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Child Development ’ Category
Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
I live in a slightly out-of-the-culture neighborhood of Brooklyn, where mothers of baby girls shun pink and boys wear their hair fairly long, and sometimes I feel surrounded by princess-haters, who think that the Disney Princesses are trying to put all of our kids into a narrow box. I have lost count of the number of friends who have said they will never sanction Disney princesses in their home. They usually lose that battle anyway.
I can’t speak authoritatively about girls trying on extreme gender roles, because I am no child-development expert. But my beat here at Parents and American Baby includes toys, and I know when a little girl reaches 2 or 3 she usually wants a princess doll, or a costume dress, or a plastic pony with a long pink tail. I don’t know why, but I can tell you the want is real and seems primal.
My daughter, Grace, went on a loopy-doopy princess bender from ages 2 through 4. She dressed as Cinderella as she learned to climb the monkey bars and wore her Belle dress through the supermarket. It hurt no one, and I would argue particularly did not hurt her. She outgrew wearing costumes before elementary school, as I knew she would, but retained some lessons from “the ladies.” She knew that Ariel should have talked to her Dada before making that crazy deal to get human legs, and that Jasmine needed some street smarts. She understood Cinderella’s weary patience and Belle’s determination to block out haters. The new movie Frozen (which we’ve seen twice!) particularly has great themes, as Sheryl Sandberg points out.
Last fall we visited Belle in Fantasyland and Grace, now 11, studied her from a distance, judging her acting ability. (“She gets the voice right…”) I can’t get my tween to put on a dress, let alone a frilly one. She eyes Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, which honestly makes me more nervous than her watching of Snow White ever did.
The eloquent “Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney” piece that ran in the New York Times resonates with me in that it points out how Disney stories are tales as old as time. The characters are acting out ancient dilemmas: How do you learn to trust your instinct? When should you do what you want to do, and when should you do what is expected of you? How do you find your place in the world? Not to overstate things too much, but trying to block kids from learning the princesses stories is to shut off a huge wealth of literature, history, and culture. And I can’t help but notice that no one fusses at my son about Tarzan’s body or the fact that Mowgli is so dang skinny.
I am not saying you need to welcome the ladies into your home so much as I’m saying: Calm down about them. They’re characters, and if you pay more attention to their character development instead of their shape, they have a lot to teach.
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Friday, March 7th, 2014
Last summer, digital artist Nikolay Lamm created an image of what Barbie would look with the Center for Disease Control’sproportions of the average woman. The photo of Barbie standing next to her shorter, curvier counterpart went viral and parents began to wonder why this kind of doll wasn’t sold in stores.
Less than a year later, Lamm teamed up with Mattel’s former vice president of manufacturing and created a crowd funding campaign to turn his illustrations into a plastic doll named Lammily. Shortly after launching his donation site, Lamm had raised more than twice his goal of $95,000 to create a minimum of 5,000 dolls. So far, over 8,000 dolls have been ordered and are set to be delivered this November (just in time for Santa to stock up).
Besides the hype surrounding the doll, is there any reason for parents to replace their daughters’ Barbies with Lammilies? Alisha Ali PhD, an associate professor of applied psychology at New York University and a mom of two daughters under 10thinks so. “Girls don’t see a broad range of body images in toys which sends a message that when you grow up into an adult woman, this [doll] is what you should look like.” In addition to promoting a healthy body image, Ali says that the story behind the doll sends a positive message to young girls. “It shows girls that their ideas can make things come into being.” This story also takes the focus off the dolls body type entirely which encourages them not to compare themselves to plastic, she says.
Although the dolls may not be hitting store shelves in the near future, there are things you can do to counteract any negative impact your child’s toys may have on her now. “Any thing we spend a significant amount of time with can impact us,” Ali says. “If a child is young and is playing with a toy for an hour a day, it can shape how they see the world and themselves.” In order to avoid these effects, she suggests considering yourself the gatekeeper of the kinds of toys your daughter plays with. “Just because a toy is popular doesn’t mean you have to buy it for your child.” Instead, try to find toys that have a wide range of looks. Secondly, it’s important to engage with your daughter while she plays with toys like Barbie. Ali suggests reminding her that it’s not actually possible to look the way Barbie does. (Plus, if she was real, she’d have many health problems.) With an older child, Ali says to ask her,what do you think is more important, the way you look or what you can do? What are some of things you can do that you are proud of?
