Lylah M. Alphonse
My mother spent her formative years in a convent boarding school in India where, when it came to popular music, anything other than Pat Boone was off limits. When I was a tween, my mom allowed me to buy Madonna's first album, but "Like a Virgin" was not allowed in our house -- not appropriate for a young girl, my mom decided -- and Heavy Metal was deemed "too disruptive." (The Grateful Dead was OK, because it was mellow; I don't think she was aware of exactly how mellow, but my brothers, who were major fans, certainly weren't going to point that out.)READ MORE
No one really knows what causes autism. A recent article in Science Direct indicates that children living near toxic waste seem more likely to have autism. Though the thimerosal/MMR vaccine theory has been debunked, many parents feel that the mercury-laced preservative is linked to their children's autism by triggering a toxic tipping point or otherwise damaging the immune system.READ MORE
I ran into a problem recently, when my youngest kids' school and day care were closed, my husband was away, I had to work, and I had no backup childcare.
Yeah, it made for a tough day.READ MORE
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 out of 150 kids have autism, an increase from previous estimates. With autism now more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined, if your child isn't on the autism spectrum, chances are good that he or she knows (or will eventually know) someone who is.
April is National Autism Awareness month. We've discussed autism in general and resources for children and adults with ASD, but how do you help your child interact or socialize with someone on the spectrum?READ MORE
My 4-year-old has become a bit of a social butterfly, flitting from playdate to birthday party to after-school adventure in the cul-de-sac with the neighbors. Which is great, except now I'm faced with a birthday party dilemma: Invite the whole class or just a few kids?READ MORE
Kent and Angie Potter's oldest son, Sam, was born prematurely, and from the very beginning they had a swirl of doctors and specialists around them, helping them navigate the world of preemie development. So when Sam started exhibiting severe developmental delays (above and beyond the ones most preemies have), they had people to turn to for advice.READ MORE
The first time my toddler's caregiver took me aside at pick-up time to talk about "the incident," when my little boy was about 18 months old, I was a little concerned, but not very much so. The bite hadn't broken the other child's skin, she said. The two boys were separated, mine was told to apologize, the other child was comforted, and the two tots had gone back to playing within about a minute, as if nothing had happened.
And then it happened again. And again. And... again.READ MORE
Most people hear the word "autism" and automatically think of Rainman, the 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant with an affinity for numbers and a painful need for routine. But as any parent with a child on the Autistic Spectrum knows, most forms of autism look nothing like that.
So, what are Autism Spectrum Disorders? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), "Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs), cause severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others."
Our 10-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome about five years ago. Asperger's is a very mild, or "High Functioning" form of autism, and it took time for family members to come to term with the diagnosis. "But he smiles and laughs and is affectionate! He can't be autistic!" one insisted. "That's can't be right," another declared. "He's just a quirky kid."
Some parents notice something different about their child from the beginning. Others see a change in a child who had been developing normally. Still others notice mild developmental issues that make them wonder if their child is just quirky, or if there's a larger problem looming. "Is it autism?" one mother asks herself. The answer: "Does it matter?"
Not in terms of how you love your child. But in terms of how to help your child navigate life? Absolutely.
April is National Autism Awareness month. Each week this month, I'll devote a post to issues that relate to life on the spectrum and the special parenting challenges that autism presents. This week, I'd like to introduce you to autism activist Mika Bradford.
Bradford became involved in the autism community nearly a decade ago, when her youngest son was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. A certified nutritionist, sales rep for nutritional supplement maker Kirkman, and a content specialist with AutismSpot, she has held a variety of positions with North Texas's Families for Effective Autism Treatment and is the founder of Natural Foods and Nutrition Consulting, Inc.
"My experience early on in my journey through autism was devastating and downright humiliating," Bradford says. "I am not alone when I say that many medical professionals belittled me and the questions I asked on behalf of my son. In the beginning, I had resentment but, over the years, I have come to realize that in many ways the physicians are just as much victims of the system as we have been."
For readers who don't have children on the spectrum, could you please share a couple of facts that surprise people when it comes to autism?
I think people are most surprised to learn that children with autism can get better, so much so that some children are considered to be recovered, losing their diagnosis. While this is not the outcome for every family, what we do know is that the quality of life for each child with autism can be improved.
Your readers may also be surprised to learn that many everyday things like what the children eat and drink can impact their moods and behaviors greatly. Research from major teaching universities are confirming what parents and a handful of professionals have known for over a decade -- that this condition is not only about the brain, but is affected by the other systems of the body.
Many people think that all children with autism are gifted, having special abilities. Only a handful of individuals with autism have "special skills." Most individuals with autism have difficulties in communicating, which can lead to inappropriate behaviors. The general public may see how parents handle these situations and not understand the reasoning of what is being done. Many parents, including myself, have spent thousands of hours and dollars learning how to parent using a positive approach, shaping the responses of the child (which ultimately hinges on our actions and behaviors as parents and caregivers). That may sound like common sense, but it is amazing how many parents of neuro-typical children never look at how their actions are impacting the responses of the child.
There are so many disorders that fall on the Autistic Spectrum -- Asperger's, ADD, SID, PDD-NOS, just to name a few. What are some of the "early warning signs" that a parent should watch out for?
Some of them are listed in Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Development Disorder: A Mother's Story of Research and Recovery by Karyn Seroussi. If a parent is concerned about their answers to some of these questions, then they need to speak to their physician about an autism screening.
Does your 18-month-old child's language development seem slow?
Has he lost words that he had once mastered?
Is he unable to follow simple commands such as "Bring me your shoes?"
When you speak to him, does he look away rather than meet your gaze?
Does he answer to his name?
Do you or others suspect hearing loss?
Does he have an unusually long attention span?
Does he often seem to be in his own world?
Autism is a developmental disability that impairs social and language development. It occurs in families from every class, culture, and ethnic background. It is not a mental illness, and it is not caused by trauma -- it is neurobiological and its symptoms can be greatly reduced by early diagnosis and treatment.
How has the autism community -- resources, research, treatment options -- changed in the 10 years since you first became involved with it?
Well I guess you could say it is completely different. When I started in the world of autism, very few people had even heard of dietary or nutritional support for autism. Families were told to just go home and love their children the way they were and instructed to look for long-term care and placement for the future. In just 10 years, the amount or resources has more than doubled. We now know that environment does affect autism and that this condition is not static as once believed. Researchers from prestigious universities like Harvard are confirming that this population has gastrointestinal and immune-mediated conditions that directly impact the behaviors and coping skills of these children. Treatments that are now available range from vitamin therapy to Applied Behavior Analysis to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
According to US Department of Education data, the number of autism diagnoses in children in the US has risen 644 percent from 1992-1993 to 2000-2001. Are doctors simply more aware of autism, and so are able to better diagnose it? Or are things previously dismissed as "quirks" now considered symptoms?
The diagnostic criteria have not changed that drastically in the past 10 to 15 years to account for the monumental increase in Autism Spectrum Disorders. If this was a condition that has risen due to better diagnoses, then where are all the adults with autism that should be accounted for? If the increase were due to children being reclassified, we would see the autism diagnosis increase and other disabilities decrease -- this has not been the case. The children who are now being diagnosed would never have "passed" as just being quirky. These children clearly have significant communication and social deficits that are debilitating.
What would you tell a parent whose child has been newly diagnosed with PDD-NOS?
I would encourage parents to leave no stone unturned when looking at what is the right therapy and intervention for their child. I would encourage them to give everything they have when trying to meet the educational and behavioral needs for their child. We have a saying in the world of autism, "You either pay now or pay later." This means that you ultimately have to find an effective way to deal with the challenges of autism. By providing the resources and support the child needs early on, you may bypass secondary consequences that would have arisen from those needs going unmet.
Parents must also give themselves grace. You must pace yourself to prevent burn out and, regardless of your financial resources, know that you can positively impact your child's life. Autism is an expensive condition to treat and live with, but resourceful families have found ways to work the system regardless of what funds are or are not available. You can do autism on a budget, it just may require a bit more planning.
Last, no matter what levels of functioning your child may be at, know that there is HOPE!
Read my full interview with Mika Bradford at Write. Edit. Repeat.
Do you have a child with autism? Please share your story or ask questions in the comments.
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I picked my fun-loving 4-year-old up at preschool yesterday, she greeted me with, "Mama! April first is tomorrow! We can fool people with jokes and make people laugh! More than normally!"
I've never been one for pranks, but I love a stupid joke or a tricky riddle. I've always wondered why April 1 is linked with silliness; thanks to a little easy internet sleuthing, I discovered that April Fool's Day has been taking place in France since the late 1500s, when Pope Gregory XIII switched from the Julian calendar, which celebrated New Year's Day in the springtime around April 1, to the Gregorian calendar, which dictated that the New Year began on January 1. Those who disregarded the change -- or who hadn't heard about it -- were called fools and were tricked into going on "fool's errands."
(Of course, there are loopholes in that explanation, most historians say, though it seem to be the most plausible of the bunch. For more theories, click over to the Museum of Hoaxes).
Regardless of its origin, April Fool's Day is celebrated in different days in different countries -- in Scotland, for instance, the jokes have to do with one's backside, the day is called "Taily Day," and the classic "Kick Me" sign reigns supreme. In England, the rules are that jokes can only be played in the morning. And in the US, of course, pretty much anything goes.
