What Dads Need to Know: The Refreshing Side of Overnight Camp

By Hollee Actman Becker


So it’s the last week of June.

Otherwise known as the time of year when parents across the country drive to various makeshift bus stops, hug their kids goodbye while hiding behind dark glasses, release them to make the climb up onto the air conditioned chartered buses that ironically advertise free wi-fi, then wave maniacally at their shadows — barely visible behind blackened windows — yelling “goodbye!” and “I love you!” and “you better freaking write!” until the very last bus has inched out onto the highway and disappeared from sight.

Only then will they be free to swipe away the stray tears, sigh at the anti-climactic-ness of it all, and then celebrate their long-awaited Summer! Of! Freedom! by running home to glue themselves to their computer screens and hit the refresh button every two seconds while guzzling glass after glass of wine.

If you have to ask why these parents are engaging in this type of behavior then you’ve clearly never sent your kid off to sleep-away camp for seven weeks.

And if your jaw just dropped at the phrase “seven weeks,” then you are clearly not from the Northeast.

Because the reason they — OK, let’s be honest here… we — attach ourselves to our iPads and our laptops and any other freaking device that will let us log onto Bunk1 or CampMinder or whatever website our camp happens to be using this summer is because we are all desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of our happy little campers — emphasis on the word happy — when each of our camps starts posting THE PICTURES.

And if there was ever a phrase worthy of utilizing the All Caps button it’s that one.

Trust me.

Because only when we see that first grainy image of our child smiling as they jump into the lake… or swing a bat… or kick a ball.. .or get a piggyback ride from some random nineteen-year-old who they may or may not have just met two minutes ago…Only then do we allow ourselves to breathe a collective sigh of relief, fork over the $1.69 to download the high-res image, and then finally just chill the eff out and relax.

At least for five seconds until we hit the refresh button again.

Anybody else here see the irony of confiscating your kids’ electronics and sending them off into a wi-fi free zone, only to spend the summer obsessed with electronics yourself?

I mean.

Do you know how many mornings last summer I woke up to find an empty wine glass on my night table and an iPad on my pillow?

All of them.

But here’s the thing.

These are our children we are talking about here. And these images we see on our computer screens are our only lifeline to them.

So — and stop me if any of this sounds familiar — we spend our entire summer waiting to see THE PICTURES.

Talking about THE PICTURES. And — full disclosure — meticulously over-analyzing every single little detail about the freaking pictures.

Wait. Why isn’t my kid smiling? Is that a smile? And why is he standing all the way over there on the end? Why isn’t he in the middle like that kid there with all the freckles? Who is that kid with all the freckles anyway? I bet he’s mean. He looks mean. How come everyone in the bunk is holding hands and my daughter is holding a freaking water bottle? Does she not have any friends? Who’s bathing suit is she wearing? She looks skinny. Is she eating? She better be eating! And is that a sunburn?


Guilty as charged.

Last summer I made myself crazy studying the pictures.

Seriously freaking crazy.

I know.

You expected more from me.

Like, way more.

Sorry to disappoint.

I know it sounds insane.

Like, really insane.

And it so is.

But while I’m far from a helicopter parent in my everyday life, it’s really freaking hard not become just a little certifiable when you’re stuck at home sending one-way emails, and the only clue you have to your child’s well-being is an image that’s left you feeling at best unsettled and at worst suicidal and why didn’t you just sneak that damn cell phone into you kid’s laundry bag when you had the chance?

Here’s the thing, though.

I learned the hard way that the pictures don’t always tell the whole story. And sometimes the story you think you are watching unfold right before your very eyes all summer is not actually the real story at all.

The girl you thought looked mean turns out to be the bunk sweetheart. The boy with the hugest grin in every picture cried for an hour every night. The counselor who was always standing off to the side with a grimace turns out to be your kid’s favorite.

You get the idea.

But the most important thing to remember — and, catch 22, the hardest thing to remember — is that your kid can be having the craziest, most amazeballs summer at camp, YOLO-ing it up every minute, even if there isn’t a shred of photographic proof.

You don’t believe me, do you?

Think back to your wedding video for a second.

Who are the people the videographer ambushed and shoved his microphone in front of? Are they your awesome BFFs who were busy shredding up the dance floor? Or are they the guests who were just sitting at the tables, hanging out on the periphery, watching the action from afar, and therefore the easiest to approach?

My guess is, it’s the latter.

And my point — because I know you must be wondering if I actually have one— is this: Just because the videographer didn’t capture your closest friends on camera wishing you their slurred-yet-heartfelt congratulations, it doesn’t mean they weren’t there having the time of their lives.

And now it’s my turn to tell you a story.

Are you ready?

Here we go.

One day last summer about 50 pics went up on the camp website of my daughter’s bunk at the waterfront.

She was not in a single one of them.

Not ONE.

So I start immediately freaking out.

Because duh.

Judge away but you know you’d do it too.

Here are all these girls smiling and laughing and jumping in the air holding hands.

And where the fuck is my kid?

So then a week later we’re up at camp for Visiting Day.

Which is a story in and of itself that you should remind me to tell you later.

So we’re at Visiting Day.

And we go on a family boat ride.

And my daughter starts to tell us a story.

About how there was this one day when her bunk went to the waterfront with another bunk in her division.

