Danger Little Stranger

 

Last week I presented a lightly “humorous” take on the products that babies and toddlers absolutely need (spoiler: not really many of them).  This week it’s serious. If quoting Iggy Pop lyrics doesn’t raise alarms for you, I don’t know what to do. So I’ll just tell you.

I wanted to follow up with a survey of products for infants and small children that are not only unnecessary, but downright dangerous.

Before we get into it, I just want to admit that researching this topic online was both disturbing and highly entertaining. If you would like to know about some of the specific products considered too ludicrously deadly to exist, help yourself. I won’t be mentioning them.

Having made a tally of the toys and accessories for babies that have drawn the most ire from pediatricians and safety experts, I give you the following:

Things in cribs. Really, there shouldn’t be anything in there with them. No pillows, nor blankets, nor Grandma’s handmade quilt. No plush toys, no soft bumper pads. All of these things can asphyxiate or strangle.

Also, any vintage cribs. The slats are too far apart. As someone who once watched a toddler (not my own) get his head stuck in a dollhouse, you can imagine the concern with this.

Magnets. Because they stick together. If they can be swallowed…again, use your imagination.

Anything with small parts or pieces that can be removed or broken. This is where the minimum age labels come in handy. Look, we all love Legos, even after we step on them with bare feet. But if anyone in the house is still inclined to stick things in their mouth (aka the toddler research lab), please save them for later.

Walkers. These things a.) don’t help babies develop walking muscles sooner; in fact, they’ve been found to do the opposite, and b.) have a tendency to go down stairs and/or trap children under or against other dangerous things (hot stoves, wolves). Canada banned them 14 years ago, and we know Canada is smart. And good looking.

Bumbo seats. I have a personal vendetta against these multiply-recalled baby tippers. Putting a belt on it isn’t going to make it any safer if they fall off a table or simply tumble over backward, pinning babies underneath.

Really, if you feel the urge to just pick up a baby and carry it around, sniffing its head, that’s probably the way to go. Trust your instincts.

 

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What Do Babies Need?

I.  What is the most crucial accessory for an infant less than one year?

a.) a swing.

b.) a jumper.

c.) Baby Einstein.

d.) Baby Hawking.

e.) none of the above.

 

II. Which of the following are absolutely essential for stimulating physical and motor development?

a.) gym and play mat.

b.) gym and play mat that plays music.

c.) gym and play mat that plays music and transmits pattern recognition scores directly to baby’s projected future school district office.

d.) one of them I made up. The first one? I don’t remember.

 

III. What is the best and most reliable way to handle a toddler who says “no?”

a.) no.

b.) No!

c.) Noo no no no no NO.

d.) NOOOOOOOOOOOO.

 

IV. How often is too often to hold an infant without spoiling it?

a.) 10 minutes for every hour until 8 months.

b.) After lunch.

c.) Seasonally.

d.) You see where I’m going with this post, don’t you?

 

V. It is amazing that we survived for so long as a species without:

a.) The teether-rattler combo.

b.) This blog.

c.) Baby wipes.

d.) Actually, it’s baby wipes.

e.) I’m not joking.

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Some Class

 

What’s that old joke that isn’t as funny as we think it is? About how kids don’t come with a manual? (Also, why are there always a couple of extra grommets? Was it just me?)

A corollary to that joke is a serious question: if there were classes on how to be a parent, would you take them?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re already a parent and you don’t need no outside learnin’. Life is the best teacher. Your child is the best teacher. You are the expert on your kids.

All of those things are true. And that’s exactly why you should consider taking a class.

In a plug of epic shamelessness, I would like to recommend the Nurturing Parenting classes offered at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Starting this week, they are offering three separate classes.

On Wednesday:

  • is the general Nurturing Parenting class. It is for moms, dads, grandparents, and caretakers of all stripes (even with stripes!).

Thursdays feature two classes:

  • Nurturing Fathers, for dads and male caretakers only and co-facilitated by yours truly, and the
  • Nurturing Parenting class for parents in Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery.

All three classes are FREE, and offer childcare, dinner and bus and transportation assistance.

All three classes focus on doing the work on ourselves that help us to help our kids–nurturing ourselves and each other so that we can nurture them.

To enroll in a class, simply call Family Tree at 541-967-6580.

Hope to see you there!

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(Small) People Who Need People

How do we know, beyond a doubt, that humans are social animals?

1.) Archaeological evidence of milkshakes with two straws.

2.) Can’t read anything without sharing it on Facebook.

3.) Babies have “critical windows” for development during which parts of the brain need to be stimulated through interaction with others.

The first two are self-evident, but the third answer I  learned from our Nurturing Parenting class. What does it mean, though?

