Pay No Attention to That Program Behind the Screen

Dear Mr. Dad: My baby just turned one and I went to pick him up a little early from his daycare to celebrate. When I got there, the kids were crawling around but the TV was on and tuned to some kind of reality show. I asked the sitter why, and she said “So what?” and told me that the TV is often on in the background and that it’s no big deal. My gut says she’s wrong. But before I fire her, I need something to back me up. What’s so bad about TV?

A: Honestly, do you really an excuse to fire a sitter who shouldn’t be caring for kids? But since you asked—and since you’re not the only parent out there who’s not sure whether it’s okay for babies to watch TV—here goes.
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Stop Telling Your Kids How Much to Eat

Dear Mr. Dad: My son, age 8, is very overweight. We’ve talked about how he has to start eating less and get more exercise. But he doesn’t want to play sports because the other kids make fun of his weight. And even though I’m trying to change his diet—by making him eat more vegetables and taking away his dessert privileges—his weight isn’t changing. Just the other day I found a bunch of candy wrappers in his room. What can I do?

A: It’s obvious that your intentions are very good: Trying to get your son to exercise more and eat differently is an excellent strategy. The problem is in your execution.

Let’s start with the physical activity part. I completely get your son’s reasons for not wanting to play on a sports team. Exercising in front of others can be humiliating. A recent study from Brigham Young University found that being bullied and teased is one of the main reasons overweight kids don’t exercise. And the problems don’t end there. Being bullied/teased also negatively affect overweight kids’ grades and relationships with their classmates.
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Bumping Into Breastfeeding

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is breastfeeding our new baby and when I look at them, they’re so connected and I feel completely useless. I try to do other stuff like baths and diaper changing, but feeding seems so much more important. One of my projects was to set up the nursery. I got the crib and changing table all set up and my wife told me we needed crib bumpers so the baby wouldn’t bang her head on the slats of the crib. A friend told me that crib bumpers are a bad idea. So I’ve got two questions: What can I do to feel less useless when my wife is breastfeeding? And should I get bumpers for the baby’s crib?

A: Let’s start with the second one. For readers who don’t already know, crib bumpers are soft pads that run along the inside of the crib and are designed to do exactly what your wife says: keep the baby from running into the slats or bars and getting hurt. Bumpers sound like a great idea, and millions of people—including me—have used them for decades. But new research shows that bumpers could actually be more dangerous than the injuries they’re trying to protect against.
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Inflexible Flexibility: What Happens When Dad Gets on the Mommy Track

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is due with our first in about four months, so I though now would be a good time to talk to my employer about taking time off under the Family Leave Act and possibly making some more permanent changes to my schedule so I can be a more hands-on dad. I mentioned this to a friend who used to work with me, and he warned me to be very careful. He said that after he took paternity leave, he was passed over for a promotion and got a smaller bonus. He eventually quit. I find that hard to believe, but he insists it’s true. Are companies really allowed to do that?

A: Theoretically, no. Under the Federal version of Family and Medical Leave Act, your job is protected and your employer isn’t allowed to penalize you in any way. (Some states have their own Family Leave programs and the rules may be different, so I encourage you to look into both very carefully.) Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a big disconnect between what companies are allowed to do what they actually do. And even if the company itself does everything exactly by the book, individuals within the company—meaning your managers and coworkers—can always find a way to skirt the law.
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You’re About to Be Schooled

Dear Mr. Dad: I can hardly believe that summer is almost over. It’s been a tough year, financially for our family, and I’ve been putting off doing the back-to-school shopping for my three kids (14, 10, and 5). But at this point I don’t really have a choice. Any tips on how to get it done efficiently and, hopefully, save a little money?

A: Wow, summer did fly by especially quickly this year—I can tell because I find myself muttering under my breath about how much I hate shopping and how expensive things are. But, as you say, it’s got to be done. So here are a few ideas that should make the experience a little less painful.

Check under the bed. Before you go to the store, take a walk through your house. Chances are your child didn’t use up all of last year’s paper and pencils, and you can probably reuse some of last-year’s (or the year before’s) binders. You’ll find that there are a lot of things you can buy less of or skip altogether.
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Boys Will Be Boys, Even If They Dress Like Girls

Dear Mr. Dad: I came home a little earlier than usual, walked into my bedroom, and saw my 6-year-old son sitting in front of the mirror, wearing one of my short dresses, heels, and applying mascara. He didn’t notice me at first because he was so busy talking to himself in the mirror. But as soon as he did, he scooted past me as fast as he could and went straight to his room. I’m worried and would like to talk with him about this, but he’s been avoiding me for days. What should I do?

A: You say that you’re worried, but you don’t say what, exactly, you’re worried about. If it’s simply that he was wearing your clothes, that’s probably not a big deal. In fact, at your son’s age, it’s a healthy sign. Playing dress-up gives kids a chance to explore what it might feel like to be someone else—even someone of the opposite sex—and that’s a skill that’s important as he learns about empathy.

If you’re worried that he may be gay or have a gender identity disorder, the chances are pretty slim. Pretending to be of the opposite sex is by no means an accurate predictor of anything–especially at your son’s age. To put this in perspective, ask yourself whether you’d be as worried if your son were a girl and you caught her trying on her dad’s clothes. For some reason, we’re generally okay with girls who dress like boys, but boys who dress like girls set off all sorts of alarms. Interestingly, children are often even less tolerant than adults of their peers (especially boys) who don’t wear the clothes they’re “supposed to.”
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