What Chores Do I Give Which Child?

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning in

Last week’s blog was about why children need to do chores. But how do you know what chores to give which child? The choice will depend on what needs to be done in your household and what they are physically and developmentally capable of.

Give children some chores that teach them to be responsible for themselves and some that contribute to the family as a whole.

Adjust them for their age and ability.

  • Eighteen- month-olds can pick up toys and hand them to you to throw into the toy box—and then get a hug.
  • Four-year-olds can dust, and be rewarded with applause.  Little ones will actually enjoy chores and be happy with your admiration as their reward,  although you might have to fix their work later. Mine helped me paint a wall once…
  • By eight or ten, they should be independent enough to leave them alone with a small chore. They can take out the trash, vacuum, or unload the dishwasher, which should be followed by a thank you and a hug. They will feel less inspired, so don’t forget the reward! Hugs rule.
  • Preteens live in constant fear of embarrassment, and chores need to be adjusted accordingly. They like to know, in detail, what is expected of them, when it is expected, and exactly how you want things done. They never want to do something wrong and be ridiculed. Coolness rules. I have had preteens tell me they didn’t know what “poop” was and had no idea how to stick out their tongue and say “ahh.” They fear doing it wrong. Be patient and explain things exactly. Use the preteen years to teach skills they will need later. They are able enough to learn basic cooking, laundry, and housekeeping skills, but they are still young enough that they don’t yet have the overwhelming schedules of teenagers.
  • For any age, add no more than one new chore at a time so they won’t feel overwhelmed.

Chores are an invaluable parenting tool. Without them, your children will not be whole and balanced, and they might be less appealing. Chores allow your children to participate in the family and help it function. They teach your children to be responsible for themselves and manage their time. Work teaches them appreciation for what others do for them—and for the things they have. Accomplishments nurture pride in self and in their abilities. Chores teach skills they will need throughout their lives.

Your progeny should, of course, be adequately rewarded for their work by the joy of being able to contribute to the family and by the skills they have learned. This does not seem to be the case.

Allowance helps.

Why Children Need Chores

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning inChores are simple jobs that routinely need to be done in and around the house. They come in all sizes and shapes, and there are a wide enough variety to suit any child’s age and abilities.

Chores are a great way to teach your children many of the skills they need to know to take care of themselves as adults, while also teaching them to take responsibility for a job and feel pride in work successfully completed.

Probably the most important reason for doing chores, though, is simply that they are members of your family and they need to participate.

There are many little jobs that need to get done during the day, and it is fair for every member of the family to do their part. By doing so, they invest in the success of the family as a whole.

The investment can be as simple as helping to make dinner or putting their dirty laundry in the basket. Every little duty adds up, creating a whole in which people depend upon and trust one another. “I’ll make dinner, you fold the laundry, and Meg can walk the dog.” Families function when the members work together as a team. Later, when they need help, they will call family. When family needs help, they will come. As they work together, they strengthen bonds and create memories and emotions that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

If your children do not do their parts, a link in the chain is broken. “You give to me, but I don’t give back” does not make for a long-lasting relationship. Ask any family in which one child was favored above the others.

Work Bestows Value

Even if we aren’t planning to be a close-knit family later, it is a human truth that we need to pay for what we receive. An oddity of the human mind is that it does not appreciate what it gets for free.

Allowance that is granted as a gift can be thrown away; allowance that is worked for is treasured. We are proud of having earned it, and we are more careful of how we spend it. It has value.

Watch your children’s faces when they see the results of work that produced something that the family needed. They will make sure you know all about the work they did. They washed those carrots and picked out the best ones! You will see pride of accomplishment–value added to their own self esteem.

Your children receive things for being members of your family. You give them shelter, food, and video games. It will be easier for them to appreciate the work other people do for them if they have also done work. If they do not learn to appreciate what they are given, they will grow up to be jerks. You want people to like your children—and nobody likes jerks. Give them work.

Responsibility

Chores are also a great way to learn responsibility. The most obvious chore is cleaning up after themselves. Toddlers can pick up their toys; six-year-olds can dust and bring their dishes to the sink, and ten-year-olds can put away their laundry. Teenagers should be capable of anything, but they are limited by their busy schedules.

Let them know how much you appreciate their work. Since they saved you all that time, now you can do something fun together! They will remember the satisfying feeling and be more likely to do it again, maybe with less argument.

