8 Youth Sports Myths to Tackle Before a Kid Starts Playing

February 28, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Youth sports are a big business. Parents spend millions of dollars in the hopes their kid will score an NCAA scholarship or eventually go pro. Given the money poured into the youth sports industry every year, it’s only natural that coaches, performance experts, and equipment companies would sweep in to claim a piece of the pie. And with so much on the line, these would-be youth sports gurus often offer dubious advice that purportedly guarantees a child’s future success. At best, the myths spread by the youth sports industrial complex are responsible for draining parental bank accounts. At worst, the myths can actually cause harm to a child.

These are the top 8 youth sports myths, bandied about experts and businesses that need to be sidelined by parents — not only to make sports more fun, but to make them safer, too.

Children Should Specialize in a Sport Early

The story goes like this: if a child can master the mechanics of a golf or bat swing before they can read, then it is a sure sign that they will catch the eye of a recruiter. Also, it makes a super cool Instagram video.

However, there are some major problems with earlier specialization. For one thing, the repetitive training of a single skill can lead to injury. Kids who specialize early also run the risk of burning out and growing to hate the game they’re being pushed into.

To prevent burnout and injuries from the overuse of a specific movement, like a golf swing or a baseball pitch, sports medicine experts suggest that children have a diverse sports repertoire. As a kid uses their body in a variety of sports, they are actually developing skills that will feed into their sport of choice and make them a better player in the long run.

Plus, taking a few months off to play something totally different is a good way to keep a kid’s life full of fun.

Children Don’t Have to Like a Sport to Achieve in It

Parents who buy into early specialization often see their kids losing interest in their chosen sport. This can often lead parents and coaches to talk about developing grit and perseverance, “gutting out” the difficult, repetitive training.

While it’s true that a kid can dig deep and joylessly progress, is that really the point of youth sports? The fact is that a kid really isn’t learning perseverance and grit through coerced practice. Instead, they are learning to submit to authority.

To better teach those kids, it’s imperative to allow a kid to play a diverse range of sports that they enjoy but may not be particularly good at. When a kid who is a natural running back (but hates being a running back) is a poor basketball player, it means they have to lean on a different set of skills to stay in the game and compete. These challenges are what actually teach grit and perseverance, and those lessons are much better received when a kid is playing with a smile on their face.

Also, childhood is meant to be a time for having fun and gathering a diversity of experiences, without which a child will be lost as they become independent adults.

Kids Should be Taught There are No Losers

There remains a trend in youth sports aimed at the youngest players to shield them from the concept of winning and losing. “It’s all about play,” explain the well-intentioned organizers. Kids who are not given the opportunity to lose miss out on the opportunity to learn how to face adversity and disappointment with grace.

Kids need to understand what it means to lose. But they also have to see that it’s not a devastating outcome. A good way for parents to help a kid become better losers is to change the adversarial paradigm of an opponent. Parents can help kids understand that an opponent is there to help challenge a child and make them better. This turns an adversary into an ally.

Yes, there are lessons to be learned in losing that can only make a person a better player. But it’s also important to be able to brush off a loss. Because even in a loss, playing is (and should be) about having fun.

Hard Work Means a Child Can Go Pro

Many parents push their children in hopes that they’ll get an athletic scholarship, become an Olympian, or even go pro. The problem is that, even with a huge amount of work, the chance a kid will realize that future is incredibly slim.

That’s not to say that parents should give up encouraging a kid. In fact, if a child is motivated to play, is having fun and continues to develop natural athletic skills, they should be given every opportunity. But as soon as they lose the joy of their sport, there’s really no reason to keep hammering away. The fact is that even a great little league pitcher might never make the big show and no parent wants to spend a fortune so a kid can live a hardscrabble life in a no-name cactus league.

Coaches Will Take Care of Everything

Some parents feel their responsibility to foster a child’s love for sports end as soon as they open the minivan door at the athletic field. From there, they assume the coach will take care of all a kid needs to have fun and achieve.