If you're looking on some fun ways to celebrate (harmlessly!), here are a few options:
Elephant jokes. What cheers you up when you are sick? A getwellephant card.
Knock Knock jokes. This collection is full of clean -- and pretty funny -- jokes.
Brainteasers. Palindromes, puzzles, and more.
Harmless pranks. Practical jokes are always tricky. You know your kids best, so pick ones that suit your family. The ones at this site are really tame.
Riddles. What can you catch but not throw? (A cold!)
What's your favorite April Fool's joke, practical or otherwise? Please share in the comments!
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.
The prevailing wisdom is that TV is terrible for young children. But a new study by the researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School shows that while TV viewing doesn't benefit very young kids, it doesn't seem to harm them, either.
"In this study, TV viewing in itself did not have measurable effects on cognition," said Dr. Elsie Taveras, senior author of the study and pediatrician at Children's. "TV viewing is perhaps best viewed as a marker for a host of other environmental and familial influences, which may themselves be detrimental to cognitive development."
It's worth noting that while the study took into account a host of variables -- mother's age, education, household income, marital status, and the child's gender, race, birth weight, body mass index, and sleep habits, among other things -- it did not examine the actual content being viewed by the 872 children involved. And though infants and young children who spent hours at a time in front of the television may not suffer from cognitive delays, TV exposure has been associated with increased risk of obesity, poor quality of sleep, and attention problems.
To that end, the American Association of Pediatrics still recommends that children watch no more than two hours of "quality" programming per day, and that children younger than 2 watch no TV at all. (Most kids in the US watch about three hours of TV a day).
But there are times when your young kids are going to be watching TV. You're working from home. There's a new baby in the house. Your child is home from school with a cold. It's not practical to expect that toddlers will never watch TV.
A reader recently asked for suggestions for shows that are appropriate for a 2-year-old. Barney was banned from our household when our oldest, now 15, was a toddler -- we just couldn't stand to watch it with her -- but there are plenty of age-appropriate, slow-paced, toddler-friendly TV shows that do make the cut. Here are a few of them:
Teletubbies (PBS): It's sweet and simple, slow-paced, and has nearly no dialog, which makes it a winner with the toddler set. (If you want a show with educational value, however, look elsewhere).
Sesame Street (PBS): Sesame Street and I debuted in the same year; the mix of short sketches and an episode-long theme is still the same, but new characters and concepts keep things interesting for parents and kids alike. I love the puns that my kids don't get (a band called "The Beetles" made up of singing bugs, for example, or a snake named Monty the Python).
Curious George (PBS): Based on the classic books by H.A. and Margaret Rey, George's curiosity is still getting that little monkey into loads of funny trouble. Watch a short episode during the day and savor the books at bedtime.
Oswald (Nick Jr.): A gentle blue octopus and his sweet little dog make friends with the quirky residents in their make-believe town. A penguin voiced by David L. Lander, who played Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley, is amusing for parents of a certain age (like me).
Yo Gabba Gabba! (Nick Jr.): I didn't get this show at first, but then I fell in love with the music. Be sure to check out the special appearances by The Roots, The Ting Tings, and other bands. Also: "Don't Bite Your Friends" is toddler-friendly genius.
Blues Clues (Nick Jr.): My teenager loved this as a tot, and it's cool to see her bonding with her baby siblings over the puzzles pitched by this friendly blue puppy.
Do you let your young kids watch TV? What shows on your short list?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff writer Linda Matchan had a great piece in the Globe the other day, offering advice from therapists on handling the hard choices parents often have to make when times are tough. But if you have never discussed money with your kids and you need to now in order to handle a financial crisis, figuring out how can be difficult.
Our kids range in age from “Oooh, something shiny! Can I eat it?” to “But all of my friends have cell phones” to “What car will I be driving when I get my license this fall?” The challenge, for us, is to address their very different levels of concern without making any of them feel insecure or fearful. It can be hard to stay up-beat and still be realistic. Here are a few tips to try:
Be open and honest, but don't over-explain. Jamie Woolf, author of Mom in Chief, suggests that parents should answer kids’ questions and respond to their concerns, but not delve into all the details. “For example, you may be worried about your college savings, but your ten year-old daughter is not likely to lose sleep over it,” she writes on her blog.
Let the kids help you save. If the kids feel like they're helping you save money, being more frugal can become a source of pride rather than frustration. Let your little kids hold the coupons while you shop for groceries. Grade school-aged children can be tasked with shutting off lights at home when they're not in use. Teens can help track their own expenses and learn how to cut costs. Embrace inexpensive or free activities and homemade gifts, and find ways to make your entertainment dollars do double duty. (For instance, buying a family membership to a local museum is a tax-deductable way to enrich your kids lives and help the community at the same time.)
Be consistent. Kids crave stability, and you’re not doing them any favors by deciding to splurge “just this once.” If you do, when the next opportunity to spend comes around, you won’t have a leg to stand on.
Show them how to budget. Parents are split on the allowance issue -- should you tie it to chores or just give them the money? -- but you give your children an allowance, take the opportunity to talk to them about how to save and how much to spend. If your kids are really young and money has no real meaning to them yet, start with something they do understand -- like treats. Can your 6-year-old make a very small bag of candy last a week? That's basic budgeting.
Be willing to meet older kids part way. If you budget $25 for jeans and your teenager wants a much more expensive pair, tell her that you’re willing to pay for part of it -- but she has to come up with the rest. According to Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with a Purpose, saying so “curbs feelings of entitlement and allows children to take ownership for achieving their desires.”
Remember that, as a parent, your job is to set limits. “You’re not depriving your children” points out Dr. Michelle New at KidsHealth.org, “you’re teaching them important lessons about delaying gratification, earning treats and rewards, and about family finances.”
Like most parents, I think my kids are pretty amazing. I shoot videos of them singing or playing or putting sunglasses on the dog or whatever silly snippet of their childhood I don't want to forget. I embarrass my teens and tween by hauling out their old artwork or retelling stories about the funny things they did when they were little. I'm proud of their accomplishments and their talents and want to share their triumphs with the world.
But posting them online? Not so sure about that.
YouTube and Vimeo make sharing video online very easy -- maybe too easy. You post that cute clip of your kid and assume that only people who know and love them are watching. But what happens when the video goes viral?
By now, most of you have probably seen the YouTube video of a little leotard-wearing girl dancing along to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video. On one hand, it's a cute snippet of a precocious toddler. On the other, if a 2- or 3-year-old can mimic Beyonce so well, what else has she been watching? And who else is watching her?
MomLogic talked to clinical psychologist Dr. Cara Gardenswartz about six of the most popular viral videos out there, and the analysis really makes you see these videos in a different light.
The videos show kids mispronouncing words, acting hyper, or freaking out over innocuous things. They're funny -- sort of. But there's something about them that's unsettling. The viewer is being invited to laugh at these children -- by their parents. It's one thing to embarrass your older kids in front of family and friends; it's another thing to expose your child to the world when he's vulnerable.
Maybe I'm being too harsh; I'm sure most of the parents of viral video stars never intended the clip to be viewed by anyone other than out-of-state friends and family members. (In which case... set your account to private, not public.) But there are some to whom I can't give the benefit of the doubt. The videos of children who are clearly upset about something... why are the parents still taping? Drop your camera and comfort your child.
Parents, weigh in: Should videos of kids be allowed to go viral?
I was a pretty tame teenager -- just ask my mom. Or my brothers, who would say that as long as "tame" = "goody-goody" then they'd agree. Sure, I had a mouth on me (what teenager doesn't?), and I churned out reams of bad, angsty poetry (ditto), but I didn't drink, I didn't do drugs, and I had so many extracurricular activities that I didn't even have time to date until I was in college.
But some of my friends? Let's just say that I volunteered with Students Against Drunk Driving for a reason.
Studies by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 75 percent of teens have tried alcohol by the time they graduate from high school. As part of the Intel Science Talent Search competition, Chelsea Lynn Jurman, 17, a senior at Rosyln High School in New York, decided to find out what caused this behavior.
A peer drug educator, Jurman wondered what, besides the often-cited peer pressure, was a factor in teen drinking. "Since most of her peers are children of baby boomers -- who may not have spent their youths in an entirely sober fashion, and who often like to be "friends" with their kids -- she wondered what effect a parent talking, frankly, about her own drinking might have on a child," Scientific American reported.
She surveyed 123 teenagers, asking them whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “My parents/guardians usually know where I am on weekends or after school,” how often they drank, and whether they knew if their parents had used alcohol as teens.
The results? Not what you'd expect.
Many parents assume that if you crack down on your kids they'll just sneak off and do whatever you don't want them to behind your back. So, some parents err on the side of permissiveness -- if Junior thinks we're OK with it, he's more likely to tell us if he needs help, right?
Well... maybe not.
Jurman's study found that teens who thought that their parents used alcohol as kids were more likely to drink themselves. Why? Well, if their parents drank and they turned out OK, teens think, then they can drink and they'll turn out fine, too. "The perception kids create becomes the reality," Jurman says.
But wait, there's hope. Jurman's study also found that if kids didn't think their parents drank as teenagers, the kids were less likely to experiment with alcohol.
So, what does Jurman suggest parents do to keep their high-school kids from drinking? Don't share stories about your own wild, underage adventures. Be supportive, but be strict about supervision. "Teens are less likely to drink when they are supervised," Jurman's study shows. And model good behavior; "do as I say, not as I do" doesn't cut it anymore.