And how it was sooo cool because she got to go out in a canoe with two of the girls from the other bunk.

And omigod do you know what happened when they went out in that canoe?

They got stuck in the mud.

Like stuck stuck.

And someone from the waterfront had to come rescue them!

And it was awesome!

Like, soooo totally hilarious that the girls literally peed in their bathing suits.

I swear I’m not making this up.

So after visiting day I swallowed about a billion milligrams of Valium and then went home and pulled up that set of waterfront pics on the camp website again.

But this time I zoomed in on them on my iPad (great trick, btw… remember it).

And there she was — my kid, my heart, my home — way off in the background.

In a canoe.

Stuck in the mud.

With two other girls.

Laughing her freaking ass off.

Moral of the story?

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

Step away from the freaking computer.

Just step. The hell. Away.

At least until they upload the next batch of pictures.




Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer and blogger who explores parenting and pop culture on her blog suburBABBLE.com. Her writing has also been featured in publications like Self, Cosmo, The New York Post, Ocean Drive, Lucky, TheKnot and Philadelphia magazine. She lives in the Philly suburbs with her husband, two kids and their dog, Mickey Jagger. They also have a white picket fence. OK, that’s a lie. Go find her on Twitter here: @holleewoodworld.

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What Dads Need to Know: My Seven-Year Peformance Review

By Heather Kempskie

I’ve been at this Mom-thing for seven years now. I haven’t had a performance review yet. No raise either. I decided to check in with my bosses (7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter) to see where I stood. What did I discover? There’s always room to improve.

Me: What is Mommy good at?

Son: Are you going to ask me what you’re bad at?

Me: Can we start with the good?

Son: You’re good at helping me clean my room.

Me: Now for the bad.

Son: You’re bad because you don’t let me play Wii every day.

Me: If I got paid to be your Mommy, how much would I get?

Son: One. One dollar.

Me: How long have I been your mom?

Son: 36 years.

Me: Can I have a raise?

Son: No. I don’t think so.

Me: Can I have some of your money?

Son. Nope. Well, maybe a penny.

Me: Anything else to add?

Son: If you let me play Wii everyday, you would be perfect. But for now, you’re still good.

Me: How old am I?

Daughter: 64

Me: Do I work hard?

Daughter: Some days.

Me: Do I deserve a raise? Some extra money?

Daughter: What? Do you think I’m rich?

Me: Am I getting anything for Mother’s Day?

Daughter: Yes.

Me: What is it?

Daughter: Can’t tell you.

Me: Give me a hint.

I better not be getting a jar of marmalade. Or could it be a pimped-out Escalade? Thank goodness this job comes with decent benefits. I get to feel the exhilaration of a goal scored by my son at a Saturday soccer game. I get to watch my favorite Disney movies over and over again with my daughter and not feel weird about it. I have Lucky Charms in my cabinet and have an excuse to visit McDonald’s at least once a week. I get bragging rights to everything my son and daughter do right. I get to blame my husband (and the traits he passed on to the kids) for all the things they do wrong. And if I continue make some improvements on the job front, I’m looking at a pretty sweet vacation in about 11 to 13 years from now.

Have a great Mother’s Day!

Heather Kempskie is a freelance Web producer with NECN and the co-author of The Siblings Busy Book.

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What Dads Need to Know: Fostering Initiative in Children & Adolescents

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

I have to admit, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the word happiness. Used to describe a myriad of good things in life, including love, fleeting moments of joy, and chocolate bars, we often talk about it as a destination just down the road.

But happiness is part of a journey – and helping kids navigate the journey with courage and optimism is part of raising healthy children.

Alfred D. Souza made a great point: “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

Indeed, obstacles are a part of life. And often they seem endless. So wouldn’t our kids be happier adults if they learned how to overcome challenges and obstacles? These questions led me to discover the meaning and importance of youth initiative development.

What is Initiative?

The ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions, initiative directs our attention toward a challenging goal and helps us overcome obstacles. It encompasses both an inner energy and an outer action. Initiative is an important part of positive youth development.

Initiative is developed in late childhood and adolescence through mastery experiences and relationships that help kids believe in themselves. Since initiative can be used to accomplish good or evil, it also involves instilling positive values in childhood, like kindness, compassion, and empathy for others.

Initiative is developed through internal rewards, like creativity, dignity, autonomy, making a difference for others, and activities that help kids create their own futures. It is not developed through external rewards like grades, winning, awards, and money.

Initiative-Building Activities

Researchers have identified three important elements of initiative-building activities during childhood and

  • Kids must choose it for themselves because it gives them “internal” rewards! Examples include music
    , service-learning, and a myriad of other after-school activities.
  • The activity must take place in an environment that contains rules, challenges, and complexities inherent in the real world. They must face intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal challenges that go beyond grades, winning a game, and other external rewards.
  • The activity must be sustained over a period of time. Rather than doing lots of activities, it is better to focus on a few for longer periods of time so kids learn to persevere despite challenges.

Compelling Facts

  • IQ accounts for less than 25% of life success. Emotional intelligence, including initiative, accounts for the rest.
  • Boredom is the antithesis of initiative. Both honor students and those involved in delinquent activities report the highest levels of boredom in the U.S., many more than 50% of the time.
  • Kids who lack initiative are more prone to depression.
  • Children and adolescents with high levels of initiative spend twice as much time in hobbies and sports than kids with low levels and they spend more time with their families.
  • Traditional classrooms and homework, activities that account for more than 30% of kids waking hours, have limited potential for experiencing initiative.