That’s not really the case. Coaches are often stretched thin between all their charges. So, they can drill physical skills into a child, but do not necessarily have the capacity to work on the social and emotional skills a child needs to succeed in sports. That’s where parents come in.

A good sports parent is not one trying to outdo the coach by yelling from the sidelines. Rather, they help their child gain additional perspective once the game is over. Good sports parents ask their child if they had fun. They talk about what a kid feels like they were really good at and what they feel they could work on. They talk to their kid about what it feels like to lose and offer perspective on the tender emotions that surround defeat.

Strength Training for Kids Requires Weights

Some parents feel that the best way for a kid to get better at a given sport is for them to get stronger. In order to make them stronger, they’ll put them on a weight bench much earlier than is advisable.

While it’s true that strength training is important for kids involved in sports, children should start with a strength training regimen that uses their own body weight. That is absolutely enough to build muscles necessary to throw, hit and run.

Parents should also take a broader perspective of what strength training actually is. Giving a kid free reign to attack a playground with running, climbing and dangling is akin to sending them to the weight room. These play activities naturally build muscles, balance, and other skills necessary for a wide range of sports.

Weight training that includes slinging steel shouldn’t really be pursued until a child is approaching adolescence. Even then, weight training should be completed under the supervision of a professional who can teach a child the best lifting mechanics possible.

When a Kid Gets Hurt They Should Walk it Off

When a kid gets hurt while playing, many coaches and parents encourage them to “walk it off” and get back in the game. That’s a great way to compound injuries and set a kid up for a lifetime of trouble.

Consider a sprained ankle: even the least severe sprain requires at least 10 days to heal. The most serious sprains can take up to 90 days. Not treating a sprain correctly (rest, compression, and cold to reduce swelling) can mean that ankle problems could return up to 20 years later.

Any injury should be taken seriously. There is not enough at stake in a youth game that a child should put their health on the line. Playing injured is a dumb idea. It doesn’t teach a child anything other than they should not listen to their body.

The Right Equipment and Technique will Protect Kids from Concussions

Head injuries are a huge topic in youth sports, particularly football. In fact, a great deal of effort has been made to change techniques and equipment in order to reduce the risk of concussions. While helpful, techniques and gear will never reduce the risk of head injuries to zero.

A recent study looked at 100 children who participated in youth football, and recorded 40,000 hits to the head during a season of games and practices. Granted, not all of those hits were deemed concussive events. However, sports medicine has become increasingly concerned about the cumulative effect of multiple sub-concussive events which could lead to memory loss, depression, and other symptoms of brain damage.

Football isn’t the only sport that has a head injury problem. Concussion risk is also found in most high contact sports including wrestling, martial arts, and hockey. There’s also a risk in sports not commonly associated with a ton of contact, like soccer.

Notably, no amount of fancy equipment or proper technique will ever remove the risk of head injury in high contact sports. It’s important for parents of children going into those disciplines to be very vigilant when it comes to hard hits.

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Talking to Kids about Sex

February 27, 2018 in Family, SayYes.com


All the experts agree to begin conversations about their body when they are young and to use proper names for the genital body parts.

Planned Parenthood suggests, “Talking with your kid about sex, relationships, and their health is a lifelong conversation. As soon as kids start learning to talk, you can teach them the names of the parts of their body. As soon as they start being around other kids, you can teach them about respecting other people and talking about their feelings. These things lay the groundwork for healthy sexuality and relationships later on.”

Honesty and proper terms for genitals isn’t just good advice – it actually can help prevent (or put a stop to) child abuse too. Dona Matthews, Ph.D. advises, “When kids know and are comfortable using the standard terms for their private body parts – they’ve got one more protection against sexual abuse. When children feel awkward talking about certain body parts… they’re more likely to feel embarrassed about asking questions, and they’re less likely to tell you if someone is touching them inappropriately.”

