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The Father Factor


Doomed to Fail

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

The October 22nd issue of The New Yorker includes an article by Michael Specter titled “Germs Are Us.” Specter chronicles how our understanding of the relationship between humans and bacteria has evolved since the advent of antibiotics in the early 20th century. We know now that not all bacteria are harmful. Indeed, many bacteria live in symbiosis with their human hosts and confer health benefits including protection from some diseases. These bacteria include all of those we find in our mouth and gut that aid our ability to digest food and ward off illness. Unfortunately, the overuse of antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria including those that are our friends.

bacteriaThere are many bacteria, however, that aren’t our friends. That knowledge has given rise to an industry dedicated to the eradication of bacteria—just take a walk down the soap and disinfectant aisle of your local grocery store, and you’ll find all manner of anti-bacterial soaps, wipes, and sprays. There’s no disputing the fact that we’ve been liberated and are safer from the scourge of unfriendly bacteria, at least to an extent. But at what cost? As the old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Scientists now believe that we’ve become “underexposed” to bacteria and no longer build the antibodies, particularly as youngsters, that we once did to ward of future illness. (This underexposure also extends to viruses, such as rhinovirus which causes the common cold.) Consequently, we’ve seen a rise in allergies, asthma, and obesity. Yes, even obesity has now been linked to the overuse of antibiotics that has caused a reduction in a bacterium that inhabits our guts and regulates two hormones that, in turn, regulate appetite.

It is this symbiotic relationship between bacteria and us—two life forms that need one another to survive in a state of health and well-being—that made me think in a slightly different way about the path our society has taken in its treatment of fathers as nice but not necessary. Our society is creating a huge, dangerous experiment as we systematically eliminate fathers from more families. And yet we’re conducting this experiment with the knowledge that it is doomed to fail. That’s where this experiment departs from our attempt to eradicate bacteria, and therein lies the problem.

In the years between Fleming’s discovery of penicillin and the realization that we were overprescribing antibiotics to ill effect, we didn’t realize what we were doing. Doctors know now that they must be judicious in their use of antibiotics, although they certainly have some work to do and some of the effects of overuse might be irreversible. We know from reams and decades of research that DNA isn’t the only necessary ingredient from fathers for the creation of healthy children who grow up to be well-functioning adults. Their presence and positive influence as children age is necessary as well.

In other words, children’s health and well-being depends on the symbiotic relationship they have with their fathers. Children can and do survive without fathers in their lives, but at what cost to them and our communities? We know that, on average, children from father-absent homes are at greater risk for a range of social ills. Communities with high rates of father absence suffer as well (e.g. high rates of poverty and violent behavior). And yet we continue with this dangerous experiment that we know will fail. Why is that? Especially when we know it has already failed so many children.

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photo credit: Microbe World

8 Things To Know About Disciplining Your Child

Discipline comes from the Latin word “discipulus” meaning “to teach; to guide.” Punishment means to “penalize” for doing something wrong. Sometimes, these get mixed up with each other, resulting in a less than ideal outcome for our children. Therefore, it’s vital us parents know the following eight things about disciplining our children.

8 things to know about disciplining your child discipline1. Know Your Discipline Style

  • The Dictator. This Dad is always strict and never nurtures. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do, but rarely what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “My way or the highway.”
  • The King. This Dad is strict and nurtures when needed. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do, as well as what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Let me show you the way.”
  • The Joker. This Dad is never strict and rarely nurtures. He jokes a lot and makes fun of his children. His children don’t know what he doesn’t want them to do or what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Let’s just have fun.”
  • The Follower. This Dad is sometimes strict and sometimes nurtures. He lets Mom take the lead on discipline and backs her up when needed. His children know some of things he doesn’t want them to do and some of the things he does want them to do. This Dad says, “Do whatever Mom says.”
  • The Dreamer. This Dad is never strict and never nurtures. He lets Mom take the lead on discipline and doesn’t get involved with it. His children don’t know what he wants them to do or what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Whatever. Just leave me alone.”

When considering which discipline style you most associate with, ask yourself, “Is this the best style for my children/my family/my involvement?” And consider something more middle of the road.

2. Know the Family Rules
Clear communication is vital for understanding right and wrong in your house. You will need to establish clear boundaries for your home. We have written about Creating Family Rules in the past. Check them out and consider adding rules in your home today.

3. Know Your Reward Options
Many Dads believe discipline means “to control” rather than “to teach or to guide.” As a result, they use fear when they punish. It’s vital you know your child and what he/she considers a reward when it comes to discipline. 

Some examples of rewards include:

  • Praise: Tell your child how much you like their correct behavior and that they’re a good person for doing it.
  • Encouraging Touch: Give your child a hug, pat on the back, or high five. It's never too early to teach your child the fistbump.
  • Freedoms: Give your child a new freedom she or he can do one time or all of the time, such as stay up or out later, read an extra story at bedtime, have a bowl of ice cream, or money for doing an extra chore.
  • Gifts: Give your child a toy, stickers or some extra cash.

4. Know Your Punishment Options
When the time for punishment happens, it’s vital dads know they have options. Some examples include:

  • Say You’re Disappointed: Tell your children you expect more of them, and you expect them to behave the right way.
  • Pay it Back: Tell your child to make up for bad behavior, such as paying for breaking something, doing the behavior they were supposed to do in the first place, or saying they’re sorry to someone they hurt.
  • Take a break: Tell your child to sit in a corner, on the couch, or go to their room for a short period of time. This works best with children under the age of 10.
  • Grounding: Don’t let your child leave the house for some period of time. Grounding works best with teens.
  • Take Away a Freedom: Remove a freedom for a period of time or forever.

Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Don’t take away a freedom, for example, when a child does something minor and telling them that you expect more of them the next time will do the trick.

