Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Responding to Aggressive Play

March 4, 2014

By Stephen J. West

A father talks to his son on the playground.

When I’m planning my two-year-old son’s day, I like to schedule activities where he can play with other children. Whether it’s the playground, the mall, or an arranged play date with another child, playing with other children is not only fun for my son, it also helps him learn how to interact and socialize with other children.

Playing with other children presents plenty of opportunities for my son’s emotional development, too. But the laughter and smiles aren’t the only benefits; when he and the other children stop playing nice also presents an experience to learn from—for him and me alike.

Whether it’s a frustration over sharing a toy or not wanting to play a game, confrontations between children are normal. According to Susan Stiffelman, “When a child is frustrated, there are only two possible outcomes: 1) he accepts that he cannot have or do what he would like, or 2) he becomes aggressive toward others or himself.”

Stiffleman believes that “If a frustrated child is able to safely offload his upset—perhaps even by having a cry—he will find his way toward accepting that he can't have the cookie, the toy, or the undivided attention he seeks. Otherwise, his frustration will turn into aggressive behavior.”

When aggressive behavior does take place between your child and another, it’s important to have strategies in your back pocket for helping your child and the other children involved.

Stay calm and explain the misbehavior. Kids need to be taught what isn’t acceptable, and they will usually listen if you calmly instruct them not to touch, hit, or bite. A parent who causes a scene over a child’s actions can inspire further outbursts that will end the play date quickly—and isn’t really modeling the most respectable social behavior themselves.

Give the children involved an exit plan. Whether that means introducing another game or moving your child to another room to play by themselves, distraction—and sometimes distance—can diffuse tension.

Occasionally, your child’s aggressive play might result in another child getting a bump or bruise. In that case, Amy McCready believes that you make sure the other child is okay, but not force your child to give a meaningless apology. “They’ll learn more long-term,” she says, “if you hold them accountable when they’re calm by helping them make amends to the other child.”

The same advice holds true when you need to confront another parent about the actions of their child. If you can, speak to the parent away from the children, even if it’s after the confrontation has been resolved. And when you do talk with them, be conscious of the tone of your voice and your choice of words. If I want my son to learn how to respect others, the way I act when I confront other adults might be the most important lesson I can give him.

In addition to being a father of an energetic two year old, Stephen J. West is a professor, writer, art enthusiast, and collector of bonsai trees. You can follow him on Twitter, where his opinions are his own. 


Couple Chat: Gender Roles

March 3, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela

Photography by Jennifer Schaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about gender roles. Here’s what they said.

What traditional gender roles do you feel are important to honor with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up, gender roles were very prominent. The ones I enjoyed seeing celebrated the strength of the mother of the family. The mother tends to get the family unit together, and all members would respectfully obey their mothers’ wishes.

My daughter will be free to choose to live whatever life she wants, and I want her to feel confident and demand respect wherever she is. Women tend to be seen as a source of knowledge and compassion, and I would like to instill that in my daughter as well. She should learn to be thoughtful in the decisions she makes, and understand how it impacts others.

Mario: Before we knew we would be having a girl, we both always thought we would have a boy. One of my concerns was not having a traditional father figure. I created my archetype of a father figure through a collection of influences from role models and family influencers.

Now that we’re having a girl, I need to reflect on what my daughter will need from me as a father. I feel I have to be an even stronger figure for a daughter. I felt content and ready to be an example for a son, but I now have to be even better for my daughter. I need to reformulate my idea of a role model and use both male and female examples. For instance, my grandmother, who fought and led her life the way she wanted, is an example of a strong role model for my daughter.

What traditional gender roles do you want to ignore with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up in the Latino culture, there were several things I disliked about gender roles. My father constantly pushed me away anytime I wanted to spend any quality time with him. Several times I requested to go fishing with him and my brother, asked to help him fix the car, or just sit and watch some of his favorite western movies with him. He refused and would say that I was a girl and that I should be in the kitchen helping my mother.

That’s what I ended up doing—all the activities that were expected of me as a female: cooking, cleaning, playing with dolls, and wearing dresses. I ended up resenting it growing up, which caused friction between my mother and I as I constantly challenged these roles my parents and society were placing me in.