We deal with a few food allergies and intolerances in our household. One of our kids has been gluten- and casein-free now for about five years; that means no wheat, barley, US-processed (and possibly cross-contaminated) oats, MSG, modified food starch, or dairy of any kind (casein is a milk protein). When he was younger, we had to avoid eggs, soy, and corn (and anything containing corn derivatives, like corn syrup) as well. Yeah, that was fun; thank goodness he grew out of some of those.
Another child is allergic to wheat and used to be allergic to cashews, green beans, and chicken. Yes, chicken. She outgrew that, too, but gets horrible, itchy eczema if she consumes wheat. A third is off gluten. The other two don't seem to be allergic to anything -- yet. None of them are anaphalactic to anything, thank goodness, but being GFCF can make eating out and packing lunches a bit of a challenge.
My youngest kids' preschool and daycare are nut-free zones (which, compared to avoiding gluten, is a cinch). But I read with interest the studies that came out earlier this week, about a possible therapy that seems to be helping kids overcome their peanut allergies by giving them daily, controlled doses of the very thing to which they're allergic.
"But over several years, the children's bodies learned to tolerate peanuts. Immune-system tests show no sign of remaining allergy in five youngsters, and others can withstand amounts that once would have left them wheezing or worse," the Associated Press reported.
Which led me to two thoughts: 1.) Are scientists taking a page out of homeopathy's handbook? And 2.) If very small -- practically microscopic -- encounters with allergens can eventually "teach" one's immune system to tolerate, rather than reject, certain substances, are our peanut-free classrooms causing problems rather than preventing them?
Please note: I am not suggesting that kids aren't really allergic to nuts, or anything else for that matter. My friend's child's face blows up like a balloon if he so much as rubs his eyes after touching someone else who's handled nuts -- food allergies are very real (though, thanks to an over-reliance on simple blood tests, misdiagnoses also seem to be on the rise). But as I scan product labels for the umpteenth time, looking for hints of gluten, I wonder... since our kids don't have celiac disease and their allergies aren't life threatening, is avoiding every last trace of gluten just making things worse for them in the long run?
Many parents were up in arms recently when Nickelodeon announced plans for a new-and-improved Dora the Explorer. Specifically, an older, more sophisticated, 10-year-old Dora for tweens.
"As tweenage Dora, our heroine has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look," the press release stated, showcasing a silhouette of the new Dora that looked to be wearing a micro mini skirt, long hair swinging sexily below her shoulders. The "cornerstone" of the new Dora line would be an interactive doll, made by Mattel, that girls could customize online and update in real life.
With images of Bratz dolls pole-dancing in their heads, many parents took to the internet to protest the change. "What, little girls don't have enough fashion-obsessed trash idols?" one commenter quipped over at CafeMom.com. "The outrage is powered by pent up outrage over the sexualization of our daughters, of their dolls and their clothing," Veronica points out at Viva la Feminista. "So they see another cash cow in Dora," another commenter posted at ParentDish. "Pity, though, that they're sending a message, LOUD AND CLEAR, that in order to be 'popular' and 'in' and whatever, you have to be exactly like everyone else out there."
To quell the outrage, Mattel released an illustration of New Dora yesterday instead of this fall and rushed to soothe parents.
"People care so deeply about this brand and this character," Leigh Anne Brodsky, president of Nickelodeon Viacom Consumer Products, said in a statement. "The Dora that we all know and love is not going away."
"I think there was just a misconception in terms of where we were going with this," Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing at Mattel, added.
I think the new Dora is cute and all, and I understand that there are vast marketing and monetizing issues at play, but seriously, Mattel and Nickelodeon, take a lesson from New Coke here and leave well enough alone.
Why should our children follow Dora to middle school when Dora's ditched her best-friend Boots and the rest of the gang? What does that say about the importance of childhood friendships? Why not develop something around Dora's cousin Alicia, an animal rescuer who helps save penguins and pumas with her brother on the spin-off show Go, Diego, Go!, in order to appeal to older children -- or create a new character entirely?
One of the most important life lessons for young kids is that you get bigger and move on to "big kid" things -- and that it's OK. When I was a child, we "graduated" from Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood to The Electric Company and School House Rock and ZOOM. There's a reason why no one marketed a Sesame Street for older kids: Older kids aren't anxious to hold on to the trappings of toddlerhood, for all that their parents wish they might be.
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Two of my dearest friends had their first baby yesterday, and as I was on the phone with the new Dad I found myself trying hard not to give any of the usual advice. You know, "Sleep when the baby sleeps" (virtually impossible in general, and especially if you have older kids at home) and "Be sure to ask for help!" (easy to say, hard to do), and the like.
It got me wondering... what advice did you ignore when you had your first kid? And, in retrospect, what do you really wish someone had told you?
I wish someone had told me to learn how to nurse the baby lying down... it's harder than it looks, but once I figured it out I could actually snooze a bit (and that's as close as I ever came to "sleep when the baby sleeps.")
I also wish someone had told me to take more pictures during that bleary first month. I don't remember much, but the few pictures I did manage to snap brings some of the awe-struck feeling back -- especially when I look at my Amazonian 4-year-old wearing her size 6 clothing, and think about the tiny, 4-pound, 14-ounce baby I brought back from the hospital four years ago.
So... what do you wish someone had told you when you had your first child? What advice did you ignore?
A Boston Public Health Commission survey on teenagers and dating violence released yesterday offered up some pretty chilling results: Nearly half of the kids surveyed said they think Rihanna was "responsible" for what happened between her and her boyfriend, Chris Brown.
Every single one of the 200 12- to 19-year-old kids surveyed had heard about the incident involving the two R&B stars that took place hours before the Grammys on Feb. 8, but in case you don't know the details, here's what allegedly happened, according to the LAPD detective's notes and Fox News:
After Rihanna read a text message on Brown's phone from a woman, he tried to force Rihanna out of the car, but couldn't because she was wearing her seatbelt.
Brown then allegedly slammed Rihanna's head against her window, and when Rihanna turned to face him, he punched her.
The notes said blood spattered on Rihanna's clothing and the interior of the Lamborghini.
Rihanna also called her assistant, according to FOX 11, leaving a message saying, "I am on my way home. Make sure the cops are there when I get there."
Brown then reportedly replied, "You just did the stupidest thing ever. I'm going to kill you," and proceeded to punch and bite Rihanna. He allegedly put her in a headlock so long that she almost lost consciousness.
Rihanna, who turned 21 a few weeks after the incident, was beaten severely enough to require hospitalization. Brown, 19, who reportedly had a history of violence toward Rihanna, turned himself in and was charged with two felonies.
Yet 46 percent of the kids surveyed said that they thought Rihanna was to blame for the beating; 51 percent said Brown was at fault, and 52 percent said that both of them were somehow responsible. And, according to the survey, a significant number of males and females said Rihanna was now destroying Chris Brown's career.
The two got back together, which, while horrifying to many parents, doesn't seem to surprise many teenagers; 71 percent of respondents said that arguing is a normal part of a relationship, and 42 percent responded that fighting (presumably physically) was also normal.
Unhealthy relationships -- rife with physical, verbal, or emotional abuse -- has become so prevalent that kids' entertainment giant Nickelodeon did not bother to strip Brown of his nominations in their Kids' Choice Awards after his arrest, instead saying that Brown "was nominated by kids several months ago, and the kids who vote will ultimately decide who wins in the category." (Over at the Deep South Moms Blog, Ilana has written a great post about it; Brown withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday).
Also... Michael Phelps gets dropped by sponsors for toking up, but Chris Brown beats his girlfriend and is up for a couple of awards?
How did we go from telling our preschoolers "use your words" and "don't hit people" to this?
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, one in 11 adolescents reports being a victim of physical dating abuse. And it starts early: 72 percent of eighth and ninth graders reportedly "date"; by the time they are in high school, 54 percent of students report dating abuse among their peers, according to the CDC.
"The consequences of dating violence can be severe and long-lasting. Teen dating violence victimization can be a precursor to adult violence victimization, and can increase risky behaviors during adolescence," Emily F. Rothman, assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, and an adviser to the Boston Start Strong initiative, said in a press release. The CDC reports that both male and female victims of dating abuse are not only at increased risk for injury, they are also more likely to binge drink, attempt suicide, get into physical fights, and take part in unhealthy sexual behavior. "Rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use are more than twice as high in girls who report physical or sexual dating abuse than in girls who report no abuse," CDC data shows.
Are your kids aware of what happened between Rihanna and Chris Brown? How do you talk to your kids about unhealthy relationships?
Most parents have experienced the Mommy Drive-By — unsolicited advice given by people who are positive they can parent your child better than you. There's a difference, though, between that and stepping in when you see that someone else's child is in trouble.
But where do you draw the line?
A recent Washington Post article by Gene Weingarten goes into gut-wrenching detail about what happens when you forget a child and leave him locked in a hot, parked car. Last month, ABC news asked people what they would do in the same situation. (A surprising number of people kept walking past the real-looking doll in the back seat, even with a recording of a baby crying coming from the car, figuring someone else would call the police.)
There's another layer of difficulty for men who try to help a crying child -- some people assume that they're causing the problem.