5. Know Difference Between Discipline and Punishment
Many Dads define discipline as punishment. In other words, they don’t see punishment as a way to discipline in certain situations. They see punishment and discipline as the same thing. Discipline means to teach or guide. Punishment means to “penalize” for doing something wrong.

6. Know Difference Between the Action and the Actor
Always focus on the “Action” not the “Actor.” Talk about what your child did. It’s okay, for example, to say that your child did something “bad” as long as you don’t say your child is “bad” for doing it. Keep the focus on the action.

Here are ideas for age-specific discipline:

For Dads of Infants and Toddlers:

  • Discipline as a way to protect: At this age, guidance and discipline are about protecting your little one from hurting themselves. Say “no” firmly, but not harshly, when your child does something dangerous and move him or her away from the object or area immediately.
  • Consistency is important: Be consistent with enforcing the boundaries you set in your home – inconsistency will confuse your child and give him the “ok” to push the limits if he thinks he can get away with it.  

For Dads of School-Aged Children:

  • Discipline as a way to nurture: When your child does something inappropriate, talk with him or gently about why the behavior was wrong – explain how it hurt other people, or is rude.  
  • Take a break if you’re frustrated: Never discipline out of anger. Do your best to always discipline calmly.
  • Make the discipline fit the child: Different children will respond to discipline differently. One of your children might learn better through being deprived of a privilege (such as watching TV or a favorite toy); another child might respond more to being sent to his or her room or having to do extra chores.

For Dads of Teenagers:

  • Discipline as a way to guide: At this point, your teen is becoming an adult and wants to be treated as such. You still need to be your teen’s parent, not best friend, and that means setting rules to help your teen make good decisions and firmly enforcing consequences when those rules are violated.  
  • Let them make mistakes: While your teen still needs to honor your family’s rules, giving your teen the freedom to make their own choices can be a valuable learning experience. Always make sure your words and actions communicate to your teen that you will always love them even if they make mistakes.

7. Know the “Why” of Discipline
Always explain why your child is being disciplined. Discipline is meant to guide your child and to teach a lesson. It’s essential you explain to your child why they have to sit in their room or give up TV. It’s the lesson you teach them through the discipline that is most important.

8. Know How to End with Love
No matter what, never end with the discipline; always end with love. Hug your child and let him/her know you are disciplining out of love.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about disciplining your child?

The Father Factor Blog

Image: iStockPhoto

10 Ways to Help Your Child Deal With Bullying

Dads are often the last to know when our child is the victim of bullying. Children often do not share with their parents that they are being bullied due to shame and embarrassment. Use these 10 tips to protect your kids from bullies and help resolve school conflicts.


1) Know the Warning Signs: Understand that bullying can occur in physical, non-verbal, or online (cyber bullying) forms. If another child teases your child consistently, this represents a form of verbal bullying. Watch closely, anything from a lack of desire to attend school to sudden falling grades are possible signs your child might be experiencing a bullying problem.

2) Talk to Your Child: Be intentional about how you spend time talking with your child. Spend regular time making it clear that your child can talk to you about anything, especially tough situations at school. If your child knows you are interested in the small, daily things; he or she will be more comfortable to tell you the bigger things.

3) Teach Your Values: How you talk with your child daily will shape how your son/daughter values him- or herself. It’s never too early to talk to your child about your values. Your child needs to know right from wrong in how they treat people. If you teach your child well, they will recognize bad behavior when they see it; whether it’s to them or others. Teach your child that the standard is treating all people with respect. 

4) Get the facts. Get as much information as you can from your child if they tell you – or you suspect – a bullying situation. Consider your child's behavior, conflict-management skills, and temperament. Remember to support your child even as you do additional research on the situation. Ask detailed questions about the incident(s): Who was involved? What exactly happened? Who else might have seen the situation? Dad, do not act before thinking at this point. Do not instruct your child to fight back.

5) Stay Calm: 
Upon hearing that your son or daughter may be encountering a bully, you will probably want to pounce on said bully. Remember, a bully is seeking to create fear and control. All experts agree that the most important thing to do is stay calm. A bully is seeking reaction. Do not give it. How you personally react to the news will shape your child’s reaction.

6) Teach Your Child to Stand: Confronting a bully may be your child’s only option, but they should not seek to harm someone physically or verbally. Teach your child to stand up for him or herself, and that it is okay to speak up when spoken to in a degrading way. Of course, there is a delicate balance between instigating a fight and being a wet blanket. The earlier your child learns this, the better.

7) Talk to the Teacher: It is vital that your child learn how to handle his or her own social situations. It’s simply and a part of maturing. But, teach your child that if the bullying turns to threats of violence or emotional harm, it’s time to tell the teacher.

Dad, do not try and straighten the behavior of another child on your own. Contact your child’s school and learn about the school policy and how to access available resources. Often teachers have the best grasp on the relationships between children in the classroom. Stay professional in your interactions with school staff, and be sure to emphasize you want to work with them to find a solution. Teachers, principals, and guidance counselors are available to help.

8) Involve the Parents/Guardian: Unless the bully is over 18, which would be dealt with on a completely different manner (and different blog post), the bully will typically have parents. In most cases, the bully’s parents/guardian will not know that their child is the class bully, so it is generally a good strategy to get them involved. Keep in mind they will probably be defensive at first, so be careful not to lose your cool and make matters worse. 

9) Involve their Friends: There is definitely strength in numbers. Whether at recess, lunch or between classes, have your child plan to walk with friends. Often, bullies will not single you out when you are surrounded by supportive friends. On the flip side, your child may think they are among friends, but if those “friends” are also chiming into the bully’s behavior, help your child understand that those aren’t the type of friends he/she may want to keep. This may be a good time to encourage your child seek out new classmates as friends.

