As a dad closely involved in raising our kids,
I am always looking for the best, most reasonable and simplest practices to keep our kids healthy and happy. I am wary of any received traditions that go against common sense, and I ask myself “How does this feel, does it ring true?” If I think I need to know more, I look for online information that seems reliable, but only so I can plan what to ask our pediatrician. Online information is only good for orienting yourself. If the matter is serious, or if you read two articles that contradict each other, you should certainly consult your pediatrician. The following are tips from various cultures I have come across that seem to embody the wisest approach to raising healthy and thriving children.
The practice of having a baby sleep in the same bed with its parents is still controversial. We sometimes hear that in the United States, it is frowned upon because the child could be harmed. But now it seems that the case is not quite so clear. New research has shown that in most cases, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the result of a baby's inability to arouse himself from sleep. Normally, when something occurs that threatens your baby's wellbeing, such as difficulty breathing, he will automatically wake up. For reasons that are still unknown, in some babies this protective mechanism does not function, and so these babies are more at risk for SIDS.
Doctor James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory and professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame has carried out studies of mothers and babies who are co-sleeping and night nursing. He has determined that these mothers and babies share similar patterns of sleep arousal, so that mothers sleeping next to their babies are more likely to sense subconsciously that their babies’ health is in danger and wake up. In many cultures and on every continent, co-sleeping is the norm until children are weaned, and some families continue this practice long after weaning. There are very few cultures in the world that would even find it acceptable or desirable to have babies sleeping alone, not to mention in a different room. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta collect data that provide information on all kinds of prenatal and well-baby stressors. From these data, it appears that 44% of US babies from 2-9 months old are co-sleeping in an adult bed at any given time. Of course, it is also possible to get similar benefits from using a bedside co-sleeper, a crib-like bed that attaches firmly to the mattress and keeps the baby in arm’s reach.
Clearly, a baby should not sleep in the same bed as its parents if one or both of them are sick or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Co-sleeping is as safe as the conditions under which it is practiced.
From an article by Dr. William Sears at www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-co-sleeping-a-sids-danger
Croup is caused by a virus that triggers swelling around the vocal cord, windpipe, and bronchial tubes, which can cause a barky, seal-like cough, a hoarse voice, and often a whistling sound as your child breathes in. Croup typically occurs in younger children. It is contagious and can be spread when your child coughs and breathes. The barky cough can be very frightening for parents who have never heard it before and even for those who have experienced it several times. Because the sound is so out of the ordinary, the first thought is that this might be a life-threatening condition -- but it's not.
Croup is usually worse at night and children who seemed well at bedtime can wake up suddenly with a barky cough and difficulty breathing. They often seem better during the day but then worsen again the next night. On rare occasions, the symptoms are severe enough that you need to take your child to the emergency room where the standard treatment is steroids to open up the airways. Remember, steroids are powerful drugs with sometimes unanticipated side effects.
However, a natural and traditional treatment used throughout the world is to expose the child alternately to steam and then to cold air. If your child wakes with a barky cough, first, try a steam shower. Bring the child into the bathroom, shut the door, turn on the hot water and let the room fill with steam. Sit with your child for 10-15 minutes while they breathe in the steam, being careful not to let them near the running hot water. This often helps to quiet the cough and noisy breathing associated with croup. Then bundle your child up warmly and take them out into the night, or sit by an open window -- the colder the better. This alternating of warm moisture and dry cold air has a dramatic effect and almost always does the trick of reducing inflammation in the throat and so relieving the barky cough. Croup is a ‘noisy’ condition, so you can check up on your child by always being within hearing range. Most importantly, if your child is upset, comfort him/her and speak calmly and in quiet tones. This is also an important part of reducing breathing problems.
In all of our travels from Europe to Asia to South America we've rarely seen children at home or in restaurants eating foods different from those their parents are eating. Picky eating, as far as we can tell, appears to be an American phenomenon and seems to be due to feeding kids 'kid-friendly' foods to which they become habituated. The problem is that these foods are often unhealthy alternatives, high in sugar, salt and empty calories that don't provide enough nutrition.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy eating habits can help children maintain a healthy weight, as well as reduce the risk in later life of such conditions as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, iron deficiency, dental cavities, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. They also report that the restaurant meals often served to kids contain too many calories and not enough nutrition. The typical “kid food” usually includes chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni and cheese, burgers, and pizza, with no vegetables of any kind. Kids can learn to eat real food! And it's easier if you start early by giving them no alternative and simply serving mashed or finely chopped up portions of what is being cooked for the whole family. A child will try a new food if she sees her parents eating it.