Before I became a parent, I was a nanny, but even as a kid I was never able to walk past a child who seemed to need help. My litmus test: If it's a situation in which I'd want someone to help my child, I step in and help theirs. I've grabbed other people's kids as they sprinted out an open department store door and into a busy parking lot; I've let frazzled-looking parents know that the child they're calling is playing hide-and-seek in the cereal aisle. I've asked crying kids if they're lost. And I've had irritated parents glare at me for it, but I'm OK with that.
I've taught my own kids to look for another mom with kids if they can't find me in a crowd, and to ask that other mom to help them find "Lylah" (yell "Mama!" in a crowded place and at least 50 percent of the people there whip around). My 4-year-old remembered to do this when she wandered away from me at a museum a few months ago. Maybe three minutes elapsed between the moment I noticed she wasn't standing next to me any more and the moment I heard a strange woman call my name in the crowd, but my heart stops just remembering it. I can't imagine the pain and panic of realizing that you've forgotten your child in a car all day -- and being too late to save him.
What would you do if you saw a baby locked in a car? What about a child not buckled into his car seat? Or a toddler who seems to be wandering alone in a public place? When is it OK to intervene if it's not your kid?
I was hanging out on Facebook the other night, browsing through my friends' profiles and leaving comments here and there, when I noticed that my oldest daughter's status update had changed from something about volleyball practice to something about having to write several haiku for English class. I was about to add a comment about how I like to write haiku, but I froze: Wouldn't my liking that type of poetry make it automatically unhip to her and her friends? And also: If I were 15, would I really want my step mom posting public notes to me about poetry?
When our older kids wanted to set up Facebook accounts, my husband and I -- and their mom and step dad -- set up accounts of our own. The kids were allowed to be part of the social-networking site as long as they shared their passwords with us and "friended" us -- that is, added us to the list of people who could see their private profiles.
Their "friends" lists grew, but I was surprised to notice that mine grew more quickly than theirs. My old classmates from middle school, high school, and college were on there, too, and our mini reunions took place at all odd hours. And if unhip, old, boring, parents like me are socializing online in the middle of the night, you can bet our teenagers are doing it, too.
If you're not on Facebook, you probably should be -- if only to check and see if your kids are, and keep tabs on whom they're friends with. I admit that I don't "friend" my teens' friends as often as their mom does, but that's OK -- when you have four parents who love you and want to keep you safe, it's enough to know that at least half of them are always monitoring.
Even though we're keeping an eye on our kids and their friends because we want to make sure they're safe, it does bring up a few important questions: Where do you draw the line -- using the same access that any Facebook friend would have? Reading their email? Rigging the computer to record everything they do?
How much privacy should a teenager have online?
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff
There comes a point about 10 years in to this parenting gig when, all of a sudden, everything you do is embarrassing to your kids. I mean everything. The clothes you wear. The music you like. What you pack in their lunchboxes. Kissing them goodbye at school. Breathing. Everything.
Welcome to the world of parenting tweens and teens. It's likely that they will become more consistently human again in a few years. In the meantime, you have two choices: make yourself crazy trying to please them, or take it in stride.
Apparently, it doesn't matter how cool the rest of the world thinks you are, because as far as your kid is concerned, anything you do is, like, soooooo embarrassing. Even celebrities can't escape it:
"I took [9-year-old] Ava to a Carrie Underwood concert, and she said, 'Mom, I really appreciate you taking me to the concert, but will you please not embarrass me in front of Carrie Underwood by singing because she's a real singer and you're just, like, a movie singer,' " Reece Witherspoon -- who won a Best Actress Oscar for playing singer June Carter Cash in 2005's Walk the Line -- tells Parents magazine this month.
Bono, rock star extraordinaire and father of four, says his 19- and 17-year-old daughters worry that tells the he'll bore people by talking about his favorite causes. And Tom Cruise's and Nicole Kidman's 12- and 9-year-olds apparently are so embarrassed by their parents that they don't want them to pick them up from school.
So, how do you cope with feeling rejected by your bundle of joy, avoid additional humiliation, and give your tween or teen the space she needs while still keeping her safe?
Remember that your job is to be their parent, not their buddy. In spite of what your tween may tell you, you actually do know what you're talking about. It's uncomfortable, but it's OK for your kid not to like you if what you're doing is in their best interests. Explain consequences, set limits, and enforce them. Just don't expect them to thank you for the next several years.
Make them earn it. When it comes to teens and tweens, independence isn't a right, it's a privilege. Make them earn it giving them responsibilities, chores, and goals. Remind them -- often -- that you have high expectations about them because you care, not because you're trying to beat them down. Most kids will rise to the occasion.
Be willing to compromise -- a little. If your teen wants to stretch her wings (go to the mall unattended, for example), find a way to give her some of the independence she craves while making sure she's not in danger (you go, too, and let her know you'll be monitoring from afar). If your tween wants to watch that iffy movie on cable, sit down and watch it with him -- and be prepared to explain things, or even turn the TV off if need be.
Keep talking. They may seem like they're ignoring you, but tweens are still listening, much of the time. They need to hear accurate information about big issues like sex, drugs, tobacco use, alcohol use, relationships, finances, cyber safety, bullying, etc., from you, preferably before they hear it from their friends. Kidshealth.org has a great rundown of things you should talk about with your preadolescent.
Pick your battles. Some things really aren't worth fighting over. Purple hair? It's not on your head (and if you don't make a big deal about it, chances are it won't be on your kid's head much longer, either). Save your strength for the things that really matter.
Remember what it was like when you were his age. Chances are, you really didn't have to walk uphill in the snow both ways to go to school, dagnabbit. Remember what embarrassed you as a teen? Right. Try not to do those things to your kid. For example: It doesn't matter if you've called him "Cuddley Cakies" since he was a toddler, call him by his real name in front of his friends.
Don't take it personally. Keep in mind that your kids are going through a normal developmental phase. Most of the time, their embarrassment isn't about you and what you're doing, it's about them trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.
How are you handling the tween/teen years?
I was chatting with my mother-in-law the other day, and we got on to the subject of parents moving in with their adult children, to help with childcare, a la Marian Robinson and the Obamas.
It’s an old idea made new again: Grandparents living with their adult children, helping to raise the grandkids. A January study by the AARP shows that multigenerational households are on the rise, up from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million last year, an increase from 4.8 percent of all households to 5.3 percent. I call it the "GrannyNanny" concept, and it's an appealing route to work-life balance -- or so it seems.
"My wife and I have been working our way up to it step by step -- like tip-toeing into an icy lake before making the plunge," my friend Luke told me. "It has been excellent for our daughter, my wife is able to actually do work without worries, I get to enjoy foods that my Mother-in-law often has time to prepare, and I believe my MIL feels very happy to be able to have such a significant role in raising our daughter."
Now, I adore my mother-in-law, but I'm pretty sure that if she moved in with us while we were both hale and hearty, she'd probably want to kill me within a couple of weeks. (She thinks this is funny, but I'm serious). Same with my own mom, who is more than happy to be the de facto GrannyNanny for my brother's kids, who live right around the corner from her and my dad. She picks my nieces up from school, spends the night at their house, chauffeurs them from activity to activity, but when I try to imagine her living with me, doing the same, all I picture is clash after clash after clash. And, apparently, that's the case for other people, too.
"Been there done that wanted to kill each other. Maybe it can work if it is the wife’s mother, but it was my husband’s mother, and that just didn’t work," one person told me after I started polling my friends. "When my first son was born, my mom tried way too hard to be helpful," another remembered. "She’d barge into my room when she heard my son crying and held out her hands expecting me to just hand him over so she can stop the crying. Umm, no."
Would you ask your mother (or mother-in-law) to be your GrannyNanny? What do you do if your parenting style is vastly different from your mom’s or dad’s? And who is in charge… you or your parents?
A study of 2,000 British parents found that three-quarters of them were too busy -- or too tired -- to read to their young kids at bedtime.
Dads blamed long hours at the office. Mothers said they were distracted by housework. Nevertheless, the mums were the ones who cracked open a book before tucking kids in for the night, with 89 percent of female respondents saying they were the ones in charge at story time, compared with just 3 percent of males. And only 5 percent of parents overall said they read to their kids during the day.
(What are these kids doing instead of reading? Playing video games, surfing the 'net, or watching TV -- often in their bedrooms, according to the survey.)
I can understand not wanting to read to your tweens before bed -- I don't think I've read aloud to my older kids (ages 10, 13, and 15) since they became avid readers themselves. But too busy to spend 10 or 15 minutes reading a couple of board books to your preschooler? Really?
A study by the Journal of American Dietetic Association last year indicated that parents of kids in daycare centers in Texas don't know how to pack a proper lunch. The study was tiny -- just 74 kids -- but half the lunches provided less than a third of the recommended intakes of key nutrients (like carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C), most provided too much sodium and not enough fiber, fruit, veggies, or milk.
Parents regularly beat themselves up about what they're feeding their kids. But there are also people who, battling their own eating disorders, inadvertently pass their food phobias on to their kids. The issue usually has to do with weight, but not always; yesterday I read a fascinating article about parents who are so obsessed with eating well that their kids end up terrified of food.
“It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami, said in the article. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.”
Now, I'm concerned about trans-fats -- to an extent. And about high-fructose corn syrup and excess sodium and Red Dye No. 40. After reviewing "The Hundred-Year Lie" by Randall Fitzgerald a couple of years ago, I started paying more attention to the chemicals in our food. And then, my youngest daughter got really picky.