As I understand it (and keep in mind that I’m not an expert, but I play one on this blog), infant’s brains have an optimal period–anywhere between 6 months, in the case of vision, and four years, for logic and math skills–in which to make crucial connections that will carry them through the rest of their lives.

That’s one of those double-edged sword things. Clearly the stakes are pretty high, as children that don’t get what they need in the first few years–affection, interaction, a sense of stability and safety, opportunities to move and learn–will not have the skills they need to function as adults. That’s a bit scary.

To be clear, just because those connections aren’t formed in the brain during those critical windows doesn’t mean that it’s too late. What it does mean is that it will take a lot of work. And probably long-term (as in lifelong) support. See what I mean about being dependent on others? There’s just no way around it.

But this presents a great opportunity. Parents have a vision of the sort of people their children will be as adults (even if that vision is not always articulated, or even consciously crafted). Most often what we come up with is that we want our adult kids to be confident, capable, creative and well-rounded.

Those attributes don’t have to be shaped in school, or daycare, or summer camp, or anywhere outside the family. If we give them what they need when they need it (we’re talking birth to age four), they’ll be good to go.

The rest is just writing checks.

 

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Parenting Made Easy

Why, hello! I wanted to take the opportunity this week to share one of the most valuable resources out there for families in the Valley. The wonderful Community Services Consortium has put together a handbook of information on services for folks in Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties, and it has been my secret weapon in working with local families.

I don’t know who did all the work to put this thing together, but I would like to thank her/him/them for making my job so much easier. The handbook covers resources like housing, financial assistance, medical and dental, parenting education, pre- and postnatal services, clothing and food boxes, childcare, and just about anything else you can think of.

So, print it out and staple it, keep it on your phone, share it with friends. It’s too good to keep secret.

Now what are you waiting for? Go out there and keep on parenting!

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A House Full of Music

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We listen to a lot of music in our family. Thanks to our Spotify playlists, we have suitable music for mealtime (The Meatball Monday mix, which is heavy on Sinatra; the Sushi Night collection with its Japanese flute), for chores (mostly folk songs about doing things), and for transitioning into rest time (various ambient and nature sounds). And they each have their favorites, from the eight year-old knowing the lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to the ten year-old’s devotion to Enya.

As much as I love a huge swath of genres, periods and styles, I try to be careful what I play around my small children. So as much as I would like them to appreciate Iron Maiden as much as I do—songs about history and literature!—I just don’t think they’re ready for it yet. I have many friends with a different approach: they are reassured, they tell me, by their kids finding the same things cool that they do. I disagree, preferring them to figure these things out for themselves (for the same reason, they have not yet seen a Star Wars film). As far as I remember, though, all four children were born to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis in the background. Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi visit just about every morning. And barely a week has gone by in our house without Bob Marley.

So as eager as I am for my kids to partake of the full breadth and depth of recorded music, and introduce them to free jazz, minimal techno and Viking war metal, I don’t think there’s any way to force it. Kids respond to what they will, and this is often based on age and development. At what age did you discover the Beatles and wonder where they’ve been all your life? And what seven year-old boy’s day would not be absolutely made by the one-two punch of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions?” We recently played Toto’s “Africa,” my favorite childhood song by a fair distance, and my ten year-old latched right onto it.

That’s not to say that current pop music does not infiltrate our fortress of parenting. I am an active champion of Taylor Swift, but for whatever reason she has not caught on with the children. They were baffled by Daft Punk: “Why would you stay up all night to get lucky? That doesn’t sound like fun.” But the recent heat wave has cemented “Uptown Funk” as a referent. Daughter: “I’m so hot!” Parent: “Make a dragon want to retire?”

Once we hit the teen years, music tends to hit us hard (and as Bob Marley sang, “when it hits you, you feel no pain”). At that time I intend to start the mixtapes flowing. And then the indoctrination will begin.

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Three Principles for Fatherhood

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Howdy! My name is Rob, and I will be blogging for the Parenting Success Network. I’m happy to be here and I hope that you will find my posts useful.

I am father to four daughters, and one thing that is often pointed out about me is that I am male. In my other job I work with children and families at a Relief Nursery. This is maybe more unusual than it should be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 less than 6% of people who work in childcare were men; in Preschool and Kindergarten, it was less than 2%. There are a number of reasons for this, and this is not the time to go into them. But I find it disheartening, given that around 100% of fathers are men, and they have real work to do.

I wanted to start with a couple of principles to which I subscribe in my role as a father. I didn’t make them up, and I can’t say that I stick to them with anything like total compliance (we all have days, right?). But I think they’re important and worth discussing.

  1. Be on the same page with your wife or partner.

This may take some explaining. My wife and I decided, while the first one was on the way, that it was absolutely essential we were both on board with the hows, whens and whys of raising our children. Having had no experience as a parent, or really being around kids at that point, I took it as a given. Anyway, she seemed to know what she was talking about. It turned out to be one of the most important decisions we have made as parents.

