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5 LEGO Inspired Foods for a Fancy Party

This is a guest post by Carlo Pandian. Carlo is a freelance writer based in London who writes on parenting, cooking and all things LEGO. If you would like to blog for us, email here.

Despite the global domination of the computer game, LEGO remains an eternally popular hands-on toy for kids. Of course it’s not just a toy, nor is it just for kids, and plenty of teens and adults have proved that sculpture is not confined to the world of bronze and/or structural steelwork. You can create some amazing displays in LEGO, and for those with a family obsessed with these diminutive plastic bricks the good news is that LEGO-themed foods are easy to create. Whether it’s a kid’s birthday or just for fun, these LEGO-inspired tasty treats are easy to, erm, construct. 

Basic Modelling
The shape of LEGO blocks is probably what makes them an ideal basis for a range of foods.  Forgetting the mini-figures for the moment, the basic structure is very blocky! The studs on the top are relatively easy to create with a range of ingredients and a little imagination. 

Let them Eat Cake
LEGO cakeAdmittedly, Marie-Antoinette and her family were not overly fond of blocks but, LEGO fan or not, who doesn’t love a cake or two? Sponge, of any variety, can easily be baked in the required rectangular shape or, alternatively, a large square sponge can be cut into a range of different sized blocks. Circular sponge sections can then be placed to mimic the studs and the whole confection covered in suitable icing colored in bright primary colors like LEGO itself. 

Made for Lego?
LEGO marshmellowIf bite-size Rice Krispie squares weren’t designed to be adapted into a LEGO-themed treat then I can’t image what was going through the head of their creator. Again, it’s easy to cut the stud sections and apply them to the squares using melted chocolate. If you use a basic white chocolate mix you can add appropriate coloring, to create the final constructed confection.  These are great served up on a plate or can be popped onto lollipop sticks – either way they tend to shift quickly, so make plenty. 

Helping Hands
LEGO lollipopThese are a combination of the above. Small pieces of cakes decorated with Smarties, to create the studs, can be covered in melted chocolate to create the desired form. Cake pops are not only popular at kid’s parties but also tend to be one of those activities that younger members of the family enjoy getting involved in. When preparing them you’ll need plenty of greaseproof paper to place the setting pops on, and plenty of kitchen-towel to wipe the kids with. A change of clothing is also a handy ingredient. 

Healthy Alternatives Kids Will Eat
LEGO watermelonFor those involved in the long-term battle of getting healthy fresh fruit and vegetables into smaller people, the watermelon is heaven sent. Sticky, juicy and tasty it appeals to kids in its natural form but can also be easily sculpted into melon-pops. Cut into squares and sculpt the Lego studs with an apple corer. It’s a good idea to chill these, to resemble lollipops, but also to reduce at least some of the sticky/messy content that develops when you add a child.  

LEGO breadMini-figures are not, it has to be said, the easiest object to sculpt in any edible media, but sandwiches can provide an excellent solution. These can be cut into mini-figurine head shapes and the tops decorated with a range of expressions, using a little of the filling of choice.

Mom and dad: What have you built with your kids recently?

Carlo Pandian is a freelance writer and blogs on free time activities, parenting and LEGO covering everything from LEGOLAND Discovery Center attractions in Dallas to teaching recycling to children. When he’s not online, Carlo likes cooking, gardening and cycling in the countryside.

5 Ways Your Family Can Show Thankfulness

Our "Thanks, Dad!" campaign is in full swing. We hope you're learning to be more intentional about creating an atmosphere of thankfulness in your home. We recently gave you helpful tips for raising thankful children. However, thankfulness isn't simply a nice idea to instill in your children - it's something to be acted out daily. If we're intentional and thoughtful, there are many ways we can show our thankfulness as a family each day. Check out our five ideas for how you and your family can show thankfulness. Then, tell us what your family does to model thaknfulness in the comment section below.
thanks dad
1) Do Something Nice: Doing something nice for someone else is a great way to show you are thankful. Be sure to talk with your child and explain that doing something nice for someone shows you are thankful. Consider with your child ways you can do something nice to help someone. Ask your son or daughter, "What do you think so-and-so would appreciate you doing for them?" or "What can you do to show so-and-so you're thankful for how they helped you?" You may be surprised at the answer you get from you child -- children have a way to being more thoughtful than parents in some cases. Be ready to listen and work together with your child to come up with something unique and thoughtful to do for someone else this week.