Communication Tips that Foster Initiative in Children and Adolescents

  • When children blame, moan, or whine, turn it into an opportunity to find out what they care about! Uncover hidden convictions that can fuel initiative and action in the world.
  • Shift from a language of “Prizes and Praising” to a language of “Ongoing Regard.” Instead of giving praise for all the things children “do,” communicate appreciation for who they are.
  • Help kids learn to solve their own problems and navigate obstacles. Allow them to fail. Be a mentor in the process!

How Parents and Educators Foster Initiative through Mentoring

  • Be on the sidelines to help facilitate children’s learning.
  • Encourage children to get back on their feet after a fall – because you believe in them.
  • Be a helpful guide as children identify challenges, reflect on their choices, arrive at decisions, adjust strategies, and plans next steps. Listen and encourage.
  • Be a role model. Show them how you get things done but don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.

I plan to spend a lot more time discussing the topic of initiative and other character strengths in future blog posts. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences as parents, educators, and mentors of young people. How have you fostered initiative in children? What kinds of activities bring the highest internal rewards? Why? How do classrooms
foster initiative? Lots to discuss! Stay tuned!

©2012 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher. A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences. She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of the National ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life. Connect with Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter or at www.mpricemitchell.com.

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Featured Moms & Dads, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Monitoring Your Child’s Online Behavior

By Mary Jo Rapini

Let’s just put it this way, “Facebooking” and “YouTubing” is no longer just a “cute” thing kids do for fun to pass the time.  Not understanding the risks associated with the many social media outlets poses a huge potential problem to the safety and well-being of our children.

To keep them safe, it is something that needs to be monitored closely.  To fully understand the potential dangers,
we, as parents/teachers/child advocates need to educate ourselves and then monitor closely.

I am a psychotherapist, with a private practice in Houston, Texas, and a media expert for several networks. I co-authored a book for moms and daughters about the importance of teaching young women about their bodies and health.  Since the start of the New Year, I have been interviewed by CNN on the topic of ‘Teens, Facebook and how it can lead to Depression’. I have also done other interviews around kids and Internet safety.

I read the headlines daily, and see sad story after sad story about a child who was not supervised by engaged parents or children whose parents were not aware of their child’s virtual world. If you lose a child due to cyber bullying or depression  due to feeling isolated and friendless it is too late to become involved and ask the questions you need to ask now. Telling yourself that your child would never be involved in dangerous activities online is denial on a parent’s part. Any parent who has parented a teen understands being proactive is wiser than trying to scramble when bad things happen.

Thus, I wanted to take some time to educate or re-educate parents about the reasons they need to be engaged in  their kids’ Internet activity.

Whether its browsing websites like YouTube, networking on social media, playing video or other Internet-connected games, or downloading files, every activity poses potential dangers that parents should be aware of.

Before the Internet was so accessible to all children, kids could come home and we as parents, could ask them how their day was, who they hung out with or had lunch with, or how their activities went after school.

Judging by their child’s response, we could get a fairly good idea of the events and interactions of the day and, by just looking at their face or judging their reactions to our questions, understand how their day actually was.

Well, our children now have a world very different from the one we have known throughout their life. They have an online world with real people, real events and real drama – that can easily be hidden from our view and protection.

So, let’s start with a quick quiz. Do you know:

– If your child has a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr account?

– How they use each social networking site they have?

– How many friends do they have? Do they know all of those friends?

– If they have more than one Facebook page?

– ALL of their friends and connections on each site? Do they?

– How much time your child spends online in general?

– What your child does on YouTube?

– If the video games they play connect to the Internet?

Each of these questions represents online activity by most kids on most days.

By using these social media and search vehicles and playing video games online, they can be whoever they want, talk to anyone they want, or research anything they want.  And until we communicate with them about the happenings in that digital world, we are missing out on what’s going on in their entire world.

I recommend two avenues:

  1. Daily communication of what happened online. Questions might include:
    1. “Where did you spend your time online today – IM, Facebook, games, surfing, etc?
    2. “Did you make any new friends?”
    3. “Have you noticed anyone having trouble – I read a lot about cyberbullying.”
    4. “Did you play any new online games today.”
    5. “Would you mind showing that (whatever it may be) to me?”
    6. I would also suggest proper etiquette rules of Facebook and texts. I would check phone for
      inappropriate photos and go over those rules and consequences prior to giving them the phone (it is a privilege after all…not a necessity).

    2. Monitor internet and computer activity using preventatives measures that work best for you:

    1. Restricting Internet use to a public space such as the kitchen or family room and allowing kids on the computer only when you are home.
    2. Managing your computer’s own settings for password control.
    3. Adding software-based controls to your computer.
    4. Ensuring that privacy settings on all Internet-based accounts are set to your standards. This includes sites like Facebook, but also YouTube and online photo sites like Snapfish or Picasso.
    5. Add a service to monitor your children’s activity on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to send you alerts based around your child’s activities.
    6. Checking to ensure these same settings and measures are also used on cellular phones that have Internet access.

While there is no perfect solution, a combination of these measures and daily interactions will help provide your child with a safe online experience. As always, we recommend you keep the conversations around internet safety open and positive so expectations and rules are made cut and dry.

