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4 #ParentingFails of Downton Abbey

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Downton Abbey season 5 Tom Branson and SybbieIf you’re a fan of Downton Abbey like me, you already know that kids fall into the “seen but not heard” category.

Little George and Sybbie are off with Nanny, only appearing at afternoon tea for some hugs and kisses, while Little Marigold only gets snippets of time when her real mom calls at the pig farm.

Watching the younger parents of Downton, I’ve learned quite a few things about how NOT to raise kids. Sure, it’s a fictional family, but I think that any parent can avoid certain #parentingfails…like the ones I’ve observed so far.

Parenting Fail #1: Employing a straight-up crazy nanny - Even with impeccable references, Nanny West made it through the doors of Downton. But Mary Poppins she was not. Not only was she snooty and controlling, but she forbid Barrow from saying “hello” to Sybbie. Turns out she wasn’t concerned about germs: she believed Sybbie was a “wicked little cross-breed” who didn’t deserve affection. So the takeaway: Be extra vigilant about choosing nannies — contact all references, do background checks, schedule meet-and-greets, and, um, maybe install a nanny cam?

Parenting Fail #2: Pretending to be your own child’s godmother - So this fail isn’t entirely Edith’s fault; it was just a sign of the times that she felt an elaborate charade was necessary to protect her family’s reputation. But, it almost seems like too much to give up a child to a tenant, only to visit her enough to make the tenant’s wife suspicious, and then take an interest in being her fairy-godmother-of-sorts. By going it alone, things are more and more complicated. So the takeaway: Be honest with your parents, and hold onto your child; consider adoption right away, even if they’re reluctant, because it’s better to solve certain adoption roadblocks together.

Parenting Fail #3: Letting your child disrespect the patriarch - Okay, kids can’t always control what they say, but Tom should probably stop Sybbie from calling Lord Grantham “Lord Donk.” Yes, he deserves the nickname more often than not, but it might be better not to half-insult the man who pays for everything. Sybbie may not be a revolutionary rebel-in-the-making yet, but she should wait at least a few years before becoming one. So the takeaway: Kids are never too young to learn some polite manners, especially the respectful way to greet others.

Parenting Fail #4: Leaving your child for a week to have a secret tryst – Again, this fail on Mary’s part can also be blamed as a sign of the times, but…the whole scheme to go out of town just to sex-audition a potential husband also seems a bit much. Especially when all the planning doesn’t involve one consideration of leaving George behind for a week! (I mean, won’t she miss him? At all?) So the takeaway: When thinking about getting married, consider whether your potential mate would make a good father, especially one to a child who’s not his own.

As long as you avoid these four parenting pitfalls, you’ve pretty much nailed parenting. So fellow Downton Abbey fans, share the #parentingfails you’ve observed on the show!

Sherry Huang is a Features Editor for who covers baby-related content. She loves collecting children’s picture books and has an undeniable love for cookies of all kinds. Her spirit animal would be Beyoncé Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @sherendipitea

Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail

Image: Publicity photo of Tom Branson and little Sybbie via PBS Masterpiece

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How Generous Was Your Family This Holiday Season?

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Hands holding a heartGrowing up, even though I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, I still, um, believed in getting gifts. And I had my fair share of Christmas wish lists for mom and dad. A few items that topped one year’s list included a Play-Doh machine that molded glittery butterflies, an Easy Bake Oven, and a sparkly-velvety Christmas Barbie. I actually never received any of these items, and I am grateful that my parents never gave them to me.

Instead of teaching me to expect gifts every year just because it was the expected for Christmas, my parents taught me to remember those who had helped us in some way throughout the year, and to give to them instead. In our family, this meant remembering the next-door neighbor who helped shovel our snow in winter, the family friend who dropped me off after school, and even the postman — with either fresh fruits, a homemade meal, or chocolates. My parents didn’t give generously in the lavish and expensive sense; instead, they made sure to give generously with affection and heart.

But what makes someone generous? And can generosity be developed?