Quantity is also a problem. Most of us parents overestimate the amount of food children need. Therefore when a toddler takes two bites and pushes the plate away, we may feel defeated instead of realizing they have eaten enough. Parents then may be more likely to reach for those kid-friendly, addictive snacks (like crackers and gummy snacks) to fill their child’s belly. It should be no surprise that grazing-style eating, where hunger does not fully develop, leads to a poor appetite at mealtime.
Kids need real food to develop and thrive. They need fruits, vegetables and whole grains to provide the necessary vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) for optimal growth and development. Furthermore, an important part of a child’s development includes oral motor skills, those functions of the mouth (lips, tongue, teeth and palate) that allow for speech, safe feeding and swallowing. Many kid-friendly foods are soft and too easy to eat so that they don’t encourage development of those skills. (For more information on this topic, see sites like Developmental Stages in Infant and Toddler Feeding at www.infantandtoddlerforum.org )
Kids who are hesitant eaters may benefit from a few hidden vegetables as they gain confidence in food, but in general, parents should try to help kids learn to love healthy foods without hiding them. While hidden veggies may help nutritionally, the kids may not gain an understanding that vegetables can be delicious, so they may still try to avoid them when they are visible. Get kids loving their veggies by leading by example, preparing them together, growing a garden, and visiting a farmers’ market where they can pick out a couple of things to try. The more variety they are exposed to and realize that they enjoy, the better their eating habits will be.
4 BABY MASSAGE
Sneha. This ancient Sanskrit word can be translated two ways in the English language: it means both “oil” and “love”. This speaks volumes about the nourishing effect that oil massage has on our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Daily oil massage is a simple and loving gift you can give your child. Baby massage, an ancient Ayurvedic custom still practiced to this day in India, has been finding its way into households here in the West. Many Western parents are understanding that massage can set a foundation for your child’s lifelong health. From the western medical perspective: "When you give your baby a massage, you're actually stimulating her central nervous system," explains Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "That sets off a chain reaction: it makes her brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that's secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby's heart rate and breathing slow down, and she becomes more relaxed. “
Giving your infant regular massages is good for his emotional well-being too. "Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents, so they're great ways for you to bond," says K. Mark Sossin, PhD, director of the Parent-Infant Research Nursery at Pace University, in New York City. The payoff of baby massage trickles down to parents. "It's easy to feel helpless with a newborn, but giving him a gentle rubdown can help you feel more in control," explains Elaine Fogel Schneider, PhD, author of Massaging Your Baby: The Joy of Touch Time. "It will help you learn how to read your baby's signals and respond better to his unique needs."
In our family, massage is a nightly ritual, which we call ‘baby massage’ even though our kids are now 10 and 11. The term baby massage has stuck from when they were babies, and that’s just what it’s called! We find that it is easier to get the kids to go to bed when they’re looking forward to a nice massage and it does not take very much time or effort to get a child to sleep with a caress. Their bodies are now well-trained to relax and fall quickly into a sleep state with our touch. If you have any trouble getting your kids to sleep or want to preempt the bad habit of staying up too late, massage your children. If you just want the day to end and feel like you don’t have any more energy to give, you will find that in the long run, you get back more time and energy from this simple practice.
5 SNOT SUCKING
News Flash. Inuits (aka Eskimos) are known to suck the snot out of their baby's noses and spit it out. In fact, this is a common practice in many traditional cultures and after a brief web search it appears that this practice is not unknown in the United States. It makes some sense: you see your baby miserable or even having a hard time breathing or feeding and an immediate and direct impulse arises to remove the mucus. The standard bulb and battery-powered aspirators just don't work that well, so you figure, "Flesh of my flesh" I will put my mouth over the tiny nose and suck out the offending mucus. Disgusting, perhaps. But keep in mind that we daily create and ingest up to 8 ounces (one cup) of our own mucus daily - it just slides down the back of our throat so we never see it. While it is effective, it is not a healthy practice and there are better ways to do it. You don't have to be a medical professional to figure out that probably eating a sick person's snot is going to increase your odds of catching whatever it is they have. Except that you probably already have those germs anyway. Ah, parenthood! We recommend a self-suctioning type nasal aspirator, such as the BabyComfy Nose. This type of aspirator uses your own suction, so you get the advantage of that extra suction power without the danger of getting snot in the mouth.