In a place where predators are present, cyber bullying is increasing, and defaming the reputations of others happens rampantly, we need to be keeping a very close eye.

As we enter 2012, I, along with my partner, TrueCare.com, will continue to help parents understand that they do need to be monitoring their kids online. There has never been a more vulnerable time in your child’s life where what you don’t know really can hurt you (and your child). We want to move the needle in raising awareness and make “monitoring kids online” the next “buckle your seatbelt.”

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a psychotherapist who lives in Houston, Texas. She is the author of two books, Is God Pink? Dying to Heal and co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex or Whatever. Her Web site is www.maryjorapini.com.

Posted in Adolescence, Featured Moms & Dads, Internet Safety, Protecting Children, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Fatherhood Economy

By Laura Diamond

When I was pregnant with our first child, a stack of pre-natal and parenting books towered perilously high on my bedside table.

On my husband’s side of the bed was a single book for first-time fathers, bought by some well-intentioned friend (okay, maybe it was me). Giving our “friend” the benefit of the doubt, at the time there weren’t many fatherhood books to choose from. And maybe this friend didn’t read the Table of Contents. Had she, she’d have known that the book’s sole message to fathers-to-be was: You Man. You Earn Money.

I discovered this one night as we lay in bed preparing for parenthood in the way we lawyers knew how – reading, studying – and I heard him groan. I turned in time to see him holding that book, his face contorted with disappointment, the words crushing his natural excitement for his impending fatherhood.

When he explained why, I grabbed the book, checked the publication date, looking for the 1950 copyright. Nope, it was current. I tossed it aside. “That’s ridiculous.” But the genie was out.

When our first baby boy was born, we agreed I’d stay home to care for him. My husband stepped up and became the sole money-earner in our family, at least until I wanted to go back to lawyering. (Still waiting for that desire to materialize…) Over the years, he has provided for our family while staying true to his playful nature, placing time with his kids above everything. As he’s made career moves, each time he has prioritized the ability to spend time with his family. Speaking for my kids and myself, we are grateful for the law-partnership-path not taken. We like having him around.

Yet that manly-provider-thing still haunts him. A few days ago, he confessed that he had been daydreaming about returning to a law firm so that we could have more money, live in a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood, even though it would mean more hours in the office. Worse, he was indulging that waking nightmare while bouncing on the trampoline with our first-grader, usually their happy place.

Breaking into his father’s thoughts, our airborne joy boy said, “Daddy, don’t you wish I only had school and you only had work on Monday and Thursday, and we could play all day all the other days?”

Just like that, he brought him back from the brink.

Recently, a Cornell professor wrote about life lessons older Americans had for the rest of us. Chief among them, Don’t worry so much about money. Spend time with your family. Say yes to adventures.

These are modern day self-evident truths, but they are slippery, easy to lose hold of, especially with messages like the one in that loathsome book so pervasive. But being a great Dad does not mean being the best financial provider on the block. Does your family really need the latest greatest iPhone? The fanciest cars? The biggest Bar Mitzvah party? I didn’t think so.

Repeat after me: “The time I spend with my kids, present and focused and looking in their eyes is worth more than any pirate’s treasure, more than any winning lottery ticket, more than any golden parachute.” No amount of money can buy it back once it’s gone.

Try putting that on your bookshelf.

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Marriage, Perspective, What Dads Need to Know, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

Dating Dad: Little Lady

By Eric S. Elkins

I’m sitting on a little prop plane, Simone to my right, deep into the first rough chapters of my next young adult novel, while my charming psychotherapist cousin taps away on his laptop to my left. We’re returning from a weekend in Helena, Montana, where we were fortunate enough to be guests at my eldest nephew’s bar mitzvah.

I love family gatherings — I come from a very warm and mushy extended family; all huggy and kissy, in each other’s business, overwhelming, and ridiculously loving in a fully unconditional way. Those of the older generation — my parents and my aunts and uncle — are cluelessly inappropriate, talking over each other and constantly interrupting without listening to what the others are saying, but there’s a feckless joy and sweetness to them that’s irresistible. They drive me bat-shit crazy, and I love them all the more for it.

So we were sitting in the Saturday morning service for my nephew’s bar mitzvah, and I looked over at my youngest sister, sitting beside me with her new love (another single dad), and said, “I don’t think I can do this alone next year.”

I was annoyed with myself that I’d drifted away from the accomplishments of my nephew, standing at the front and reading from the Torah, and had turned the moment into one of those, “Holy-crap-Simone’s-growing-up-and-her-bat-mitzvah-is-next-year-and-there’s-so-much-to-do-and-damn-she’s-getting-older-by-the-second” stream of anxiety moments.

I write every so often about Simone’s journey into young lady land…how her attitude and body are changing, how she has become more sophisticated in her tastes and outlook. Even my cousin noted some of her more insightful and mature assessments of our family dynamic.

But she’s not struggling right now; I am.

Last month, I realized she didn’t really have something appropriate to wear to the big event. In fact, I was sick of trying to cobble together somewhat dressy outfits every time we had a social gathering, whether it was a restaurant opening or a religious holiday. Simone’s never been a dress person, so I reasoned that maybe giving her some say into how her dressy clothes were designed and how they reflected her personality might provide motivation for enhancing her wardrobe.

