Monday, November 29, 2010

Childhood Distraction and Development -- Can I Borrow Some as An Adult?

"Being a dad" and "having a job" are two concepts that have been socially intertwined for quite a long time, perhaps dating back to the Adam. Those men who have taken on the role of a "dad" but struggle holding the title of employee are often the subject of scorn and ridicule. Unfortunately, the current economy is not conducive to gainful employment for many men in the workforce. On the other side of the coin, there are families that choose to have the father stay at home with the kids and allow mom to go back to work. This would certainly make financial sense if mom is a doctor or lawyer and dad is a teacher, but most people who look on the situation do not immediately know the inner financial workings of such a family and pass undeserved judgement on a man who prefers the company of his children.

The relationships a man has with his work and his family these days are me, anyway. A typical commute could be 30-45 minutes. A typical work day could be 8-10 hours. In our family's case, I see our kids from about 4:30 (assuming I left the office on time and Chanel didn't take them out and are returning later) to when they go to bed at 7ish. Amazingly, our children are able to develop a relationship with me in at most two and a half hours, which includes both dinner and bath starting about 5:30-6.

With just one hour a day for playing with them, smiling at them, tickling them, running, jumping, spinning with them, laughing, talking, singing with them, the time is precious, to say the least. Yes, there is the weekend, and our oldest has already demonstrated his ability to look forward to it to have more time with Daddy, but it is so intermittent.

Thus, when a child is having a bad day, it becomes so frustrating to know that some of this precious time is wasted and by someone who clearly enjoys it but doesn't understand how it is being wasted. Improvisation is key when you encounter this sort of problem, as I (rather proudly) demonstrated earlier tonight. Our oldest and I were going to walk out to the Blue Box and mail a stack of Christmas cards. The temperature out was, oh, maybe 40- or 50-something and we definitely needed coats. Trouble is, he doesn't like putting it on. He's fine wearing it once it is on, but having to put it on is a source of grief.

He ran from me when he saw the coat. Our house's circular floor plan had him coming back around, though, so I waited for him. He fought a good fight and put up some formidable toddlerish resistance, but when I saw that he was holding a small Lightning McQueen from Cars, "Put Lightning down the tunnel!" It became a game and he didn't even fight when I put the coat on backwards and we had to redo the whole thing.

As I said before at the end of a Pop-Psy post, kids are amazingly resilient, adaptive, and able to comprehend complex concepts before they can verbalize their understanding. They'll do just about anything you ask if they think it's going to be fun; Tom Sawyer should have taught us all this before. Now, until I hit the lottery or develop my home business sufficiently, the trick is going to be making leaving for work tomorrow morning a game and convincing myself it's going to be fun.

Cry it out? No way.

Because my sister is seven months pregnant and I have a four month old, the topic of babies comes up quite frequently during family gatherings. Thanksgiving weekend was no exception. For some reason, my sister asked my mother if she ever let us cry ourselves to sleep when we were babies. My mother promptly answered, "Of course not! Whenever you cried, I comforted you. You actually think I would've just let you cry?" My other sister challenged my mother, recalling an incident in which she remembered my mother forbidding her to go pick up our younger brother, who was crying hysterically in his crib at the time. She seemed to remember my mother saying something to the effect of "I don't want to reward him for crying. He needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping. " My pregnant sister nodded and told us she remembered the same scenario, adding that mother had been pretty adamant about not letting anyone interfere with our brother's ability to "self soothe."

My mom, understandably embarrassed, insisted that she never let any of us "cry it out." I think it's safe to say that after hearing my sisters elaborate on their memories, my mother had simply fallen prey to what has become an unfortunate norm for parents today. She felt she had no other option. I only wish she'd been able to read an article I stumbled upon right before I gave birth to my oldest son. This article (along with many afterward), helped to solidify my decision to never allow my babies to cry it out. No matter what.

Here is an exerpt from what I read:

We live in an age where we can know that the baby is safe in another room, despite the loudness of his cries. Does this mean we should leave babies to cry on their own? Cry It Out (CIO) proponents often advise that babies left to cry will eventually stop, and the duration of future crying bouts will decrease. What are the emotional consequences of crying for the infant when she is left unattended? John Bowlby and colleagues initiated a series of studies where children between the ages of one and two who had good relationships with their mothers were separated from them and left to cry it out. Results showed a predictable sequence of behaviours: The first phase, labeled “protest”, consists of loud crying and extreme restlessness. The second phase, labeled “despair”, consists of monotonous crying, inactivity, and steady withdrawal. The third phase, labeled “detachment”, consists of a renewed interest in surroundings, albeit a remote, distant kind of interest. Thus, it appears that while leaving babies to cry it out can lead to the eventual dissipation of those cries, it also appears that this occurs due to the gradual development of apathy in the child. The child stops crying because she learns that she can no longer hope for the caregiver to provide comfort, not because her distress has been alleviated.