All of a sudden, she was only willing to eat cheese, pasta, cheese, whole-wheat toast, cheese, apples, and cheese. She might have nibbled at other things from time to time during that phase, but those were the only things she really ate.
I started to fret, and then obsess about it. She wouldn't touch meat, not even kid-friendly chicken nuggets or burgers. She lobbed her roasted sweet potatoes at the dog. She constructed vast forests out of broccoli, and left them on her plate. She wouldn't even eat her multivitamin... how could she possibly be getting adequate nutrition?
And then I stopped fretting. Our older kids are omnivorous and, eventually, she would be, too. I kept offering her a variety of foods at every meal, instituted the "polite bite" rule (one bite -- just one! -- and if she didn't like it she didn't have to eat more at that sitting), made sure she saw the all of us eating plenty of different things, and you know what? She got curious -- and hungry. She still avoids meat if she can help it, and she certainly doesn't devour everything I put in front of her (she is 4, after all), but she eats a good variety of foods and is fit and healthy. She even gets sweet treats now and then. And, as for what's going into her lunchbox... I'm not beating myself up about it.
Everything in moderation, right? Isn't that just common sense?
What food issues are you facing with your kids? How do you handle them?
A reader wrote to me recently, asking for some information. "One topic I would really love to see covered is how to evaluate a school district," she wrote. "Although I have some idea of how to research this on my own, I feel that I am at a disadvantage since I didn't grow up here."
I didn't grow up in the Boston area, either, and remember feeling more than a bit bewildered as my husband and I were trying to decide where to move. My tiny condo in Brookline was much too small for all of us (my husband came with three kids), and we couldn't afford a larger home there, but were loathe to leave the town's excellent schools.
When it comes to evaluating school districts, you first have to evaluate your family's needs. If full-day kindergarten is not available, what will you do for before- or after-school care? Are you willing to pay more for extracurricular activities? Do you have a child with special educational needs? Is your teenager looking for college-prep or vo-tech?
Once you've figured out your own requirements, here are a few things to consider when evaluating different school districts:
1.) Check out the school’s report card. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does not make district report cards available to the public -- districts are supposed to provide the information to parents -- but you should be able to find the information on the school district's website (if not, call the superintendent to request it). You can get also find standardized testing results, student-to-teacher ratios, economic and ethnic data, and articles about why the numbers are (or aren’t) important at websites like GreatSchools.net and SchoolDataDirect.org.
2.) Take it to the state level. It's hard to tell what those standardized test results really mean unless you compare the district's results to the state as a whole. The No Child Left Behind Act report card for Massachusetts is a good place to start.
3.) Delve into the details. The Massachusetts Department of Education website has a wealth of information about the state's teachers, graduation rates, per-student spending, and more. But you should also dig as deeply as you can into the districts themselves. Which programs in your district receive the most funding? Have the facilities been updated recently? How much are parents expected to shell out in additional fees (for sports, arts, transportation, lunches, etc.)? Have any of the schools been identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring?
4.) Visit the school. If you have an idea about which school your child might attend, it’s a good idea to take the time to visit the school -- with and without your child -- while it is in session, if possible. Talk to the teachers and staff, find out if they can connect you with other parents who might be willing to talk about their experiences.
Readers, have any of you had to evaluate (or re-evaluate) your school districts before a recent move? What advice do you have to share?
We're in the thick of cold and flu season now, and nearly every day I've assessed my kids' sniffles and coughs and tried to decide whether they're well enough for school.
Runny nose, no fever, slight cough? You're going to school.
Stuffy nose, no fever, no cough? School for you.
No runny nose, fever of 101, no cough? Sorry, no school for you today.
But there are days when I'm on the fence. Is that a fever, or were you just running around the house? Is that cough bringing up phlegm, or just a reaction to a tickle in the throat? Who has a math test they didn't study for?
According to a nationwide study conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates on behalf of Triaminic, 78 percent of parents faced at least one situation in the past year when they were not sure whether or not to keep their children home from school when they had cough or cold symptoms.
1.) A fever of 100.4 or higher
3.) Symptoms that could prevent him or her from participating in school activities, such as fatigue, lack of appetite, body aches, productive cough (one that is breaking up and bringing out congestion), or headache.
Those are guidelines that many doctors seem to apply to their own kids, which works for me -- in fact, my youngest two are home right now, hacking away (as am I). But what works for you? How do you decide whether your kid needs to stay home from school?
It's something we all have to deal with as parents: At some point, often right around the 2-year mark, our sweet little toddlers morph from adorable cherubs to masters of the meltdown.
It's bad enough when you have to deal with massive temper tantrum at home, but when it happens in a public place, as it often does, it can be even worse. Parents can feel judged, frustrated, inept -- and furious.
Michelle Nicholasen of Somerville, Mass., an award-winning filmmaker for Nova and Frontline and the author of I Break for Meltdowns: How to Handle the Most Exasperating Behavior of Your 2- to 5-Year-Old, has plenty of experience with public meltdowns -- she has five kids under the age of 8, including a set of 5-year-old triplets. The worst incident, she says, took place at a Mexican restaurant in Connecticut, during a long road trip.
"After being cooped up in a minivan for six hours, my kids came unhinged," she told me in an e-mail interview. "One of my daughters took an ornament off the Christmas tree and smashed it. Another one got annoyed with her food and crawled under the table and wouldn’t come out. My oldest daughter, I think 5 at the time, got into an argument with her grandfather and defiantly poured her drink on to the middle of the floor. I will never go back there."
In her book, Nicholasen and Barbara O'Neal, the Educational Director of Arlington Children Center in Arlington, Mass., share their wisdom on what to do in the most cringe-worthy situations. Nicholasen sat down with me recently (at our respective computers) to chat via e-mail about her book, her blog, and how parents can handle the behavioral challenges young kids often present. (You can find the full interview at Write. Edit. Repeat.)
"As parents, we are much more self-conscious about being judged when our child is misbehaving in public," she says. "The things that go through our minds are: Am I raising my child to be a wild animal? Have I not taught him enough manners? My child is acting like a little brat; what am I doing wrong? But even when you do your best, sometimes a collapse will still happen."
Nicholasen suggests a few coping strategies for parents who find themselves facing a screaming sweetie in public:
1.) Find the humor in it. "Imagine a grown-up acting like your child, and you will soon have to stifle a smile."
2.) Take the pressure off of yourself. "Assuming you’ve done your best to prepare our child for the trip, take the pressure off yourself -- this tantrum it not necessarily a reflection of your parenting skills," Nicholasen points out. "Do you know what is, though? How you react to it."
3.) Don't escalate the situation. "Parents can make tantrums much worse by yelling at their child to stop, or by threatening them. The behavior just gets worse. The other hard thing to do is not give in. Once you've set a reasonable boundary (ie, no candy at check out), don't renege just to quiet her down. If you do, she has just learned that her tantrum works. Best to scoop up your tyke and take her to a place where she can calm down without being disruptive to others," she advises. "Is it a drag for the parent? Oh yes, and tiring, too. But wait out the storm and it will pass."
Parents, what was your worst meltdown experience? How did you deal with it?
There are plenty of things you can do, and things you can bring, to make traveling with very young children go more smoothly. Some of those things work -- in theory. In practice, though? Well...
In theory: Taking an 8:10 p.m. flight -- right at bedtime -- would mean that my youngest kids would sleep on board and we'd tuck their sweetly slumbering selves into their beds at my in-law's home on the other end of the trip.
In practice: Not so much. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I would have loved to give a set of noise-canceling headphones to each and every passenger before we even took off.
Here are some of the things that actually work (for me, at any rate):
1.) Pack snacks. They don't have to be anything elaborate; in fact, it's better if they're not. Single-packets of instant oatmeal are great (filling, relatively nutritious, and you can get hot water on the plane). Sticks of string cheese are easy to find in the dark and still taste good if smushed in transit -- ditto for granola and cereal bars. Gum or lollipops will help your preschooler clear her ears and they also double as bribes. Nursing (or drinking from a bottle or a sippy cup) with help your baby's ears when the pressure changes. I usually scoff at "100-calorie" packs, but this is a great use for them (or simply fill small zip-top bags with cereal or tiny, trademarked, fish- or teddy bear-shaped crackers).
2.) Hit the drugstore. Personally, I'm not a member of the give-them-Benedryl-and-they-will-sleep school of parenting (though plenty of people are). There are a two things you can find at most drug stores, though, that can help. EarPlanes are small silicone ear plugs that help equalize pressure during takeoffs and landings (they cost about $5 a pair, and come in small and large sizes). And Sea-Bands apply pressure to an accupressure point in the wrist to help control nausea and vomiting.
3.) Use specialized transportation. I can't gush enough about our Sit 'n' Stroll. It's a stroller! It's a carseat! It's fantastic. Once you're at the airport, the distance between Point A and Point B seems to increase with every TSA announcement, and it is much, much easier to cart a tired toddler to the gate in one of these. Once there, you push the handle down, pull the wheel mechanism up, and put your kidlet -- still strapped in the five-point harness -- in his or her seat. We use it as a stroller when we travel by car, too, and leave the regular wheels at home.
4.) Improvise. Don't carry a stack of bibs for your baby; instead, use Bib Clips (or jerry-rig your own) to turn any scrap of napkin into a baby's bib, and you don't have to carry around a food-splattered cloth afterward. You don't have to bring the baby gates with you to your in-laws; barricade the stairs some other way.
