A Few Good Toys (And a Few Lame Ones)

I’m looking at new toys for our holiday issues. On Friday I had about three dozen kids helping me and in the next few weeks I’ll have dozens more. It gets me thinking about the (many) toys I’ve bought my own kids, and what they love and what gets ignored. A few truths I’ve learned:

Classics stick around for a reason. A pair of roller skates was a huge hit on Friday, and a train set. Almost no child will turn down a toy car. And maybe the most successful birthday party favor I ever gave out was the year we gave each little guest a playground ball, which many of them still had years later. When in doubt about what to buy, go back to basics.

Toys that kids can play together are awesome. That’s why every preschool has a play kitchen. We tried out a toy vet center that got a lot of love, in part because the 2- and 3-year-olds could swarm it together. Many kids also cooperated with Lego kits. And there is always Barbie…many times my daughter would disappear into her room with a friend and a crowd of Barbies and only resurface hours later for a snack.

Crafting and building kits are tricky. They are all the rage, because anything that requires building calls itself STEM-worthy. But every year I have only a few kids who are focused enough to get through a building kit, and the rest start and then abandon such toys. If you’re buying a present for someone else’s kid, I would say avoid toys that require construction unless you know the kid is really into it. Same with puzzles.

Remote-control toys get a big wow but can die out fast. We’ll have several on our list because kids love them. But why must so many batteries quit on day one? And I’ve noticed that these aren’t the toys kids reach for when bored. The RCs come out to impress playdates. But maybe that’s enough.

If your kid has a favorite character, anything with that face will be a winner. But toy companies know it, so for every legit great Frozen-themed toy there are some that are just cheap. Out of toy-testing I realize I need some great Paw Patrol toys this year…the little testers wanted anything with those pups on it!

But step away from the plush aisle. My kids are crazy in love with their stuffed animals but like most kids, they have too many. While there will surely be some talking plush among our year’s best toys, for the most part, kids don’t need more soft friends.

My final advice if you are out shopping for toys: Don’t overthink it. Does it look like something you enjoyed as a kid, or would enjoy now? Then it will probably be a safe bet. My little toy-testers are invaluable, but I also get a kick out of watching what the staff plays with. Fun is fun, no matter what your age.

Jessica Hartshorn, as the Entertainment Editor for Parents magazine and a mother of two, is surrounded by toys both at work and at home. Literally surrounded.

How to Buy Baby Toys on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Toys on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Toys on a Budget

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5 Reasons Your Family Should Tune In To Tonight’s World Cup Match

In case you haven’t heard, tonight is the faceoff between the U.S. women’s soccer team and China in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

But in case you also haven’t heard, Andy Benoit—a contributor at Sports Illustrated—thinks women’s soccer and “women’s sports in general [are] not worth watching.” And then, in case you still hadn’t caught wind, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers took DOWN Benoit for his comments in a revival of their former SNL segment “Really!?! With Seth & Amy” on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Now you’re all caught up.

Aside from the fact that the game will undoubtedly be entertaining, here are 5 reasons you should cuddle up on the couch tonight with your family and cheer on the good ole’ US of A:

1. Model behavior. According to Forbes, soccer is the second most popular youth sport in America. If your child is one of the 25 million kids lacing up her cleats each week, take advantage of this opportunity to inspire her. Even if your kid isn’t on a team, watching elite players will show him the value of sticking with the sport and setting GOOAAAAALLLLLS!!!!

2. Show your pride. There’s something unique about watching these international athletic showdowns. I’m not an unpatriotic person, but I’m also not waving my American flag from the window each day. Yet, when the Olympics or the World Cup roll around, it’s amazing to see the fight, determination, and talent in the athletes battling for our country to take home the title. Our teams are representations of our values. As is the American Dream, we believe in hard work, dedication, and following your passion. Your kids will notice that in the players on the field.

3. Teach them teamwork. Nothing great in life is accomplished alone. They say “it takes a village to raise a child.” When we tune in to awards shows, winners rush to spit out the names of everyone who helped them earn that statue. In soccer, your kids will witness collaboration in action.

4. Inspire your daughter. Sadly, there are too many people who share Benoit’s sentiments: That, somehow, women’s sports are less worthy, entertaining, or competitive than men’s. Show your daughter (and your son) that women are worth watching. The women of this World Cup team are strong, fit and at the top of their game. I think that’s worth the screen time.

5. Support moms like you. Did you know that 3 players on the Women’s World Cup team are moms? Christie Rampone, captain of the U.S. National Team, Shannon Boxx and Amy Rodriguez are all mothers hoping to make their kids proud. Now that sounds like something we can relate to and admire!

P.S.  If you want to introduce your kids to the team before you watch, check out these quick videos!

Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she’s practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is also our resident theater aficionado. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.

How to Talk to Kids: The Importance of Communication
How to Talk to Kids: The Importance of Communication
How to Talk to Kids: The Importance of Communication

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Rachel Dolezal Isn’t “Transracial”: How She’s Hurting Families Like Her Own

When I first saw the Rachel Dolezal “transracial” stories pop up in my newsfeed, I figured it was just another wild story to fill the news channels’ insatiable appetite for the weird and unusual. But that was before I actually sat down and watched her Today Show interview. In it, she described the reason for her deception—to fit in better with her son, who is African-American: “When I got full custody of Izaiah, he said, ‘You are my real mom’…. and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.” And that fired me up.

We are a transracial family: My husband and I are Caucasian, and our daughters are Asian. That doesn’t make my husband and me Asian by default, and that doesn’t mean that we have to darken our hair and change our eye shape in order to be our daughters’ “real” parents. (The fact that two countries gave their seal of approval to our adoption and that we’re the ones who kiss boo-boos and celebrate every milestone kind of makes it official.) By saying that she needed to look like her son in order to be his “real” parent, Rachel’s reasoning seems to be at complete odds with what she was striving to do in her role at the NAACP: She’s saying that a person’s exterior matters just as much (if not more) than the interior. And it breaks my heart that a woman who is so clearly focused on racial issues, and a fellow mom who adopted transracially, would actually make the statement that we can’t be “real” parents if we don’t look like our kids.

Transracial adoption isn’t always easy. There’s the stares and the whispering and the sometimes icky comments when you’re just heading to the grocery store or hoping for a nice family meal out. There’s the all-too-frequent questioning of whether you’re a real family, whether your kids are real sisters. There’s a need to develop new skills, like learning how to properly care for black hair and skin, and some new considerations you need to make, such as whether your neighborhood is diverse and open enough to truly welcome your family. And most importantly, there’s the essential task of ensuring that your children are in touch with their birth culture, and that they understand what it means to be Asian or African-American or Native American or Latino in our culture. But to co-opt your child’s heritage when it isn’t your own smacks of disrespect, to both your child and to her first family, who deserves to be represented as fully as possible in her life.

It disturbs me that the word “transracial” is being used for this story—a word that until now has been mostly used for families like mine. As a group of transracial adoptees have expressed in an open letter, it’s damaging to a group of people who are already have so many challenges related to race:

Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity. As extensive evidence-based research and first-person narratives have shown, we do not live in a so-called “post-racial society.” Damaging forces like racism make it virtually impossible for those with black or brown bodies to simply “put on” or “take off” race in the same or similar manner that Dolezal has employed. For transracial adoptees, navigating and negotiating the racism in our families, schools, and communities is a regular and compulsory part of our lives.

Using transracial to describe Rachel’s behavior cheapens it for the kids and parents who live with the complexities of being in a transracial family every single day.

Lisa Milbrand is Parents.com’s In Name Only blogger, and the mom of two girls.


Image: Shutterstock.com

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Strides Toward Independence

As a grade-schooler, I would climb over our backyard fence (which bordered a playground) and walk to class on my own. I usually came home for lunch, and remember bringing friends with me—sometimes without my mom being home. I wasn’t a latchkey kid by any means. I had loving, involved parents. It was simply a different era, when free-range kids were the norm and there was far less concern about stranger danger (not that the world was truly any safer, mind you).

I have no desire to return to that era of laissez-faire parenting. Still, when my 10-year-old daughter, Isabella, asked if she could start walking the three blocks to school on her own, I thought it was high time to let her. And the advice in our magazine confirmed that it was age-appropriate. First, though, I had to teach her to cross the street.

We went out on a Sunday afternoon and practiced together. I modeled how to look both ways and watch for cars that might be turning left or right into the crosswalk. I stressed the importance of waiting for the image of the pedestrian walking to light up before going—and never to cross when the red hand was showing, even if she was certain there was no traffic coming. (That was a challenging behavior to model, as New Yorkers don’t wait for an invitation to cross and constantly assert their right-of-way over cars regardless of what the lights indicate). Then I shadowed her, watching from half a block behind as she made her way home from school.

She was ready. Were we? Isabella had shown us that she deserved our trust, but how would we know she was okay? For many kids, technology is the answer: They call on their cell when they arrive safely. Only one problem: Isabella doesn’t have a phone yet. So we worked out a compromise: Once at school, she would go up to the school office and make a quick “I’m okay” call. The administrator agreed to let her—in part because she supported the idea of waiting to get her a cell.