2) Write a Note: Make thank-you notes a habit in your house. I can't lie, this step isn't easy. I'm the worst at thank-you notes. I love receiving them so much, you'd think I would be better at writing them. In the midst of everything else on the family calendar, writing a note probably isn't near the top. However, as a way to help you, perhaps you can get your kids involved. Have them write thank-you notes after birthday parties or for Christmas presents -- let them use their creativity and create something special for their friends or teacher. Try and see this as a time to let them express their creative side -- not simply a task to mark of your growing to-do list. For instance, younger kids can draw and color pictures while older kids could write a note in their own words. It's never too early to start teaching your children the importance of thank-you notes. Don't think you have that kind of time? Try the cell phone apps that are available for download, you can still get your kids involved in the process by letting them pick the images and/or write the messages. You'll save a ton of time and still have something thoughtful to send someone.

3) Say Something Kind: From a young age, encourage your children to say "thank you" when someone compliments them, gives them something, or does something for them. Don't allow your children to shyly whisper "thanks" with their head down - make sure they look at the person in the eye and specifically thank them for the compliment/item/action. Help them understand that eye contact and a cheerful voice are an important part of genuine thankfulness. 

4) Help Those in Need: There's no better way to model gratefulness to your family (and others) than to do something to help others who can't help you back. Ask your children to pick out food to contribute to a local food drive, spend time serving at a homeless shelter as a family, or encourage your kids to rake the elderly neighbor's yard. The point here is to reach out to someone in need and together as a family to serve. If cleanliness is next to godliness, serving others is next to thankfulness! 

5) Give as a Family: Set up a large jar in a prominent place in your house, let the kids decorate it with stickers or ribbons, and label it "The Thankful Jar." Encourage family members to put extra change or money they earn from their allowance in the jar. When the jar is full, discuss and agree to a charity or organization for which to donate the money. Or, let each family member take turns choosing a different charity to contribute to each month. Explain to your children that part of being thankful is giving to others.

What's one way you and your family show thankfulness every day?

Thanks DadVisit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture, or writing a short note on on this blog, Facebook or Twitter @TheFatherFactor. Use the hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why your dad deserves thanks!

photo credit: mtsofan

Raising a Thankful Child in 4 Easy Steps

If you've been a parent for longer than one second, you understand children have a way of not being satisfied. Most likely, your child will not come out of the womb as a grateful child. And when she learns to speak, her first words will probably not be "please" or "thank you" -- this is life. Trust me on this one, I write from a few years of experience. The time will come when your child isn't satisfied. You bought the green toy -- she wanted the pink -- and only the pink will do!

raising thankful child

Aside from throwing your hands up and saying, "forget it, we have birthed an ungrateful child who will never be thankful!" Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I repeat: You are not alone. While your child may currently display ungrateful tendencies, he dosen't have to be ungrateful forever. With care and teaching, your daughter or son can learn to be an upstanding lady or gentleman.

How we show thankfulness is vital to whether our children will act and treat others with gratitude. When it comes to teaching your child to be thankful, Gandhi's teaching comes in handy, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Check out our four tips on how to raise a thankful child.

  1. Model Thankfulness. Say "please," "thanks" and "you're welcome" every day. Be sure this vocabulary is used by you and in your home. Parent, if you want your kids to be thankful, they have to see it first. I'm reminded of the saying, "Good manners are not only taught, they can be caught." It's vital that you not only teach your child to say "thank you" and "please" every day and at various moments, you must also use these words yourself. Thank your child for doing his chores well. Make sure your kids, hear you say "Thank you" to their mother. Don't limit thanks for actions - thank your family for being kind, patient, caring, or whatever character quality you notice about them that day.
  2. The "Thankful" Talk. During dinner or in the car driving to and from an activity, ask each member of the family what they were most thankful for that day. Make asking a daily habit. Taking a moment to reflect on the day will help everyone find something positive, even if it was a tough day. Plus, it will give you extra insight into what's going on in your child's life. As the parent, be the one to always stir the conversation to the positive side and give encouragement. Remember the objective of this conversation -- you're teaching your child to be thankful!
  3. Advertise Your Thankfulness. Hang a dry-erase board in a prominent place in your home and call it "The Thankful Board." I once worked at a company that had a "Kudos" board for its employees. This provided a great way to create an environment of encouragement and thankfulness. You can have your family write messages on the board to either say thanks to each other for something big or small. Also, you can use it to share something to your family for which they are thankful.
  4. Teach Thankfulness. Help your child understand why it is important to say "thank you." Explain to your child the "why" behind the "what." Of course, how much you explain will depend on the age of your child, but the point here is to not simply demand and be a dictator, but to teach your child why being thankful is important. With your teenager, try asking how he feels when someone says "thank you" to him. Use this time as a opportunity to teach him that other people also want to feel noticed, appreciated, and valued and that saying "thank you" makes someone else feel happy.