Skills

Chores also teach useful skills. My son was the only guy in his freshman dorm that knew how to do his own laundry. Kids who know how to cook can feed themselves. Knowing how to clean can keep them healthy. A parent’s desire to take care of their children and be reassured that they themselves are needed can sometimes interfere with their children’s need to learn. They will be happy to let you do all the work. Don’t allow them.

One of the skills they learn by doing chores is time management, so give them a time limit to get the job done. They will learn all about the evils of procrastination. “Sorry, hon, you can’t go over to John’s house because you haven’t finished your chores yet.”

Exercise

Chores also get kids off their bottoms and away from the television, which is always a good thing. Make sure some of their chores involve physical work. A three-year-old can run back and forth, bringing you items to put in the toy box. An eight-year old can help you wash the car. For a teen, yard work and mopping are good. Letting them figure out how to get it done will exercise their brains as well.

Chores Mimic Real Life

Chores give kids a chance to earn things above what you feel are their needs. If you are willing to pay for the plain bike and they want the fancy one, they can earn the difference. Name brand clothes are a want, not a need, and their savings can bridge the gap. They will appreciate the items more because of the work they invested, and they will take better care of them.

Make a chore chart and put it up somewhere visible. The basics earn them their allowance; extra chores earn points toward something they want but do not need.

Arguing for a higher dollar value per point will teach them negotiating skills.

Doing chores prepares kids for real life. Knowing how to work, how to do work well the first time, and how to not procrastinate will serve them well in the workplace. Which employee would you prefer if you were hiring: the one who whined and weaseled his way out of chores his whole life or the one who gets things done quickly with minimal supervision? Which would you fire first?

In real life, work is how you get money, and money is how you pay rent. The other option is moving back to your parents’ basement.

But what chores for which kid? Check out What Chores do I Give Which Kid?

How to Raise a Puppy You Will Like as a Dog

Cute girl and her dog friend

The first blog in this series was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Last week’s was about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them. Since the most common pet by far is the dog, this week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be a joy to have as a member of the family.

Your Own Dog

It is more than possible to raise a dog of your own that doesn’t have bad habits or bite. First, consider your choice carefully. There are sites on the Internet that will allow you to select characteristics like size, energy level, or amount of grooming needed for different breeds. The AKC has one such search engine; Animal Planet has another. If your children are young and crazy, you might do better with a mellow dog rather than one with a lot of energy. The same is true if the dog won’t get much exercise.

If you would consider a rescue, there are thousands of animals in rescue that need families. If you have a specific breed in mind, there are rescue agencies that specialize in most breeds. Many wonderful animals of all ages and types lose their families through no fault of their own, especially during an economic downturn or after a natural disaster.

If you decide you want to buy from a breeder, be careful to avoid puppy mills. Never buy from a pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who breeds only healthy dogs with good temperaments and who will socialize the puppy while it is in their care. Check with the national club for the breed you want; they will have a list of trustworthy breeders. Ask for references.

A careful breeder will screen the sire and dam for hip dysplasia, elbow abnormalities, heart defects, and eye problems. Some breeds have additional screenings as well. These tests are expensive, and if the dog fails, the breeder loses any potential litters. Puppy mills generally do not do those screenings. A good breeder will have copies of those clearances available; also, they can be verified at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org). Pedigrees can be verified at AKC.org and K9data.com. A reputable breeder will also carefully screen you because he or she will not want the puppy to go to an inadequate home.

Once you have an energetic, slobbering puppy, it is vital that you train it so you will not have an energetic, slobbering adult dog.

  • Socialize it. Let it meet people of all sizes and behaviors, and lots of different animals. Give it lots of love and exercise. Never kick or hit it.
  • When you are with your dog, be calm and carry yourself with good posture. Move slowly. Canines have been with us for millennia; they can read our posture sometimes better than other humans can. Speak in a relaxed fashion. Dogs consider children to be puppies and will tolerate a lot of hyperness in two-legged puppies as long as their adult human is steady.
  • Neuter/spay your dog. Unneutered males are more aggressive; unsprayed females will bite when in heat or when protecting their puppies.
  • Keep it on a leash when you are outside your yard, and within a home, crate, or fenced area otherwise. If there are things you do not want your adult dog to do, like begging at the table or jumping on you, don’t allow your puppy to do them. If there are things you do want it to do, like coming when called, sitting, or walking on a leash, be consistent with your expectations and reward good behavior. Is this all starting to sound a bit like parenting your child?
  • Never chain your dog, and limit the time it spends in a crate. Too much time in a crate makes a dog crazy.