Lucky for me, I’m friends with a dressmaker who has a funky, cool sense of elegance, and Simone took to her designs right away. A fun session where she and Simone talked about preferences and styles was followed a couple weeks later with a fitting session in the little boutique.

No one else was in the shop — it was just the dressmaker, Simone, and her dad, who kept saying things like, “Um…that’s a little too low-cut for an 11-year-old,” and “I think that’s a bit too fitted for your body.” At one point, I had to help Simone into and out of a dress, and she was both embarrassed and annoyed that she needed assistance. Her bra went askew, the dress got caught on her shoulder, and we both had no choice but to laugh ruefully as she finally got herself sorted.

The dressmaker made some adjustments to Simone’s three favorites, and then suggested we hit up the Forever 21 store at the mall for appropriate accessories — belts, tanks, shoes, etc.

I sneezed three times in a row as we walked into the store, and Simone said, “Daddy, you’re allergic to teen fashion. But don’t worry, so am I.”

I felt hapless and aimless in the large, disorganized shop, not especially secure in how to select from different fabrics in the tank tops, or the appropriate width of a belt. Simone felt somewhat the same way, with an added measure of disgust over the choice of music playing and the awful clothing that was available for kids her age. We muddled through together, picking out stuff that we were both reasonably sure would work, then made a break for the fresh air of the parking garage as soon as possible.

As I write again and, I’m not one of those feckless fathers from TV sitcoms; I take my relationship with my daughter seriously, and am generally secure in my ability to keep her safe and raise her well. But there are girl things I just don’t know, and though she has a few aunties here and there to help us out, they’re not in the house with us when things go awry. I’ve lived with women almost my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I know how to think like one.

For instance, it didn’t occur to me, when I was helping Simone pack for our Montana trip, that you should always pack lady products “just in case.” If my middle sister hadn’t been keyed into her niece so well once we got to Helena, we definitely would have had a serious disaster on our hands. I should have recognized Simone’s moodiness and skin changes the day before as a precursor, but it took my sister to point out the connection to me. That’s one mistake I won’t make again.

And it’s so important that Simone knows she can talk to me about anything, which means I can’t freak out or remain willfully clueless when it come to her changing, maturing body and attitudes. I have to remain engaged and supportive, even when I want to put my hands over my ears, close my eyes, and yell, “La la la la la!”

So there I was, my baby sister sitting beside me at the ceremony. We watched Simone, up front with her cousins, resplendent in her custom red dress, black leggings, and sweet ankle boots. She and the bar mitzvah boy’s little brother were behaving much better than my cousins, sisters, and I did at each other’s services — we’d cut up and giggle, barely suppressing our mirth — but Simone and Max sat attentively, supporting the first of their generation to take the stage.

“I can’t do this all on my own next year,” I said to my sister, feeling a sense of despair, not knowing what role Simone’s mom will be willing to take on, but understanding that Simone’s bat mitzvah would be primarily my responsibility — the details, the expense, the hours and hours of planning, and of course pushing Simone to study and learn her responsibilities for the big day.

We’ve been going head-to-head about homework, and it turns out I’ve been a sucker to Simone’s manipulations, resulting in angry emails to me from her mother about missed or incomplete assignments that Simone had told me were done or nearly so. I’m instituting some changes here in the house this week, and I’m not looking forward to the clash that will ensue; so the thought of adding in regular nagging about her bat mitzvah studies twisted my stomach into any achy knot.

And then one of the final prayers began; a joyful song of praise and wonder.

“Hear that?” my sister asked me. I stopped singing to listen, and heard Simone’s voice loud and clear and confident, riding along and above the melody of the adults in prayer.

I took a deep breath.

“We can do this,” I thought.

Eric Elkins’ company WideFoc.us (http://widefoc.us) specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at DatingDad.com , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing eric@datingdad.com.

Posted in Dating Dad, Divorced Dads, Featured Moms & Dads | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Growing Up with a Biter

By Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

Little Sadie is a biter. Yes, it’s true. Adorable Sadie of the itty bitty butt and teeny tiny thighs still manages to assert herself by doling out quick and quite painful bites when you least expect it. Her main victim is Matilda who now has bruises up and down her arms that are simply begging someone to call CPS on me. This had been going on for months and months already but Jon and I kept making excuses for her: she’s frustrated from her lack of ability to communicate, she was bitten by Matilda when she was really little, she hates sharing, Mattie’s arm is delicious…and on and on. But last week things came to a head: Mattie was minding her own business (post tantrum) lying on the floor sucking on a taggy blanket when Sadie hopped up from across the room, sauntered over to Mattie, bent down as if to kiss her and chomped down on her arm — hard. I ran over to comfort Matilda but had a dilemma on my hands: do I punish Sadie first or comfort Mattie first?

I’d already escalated my discipline techniques from “No discipline whatsoever because, hey, she’s just a baby” to a sharp “No!” to a sharper “Stop!” and finally to a time out which involves scooping Sadie up and dumping her unceremoniously in her crib. The problem is, Sadie has no concept that she’s being punished. She doesn’t see her crib as being the crate of torture that Mattie does and is perfectly content to hang out, smoke a candy cigarette and read a little Pet the Baby Animals until I give up on waiting for her to cry and go get her.