What one thing will you work on that will model thankfulness to your child today?


Visit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture or writing a short note commenting on this blog, Facebook or on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

photo credit: Vermin Inc 

Say "Thanks, Dad!" This November

thanks dad

Tis the season to be thankful. Your dad deserves thanks and we want you to hear why. You can record a video, share a picture or write a note saying "Thanks, Dad!" Each week during November we'll hand-select a winner to receive a gift card to take dad out for Starbucks Coffee or enjoy one on us! Moms and daughters, you can participate too by sharing about the dads in your life.

Ways To Win!
Enter to win a Starbucks gift card by saying "Thanks, Dad!" in the following three ways. Each week we'll pick a winner and notify you by asking for your mailng address.

1. Record a Video
Record a short video to your dad starting with "Thanks, Dad!" Share it on Google+Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why your dad deserves thanks.

2. Share a Picture
Post a picture of you and your dad or something that reminds of your dad. Share on our Facebook timeline, mention us on Twitter (#ThxDad), Pin us on our "Thanks, Dad!" board on Pinterest or use hashtag #ThxDad on Instagram (@TheFatherFactor) to enter.

3. Write a Note
Starting with "Thanks, Dad!" write a short message for the dad in your life and share it with us by tagging us on Facebook, mentioning on Twitter (#ThxDad) or commenting on our blog.

What to Watch for this month:

  • Week 1: Raising Thankful Kids
  • Week 2: Showing Thankfulness
  • Week 3: Creating Thankful Traditions
  • Week 4: Saying Thanks By Giving

Make sure you sign up to get the Dad Email™ in your inbox!

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

A Fatherhood Reminder from Yankees Manager Joe Girardi

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.

As we hurtle into yet another post-season for baseball that, once again, involves the love ‘em or hate ‘em New York Yankees, I reflect on America’s pastime and the toll it can take on the players and managers who are fathers.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that loves a juicy story about fallen athletes. It can be hard to find an uplifting story about athletes who rise above the stresses and temptations of their sport, including those that affect the ability of athletes to be involved, responsible, committed fathers. 

joe girardi yankees managerBut look no further than Joe Girardi who, by all accounts, has been a fantastic father and husband during a playing and managing career that spans some 25 years. What has accounted for Joe’s success at home and on the field? A loving father and mother who were committed to their children and each other.

According to Gay Talese in “The Crisis Manager,” an article that appears in a recent edition of The New Yorker magazine, Joe grew up near Chicago, the son and grandson of bricklayers. He learned about competitiveness and self-discipline from his father. He learned about perseverance from his mother who battled cancer during Joe’s teenage and early adult years, only to eventually succumb to it when Joe was in college. Each of these qualities are essential to managerial success in a sport that has baseball’s ups and downs.  

What struck me most in reading this article is what Joe said to Talese as they drove to visit Joe’s father, Gerald, who, now stricken with Alzheimer’s, lives in a nursing home. “My dad was always there for me…He’s the one who played catch with me, he was the one who took me to Cubs games where I could see my favorite players, like Ron Santo and José Cardenal, in action.”

The time that fathers spend with their children is so precious, and so valuable. Something for all of us dads to bear in mind as we, too, fight the temptations and stresses that our careers and lives place before and upon us.

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photo credit: Keith Allison

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

Waiting for Fatherhood

The following is a post from Tony Prebula, Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Communications at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

Back when I joined NFI, I blogged about the lessons passed down from my grandfather. And I enjoyed being able to share the hope and excitement my wife and I had for having a family of our own one day.