10) Prevent the Cycle. Help your child understand the situation by talking with them about why the bully acts the way he does. Empathize with your child but also constructively involve him or her in solving the problem. From kindergarten to high school, it is valuable that your child seeks supportive friends. Teaching your child appropriate social skills that build self-esteem will make them less likely targets. It's impossible to protect your child from any and all situations, but by being active and intentional, you can help your child navigate some situations.

For instance, practice scenarios while on the playground, during sibling conflicts, or even with situations you read in books and see on television. Make it a point to discuss with your child about exactly what happened in a book or movie and what the best response is in these situations. Whether the character does the wrong or right thing, the opportunity to discuss the event and use it as a teachable moment is there – seize it.

Finally, it is important for you to explain to your child that sometimes all that is necessary is avoidance. Bullies may give up if they don’t get attention. Above all, be sure you take the issue seriously and listen to your child. A child knowing that dad is supportive can give a child confidence. Sometimes, confidence makes all the difference.

What's the best advice you've heard for dealing with bullying?

 photo credit: woodleywonderworks

A Busy Mom Talks Fatherhood’s New Parenting Tool

Amiyrah Martin is like most parents; she’s super busy. A self-professed “double booker,” she admits to giving a verbal RSVP to one party, then checking her busy schedule to see that her family is already expected at another place. In her blog 4 Hats and Frugal, she tells the honest parenting truth and confesses, “I've even double booked at the Pediatrician.”

busy scheduleBeing a parent of one child is busy enough. Add more children to the mix and the busy-ness grows by leaps and bounds. So how do parents manage everything and still have time for tracking a child’s development and growth? The simple answer is: we need all the help we can get!

Amiyrah writes, “It’s easier than ever before to use technology for aligning busy family schedules, from calendars on a computer to apps on a phone, but there’s not a lot of tech-savvy ways to keep up with your child’s growth.” She also points out that while doctors may do a great job of informing and preparing parents during the visit to the office, it’s not always easy to stay informed between doctor visits. She says, “Usually I've just written down upcoming milestones as a note in my phone, or on a piece of paper, always wondering if there was an online tool I could use.”

Thankfully, her online tool is here now! NFI’s Countdown to Growing Up allows you to track your child’s growth and save your questions as a PDF for your next doctor’s visit and to review on your mobile device or computer. You can also print your child’s chart if you like!

Take it from one busy mom: “Let's face it: even though we live busy lives, education about our children's health is top priority. It's essential to their development as a little person and our development as great parents.” Amiyrah continues, “Countdown to Growing Up provides a place where we can document milestones, track growth compared with the "average" child, while giving ideas to help development and suggesting questions we can ask the Doc next time we visit. And yes, it's information you can save, and print!” 

countdown to growing upYou can read Amiyrah’s full blog about Countdown to Growing Up at the link below. Don’t forget to take the short survey and give us your opinion of the tool. As Amiyrah says in her post, “And don't be shy: use the heck out of this tool. I plan on doing the same.”

How to do track your child’s growth and development between doctor’s visits? 

Amiyrah is a Wife, Mother, Airman in the US Air Force and all around Frugal maven. Learn more about Amiyrah at her site 4 Hats and Frugal.

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photo credit: David Robert Wright

5 Questions Every Father Should Ask Himself

We call him the “24/7 Dad.” We believe that every child needs one. What we are talking about is an involved, responsible and committed father. We are talking about a dad who knows his role in the family. He understands he is a model for his sons on how to be a good man. Likewise, if he has daughters, he models what they should look for in a husband and father for their children.

dadandchild320 resized 600In our fathering handbooks and training, there are five questions we think every responsible father should answer. As you read, ask yourself these questions. These five questions come with a guarantee: if you answer each one honestly and take action, you will become a 24/7 Dad!

The questions we ask dads fit into five categories and are as follows:

1. Self-Awareness. The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. He knows his moods, feelings and emotions; capabilities, strengths, and challenges. He is responsible for his behavior and knows his growth depends on how well he knows and accepts himself.

Don’t run by this first category without some self-reflection. Be honest with yourself as a man and father. Do you know what part of the day you are likely to be most tired and annoyed? Be discerning about how you treat your children during these times.

The 24/7 Dad also knows his ability to be with his children is affected by the choices he makes. With your vocabulary, replace “I’m too busy for XYZ” with the words “I didn’t make XYZ my priority.” Hear the difference?

So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I know myself?

2. Caring for Self. The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself. He gets annual physicals, eats right, exercises, and learns about the world he lives in. He has a strong connection to his family and community, and chooses friends who support his healthy choices. The 24/7 Dad models for his children that he respects and likes himself because he makes good choices. When’s the last time you were at the doctor? If your answer to this question is “I go to the doctor every decade whether I need to or not!” you may want to consider modeling a different standard to your son or daughter.

So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I care for myself? 

3. Fathering Skills. The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. He knows he should be involved in the daily life of his children. Consider this: Who dresses and feeds your kids? Who attends parent-teacher conferences? Who supports their sports and other interests/activities? Who helps with homework and tucks them in at night? Of course the daily schedules of work factor into this equation; however, if your answer to all of these questions (and more) on a daily basis is “mom,” we have a problem. The 24/7 Dad uses his knowledge of the unique skills he and his wife/the mother of his children brings to raising his children. In other words, he knows the difference between “fathering” and “mothering.” Said a different way, if you weren’t in the family, would anyone notice based on the daily household tasks?

So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Father”?

4. Parenting Skills. The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children. Yes, nurturing is for men to do as well. He knows how his parenting skills help to develop their physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and creative needs. His children trust and feel safe with him because he cares about and nurtures them through the use of proven parenting skills. The 24/7 Dad uses discipline to teach and guide his children, not to threaten or harm them. This is big; don’t miss this point. If and when you discipline, how are you doing it? Are you seen as the executioner of the house who comes down from time to time with his golden rules? Discipline is best done with the idea of instructing a child in the way he or she should go. This isn’t done in anger or simply because you have had a long day and are annoyed in the moment.

