can really enjoy my time with my family, and I no longer feel like I failed my daughter. In the end, I made a decision that was right for me, and in turn right for my baby.

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