It has been 7 months since then, and over a year since we started trying to have children. We’ve experienced loss, pain, disappointment, and at times despair. On more than one occasion over the last year, my wife and I have lost a child.

waiting for fatherhood baby cribFor the longest time I’ve imagined what it would feel like to hold my child with the hopes of the kind of person they would grow up to be. I imagine teaching them to ride a bike. Maybe even what the first fishing trip would be like. I imagine teaching my son how to honor his mother and all women. Or showing my daughter how she should be loved and respected in how I love my wife. I imagine being able to tell my children how proud I am for the kind of people they are. I don’t stop imagining these things. I remain hopeful, but it can get tough. 

You see, as I get ready to head home tonight after work, I have already planned to spend the evening doing one of my favorite things—brewing beer. It’s a hobby I picked up when I lived in a townhouse with no cable or internet. I’ll have fun tonight. But all the while I will be thinking to myself, “What if”. I will be wondering what if my child were here. Instead of spending the night in the kitchen brewing, I could be putting together a crib. Instead of a quiet night waiting for my wife to get home from working late, maybe I would be giving my baby a bath. The hardest part is not their absence; rather it is in thinking of all the moments we will never have with them. To quote John Greenleaf Whitter, “For all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘What might have been’”.

In trying to sort through the emotions of the past few months, I’ve tried to put into words (probably for some healing or comfort) why it has been so difficult to find peace with it all. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any new insight to make it easier. I haven’t found enlightened peace. No, nothing like that. But what I am reminded of is the precious joy that family and children are.

My wife and I have been able to remember that no matter how hard we may try, we can’t just make children happen. Children are not given simply because you want to have them. No, children are gifts to be cherished.

I am so happy to work for an organization that recognizes children are indeed a gift to be cherished.  And that part of this cherishing is to ensure that they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers.  

In grieving, somewhat selfishly, for our loss, we are consoled knowing that our children are in a better place than we could have ever hoped to give them. And as my wife and I continue to wait and see what lies ahead for us, I know the gift will be that much sweeter. I can’t imagine how blessed I will feel when the day finally arrives. And I only hope that when it does that my children will know how much of a gift they are to me. 

Tony is a graduate of the University of Maryland. He and his wife, Lacy, met at Maryland and were married in 2011. In his spare time, you will find Tony rock climbing, cooking and homebrewing.
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photo credit: Jug Jones

More on The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative. This post is his response to feedback from his original post The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood.

My most recent blog post titled “The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood” generated a lot of feedback, some positive and some negative. I argued that as a society we have rationalized non-married fatherhood to the point that it is no longer a moral transgression. It has become excusable and, thus, we no longer need to worry about children growing up without their fathers despite reams of data that show when children grow up in single-parent homes—the vast majority of which don’t include fathers—it is detrimental to children and our society.

Child at weddingSeveral of the responses we received indicated that some non-married fathers—primarily divorced fathers—took the post personally because they thought National Fatherhood Initiative doesn’t appreciate the yeoman’s work they do to be involved in the lives of their children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. NFI recognizes the contributions of and efforts that all fathers make to be involved in whatever circumstances they father.

Consequently, we offer support, guidance, and resources to fathers and the organizations that serve them without discriminating based on marital status. As I remarked in the post, my argument isn’t that a specific non-married dad can’t be a good father to his children. But when viewed through the lens of our culture and population at large, the conclusion that we have rationalized away the morality of non-married fatherhood is undeniable. It has moved us away from our society's need to address father absence in a preventive manner.

To better understand NFI’s position, it’s critical to separate personal experience and the emotion attached to it from the cultural experience and evidence attached to it. Non-married fatherhood results from one of two situations—an out-of-wedlock birth (e.g. a never-married father) or a divorce. From a personal perspective, I’ll wager that if you’re a never-married father you didn’t intend to become one. Likewise if you’re a divorced father you probably didn’t marry with the intent to divorce your wife and face the challenges that brings to raising children. But if you’re an involved, never-married or divorced dad, I’ll also wager that, against all odds, you have moved heaven and earth to remain involved in your children’s lives. Remaining involved requires a lot of hard work and emotion especially when considering the evidence that non-married fathers, on average, are less likely to be involved in their children’s lives as their children age. Therefore, the negative responses we received are understandable because they come from fathers who are not the norm. These fathers are involved in their children’s lives despite the challenges they face. All of us at NFI applaud their (your) efforts.

