Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What is the Goal of Child Rearing

On the face of it this may seem like a silly question. I think most parents would say something along the lines of their goal being to raise a happy, healthy, kind child that can function independently in the world as an adult. Depending on your particular beliefs, aspects of religious, spiritual, or moral teaching may be part of your answer as well. I raise this question after reading an interesting article by psychologist Richard WeissbourdHe argues (and research backs this up) that many parents in today's American culture have begun to put their child's happiness and self-esteem as a primary childrearing goal, often over morality and maturity. Now, of course, all parents want their children to be happy. The real question, however, is what is the best route to get there? Weissbourd contends (and I agree) that the best way to promote children's happiness is to help them learn to focus on their relationships with others. He states,

"Yet the irony is that when parents prioritize their children's happiness or self-esteem over their attentiveness and care for others, children are not only less likely to be moral: they are less likely to be happy in the long run. Too much attention to how children feel moment to moment, and to how they feel about themselves, can make children preoccupied with their own feelings and less able to tune in to or organize themselves around others. It can deprive children of key capacities they need to have gratifying relationships-- to be good friends, colleagues, parents, grandparents-- the true source of lasting well-being."

Weissbourd thinks that instead of happiness, our goal in childrearing should be helping our children develop maturity. Maturity involves learning to regulate your own emotions, handle conflict amicably, and self-evaluate our behavior. I think most of us inherently know that our relationships with others are really the source of much of our happiness, yet I can see how this might be easy to overlook in the midst of childrearing. Plus, it's not easy to explain to a three-year-old why it's more important to learn to get along with their older sibling than it is to have that ice cream sundae. Of course, this is not really an either/or proposition. By focusing less on momentary happiness and more on maturity and relationships, happiness will be the ultimate prize.

Weissbourd offers several great suggestions for how to nurture maturity in children, but his discussion of strength of self is particularly good. While it is tempting to think that praising children all the time helps build their sense of self, Weissbourd makes what I think is a compelling statement, "The self becomes stronger and more mature less by being praised than by being known." This is something I know I want to remember. As adults, we all know we can easily see through false praise; whether it be from a boss, friend, coworker, etc. I think kids can see through false praise many times too. According to Weissbourd, it is more important that a child feel that the parent knows him/her--their unique qualities, likes and dislikes, and ways of interaction.

All good things to remember! Happiness (for ourselves and our children) may be one of our goals, but actually focusing less on ourselves may be the path to get there.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Should technology be used as a babysitter?

Last time I indicated that electronics, particularly video games, smart phones, and TV watching, can be beneficial when used to engage, interact, connect and build relationships. Such as family movie nights, face time or Skype, and playing video games together.

However, it is also important to discuss the other side of technology, keeping in mind that we are not throwing out the baby in the bath water, because technology does have a place in our lives.

There is a quote that I like from the late 90’s regarding technology consumption with children: “to be popped in front of a TV instead of being read to, talked to or encouraged to interact with other human beings is a huge mistake and that’s what happens to a lot of children.” Any ideas who said it? Surprisingly it was Madonna. She even referred to the TV as ‘poison’ prior to this statement, rather ironic for a person made famous by the TV, but still intriguing.

Technology can be a ‘poison’ when it is being used as a babysitter or a distraction for children. We have all seen it, a child starts acting up while at a restaurant while waiting for their food, and then they are handed a smart phone to play a game on or stream Netflix. Or the child in the shopping cart, or the child at church, all of who are having difficulty with being bored, they are then handed technology to be stimulated. Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of this, and I also understand those times when parents use a TV show while cooking a meal.

But the litmus question is: is technology being used as a baby sitter? And if it is, how frequently is it being used as a sitter?

Again, this isn’t meant to shame, we all have room for improvement. Take this as an opportunity to evaluate, because children need to learn to be bored, patient, and to creatively come up with ways to spend non-stimulated time.

Children need to learn that it is okay to be bored, and that they can find helpful things to do to pass the time.

Children need to learn patience while standing in line, while waiting for food, and so on. That they are capable of being still on their own in the present moment.

Children also need time to not be stimulated to have their own original creativity time. Although over stimulation and exposure to many different things may look like creativity, it is not true creativity.