Now I get a call five times a week from my darling daughter at 8:03 am: “Hi, I made it to school, dad.” I tell her I love her and wish her a wonderful day. And then my wife and I can rest easy. Isabella asks repeatedly if she can stop calling. The answer is no.

Still, she’s taken other noteworthy steps on the path toward independence this year. She now gets her homework done on her own before we return from the office, which has facilitated a far more peaceful evening routine. She picked out her fifth-grade science project (pictured) on her own, recruited and tested subjects without our help, and put the whole thing together with minimal help. Heck, she even got it done early. She has also started going for “out lunch” on Fridays with friends, a lesson not only in independence but also, we hope, in money management ($12 doesn’t go as far as you’d think, especially in Manhattan).

Recently, she got her ears pierced. My wife wanted to wait until Isabella showed she was responsible enough to clean her own ears three times a day for eight weeks so as to prevent infection. But Isabella had proved herself in other areas (including street-crossing), so she got her wish. True to her word, she has cared for them properly, and has only one more week to go.

I can’t claim that there aren’t areas in need of improvement. Isabella needs to be reminded to change the empty toilet paper roll and (sometimes) to set the table. We’re still working on life skills like fetching her own snack and sorting her own laundry.

Even so, she’s come a long way this year, and her graduation from elementary school is more than a formality. My baby is growing up. She’ll keep making strides toward independence during middle school, and we’ll gradually have to learn to let go.

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

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5 Lessons My Kid Will Learn This Summer

School may be (almost!) out here in New York, but just because there are no teachers or homework doesn’t mean my daughter’s education will end this Friday. And I don’t mean that Rosa will be doing drills or working with tutors, although I know some kids do. Instead she’ll be learning a few lessons unique to our family’s experience of summer.

1. How to Be Bored

Okay, boredom is not a seasonal experience. But with no homework to do, some camp-free days, and long car rides on the horizon, Rosa will have plenty of time to suffer the indignities of boredom. Do you remember being a kid and just having to look out the window on car trips? I sure do. It’s a sensation my daughter rarely experiences. She’s either watching a TV show on a smartphone or reading a book, which doesn’t help with her carsickness incidentally. I anticipate many, many requests for screentime, both in the car and lazing about at home. We’ll give in to some of them. But, both my husband and I think boredom is actually a good thing for children (and grown-ups for that matter). It encourages kids to get creative or even just to daydream. Kids need to learn how to make their own fun; going into adulthood expecting to be constantly entertained is a recipe for a needy and unhappy grown-up. And usually Rosa’s boredom is short-lived. I often marvel at the projects she comes up with when she has proclaimed her everlasting boredom just 10 minutes before.

2. How to Read for Fun

Instead of reading a non-fiction text for homework or a novel for a book report like she does during the school year, in the summer Rosa can choose the books she wants to read. It might be a graphic novel, mystery, sci-fi adventure, or whatever catches her eye at the library. We are lucky that Rosa likes to read for pleasure, and summer will offer many, many more opportunities to do it.

3. How to Make Friends on the Fly

Rosa attends day camp most weeks in the summer. She bounces around to various STEM and arts camps, and even one based on the Percy Jackson books. (Was there such a variety of summer camps when we were kids? I sure didn’t attend them.) All of this variety ensures that her summer is fun, but it also forces her to make new friends on an almost weekly basis. I think of it as social boot camp. Making friends, or at least being friendly, with strangers is a reality of school, work, and plain-old daily life for kids and grown-ups alike. Being comfortable with it is a skill that’s valuable to hone.

4. How to Feel at Home in the Outdoors

Even though we live in the city, we’re lucky to have a small backyard and live near a large park. That’s a long way from saying that Rosa is comfortable in the outdoors, though (starting with her spider phobia, for one thing). This summer we’re going to get out into nature as often as possible, whether it’s a day at the beach or just a picnic lunch on the grass. But, I also want Rosa to experience the jaw-dropping majesty of nature. For that, we’re taking a road trip through the Colorado Rockies down to the Grand Canyon. We’re also going to try to check out the new Wild Walk in the Adirondacks. There is nothing like feeling small before the world’s great natural wonders to grant perspective, no matter what your age.

5. How to Convince Mom to Buy Ice Cream

Actually, Rosa already has this one down pat. Lesson learned.

What lessons will your kids learn this summer?

Jenna Helwig is the food editor at Parents and the author of the cookbooks Real Baby Food and Smoothie-licious. She really loves ice cream, ice pops, iced coffee, and any day that isn’t winter. Follow her on Twitter.

How to Keep Your Baby Comfortable in the Summer Heat
How to Keep Your Baby Comfortable in the Summer Heat
How to Keep Your Baby Comfortable in the Summer Heat

Image: Young girls reading via Shutterstock

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