Up until that last biting incident, most of the attacks had seemed somewhat provoked. A toy taken away, string cheese pilfered, Mattie just being in the wrong place at the wrong time etc. but this one was different. This was premeditated biting! What kind of a sociopath crosses the room, chomps their sister like she’s a leg of El Pollo Loco and then skips off whistling Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Sadie, that’s who.

I decided to call in the big guns; my early intervention team. If there’s any bonus to having a delayed child it’s access to services you normal wouldn’t have. Yesterday, a child development specialist came over with Sadie’s case manager to work on Sadie’s play skillz. Cause Sadie’s got mad skillz y’all. This double therapist session was after a long day of PT (physical therapy), speech and OT (occupational therapy)so I wrongly assumed that Sadie would be in frustrated, tired, lashing out form. But nooooooo. Just like a pint-sized Ted Bundy, Sadie charmed the shit out of all our guests by saying hello to everyone in sight, pretending to roll calls with her Diego cell phone, giggling maniacally and repeatedly clapping her hands over her head yelling “hooray!”

Luckily, nobody can keep that up for an entire hour and eventually even Sadie broke down and pinched a few folks. It was decided that although biting, pushing and pinching are typical twin behaviors, Sadie does have the added frustration of lagging language, competition with not only her twin but an older sibling and the added cross to bear of an overly attractive and quite young looking mother. Who wouldn’t want to bite a few people? Still, we were told to continue giving time outs very consistently and to start signing with Sadie. Plus, we are going to be getting regular play therapy which thankfully will include Matilda. Poor Matilda, if we don’t correct this problem soon I fear her childhood will eventually become a Lifetime movie. Scarred for Life: One Twin’s True Tale of Growing Up with a Biter. Of course, if that happens I hope it’s sort of soon because I don’t want Tori Spelling to be aged out of playing the part of Sadie. Lifetime, you know where to find me.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, Naptime Is the New Happy Hour, It’s Not Me, It’s You, and her more recent book, I’m Kind of a Big Deal.  She lives in Los Angeles with a husband and three young daughters. Anything else you need to know will probably be on her blog at stefaniewildertaylor.com.

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Humor, Parenting Stress, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know – Improving Family Communication

By Jody Johnston Pawel

Imagine this scene: A neighbor is at your house, visiting over a cup of tea. You start feeling irritated and pressured when you realize you are running late for an appointment. What would you say to your neighbor? Imagine the same situation, except it’s your child at the breakfast table. How would it change your response? Is it possible that you might respond in a more disrespectful way?

Even when irritated or impatient, we often make the effort to listen and communicate with friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers with more respect than we give our own children. Most parents would say they value the relationships with their children yet, because of their emotional involvement, find it difficult to communicate respectfully with them at times.

Quality family relationships are becoming increasingly important in our society. With pressures and issues like drugs and sex, which children are facing today, the need for open communication and positive family relationships is vital. Today’s children also face dangers not known of in the past. Children are being taught not to blindly obey an adult’s requests if it could be a safety risk. As a result, adults are no longer perceived as infallible and children are encouraged to think/decide for themselves and be more assertive than children in previous generations.

Most parents want their children to feel free to talk to them, yet don’t always know how they can foster this type of relationship. It helps if parents can remember that communication involves proper timing and both talking and listening. When children have a problem, their parents’ efforts at “listening” often result, instead, in lecturing and offering advice. Unsolicited advice provides little opportunity for children to share their feelings and can result in children becoming reliant on others’ influence. In turn, these children may develop inadequate decision-making skills as they mature.

Contemporary child-rearing authorities agree that there is a direct connection between how children feel and how they behave. Parents can help children feel encouraged by accepting their feelings. This is not to say parents have to agree with these feelings. Acceptance means a willingness to allow children to be individuals with preferences and opinions of their own.

Most parents can be very accepting about most of the feelings their children have, unless they say something that makes the parent angry, anxious, or uncomfortable. It is common for parents to then revert to old habits and become defensive. Effective listening involves a respectful attitude, concentration, eye contact, and an effort to stop and think about when to be silent and when/how to respond. A simple nod or word of acknowledgment will let a child know you are listening. When listening, avoid probing questions like “why?” These questions shift the focus from feelings to analyzing and children may interpret it as a denial of their feelings. Instead, tune into the feelings, then put the feeling word into a sentence. This will show that you understand and accept how the child feels. Children of all ages learn how to identify their feelings and solve their own problems when parents help give their feelings a name.

Sometimes children will express their negative emotions in inappropriate ways, such as tantrums or yelling. Parents can allow children to feel angry but share specifics about how they can express their anger in acceptable ways. Help them generate ideas for constructive, physical ways to express their anger (i.e., drawing or a punching bag).

When parents have negative feelings or want more cooperation from their child, they also need to respectfully express themselves. Instead of ordering and nagging, focus on the problem without blaming and give children a chance to decide for themselves what actions they need to take. An effective and simple way to get a child’s attention is to say one word (i.e., “Milk!”). Just make sure your tone of voice is non-blameful and don’t use children’s names alone or they will associate their names with being in trouble. Another tool is to simply describe what you see (i.e., “I see dirty dishes on the kitchen table”) or give information they can use for later reference (i.e., “When milk is left out it will spoil”). Writing notes and using humor or fantasy are creative and fun ways to express both positive and negative feelings.

