Category Archives: Uncategorized

Leave of absence or let’s call it a sabbatical…

Last night, after I tucked my boys into bed, after I read them one extra story than usual, after I kissed them all over and came back and kissed koala and teddy and penguin and moosey because "they love mama too" and after I put on the boys' favourite lullaby CD (because you DON'T want to hear me sing… it is anything but soothing to an innocent child's ears), I closed the door to their bedroom. And then CRASH: The now familiar smack of guilt and dread. Now, you have to understand that my baseline emotional state is at least 30% guilt no matter where I am and what I'm doing. After all, I hadn't come home early enough to make the home-cooked meal I had intended; instead I passed on the duty of reheating last night's leftovers to my nanny. I hadn't picked up the kids' vitamins for 3 days running now, preferring to get home in time to play with them a little before bedtime. I also had left work too early to finish what was due last week; finishing the job would have meant missing bathtime.

But the guilty feelings coupled with dread that were mounting now as I closed my boys' door were about this dear blog. I have been writing in this space for over a year now and I have honestly LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the experience. I would never have predicted how much I would get from writing the blog and so much of it has had to do with you, your comments, your questions, your emails, your support. But in the last month or so, the feeling that I have been neglecting this space — and letting myself down in the process — has become a tad too much to bear. So I need to take an "official" break, one that will allow me to return when I have more time, energy and motivation to write about the things that really excite me and that might interest you.

I also wanted to let you know that there's a damn good reason I need this break: I'm moving! EVERYTHING! My family, my job, my life… to another freaking CONTINENT!  I've accepted a position as a full professor in the developmental psychopathology program at a university in the Netherlands. It is a HUGE transition, but a very exciting opportunity (mixed with a lot of sadness for leaving my parents and brother and his family back in Toronto). Marc and I are in the throes of trying to figure out some of the most basic details like how one gets a driver's license and bank account in a country that we don't speak the language. (Ugh… don't get me started on the Dutch language… Suffice it to say that my Rosetta Stone tutorials are not exactly catapulting me to fluency). So, the basic math is that the time after my boys go to sleep, the time that I used to spend researching and writing blog entries, has been eaten up entirely by house selling and hunting, frantic google-mapping ancient little towns that I can't pronounce, preparing boatloads of paperwork for our immigration, and so on. 

But here's the thing, I couldn't just take this break without telling you how much I have loved writing this blog and how much I've appreciated your many, MANY insights and thoughtful discourse along the way. I started this space thinking I was going to "disseminate developmental science to real parents in the trenches" and I've come out realizing that I have actually learned more than I've taught. Your comments and emails in the last year have energized my program of research in a way I never would have anticipated and you've inspired new ideas that I can't wait to pursue in the next phase of my career. But most importantly, somehow writing this blog has contributed to a renewed sense of purpose and I think I finally get why. In this space, in the themes and discussions and questions that emerged, I was able to pull together what I'm most moved by: my fascination and love for my children (as well as the heap of frustrations, of course) and my passion for science. I can't tell you how rare it is that I get to explore these parts seamlessly and resonate with others all the while! THAT'S what I'm going to try to do more over the next few years: In this space, when I return, but also in my everyday work and play in the next phase of our life.

I'm not sure when I'll be back… it may be as long as September if things get as crazy as I expect (our move is planned for the end of August). But if you become a fan of this site on Facebook or sign up for the RSS thingy, then you'll know when to come back and check up on me. I really hope you DO come back.

Happy summer, everyone!

Can we think together about kids and the internet?

I'm sorry, again, for abandoning this space for a while. I'll save you all the long-winded winging (wingeing?) about work and family and preparing to relocate to a different continent and so on. Suffice it to say that I'm a tad overwhelmed. So, in the hopes of trying to bring my work life closer to what I write in this space, so that each can inform the other and I can feel less pulled in 10,000,000 directions, I thought I'd throw out a question to all you fabulous, thoughtful parents.