So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Parent”?

5. Relationship Skills. The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community. He knows and values how relationships shape his children and their lives. The 24/7 Dad knows how the relationship with his wife/mother of his children affects his children and creates a good relationship with her for the sake of his children. He always looks to improve the skills he uses to communicate with others. 

So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I relate?

Dad, what questions would you add to this list?

The Father Factor Blog

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This post was excerpted and adapted from NFI's 24/7 Dad resource. Read the original post in our For Fathers section.
photo credit: Fabiana Zonca

A Doctor's Advice on the Question: Is My Kid Normal?

As a parent, the questions about your child never end. There was probably a time when you thought that once your child was delivered, they'd end. But unfortunately, you were wrong. In fact, the questions only begin once Baby Boy or Baby Girl arrives. And as your child grows, so do the questions you have about their development. From day one, parents begin to wonder how their son or daughter compares to other children.

Countdown to Growing UpEnter the doctor's office.

As a parent, you will have to take your child to the doctor, and guess what your child's doctor will do? That's right, he or she will ask you questions about the growth of your child. At the end of the visit, he or she will typically provide you with a chart comparing your child to every other child in the United States. Sounds daunting? It is. But there is something you can do.

Enter Countdown to Growing Up. Writing on his blog, Dr. Choi, a pediatrician and father in San Fransico opens up about what he sees daily from well-meaning parents at his practice. He reveals, aside from the fearful child asking him, "Are you going to give me a shot?, the second most common question he receives is from parents asking, “Is my kid normal?”

In Dr. Choi's recent post, Is My Kid Normal?, he writes openly about how a typical patient visit goes, starting with his questions to the parent about what the child can and cannot do. Often, Choi says, when a dad brings in the child, he receives blank stares in response to questions like: “How many words can your child use in a sentence?" or  “Can she follow two-step commands?” These visits, Choi says, usually end with dad calling the child's mother.

But Dr. Choi isn't all gloom and doom with dads. He makes it clear that dads play a critical role in a child’s development and health, pointing to new research studies showing just how important dads are to the health of their children.

In fact, Dr. Choi recommends NFI's Countdown to Growing Up tool to help the busy dad or mom get a sense for whether or not their child is “normal." Choi tells his readers to get online, add your child’s name, gender, and click on the age group. Then, out pops a questionnaire on child development.

When it comes to child development, tracking your child's growth physcially and socially is important, and although your child may not be progressing at the exact same pace as your friend's kids, its important that they are progressing. And isn't it cool that dads (and moms) can play a role in helping their children grow by engaging them in activities to spur them along?

After reviewing the new tool, Choi says: "It is a great way to stop and evaluate how your child is developing and start thinking about how you can help. Print it out and bring it with you to your child’s next doctor’s appointment. Now you are fully prepared for your child’s visit and can confidently answer whether or not your child is “normal”.  You won’t even have to call their mother."

Dr. Choi is a board certified pediatrician based in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He serves on the Board of Directors for the National Physicians Alliance and is a national leader of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition to his role as physican and family man, he writes at The Huffington Post and on his blog. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.

Countdown to Growing UpCountdown to Growing Up helps dads (and moms!) know about what to expect and not to expect in terms of child growth over the months and years. You can use the tool to make notes and save or print your child's chart to take with you to your next doctor's visit. Be sure to click on the Complete Survey button and give us your feedback.

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photo credit: foshydog

New Tool Makes Parenting Easier

If you are reading this, chances are good that you are already involved in your child’s life. Knowing this, we want to help make it easier for you to be involved and educated about the ages and stages of your child's development. We received such great feedback on our Ages and Stages Charts in the 24/7 Dad® curriculum - developed with contributions from Dr. Kyle Pruett and Dr. Yvette Warren - we decided to bring it you in a FREE online version!

The Countdown to Growing Up tool helps dads (and moms!) know about what to expect and not to expect in terms of child growth over the months and years.

Countdown to Growing Up

You can also use the tool to make notes and save or print out your child's chart to take with you to a pediatrician visit for discussion if desired. 
Be sure to click on the Complete Survey button once you have finished using the tool to give us your feedback. We'd GREATLY appreciate it! 

To begin, simply enter the name of your child, then select his/her gender and age. If you have more than one child, we will provide you with an opportunity to enter his/her/their name(s) and age(s) after entering the information for your first child.

Depending on your child’s age, you will be taken through statements to answer Yes or No/Unsure for three targets: Physical Growth, Mental/Emotional Growth and Social Growth.

Please note, this tool is customized to track ages from birth to 18+ years and older.

Countdown to Growing Up

For example, I chose to test "Fred," a five-year-old male for purposes of this review. For a five-year-old male, the Physical Growth milestone has statements like:

  • Grows 2-3 inches but gains as little as 2-4 pounds a year. Children grow and gain weight at very different rates.
  • Clearly right or left-handed.
  • Learns to tie shoes.

You as the parent simply clicks YES or NO/Unsure box for each statement.

Using "Fred" as the example, the Mental/Emotional Growth milestone asks:

  • Uses complete sentences with many words.
  • Learns to name coins, colors, days of week, months.
  • Takes basic care of self (dress, brush teeth).
  • Helps with simple chores.

For the Social Growth milestone, statements such as:

  • More settled and focused when with others.
  • Begins to notice the outside world and where/how belongs.
  • Enjoys doing things with parent of same sex.

Again, for you the mom and dad, it’s simple to click Yes or NO/Unsure for each item.

There is a section for "Additional Notes," which is optional for placing notes to yourself that will save and/or print with the PDF of the report.