6 BREAST FEEDING
In many ways, parenting newborns seems instinctual. We see a little baby, and we want to hold her. Snuggle and kiss her. Even just her smell seems magical. Many of us think breast-feeding is similar. . . just an instinct. "I had that idea before my first child was born," says Brooke Scelza, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles,. "I definitely thought, 'Oh, I'm going to figure that out. Like how hard can it be?" Although breast-feeding is easy for some women, for many new moms — including Scelza — it's a struggle. "I was shocked at how hard it was," she says.
In a survey conducted a few years ago, 92 percent of women questioned said they had problems in the first few days of breast-feeding. They couldn't get the baby to latch onto the nipple. They had pain. Sore nipples. And they were worried they weren't making enough milk. "This is just surprising because breast-feeding was a critical function for child survival in the past, and if you couldn't figure it out, your infant was going to be in really big trouble," says Scelza. It's almost as though in the U.S. we've lost the breast-feeding instinct: lactation consultants are a thing. Scelza wanted to figure out why.
To try to find out, she traveled to a place with some of the best breast-feeders in the world. In the desert of northern Namibia, there's an ethnic group called Himba that lives largely isolated from modern cities. Moms still give birth at home. And all moms breast-feed. "I have yet to encounter a woman there who could not breast-feed at all," Scelza says. And Himba women make breast-feeding look easy, Scelza says. They even do it while they're walking around.
A few years ago, Scelza interviewed 30 Himba women in depth about their experiences breast-feeding, especially in the first few days after birth. And guess what? Himba women are a lot like American/Canadian women. "Many of the women that I talked to actually struggled a lot with learning how to breast-feed," she says. Two-thirds of the women said they had some problems at the beginning, such as pain, fear, troubles getting the baby to latch and concerns about the milk supply — just like American moms. And their problems went beyond breast-feeding. "Most women talked about having little knowledge about early infant care, such as how to hold babies or how to be sure they're sleeping safely," Scelza says.
So how do the Himba get over these problems? They have a secret weapon many Western women don't, Scelza says: Grandmothers. "When a woman gives birth, she typically goes home to her mother's compound in the last trimester of pregnancy and stays there for months after the birth," she says. And then the new mom's mom — the grandma (aka lactation consultant) — shows her everything she needs to know about breast-feeding and infant care. But instead, not all of us have a grandma around 24/7 to be a teacher. We've lost the guidance. We've lost the support.
"I think that there's enormous pressure to succeed with breast-feeding in the U.S. and that you think that if you can't do it you’re seriously failing as a mother," Scelza says. But Himba women didn't seem to think the problems related to breast-feeding were a big deal. "When [the baby] had trouble latching, they were just like, 'Yeah, this is part of what you have to learn if you're going to breast-feed," she says. "They didn't stigmatize the failing." (Content by Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)
So give it a good try, and if you don’t succeed, there are so many other ways to bond with your baby. But by all means, before you decide that you cannot breast feed, ask for help. One of the safest, kindest, and most knowledgeable sources of help is the La Leche League, an international organization that fosters breast feeding and provides new mothers with help and support. Their Website is at https://www.illi.org/get-help/
7 POTTY TRAINING
Disclosure: I started researching potty training traditions around the world certain that early potty training (12-18 months) was a good idea. After all, the sooner the child was out of diapers and self-sufficient and not needing diapers the better, right? That is what I thought. But after I got deeper into the topic, my opinion changed profoundly and I now believe that potty training is best left undone. That is, don't train, don't hurry the child, let the child set his or her own time table while you relinquish control and pressure. The following article is adapted from It’s No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child’s Wetting, Constipation, UTIs, and Other Potty Problems. By Steve J. Hodges and Suzanne Schlosberg.
"As a pediatric urologist who specializes in toileting problems, I’ll tell you this: Children under age 3 should not manage their own toileting habits any more than they should manage their college funds. Preschools that require 3-year-olds to be potty trained are harming kids. Babies need to experience uninhibited voiding, or elimination, without the expectation of using the toilet at such an early age. It’s not that young kids can’t be potty trained. Sure they can. But knowing how to poop on the potty is not the same as responding to your body’s urges in a judicious manner.