A bit of background: I've been doing some very preliminary research on the social and emotional (as well as cognitive) implications of children growing up online/plugged in/tech savvy. Among other core questions, I've been asking myself the following basic question: What are the social and emotional differences between digital "natives" (those who have grown up never knowing a world without the internet) and digital "immigrants" (most of us basically, those who may have whole-heartedly adopted technology and the use of the internet, but who have NOT grown up with it)? The distinction between digital native and immigrant was made by Marc Prensky, an innovative thinker in my mind (among other things, he works on trying to figure out how "gaming" can be used for educational purposes and how students', teachers' and parents' learning goals may best be met by harnessing the characteristics and benefits of online gaming).

There is some, but precious little, research on the real hard-core questions about children's online lives. Most of the developmental research has focused on self-reports of children's time spent on Facebook and other social media outlets. I find the implications of growing up with online social media fascinating, but I'm bored by the types of self-report, questionnaire studies that simply ask kids to report what they're doing in these spaces. I'd like to think more along the lines of the potentially massive social, cognitive and emotional implications and to start designing studies that DON'T rely on self-reports. There are massive changes that are being introduced or proposed to boards of education and to parents alike — most of these recommendations or proposals will be implemented with almost no research to back up their implications. Here's just one example of reforms proposed for reading and the like in the UK. So there's no time to lose in terms of asking new questions about the online worlds of our children. Here are some of the things I'm wondering about. I'd love to hear your feedback on how important you think these questions are. Even more interesting to me would be to hear about what you wonder about when it comes to your own children's development and how they're influenced by technology and the internet.

I wonder:

- Are digital natives (our children) more comfortable with uncertainty than we are?

- Do our children have shorter attention spans? Do they have a harder time sustaining attention to one task?

- When asked to think about a problem, do our children tend to think more "actively" (pointing and clicking away in trial and error sort of way towards an answer) rather than more "contemplatively" (taking time to sit back and simply think, without pursuing information outside of the self)?

- Are our children able to remember less than we do (possibly due to the many prosthetics we use… but maybe not, we've been using calendars and notebooks for a long, long time)?

- Do our children feel more or less connected to a community than we do? How does this sense of community, if it does exist, impact on feelings of civic responsibility, political values, and so on?

- Are our children more or less lonely than we were during adolescence?

- Are friendships that were formed online any different than "real life" friendships for "natives?" Does the nature of online friendships differ for digital natives vs immigrants?

- What are the essential "literacies" of the information/online age? (e.g., critical thinking skills, self-direction, focus, communication skills, programming)? How different are these from the essential skills that digital immigrants needed to cultivate?

- What do/will our children consider "private" vs "public"? Is this different for natives vs immigrants?

- How do social hierarchies form online? Do these social hierarchies (status levels) mimic the ones in the playground/schoolyard/hallways?

I have tons more, but I'll stop now. You can see I'm all over the place in terms of my interest in this very broad field (or very narrow, depending on your perspective). What do you think? Do you think your children will think fundamentally different than you did because they will be growing up "digital?" Or do you think that the online world won't make such a huge impact on the basics of development? What do you wonder about in terms of your own children's development and their online involvement?

Some Food for Thought on Selecting Books for Your Young Child

Oy!  What a couple of weeks! Unfortunately, my son and I were hit with a nasty, nasty bout of stomach flu. We're talking about 10 days of 'round the clock misery. Poor thing missed a week of school. I apologize for the blog neglect, but am happy to say that we are all mended (I actually slept through the night last night, in my own bed, without a bucket within reach!) and now it's time to think about more stimulating things. 

Child_reading_lg.312125913_std Too weak or interested in much else, we have both been doing a lot of reading – separately, together, out loud, silently, to each other and everything in between. At some point I was thinking of how far we've come on the literacy front (he's 5.5 now) and it occurred to me that I was pretty lucky to be armed with some very useful information about children's books and reading in the early years, information that you may benefit from too.

Of course, there is a lot to be said about appropriate themes in the reading material for young children, but what you might not be as aware of is how much research has been devoted to the more basic topic of how young children think about the symbolic information in books (the letters/numbers, pictures etc.). It's part of a much bigger research enterprise on how we come to understand symbols in general (not just pics and letters/numbers and language broadly speaking, but maps, models, videos, graphs etc), so this could easily turn into a mini-series. Let's start with some basics that might help in your selection of reading materials for your very young ones and see where it leads us. 