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How to Teach Boundaries to an Overly Affectionate Child

February 27, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Before children can talk, they understand affection through touch. They are soothed by being held. They smile at a kiss, or a finger stroked across their cheek. They cling to their parents for comfort. But, as they grow old enough to communicate affection with words, many kids continue to show affection physically — or demand it. Often these open displays of physical affection can make adults feel uncomfortable or put children that don’t understand boundaries in danger. Fortunately, there are ways for parents to help kids understand that they are loved and also that they can’t hug everyone all the time.

“Kids don’t know anything. Parents have to teach them and mold them and be role models,” explains Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, family therapist and author of Simple Habits of Exceptional (But Not Perfect) Parents.Dolan-Del Vecchio notes that some families find modeling appropriate boundaries harder than others. After all, many parents fail to respect their child’s own physical boundary, much less the physical boundaries between husband and wife. “Parents should have a sense of their own reasonable boundaries with each other, with other adults and with their kids. Because if they don’t their kids going to do whatever they do.”

Dolan-Del Vecchio explains that parents should be generous with their boundaries when a child is pre-verbal. After all holding and being held is what gives a baby or toddler a sense of reassurance. But as they develop stronger language skills, parents can begin to use simple language to help enforce appropriate physical boundaries.

These lessons can come in a variety of forms. If a child is all over their classmates at pre-school, it’s okay for parents to encourage a friend hug only at the start of the day and the end of class. Or if they are hanging on family friends or relatives, it’s fine to encourage a child to ask before clinging and kissing. But it’s also important that the kid understands that the problem is not with the affection, but rather with not asking permission.

How to Deal with an Overly Affectionate Child

  • Model good personal boundaries as well as physical boundaries with partners, friends, and other family members.
  • Don’t react to boundary violations with anger.
  • Remind children that it’s important to ask before hugging and kissing anyone, that it’s about respect.
  • Be vigilant in teaching stranger danger and helping kids understand where and how they can be touched, as well as who to talk to if they are touched inappropriately.

“The one thing you don’t want to do is to make your child feel that being close and sharing affection with other people is not a good thing,” says Dolan-Del Vecchio. “You have to strike a balance. We have a society where there is too little contact. If we can help our kids to have stronger interpersonal connections that’s very important.”

The best tactic when a kid breaches a person’s boundaries is to show some good humor. This isn’t a time for yelling or shaming. It’s better for parents to pull a child back and remind them that they need to ask how another person would like to be greeted. But the same can be done for people who are greeting an overly affectionate child. It’s not inappropriate for a parent to ask a family member or friend to ask a child for a hug prior to scooping them up in their arms.

“You’re teaching them in a way that doesn’t feel punitive, but just feels like physically imposing a more appropriate boundary,” Dolan-Del Vecchio explains. “You want to give that boundary in a firm way and teach them it’s about respect for the other person.”

But it’s also important for parents of overly affectionate children to double down on stranger-danger awareness, particularly if they are often affectionate to strangers. Dolan-Del Vecchio notes that kids need to be taught the appropriate, anatomical words for their genitals and should be encouraged, regularly, to talk to parents if they are ever touched on their genitals by a stranger.

That said, parents should stress out too much about an overly affectionate child. “Most kids will grow out of that sort of behavior,” he explains. “I wouldn’t get overly alarmed about it.”

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February 26, 2018 in Family, SayYes.com

I love this feminine take on mens workwear. This look is basically how I imagine my grandpa dressed in the 70’s, updated for the modern gal. It’s all over the place from vintage stalls at the flea market to Madewell and Asos. This utilitarian look is clean and simple. Coveralls, painters jackets and high waisted canvas pants cover all the bases from tailored to oversized. I think grandpa would approve!

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Fatherly Advice: Don’t Force Kids to Eat or Feel Obligated to Buy Baby Shoes

February 25, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.