If your daughter is a Barbie fanatic, it doesn’t mean she will grow up with a low self-esteem. However, Ali points out, “don’t we want our girls to have a good self-esteem not despite their toys but because of their toys?”
What career could you child have? Take our quiz and find out.
Photo: NICKOLAY LAMM/MYDEALS.
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Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Reading the flurry of recent online commentary about the new study that shows that the benefits of breastfeeding may not be as powerful as we think, reminds me of the way I feel whenever I read a story that reports that marathon running isn’t necessarily so fantastic for your health: Gotcha! Though I enjoy exercise, due to banal body reasons I will never cross a finish line after logging 26.2 miles. And “marathon running is bad for the heart” headlines, no matter how inflamed they may be, give me a wee bit of pleasure.
So it seems to be for those who write about breastfeeding. Put it in its place! Take it down! The Ohio State University study, published online in Social Science & Medicine, appears to have been well-designed without any conflicts of interest. It found that among children age 4 to 14 years, there was no difference between those who were nursed versus those given formula on outcomes, such as body mass index, asthma, hyperactivity and math ability.
And that’s really great news—a relief, really, since even nursing moms need to supplement with formula sometimes. I nursed my younger two daughters until a little after age one, right in sync with what the AAP recommends. My oldest daughter received pumped breast milk until 6 months, and formula after that, and I can say with her teacher’s blessing that she’s not at risk of being crushed in math. In other words, there’s really no difference among my three girls now, though I do emphasize now. As babies, my oldest had more ear infections, and was much more prone to infections, in general, than my younger two. Is it because of the breast milk? Well, we’ll never really know, she was also born premature, but research does show that breast milk passes along immunities that help prevent ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. Not to mention breast milk is easier to digest than formula (and gas never makes for a happy baby) and, most importantly, reduces the risk of SIDS. Those are benefits not to be dismissed.
It’s time to rephrase our thinking that if a study finds that formula is good, it must mean that breastfeeding isn’t worth the cracked nipples and plugged milk ducts. A step forward for formula doesn’t have to result in a step backward for breast milk. And I would suggest to anyone who thinks that way to do what I do when I feel envious of my marathon-running pals: Sweat it out in a spin class.
To keep track of your baby’s feeding schedule, download our care charts for breastfeeding or formula feeding.
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Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
Ever feel that you’re hopelessly addicted to your mobile phone—and that your kids are quickly learning to be just as tied to their devices? Welcome to the club. Between iPhones, iPads (and electronic-toy replicas thereof), and of course, television, I think it’s safe to say most of us, and most of our kids, are too absorbed with our technology at the expense of experiencing the world around us and interacting—face to face, not virtually—with each other.
One movement is proposing a solution, at least for one day: The National Day of Unplugging, scheduled for sunset Friday through sunset Saturday, aims to have families put down the devices for 24 hours. Modeled explicitly after the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew), the idea is the brainchild of a Jewish cultural group called Reboot.
Our family has a day of unplugging not just once per year, but every week: We are Jewish Sabbath observers, and as such we are offline Friday evening through Saturday evening every week. Aside from just putting away our devices and turning off the television, during the Sabbath we avoid spending money, driving in a vehicle, talking on the phone (even a landline!), and many other activities of everyday life.
And it works for us. Though we hear occasional grumbling from our kids, such complaints are rare. Instead, our kids play with old-fashioned, creativity-inspiring toys. We have family meals together, visit with friends, read together, and go to synagogue. We talk. Crazy, I know.
So is a “technology Sabbath” a good idea for your family? I highly recommend the idea of a day-long, family-wide device-free day (no need to go quite as tech-free as we do), but not without some advice and warnings. And while the idea of a specific, nationwide “Day of Unplugging” is a nice idea, this can be accomplished any day you think it would be successful.
For starters, have a plan for what to do on your day of unplugging. Merely putting down your devices without making this gesture part of a larger idea of connecting as a family is bound to fail in a blizzard of protests. Shabbat works for us not just because we disconnect from modern technology, but because we spend it as a family. For us that means good meals (with extra snacks), time with friends, and synagogue. For you it might be a day at an amusement park or other local fun destination, or a series of smaller activities at or around home.