From a cultural perspective, however, it is undeniable that our society has become more accepting of non-married fatherhood. As an applied anthropologist, I have studied cultures across the globe and, in particular (surprise, surprise), the institutions of fatherhood and marriage and their symbiotic relationship. As noted in my post, marriage arose as an institution (across the globe) for raising children and serves as the primary mechanism societies use to connect fathers to their children. The evidence that fathers are the parent disproportionately separated from their children when they are not married (and not just in the U.S.) underscores the importance of marriage as the institution that undergirds father involvement. And, yet, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve encountered in my personal and professional life who are perfectly fine with non-married fatherhood (and motherhood) becoming an acceptable circumstance in which to parent (i.e. a norm). They don’t even give it a second thought. The evidence, however, for the symbiotic relationship between these two institutions is overwhelming. Being married to the mother of your children is the single greatest predictor of father involvement. Quite simply it is much harder to be involved in your children’s lives when you don’t live with them. From a preventive standpoint, one of the best strategies we can implement at the cultural level to ensure that children grow up with an involved father is to see that more fathers are married before they have children.

If you’re a non-married father and you’re still struggling to come to grips with NFI’s position on the relationship between marriage and involved fatherhood, I ask you to consider the following question. If your son or daughter comes to you one day and asks whether it is better to be married to the mother or father of their children, what will you say?

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photo credit: seanmcgrath

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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The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood

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.  

I’m an avid reader of business articles (e.g. what works in business) because they spark ideas that NFI has implemented to help us effectively pursue our mission. But rarely do I read such an article that helps build my knowledge about the cultural challenges we face in promoting involved, responsible, committed fatherhood. Recently, however, I read an article on research conducted by professors at the Wharton School (the preeminent business school at the University of Pennsylvania) that examines how people react to scandals of celebrities with huge brands, and it provided me with additional insight on how our society has dealt with the crisis of father absence.

Will you marry me?

The researchers conducted several studies on how people react to “moral transgressions” by public figures (e.g. athletes and politicians) and whether they were more likely to react with “moral rationalization” or “moral decoupling” to those transgressions.

In moral rationalization a person downplays the moral transgression. “It’s not so bad,” they say. “Everyone else does it.” Thus, the transgression becomes excusable.

Moral decoupling, in contrast, involves separating the transgression from other acts. It preserves the person’s outrage at the transgression and allows them to believe that it doesn’t affect other parts of the transgressor’s life, profession, etc.

Remember the Tiger Woods sex scandal? (Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you do.) What about the Michael Vick dog-fighting conviction? What has happened since those two athletes came under scrutiny for their transgressions? They’re just as, and perhaps more popular, than ever. 

Forgiveness aside (and I don’t discount the importance of forgiveness), these athletes have probably benefitted from a branding standpoint because of those transgressions. (Note how Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has seen its donations rise in the wake of him dropping his fight against doping allegations.)

The researchers found that people engage more often in moral decoupling because it allows them to maintain their view that the act was immoral and that it had or has no effect on their performance (in whatever way they perform—on the field, in Congress, etc.). Fans of Tiger and Michael say, “Sure. What he did was wrong, but I see no reason why that should affect whether I’m a fan.”  

So what does this research have to do with fatherhood? Do people engage in moral decoupling when they react to non-married fatherhood? Nope. The reason is that we no longer look at non-married fatherhood as a moral transgression. Consequently, we don’t have to separate a father not being married to the mother of his children from his ability to be an involved, responsible, committed father despite the reams of evidence that marriage arose in cultures across the world in large part to connect fathers to their children, and that it provides the best environment in which to reduce the risk that children will grow up facing a host of risks.

You see, non-married fatherhood (and motherhood, by the way) has become excusable. As we’ve seen a rise in the number of out-of-wedlock childbirths leading to more and more children growing up without fathers, we’ve engaged in moral rationalization rather than moral decoupling. We say, “It’s not so bad. So many people are doing it that it doesn’t really matter.” (You only have to watch one episode of the hugely-popular Jersey Shore or the many other reality shows and sitcoms that celebrate out-of-wedlock child bearing to see my point.)

