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Expanding Gender Roles

April 14, 2014

By Jessica Vician

A father hangs laundry on a clothesline to dry.

It’s sometimes hard to see, but gender roles and stereotypes are all around us. Parents paint baby rooms and buy toys based on a child’s gender. Even if you try to defy those gender stereotypes through concentrated efforts, sometimes they sneak past us and are accidentally projected onto our children.

Gender roles and stereotypes aren’t always bad things. It’s important to embrace who we are and to model that behavior to our children. But it’s also important to teach our children that their genders don’t solely define who they are. Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day, on April 24, is a great example of this concept. This day originally intended to show girls the various careers they could have, and now it includes boys because it’s important to expose both genders to the potential careers they can pursue.

Examine the gender roles that you demonstrate in your home. Does Mom cook and do the laundry? Does Dad take out the garbage and fix the toilet? Those might seem like natural things that happen in a family—it’s likely the way your parents behaved. But your children see those behaviors and may think that they must assume those roles when they grow up.

An easy way to counter these gender stereotypes is to switch up those roles with your parenting partner. Here are some quick and easy suggestions on where to start:

  • Share cooking duties. Both parents don’t have to be a chef. If one parent isn’t used to cooking, start with simple recipes and aim for two meals a week. Even a novice cooker can make an easy mac and cheese with vegetables. The kids will start to see that the “chore” of cooking can be done by both genders.
  • Teach each other to fix things. Just like with cooking, start small. If one of you knows how to fix the toilet when it’s running, show the other parent how to do it. Then the next time the toilet is running, the newly-trained parent can show the kids that he or she is also capable of fixing things around the house. Depending on your children’s ages, you might also be able to teach them.
  • Take turns paying for dinner. When you go out to eat as a family, rotate which parent pays for dinner. Make arrangements before you leave for dinner so that when the bill comes, your children see that both parents can contribute financially.
  • Support and encourage playtime. We often think that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls. But if a girl wants to play with trucks and a boy with dolls, there is no reason to discourage your child from expanding his or her worldview and stepping outside of traditional gender roles. It’s how we grow as people and a society.

As with any change, start small by paying attention to the things you and your partner do at home. If you notice one gender tends to handle certain tasks, start sharing them. By modeling this behavior to your children, you affect the way they perceive gender roles and set a strong example that demonstrates that regardless of gender, your children can grow up to be the person they are meant to be, instead of who they think they should be.


5 Potty Training Tips for Your Toddler

April 10, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A couple stares at a potty-training toilet.

I have potty trained my two children and have supported the potty training of hundreds of other toddlers through my career. Through my personal and professional experiences, I have learned that every child is different. All toddlers learn new skills differently. This is why as parents and caregivers, we have to be extra patient and have many strategies in our “tool box” available to use when potty training our toddlers.

When introducing new skills, consistency is the key to success. Do not give up. Listen responsibly to your toddler as you both approach this new milestone. Remember never to scream, force your child, or punish your toddler if he or she has an accident during potty training. Again, be patient. You can do this! Your toddler’s actions will tell you if he or she is ready for potty training. If your toddler is taking off his or her wet or soiled diaper, begins to be bothered by a dirty diaper and demands to be changed, or refuses to wear a diaper, then it might be a good idea to start potty training.

Here are five tips that will help you through this journey.

  1. Be A Role Model. Take your toddler with you to the restroom. Show him or her that this is a natural and normal thing everyone does. Explain in simple terms what you are doing. Be patient and calm when doing this. Do not make this a stressful time.
  2. Make the Restroom Accessible. Have the restroom door open all of the time. Locate the potty chair in an area your toddler can get to quickly. Get a stool to use by the toilet if you are using a child toilet seat on your toilet. For boys, most potty chairs and toilet seats come with a pee guard to catch the urine when your boy is sitting. You can later transition your boy to pee standing up. Do not stress over this.
  3. Begin the Potty Schedule. Take your toddler regularly (every 30 minutes) to the potty chair or toilet and have him or her sit for five minutes. It is okay if your toddler does not go. You can use a timer to remind you. There is even a potty watch in stores you can purchase to cue that it is time to take your toddler to the potty. Again, consistency is the key.
  4. Reward/Praise. Motivate your child and increase his or her success at potty training by praising all efforts and rewarding accomplishments. Stickers are a great way to reward your toddler when he or she goes in the potty. I don’t recommend food and junk food as rewards. Verbal praise always goes a long way to influence your toddler.
  5. Bye-Bye Potty Chair. Just like you have to say good-bye to your toddler’s high chair, playpen, and many other baby items, you will also have to say goodbye to the potty chair. Begin transitioning to the toilet after your toddler has demonstrated independence and some self-care responsibility.

