Color Me Healthy, Kiddo

Dear Mr. Dad: It seems like every meal in my house is a battle. I try to make healthy, tasty foods and my kids do nothing but complain about it. It seems like all they want to eat is white rice and plain pasta. Why won’t they eat anything else, and what can I do to get them to expand their preferences?

A: Ah, yes, the white food group. I remember it well. Besides rice and pasta, my two oldest kids were flexible enough to include French fries (or, sometimes, a baked potato with sour cream), cheese pizza, fish sticks, and salt. Lots of salt. For a while, I was worried that their limited diet would stunt their growth, but they’re both 5’ 7,” and incredibly healthy. When I think about it, they did eat non-white foods too: peas and carrots were okay (as long as they weren’t touching on the plate), tomatoes (cleverly disguised as pasta sauce), vitamins (in milk), lots of fruit, and even some protein (often fish sticks or chicken nuggets). I’m sure your children’s culinary repertoire is broader than you think. That said, I know I could have done a better job.
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The Write Stuff

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been reading your columns for quite a few years, and you frequently talk about how important it is to read to children. With all the emphasis on literacy, I think we’re forgetting about writing. When I was in school, we had classes in penmanship, but my preschooler and kindergartener aren’t learning it at all. Is writing even necessary anymore?

A: In a word, absolutely. Not all that long ago, we used to talk about the “Three Rs”: reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic—the fundamental skills taught in school (I know, not a very good lesson in spelling, but catchier than saying “The R, the W, and the A”). But, as you’ve noticed, the second R (writing) has pretty much fallen by the wayside—in fact, over the past few years, schools all around the country have stopped teaching cursive altogether, and a growing number of children are doing their homework, including writing papers and essays, online.

According to a new study, the percentage of children using tablets has doubled in the past two years alone, and now includes 75% of children under eight and nearly 40% of kids under two. Some people say that with all that technology, there’s no need for kids to learn how to write at all—it’s a lot easier to just use a tablet or other device. I can see the point. And I get that typed assignments are a lot easier for teachers to read. But, at the risk of sounding a little old-fashioned, I think writing is a very important skill—and there’s getting to be a lot of research that backs me up.
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HPV Vaccine: The Safe Choice for Your Kids

Dear Mr. Dad: I have boy/girl twins who are 11. Their pediatrician suggested that my daughter get a vaccine for HPV, but he didn’t offer it to my son. I’ve got three questions. First, why didn’t he suggest the vaccine for my son? Second, why are they offering a vaccine against sexually transmitted diseases to 11-year-olds anyway—isn’t that too early? Third, it seems to me that vaccinating kids against STDs will only make them more likely to have sex and less careful than they ordinarily would be. Am I right?

A: That’s a lot of questions, so let’s jump right in. But a warning: This column will include some adult words, so reader discretion is advised.

Your pediatrician should have recommended the HPV vaccine to your son. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vast majority of a number of cancers are attributed to HPV. For girls, these include cancer of the cervix or anus (over 90%), vagina and throat (over 75%). Boys are also just as susceptible to anal and throat cancers, plus HPV causes nearly two thirds of cancers of the penis. HPV is also linked with nearly 100% of genital warts—an equal opportunity STD.
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Triumphing over Loss

Dear Mr. Dad: Our little five year old daughter passed away recently. My wife and I are both struggling with grief and it is causing distance between us. We barely speak and when we do, it’s just to argue. Now I’m worried about losing our marriage as well. How can we get through this pain and keep it together?

A: I am deeply sorry for your loss. The death of a child must be one of the most painful experiences anyone—especially a parent—can have, and the repercussions can challenge even the strongest of marriages. If you haven’t already done so, it’s important that you and your wife find a counselor who has experience working with parents who have lost children. For the rest of this column I’m going to share some of the advice I heard from experts in this area, including Melanie Davis, who wrote about losing her 7-month old daughter to SIDS in
The Triumph Book


Since your loss is recent, you’ll most likely experience what some in the bereavement world refer to as the Seven Stages of Grief: Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance and hope. (These are similar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages, which applied to people coping with their own impending death.)
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When Is a Chore Not a Chore?

Dear Mr. Dad: What is the deal with chores? I did them, my parents did them, and so did my grandparents. I don’t have children of my own, but I’ve noticed that very few of my friends’ kids seem to have any chores or responsibilities at all. What is going on?

A: When I was young, chores were something that contributed to the good of the family, and every kid I knew did them (according to a recent poll done by Whirlpool earlier this year, 82% of American adults did chores when they were growing up). But today, the word “chore” has taken on a completely different—and completely absurd—meaning. In a lot of cases, it has no meaning at all. According to that same Whirlpool poll, only 28% of parents say they assign to their children the same chores they did when they were young.
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Dating for Dads

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been divorced for almost a year and I’m just getting to the point where I’m thinking about dating again. My kids (8 and 10) and I have a very close relationship and we talk about everything. But when I mentioned dating to them, instead of being happy for me, they were angry. Is there anything I can do to get them to be a little more supportive?

A: Close relationships between parents and their young children are wonderful for everyone. But occasionally lines can get blurred, which is exactly what happened with you. Your social life will undoubtedly affect your children—especially if you get into a serious relationship. But it sounds like you’ve given them the impression that their close relationship with you entitles them to an actual vote in the matter. It’s really none of their business. You’re their parent, not their friend, end of discussion.

Aside from the boundary issue, your children may simply not want to share you with anyone. It’s been just the three of you for a long time, and they enjoy having you all to themselves. Any time you spend with other people—whether it’s going out for a beer with a buddy or dating a woman who’s not their mother—is time you won’t be spending with them. You’re in a delicate spot here, but here are few steps you can take to get your kids on board (or at least to reduce their hostility).
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