Once you have chosen YES or NO/Unsure on each statement, you are taken to a list that reads: Milestones (Your Child) Has Reached. Below is an example from our test. Your report will be customized to your child's name, gender and age.


Countdown to Growing Up

Additionally, a section is automatically created for your customized report that reads Milestones (Your Child) Has Not Reach, your additional notes from the previous page have now been added to the report.

Lastly, on the same report is invaluable “Tips to Help (Your Child’s Name) Grow" from physicians. This is free expert advice targeted directly at your child's gender and aged based on the information you provided in answering the statements. These tips from physicians offer you expert advice for what to watch for in your child's development as well as tips to help you grow your child. 

Countdown to Growing Up

Notice at the bottom of the above image, you have four options for what you can do with the customized report of your child:

1) View PDF
2) Save as PDF
3) Track Another Child
4) Complete a Brief Survey 

Choosing “Save as PDF” will allow you to email it to yourself and then use it on your mobile device. For instance, if you have an iPhone or iPad, the PDF from your email can be saved in iBooks on your phone or iPad for easy, mobile and paperless reference at your child’s next doctor appointment.

There are two additional options, which are Track Another Child and Complete a Brief Survey. Please feel free to use this new and free tool for all of your children. Please also take a moment and complete our survey. We would love to hear feedback from you once you use the tool.

We know parents do not have a lot of time to study their children. We hope you this tool makes your life easier. Track your child’s growth today. Believe us, you will be prepared for your child's next visit to the doctor; and your doctor will never know how simple and easy it was for you!

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14 Tips for Handling Stress

It’s not easy being a dad. With juggling busy schedules at work and home, you can easily neglect yourself. How we handle our mental and physical health is vital to us and our families.

Your mental health affects your physical health. And your physical health affects your mental health. We know this, but it isn't something we consider daily. If you have a problem with your mental health, it will show up in your body. Likewise, if you have a problem with the health of your body, it will affect your mind and how you see the world.

stress face

Stress and its warning signs can take weeks or months to reveal itself. But, you can take steps today to handle stress better.

Here are 14 tips to help you handle stress:

1) Exercise: Oh yes, the "E" word. We said it. Working out increases your strength and stamina. 

2) Eat Right: Stress and diet are closely linked. You know what you should eat. The key is eating it and not settling for unhealthy, fast foods. One Big Mac may not kill you, but a Big Mac every meal? It may be time to consider changing your diet.

3) Get Enough Sleep: Get at least six to eight hours sleep a night. Take naps during the day if you can’t get enough sleep. Even “power naps”—15 to 30 minutes of rest where you close your eyes—help reduce stress.Think you're too good for naps? Winston Churchill took naps. He claimed naps allowed him to get twice as much accomplishment in one day. Churchill said of naps, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

4) Be Flexible: Be less rigid and competitive. Be more patient. 

5) Get Real: Think about all the “shoulds,” “woulds, “coulds,” and “musts” in your life. Figure out which are worth keeping and which to get rid of.

6) Be Happy: This is easier said than done. Try to look at the good instead of the bad in the world. When you always look for the bad in everything, you develop an unhappy view of people and their actions. Don’t complain about stuff. Our words have power. Note to the complainer, a simple adjustment of our words could be revoluntionary to our happiness. Consider the one-word difference of this sentence: "I have to go to work today." or "I get to go to work today." The difference in this sentence is more than one word, it is a completely different mindset.

7) Laugh and Have Fun: Laugh and have fun with your kids. Laugh and have fun with others and yourself to reduce stress. This is a little different than being happy like number six. Truly developing a sense of humor goes a long way in how you think and see the world, but how others see you. Think about it: who would you rather be around? The complainer or the person who likes to laugh? 

8) Communicate Better: Share your feelings when it’s safe to do so and don’t keep things bottled up inside. Getting problems out in the open, talking about them, and solving them reduces stress. At NFI, we have a principle that flows throughout our organization: Speak the truth with compassion. This changes how we interact with co-workers. Work to create an envirnoment with your co-workers and family that is one of love and respect; we are not talking about blatant disregard of others' feelings here. But we are talking about a true sense of honesty and being about to share what's on your mind, even at work, instead of bottling things up inside to take home to your wife and children. 

9) Get Rid of Clutter: Life can get so busy that it gets out of hand. Make a list of things that need to get done and knock them out. Don’t worry about the small stuff. Leave it alone and focus on what’s most important. Recall the Stephen Covey strategy of "big rocks first." Clean your office, your garage, and anything else that’s messy. Don't wait for someone else to do it. It's your job as dad (I'm repeating this one as I write!)

10) Leave Work at Work: Get away from work and leave it behind. Bringing your work home is a sure way to stress yourself and your family. Keep in mind that you can bring work home in your head as well as your hands. Leave your thoughts of work at the door and focus on your family. Stop your car in your driveway or do something to separate your mind from work before jumping into the house. Home has it's own work. Once you're home, it's time to switch gears and focus on your family.

11) Date your wife: What's the saying? Happy wife, happy life. Well, this holds true for handling stress too. Think about it, if you want to add stress to your life, simply stop communicating and spending time with your wife. 

12) Spend Time with Friends: Friends have a way of making things seem better. They can help you get real and tell you when you’re full of it. If you have a choice to spend a night alone or with friends, choose friends. If you don’t have a lot of friends, be intentional about making some.

13) Volunteer: Helping others is a good way to reduce stress because it builds self-worth. It also has a way of showing us that our lives are not as bad as we think when we help someone in worse shape.

14) Find a Hobby: A hobby can help you get away from life’s pressures and relax. A hobby helps you focus your time and energy on something you really enjoy. Consider prioritizing your hobby based on interaction with family and friends. For instance, one of my hobbies is photography. Some of my most relaxed weekends from work happen when I'm with my family out somewhere simply taking photos of our kids playing. 

