Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Limiting Options: Avoid Hearing “No”

January 29, 2014

By Stephen J. West

Peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese

Photo by Libby VanWhy

In the college courses I teach, I ask my students to answer open-ended questions to help them form their personal opinions. While this strategy is great for helping adults learn how to influence the world they live in, I’ve found that it isn’t nearly as productive when it comes to getting my two-year-old son to decide what he wants for lunch.

“No!” my son will often respond, sometimes even before he hears what I’m asking. Like many toddlers, he has a willful personality and prefers to make his own choices. I believe this is a positive attribute, but when “no” becomes his favorite choice for daily rituals like putting his shoes on or brushing his teeth, it can make life difficult.

To embrace my son’s desire to have a say in things while keeping his answers productive, I need to give him more structure than open-ended questions provide. According to Monte W. Davenport, Ph.D, “the determined child desperately wants her parents to be in control; however, she does not want to give up whatever control she has.” This concept helped me understand why the questions I was asking my son were unproductive. Instead of asking, “do you want to eat lunch?” as I usually would, if I rephrased the question as, “do you want peanut-butter and jelly or macaroni and cheese?” my son has control over what he eats while I have control over when he eats.

Providing your child with limited options works great in most scenarios, whether it’s time to take a bath (“do you want bubbles or not in your bath?”) or get dressed to go to school (“do you want to wear your bulldozer shirt or your monkey shirt?”). Using limited options allows you to control the structure of your child’s life while giving him or her the chance to feel control within that structure.

When providing your child with limited options:

Make eye contact. Acknowledgment of the choice emphasizes the structure, and confirms they have a say in the matter.

Provide options you are happy with, and stick to them. Make sure not to offer a choice that you don’t want your child to make. And don’t negotiate! Your child will quickly learn that his or her options aren’t firm if you change or add to them.

Avoid ultimatums. “Or else” isn’t a choice, and children are smart enough to know the difference between a choice and a threat.

When decisions need to be made, giving your child two or three choices provides the power he or she wants and provides you with the control you need.


A New Parent’s Guide to Taking Care of YOU

January 15, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A new mom cares for her baby

It has been my personal experience that when we become mothers, we instinctively become selfless. We focus on our child wholeheartedly, attempting to make his or her world perfect in every aspect. We read every parenting book we can find, research nutrition that will maximize our child’s development, and are ready for every doctor’s visit. Our child’s health and development is and will remain a priority for decades to follow until the cycle of life runs its course. But what about you? Are you prioritizing your health and your continued development? Are you reading, researching your nutrition, and preparing for your doctor’s visits with the same focus and priority that you dedicate to your child? In my experience, probably not.

I have been a parent for twenty-three years now. I have watched my two children grow into amazing, independent beings. I have been witness to their successes and their struggles, their joys and their sadness. I know that I could not have supported their development as well as I have if I had not taken the time to focus on me. By taking care of my overall health (mental and physical), I was able to participate in their lives to the fullest as the best parent I could be.

  • Simple things such as personal grooming, exercise, and social activities helped fight the reality of a post-pregnancy body (which no one tells you about) and the many emotions that come with parenting.
  • During the first months it is suggested that you establish a routine for your baby. Why not establish a routine for you and your baby? When he or she naps, exercise, take a shower, dress for the day (no sweats, no pajamas), or eat a nutritional snack. You would be surprised how far this goes towards your post-pregnancy survival and establishing a strong, consistent parenting style.
  • As you look toward reaching milestones with your child, establish milestones for yourself to reach along the way as well. Take time to reflect on what you want for yourself now that you are a parent. How will you manage your life while being responsible for the development of another?

Once you discover those things that will bring balance to your mental and physical health, you will instinctively be the best parent you can be. Whether you are staying home on leave or will remain home, establishing this routine for both of you from the start will shape you and your child’s relationship for the years to come.

Nely Bergsma is the co-founder and executive director of the Penedo Charitable Organization (PCO). Nely co-founded PCO, along with her sister and our program author Sunny P. Chico, to support at-risk girls in the same Chicago neighborhood where she and her sisters grew up. PCO works with teachers, psychologists, and social workers to mentor at-risk girls from sixth grade through high school, providing full scholarships to those who complete the program. Founded in 2009, PCO now serves 40 girls, adding 10 new participants to the PCO family each year.


How can I get my husband to be more involved with my child aside from working and providing for us?

December 20, 2013

By YOU Program Facilitator

Father and son fishing

Question: My husband works a lot and he is a wonderful provider, but he is barely involved in our son’s life. I feel bad asking him to be more present in our child’s life, since he works hard for us to have everything we need, but I would love for him to be more involved in our son’s activities and emotional development. How can I ask him to make more time for him?

Answer: Your husband needs to be aware of his role, which has to do with much more than with just bringing in money. Being a provider for the family is very noble, but one of the ways your husband can also provide for your child is by understanding that he needs to have time alone with his son. He needs to be available for him, attend school events and social gatherings and be part of your child’s house environment.

A father’s and a mother's love are different. A father’s involvement brings unique contributions to parenting that no one else can duplicate. Tell him that if he is involved in other parts of his life, your child will have a better development. Parenting is not just about material things, but also about ensuring physical, emotional, social and academic well-being. To be caring, loving, nurturing, teaching, encouraging, and so on, is something that your child will want to get from both his mother and his father. You also might want to examine your actions and figure out if you are not facilitating this situation. Some of us mothers want to control every aspect of our child’s life and don’t know how to let go, we need to do everything ourselves. So if this is your case, try to relax and share responsibilities. Let your husband help with parenting, even with those tasks he has never done before, like bathing your child, taking him to the park by himself or preparing him lunch. Trust him. Let your husband do some of the things that you usually do and control.

Finally, make sure you’re not undervaluing the interaction that he does have with your son. Depending on your son’s age, the two of them may wrestle and roughhouse together, watch sports or kick a ball around the yard. The social and emotional benefits of activities such as these are vital to a child’s successful development and many fathers do them so automatically that we forget to give them the credit they deserve. Make sure you’re acknowledging what he does well, and then work together to build on those strengths.

For more information on the issues addressed in this question, see the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. See pages 12–13 in Through the Early Years for information on the importance of every family member bonding with a child. See pages 41 in Through Elementary and Middle School for information about the positive emotional development of rough-and-tumble play.

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