I have a boy in Kindergarten who is a really bad eater. He’s super picky and won’t eat anything that isn’t a French fry or in nugget form. This has made meals at the table unbearable for pretty much everyone in the house. Should I be forcing my kid to eat better or just give up?

Cleveland, Ohio


Guess what, Ian? This is the only time when I feel completely confident in telling a parent to give up. You should absolutely stop forcing your kid to try and eat. It isn’t working and it won’t work and it’s pointless. Instead of thinking about food, you need to think about nutrition.

There is a common refrain among pediatric dietitians: Your job as a parent is to make your child a well-balanced, nutritious meal and bring it to the table. Your kid’s job is to eat it, or not. The point is that you have done your job the second you place the meal in front of your kid. And you know what? It should be the same meal everyone else is eating.

I get it. It’s scary when a kid doesn’t eat. But here’s the thing: Kids are not going to starve themselves or become malnourished. Eventually, they will try what you’ve given them. Eventually. Most dietitians agree that a child might need to be exposed to a food at least 20 times before they finally try it. Is this annoying? Absolutely. Is it life-threatening? Nope.

Ian, you expertly explained why hassling your kid to eat is a bad idea: The struggle makes meals unbearable. And in some cases, children who are harassed to eat become even more defiant. So, the better idea is to plop down the plate and have a good time. Play a game. Talk about the day. Laugh.

If you are truly worried about your kid starving themselves, put something on their plate at every meal that you know they like — a piece of fruit or a favorite vegetable. And once in a while, let them take the lead in planning the menu. Better yet, let them help you shop and cook for the meal. Kids have a tendency to be more likely to eat food that they had a hand in purchasing, growing, or cooking.

Which is all to say, Ian, that you can totally give up forcing your kid to eat. But you’re probably going to have to work a little harder to make dinner a damn good time.



The nurses showed me how to swaddle my baby girl when I was at the hospital. Then I came home and watched a couple of YouTube videos. But my swaddle skills must be really weak because my girl keeps breaking out of them. Is she just super strong?

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


It’s unlikely that you’re raising She-Hulk, Tesch, but you never know. Those gamma rays can be pretty tricky! It’s more likely that you’re making one or two common swaddling mistakes.

As you’re building your baby burrito, you make sure you have the right sized … uh … tortilla. Which is to say that you need a swaddling cloth (or blanket) that is at least 40 inches by 40 inches. This will give you enough fabric to wrap and tuck around your kid.

When you’re doing that wrapping and tucking, you need to make sure that your girl’s arms are down by her sides. Yes, babies are notoriously wiggly, but they are also pretty weak, so you should not have trouble keeping her arms down. A technique I often employed was keeping a hand on my kids’ abdomen and trapping their hands with my outstretched pinky and thumb (one little hand under each) while wrapping the first corner of the swaddle around them with the other hand. Awkward? Sure. But it helps.

Don’t be afraid to make that swaddle tight. That’s the whole point of the swaddle. It should be tight around the shoulders and the arms and loose around the feet. The idea is to make it as womb-like as possible. And believe me, those last few weeks in the womb were pretty damn constricting.

If your kid is determined to break out, you can opt to keep her arm free of the swaddle completely. Some kids get enough of the tight comfort they crave when the swaddle is just wrapped around their chest, under their little armpits. And finally, there is no shame in purchasing a sleep sack. They are way easier and often harder for a kid to break out of. Unless you are, in fact, raising She-Hulk, in which case you’re screwed.


Hey, Fatherly

My boy has started pulling himself up on the couch and cruising. My wife’s mom told her that we should buy him shoes to make walking easier as he learns how. Is that true?

Burbank, California


Mothers-in-law are super important to have around, but that doesn’t mean they have all the facts. And in this case, your mother-in-law is totally wrong. You can tell her I said so.