The answers may lie in a recent study published online in Current BiologyDevelopmental neuroscientists at the University of Chicago focused on a small sample size of 57 children, ages 3 to 5, to see how the idea of generosity (or the concept of moral behavior) formed at a young age. Each child watched short animations of cartoon characters either helping or hurting one another. Afterwards, the children were presented with two boxes and 10 stickers. They had the option of placing stickers in one box for themselves to keep, or placing the stickers in the other box to share with an unknown child. In most cases, regardless of age or gender, children placed at least 2 stickers in the box for the unknown child.

Throughout the experiment, the scientists tracked and recorded the children’s brain waves and eye movement. They then compared the children’s brain waves during the watching process and the giving process. Researchers noticed that specific neural markers in the brain during both times were engaged in the same way, which indicated that even at a young age, kids had the ability to connect moral situations (helping someone) with the desire to share (being generous).

This is an encouraging study, which is on track to showing that generosity can be identified in kids who are still at an age when selfishness reigns. And if generosity can be identified, then it has the potential to be nurtured and developed as kids get older. In essence, being generous means being sensitive to the needs of others and sacrificing some time (or maybe money) to helping them.

And most parents want to raise kids who give and who understand the importance of volunteering and donating to charity.  One way parents can teach the idea of giving and generosity might be as simple as asking kids what gifts they will give others for Christmas, versus what gifts they want to receive. Or it may mean emphasizing gifts that come from the heart and not from the wallet, like spending more time together, as this IKEA Spain commercial reveals. It’s always the simple, smallest things that can make the biggest impact.

‘Tis the season for giving, which doesn’t have to end with the Christmas holiday. Instead, make giving and generosity (with your time, understanding, words of encouragement, hugs and kisses) an ongoing, year-round concept.

Sherry Huang is a Features Editor for who covers baby-related content. She loves collecting children’s picture books and has an undeniable love for cookies of all kinds. Her spirit animal would be Beyoncé Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @sherendipitea

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

Photo: Hands holding a heart via Shutterstock

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Do We Really Need Santa to Believe in the Magic of Christmas?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Santa ClausWarning: Don’t let your kids read this post!

Can you keep a secret? Here’s one I’m going to share with you: I never believed in Santa Claus.

Before you find the right emoji to express your horror and pity, I should explain that I spent the first five years of my life in Taiwan. At the time, during the ’80s, Christmas wasn’t the hugely popular or commercial holiday that it has become today. (I recently went back to Taiwan and Christmas decorations were everywhere.) Even though my family owned a small plastic tree, we never decorated it, and my parents never taught me to believe in the magic (and myth) of jolly Old Saint Nick.

When I moved to the U.S., I learned more about the red-suited man who delivered gifts via a flying reindeer sleigh. But even though I was still young enough to believe in Santa, I never thought he was real or that he existed. I never wrote letters addressed to the North Pole, I never left cookies and milk out on Christmas Eve, and I never sat in Santa’s lap telling him what was on my wish list.

All this might sound like one big #parentingfail, but I’m glad my parents never told me about Santa. Instead, I was left to discover and believe what I wanted. But I was curious: How important is it to believe in Santa Claus? To help me answer this question (and other questions I had), I reached out to Dr. Heather Wittenberg, a child psychologist/development expert and mom of four, and Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and mom of two. Here’s what they both said.

Should parents tell kids about Santa?

Dr. Heather: Santa is more of a family and cultural issue. So if Santa is an important part of the family’s rituals and traditions and stories, then it is valuable for the child to embrace that story and enjoy it for all it’s worth. But to the extent that the family is ‘meh’ about Santa, that’s fine, too. No big loss.

How should parents approach talking about Santa?

Dr. Berger: If parents want to encourage their children to believe in Santa Claus, or other culturally-sanctioned magic ideas, they can present the idea with enthusiasm and fun. The parents’ attitude can convey that these imaginary figures are not quite the same as the guy with the blue truck living across the street, that there is a special humor and excitement about an imaginary figure that is different from ordinary reality.

Should parents feel guilty about “lying” to their kids?