According to attachment theory, many babies are born without the ability to self-regulate emotions. That is, they find the world to be confusing and disorganized, but do not have the coping abilities required to soothe themselves. Thus, during times of distress, they seek out their caregivers because the physical closeness of the caregiver helps to soothe the infant and to re-establish equilibrium. When the caregiver is consistently responsive and sensitive, the child gradually learns and believes that she is worthy of love, and that other people can be trusted to provide it. She learns that the caregiver is a secure base from which she can explore the world, and if she encounters adversity she can return to her base for support and comfort. This trust in the caregiver results in what is known as a secure individual.

It has been suggested in the past that CIO is healthy for infants’ physical development, particularly the lungs. A recent study looking at the immediate and long-term physiologic consequences of infant crying suggests otherwise. The following changes due to infant crying have been documented: increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced oxygen level, elevated cerebral blood pressure, depleted energy reserves and oxygen, interrupted mother-infant interaction, brain injury, and cardiac dysfunction. *
That last sentence was heart-wrenching to me. We create those symptoms in our own babies??? And why? Because their crying is inconvenient to us? Because people tell us our babies should be sleeping through the night by the time they are three months old? Nonsense. Neither of my boys got that memo and I'd have it no other way.
Instead of letting our children cry it out, my husband and I decided early on that we were going to comfort them and work hard to instill in them a sense of confidence and self-worth because they knew they were loved. Our oldest is two and a half years old and sleeps from 7 PM until 7 AM without interruption. He does not fight bedtime. In fact, it is because he sleeps so well that my husband and I are able to maintain this blog; we have several hours to ourselves each evening because we are not involved in a war to try to get our toddler to sleep. Our secret? When our son was a baby and cried at night, we fed him, rocked him, hugged him, rubbed his back, and comforted him in any way we knew how. We never left him to fend for himself as a helpless infant. He grew to know that bedtime was not something to fear because if he needed us, we were there for him. We hoped that the hard work we put in that first year would pay off in the end and you know what? It has made all the difference. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reading To Your Children - Why You Shouldn't Forget To

Parents tend to have a lot on their minds, and it usually has something to do with the kids. We as parents need to ensure, at a minimum, that our children are secure, healthy, and also loved.    In the modern age and in a stressful society, we regularly commit such a great deal of precious time providing for these basic concerns that we tend to overlook another essential area: intellectual development. As a parent, you must engage your youngsters' minds in addition to their health to ensure that they grow and learn. Jacqueline Kennedy-Onasis once said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." Raising children to be productive members of society is only the start of parenthood; these productive members should also be able to learn and think for themselves. The most effective approach to accomplish this objective is through reading to them.

Plenty of reasons exist why you should read with your kids. For anyone who is currently reading with their children on a regular basis the following reasons should certainly reinforce their resolve. If you are not yet frequently reading to your children, I challenge you to start:

  1. A thoughtfully chosen story can engage and challenge a child's intellect. Through books, your little one will not simply re-live activities in their everyday life but will also discover and encounter societies and activities--even entire worlds--wildly different from their real-world experiences.
  2. Reading aloud shows what good reading actually sounds like and offers a target for your children's own reading efforts. While your children are learning to enjoy a book, they need role models to go by. Won't you be one?
  3. Reading many different kinds of books enhances your children's understanding of language which includes terminology, syntax, and pronunciation--things no one thinks about using but must know in order to communicate. The more terms and expressions your children know, the more experience and knowledge they'll have to draw on while learning how to read more complex works and the simpler it will be for them to master higher skills.
  4. Reading along with your children aids them with associating printed words and their meanings. Children learn how to read most words merely as a result of recurring exposure. It's not at all sufficient to only supply words and phrases; preferably, the words also need to be put into context.
  5. Reading shows exactly how a book works. For example, we read a book from the front cover to the back cover and each page from top to bottom, and each line from left to right. Those having substantial experience with books tend to take this information as a given; however, small children must learn these basic rules.
  6. A well-written narrative fuels your children's creativity and imagination which supports the fostering of their imaginative efforts and play. How can a child imagine himself king without first knowing the life of a king from a story? How can a little girl pretend she's a fairy without first being exposed to fairy-dom in a book? Sure, there are movies and shows, but that is spoon feeding compared to the self-prepared meal that a book provides.
  7. Reading many different stories allows children to understand how story construction and narrative work, which supports literacy in addition to interpersonal relationships. We utilize storytelling and narrative in our professional and private relationships and those who possess a good understanding of narrative technique, in many cases, are among the most successful in these areas. Provide your children an advantage in the workplace.
  8. Establishing reading and writing as a priority in your daily life demonstrates the significance to your children so that they can make it important in theirs. If your children do not ever see you read, then exactly why should they believe it is important?
  9. Reading to your children additionally provides physical touch since your children either sit in your lap or perhaps cuddle alongside you. It offers yet another chance to reinforce the connection you have to your children.
  10. Hearing a person's voice is often very comforting, particularly when it's the voice of a family member. It helps reduce anxiety levels and provide a soothing effect. Children encounter quite a few challenges throughout the day just like us grown-ups. You will probably find making the effort to read to your children don't just decrease their stress level but your own, too.