Consider these tips today, whether you are stressed out now or not. As a dad, it's not a matter of "if" the stress is coming, but "when!" It's how you handle the stress that will change everything, from yourself to those around you. 

What is one way you handle stress? Share your tips in the comment section below; your comment may help other dads.

This post was excerpted and adapted from NFI's 24/7 Dad resource.

photo credit: Amy McTigue

Kids Need Their Fathers: For Health, For Growth, For Life

nicu gabbyI’ll never forget the beeps. It’s been five years since first hearing the beeps from inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where my first daughter stayed two weeks due to pre-term labor.

She weighed four pounds, and I was scared to hold her with the wires coming from all directions. But the NICU nurses assured my wife and I that we would do no harm by holding and talking to her. She needed to hear the same two voices she heard throughout pregnancy. She needed to feel our presence in that cold, steel medical room.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in homes without fathers. Kids need their fathers.

Kids Need Their fathers…For Health
The same “NICU baby” from above recently proclaimed from the back of the car, “I want coffee, like Daddy!” as I ordered my favorite coffee from the Starbucks drive-thru. As I ordered a short cup of water to mimic my coffee, I realized something big — that for good or ill, the choices I make affect my children. As dad goes, so go the children. With Father’s Day in our rearview mirrors, we must be vigilant about impacting our children positively with the choices we make as dads.

Studies show that men who take care of their health with a good diet, regular exercise, and preventive screenings serve as role models for their kids’ health habits and are more likely to be around for all those important moments like graduations, birthdays and weddings. But more than being around, fathers model behavior for their kids, for good or ill.

Kids Need Their Fathers…For Growth
New research reveals that the love of a father is one of the single greatest influences on the personality development of a child. Results from the journal of Personality and Social Psychology Review showed that kids rejected in childhood felt more anxious and insecure as well as hostile and aggressive as adults.

Professor Rohner who conducted the research says, “children who feel unloved tend to become anxious and insecure, and this can make them needy. Anger and resentment can lead to them closing themselves off emotionally in an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt.”

The same is true for all children regardless of race, culture, and gender – the feeling and effects of rejection are universal.

Professor Rohner adds that the “same parts of the brain are activated when people feel rejected as when they suffer physical pain.” He continues, but ‘Unlike physical pain, however, people can psychologically relive the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years.’ His research shows a father’s input is particularly important for behavior and influences whether a child later abuses drugs or suffers mental health problems.

Kids Need Their Fathers…For Life
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that infant mortality rates are almost twice as much for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.

Children whose fathers are stable and involved are better off on almost every cognitive, social and emotional measure developed by researchers.

How we start is usually a good indicator of how we finish. Of course we can make course corrections along the way. But giving kids a chance to start life in a healthy way matters. Involved fathers help infant mortality rates decrease and infant health increase. Being present and involved ensures children will grow and develop into mature, well-adjusted adults.

Dads matter–for good or ill. As dads go, so go the children. And as go children, so goes our society.

That is why National Fatherhood Initiative provides skill-building resources to help fathers increase their health literacy and get involved right from the start. Our Doctor Dad series of workshops help fathers learn about the well child, the sick child, the injured child, and the safe child. And our new Dad’s Pocket Guide contains practical tips on how dads can get involved with their newborns.

Parents, what was your most difficult adjustment after having a baby?

This post was originally written by Ryan Sanders for the National Healthy Start Association (NHSA). NHSA's mission is to be our nation's voice in providing leadership and advocacy for health equity services and interventions that improve birth outcomes and family wellbeing.

Photo credit: Sanders Family Archives

The Night My Son Came Home With Diabetes

Last Thursday night at around 7:30, my wife and I took our two-and-a-half year old son, Vinny, for a walk. It was a beautiful night, warm with a cool breeze. The sun was just starting to set.

We approached the neighborhood playground and Vinny asked to get out of his stroller so he could go play. His chubby little legs carried him over to the slide, which he promptly climbed and slid down.  He was having a blast.

As twilight progressed, the evening took on a magical quality. The air had a golden glow, the fireflies were coming out, and a few stars began appearing in the sky.

I stood next to one of those spiral slides as my son started to climb it. As he came around the bend, he saw me standing there and a big smile came over his face. He said, “Daddy? Daddy?” I answered, “What is it, baby?” He sat down right next to me and looked me in the eyes, still smiling. He just wanted “Daddy,” not something from Daddy.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been a great moment for me as a dad. But that night, it became a “remember-forever” moment that almost made me break down in tears. Because just an hour earlier, my wife and I had left the hospital after a three-day stay in which my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Let’s rewind back to last Tuesday. It had been at least a week during which my son was barely eating, was always thirsty, was constipated, and was wetting his diapers like never before. He was usually in a bad mood. It had really hit me that something was wrong when he was lying down on the changing table and I could see his ribs protruding.

So, I took him to the doctor that morning to see what was going on. They began doing a series of routine tests to see what was wrong. One of those “routine” tests was a blood sugar test that returned a result of 565.

vinny dbThis was when I heard “the word” for the first time. Diabetes. You know, that disease that your Aunt Bertha takes pills for because she’s eaten a few too many of her own apple pies. But in a healthy two-year-old?

At that point, our doctor told me that I should take Vinny to the emergency room so they could do some tests to confirm whether or not it was diabetes. I called my wife, and we met at the hospital 20 minutes later.

After a very short period of time, he was admitted and the diagnosis was confirmed – Type 1 Diabetes. The kind of diabetes that you just “get” and does not go away. The kind where you have to do blood sugar tests and insulin shots every day for the rest of your life.

My wife and I were in shock. It sounds cliché, but we really did not know how to react.

But the doctors were amazing. They immediately began preparing us for the new routine we would have to establish every day with our precious son. We learned carb counting, blood testing, and how to administer insulin shots.