5.) Pack a stash of quiet, reusable toys. Paint-with-water books or toys trump traditional crayon-and-coloring book combos. For one thing, the fewer pieces you have, the less chance you have of losing them. (Crayons roll. Enough said.) For another, anything reusable is fantastic because you can't run out of it mid-flight. Need another reason? If he's painting with water, it doesn't matter if junior decides to decorate the tray table -- or his baby sister.
6.) Embrace technology. If you have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, download free apps that will amuse the kids. My 10-year-old boy is partial to iFart (and what 10-year-old boy wouldn't be?), but iSteam, Whack 'Em All, and Whiteboard are big hits with my younger kids.
I'm always eager for more ideas... what do you have (or do) to make a trip go more smoothly?
There's an old joke about what happens when you have a lot of kids.
With the first kid, the joke goes, you take her everywhere -- playgroups, Mommy and Me gymnastics, the park, music lessons, the library, baby ballet, etc. When the second kid comes along, you take them both to playgroups, the park, and the library. With three, you take them to the park. But by the time numbers four or more arrive, you're taking them everywhere again -- to the grocery store, the drug store, the dry cleaners, the doctor's office...
It certainly seems to be true for my family.
Our oldest kids -- 15, 13, and 10 -- are plenty busy, but I think our 2-year-old has set foot in the library maybe five times in his life. (We have about a kajillion books at home, of course, but still.) A few weeks ago, our 4-year-old wanted to "Go out and DO SOMETHING," and when I asked her what she wanted to do, she said, "Let’s go to COSTCO and RUN ERRANDS!"
I'm not sure how guilty to feel about this. On the one hand, I'm all for kids having plenty opportunities to learn and grow and do things that have captured their interests. With older kids, there's a measure of self discipline, self awareness, and self esteem to be gained from certain kinds of extracurriculars -- team sports, for example, or Mock Trial or maybe even a part-time job. (Added bonus: If teenagers are super busy, maybe they won't find time to date until they're out on their own!)
But preschoolers? Toddlers? Do they really need extracurricular activities -- especially if they're already in preschool or daycare?
When my 4-year-old expressed an interest in following in her older brother's Taekwando footsteps, we found the worlds tiniest gi and signed her up for the beginners class. She loves it, the schedule is flexible, and if she decides she doesn't want to do it anymore, we'll stop.
But her friends take dance and gymnastics and art classes -- often all at the same time. My young nieces do soccer and swimming and horseback riding as well as ballet and ice skating. My 2-year-old tags along with his older siblings, but isn't signed up for anything.
Am I depriving my youngest kids by not keeping them busier outside of school?
According to some experts, maybe not. Studies on over scheduling tend to focus on the effect it has on older kids and teenagers, but even toddlers and preschoolers may be feeling the burnout. Stress may lead little kids to act out at school -- or beg you to let them stay home.
How much is too much? Do you think kids today are over scheduled?
As I picked my 4-year-old up from preschool yesterday, I asked her teacher whether the class would be doing anything for Valentine's Day and was surprised when she told me that she's not allowed to plan anything for them.
"If parents want to send in cards or treats, we can't stop them from doing that," she told me apologetically, "but we're not supposed to do anything ourselves."
Now, I don't think of Valentine's Day as a religious holiday, and I do see the point in trying to prevent kids from getting their feelings hurt ("Jimmy gave Cathy a card but not me! Waaaaaa!"), but avoiding it entirely? Why?
Most kids are aware of Valentine's day -- it's a mainstream "holiday," and we're inundated with advertising and programming and craft ideas for and about it. So why not celebrate the day in the classroom and use it as a chance to teach kids about the importance of friendship and caring for others? Shift the focus away from hearts and candy and have kids bring flowers and fun to a retirement home. Collect donations for a food pantry, or bring books and toys to the children's wing of a hospital.
I baked tiny cookies for my kids' classmates anyway -- if they can't have a party, they can just call it snack. And I'll be making cards for my kids tonight, just little notes telling them how important they are to me, sealed with a lipstick kiss.
Do you celebrate Valentine's Day with your kids? Should it be kept out of the classroom?
My family, along with most of the nation, held our breath and watched as Michael Phelps made Olympic history last year. As a parent, I cheered for other reasons, too: My kids and their friends were fascinated by a clean-cut, hard-working, dedicated and driven young man whom I would be happy to have them emulate.
And then came the photo from the party in South Carolina of Phelps with his cap on backwards, smoking what appears to be marijuana from a glass pipe.
And then the outrage and disappointment -- from parents, from the media, from his corporate sponsors, from the United States Olympic Commission.
But I still think he could be a good role model.
Now, please note that I wrote "could be," not "is." He made a stupid choice (I can't really call it a mistake... I don't think you learn how to use that particular type of pipe by accident). He's being punished (banned from competitive swimming for three months, among other things). But I'm not sure that focusing on his mistake is the way to help our kids learn from this.
I think that character is shown, not just by the choices you make in life, but also by the way you deal with the consequences of those choices. So I'm interested in what happens next.
Our kids aren't perfect -- they will make stupid mistakes and bad choices, too, and some of them will leave us staggering. Along with hoping that they make the right choices, can we teach them to learn from their mistakes and improve themselves? Or do we show them that, if they're not perfect, we'll turn our backs on them?
Parents, do you think it's possible for Michael Phelps -- or A Rod, or Michael Vicks, or Britney Spears, for that matter -- to still become a positive role model again?
When I went back to work after having my first baby, I was working days while my husband worked nights. He'd hang out with our baby during the day, then take her in to the office at the start of his shift. My shift ended when his started, and he'd hand her off to me and I'd take her back home for what I called my Second Shift with the kids (my first baby was also our fourth child).
I often said that the thing that made returning to work after my first maternity leave most manageable, for me, was the knowledge that my baby was spending the day with her dad. But, according to a recent survey by Parenting magazine, 46 percent of moms said that they get angry at their spouses at least once per week -- and the majority of them are getting mad about parenting issues, not bills or chores or who has the remote. In fact, a full 40 percent of respondents said they were furious because "their husbands seem clueless about the best way to take care of kids."
We've all heard the jokes about dads who diaper the wrong end of the baby, dress them in eye-aching combinations of stripes and polka dots, let them eat chocolate cake for breakfast (it has eggs, milk, and wheat, right Bill Cosby?), etc. We've all heard stories of fatherly incompetence from our friends from time to time, and horror stories about neglectful parents, male and female.
And, goodness knows, there have been times when my husband has wholeheartedly given the kids permission to do something that I definitely would have vetoed (like playing "Rock Band" until 1 a.m. or watching Predator on cable). But, during the year and a half that our now-preschooler was home with my husband during the day, it never, ever occurred to me to micromanage his parenting.
Maybe it was because my husband was already a parent when we met -- since he’d done the baby thing three times already, why would I have to tell him what to do with his fourth child? Maybe it was because I assumed that a nearly 6-month-old baby who loved to nap (three hours at a stretch! I miss those days) would be a piece of cake. Or maybe I was so worried about earning enough money to support our expanded family that it was a relief not to have to worry about who was taking care of her while I was at the office -- even if it meant my husband and I were like ships passing in the dead of night for a while.
But the thing that I wonder most about is this: How can moms complain that dads aren't involved enough or nurturing enough if they don't trust their husbands to be good parents without supervision?
Moms, do you feel the need to micromanage when your child is alone with his or her father? Dads, have you ever felt like you were being asked to babysit instead of parent?
It seems like a no-brainer: If the toys you're selling contain something that's harmful to children, you shouldn't sell them.
But you'd be surprised. Sometimes, it takes an act of congress plus a lawsuit to make companies pull the toys off their shelves.
Yesterday, a federal judge upheld the congressional ban barring stores from selling children’s toys and childcare products that contain phthalates, a chemical that softens plastics and also acts as a hormone disrupter. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday, February 10.
Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen filed the lawsuit against the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) late last year, after learning that a law firm had asked the CPSC, on behalf of unidentified clients, to apply the U.S. ban on phthalates to the production, but not the sale of, children's toys. Just two days after the letter was sent, the CPSC agreed. Meaning that while phthalates couldn't be used on toys manufactured after the Feb. 10 cutoff date, existing toys with the harmful chemical could still be sold.
Hence the lawsuit.
Now, I can see the business side of this: The economy is awful, and businesses want to minimize their losses. But from the parental side, all I can think is: Are you kidding me? First lead, and now this?
The law, which was signed by President Bush in September, bans the same six phthalates that have been banned in European toys for nearly 10 years. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, other countries -- including Argentina, Japan, Israel and Mexico have also banned the chemicals. And Toys R Us decided to pull some toys containing phthalates off their shelves by the end of 2008.
Parents, you can't rest easy quite yet: The Toy Association of America says that, based on independent research and "a 50-year track record of safe use," they believe that the phthalates used in toys pose "no significant risk to children’s health." And, as an article at SafeToys.com points out, "any replacement chemicals would not necessarily have such a long history of use and analysis."
Parents, have the lead or phthalate issues changed the way you buy toys?
It's a predicament that all working parents have to face at some point, whether your kids are tiny and you have to go back to work or your children are older and you're trying to figure out how to handle the hours after school: How do you manage child care?
Not every family can afford to have one parent stay at home, and it's rare that a blended family can get by on one income. In our case, our finances dictated that neither my husband nor I could put our careers on hold and still pay the mortgage. So, for years one of us worked nights, the other worked days, and we traded off with the kids in the middle.