When I found out we were having a girl, I was excited that I had the opportunity to challenge gender roles with my daughter. I do not want her to experience these situations that only caused me heartache and confusion. As an adult, I am very grateful for the life skills my mother taught me. I just wish it had been something I wanted to learn, not a forced expectation of me.

Mario: Many times I’m at a loss for what a woman should strive to be. I always felt my son was going to have a responsibility to be a good man. I still struggle with what it means to be a good woman. Fortunately, I married Ana.
How do you think you can honor and ignore those roles when raising your child?

Ana: I think the best way to honor and ignore these roles with my daughter will be through not pointing them out at all. Modeling positive behavior and not limiting her interactions with either my husband or I should demonstrate to my daughter the best way we’d like her to interact with others and us.

I can’t imagine having any kind of conversation with my daughter in which I tell her that she has to be a certain way because she is a girl and not a boy. Now that my parents are grandparents and are helping raise my two nieces, I can definitely see that they have relaxed a bit regarding gender roles. I’m hoping that by adding another girl to the family, they will focus more on encouraging them to be strong, responsible, smart women, and encourage any interests they may have.

Mario: I want my daughter to learn from the strength and passion of my grandmother. I want her to learn of the irrational success of Ana. How she has become an amazing social climber, regardless of the poverty and abuse she faced, the limitations placed on her, the poor education she received, and the environment she lived in, all while being a woman. Ana is an amazing role model.

I can honor the positive gender roles by providing examples and a strong archetype of both men and women who help society, help their families, and help others. I can also teach her to care for herself and to understand the inherent value she possesses as a person.
I can teach her to understand the limitations of others and to not let them affect her own sense of self, her progress, and her potential to improve this world and the world around her.
Ana: Mario and I always thought that we were going to have a boy. This made Mario very comfortable, and me secretly uncomfortable. Since we found out we were actually having a girl, Mario has been worried about this role and I have felt very secure.

In this exercise, Mario expressed that he needs to be an even better father now that we’re having a daughter. We both agree that we want our daughter to feel strong and confident, and not be confronted with limitations.

I was surprised to discover that we both are worried about some of the interactions our daughter will have with our families, as they still engage in some of the gender roles that we do not want to promote with her. Mario wants to utilize his grandmother and myself as role models for our daughter. On the other hand, he was very surprised with my answer that gender roles do not have to be pointed out to our daughter at all. And he agreed with that concept.

Through this emotional exercise, I finally understand why I wanted to have a daughter – because I now have the opportunity to change the definition of gender roles with her. And now I also understand why Mario wanted a son – because growing up without a father, he wanted to change that experience into a positive one with a son.

Mario and I have both used our anger, frustrations, and struggles growing up to drive us to the successful lives we now live. Although that helped my success, I do not want my daughter’s success to be out of anger. I would rather her success be out of empowerment and through us as positive role models.


You’re Not Failing As a Parent

February 12, 2014

By Jessica Vician

There are good days and there are bad days, but at the end of the day, when you put your child to sleep, you know you did something right. You did a good job.

Parenting is tough. Sometimes it’s exhausting. You’re trying to raise a child to be better, brighter, and happier than you are. But no one, even your child, is perfect. Give yourself a break. You’re not failing—you’re on this site to seek answers, advice, or better yourself as a parent. That’s a great step and demonstrates your desire to be a better parent.

If you’re feeling down or struggling with parenthood, read on. I asked several parents, from newbies to grandparents, for advice to those feeling the pressure of being a perfect parent. Here’s what they said.

“Parenting is really hard. Parenting changes everything but it doesn’t change who you are.”

“Everyone feels that they’re failing as a parent at some point or another.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Look at acquaintances or friends who have older children and ask them how they handled situations that are similar to yours.”

“There are good days and there are bad days, but at the end of the day, when you put your child to sleep, you know you did something right. You did a good job.”

“Know that each child’s success is different and that’s okay.”

“Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need it.”

“Take a time out. Take a breather. If you’re mad, don’t react right away because once you say something, you can’t take it back.”

“It’s okay if some days you say ‘Being a mom is too hard.’ It happens.”

“Each situation is different. Just because something worked in the past with one child doesn’t mean it will work with another. Learn to adapt to new situations and don’t blame yourself if one approach doesn’t work. Try another.”

