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Raising a Chocolate Child in a Vanilla World: Part I

May 12, 2014

By Dr. Tyffani Dent

A black toddler holds a white baby doll.

I was sitting with my 5 year-old the other day when she turned to me and said, “Mommy, I wish I was blonde.”

Instantly, I thought of how female musicians have been dying their hair and I rolled my eyes as I responded, “Baby, your brown hair is beautiful.”

She sighed and looked up at me with brown eyes that are so like my own and said, “No, Mommy. I wish I was blonde.”

It was then that I realized that my beautiful baby who is the color of a milk chocolate bar was talking about her skin.

The psychologist in me began thinking about Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s 1939 doll study. In their study, the Clarks found that black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black, and that the children gave the color "white" attributes such as good and pretty, but "black" was qualified as bad and ugly.

In addition, I remembered that the study was redone in 2006 and 2010 with similar results. I wondered, as an African-American psychologist who has worked diligently to insure that my daughter was praised for her chocolate skin from birth, what I had done wrong. What had made my beautiful brown baby not appreciate her skin color?

Scouring research on racial acceptance and identity, I had bought her only African-American dolls and encouraged others to do the same. We read books about little brown girls who looked like her and I praised them for being pretty and smart. When The Princess & The Frog came out, her father and I made sure that her room was an explosion of Disney’s first black princess. In selecting a school, we balanced a good education with making sure her school had others who looked like her. Even choosing our home was a carefully calculated move to offset any chance that she would be viewed as “the other” or “different” [with a negative connotation]. Yet, here we were, the African-American psychologist mother and her own little black child wishing to change her skin color.

In analyzing the situation to figure out where I went wrong, I quickly realized that it was not I; it was society. When my daughter looks on television, she rarely sees herself on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. Yes, there are female role models that I can point out like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Toni Morrison, etc. However, in the mind of a 5 year-old, those do not matter as much as Selena Gomez, Hannah Montana, or Barbie.

So, as a psychologist, I will continue to try and figure out how society can improve the self-image of African-American girls. As her mother, in that moment, I simply pulled her close, kissed the top of her naturally kinky hair, and looked into those chocolate brown eyes and reminded her how beautiful she is to her daddy, her grandparents, and to me. Perhaps the world will one day follow suit.

[Editor’s note: this article is part one of a two-part series on issues that face racially diverse children and their parents. For the author’s tips on how to help your child embrace his or her diversity, see part two.]

Dr. Tyffani Monford Dent is a licensed psychologist, motivational speaker, and author. She lectures and trains on issues of mental health disparity in minority communities, children’s and women’s issues, and sexual abuse intervention and prevention. Dr. Dent is also the Executive Director of Monford Dent Consulting & Psychological Services, LLC and the author of the book Girls Got Issues: A Woman’s Guide to Self-discovery and Healing.


The Gift of a Card – Free Download

April 23, 2014

By Sunny P. Chico

Card illustrations by Leah VanWhy

Today is my birthday, and while I don’t normally tell everyone that, I wanted to share it with you for an important reason: to share a story of why cards are so important. To celebrate and help your children share cards with their loved ones, the YOU Parent team created these card templates that you can download and print for your use.

Now, for my story:

I was recently visiting with my beautiful 81-year-old mother and came upon a colored box, which she kept near her bed. I asked her about the box and she told me that its contents helped her relax when she got anxious, helped her go to sleep when she couldn’t sleep, and helped put a smile on her face every day.

Is it a magic box? No, but it’s a very special box! It was full of birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, and retirement cards. I asked her which ones brought her the greatest joy and she said that she only kept the ones with handwritten words inside. Greeting cards come with beautiful and thoughtful messages pre-written, but the most special cards are those that have an extra handwritten message by the people you love.

I immediately realized that I had been mimicking this behavior ever since my children were born over 30 years ago. I have an old hatbox that I keep my cards in! Anytime I receive a handwritten card, I put it in my hatbox instead of throwing it away. My mother helped me realize that there is still joy and comfort that these cards will bring me in the future.

We live in a very busy world that is dominated by technology. We text, we email, etc. It makes us more efficient in many ways—I know it helps me a great deal—but this communication cannot take the place of the very special messages inside my hatbox.

After finding my mom’s box of cards, I took a look inside my hatbox. I was surprised at what I experienced. I laughed, I cried at the beautiful memories, and I also felt like I touched many people’s lives. It was a journey looking back. I particularly paid attention to the handwritten messages and I have to say that those became more meaningful.

I quickly started searching for only those that had handwritten messages. Reading the cards made me pause and think. It made me slow down for a short time and reflect.