Dr. Heather: It’s not really a “lie” to young children who aren’t able (yet) to comprehend the difference between “reality” and “fantasy.” So for them, Santa is just another fun story (that the child sort of believes, like monsters and other make believe things).

Dr. Berger: Santa is no different from many other parts of life which look different from a child’s perspective. Joining the magic of one’s particular culture is a part of childhood. Because all small children think magically, no parent can (or should) aim to get rid of childlike magic all at once — or pretend that a 4-year-old can be a miniature scientist. All children believe in magic because they think magically.

What should parents say when kids start to ask questions?

Dr. Heather: As kids get to the age (around first grade) where they begin to distinguish between truth and fantasy, it’s okay to let the child guide the “belief in Santa” process. So if the child is suspicious and demands to know if Santa is really “real,” it’s not damaging to say “Now that you’re a bigger kid, you can see that some stories are just stories we tell because they are fun and we love them. But you’re right, Santa is just a story, and we love to have fun with the story every year. It’s still OK to make believe and enjoy it. (And please keep the secret from your friends or younger siblings who still want to believe.)”

Is it bad for children to stop believing in Santa?

Dr. Berger: Part of the slow gradual development of adult thinking is becoming more aware of reality.  As children mature, they gradually give up the excitement and magic of the imaginary figure, like their favorite teddy bear; it just slowly loses importance. Instead, they transfer their sense of fun and excitement and magic to other things. However, plenty of magic remains in their heart.

Should parents worry if a child is too old to believe in Santa?

Dr. Heather: For “big kids” who still cling to the belief that Santa is real, that’s okay, too. As long as the child understands truth vs. fiction when it really matters in life, hanging onto Santa won’t hurt a bit.


So for me, I didn’t need to believe in Santa Claus to believe in the magic of Christmas. Because Christmas already is magical. And as a kid, I was spellbound by sparking lights, big red bows, pine-y garlands, colorful ornaments, and the warm golden glow that permeated every window and street corner. Everything about Christmas — candy canes, gingerbread houses, sugar plum fairies, velveteen stockings – was still magical or wonderful or memorable for me. I also spent many a Christmas at church, watching the reenactment of the birth of baby Jesus, experiencing another aspect of the magic of Christmas — one full of star-filled skies, singing angels, and the miracle of birth.

The commercial and the religious mingled, and I eventually grew to believe Christmas’s most basic message: to retain a sense of wide-eyed wonder and understand that magical moments are possible — even ones with or without Santa Claus.

Read more about Santa Claus, and  Christmas:

Kid Craft: Sparkly Tree Ornament
Kid Craft: Sparkly Tree Ornament
Kid Craft: Sparkly Tree Ornament

Get into the spirit of the season with these printable Christmas coloring pages and Holiday coloring pages.

Image: Santa Claus via Shutterstock

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Why the Jscreen Genetic Test Is Important for Your Baby

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Colorful DNA strands geneticsBy Stephanie Wood

For most parents to be, there’s no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to their future children’s health and well-being. Whether you’re just thinking about getting pregnant or already have a baby on the way, you’ve no doubt considered the pros and cons of the prenatal tests available that screen for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome.

When I had my three children, I chose to only have screenings and not to undergo anything invasive like CVS or amniocentesis because of the risks involved. But now there’s a new testing option that I would have seriously considered, and you should too: Jscreen is a saliva-based, at-home genetic testing kit that indicates if you are a carrier for over 80 different genetic disorders.

Developed at Emory University’s Department of Human Genetics in Atlanta, the test was originally created for the Jewish population, which is at a higher risk for 40 genetic disorders. Now, however, Jscreen has an expanded panel that screens for over 80 disorders common in the general populations as well, including Cystic Fibrosis, Fragile X syndrome (the most common known cause of autism spectrum disorders), and Sickle Cell Anemia.