Babies who are cruising, and on the way to walking independently, should mostly remain unshod. There’s a good reason for this. In order to develop the natural walking gait, the muscles of their feet need to flex and move and strengthen. More than that, the soles of their feet need to be exposed to different textures. The experience of these textures is what helps their brain connect to the nerve endings in their feet and track where their pegs are in space. Knowing where your body parts are in space is called proprioception. It’s hugely valuable in developing balance.

That said, there are times when you might want your kid to have shoes. If they’re practicing outside, you’ll want to have something on their feet if the weather is too cold or hot. A soft leather shoe will also protect them from thorns, sharp stones, or bee stings. You may also want to have some snazzy kicks for pictures (that you can send to your mother-in-law). But other than that a kid is fine without shoes.

If your wife over-rules you, there are some shoe guidelines. The soles should not be firm and flat. Instead, they should be soft and flexible. They should also be grippy to prevent sliding. You can even opt for socks with rubberized soles that “look” like shoes.

It’s possible that your mother-in-law is mourning for a time when baby shoes were bronzed as mementos of babyhood. If that’s the case, give her one of your kid’s old pacifiers and tell her to go to town.

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How to Safely Throw a Baby in the Air and Catch Them

February 23, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

It’s an established ritual of parenthood – or at least the parenthood depicted by slow-mo, soft-focus commercials. Babies are tossed lovingly into the air, where they hang and smiling weightless for a beautiful moment before being caught by their parents. It’s such a common meme that almost every new parent feels compelled to try it at least once. And it can be super fun. However, executed poorly, it can also be dangerous and terrifying for the kid. With a little bit of consideration, though, parents can give their children that sensation of flight relatively safely.

It’s all about the catch according to Amanda Johnson, a former cheerleader turned cheerleading coach who has worked with kids as young as three (and held her fair share of babies).“The best place to catch babies are by the armpits, with the baby facing you, thumb on the front of the baby and four fingers on the back,” she explains.

It’s an intuitive way to catch babies; it’s also how to introduce them to heights, by holding them up and seeing how they react. It’s critical that the baby face the thrower so that they can gauge looks of surprise, fear, or concern. But the point isn’t just to make sure that the baby isn’t getting scared or dropped. The point is to make sure that neck injury is not a risk.

For tossing to be fun and safe, babies must possess the rudimentary muscular development to control their own heads. Risks of injury by flopping can be exaggerated – the biggest danger is of asphyxiation from an obstructed airway, but falls of more than three feet can be dangerous for babies who are younger than three months. This is called the “Rule of Threes.” So, yeah, baby tossing is something parents with newborns can look forward to, but not something they should experiment with (even though the child will likely be fine).

Adults should also consider their own safety. Cheerleaders catch a greater percentage of their body weight than parents, but their best practices protect them from injury. Johnson recommends dropping into a squatting position while catching a child, with the back perpendicular to the ground. This acts as a shock absorber for both the catcher and the faller. The catcher’s spine won’t have to absorb all the impact of the catch, and it slightly lengthens the deceleration of the faller, making it a little more comfortable.

Should parents be strong enough to catch a baby? Yes, probably. But new parents are rarely putting in the sort of gym hours they did prior to pregnancy.

If parents aren’t sure they can safely catch a child due to a prior injury, they shouldn’t be tossing them into the air. There are still plenty of ways to bond with a child, even if they don’t exactly evoke the same looks of awe and/or terror. If parents can hold their kid’s body weight, they can swing them instead of tossing them. But swinging them the wrong way can seriously injure a small child.

“Never swing kids by their arms – it may dislocate their shoulders,” warns Johnson. It’s much safer for both parents to swing a kid, one supporting each arm. “Use a four finger grip at the armpit, grasping their hand with the outside arm. That supports their shoulder joint.”

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How to Know When a Kindergartner Needs to See a Therapist

February 23, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Younger children are not known for being insightful about their own mental health or therapy needs. And parents are often overly confident about their ability to diagnose and solve their kid’s apparent emotional woes. The result? Kids in distress remain in distress as parents become frustrated. The best way to break the cycle? Be on the lookout for signs of trouble and be quick to seek professional help.