I believe I will go through my hatbox from time to time but I now know that it will be one of my prized possessions by the time I am 80. It will help me relax, it will help me go to sleep, and it will put a smile on my face every day.

Take those extra minutes to write your thoughts in the cards you give, and encourage your children to do the same. Those handwritten cards will be a gift that lasts a lifetime.


My Story: Teaching Kids About Death

April 15, 2014

By Amanda Alpert Knight

A young boy stands with his mother at a cemetery, looking at a headstone.

Sitting at the wake of my best friend’s father-in-law, I spotted her 7-year-old son, Owen, across the room. Owen is my buddy. He and my son, Alex, were born exactly one year apart (minus two days) and are best friends. I hadn’t seen him since his grandfather died, whom he called Papou, which is the Greek word for grandfather. When I spotted him across the room playing on his iPad, I knew I needed to make my way over to him to talk.

Two weeks earlier I had lost my father to cancer, so loss and mourning was fresh in my mind and my heart. I had also recently dealt with the issue of talking to my 4 and 6-year-old children about sickness, death, and saying goodbye. It wasn’t easy and there were no good answers.

I knew Owen was going to be a tough customer. He’s an incredibly smart kid and is thoughtful and wise, so I prepared myself for rejection. This was our conversation:

“What’s up, O?”

“Nothing. Just playing my game.”

“You doing okay, bud?”


“Hey, Owen. Owen.”

I finally got him to tear his eyes away from his game.

“You know I love you, right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“You know why we are here?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I know why, we are here. I just don’t understand why. I mean why did it have to happen?”

I was stunned. From the mouth of a 7-year-old, I was being asked the question that young or old, we all wonder when faced with death: Why? There’s no good answer. I explained this to Owen. I told him I wish I had an answer for him. I wish I could explain it for him and for me. The most I could do was love him, share memories with him, help him understand how much his Papou loved him, and that he will always be with him.


My Story: Choosing a Daycare

March 18, 2014

By Ana Vela

Ana's sonogram

My husband and I live 1200 miles away from our families, work full-time jobs, and are expecting our first child. I never imagined that I wouldn’t have family nearby to help us raise our child. Growing up, my mother raised my siblings and I herself. As a grandmother, she has helped raise my two nieces. Naturally, I had planned for her to help raise our child as well.

I thought this was only common where I grew up, but I was surprised to discover that the U.S. Census Bureau indicates 49 percent of children ages 0–4 with employed mothers were still cared for by a relative. Only 24 percent were in a center-based care facility. It is nice seeing how common it still is to have relatives help with childcare. Since that is not an option for us, we really didn’t know where to begin our search. Here’s what I learned from trying to figure this out.

Discuss what you’re looking for.
Before we started searching, my husband and I decided that we needed to be on the same page about what we want in childcare. We came up with a list of what we are looking for:

  • Budget-friendly childcare
  • English and Spanish language accommodations during care (it’s important for us to promote bilingualism with our child)
  • Convenience and flexibility (hours, location, emergency plan)
  • A welcoming, diverse, friendly, and safe environment

Start researching ASAP. 
I quickly discovered that some childcare facilities have waiting lists now for care that starts in July! Start your search six months prior to needing the care. Ask other parents for recommendations either in person or in online forums, read online reviews, and drive around to find nearby locations.

Look at available resources. 
I discovered that many states have nonprofit organizations that provide online lists of quality childcare resources and referrals in your area. Many of the lists include information such as accreditations, ratings, and years of service. If your employer offers any kind of benefits for childcare, talk to them for information. My husband’s company hosted a childcare fair where he met with several daycare centers to ask questions and get rates.

Understand care options. 
Through research, we discovered there were several options for childcare (listed in order from least to most expensive):

  • At-home daycare
  • Off-site daycare facilities
  • Au pair or nanny services (an au pair is a foreign visitor who lives with you and provides childcare)

Know your budget and stick to it. 
Some employers offer benefits such as flexible spending accounts for childcare, matching contributions, discounts, and priority placement on waitlists at certain daycares. This information helped my husband and I set a budget for childcare. We want to choose care that’s within our budget to ensure we are not stressed over finances and that we have a safety cushion for emergencies.

Visit the options. 
I learned that many sites allow one free day of care for your evaluation. Take advantage and schedule tours to ask questions. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Are you accredited by NAEYC?
  • Do you accommodate cloth diapers or only disposable?
  • How do I provide breast milk for my child?
  • What is the child-to-teacher ratio?

Choosing childcare is a big decision and we are very nervous about it. We still have several visits to make before we make a final decision, but as long as we stay true to our list of needs and wants, we are confident we will make the right choice.


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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