While it may be tempting and easy to distract your child while you are shopping, put the smartphone away, and coach them through what it is like to be bored, and have to be patient.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sibling Fights

Believe me when I tell you that when I was growing up as the youngest of four, I was involved in many a fight. Later, as a mother of three boys, born just over two years apart, I witnessed at least as many.

   How can sibling fights be dealt with effectively and fairly? To answer that question let’s look at sibling conflicts from three perspectives: the physical, the mental and the spiritual perspective.

The Physical Perspective

Viewed from the physical level a clash looks abrupt and chaotic. It seems as if the kids are picking a fight on purpose, or are just bullying or nagging each other. And worse, it sometimes feels as if they are out to get to you, the parents, because they know it upsets you. The outer appearance is definitely one of annoyance, of disturbance that parents would rather be rid of as soon as possible.

   But before you act and engage at this level, consider two more perspectives.

The Mental Perspective

When looking at siblings fighting from a mental perspective you’ll discover that the kids may be testing new abilities and insights, or that they are trying to find a way to reach a fair balance of give and take in their relationship. Since kids are constantly growing and their personalities are continuously developing, it is only natural for them to search for a new balance at each new stage.

   Not all fighting among siblings is necessarily destructive. You should not  let yourself get upset at each and every loud exchange that your kids may have, and make an end to their communication right then and there. Try to determine what exactly is going on. Is it honing of skills and balancing of positions? Or is one child bullying the other and deliberately trying to dominate the other and force her will on him, or vice versa? It takes an experienced eye to distinguish among these possibilities. Of course, in the last scenario you will need to step in and protect the child that is abused, as well as investigate the causes of the first child’s dominating behavior.


In her many books on child abuse Swiss psychologist Alice Miller (1)  points out that children re-enact to others what has been done to them. Thinking along this line certainly puts you, the kids’ parents on the spot. Watching your children quarrel and argue might give you some clues as to the quality of your own communication relative to your children.

The Spiritual Perspective

In addition to the physical and mental perspectives, there is the spiritual perspective when it comes to sibling conflict. On some deep level I believe siblings have chosen to be together. They each have a role to play in the other’s life. Whether they punch or play, deep down they know there is a connection between them. It just takes a lot of playing and punching to find the right expression for that connection.

Friendship and Loyalty

Lastly, children learn a valuable lesson from overcoming sibling fights, namely that hating and hitting do not have the last word in their relationship – friendship and loyalty do. Only when they have lived through disharmony and disagreement can they truly appreciate the value of genuine friendship and loyalty. Part of this equation is responsibility and accountability. In the end, the kids themselves are responsible for the quality of their relationship. To support them in embracing this responsibility you could ask for their suggestions for improving the quality of their communication.

   Arguments and fights are such physical, right-in-your-face type of manifestations of children’s inner experiences that it is hard to look beyond the appearance offered by clamor and commotion. Knowing that there are deep, inner layers trying to find expression in sibling conflicts might make your intervention more effective.

Please share your views on this most important, and too often neglected, child rearing topic.

1) Miller A. (1983), For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Farrar Struass Giroux, New York.

Images courtesy of photostock at

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Goodbye Bottles, Hello Solids!

Starting solids is an exciting time for babies because they are finally getting to taste the food they watch you eat! Be prepared for a bumpy ride: One day, baby will scrunch her face and blow raspberries at you in disgust. She may even gag, spit it out and cry. Food will be flying in your face and all over the floor. The next day, she’ll eat an entire portion no problem. Either way, your goal is to introduce different tastes and textures to your child. Here’s some advice on how to introduce your child to solid food.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says you should start your child on solids between 4 and 6 months. During this time, look for some of these developments:

·      Can sit upright and hold up his head
·      Is curious, looking at everything around him
·      Has mastered tongue movement
·      Seems hungry after getting a full day's portion of milk (eight to 10 breast feedings or about 32 ounces of formula)

A common solid to start with is a single-grain cereal, such as rice cereal or oatmeal. These cereals have the advantage of boosting your baby’s iron intake. The packages usually list information and give you a measurement on how much breast milk or formula to mix in with the cereal.