Remember that you have a lot of support. Be patient and stay positive. Your toddler will not be potty trained overnight. He or she cannot do this alone. Your toddler needs you.

For additional ideas and tips, look up these helpful websites:

Or ask other parents in the YOU Community Forum.


Where to Find Classes for Your Gifted Child

April 9, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

A girl proudly shows her teacher and classmates the art project she created.

You have noticed that your child has a talent, skill, or particular like of a subject area. Follow up on that observation by checking in with your child’s school for specific programs that can develop that special skill your student does so well.

Some of the things that you can check out include:

  • Advanced courses at school. Every school has an honors or AP (advance placement) level for core courses (math, science, English). Encourage your student to take on the challenge of an honors course so that he or she can test the limits of his or her gift.
  • Complementary courses. Outside of core courses, there are also a wide variety of programming options at school for a gifted child that might include music, arts, foreign language, Career and Technical Education (CTE), and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Typically, programs in these areas cover a span of multiple years, starting at the novice level and progressing toward mastery. Check with your local school/district for details on the programs available at your school. If you can, visit the school and talk to the teachers and students in the program to get their perspective to see if it will be the right fit for your student.
  • After school extracurricular options. Outside of the regular school day there are a wide range of options for students to explore and grow their talents. Most schools have before and after school extracurricular options covering music, arts, athletics, and more. You can also check local non-profit community groups (YMCA, Junior Achievement), the local park district, post-secondary institutions, and religious organizations. Programming might cover an hour or two a week or be a weeklong camp, so consider the level of commitment that is best for your child.

My mother used to give me the park district flyer, asking me to choose at least one activity a season to participate in. It was a win-win situation, as I was allowed to choose something I was good at or liked and she got me out of the house to meet new people, learn new skills, and develop my talents.

You can use this method while choosing any of these types of courses or programs to make sure your child picks something he or she enjoys that will help him or her develop skills that can later on turn into a career.


Stranger Danger: Teaching Kids About Strangers

April 8, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

A child walks alone on a city street.

We have always told our kids to be wary of strangers. This mantra carries its own wisdom. However, things aren’t always that black and white. In some occasions, kids should talk to strangers, like police officers or firefighters. The key is to teach them to differentiate between when it’s appropriate to talk to strangers, which ones are “safe” strangers, and how to act when they feel uncomfortable with an adult or with a certain situation. “Don’t talk to strangers” applies only in certain cases.

Here are a few guidelines that you can discuss with your child about what to do when being approached by someone he or she doesn’t know:

It’s okay to talk to strangers while accompanied. When your child is out with you, it’s fine to let them say hello to strangers. Most people are genuinely happy to interact with a child, so there’s no need to be rude or extremely suspicious of everyone you or your child encounters. However, let your child know that if a stranger approaches him or her while being alone, it’s not okay.

Beware the lures of strangers. Some of the most common ways that predators lure children away from safety is by asking to help them with a task, like finding a lost puppy or child, or by offering them a treat if they do what the stranger says. Teach your child that when this happens, he or she should say “No” and leave immediately to find a trusted adult.

No secrets. Your child must be aware that secrets with strangers are a no-no. Teach your child that it’s inappropriate if anyone—stranger, friend, or family member—asks him or her to keep secrets or tries to make your child do things that feel uncomfortable. If your child experiences this, he or she should tell you or your parenting partner right away.

Appearances don’t matter. Children might think that dangerous strangers look like villainous characters from a cartoon. But most of them look like regular folks, polished and kind. Teach your child to be wary of any stranger that approaches him or her while being alone, even if they look “nice.” Also, gender and age shouldn’t be a reason to trust or distrust someone. A dangerous stranger can be a woman, man, or teenager.

Safe strangers. These are people your child can ask for help when needed. Police officers and firefighters are very recognizable safe strangers. You can also show him or her how to get to the homes of friends in your neighborhood in case of an emergency.