Don’t get me wrong. My argument isn’t that a specific unmarried dad can’t be a good father to his children. But when viewed through the lens of our culture and population at large, the conclusion that we have rationalized away the morality of unmarried fatherhood is undeniable. It has moved us away from our society's real need to address it in a preventive manner.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this rationalization are a huge burden on our society as noted in NFI’s 100 Billion Dollar Man study. But perhaps even more frightening is that it has, sadly, set the stage for the current debate about whether fathers are even relevant any longer.

photo credit: JakeBrewer

My Biggest Fear As My Daughter Starts Kindergarten

I didn’t cry at school this morning. Nope, I did great. But today is still not a normal Tuesday for me. As my wife and I dropped our firstborn at her class and turned away, there were no visible tears from me. I saved my tears for the drive to my office.

school bus

It was Darius Rucker who put me over the edge. You know, Country Darius not Hootie Darius. His song, “It Won't Be Like This For Long” made me think. It hasn't been long since we brought Bella home from the hospital. It hasn’t been long, looking back, when we were waking up at night and wishing she would sleep more than two hours at a time. It wasn’t long ago I picked her up and tossed her in the air with ease.

Time sure flies and as a dad to a daughter who started school this morning, some of my thoughts are as follows:

1) How will we deal with the increased expenses of school?
2) How will we manage busier schedules and still create time for fun and travel?
3) Will bears steal my daughter and try to raise her as one of their own because she’s so sweet and cuddly?
3a) Perhaps bears trying to raise my daughter wouldn’t be all that bad. If they are bears that love sweet and cuddly five-year-olds, perhaps they are like a group of real-life Pooh bears and we’ll love them as we do our daughter. They can live with us and we can all enjoy eating honey together….

These are some of my thoughts. I told you; it’s not my normal Tuesday.

So being stolen by a family of kind-and-gentle bears isn’t the most accurate worry as a parent. Besides, bears are probably more apt to steal children in the Shenandoah’s, not closer to metro-Washington, right?! I will Google “bear attacks in greater DC area” later. For now, know that my biggest fear as my daughter starts school is that others will influence her.

See, I have one of those good daughters. She’s sweet, really, she is. She’s kind too. She’s not like your daughter. I have been at parties and Chuck E. Cheese’s with your daughters (and sons) – they aren’t as awesome as my daughter! ; )

Aside from if she’s sleepy or hungry, she listens to her parents. She is a good big sister too. She considers her sister. Just yesterday (at Chuck E. Cheese’s, where else?) she “won” enough tickets to get two packages of Smarties. What did she do with the extra pack? Yep, she shared with her sister. I didn’t have to tell her and her sister didn’t even have to ask.

Bell had other tickets; what did she do with those? She picked an extra set of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth. Yes, an extra set. You see, Bell has carried around glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth for some time (she may be running around the school with them right now!); but her little sister hasn’t had a set. After yesterday, all that changed. It was Bella’s idea to take the seven million tickets and pick a set of vampire teeth for her little sister. I haven’t seen a better example of sacrificial love in a long time.

I’m focusing on the wrong part of the story. My point is my firstborn is an awesome and considerate big sister and human being. Why? Because my wife and I have worked with her and molded her into this person. Over five years, we have created this machine/human being who says “thank you” and “may I” and “please.” This is no small accomplishment considering I rarely say these things.

But still, my biggest fear is other-lesser-well-meaning individuals will now influence her. Yeah, so maybe I can trust her teacher, but what about those other 20 rascals in her classroom? My wife and I are creating something here, and we don’t need others getting involved and messing it up!

Truth is, other kids will influence my daughter. She will learn to navigate her way through now unimaginable drama. One day her “best friend” will probably lie to her. One day she may be shunned by “the cool kids.” This will hurt her until one day she realizes that “being cool” only comes when you blog for a living and use social media to talk about them. I kid; but seriously, one thing is certain, while we at National Fatherhood Initiative teach about the impact of father absence, we also teach about the impact of involved fathers. We talk about how the lack of a father changes the lives of children and a society, but the truth is that active, involved and committed dads change families and societies too.

With all of our research on absent dads, we hold to the fact that parents are the number one influencers of their children. Did you hear that? Parents are the number one influence on children, not mean girls or sweet boys.

We know that children whose fathers are stable and involved are better off on almost every cognitive, social, and emotional measure researchers have developed. My biggest fear shouldn’t be the influence of fellow students and friends on my daughter. My biggest fear should be how I am influencing my daughter. There will definitely be a test. While I am nostalgic today, I know that this phase is flying by. My wife and I will keep “holding on” as the song says. We will keep hugging, kissing, loving and training our daughter. Because we know, as Country Darius sings, “it won’t be like this for long.”