“Children are so multifaceted,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Giamarie Daino. “There are so many things going on with them that sometimes it’s not just one clear indication.” Instead, she explains, there’s more likely a constellation of warning signs.”

In younger children, behavior changes are linked to development. Psychological struggles can often stop a kid’s progress in its tracks or even seemingly turn back the clock, explains Daino. “A common one for children is if they start to regress developmentally,” she says. “Or they might fail to reach new milestones.”

That means that children who were once speaking in full sentences may revert back to baby talk or just use a few words. On the other hand, kids who should have progressed to more complex language skills may still be stuck with just a few words. Kids who need help from a therapist may also become more dependent, needy and clingy. Others who were potty trained may start bedwetting.

Aside from changes in developmental progress, which can be subtle and hard to notice, young children in need of therapy might also show more overt behavioral issues. “Another sign is acting out,” Daino says. “Children might have tantrums that they don’t normally have or longer, more frequent tantrums.”

How to Tell if a Child Needs Therapy

  • Look for developmental delays or regressions, like losing language, bedwetting or neediness.
  • Pay attention to emotional changes that could include an increased in tantrums.
  • Keep an eye out for physiological changes like increased sleeping or loss of appetite.
  • Give greater thought to these changes when they correlate with national tragedies or changes in a child’s life like a divorce or loss of a friend or relative.

Children struggling with their mental health may also exhibit changes related to their physiology. These changes might include an inability to stay awake or a desire to spend more time sleeping. And some kids might exhibit a change in their appetite, turning away from food when they were once good eaters.

Finally, for the youngest school goers. Parents might see a change in academic engagement. This might be harder for parents of Kindergartners to suss out considering their kids are new to academics. But if a child who was once excited to go to school suddenly becomes less so, or projects in class are coming home uncompleted or poorly completed, there may be an underlying issue.

Daino notes that extra thought should be taken by parents when changes they notice in their child are correlated with changes in a child’s life. “Even if it doesn’t directly affect them,” she explains, noting that changes in the world around a kid can be just as significant as a change closer to home. “Especially news of tragedies. Anything that’s a different experience — a parents divorce, the loss of a friend or family member — any significant change in a child’s life.”

Still, some parents may be reluctant to seek outside help for their child. But Daino urges parents to have faith in their own understanding of their children. “Trust your intuition. As a parent, you’re an expert on your children. You know best when something doesn’t seem right.”

Diano also notes that if parents want more assurance, most child therapists will offer a free short consultation that can help a parent determine if their help is or isn’t needed. And if it is needed, parents should be open with their child when offering therapy.

“Simplify it. Just tell a child you really care about you and you’re concerned,” Diano says. “Frame it in a positive light, make it feel comfortable and not forced.”

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I Parented Like a German and Wound Up Playing with Fire

February 23, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

I’m big on autonomy. Or I thought I was anyway. I prefer to be in the background as my two boys play. I send them outside unsupervised. I ask them to find their own solutions to problems and when they battle — as brothers do — I don’t intervene until someone is gasping raggedly and choking on tears. But, as my 4-year-old, standing at the counter atop a wicker chair, wrapped his hands around the hilt of a large kitchen knife and hacked into a section of Kielbasa, my strained expression was a testament to my American-ness. I am not German.

As laid out in author Sara Zaske’s best-selling new parenting book, Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children, it’s clear the Teutons are operating on a higher level in fostering kinder-autonomy. Like me, they are slow to step in as kids live their wild and sometimes risky kid lives. But the autonomy I give my children is largely in their play. Germans proactively give kids opportunity to experience risk and danger.