So, with all these problems, why do we keep pets? The unconditional love and companionship are priceless, but there are other benefits as well.

Pets teach children about loss and death. They learn that all living things die, that it is all right to be sad, and that it won’t hurt so much in time. Later, when a bigger loss comes into their lives, they will not be completely blindsided.

Kids with dogs get more exercise and are less likely to be overweight, and caring for an animal teaches responsibility. Pets will also teach social skills; the way children interact with a pet translates into behavior with friends and family. They learn to be calm and quiet and treat the pet gently, or it will shy away. They learn that if they are caring, attentive, and invest their time, they will be paid back with love and trust–exactly the traits that will gain your children friends and long-term happiness.

Come back next week for info on how to train your children to behave around dogs (even if they don’t have one) so that they can avoid being bitten.

10 Ways Pets Can Make Your Kids Sick

Cute girl and her dog friendLast week’s blog was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Got one in mind yet? Read below first, about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them.

Allergies

If there is a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema, find out if your children are allergic to the particular pet before you commit. Allergy testing for cats and dogs is readily available, just ask your pediatrician.

Arrange a play date with the same type of animal and look for sneezing, red eyes, and itchiness afterward.  If you are considering a particular dog, visit with that dog because allergens vary greatly from dog to dog. Even less allergy-inducing breeds like Poodles or Portuguese Water Dogs named Bo can actually trigger allergy symptoms in some children. Kids can be allergic to the saliva and skin flakes as well as the fur.

If you already have a pet that your children are allergic to, keep that pet out of their bedrooms, damp dust and vacuum frequently, and wash the pet weekly. Additionally, air filters will capture a significant portion of allergens.

Illness

Most germs prefer to attack the host they have evolved to infect. It is most common for the germs to stay with their preferred host, so you are much more likely to get sick going to the store or daycare where other humans hang out than you are petting your dog. Taking that as given, there are some illnesses that pets can give to humans.

  • Even fish, isolated as they are, can cause problems. They can raise the humidity in your house and make life happier for molds and dust mites.
  • Turtles can carry salmonella, which will cause diarrhea. Kids need to be good at washing their hands if they have a turtle, and the turtle needs to be kept far from the kitchen. No bathing that turtle in the kitchen sink!
  • Birds can carry salmonella. Interestingly, salmonella is becoming a much more common problem now that people are keeping back yard chickens. Wash those hands after handling the birds or changing their food and water! Birds can also carry Chlamydophila psittaci, which causes psittacosis, a rare kind of pneumonia. I’ve been looking for a case for decades without success.
  • Cats and dogs can both bring in fleas and ticks, and can harbor ringworm (a fungus) on the skin. Both can be prevented with basic pet care.
  • Cats can carry toxoplasma, which can cause birth defects in human infants if Mom catches it while she is pregnant. Obstetricians always warn pregnant women not to clean out kitty litter boxes. I personally had no problem letting my husband clean the litter box.
  • Kittens can carry Bartonellosis in their claws, which can cause the fairly rare “cat scratch fever,” or infected lymph nodes. That one I have seen a few times. Grown-up cats don’t carry it, thankfully.
  • Cats also carry Pasturella in their mouths, and cat bites can occasionally become infected.
  • Most of the bacteria, worms, and parasites that dogs can become infected with are self-limiting in humans. Our immune systems throw them out without diffculty. People who have poor immune systems (small children, the elderly, kids on chemotherapy, or those whose immune systems don’t work well) can be less tolerant, and we do occasionally see problems in otherwise healthy children.
  • There are a few uncommon infections from dogs and cats that they can share. Toxocara cani (or cati, in cats) is a roundworm that rarely infects humans, but it is ugly when it does, causing problems with eyes, hearts, and livers, including blindness and death. It can also be caught from dirt as a soil contaminant. Puppies can carry cryptosporidium, a protozoan that can cause diarrhea. Leptospira (a spirochete bacteria) can cause damage to the liver, spleen, and kidneys when water is contaminated.

The solution to avoiding most of these diseases is to keep your pet healthy, use flea and tick preventative, and give monthly heartworm pills.

Also, don’t let them drink contaminated water.

Since dogs are the most popular pets, and cats sort of train themselves, next week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be joy to have in the family, rather than a shoe-chewing brat.