It was tag-team parenting at its finest. And it was a stress fest. My husband and I rarely saw each other. The kids had plenty of time with each of us, but very little time with both of us together. To make matters more difficult, my husband and I only had one day off in common, and that day was filled with each of us trying to "get stuff done."
We had two more kids together and figured we'd manage with our wonky schedule for a few more years, until the littles were old enough for kindergarten, but in 2007 my husband got a job offer with daytime hours that was just too good to pass up. I had just returned from maternity leave and felt like I had already used up any good will I had banked at the office, along with all of my vacation and sick time. Our big kids were older (and much more independent) by then, but I couldn't take time off while we figured out childcare for our youngest two kids. What were we going to do?
Evaluating your childcare options can be difficult even when you have plenty of time to prepare. Can you afford to stay home for a few years? Should Mom stay home, or should Dad? What do you ask the directors of a daycare center? How about when you're interviewing a nanny? Can you share child care with someone in your neighborhood? Is a home-daycare situation the right fit for your child? Should you look for part-time or full-time care? (You can benefit from my research: Here are a few things I wish I'd known when I was looking.)
We combed through our finances and examined our options and ended up choosing a new branch of an established daycare and preschool that had opened up in our town.
Fast-forward nearly two years. The initial guilt I felt about having them in "someone else’s care" was eclipsed only by the shock of the first monthly tuition bill, and both feelings were replaced by relief and amazement when I saw how they were thriving. They're so active and social -- much more so than when I was home with them during maternity leave (that's another blog post). Is it easy to drop them off at care each day? Not always. But it was absolutely the right choice for our family.
What do you do about childcare? How did you decide what worked best for your family?
The Boston Globe Magazine launched a new column yesterday called "Parenting Traps," and in the first installment staff writer Neil Swidey writes about how his kids have asked the age-old question: Can we have a dog?
As I write this, there is a large, not-overly bright but very sweet black lab sitting near my feet, absentmindedly licking his paw. My husband and our kids adore him; me, I think he's a good dog, but I'm not so much of a pet person. In fact, I have never, not even as a kid, really wanted a pet.
This, apparently, is not the norm.
Our 13-year-old has such an affinity for animals that she held out hope I'd birth a litter of Labrador retrievers instead of a human baby four years ago; she's more than happy to walk and care for our pet, but we also live out in the boonies where our dog can roam around outside (well, within the electric fence) without problems. In most families, though, once there's a pooch on the premises, Mom and Dad are the ones who end up doing most of the work.
So, what's the benefit? According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, taking care of a pet may help children develop better social skills, self esteem, and self confidence. All reasons why there's a dog sitting near my feet right now.
Do you have pets in your household? Why or why not? Join in the discussion at "Parenting Traps" (or weigh in below!).
The internet is abuzz with news of the California mother of six who just gave birth to octuplets.
My sciatic nerve twinged a little bit just writing that.
Now, the birth of the octuplets raises a lot of questions about selective termination, infertility treatment, and the medical and moral issues surrounding mega-pregnancies, and you should feel free to discuss any or all of those topics in the comments, but since this column is called "Child Caring," I'm going to focus on the child caring part of the equation: How does one manage with 14 kids, the oldest of whom is just 7 years old?
Most large families grow slowly, one child at a time, or maybe a set of twins. Even in a blended family, it's rare to suddently need eight new carseats all at once. The average US family has two kids, according to US census data, but just a generation ago a family with four kids wasn't considered all that "big," writes Meagan Francis, author of "Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World" and editor of LargerFamilies.com.
"In 1976 – the year before I was born – an American woman had a 36 percent chance of giving birth to four or more children in her lifetime, and about 60 percent of women had families of three children or more," she writes. "But according to the latest census, the number of women who can expect to have three or more has been cut to 29 percent, while those with four or more children has dwindled to 10 percent. And as the number of mothers having more than a couple of kids has dwindled, so has understanding of families that don’t fit the two-kid mold."
When society seems geared toward families of four (total), parenting a large family presents some unique challenges.
"Space -- where will everybody sleep? Is there enough room at the dining-room table?" Francis, who is expecting her fifth child, says. "Time -- how do I give each child the attention he deserves? But I've found that space issues are easy enough to work around -- as it turns out, most kids don't "need" the huge play areas and solo bedrooms we've become accustomed to giving them, and in some ways, parenting lots of kids is easier than one or two."
It's easy to imagine the cons, but there are pros to having a large family, too. "Big families may often be noisy and chaotic, but siblings also provide each other with built-in companions, meaning children in a big family may play more cohesively and crave less entertainment from Mom and Dad," Francis points out. "Of course, big families also mean that siblings may get in more trouble, and then cover up for each other."
"Parents of many children usually quickly determine that, if they're going to maintain a big household, every family member has to chip in, except the infants," she says. "Having regular chores encourages kids to develop responsibility and feel like competent team members, something many contemporary children don't get to experience."
How big is your family, and what challenges do you face with the number of children you already have?
Ty -- the makers of all things Beanie Baby -- has come out with a couple of new collectibles: "Sweet Sasha" and "Marvelous Malia."
I'm not kidding.
The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company says that the dolls are not meant to be a perfect likeness of the Presidents young daughters and insist that the newest editions to the Ty Girlz line aren't modeled on the Obamas. But come on... I don't buy it. And neither does First Lady Michelle Obama, whose spokesperson released a statement saying "We feel it is inappropriate to use young private citizens for marketing purposes."
I understand the desire to offer young girls a plaything that they can relate to, and there's no denying that much of the country is fascinated by Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. But this just smacks of opportunistic marketing, consumerism, exploitation, and greed to me. (The dolls, which retail for $9.99, are already going for as much as $175 on eBay -- no, I'm not going to link to the auction.)
Remember way back, during the campaign, when both Obama and McCain declared that the candidate's families would be off limits? Yeah, it didn't exactly work out that way, but that constant barrage of "happy family" imagery seems different from the stream of PR pitches for Sasha- and Malia-related products and ideas out there right now.
For some reason, I don't feel the same way about child actors and the avalanche of consumer goods with their images plastered on them. Miley Cyrus makes a living as Hannah Montana; the Jonas Brothers made a conscious decision early on to be in the public eye. Isn't there a difference between kids who are celebrities and kids who are the children of celebrities?
Parents, what do you think? Should a public figure's kids be off limits?
I was watching my kids interact recently, and it occurred to me that they're like a bunch of magnets, shaken up in one of those cups you use in Vegas to roll the dice before spilling them out onto the table. Sometimes, they're all glommed together, five wildly different kids at five wildly different stages, somehow forming a cohesive unit. Other times, it's as if they're all negatively charged, scattering throughout the house, caroming against and away from one another.
Call me idealistic, but I'm pretty sure the latter happens because of their ages and developmental stages -- we've got two teenagers, a tween, a preschooler, and a toddler right now -- and not because only two of them were born to me.
As a step parent, the "step kids vs. bio kids" issue is something that's always simmering away on the back burner. It comes up in day-to-day life, to some degree, all the time. A few weeks ago, a single mom friend of mine blogged post about her top five tidbits of single-parenting advice, and her post got me thinking about the subject some more. I was nodding along, agreeing with everything she wrote, until I read this:
4. Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child.
My first thought: Well, their bio mom and I are two pretty different people, of course we love them in different ways.
My second thought: Hmmm... I'm both a bio mom and a step mom; are those two different types of love?
My third thought: Has my relationship with my step kids changed now that my youngest two are here?
I was a step mom for years before I gave birth to my youngest children. I'm of mixed ethnicity, and so are my step kids, so we look related, all caramel-colored skin and dark, curly hair. None of us particularly likes the label or the baggage that comes with being a "step," but it requires the least amount of explanation (and, oddly, the people who question us are always adults. Children don't seem to have a problem dealing with how I'm related to all of my kids). When someone -- an adult, of course -- asks our big kids about their "half-siblings," the kids say something along the lines of "They're too little to understand fractions."
On the one hand, I see where that particular tidbit of single-mom advice is coming from: Society, for the most part, tends to assume that no one who comes along later could possibly love a child the way the biological parent must, that a genetic link is required in order to be a "real" parent. (Adoptive parents have a whole other set of issues to contend with, but since the biological parent often is not in the picture, that makes parenting different -- "easier" or "more real" -- for some, or so I've been told/warned).
On the other hand, I think it's a case of semantics. Just because the love isn't the same doesn't mean the feelings and the level of commitment isn't as deep.
I adore my oldest kids. Do think that my relationship with them changed after my preschooler and toddler came along? Yes, I do -- for the better. It's not all wine and roses, but it has grown deeper and more complex, richer and more intense, and not because I've experienced childbirth or had "children of my own." It's changed because we've all grown -- together. I'm more mature and experienced, and they're older and more independent now than we were when I first started parenting them nearly a decade ago.
But do I love them differently than I do my youngest two? No, I don't think so.
Do I love them differently than their biological mom does? Probably. But I don't think that's a bad thing. Kids are kids... they can't have too many loving parents looking out for them.
Are you a step parent or an adult step child? Do you think being a step parent is different from being a biological or adoptive parent?