Finally, here are some tips to encourage your efforts at improving your family’s communication skills. Be authentic with your emotions and wording without blaming the other person. Have the courage to be imperfect — there are no perfect parents. New habits take at least twenty-one days of practice to establish and it is common for children to test parents during this time.

Positive, open communication is only one area that parents can address to improve their effectiveness as parents. Through reading and attending parenting classes, parents can learn how to foster loving, respectful family relationships.

Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator, and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop. For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family professionals through her dynamic workshops and interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid television series.

Posted in Family Communication, Featured Moms & Dads, What Dads Need to Know | 1 Comment

What Dads Need to Know – Raising Kids With Values

By Dr. Jenn Berman

When it comes to instilling values, parents face greater challenges than ever before. Children today are bombarded with anti-values messages all day long through television, movies, music, the Internet and billboards. Kids have fewer young role models that demonstrate valuable contributions to society than they did in years past. Instead they have people like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Brody Jenner, kids who are known for, respectively, her buttocks, a sex tape, and dating other reality stars and for their parents’ money. As though that is not enough of a stumbling block, kids today also suffer from a lack of meaningful adult and peer relationships. So many of us, young and old, tend to be focused on Blackberries, laptops and television screens at the expense of meaningful connections and relationships.

According to a poll by Parents Magazine, the top five values that parents want to imbue in their children are: honesty, self esteem, kindness, self-reliance, and concern for others, qualities which are the building blocks for a moral person and a decent society. However, despite the fact that 70 percent of those polled said that they want to instill self esteem in their children, most parents don’t realize that giving kids the ability to make a difference is the greatest single inoculation against poor self esteem they can give. In addition, giving back to others and knowing that you can positively influence the lives of other people creates a sense of self efficacy while the meaningful activities themselves decrease isolation and self centeredness which in turn helps to build self esteem.

Where to Begin

When most parents think about teaching their children to give back, they tend to think about teens or even elementary school kids. But as Oprah Winfrey said recently, “You are never too young to make a big difference in somebody’s life.” By teaching this lesson to children as young as two or three years old, you help them develop at an early age the habit of giving and helping others which causes this way of thinking and behaving to become deeply ingrained.

Three great tools to start with are:

Books – Books open doors to new concepts, cultures and traditions. It is easy to start young since there are so many great values related books out there for young kids. Early on, start reading books about issues and qualities you value. Check out great toddler books like: The Story of Rosa Parks, The Peace Book, The Snail and the Whale, and Little Bear’s Little Boat.

Discussion – Look for opportunities for meaningful discussions and show your child that you value her opinion during conversations. Use books to open values based conversations. I recently had a conversation with my three year old daughters about peer pressure after reading Hey Little Ant where a little boy’s friends try to pressure the boy in the book to step on an ant.

Modeling Behavior – For many parents, this is the greatest difficulty of parenting. Our kids are always watching us and what we do is far more impactful than what we say. Not only do we have to be role models, but also leaders. Next time you are making a charitable donation, instead of doing it quietly at your computer where your kids can’t see, let your children be involved. Let them pick the charity to which you send your donation. Next time you are thinking of a family vacation, consider planning a volunteer vacation. You can build an orphanage in China, teach English, or help save an endangered species. Work together as a family to make an impact on the world and you will help your child while you help others.

Making New Traditions

Sure it is wonderful to go and feed the homeless around Thanksgiving but people are hungry all year round. Think about making a family New Year’s resolution not only to give back on a regular basis but also to have discussions about important issues and values. As children get older the conversations become increasingly complex and their ability to volunteer becomes greater. Try making one of the following a year round tradition:

  • Make a Kindness Scrapbook. Create a scrapbook to document things that family members do to help others. Since we started ours, my daughters have made cards for sick children, donated money to save an endangered species, and sent their favorite books to a child in need.
  • Start a Dinner Table Foundation. Every month save up twenty dollars or more to donate to a charity. Let each of your children “pitch” their first choice charity.
  • Collect Something for Others. Collect canned food for a food bank, DVDs for donations to a charity like KidFlicks.org, or clothing for a community homeless organization. Each month, with your kid’s help, find something new to give to others.
  • Be Generous to Public Servants. Drop off some baked goods at the local fire station. You can use this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about people who help keep us safe and giving back to the community. Just make sure you call your local fire station to make sure they are open to receiving visitors.
  • Volunteer together. There are so many opportunities to volunteer, especially for older kids. Try food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, and old age homes. For a great selection of possibilities in your area check out VolunteerMatch.org, a free online service that matches people with appropriate volunteer opportunities.

Keeping Your Family Connected

Kids learn values best when they feel close and connected with their families. Three things you can do to make that happen are:

  1. Have family dinner together. Studies show that kids who eat with their family are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, are more physically fit, experience more academic success, have more nutritionally balanced diets, and have a reduced risk for eating disorders. According to a University of Minneapolis study, the more frequent family meals were eaten together and the more connected a family felt, the more self esteem went up while negative factors like depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts went down. This underscores the importance that strong connections have to creating meaningful relationships and generating real influence over your child’s values.
  2. Turn off the TV. Media has become a replacement for family interaction. Given the excessive number of hours adults spend watching television, experts report that parents now have more eye contact with television characters than they have with their own family members. Television can decrease communication with one another and stunt the development of family relationships, which are the foundation for a child’s relationships outside of the family.
  3. Have family meetings. Family meetings are a great way for children to feel heard in their family. A good family meeting serves as a microcosm of the real world, giving your child the opportunity to influence others, develop empathy, and learn cooperation, which are all important values.