On what did we need to agree? It started before the birth, as we were lucky enough to be able to choose a natural birth with few complications. She wanted to stay at home, at least for the time being, so this required my cooperation (to say the least). I signed on to such practices as breastfeeding and co-sleeping with at least a partial understanding of the work this would entail. And later, the importance of consistent routines such as mealtimes and bedtimes. Later still, decisions about potty training, discipline, and education were made with mutual and conscious deliberation. This is not to say that what we had decided to do always worked, and that we didn’t have to go back to the drawing board again and again. The point is, fathers need to know what the plan is, and what it entails, in order to provide the support that the mother and the children need. We are a team, after all.

  1. Share the duties.

I can’t stress this enough. Fortunately, I have the research to back me up. A recent study found that, when men take part in housework and chores, it has a clear and positive effect on the child—specifically, that “when fathers take an active role in household work, their daughters are more inclined toward picturing themselves in leadership and management roles in potential jobs, as opposed to stereotypically feminine careers.” I was okay with doing the dishes before, but knowing that it actually expands the horizons for my girls’ future lives takes the edge off.

  1. Be present for the kids.

What does present mean? A colleague once shocked me by telling me that my kids were so lucky to have a father like me because, she went on, I was there. Like, physically there in the house. That’s present. Go me. But as I am reminded more often than I’d like, just being there leaves room for improvement. Am I distracted by work? Am I focused on getting the beds made and pajamas laid out for the night? Am I thinking about the episode of The Sopranos I’m going to watch on my phone later? Am I conscious of the fact that, though I just worked an eight hour day, my wife’s job runs to 24, with no overtime?

Kids need time with their father. They need him to ask about their day, to look at their drawings, to listen to what the warrior princesses were doing outside under the picnic table, and how the tea party went. They need him to be patient with bedtimes and give the extra hug, tell the extra story, and know that Tony Soprano will still be up to his shenanigans later. That’s presence. And it’s hard.

Those are my big three, but there are all that and more to be found here.

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School Success Starts Early

“How do children become ready for school? It starts at birth, with the support of parents and caregivers, when young children acquire the social and emotional skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school and in life.”

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So how can parents and caregivers help set children up for school success? The latest Ready to Learn post on the website, ZeroToThree.org does an excellent job outlining the following 5 basic themes for supporting school readiness:

  1. its all about relationships
  2. everyday experiences shape early learning
  3. emotions
  4. the importance of play
  5. what a school-ready child looks like

Check out the link to ZeroToThree.org for more details about ways to support your child’s school readiness from the first days of life.

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Use Your Words…

Language development is one of the most amazing capacities of the young mind. Researchers have studied the brain during this phase and continue to uncover new and exciting things about how language is acquired and developed. Did you know:

  • Around 18 months, many children can say about 50 words. At this age, most children also begin using new words after hearing them only once.
  • Whether children learn words in a rush or more slowly, by the time they reach their second birthday, they’re typically using between 250-350 words.
  • Only six months later, the word total nearly doubles to about 600 words.

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I was amazed every time I watched my own children go from wordless to nonstop talking in a matter of months.  And the best part of language development for me, besides the fact that I had yet another conversation partner, was that it took a lot of the guesswork out of parenting. My children could finally express their wants, needs, and feelings (for the most part). This is known as expressive language. Expressive language is defined as the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings. It is a powerful communication tool and there are things parents can do to encourage their child’s development of expressive language. The latest newsletter from LBCC’s Healthy Families & Healthy Start Early Literacy Program is a great resource for tips and activities that will build expressive language in young children. The newsletter is written in three parts that correspond to various age ranges of language development (babies, 2-3 year-olds, and 4-5 year-olds) and gives expectations and ideas for each. Check out the newsletter and remember that the best thing parents can do to encourage language development is use your words.

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Making the Most of Mealtime

iStock_000013096434XSmallThere is much more to eating with our children than meets the eye. Eating with your child is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship as well as set the foundation for lifelong good eating habits. There are basic things that parents can do to  make the most of mealtime with their child starting from birth. The tip sheet titled: Healthy From the Start, brought to you by zerotothree.org, provides explanations of the following 7 tips to guide parents as they work to make the most of mealtime with their little ones.

  1. Remember: Meals are about more than food.
  2. Create routines around mealtime.
  3. Offer 3 or 4 healthy food choices (that your child likes) at each meal.
  4. Don’t force your baby or toddler to eat.
  5. Don’t give up on new foods.
  6. Turn off the TV (and computers etc.) at mealtimes.
  7. Healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand.
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