Secondly, don’t feel a need to spend every minute together. My oldest is increasingly occupied with afternoon play dates, but even then, I know she is interacting with her friends and not just playing video games in parallel with them. And even if she’s out for the afternoon, chances are strong that we’ve spent far more time together as a family—and quality time at that—than any other day of the week.
However, don’t expect miracles. My kids don’t become little angels when the sun sets on Friday. They still fight, nag, refuse to eat anything healthy, demand to get their way, and otherwise act like the 7- and 3-year old they are. Not that I am complaining (well, maybe a little). It’s not like human nature is suspended for 25 hours, as this Kveller.com blog post, which made the rounds among my Sabbath-observing friends recently, so vividly dramatizes.
Lastly, despite the good intentions and enthusiasm of those behind the National Day of Unplugging, it’s hard for me to see how a one-off day of disconnecting would make much of a difference, other than giving families a small glimpse at what can be. Unplugging for one day per year is, I would guess, just as likely to cause intense grumbling and fights over the suddenly-changed rules as it is to foster a memorable day of communication and interaction.
So yes, I’d still strongly recommend you try unplugging for this National Day of Unplugging. But I’d recommend even more strongly making it a regular thing—as long as you make those days filled with togetherness and meaningful, fun interaction.
Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz and find out!
Image: Kids using mobile devices via Shutterstock
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activities, communication, devices, digital, National Day of Unplugging, Sabbath, screen time, technology, television, tv | Categories:
Big Kids, Child Development
Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Editor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.
The daily choreography of dressing, feeding, teaching, and transporting our kids is daunting, and often leaves precious few moments for truly enjoying them. When you think about how much time we spend stressed out with our young kids, you can’t help wondering how many more meaningful moments we could capture from each long, hard day if we could only decompress some of those stressful minutes. Well, you can! Let’s start with one of the toughest challenges: bedtime.
Perhaps no period of the day is more stressful for parents than the minutes leading up to bedtime; they can be chaotic and tense. The kids are bouncing off the walls, hyperkinetic from a full day of action, impossible to calm down. You’re exhausted and need the kids in bed, asleep, to regain your mojo (or to go to bed yourself!). But they need one more glass of water or one more story. They suddenly remember the homework they forgot to do, the friend they forgot to text, or that their favorite team is on TV tonight (“please, mom, just one more minute!”). The night-light isn’t bright enough, the hallway is too noisy, the closet is scarier than usual. Kids are at their imaginative best when finding ways to delay or disrupt bedtime.
There is lots of advice out there addressing the best ways to calm and quiet the kids before tucking them in. As spring nears, with warmer weather and longer daylight on the way, one of my favorite techniques is a pre-bedtime pajama walk. Not only does it give kids gentle, tranquil moments when they can decompress from their hyper after-dinner activities, but it also gives parents special moments with their kids that otherwise might have been lost to TV, social media, and video games. Or, worse—these moments might have been wasted yelling and screaming at each other. The key to pajama walks is the pajamas. First, get the kids completely ready for bed: teeth brushed, faces washed, pajamas on. Then take their hands for a walk, or put them in their stroller, on their tricycle, or on their two-wheeler, and meander slowly around the neighborhood. No snacks en route (their teeth are already brushed!); don’t kick a soccer ball along the way or bring baseball mitts; postpone animated conversations until tomorrow. These are the mellow moments.
I’ve given a lot of thought to why pajama walks work so well—and they do work well! It’s because kids understand the concept of “going someplace.” They go to Grandma’s house, to the store, to preschool or school, to the park. But “bed” isn’t “someplace,” and kids don’t get the idea of going to bed, so they don’t — they dawdle and fuss and resist. The beauty of pajama walks is that kids are going someplace, so they (and you) can bypass the drama of bedtime inertia. It may take a couple of laps around the block, but by the time you return home with your kids, they will be in a fresh-air trance and ready for a bedtime story; they may even fall asleep on the way and just need your tender transfer into the house and under the covers.
And now it’s time to find your mojo again.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Father and son walking at night via Shutterstock
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bedtime, bedtime routines, family time, harley rotbart, harley rotbart series, no regrets parenting, pajama walks, parenthood, parenting, parenting style, sleep | Categories:
Big Kids, Child Development, The Parents Perspective, Toddlers