By Thursday night, our new endocrinologist was comfortable enough with where we were in our knowledge and where Vinny’s blood sugar was to let us go home.

I can’t remember ever being so nervous in my life.

We were leaving the security of the hospital and left on our own. What if his blood sugar dropped and he passed out? What if his blood sugar spiked and something terrible happened? My wife and I never paid so much attention to our son’s mood, facial expressions, complexion, and demeanor in our parenting lives… But that is where the magic came from…

One of the best pieces of advice the nurse gave us as we left the hospital was to handle everything in a matter of fact way so that our son wouldn’t get upset. So, to ease our nerves, we went for that walk to the playground where he, in his own little 2-year-old way, showed his affection and appreciation for daddy.

I believe children are wired to crave connection with their parents – God makes them that way. My wife and I both work full time. We spend a lot of time with our son, but never three straight days, 24/7, in the same small room, playing with him, feeding him, reading to him, watching Disney movies together. While our stomachs were churning about his new disease, he was delighting in the fact that mommy and daddy were spending so much time with him.

So when we went for the walk, he was as happy as can be. He didn’t know that mommy and I were bundles of nerves. He just knew we were there, and he loved us for it.

The next few months are going to be tough. We are going to continue adjusting to the reality that our son has an incurable disease that needs constant management. But the silver lining – which I learned about on the playground that night – is that I will become closer than ever to my little boy. And every time he smiles at me, I will thank God that I have been given the opportunity to be the daddy to this wonderful boy, diabetes and all.

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Pampers Gets Pops

Pampers Gifts to GrowLast month at Pampers Cincinnati, OH headquarters, NFI president Roland C. Warren presented the big baby care brand with a Fatherhood Award™ for its “A Parent is Born,” “Welcome to Parenthood,” and “Love Comes Early” video series.

If you haven’t seen these online mini-documentaries, check them out as a Father’s Day treat. They really do an incredible job of showing how important it is for fathers to be involved in the “peri-natal period” (the time right before and after the birth of a child).

Pampers is a rare breed in the baby care world in that they are one of a few brands that understands the role dads can and should play in this area. Sure, moms still buy more diapers than dads do, but according to all the research we’ve done and seen, moms are more likely to support brands that support fathers. Moms don’t want brands letting dads off the hook.

To celebrate and commemorate the Fatherhood Award™ recognition, Pampers is unveiling new rewards in its “Pampers Gifts to Grow” catalog that are very dad-centric - BBQ tool sets, professional-caliber golf balls, stainless steel water bottle gift sets, and headphones, to name a few.

pampers NFIThis quote from Fama Francisco, Pampers General Manager perfectly sums up Pampers enlightened understanding of this issue: "Pampers recognizes that today’s fathers want to be involved in the very important role of nurturing their babies and acknowledges that it is just as important for dad – as it is for mom - to bond with baby too. With all the attention on expectant and new moms, the role of an expectant or new father can sometimes be overshadowed. That's why this Fatherhood Award™ honor is a special thrill. Whether it's been via our web-based real parenting video series or our past partnerships with the likes of great dads, Pampers is committed to honoring and celebrating dads for the unique role they play in their babies lives!”

We love this! Especially the part about the “unique role” that dads play. Again, research shows that the different approaches that moms and dads take to child care have a significant, positive impact on child well being.

We thank Pampers for their dedication to fatherhood, and commend them for doing work that will last far beyond this Father’s Day.

Are Dads Really Clueless About Their Own Health?

I was doing some browsing on the Web when I came across a blog entry from Dr. David Katz, founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. The entry focused on the fact that men, especially fathers, need to turn a deeper focus on health and weight control. At NFI, we’ve made several references to the importance of health in men throughout our variety of resources and content. However, the doctor’s blog featured a few sentences that made me question just how thickheaded are men about getting healthy.

“We know that women are the guardians of the family health. We know that women, wives, mothers tend to do the heavy lifting when it comes to medical care, preventive services and diet,” said Dr. Katz in his blog, no doubt sharing a sentiment long shared by many. However, I grew up around men like my grandfathers and uncles who were always on top of their health. I’m particularly worrisome about my own health for a variety of reasons, some of which are hereditary.

Much like the meme going around that fathers are clueless when it comes to caring for their babies, a lot of archaic notions about men continue to be perpetuated. I became especially aware of my health needs after becoming a father. In fact, my peers who became dads all followed suit. How some of us arrived to that point was actually simple: taking care of children is taxing! I remember feeling like everything was hurting while running after my toddler, saying to my doctor that I needed to feel whole again.

I do get Dr. Katz’s overall point. As a father of five children and the editor-in-chief of the medical journal Childhood Obesity, he has an obligation to preach to the masses the importance of health. His blog was more so a call to fathers to set better examples for their children. I truly enjoyed his stance on saying that men who find working out and eating better to be feminine traits are acting “un-guy like” – slamming the notion that men can eat and do whatever they want without repercussions.

Dr. Katz is simply urging dads to eat better so their kids will too. The rapid rise in stroke risks in children between the ages of 5 and 14 attributed to obesity is unacceptable. The old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” certainly applies in this case. Good health has to start somewhere, and fathers have a responsibility to lead by example.

I may not have been exposed to many men or fathers who were reluctant about staying healthy, but I do know we can all do better in providing a pathway to healthier living for our children by starting with ourselves.

Guest post: 3 Easy Tips for Staying Healthy in 2012

This is a guest post from Ashley Kemper, a member of Long Island Heart Associates, in partnership with the Mount Sinai Medical Center. LIHA is a cardiology practice in Long Island, New York that has been keeping its community heart-healthy since 1994. Ashley provides some great tips on how dads can stay healthy in the New Year. As we like to say at NFI, to be a good dad, you have to be alive... and more importantly, the health habits you adopt set an example that your kids will follow!