When you offer baby that first taste of something other than breast milk or formula, it’s a huge event. To increase the likelihood of success, offer the first solids when baby isn’t full (if she's not hungry, she won’t be interested) or ravenous (she’ll be frustrated that she’s not getting as much as she wants right away). Instead, fill her up a little with liquid and then let her have a taste.

These items make the process easier:
·      A high chair or other secure seat that holds your baby upright to eat
·      Plastic or other waterproof bibs, which are easy to rinse off  (those with a big trough at the bottom are particularly handy to catch falling bits when baby starts feeding herself)
·      Unbreakable plates and bowls that won’t shatter when they’re knocked off the high chair tray

Each time you introduce a new solid food, wait about three days to see if it causes an allergic reaction. Don’t introduce anything new during that time; this way, if your baby develops hives, a rash, or a more serious reaction, you’ll know which food caused it.

Remember, starting solids is a fun and exciting adventure. Your child will reject certain foods but keep trying. They may eventually like the food you thought they’d never eat. The goal is to have a variety of foods you know they enjoy. 

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

5 Things Parent's can do to Help their Anxious Child

By: Dyan Eybergen BA,RN,ACPI

Does your child exhibit any of the following behaviours?
  • Clinging, crying, and/or tantrums when you are away from him/her?
  • Constant worry where it is affecting his/her ability to fall and or stay asleep on his/her own?
  • Avoiding situations or places because of fears?
  • Missing school or other activities because of frequent stomachaches or headaches?
If you answered YES to one or more of those questions, your child may be experiencing a disordered amount of anxiety. 

Anxiety is manifested in the body; it is a normal physiological response and can motivate us to do our best in challenging times and help us to adapt in dangerous situations. Anxiety becomes problematic when the body responds in the absence of any real danger. Parents play an integral role in helping their child or teen manage anxiety. Here are 5 things parent’s can do (or not do) to help their anxious child.
  1. Be Supportive! The physical symptoms of anxiety are real for the child and are so uncomfortable to deal with. Support your child by validating how awful anxiety feels and teach relaxation techniques such as calm breathing and progressive muscle relaxation that will combat the stress response  your child is having and help the child calm down.
  2. Reduce Stress! Develop routines the child can depend on. Be consistent with consequences to misbehavior so the child learns what the expectations are and do as much as you can to prepare the child for new experiences so as to reduce fears of the unknown.
  3. Avoid Giving Excessive Reassurance! When we overly reassure a child by checking and re-checking locked doors, or driving them to school because he/she fears taking the bus, or letting him/her sleep in our bed due to a fear of the dark, we give the child a very clear message that he/she has every right to be afraid and cannot manage anxiety without a parent. As well intentioned as parental reassurance is, it only increases a child’s anxiety and doesn’t teach the child how to help him/her self.
  4. Avoid Avoidance! Avoidance is a default maladaptive way of coping for most children. When they fear something they will avoid being exposed to it. Parents need to help their children experience their fears within a safe context where they begin to realize that most often their worry about the fear produces more anxiety than the fear experience itself. Chronic avoidance only increases the child’s fear and does nothing to teach management skills.
  5. Know when to get help! If your child’s anxiety is interfering with his/her level of functioning (i.e. missing school, isolating from friends, refusing to participate in new experiences, unable to separate from a parent, experiencing panic attacks) it is time to seek professional help. Find a clinician trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help you and your child learn strategies to manage anxiety.

Children with anxiety disorders do not “grow out of it" and if the anxiety is left untreated,  it can lead to other problems later in life, such as depression, school dropout, dysfunctional relationships, increased substance use, and an overall decreased quality of life.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How To Break The News That You're Pregnant

There are all sorts of fun ways to let your friends and loved ones know you're pregnant, but telling your older children can be especially challenging when they are going to feel the most impacted by it, yet aren't the ones responsible for the situation.  Tell your husband and he can't really complain.  "Um, yeah. You were there.  Remember?"  This is so much easier when your kids are toddlers and are pretty much oblivious to this kind of stuff.

So, hypothetically speaking, let's say I were pregnant and that my 14-year-old were set on getting his own room when we move in the near future.  This might lessen his chances by a lot, especially if we can't afford a large house.