Let’s fast-forward two or three years. That’s when potty prodigies show up at my clinic – one of a handful specializing in dysfunctional voiding – with the sudden onset of pee and poop accidents, urinary tract infections (UTIs), urinary frequency, and/or bedwetting “I don’t get it,” a mom will tell me. “I didn’t push her – she basically trained herself.” I believe these parents, but unfortunately it’s typically the kids who trained earliest and most easily who develop the most serious problems. I see about 100 kids a week at my clinic, and about half are dysfunctional voiders; most of them trained before 3. To understand the risks of early training, it’s important to know that virtually all toileting problems – pee and poop accidents, bedwetting, urinary frequency, and urinary tract infections – are related to chronically holding pee or poop or both.
Chronically holding poop, a problem exacerbated by our kids’ low-fiber diets, compounds the damage. A mass of poop forms in the rectum, right behind the bladder, and can stretch the rectum from about 2 centimeters in diameter to 10 centimeters or more. There’s only so much room in the pelvis, so the bladder gets squeezed out of the way and can’t hold as much urine. What’s more, the nerves controlling the bladder, which run between the bladder and the intestines, can get irritated when the intestines are enlarged, causing unexpected and unwanted bladder contractions – in other words, mad dashes to the toilet and accidents.
The reason kids who train at age 2 have more of these problems than children who train later, in my opinion, is that they have spent more months or years deciding for themselves when they should pee or poop – before they’re mature enough to understand the importance of eliminating as soon as they feel the urge. What’s more, the bladder needs about three or four years to grow and develop, and uninhibited voiding (read: diapers) facilitates maximum growth. Parents often tell me their child has accidents because she has a “small bladder,” as if an undersized bladder is something the child was born with. The child’s bladder may be small, but that’s because its capacity has been compromised by holding.
Do you know how often I see children who are still in diapers and have recurrent UTIs? Never. Do you know how often I treat newly potty-trained children for recurrent UTIs? Every day. These kids fill a quarter of my clinic. This is not a coincidence and demonstrates quite clearly that toilet training in very young children is harmful. Kids in diapers don’t hold; many toilet-trained children do. Every year of constipation-free, uninhibited voiding – in other words, wearing diapers – leads to bladder growth; every year of holding shrinks the bladder and makes it more overactive.
Perhaps you’re still not sold on waiting until age 3 to potty train. Maybe you’re wondering: What about the research suggesting that it’s actually late training, not early training, that causes constipation and accidents? Well, there’s a major flaw in this research: The authors didn’t check, via X-ray, to see if these kids were constipated at the time they started training. The records we keep at my clinic suggest that among late trainers, it’s not the age of training, but rather unrecognized constipation that correlates with problems. We have found that children who trained after age 3 and have toileting troubles either trained late because they were constipated (their parents had tried earlier but failed) or trained late and are constipated.
So, if you are training your 2-year-old because the preschool you’ve chosen requires children to be potty trained by 3, I suggest you find another school. Sending an early-trained child to preschool only increases the risk of potty problems, particularly if these schools don’t allow the safety net of a Pull-Up. I have countless patients who have developed the capacity to hold their pee and poop from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – and have developed serious bladder problems and recurring urinary tract infections because of it.
I know most parents dream of the day when they can be completely removed from their children’s goings-on in the bathroom. Heck, I look forward to that day myself. But don’t get too fixated on your own potty liberation. You need to pay attention to your kids’ pooping habits until you’re absolutely positive they have it down.”
This article is adapted from It’s No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child’s Wetting, Constipation, UTIs, and Other Potty Problems.
8 READ TO YOUR CHILD
Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. — Emilie Buchwald
There are countless reasons why it’s very, very good to read to your child, and getting your child to read early is by no means the most important one. First of all, it’s so lovely for both of you. Imagine that wonderful little creature on your lap, enjoying the vibration of your voice in your chest as you speak the words; she feels safe and secure and very comfortable. And while you read, you are creating an association in your child’s mind between book and pleasant, book and Mother or Father all to yourself, maybe book and laughter. Well, maybe for a few years, the laughter will be mostly for Dad, as in this magnificent piece of wisdom:
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. — Groucho Marx
Later, when your baby becomes a toddler, you can play “show me” games, and start reading stories that have a little plot. But no pressure, please. Engagement with books is meant to be a source of pleasure, not tension.