Why genetic testing matters

Even if you don’t know of any cases of genetic disorders in your or your partner’s family, you should still take this seriously. According to Emory University genetic counselor and Jscreen program senior director Karen Grinzaid, 80 percent of babies born with a serious genetic disorder have no family history of that disorder. And if you and your partner both turn out to be carriers of a genetic illness, each of your children will have a 25 percent risk for actually having the disorder. “The vast majority of people will have a perfectly clean genetic history,” notes Grinzaid, “so Jscreen is most likely going to provide peace of mind.” But if the results do indicate you are carriers, a genetic counselor will help you understand your options, such as using invitro fertilization (IVF) or an egg or sperm donor. Other carriers will decide to take no action at all, but will be prepared in case their child is born with a genetic disorder.

How Jscreen works

Jscreen is covered by most insurance, which means you will not likely have to pay more than the $99 testing kit fee. All results are reviewed by a Jscreen physician or you may choose to have them sent directly to your own doctor. If you or your partner has tested positive for a genetic disease, follow-up counseling is included via phone, videoconferencing, or a local genetic counselor who is part of the Jscreen network. Once you return your saliva samples, you’ll receive the results in four weeks or less. Other direct-to-consumer tests on the market have been controversial because they don’t provide any guidance about the results, but the medical community has been supportive of Jscreen because of the doctor involvement and follow-up counseling, notes Grinzaid. And your privacy is not at stake—all the results are kept in a secure database that only you can access.

Your First Prenatal Visit and Tests
Your First Prenatal Visit and Tests
Your First Prenatal Visit and Tests

Image: Colorful DNA strand via Shutterstock

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The Benefits of Raising Bilingual Babies

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Group of multiethnic babiesAn interesting study has determined that babies who grow up in diverse neighborhoods are more likely to be open-minded and to interact with people of different cultures and races. (No real surprise there, right?) Plus, not only can raising babies in multicultural areas likely help them develop tolerance, compassion, and empathy for others, but babies are also exposed to other languages — a bonus because they have the opportunity to learn a foreign language.

And studies through the years have pointed out the benefit of raising bilingual babies. Bilingual babies are better creative thinkers and they have sharper brain functions — in fact, learning a foreign language helps babies improve verbal and problem-solving skills, which come in handy when they begin taking tests in school. A more recent study on bilingual babies further supports this fact, by showing that babies who learn a different language around 6 months seem to learn and process information faster.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences studied 114 babies around 6-months old; each baby was repeatedly shown the same image to gauge their response to it. The babies growing up in bilingual households or surroundings got bored more quickly when shown the same image repeatedly, and they were likely to move on to a new image. This indicated that babies who are still learning to distinguish two vocabularies and languages have increased cognitive development to process differences (like images) faster. Although the research focused on a small sample size in a specific geographical region, the study confirmed an advantage of learning more than one language.

Growing up, I was immersed in a bilingual environment — I spoke English at school and Mandarin at home, alternating between the two languages seamlessly or substituting Chinese vocabulary I didn’t know with English words. Although my neighborhood wasn’t multicultural, being exposed to two languages certainly helped me see the value of learning a foreign language — if only to expand communication and improve translation skills, understand the nuances of different verbal expression, and open up ways to understand others of different backgrounds.

Within the past few years, as more and more parents realize the advantages of preparing baby for an increasingly global world, they have started to enroll their kids in foreign language classes — starting as early as preschool! — with the hope that having them learn Chinese or learn Spanish will give them an edge and a better sense of the world later in life. But making sure kids are practicing and speaking a different language on a daily basis is just as important, so they can speak the language better and remember vocabulary. From middle school to high school, I also took French classes, but it was difficult to become fluent because I didn’t speak it daily outside of school. And by the time I got to college to learn how to read and write Chinese, those lessons really didn’t stick with me beyond the classroom. So there’s no doubt that the younger the kids are, the more likely they’ll have an easier time retaining another language (or two!) faster — which is just another positive reason why parents should consider raising babies in environments with cultural and linguistic diversity.

Imagine this: if every child has the opportunity to learn a foreign language, just imagine a future where everyone understands each other just a little better!

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Image: Group of multiethnic babies via Shutterstock

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