“You’re not alone. We can always do better, but sometimes we only have enough in us to give ‘good enough.’ And that’s okay.”

Thanks for reading, and thanks for visiting the site. Remember that just being here makes you a good parent. You care so much about your child that you’re seeking additional help and advice. Meet other parents and exchange advice in the forum.


How to Be Affectionate with Your Child

February 10, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A mother hugs her son.

As a parent, there may come a time when you realize that however unlikely it seemed, you are just like your mother or father. If your parents were extremely affectionate, then there is good chance you are, too. However, if your parents or caregivers were not affectionate with you as a child, it may be difficult to show affection to your child.

I have worked with several young mothers who are scared to display love toward their children. Some are stressed, others lack confidence to attempt new bonding activities, and others find themselves lost. My goal with these parents is to guide them through the wonderful journey of parenting by coaching them through simple bonding activities that eventually strengthen their relationships with their children. I am glad to share these simple ideas with you.

Remember that your children love you no matter what. Their love is unconditional and they are naturally wired to bond. Try the following ideas and you may find yourself enjoying a bonding experience with your child.

  • Disconnect and Connect. Turn off your phone and/or electronics around you to be able to give your child your undivided attention. Make your child feel important and let him or her know that he or she is your priority. Begin doing this for ten minutes and work your time up to 30 minutes a day when time permits. Play and talk with your child and praise his or her efforts without corrections to make this a positive experience. Praise is a form of displaying affection. A simple “great job” or “you are beautiful” goes a long way.
  • Reading Date. Create a designated time in your routine and schedule to sit down and read together with your child. Make your special reading area cozy and comfortable. Sitting together can give you opportunities to hug your child and promote literacy.
  • Bathtime Fun. Use your bathtub as your indoor swimming pool. Have fun indoors even in cold weather. You can splash, play, and bond in the bathtub. You and your child are in small space cooperating together and having fun. You can share smiles and bond.
  • Walk and Talk. Taking walks will allow you and your child to exercise and initiate conversation about anything. Hold hands if your child is young and use opportunities to display your love toward him or her by kissing your child’s cheek, hand, or forehead.
  • Hugging Time. Make traditions to hug each other during different times of the day. Hug during your morning greeting, after breakfast, after a nap, and before bedtime. Encourage your child to initiate hugging during other times too. Never decline a hug from your child.

Do not stress or overthink when you bond with your child. Keep your child’s best interest in mind and have fun. You will do great!

"Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label. Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom." – Anonymous


The Importance of Fatherly Involvement

February 6, 2014

By Stephen J. West

A father and daughter play on the beach.

Since the birth of my son a little over two years ago, I have made it a priority to be as involved in my son’s upbringing as possible. While I have to admit it’s more fun to play with him than it is to change his diaper or get him to nap, I believe that it is important to be regularly involved in all aspects of his life.

While my desire to share parenting duties with my wife might have been unique in the past, more and more men are changing their attitudes toward parenting. In an interview with the Associated Press, Robert Loftus, a 34-year old father of two, said he quit a six-figure sales job to care for his children while his wife works full time. “We’re trying to rethink our priorities,” he said of men in the 21st Century, “and family seems to be the No. 1 priority whereas in the past maybe people were more focused on career.” While my career is still very important to me and I value the financial support I provide my family, like Loftus, my self-worth is not defined solely by my career, but also by the role I play in my son’s life.

But my commitment to fatherhood doesn’t just add to my personal happiness, it also benefits my son greatly. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, “The more involved dads are, the better the outcomes for their children.” Numerous studies show that children with involved fathers have many developmental advantages:

  • Children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.
  • Fathers who interact with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activities help children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior.
  • Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes.

From my experience, the best way to become more involved in your child’s life is to make it a part of your daily routine. One way to do this is to create a schedule with your partner for what days you will be in charge of activities such as meals, bath time, or reading stories. The key is that you are participating regularly. As with anything, practice pays off: the more you are involved, the more comfortable you will become in your role as a father, and the more you and your child will develop a fulfilling emotional connection with each other.

In addition to being a father of an energetic two year old, Stephen J. West is a professor, writer, art enthusiast, and collector of bonsai trees. You can follow him on Twitter here, where his opinions are his own.

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