We hear the word "bully" and tend to think of aggression, physical abuse, and hazing -- and we tend to think "boy." But girls can be bullies, too. They might not resort to fist fights after school, but the psychological warfare "mean girls" wage can have just as devastating an effect, leading to self esteem issues, anxiety, poor grades, drug use, depression, and eating disorders in young girls.
Over at the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, Joanna posted about attending a recent lecture by Rachel Simmons, the author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and Stand Up! What Every Parent Needs to Know About Cyber Bullying (which you can download for free here).
"I remember feeling bullied and left out, and those feelings have a lasting impact on me," Joanna writes in her post. "To this day I feel some hostility when the names of some of those girls come up in conversation."
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, a typical girl who bullies is well-liked by parents and teachers, does well academically, and may even actually be friends with her victim. Instead of physical violence, "she spreads rumors, gossips, excludes others, shares secrets, and teases girls about their hair, weight, intelligence, and athletic ability," a NCPC report on girls and bullying points out. She often persuades other girls to join in the bullying and, because she's usually well-liked by adults and generally popular with other kids, adults tend not to realize that another child is being victimized.
It's tempting to give the bully's parents a piece of your mind or to try to protect your child by reprimanding the bully yourself -- I know I certainly wanted to when one of our older kids was being bullied in school. Parents also tend to tell their kids that the bully is "just jealous," which may be true, but isn't very helpful.
So, what should you do if your daughter is dealing with a bully? I'm not an expert, so I turned to a few people who are.
Simmons suggests that you don't over-emphasize, over-dramatize, or internalize the problem, and don't ask your daughter what she did to provoke the incident.
Michelle New at kidshealth.org suggests teaching kids to avoid the bully, "stand tall and be brave," feel good about themselves, and "get a buddy and be a buddy."
Carly Young at Lifescript.com suggests finding a positive role model, not trying too hard to be part of a group that doesn't accept you, and finding an activity or goal that gives you a bigger sense of purpose.
Have you or your child had to deal with a "mean girl" or with bullying in general? How did you handle the situation?
One of the things I always tell other parents -- especially other working moms who are struggling with their juggling of career and motherhood -- is that they shouldn't feel bad about letting their little kids watch TV if they need to get their work done.
It's something I really believe is OK. It's something I do more often than I'd like. And it's something that makes me feel like a total hypocrite because, half a lifetime ago, when I was a nanny, I never turned the TV on when the kids were around. Ever.
It was a matter of pride, sometimes, but more often than not it was because the parents I worked for didn't want their kids staring at the TV. And sometimes, it was extremely difficult -- a long winter trip to Florida with three kids and no car comes to mind -- but they were the parents, so their word was law.
Now, I'm the parent. And, while I still use some of the TV-free tricks I learned way back then, there definitely are times -- often when I have work to do from home and the kids aren't in school -- when I'll pop in a DVD of "The Backyardigans" and only turn it off when I realize, all of a sudden, that my little guys have just watched four episodes in a row.
Adding to the guilt: The American Association of Pediatrics says that kids under the age of 2 watch too much television. Granted, my 2-year-old isn't getting four hours of tube time at a pop. And there's a huge difference between "Curious George" and "Cops." But still.
How much TV do your kids watch per day? Are they doing other things while the TV is on (mine usually are), or are they absorbed in the show?
My oldest kids are 15, 13, and 10 (girl, girl, boy), and the question "Why can't I just stay home?" has come up more than once. I don't have a problem with leaving our 15- or 13-year-olds home alone for a few hours... but our 10-year-old? Not yet. Maybe with one of his older sisters, but not by himself.
This is clearly a case of "Do as I say, not as I do" -- or used to do. I stayed home alone for brief periods of time -- so my mom could make a quick run to the grocery store or the post office, for instance -- when I was 10, and I was babysitting by the time I was 12. I kept an eye on my two younger brothers back then, too; it was the early '80s, and as long as we didn't turn on the stove or go in the deep end of the pool while we were home alone, it was OK. Times were different then, I guess.
My husband says he was staying home by himself for a few hours at a stretch by the time he was in the 4th grade; he and his younger brother were latch-key kids in New York in the '70s. "They had keys and called me as soon as they arrived home," my mother-in-law says. "They were responsible and I had certain rules that they had to follow."
The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left home alone, some states have set their own legal minimums (Massachusetts has none). Of course, the child's personality and maturity level has to be taken into consideration, too. (My parents are still leery about letting my youngest brother stay at their place by himself, thanks to his party-hearty teenage years -- and he's married and in his 30s now!)
Over at Full Time, All the Time, Miss Britt wonders when it's OK to let her 9-year-old son stay home alone; the discussion is getting interesting, so I thought I'd ask the veteran parents over here: At what age would you think it's OK to leave you child home alone for a few hours during the day? What about at night? And how old were you when you started staying home by yourself?
My jaw dropped open when I read this story: A 13-year-old girl in California recently racked up a thumb-numbing 14,528 text messages in a single month.
Yes, you read that correctly. Fourteen thousand, five hundred and twenty eight SMS messages. One kid. That's a lot of TTYLs.
Luckily for them, they had an unlimited text-messaging plan, but still, 14,528 text message seems a bit... excessive, to say the least. Even if that grand total includes incoming and outgoing messages.
A late-2008 Nielsen study of 50,000 US cell-phone users found that most people nowadays text more often than they talk.
"U.S. teens (ages 13 to 17) had the highest levels of text messaging in Q2 2008, sending and receiving an average of 1,742 text messages per month," the study showed. During that same time period, teens made or received an average of just 231 mobile phone calls.
Our 13-year-old definitely fits this bill -- she'd much prefer to text than talk. (though I don't think we've ever reached 1,742 texts in a month, let alone 14,000+). And I can see the appeal: Little siblings can't eavesdrop and then go screeching to tell Mommy or Daddy what you said, you can text under the desk at school (well, in theory) or from the couch while watching "American Idol," you can sit in the car while waiting for your siblings and have multiple miniature conversations with several friends nearly simultaneously.
Is your teen a texting fiend?
The metal support brackets that support the crib mattress and the mattress board can crack and break, causing the mattress to collapse and creating a gap that can trap babies and cause them to suffocate. Ten incidents have been reported so far, with one injury and no deaths, the CPSC reports.
The recall includes all cribs manufactured and distributed between May 2000 and November 2008. The cribs, which cost between $100 and $400 and came in several different styles and finishes, were sold nationwide at J.C. Penney, Kmart, and Walmart stores and at Amazon.com, Babiesrus.com, Costco.com, Sears.com and Walmart.com from May 2000 through January 2009.
Parents are advised to stop using the recalled cribs imediately and to contact Stork Craft (866-361-3321; www.storkcraft.com) to order free replacement mattress support brackets.
Updated on 1/15/09 to add: Apparently, people are having a hard time getting through on the phone. The Stock Craft website has a page devoted to the recall; on it, it says: To order the replacement brackets please send an e-mail to email@example.com and indicate your name, surname, shipping address, crib purchase date, country of manufacture and model number. Hope this helps! -- LMA
I knew I was in trouble the instant my 2-year-old rubbed his face and then laid his damp little hand on my cheek. No symptoms yet, but the sign was clear: Cold and flu season was in full swing.
A few days later, he was streaming from the nose and I was wishing I'd bought stock in Purell. A few days after that, he was fine but a couple of our other kids were coughing and I'd been felled by a fever so high even I had to call in to work (and, if you know me, you know that I rarely call in sick).
The flu shot is recommended for people with compromised immune systems, including the very old, the very young, and their caregivers, but no one in my family falls into those categories, so when my company's medical department offered the flu shot, but I didn't get it. On purpose. Neither did my husband, nor any of our five kids. Call me crazy, but I'm with the Mayo Clinic on this one: I believe that a good, soapy hand-washing can do a lot to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. I'll take it over the flu vaccine.
Aside from the whole Thimerosal issue (the flu vaccine is one of the few that still uses the mercury-laced preservative, but a nasal-spray version of the vaccine does not), the main reason I avoid the flu vaccine is that it doesn't work for about 85 percent of people who exhibit flu-like symptoms.
Why not? Two reasons.
For one thing, researchers divide influenza into two types, influenza A or B, and "all other forms of influenza." Both kinds produce exactly the same symptoms -- headache, fever, muscle aches, cough, and runny nose -- but the vaccine only works on some versions of influenza A or B, not on the "all other forms."
For another, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the formulation of the vaccine changes every year, kind of a luck-of-the-draw attempt to come up with a vaccine that will be effective against the widest range of A and B strains out there -- and this year, early research out of Canada, the United States, and Britain shows that the vaccine was mismatched. Which means that the strain of flu that the vaccine was designed to protect us against isn't the strain that's making most people sick.
Besides, if I did happen to fall among the lucky few who encounter a form of the flu that the vaccine can prevent, it takes as long as two weeks for your body to start producing antibodies once you've gotten the shot. Which means that you can end up with a sore arm AND a raging case of the flu. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened to me the first and only time I got a flu shot, years and years ago.
Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take my chances with my kids and their school and daycare bugs. What I have right now may be the flu -- in which case, I've got some awesome antibodies in development. And if it's not, well, I'll just brace myself for the rest of the season.
Do you let your kids get the flu shot? Why or why not?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
about the authors
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Boston Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids ranging in age from toddler to teen. In addition to writing for Child Caring, she also writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.
Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes; Understanding How Your Children See the World." A former Globe staff writer, she wrote the weekly "Child Caring" column for 19 years. That column earned her many awards, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.
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