 

 

 

6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family

boy with baloon2-01In the United States, 70 percent of households have pets – more households have pets than have children. In our culture pets seem to speak more to a need than a want, and all the debate over whether or not they are a good idea doesn’t really seem to matter when we come home to that wagging tail and happy bark. Or meow. Or squeak.

The most common pet, currently in 39 percent of US households is—surprise!—the dog. There are almost 80 million pet dogs in the United States.

Dogs have been part of our lives since we depended on them to help us survive as early hunter-gatherers. One of the things that made us such a unique species, along with our big brains and opposable thumbs, was our ability to domesticate other species.  (I personally have an addiction to golden retrievers. I currently have five. Yes, they shed a lot.)

Following closely behind canines at 33 percent of US households and 86 million total are cats. Fewer households have one, but those that do tend to have more than one. After cats come rodents (hamsters and guinea pigs), lagomorphs (rabbits), birds (canaries, parakeets), reptiles (snakes and lizards), fish, and frogs.

How do you choose what type of pet to get?

Your children will be happy to choose for you. They probably already have one in mind.

Some general issues when choosing a pet:

  • Consider the age and maturity of your children. In general, a two- or three-year-old will be too aggressive for a pet. They tend to grab and hit rather than snuggle. We
    in pediatrics generally say that the best age for children to get a sibling is at about four. The same probably applies to a pet. It is possible to teach four-year-olds to be gentle, and they are able to help with feeding and grooming (of the pet, not the sibling).
  • If young children desperately want a personal pet consider a pocket pet, such as a hamster or a frog. Small, short-lived pets have less of a personal connection and are a better idea if your children are less responsible than you would like. A dead frog is very sad, but not as heartbreaking as a dead dog.
  • Consider your living environment. A small condo is not a great place for an energetic border collie, but a hamster is (mostly) self-contained.
  • If a family member is allergic, a cat is not a good idea. Fish might be good.
  • If you move frequently or travel often, it will impact on your decision.
  • Cost is a huge issue. The average lifetime cost of having a dog is between seven and thirteen thousand dollars; cats cost between eight and eleven thousand dollars over their lifetimes.

Still thinking about getting a pet after that appalling total lifetime cost? Money magazine wrote that the lifetime cost of a human child is around $241 thousand. See? A dog is a bargain!

Hmm.

Come back next week for info on allergies and the illnesses that pets can carry!

Oh My Heartsie Girl

Misadventures in Pottying

Baby in diaper-01The last two week’s blogs have been all about potty training: how to know when your child is ready, and how to go about training them. This week is about when things do not go well–bedwetting, accidents, refusal, and relapses. So what do we do when our efforts are less than successful? When all our hopes and dreams go splat in the night? Read on!

Bedwetting

Nighttime dryness tends to be in the DNA and is related to how deeply your children sleep rather than their actual intent. One in five children still wet the bed at age five, and anything that 20 percent of children do has to be defined as normal. Most kids are dry by age seven. Until then, consider pull-ups at night, or a mattress cover. Limit drinks an hour or so before bedtime because what comes in must go out. Hit the bathroom before you tuck them in.

Bedwetting is not bad behavior or a failure in parenting, and treating it as such can damage your children’s self-esteem. They cannot make themselves sleep less deeply. They can, of course, take responsibility and help with cleaning up and laundry.

If it persists at age seven, discuss it with your pediatrician. Once your child is old enough, bedwetting alarms can teach them to wake when they start to urinate, and have no side effects. The alarms that vibrate work better than the sound ones, because the whole issue is that they are very deep sleepers. Alarms are ridiculously expensive.

Accidents

Never punish accidents; it always backfires. Never punish disinterest. If you want to be potty training for the next five years, punishment is the way to get there. Responsibility is fine: they can throw away the old diapers and get out new clothes, or help to clean themselves up as much as they are able. Don’t even think of punishing a failure. They will do better next time.

Refusal

Toddlers will occasionally flat out refuse to use the potty. Sometimes this is an independence issue: not just “I can do it myself” but “I can do it myself anywhere I choose to.” This is more common when people try to potty train when their lives are in turmoil. Children want to control the one thing they can control.

Sometimes the only thing you can do when this happens is wait until later and try again after things settle down.