Risk and danger are actually cultivated in “forest schools” where German kids are given pocket knives and allowed to play with fire. It might come in the form of “adventure playgrounds” filled with sharp tools and junk materials an American parent would consider life-threatening. And it also might come in the form of sous-chef-ing the hell out a meal. Buying into the Teutonic hype, I decided to take some cues and let my younger son handle some pointy objects.

In retrospect, I should have given him a more manageable knife. The previous night I’d given his older brother a sharp steak knife to ease his own cutting woes and that had gone swimmingly. But maybe I plopping the six-incher into the youngest’s hands was an act of hubris.

It was unwieldy to be sure, but I’ll be damned if his mixture of glee and caution didn’t manage to stifle my desire to grab his hands and stop the obvious madness. I gave some calm verbal suggestions (“Keep your other hand away from the blade.”) as he managed a sloppy vivisection of encased meat. I stopped short of allowing him to make some fillet-style longitudinal cuts, however, considering even I, a grown ass man with years of experience was still shaky with the technique.

Still, we came back to the cutting board over the next few days. And I found the four-year-old capable of real concentration. He quickly understood that this was not an activity to pursue recklessly. He adjusted his grip and angle of attack. I was able to say less and less.

The experience worked well enough for me to take the danger up a notch by letting my kids go all in on building (and experimenting with) a fire.

When I told them we were going to build said fire, what they heard was, “Poppa is going to build a fire.” But when it sunk in that, in fact, they were going to build the fire, bedlam ensued. I’d jacked into something primal. So primal that their shirts came off and they cleaned the playroom where the fireplace is located in half the time it normally takes. So I put them to work shredding cardboard boxes and throwing them onto the fireplace grate for kindling. They growled in deep macho tones as they did so.

“I need a nickname,” my 7-year-old said. “I want to be called the Chicago Tiger.”

“Okay,” I replied as I lit the end of the long strip of cardboard he was holding with a lighter.

A flame leaped up at the end of the cardboard strip and he thrust it into the pile of cardboard under a couple of logs. The conflagration erupted and my boy quickly tossed the burning strip on top of the logs, feeling the heat and letting out a long, low exclamation.

A offered a single ground rule: At no point does the flame ever come out of the fireplace. Then I stepped back and let them play.

I expected anarchy. I expected my boys to throw flaming logs back and forth while laughing like cartoon villains. What I got was far more measured. My oldest burned more long strips of cardboard, observing how different parts burned like a naturalist noting the behavior of an animal. He marked the sounds of the fire and thought about why it wooshed. He hypothesized about how different sizes of cardboard would burn and then tested his hypothesis. He burned different types of paper and wondered at the way they curled or blackened.

And it all made sense. As American parents, we are deeply risk-averse. But an aversion to risk is antithetical to discovery. And discovery feels significant. Discovery makes a kid feel smart and behave more intelligently.

I thought I’d had been giving my kids freedom to learn, explore and discover on their own. But I hadn’t been. Not really. Because I’d managed away most of their risk. They could go outside alone. But not past the yard. Not to the creek or meadow. Not out of eye-sight. They could cook. But not at the stove. Not with the sharp knives. They could be at the fire. But they could not get too close. They certainly couldn’t stir the embers or throw something into the flames.

And now that they had the opportunity, they were showing me their capacity for wonder and discovery.

My wife, who had scoffed at the fire suggestion initially, watched our boys from the couch. “I think we can take the fireplace doors off,” she remarked. That’s something we’d always wanted to do, but hadn’t for “safety.”

My wife is German by blood and temperament. Now, I am too. At least a little.

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How to Fight the Bad Influence of Your Kid’s Bully Friend

February 22, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Sometimes it’s possible to hate a kid before you even meet the kid. Particularly when that kid is like a Typhoid Mary of bad-habits — incubating loud burps, swear words, shoving — infecting your kids with all the behaviors you worked assiduously to avoid. For parents of school-aged children, that kid is the archnemesis. Fortunately, he or she can be defeated because they have a weakness: Kids are easy to fool.