Getting healthy is one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions. For many dads, this can be a challenge each year. As dads grow older, the motivation and ability to stay physically fit becomes more difficult, but the importance of maintaining health remains. Here are some tips to helping dads stay healthy in 2012:

Plenty of exercise: Whether your form of exercising is running, biking, or sports, some type of cardiovascular activity more than once a week is strongly encouraged. Exercising as a family such as a friendly game of football or skiing are great for improving fitness. Make sure you consult a heart doctor before engaging in any strenuous physical activity.

Rest and sleep: Exhaustion and lack of sleep can lead to poor health. As dads and most adults age, adequate rest becomes vital to recharging and having a healthy heart. A Long Island sleep study showed that losing sleep can come from stress, working long hours, or sleep apnea. Dads need to give themselves time to sleep and allow their body to recover for healthy living.

Less drinking: It’s not uncommon to have a few drinks during the week with coworkers and friends. However, studies have shown that binge drinking doubles the risk of heart disease. The limit of alcohol consumption for people varies, so it is important to drink in moderation while maintaining a healthy balance of eating and exercising.

Staying healthy can be a challenge for dads, but these steps should be taken to enjoy a positive lifestyle.

Guest Post: It Takes a Healthy Heart

This is a guest post from Angel Cicerone, president and co-founder of, an initiative to provide parents and educators with physical activity ideas and information for children.

If we ever needed proof of just how significant a role dads play in their kid’s physical health, we certainly got it during the development of, an internet site that provides physical activity ideas for kids.

We were recruiting children to star in our workout videos, so we held a casting call. The kids were required to be in good physical shape and able to perform the exercises.

In interviewing nearly 100 children during the process, we asked them all what kind of physical activities they enjoyed. By the end of the day, we had an amazing “A-ha” moment. The majority of the kids indicated their major activities consisted of doing something with their dads. “My dad and I go biking every morning.” “I go running with my dad.” “My dad and I play tennis together.” The story repeated itself in various iterations over and over throughout the day.

It became very clear that dads have a tremendous influence on the type and amount of physical activity a child engaged in. Moreover, it was evident these kids were having fun engaging in these activities and enjoying the time spent with their fathers.

As we began working with the National Fatherhood Initiative, we learned just how important father involvement is in impacting children’s physical health.

A recent study on the factors associated with the physical activity of preschool children found that a father’s BodyMass Index (BMI) -- a measurement of the relative composition of fat and muscle mass in the human body -- is directly related to his children’s activity level.
Another study looked at family lifestyle and parental BMI as predictors of the BMI of their
children. The study was conducted over a 9 year period and found:
  • Father’s BMI is predictive of son’s and daughter’s BMI
  • BMI in sons and daughters is consistently higher when fathers are overweight or obese
  • Obesity of fathers is associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of obesity of sons and daughters at age 18
With over two-thirds of all Americans either overweight or obese, we need to understand that dads and kids can work together to the benefit of their entire family’s physical health. Physical activity not only keeps everyone healthy, it’s a wonderful – and free – opportunity for parents and children to bond and create positive lifelong habits, better health, and wonderful memories.

Check out NFI's It Takes Heart campaign to receive free, weekly information throughout the month of February (American Heart Awareness Month) on how to deal with all of your "heart" issues - taking care of your health, your kids' health, and your relationships, too!

You can only be a better dad if you are alive!

This is a post from NFI's Director of Corporate Relations, Tom Patras.

Six months ago, during church, a friend surprised everyone by wheeling his 85 pound son on stage in a wheel barrow. Pointing to his son, he exclaimed, “This is how much weight I’ve lost!” After receiving a standing ovation from the congregation, my friend went on to share that he’d been facing serious health issues due to an unhealthy lifestyle. He finally woke up when our Pastor confronted him and said, “What are you doing? You have a wife and kids and you are eating yourself to death!”

As I listened to my friend, it took everything in me to keep from crying. I was happy for him, but sobered that my Pastor’s words could easily have been directed at me. Weight issues are a generational plague in my family. After many failed attempts at losing weight (and keeping it off), I felt discouraged and defeated. I’d reached my heaviest weight ever and was frankly disgusted with myself. With health issues mounting, I knew I needed to change the trajectory of my life. So…inspired by my friend’s success with the Take Shape For Life program, I decided that if it worked for him, why not me?

During my first week on the program, I had a pivotal moment. One day, a scene from The Biggest Loser came to mind. In the scene, a 25 year old girl was told by a doctor that based on the condition of her organs, she was living in the body of a 55-year-old woman. Suddenly the thought hit me – “holy cow, that’s 30 years! That’s almost two generations!” I then asked myself, “What kind of an example am I setting for my children? What kind of legacy am I building for future generations? Do I want my wife and kids grieving over my untimely death because I wasn’t willing to do everything in my power to fight for my health?”

In that moment, I said, “I’m done! I’m going to engage in (and win) this battle. I’m going to be a chain breaker and change the legacy of my family for future generations.”

Six months later, I’m 68 pounds lighter! At 39, I’m the same weight I was as a freshmen in high school. I have tons of energy, am much more confident, and feel better than I have in years.

No doubt there are fathers reading this post who are battling weight-related health issues – you may be one of them. If so, I encourage you to join NFI’s 30 Days to Be a Better Dad Campaign and make it a priority to get healthy in 2011.

BUT, don’t go it alone! 85% of people who try to lose weight without support gain it back within 2 years. Also, find a plan that teaches you how to build healthy habits for life. There is no magic pill or medical procedure that will allow you to eat whatever (and however much) you want.

Building a healthy lifestyle takes commitment, but you can only be a better dad if you are alive!

The Father Factor Blog > Where Fatherhood Leaders Go To Learn.

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