If the refusal is not too bad, sometimes you can overcome it:

  • Treat using the potty as a routine task that must be done, like brushing your teeth.
  • Rewards are given after the task is completed, not before.
  • Ramp up the fun factor: toilet paper squares decorated with targets is available. Aiming for fruit loops is a traditional winner. I know I said food rewards are a bad idea, but I can testify that one M&M for every potty use results in very frequent visits to the potty. I am a hypocrite. Sad.

Sometimes kids are downright terrified of the potty. Again you may just have to wait it out and try again later. They seem to feel that they are loosing a part of themselves to the yawning, abysmal plumbing. Reassure them and be patient. Throwing the contents of diapers into the potty can help: show them that this is where the poop goes. Tell them all about the poo-poo party that awaits it at the end of the journey. It would be very sad if their poo had to miss the poo-poo party. Poor, sad poo-poo. (I know, but sometimes it works.)

Relapses

They will also occasionally regress when they are stressed. A completely potty-trained munchkin will start having accidents when they are ill, when there is a new baby, or when there is a family crisis.

Even more frustrating is when they relapse because they have figured out the whole potty thing and are now bored with it. Amp up the fun and the rewards, and let them take responsibility for their action—or lack of action. They can help clean themselves up, put the poop in the toilet, and get themselves new clothes. Be sure to mention the reward they could have had, but have now missed. No punishment please!

Kids may also miss when they are uncomfortable in a strange new place, until they understand what they should do. Tell them there is a bathroom in the store where you are shopping; mention that if they have to potty at a friend’s house, just tell the mom or dad, and they will show him and her where the potty is.

Even when children have achieved the necessary milestones and you have used these techniques, the bottom line is that children will train when they are ready and not before. They need to understand what’s happening in their bodies and be able to let you know about it. They have to dislike having a wet diaper on and want the independence of doing it themselves. If it’s not fun and rewarding for them, they will quit—and you can’t win that battle.

Talk to other parents because potty training can drive you crazy, and craziness is better when shared, and because there are an abundance of ideas out there for how to inspire your toddler to hit that target. And don’t forget to have a potty party when they succeed.

Potty Training: How to Set Kids Up for Success

Baby in diaper-01Last week’s blog was the first installment on the Perils of Potty Training: how to know when your munchkin is ready. This week gives you some tried and tested How To’s, when everything goes as planned.

The first thing you need to do when your children are ready is to decide what words you will use. Remember that whatever words you choose will be shouted loudly at very inconvenient times in public places. Please be anatomically correct and as polite as possible.

Just one aside: potty training increases your children’s vocabulary in interesting ways. If you don’t want to be called a “poo-poo head” for the next year, don’t laugh when they say it the first time. Don’t look shocked, either—they love that.

Second thing to do: buy the potty. They come as either self-contained units or as attachments to the grown-up potty. Choose which style you want, and make sure it is sturdy and their feet have somewhere secure to set down. Then let the child choose the specific model.  We’re looking for pride of ownership here. This is his or her pottyThey can even decorate it.

Schedule some time for them to sit on it just for fun, as often as every quarter hour. Let them sit on it when you model how you use your potty, if you chose the self-contained style. Sitting on it should be fun for them; have special potty toys and books in the vicinity.

When you want them to use it for its designed purpose, put them on it at least every two hours. More often is fine, but don’t stress them out. Remember that the goal is fun, not anxiety. Put them on the potty after meals (we all poop after we eat), when they first wake, before naps, and at bedtime. Put them on the potty quickly when they show signs of needing to go. You know the signs: the pee-pee dance, hands on the groin, grimacing, sometimes a red face. Go sit them on the potty and read that special potty-only book. If you can go too, it will help. Lead by example, as always.

If it works, celebrate! Jump up and down; tell them they’re wonderful. Note that they must feel better now that they’ve urinated or pooped, and isn’t it great that they’re not wet? Aren’t they so much more comfortable? Let them call relatives and friends to tell them the news. Make sure they know that they should be very proud of themselves.

When they consistently use the potty, you can trade in the diapers for training pants. Big kid underwear! Another celebration! I knew one little girl whom I swore only trained because she didn’t want to pee on the mermaid on her undies.

Ahh ahh ahh, ahh ahh ahh… ohhh nooo. Poor Ariel.

What to do if things don’t go as planned and problems occur? Come back next week, of course!

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Nutrition Facts: What to Grow in Your Kid’s Garden

girl with plantIn Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” Plans and projects keep children out of trouble–or at least involve them in safer, more manageable trouble.