What's the one thing you fear the most as a parent?

 photo credit: Carmine

The Odd Life of Parents

Parents have an "odd life," and Disney’s new family film The Odd Life of Timothy Green brings this to life on the big screen.

odd life

A parent's life is odd. We get this odd opportunity to shape a human being for a short time. When you think about it, our only real prerequisite for having this distinctive thing of childbearing take place is to be a male and a female living on the planet earth. We bring our preconceived notions, the way our parents did things, and the lame stuff our friends tell us into this bowl and mix it up for a few years. A very few short years.

By the time they go away to college, you have a person, and hopefully, after a few years of care and love and teaching, you have person who is mature and grown. You love this person, and you’ve shaped and molded this tiny person into a bigger one through cheesy gold fish and sliced hot dogs. After spending all of this time and money and worry and sacrifice, you learn it’s just starting when you send your prized possession to college. It’s really an odd life for parents.

When my wife mentioned that she might be pregnant -- “might” because you’re never really certain with the first pregnancy until several pregancy tests later -- I just didn’t believe it really happened. It’s quite magical, really.

The moment after you realize you or your significant other is pregnant, your mind shifts into parent mode. Seriously. Your mind takes you places you didn’t previously know about. You now have a parent brain. You dream about the gender and whom he or she will look like in the family. You dream about he or she acting like you or your spouse. You worry about things you never even thought about before you were a parent.

Before the baby came, do you remember all the worry and anxiety and stress over all the things that could go wrong?

Parents have a worry continuum. That contiuum goes from wanting a child, to being pregnant and worrying about said child. This worry and stress, I’m told goes on until the end, with peaks during the high school and college years.

Odd Life

But the odd life of parents is that you learn, as Jim and Cindy Green learn in the film, your kids aren’t really yours. You're just overseers who take care of those little ones on their journey. Whether you promise yourself as Jim does in the film and vow to, " things different than my dad" or you make silly parenting mistakes, you really are there to love and care and cherish the children given to you. The rest is not up to you.

It’s an odd thing, the life of parenting. From counseling your teen in relationships, to teaching them sports and music and love and life and death, we parents have been entrusted with something special, a very odd life.

This new family film from Disney will make you relive your parenting mistakes and triumphs and inspire you to cherish the moments you have with your kids. They grow up fast and leave the house, when the real worry and odd life continues.

For more on Disney’s new family film, visit our Timothy Green page.

Wondering if Your Child Feels Loved?

This is a guest post by Heather Creekmore. If you would like to guest post on this blog, email us here
“Daddy, Big UG! Daddy, Daddy, Big UG...Big UG...”

If you sneak into my house, this is what you'll hear my two-year-old say, over and over again, before his Daddy leaves for work. He'll then run to the door, clearing toys out of his path, so that he can attach himself to my husband's leg, waiting for his Daddy to bend down and give him a full embrace.

kidandblocks080612 resized 600
But, while you are observing, you may also notice my oldest boy. He's almost six and will wrinkle his nose in disgust as his dad rubs on his buzz cut hair. Sometimes, if his mood is just right, he'll initiate a hug. But, most of the time he'd rather talk. He's a creator and dreamer. He'd rather hear Daddy affirm his latest Lego masterpiece or agree to whatever detailed plan he's come up with for that day, evening, or for when he turns twenty. He's got big ideas and he wants Daddy to listen and put his stamp of approval on them. 

We have a total of four children and one of the most fascinating adventures for us as parents has been discovering their similarities and their differences, especially in the area of affirmation. We could squeeze on my eldest all day and he wouldn't be satisfied without some words. Whereas we could talk the socks off my two-year old, yet all he really needs to feel secure are some big, ‘H’-less, “ugs.” 

This might have been more of a mystery to me if I hadn't read a book called, The Five Love Languages of Children, by Dr. Gary Chapman. Chapman’s theory is that everybody has a way, or language, in which they best express and receive love. Verbal affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, and quality time are the five categories dubs as languages. Dr. Chapman adapted his original book (The Five Love Languages) into this version for parents to help them better discover the ways in which their offspring express and receive messages of care and acceptance.

Want to know what language your little guy or gal speaks? The best way to figure out their language is to first stop, and figure out your own. 