Handling Dangerous Situations. Talk to your child about how to handle dangerous situations. Kids Safe Foundation, a non-profit that provides personal safety education, suggests teaching children: “No, Go, Yell, Tell.” Kids should say no, run away, yell loudly, and tell a trusted adult what happened. Teach your child that sometimes it’s okay to say no to an adult.

It’s better to teach your child from a place of knowledge than from a place of fear. If we say, “Don’t talk to strangers,” you are not teaching your child what to do. If you prepare him or her to handle these situations rather than instilling fear of all strangers, your child will be more confident later in life to handle all types of problems, including menacing events.


Couple Chat: Moving to a New State

April 7, 2014

By Stephen and Karleen West

Karleen, Steve, and Elliott West

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 Stephen and Karleen West, parents to two-year-old Elliott, about their upcoming move to a new state and how it will affect Elliott. Here’s what they said.

What do you think will be the most difficult change for your son when you move?

Karleen: Our son is a creature of habit, and not by accident – Steve and I have worked hard to provide a stable routine for him each day, especially surrounding naps and bedtime. Because of that, I anticipate the most difficult change will be his ability to fall asleep on his own – and sleep through the night – in our new home. When we travel, our son is reluctant to fall asleep in new places and wakes up frequently, needing to be soothed. I think that it could be a process of a week or more before he trusts the new space enough to fall asleep on his own and stay asleep through the night.

Stephen: I think the adjustment to a new “home” will be the most difficult for Elliott. For the past two years, Karleen and I have traveled A LOT with our son. Because of that, Elliott has become good at dealing with brief changes to his routines.

But traveling does tax him. Elliott misses the familiarity of his house, his dog, his toys, and his crib the longer we’re away, and it shows in his eating and sleeping habits, his loss of patience, and in needing his mom and dad more. He misses his home and all of its comfort and familiarity, and we can see this in the way he runs around chanting “Home! Home!” and laughing giddily when we get home after a trip. Until our new house becomes our “home”—and provides all of the comfort that word represents—I think Elliott might show some of the symptoms of fatigue we see when we’re traveling.

How do you plan to address that change?

Karleen: Our son is two and a half, so he is at an age where he could transition from his crib to a toddler bed. However, with the move, I do not think that we should make that transition anytime soon. In order to make him comfortable in our new home, I would like to try to provide as many consistencies for him as possible. From his nap and bedtime preparation routines, to maintaining familiar objects – including his crib – I want to provide him with the comfort of routine in all aspects of time, activity, and space.

Key to that routine will be a bath and three books before bedtime – activities that we do every single night now, and that we should prioritize when we move. Key objects will be his crib, his blanket, his humidifier (for noise), and his little stuffed monkey that he sleeps with every night.

Stephen: I think it will be crucial to keep as much of Elliott’s routine in tact as we can throughout the moving process, from what kind of food we feed him to when he takes his daily nap. I also think it will be important to quickly establish new comfort zones with familiar items in our new house, like getting his room set up with his bed, books, and toys, and arranging the living room with his chair so he can watch his favorite TV show.

I think the routine that needs to be most consistent is the attention and time we spend with Elliott; we will have plenty to distract us as we build our new home, but as long as we pay close attention to Elliott’s needs and comfort, I think the adjustment will be just fine.

Karleen: Steve and I were happy to see that we were both on the same page about what will be difficult for our son, and how to handle that difficulty. It was interesting to see that we both brought slightly different perspectives to these questions. While Steve focused on the general issue of routine and comfort for our son, I focused more on the specific issue of sleep that I view as the most significant challenge that will arise from the change of routine.

In addition, talking about our responses encouraged us to think more deeply about the move and the effect that it will have on Elliott. In particular, we realized we want to constantly prioritize our son and his needs throughout the entire process of the move. We will have so many tasks and responsibilities during the move – packing, cleaning, fixing, arranging – that it could be easy to get so distracted that we start to compromise our time with Elliott. In fact, we had noticed that we were doing just that during the process of selling our current home and buying our new one. We would both be sitting with our computers open, having conversations over our son’s head, while he acted out more and more regularly to get our attention.

After this Couple Chat, we now both realize that as much as possible, we need to comfort and care for our son in every phase of this transition to our new life. After all, it is the three of us who are going to make our new house a home.

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