What could be better than digging in the dirt and playing in a spray of water on a hot summer day? What more creative than an adventure in the wilds of your back yard? Add in sunshine, fresh air and exercise, and planting a garden becomes the springtime activity of choice.

One of the best ways to coax kids into eating what is good for them is to involve them in its preparation. They are far more likely to eat the lunch they prepared with their own two hands than one you slaved over. If they help you peel and cut up carrots for dinner they will try them, and brag about their contribution while chewing.

Extend this a bit and you reap the miracle of children eating their vegetables because they grew them in their very own garden. They planted the seeds, watched over them, watered them, and cared for them. They will proudly eat the fruits of their labor and proclaim their tastiness.

Children need a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function and grow, and the best place to get those nutrients, along with carbs for energy and fiber for bowel function, is in fruits and vegetables. Some, like beans and peas, are even excellent sources of protein. Many of them can be grown in small plots or in containers on a porch.

Carrots can be grown easily from seeds bought in your local garden store, and are very high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with eyesight–especially night vision–which is why your mom always told you to eat lots. Watermelon, peas, peppers, beans, and tomatoes also have bunches of Vitamin A.

Tomatoes, peppers, and beans are high in B complex vitamins. B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and folic acid are tiny machines that allow your body to function. They help with everything from making blood cells, to generating energy from carbohydrates, to scavenging free radicles and protecting you from cancer.

Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in Vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis and wound healing and is an effective antioxidant. Without Vitamin C, people get scurvy.

Minerals are also easily come by on the plant side of your plate.

Calcium to build strong bones can be found in beans.

Potatoes, beans, corn, and mushrooms are high in iron, which helps carry oxygen around your body.

Potassium, necessary for muscle contraction and to maintain your heart rhythm, is present in potatoes, berries, peas, beans, and peppers.

Essential minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc are all available in fruits and vegetables.

I’ve never seen a child turn down a pea fresh from the pod, or a strawberry plucked from the plant. Find a plant catalogue, pour through it with your child, pay attention to what will grow in your area and how much room the plants need to grow, and choose. Consider what you have room for: will these be container plants on the porch, or can you spare a patch of yard? Do you have space for a tree, or are we looking at a mushroom kit in the closet?

Some of my favorite kid friendly plants are peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and the ever popular carrot. Melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers are great if you have a little more room. Berries come in all sizes, from tiny strawberry plants fit for containers with pockets down the side, to raspberry vines best grown on trellises, to fat thorny blackberry bushes. Tires can be stacked up and filled with dirt in a tower as potato plants grow, then harvested by taking off one tire at a time.

Growing a few plants allows you to spend time with your children, get some exercise, and build some vitamin D of your own from all that sunshine. Have a conversation about science and nutrition while you are digging in the dirt. Money can be earned and financial lessons taught by naming the watering and weeding of those plants “chores.” Other lessons can be taught without any conversation: responsibility for life, the fruitfulness of hard work, and pride of accomplishment. Don’t miss this opportunity for spring plans and projects!

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What’s the Deal with Gender?

Last week’s blog, The X’s and Y’s of Sex, was about chromosomes and the physical aspects of sexual identity. This week is all about gender identity.

girl-playing-doc-01Gender

Webster’s Dictionary defines gender as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”

Note the total lack of chromosome analysis or exacting descriptions of genitalia? That is because gender identity is not the same as sex; it is a collection of traits typically associated with one sex or another in whatever culture you belong. Pleated skirts? Scottish men in the 1600s. High heels? Frenchmen in the time of Louis XIV. Guyliner? Egyptian men did it first. Women in pants? Heavens, no … not before Katherine Hepburn.

Gender identity is not wired to your reproductive system and it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation; it is in your mind and soul. We don’t understand the biology of gender identification any more than the Romans understood chromosomes. That does not make it less real.

Children start identifying with their own gender by one year of age; by two years, they recognize physical differences. By three, your pediatrician will get a decisive answer to “Are you a boy or a girl?” The label is firmly attached.

After three, children gravitate toward whatever activities their society attaches to their gender. If they were a male born in the time of Louis XIV, this would mean wearing a wig and high heels; now it means appreciating cars and playing sports. It is not any specifc activity; it is what society dictates.

Children in their middle years will gravitate toward their own sex. They play the games the other boys or girls play, develop the physical mannerisms typical of their sex, and role-play behavior specific to their sex. They conform. When they conform, they feel comfortable, safe, and self-confident.