You need to establish reading to your children as an important part of your normal day-to-day routine and also incorporate spontaneous opportunities as well. Not only can these instances of reading to your children bring you closer to them emotionally, but they will also supply long lasting memories. Not to mention that by reading to your children you are also supplying them with certain advantages in their ability to learn and grow intellectually which will influence the direction of their whole life.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

*Real* Advice for the New Mom

I'm sure all of the mothers reading this can attest to the fact that when you become a new mom, you quickly become bombarded with stories, advice, old wives' tales, and other pearls of wisdom from everyone under the sun. You don't even have to ask most of the time; other mothers, fathers, and people who don't even have kids seem to fill your head with ideas of what you must start doing immediately if you want to have a chance at successfully raising a baby. After all, it worked for them, right? Questionable, considering the offspring of some of the people whom you encounter. ;) I, unfortunately, was not exempt from this new mother phenomenon.

Perhaps new moms would be able to better handle all of the unsoliticted advice (whoops, did I just write that?) if we were sleeping properly, eating well, and able to get a break every now and then. Somehow, despite my state of perpetual delirium after giving birth to my oldest son, I managed to write down some pieces of advice that were actually meaningful and/or useful. Most of them were from my own mother. I will always be grateful to my mom for not only sharing such helpful information with me but also for convincing me to write it down. Otherwise I most certainly would not have remembered a darn thing. As it is, looking back on the year 2008, the months of April, May, and June remain a complete blur in my mind.

So, here are some true pearls of wisdom that I have used after having both of my children. Feel free to pass them along to other new moms struggling to come up for air after having their first baby. We all know that the word "difficult" doesn't even begin to do it justice...

1. There is nothing more important than sleep. Get it whenever you can and as much as you can. It doesn't matter that the dishes are piling up, the trash smells, or your husband has to wear the same pants to work two days in a row. You just had a baby for crying out loud! Life has just taken a 180 degree turn and there's no going back. Routines will become established and a new pattern for you and your family will emerge- in time. For now, you need sleep (whenever, however, and wherever) so that you can be the best mother you can be to that precious angel.

2. Although there is no roadmap when it comes to parenting, if you gut tells you it's wrong, listen. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. There is a lot to be said for the "mother's instinct."

3. When the baby is old enough, try to get him/her on a schedule that works for you and try your hardest to stick with it. Not only will it provide stability for the baby, but it will allow you to make plans (around naps and meals of course) and not feel like you're losing touch with the rest of the world. After all, constant chaos and never knowing what comes next isn't healthy for anyone.

4. Be on the same page as your spouse when it comes to practices like co-sleeping, breastfeeding, using a pacifier, wearing your baby, etc. These hot topics can create a lot of sparks in relationships and it's better to smooth everything out before the baby comes.

5. If you decide to co-sleep and breastfeed (both of which I highly recommend), learn to breastfeed lying down. It may take a few weeks to perfect this skill but once you've nailed it, you will be able to successfully nurse without fully waking up! When your baby cries for food, you literally roll over, feed, and go back to sleep. My youngest son is three months old and I can honestly tell you that most nights I don't know how many times he's up to eat because I never fully wake up. He just helps himself and we are both back to sleep before anyone can bat an eye.

6. Borrow (or buy) a video camera and take LOTS of videos! It doesn't matter if your baby is reaching a milestone for the first time or simply sitting there smiling and looking adorable. You will want to watch these videos later- trust me. Your baby is making memories that you will cherish forever and what better way to do so than video.

7. Try to get your baby used to riding in the car as early as possible. Take him/her with you when you run errands even though it would be easier and faster to go alone. These days it's impossible to avoid being in the car and the earlier your baby learns to tolerate or even like riding, the better off the whole family is...especially when it comes to long trips.

8. Try to carve out a few minutes each week to update your baby book. Adding pictures, holiday cards, or other sentimental items will personalize the book even more. I have baby books for both of my sons and I intend on giving the books to them when they're old enough to appreciate them. A lot of time, energy, and love goes into keeping up with a baby book so you want to make sure the time is right when you give it away.

9. Force yourself to get up, showered, dressed, and out of the house as often as you can manage. Look online for local "Mommy and Me" groups and attend. Libraries and hospitals often have meetings for new parents and it makes all the difference to be able to talk to others who are going through the same trials and tribulations as you. I remember joining a La Leche League group that met every Wednesday at 9 AM and even though it was hard getting us both up and out that early, I felt like a new person when I returned from the meeting. Every mom knows that these kinds of meetings and playgroups are often more beneficial for the parents than the children!

10. Don't second-guess yourself when it comes to your baby. You know your baby best. Others may have the best intentions but no one, not your doctor, your mother, your mother-in-law, your best friend, your sister, you neighbor, or your hairdresser (if you even see her anymore) knows exactly what your baby needs better than you. Only YOU have the power to fullfill his/her every need and that, my friends, is pretty damn incredible. :)