I would try to lessen the blow by easing him into the news, first by telling all of my children on April Fools Day because they know I'm big into tricking people and they wouldn't believe me, but there would be that small percentage of doubt that would gnaw at them and then they would start to contemplate life with another small human in the house.  If the kids ask questions like, "Uh huh ...... Where's your pregnancy test?"  You say, "I don't have to prove anything to you!  You should believe your own mother!" That further convinces them that you are not pregnant.

Give them a few days to think about the (possibly disturbing) possibility and then make them a really nice dinner that contains something they all like.  Beat around the bush for a long time, look at them sheepishly, and then tell them.

When the shock wears off, make them tell your parents.  Really, I'm no expert at
this though because it's hypothetical (and hasn't happened yet).  On an unrelated note, I better run out and get the ingredients for fettuccine Alfredo, garlic bread, my kids' favorite salad, ice cream, possibly candy, sparkling cider, and make some fresh squeezed lemonade for my child who hates all things carbonated. 

How do you break your pregnancy news?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Parental Involvement in High School Can Increase Grades and Decrease Depression

High school is a tumultuous experience for many teenagers for a number of reasons. Along with the social, emotional, and physical changes that take place during this time, teenagers must face the added difficultly of navigating and preparing for their futures. A recently published study in the academic journal, Child Development, by Wang and Sheikh-Khalil (2014) found specific ways in which parents can help decrease the probability that their child will develop depression and increase the probability that they will achieve well in school.

Wang and Sheik-Khalil (2014) examined three different types of parental involvement that are known to improve academic achievement in teenagers. School-based involvement (parents helping out at school, visiting school for meetings, etc.), home-based involvement (assisting with homework, providing an environment for study, etc.), and academic socialization (talking about career goals, planning for higher education, etc.) were analyzed for their contribution to academic achievement and emotional well-being from one year to the next.

Academic socialization was the greatest predictor of academic achievement and increased emotional well-being after a year. Home based involvement was least predictive of academic achievement, and school based involvement was moderately predictive of better emotional well-being.

Taken together, it is best for parents to be engaged in the academic lives of their children, but more from a stance of advisers (academic socialization) and assistants rather than as tutors or administrators. This change may be hard for some parents who are used to the heavy school involvement needed during elementary and middle schools. The possible reason for the benefits of these types of changes in parental involvement during this developmental period in childhood could be related to the need for autonomy and individuality that teenagers strive for. It is important to note that even though teenagers value independence and want to appear capable of doing things on their own, they are still in need of guidance and support. This guidance and support can increase the likelihood they will fare better academically and emotionally in the long run.

What are some ways you think parents can show this "academic socialization" with teenagers?
Do you agree with the findings of this study?

Wang, M.-T. and Sheikh-Khalil, S. (2014), Does Parental Involvement Matter for Student Achievement and Mental Health in High School?. Child Development, 85: 610–625. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12153

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

It’s Not Just About Milk: How Breastfeeding Relates to Parenting Practices

A recent article caught my eye and I thought I would spend some time here exploring it. At first, this study appeared to replicate many others in showing that breastfed babies grow up to perform better on cognitive assessments. This Journal of Pediatrics study went one step further, however, and considered what underlying factors might explain this association.

For years researchers have pondered what specifically it is about breastfeeding that explains its positive association with children’s cognition. Some have hypothesized that actual substances in the milk helps improve brain development. Others have wondered if the mother-child bond facilitated by breastfeeding helps infants’ development. While these factors may be at play, this particular study showed that breastfeeding was associated with two important parenting practices: (1) responding to children’s emotional cues, and (2) reading to children as early as 9 months of age.

Using a national sample of 7,500 mothers and their children from birth to age five, this study showed that mothers who breastfed were more likely to practice these crucial parenting skills. These parenting practices, in turn, were associated with greater reading readiness by age 4.

I find these types of studies fascinating because they accomplish what social science research is all about—uncovering the underlying explanations for the “attention-grabbing” headlines we often see in the media. While I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding, it seems that mothers who do not breastfeed are often chastised in the media or public due, in part, to all the research showing the child development benefits. Until now, it was assumed that the benefits of breastfeeding were delivered through the milk itself, but this research shows that it is not just about the milk. In other words, if non-breastfeeding mothers can be responsive exercise these positive parenting strategies, many of the same benefits can presumably be passed along to their children as well. 

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