Gender Identity

For some kids, conforming isn’t easy. They know early on that they belong in the opposite sex. They choose the opposite sex as their peer group and role-play the opposite roles. They cannot accept their biological sex.

Counseling can help these kids deal, but in no way does it change their gender identity.

This is not the girl who is a “tomboy” or the boy who has some feminine traits. This is the person who in his mind is a boy stuck in the body of a girl, or the opposite. People with gender “confusion” can be miserable every day of their lives. Their whole lives are lies, down to their most basic identity.

Lately we have chosen to make this worse by making it a political and religious issue, I assume so we who are not transexual can feel superior and have the fun of judging and condemning other people. (No, there is not one mention of it in the Bible, so don’t go there.)

Why don’t we practice a little empathy instead? We are each of us not perfect, and we all want the same things in life: air to breathe, shelter, love…

If we have a need to hate and condemn, the problem is in our own minds, not in a stranger’s behavior.

So we’ve talked about the X’s and Y’s and gender; next week is all about sexual orientation.

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The X’s and Y’s of Sex: What Makes a Boy or a Girl

Infant feet-01Remember high school biology? You were taught that humans had forty-six chromosomes. There were two each of twenty-two pairs, and then there were your sex chromosomes, the Xs and Ys. If you had two X chromosomes (XX), you were a girl. An X and a Y (XY) made you a boy.

It’s not actually that simple. That is the most common arrangement, but there are many variations. When you have a variation on any other chromosome, it causes physical issues that are unfortunate and sometimes deadly. If you have three number twenty-one chromosomes you have Down’s syndrome, and your life will be different.

We don’t ever blame the child, right? Nobody asked them if they wanted the usual forty-six chromosomes or if they would mind having an extra. It’s not their fault.

When the extra or missing chromosomes are the Xs or Ys, suddenly we involve social judgment and religion. Why? I can only assume that we are all so uncomfortable with sexuality that we would rather judge than understand.

You’re reading the wrong blog if you wanted to get away with that.

Variations

One in 840 male births are an XYY. We used to think that this made the men more violent because the tests were all done on men in prisons. Once we started testing men who were not in prison, it turned out that there weren’t actually many differences. Most are completely normal. There is a mild tendency toward tallness, poor fine motor control, weakness, and some speech and language issues. Most of these guys never know they aren’t the typical XY.

One in 500 males have XXY, or Klinefelter’s disease. These kids do have some physical issues, such as a tendency toward long limbs, smaller genitals, and slightly less intelligence than they would have had without that extra chromosome.

When you get into larger numbers of chromosomes, you see more problems. XXYY and XXXY kids tend to need testosterone replacement. XXXY and XXXXY kids tend to be short with small genitals, mental defciency, and elbow issues.

Without any Y chromosome, we get girl babies. XXX girls are usually tall and sometimes uncoordinated. Rather like the XYY males, most won’t ever know they have it. Girls with as many as five X chromosomes have been found. The more X chromosomes they have, the more problems: they tend to become shorter, with mental defciency and behavior issues.

About one in 2,000 live births are XO girls who are missing one X or Y chromosome. They have Turner’s syndrome. They have lymphedema (fluid swelling under the skin) before they are born and frequently have extra skin at the neck. They tend to be short, with wide chests and gonadal dysgenesis (sex organs that do not develop normally).

To add to all these variants, we have mosaics: two fertilized eggs fuse so that the resultant person has half a body with the typical XX or XY and half a body with a variation.

Variations with the Usual Chromosome Count

There are also variations that occur with the typical complement of chromosomes.

Girls with testicular feminization have 46XY. Their chromosomes say “boy,” but their bodies are insensitive to testosterone. They grow up as girls and don’t realize there is a problem until adolescence, when fertility issues arise.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) will give you a baby that has been virilized. On a girl, the clitoris will be enlarged, and the labia can become fused. It is difficult to tell when the baby is born if it is a boy or a girl until the chromosomes come back. Since the first question everyone asks is “Is it a boy or a girl?” this can be very traumatic to the families involved.

Adrenocortical tumors can also be virilizing, giving the child more masculine traits than they otherwise would have had.

Enough? There are many more. Biology is not as simple as they taught you in grade school, and throwing judgment and religion at it does not change it or help in any way. Ignorance is ugly.

The gender issues and sexual orientation parts of this blog got really long, so…

Come back next week please!

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