Dr. Jenn Berman is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show and is a regular on The Today Show, The Early Show, and CNN. She hosts a live daily call-in advice show called “The Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn” on Sirius/XM’s Cosmo Radio 5-7 pm PST (heard five hours a day seven days a week). She is the author of the LA Times best selling books SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years and The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids. In May 2011 she will be releasing her first children’s book Rockin’ Babies. Her award winning “Dr. Jenn” parenting column is printed in Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other magazines is read by half a million readers ever month. Dr. Jenn is also on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine. In addition, Dr. Jenn has an eco-friendly clothing line for adults and children called Retail Therapy . All the tees have positive “feel good” messages and are made of organic and recycled materials. Dr. Jenn lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters. For more information on go to www.DoctorJenn.com or follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/drjennberman and www.Facebook.com/DrJennBerman.

Posted in Child Development, Ethics, Featured Moms & Dads, Morals, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Five Ways to Raise an Athlete

By Terri Orbuch, PhD

When I was younger, I played competitive tennis in the fall on my high school tennis team, played on the badminton team in the winter, ran for track and field in the spring, and taught tennis in the summers to young children.

As a result of being an athlete, I learned coordination, leadership, team spirit, physical strength, and interpersonal skills. I learned how to cope with loss, frustration, and sheer exhaustion. I was taught to respect my coaches, support my team members, and challenge myself. In fact, sports taught me lessons and skills I would not have easily learned elsewhere. Besides, being an athlete was fun.

That’s why I was saddened to read that, according to the National Alliance for Sports, 20 million kids register each year for youth hockey, football, baseball, soccer, and other competitive sports, but about 70 percent of these kids quit playing these league sports by age 13 — and never play them again. The number one reason they quit, says Michael Pfahl, executive director of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, “is that it stopped being fun.”

That’s a shame, because the benefits for kids of staying active are many. How can we as parents help our children have fun being athletic? Here are some guidelines.

Get to the root of the issue.

If your child announces that she’s quitting the team, gets anxious before practice, or decides not to try out, find out why. Is she getting harassed by older or better players? Does she routinely get benched or yelled at by the overzealous coach? Is she feeling pressure to perform — either from her teammates or possibly even from you? Some questions to ask: How do you feel about the other kids on the team? How’s the coach treating you? How do you feel about your skills and how you’re doing on the team? Is it fun? If not, why not?

Become more involved.

If you suspect bullying by peers or unfair treatment by the coach, consider attending some practices to see if you can observe the problem firsthand. Another strategy is to get involved with the team, by manning the snack bar, hosting a team party, or being a volunteer scorekeeper, team photographer, or equipment manager. Coaches and teammates appreciate involved parents, and it’s great for your child’s morale.

Keep an upbeat attitude.Your child’s participation in sports is strongly affected by your attitude, so be aware of your words and behavior toward the sport, the coach, the referee or ump, and his teammates. If you’re overly concerned with winning, it sends a negative message to your child. But when you have a positive attitude about his participation (even if he loses, sits on the bench, plays people who are way out of his league, or fails miserably), he’ll imitate your behavior. Don’t be the parent who yells at the coach or refs. And be proud of your child for giving it “his best,” even when he loses.

Find a “sport” your child loves.Not all kids perceive themselves as athletic or oriented toward “sports.” The key is to identify an activity that resonates for your child. For example, does you child love to sketch? Then maybe hiking and birdwatching with a portable easel is the ticket. Is your child noncompetitive? How about biking or skateboarding for him? Is your child theatrical? Sign her up for hip-hop dance studio. From pep squad and marching band to archery and rock climbing, there are so many “sports” for kids that you and your child should be able to come up with something your child loves that develops physical skills. As for competitive team sports, think creatively: ping-pong, badminton, ultimate Frisbee, and bowling are some examples. If it’s not offered at school, find a community organization that sponsors one of these teams.

Keep them engaged with support.Don’t forget that children who are happy in their chosen sport need support too. You can encourage them to stay on course by taking an interest. Just like anything else your child does, your involvement is key to their success in that activity. You don’t have to be the coach, but try to go to their games, practice with them at home, help them pick out the right equipment or clothes, and make sure they get to practices. Even though they may love to play, they want you to feel proud of them too.

Keeping your child connected to sports they enjoy and helping them become passionate about physical activities they love is a gift from you that keeps on giving. Just as kids who grow up eating healthfully eventually adopt these good habits later in life once they’re on their own, being physically active and having positive associations with sports during youth encourages children to remain physically active as adults.

Terri Orbuch PhD, known as The Love Doctor, has been a practicing marriage and relationship therapist for more than 20 years, and is a popular love advisor on radio, TV, Huffington Post, and peoplemedia.com, most recently seen on NBC’s Today. A research professor at the Institute for Social Research at University of Michigan, and a professor at Oakland University, she is author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great (Random House), as well as a forthcoming book on finding love again after divorce. Find out more at www.drterrithelovedoctor.com.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Featured Moms & Dads, Sports | 1 Comment