When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox
When you read to your child, mothers and fathers, you aren’t just providing a pleasant time for him. You are also laying a foundation for some important behaviors you’ll teach him when he’s older and preferences he’ll thank you for all his life.
You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me. — Strickland Gillilan
9 BECAUSE YOU LOVE YOUR CHILD
You love your child, and for that reason you want to do whatever you can to ensure that he has a happy life, both as a child and as an adult. Some things you can do for him are obvious -- make sure he’s healthy; make sure he reaches all the important developmental milestones at the appropriate time; protect him from physical dangers, make sure his education is going well – who wouldn’t do those things and more. But there is another very important thing that belongs on this list: teaching your child to understand how he has to behave in various life situations and helping him to develop the self-control to comply with sensible standards for how to interact with others. And keep in mind that because you love him, you have to keep your little child from being bratty without breaking his spirit or forcing him into a mold imposed by society.
Different countries have various different ideas about how strict to be with children: the range of approaches to child rearing is very wide and poses interesting questions about what is good for a child. Let’s take three cultures as an example.
At <http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/at_japan_soc/common/all.htm>, there is a detailed profile of contemporary Japanese society, written by two professors of anthropology at Harvard University. The manner of educating children is characterized by the statement that “Children’s lives in Japan are really organized around the education system, far more than American children’s lives are.” The article explains that because of Japanese family organization, it falls to mothers to organize and supervise their children’s studies, so that the children can do well on entrance exams for the very best schools. Success here almost completely determines success and status of the child’s adult life. Children must not only do well in school; they must also attend after-school “cram schools” to prepare for entrance exams to the next stage in their education. Thus, the chief characteristic of childhood and youth is long, intensive, and unavoidable, disciplined study, overseen by a mother who may be gentle or not but is close to being obsessed with getting her child into the very best schools, from nursery school on.
At <https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/the-truth-about-french-parenting-and-i-would-know/254521/> you will find an article entitled “The Truth About French Parenting (and I Would Know)”. When you read it, you won’t know whether to laugh or cry. Whereas the lives of Japanese children are organized around the education system, the lives of many French children are organized around their parents’ insistence on teaching them to conform to societal norms. The author, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, is a Frenchman, but he writes that he would rather put his hair on fire than send his daughter to a French school because of the cruelty, both physical and psychological, with which the lessons of conformity are taught, not just by parents but also at school. The article is funny, and somewhat unfair, but it leaves no doubt that browbeating and punishing children until they lose all sense of individuality, or bury it deep within themselves, might not be the way to bring up happy, healthy, and adults.
Unfortunately, there’s no doubt that in the United States, as we move through our daily lives, we have the opportunity to see howling toddlers having a tantrum, or children whose vocabulary seems to consist largely of “I want,” “give me,” “No, I won’t,” and the like, children who do precisely what their parents just asked them not to do, or children slouched in a chair working an i-pad when they should be paying attention to something important. Or we run into young adults constantly complaining about the boss, or other adults saying that every second thing is “too much trouble.” It can get pretty upsetting and it’s certainly not pleasant to observe. How can we protect our children from turning out like that? Chances are that no one will ever come up with an answer that appeals to every parent and works for every child. But if we want our children to have a dream and make it come true, have good friends and good families when they grow up, and leave the world a better place than when they came, maybe all we can do, and all we should do, is look them in the eye with love every day, define some boundaries, and stick to them. The rest, parents and children can figure out together.
And finally, dear son, dear daughter-in-law, if you want to be good parents for the long haul, you have to take good care of yourselves. This is not about going to a day spa or buying new clothes, or anything like that. This is about remembering and reinforcing the good things that are part of your own individuality. Follow up an author or a new field of study that always fascinated you in college. Take up a sport, or yoga. Learn to knit or weave. Get good at it.
At first, especially if you work away from home every day, this advice will seem unrealistic because you have too little time already anyway. But it’s quite remarkable what a bit of planning can do. And by doing something that delights you, just you—even for just half an hour a day—you will save yourself from feeling that you are being devoured by parenthood. It is true that for a few years, you will have to be intensely devoted to the care of your child, but it works so much better if you know who you are.
There is a second part to taking good care of yourself: reminding yourself and your partner of why the two of you thought that you would be happy together. You will both derive a great deal of satisfaction and happiness if you regularly spend time together in pleasant surroundings: no phone, no distractions, no beloved baby. The money you spend on babysitting for date night is a wise investment in a solid marriage and happy parenting.