Parenting Coach Joani Geltman says kids in the preschool and kindergarten age range are really just trying to figure out how to get what they want. The problem is that the bad influence child is good at getting results. So the previously non-annoying child will repeat what they’ve seen succeed. “They don’t have the brain power or life experience to say this is bad and we shouldn’t be doing it,” she says. “It’s all reward and punishment.”

Overreacting is, unsurprisingly, a bad idea. The child can get scared, anxious or lose focus on what the real issue is. Disassociating the bad behavior from the child, on the other hand, is key. Elaine Glickman, author of Your Kid’s a Brat and It’s All Your Fault explains parents will do best when framing bad influence inspired behavior as a “choice.”

“You don’t want the child to assume they’re not a good child,” she says. “We talk a lot about choices. What’s a good choice and what’s a bad choice. It gives them the power and it separates the choice from their intrinsic personhood.”

How to Combat a Bad Influence:

  • Don’t overreact to the behavior, which can lead to fear and anxiety on the part of the child.
  • Frame behavior inspired by a bad influence as a matter of choices unconnected to a child’s innate goodness.
  • Acknowledge where the behavior was observed
  • Devise an alternative way of getting what the child wants in a way that is easier

So change “You are being mean,” to “that choice is unkind.” It’s important to empathize with the child and acknowledge where they came up with the behavior: “I understand you hear people talk like that at school, but we don’t talk that way in our house,” Glickman suggests.

If the choice is so egregious that it should never be made again, it’s time to talk to the school or daycare. It is wholly appropriate to suggest to a teacher, for example, that certain behaviors need to be curbed and ask them if they could help enforce some rules.

But, sometimes the most effective way to handle a bad influence is simply to give them better tools to get what they want, Geltman says. “When a kid brings home a behavior, it’s rehearsal,” Geltman says. “Maybe they come home and push their sister because they saw certain kids get what they want when they push. So they come home and reproduce that behavior.”

So what to do in this scenario? State that pushing is a bad choice because someone might get hurt. Then say, “What are some other ways we could try to get that toy?” Work with the child and come up with a reasonable path. Then explain all the ways that’s a better choice. By trading another toy to play with, the other child doesn’t get mad and that means more time to play with the best toy.

Even more exciting, this is an absolutely inoffensive parenting move to use even if the bad influence comes over for a playdate. Snapping at a child not to push may make that kid’s mom or dad mad. But kneeling down and asking the child to come up with another way to get what they want is almost certainly fine if done well.

And it’s important to remember because no kid is really that bad.

“It’s sad to me: I’ll hear parents say that this is a bad kid and I don’t want him at my house,” Geltman says. “But you just need to be prepared as a parent to parent.”



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A Healthier Relationship with Screens

February 22, 2018 in Family, SayYes.com

Screens can be an amazing way to connect, learn, and entertain ourselves and our families (what did we do at the post office before them?).  On the other hand, all the unknowns about how it’s affecting us, especially our children, is a little overwhelming. Also, to be honest, screens are a major source of mom-guilt for me. Lots of ‘shoulds’ to myself about when and how they’re being used.

A few things I’m thinking about:

Keep expectations low. I like to mostly give screen time as a reward, so I keep the expectations for screen time really low. Then, when I really need or want to give it out, they’re pleasantly surprised and excited. The problem with this system is there’s a lot of complaining on a regular basis about why they don’t get much pre-set screen time at all (and lots of comparing).

Hand held devices over tv. Is this better or worse? Our kids are using screens more than ever, especially hand held devices. And children under 18 represent 1 in 3 Internet users worldwide.

The Goldilocks Approach.This new NPR article talks about what we know right now about screen time. It’s a great overview on the current research. I like what they say about the “Goldilocks approach of not too much, not too little”. In the end, social media and the internet are an important part of our society and economy, no matter how we feel about it. I want to be sure my children are well educated in how to use the internet, social media, and screen time effectively and responsibly.

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