Are you a dad who needs to hear aloud how much you are loved? Or, maybe you feel most loved when someone takes care of you…like when your spouse does your laundry or takes care of that errand you were putting off. Do you prefer presents over a warm embrace? Or, do you just want someone to spend focused time with you? 

Do you show someone you love them by serving them, telling them, spending time with them, physically connecting with them or giving them tokens of your love?

Once you figure out your language, start to observe your children more carefully. Do they always find "presents" to give you or ways to “help” you? Do they just want you to sit and be with them? Do they just want to be physically close? Do they want to hear or say “I love you” frequently? 

Take time to discover your child’s language and then find ways to intentionally “speak it” with them. Remember, if you have more than one child, they may all have different languages. If you aren’t sure what language is being spoken, experiment! And, if your child is older, ask for his or her ideas and feedback.

There's no doubt: Kids need a lot. You start buying gear for your newborn and the expenses just never stop. You’ve given so much you may feel as if there is no way your child doesn’t know they are loved. But, I hope you’ll remember that children need affection and affirmation in special ways that their little brains are wired to understand. And, that’s where this information can help take the question out of whether or not your children understand how much they are loved. 

So take the challenge! Discover your child's love language, and your own! You won’t regret it!

Question: Which love language does your child(ren) speak? 

Dad GamesVisit Gold Medal Dads…Affirm Their Kids for tips on how you can affirm and show affection to your kids.

Remember to share and connect with other dads on our blog, Facebook and Twitter (#DadGames12).


This is a guest post by Heather Creekmore. Heather worked at the National Fatherhood Initiative from 2000 until 2007 when she “retired” from full time employment to live the glamorous life of a stay-at-home mom. Heather and her husband Eric reside outside of Dallas and have four children, ages 5 and under. She now spends her days changing diapers, making a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich, teaching fitness classes, and blogging. Read Heather's blog about the similarities between faith and fitness.
photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

Loving Your Spouse More Than Your Kids

keith urban nicole kidman idolA few years ago, Ayelet Waldman wrote an article in the New York Times about how she loves her husband more than her children. It caused quite an uproar in the community of moms who called her a "bad mother" (and a lot worse) because of this.

Well, it's happened again, but this time, it is a dad saying he loves his wife more than his children. It also happens to be a very famous married couple, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman. Urban recently revealed in an interview that he loves Nicole more than their two children. To do justice to what he said, I have copied the entire quote here:

"We're very, very tight as a family unit and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love. It's my wife and then my daughters. I just think it's really important for the kids...There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn't feel like they are being favoured. It's a dangerous place."

Urban may not even realize it, but what he said is incredibly profound. His family is in Australia, so things may be different there, but here in the U.S., we have become so child-centered that you are attacked when you make such statements (Editor's note: I realize this sentence can be misconstrued. Being child-centered is great. The point is that the most child-centered thing you can do is have a great marriage. So maybe "child-centeredness" is not the problem as much as "anti-marriageness" is). Some respondents to Urban's statement suggested that it is inappropriate to not love your own flesh and blood more than your spouse.

But research seems to back Urban's mentality. Generally speaking, the most important relationship in the home is the one between mom and dad. As Urban states, if their relationship fails, everyone loses. While we don't yet have research that shows specifically that marriages in which the spouses love each other more than the kids produce "better kids," we do know that kids who grow up in married homes do better, on average, across every measure of child well-being. We also know that divorce is not good for children. We also know that parents who are married to each other are closer to each other and to their kids than parents in any other family structure. Put that all together, and what Urban says looks pretty good.

Back in 2005, Ms. Waldman appeared on Oprah to defend this notion of loving one's spouse more than one's children. Our very own president, Roland Warren, was on the show to affirm her position. It was very much her (and Roland) against the world. None of the moms on the show agreed with them. But I would ask those who are angered by this notion if they have "checked it" with their children. As Urban so eloquently states above, the only thing that mattered to him was that his parents were "solid." That is where children get their sense of identity and stability from.

So, when we dote on our kids at the expense of our spouse, are we doing so because we know our kids want that, or are we really just fulfilling our own selfish needs? After all, it is "easier" to love a child, who typically loves you back without question. Things are messier with adults and they take more work.

So, before we jump on the Ayelet Waldmans and Keith Urbans of the world, let's at least consider this question from the perspective of what kids really need.

What do you think? Who do you love more, your spouse or kids?

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