First off, you probably already know all about how important it is to read with your child, even way, way before they are anywhere near getting ready to read. Even if they are getting little more than just a glance at a picture and some (usually) black blobs on the page (that would be the letters), the research is clear that just learning the rituals of early reading – page turning, reading and pausing as appropriate, pointing to the pictures that go with your words etc. – bode very well for future reading and for academic achievement. I started reading to my son at about 3 months of age and we've never looked back.

You should know that babies need to learn about the differences between real 3-D objects and their 2-D depictions. Even if the picture of the object is highly realistic – like the digital pic you just took and uploaded moments ago – don't assume that they appreciate it's symbolic nature. Researchers have found that even though 9 month olds perceive depth cues and can tell objects from pictures of objects, they don't seem to get the significance of those cues. In other words, they don't really get the 2-D nature of the pics. So they tend to grasp, rub and pluck at the object in the picture as though they are trying to pick it up. The more realistic the picture, the more likely the manual exploration. I remember noticing my son trying to remove trucks from his pajamas! It was good to have this knowledge tucked away back then. No cause for alarm. If we want to read a short'ish and sweet version of this, try here.

Upside down bookDid you know that at first most kids don't even care if you read a book to them upside down? Yup. Before the age of 18-24 months children who are read to from an upside down book will go along with this quite happily. After this age, they are more likely to turn the book the right way around. Try it and see what happens. Don't be alarmed if your little one is still merrily "reading" upside down. Many things about printed matter are about convention remember…they are still working it all out.

What about learning from books? This is actually a very interesting issue. So you're thinking it's time to introduce some books, get little so-and-so up to speed on the alphabet, numbers and so in, in prep for preschool. You're a busy, modern mom. Probably going to hit up Amazon or something. What you'll find is an incredible array of early books on the topic. Lots of colourful stuff, some pop up, some very stylized (hey, I like pretty things too, why wouldn't my offspring you think), some with your favourite characters from when you were little like Curious George, Noddy (yup, I'm that old), Mickey and so on. Lots of books are made to be very attractive to young children and it seems reasonable to think this might help kick start that interest in learning. But you guessed it…the research suggests that we should think again.

Recent work has shown that young children are actually more likely to learn e.g. the alphabet, from books with very simple, clear depictions compared to books with more stylized renderings. Young children were taught the alphabet using books with either plain black letters on a simple background or using the more stylized (though fun) example you can find here (you may need to click on "search inside this book" and then on the first page. You should see an alligator with an "A" artfully placed in his mouth). The researchers tested the children's knowledge of the alphabet before and after the reading sessions. They found that the group that had learned from the simple depictions learned more.

Finally, other work shows that young children learn more from books with pictures that are also highly realistic, or visually similar to the thing they represent (so e.g. books with realistic photographs or with line drawings) compared to books with more artistic, less-realistic pictures such as cartoons. In one study, 15- and 18- month olds were taught a novel word "blicket" to go with a novel object by reading them picture books that contained the target information. The reading sessions were very low key, much like the type of parent-child reading that goes on at home, where Mom (or whomever) points out new words, interesting things in the pics etc. The researchers then tested whether or not the children extended those words from the pictures to the actual objects (and vice versa). Both groups of children could extend the words in both directions (pics to obs and vice versa), but the extent to which they could do so really depended upon how much the pics and objects resembled one another. In a nutshell, there was better word learning when the pics were photographs or line drawings of the objects, compared to when the pics were cartoon versions of the objects. 

So what's the deal about the simplicity and the realism, and learning? The short story is that children can get distracted by the perceptual features of the material (the pop up, the fun artwork etc.) and this can detract from attending to the content, or the material you want them to learn. Think about this in the context of early elementary text books and you get a hint of where some of my research is heading.

I know where you're going with this. Isn't it a privilege of childhood to enjoy all those beautiful, artistically appealing, fun, imaginative books?  What about budding art
ists? It's not all about learning letters and numbers etc. The answer is yes, of course it isn't!  Am I saying that you should you stay away from the pretty books? Well, no. If your goal is entertainment – to enjoy reading, art and a fun interactive activity – then you're home free as to what you choose (on age-appropriate topics of course) . But if your goal is educational, then it's worth choosing more carefully.

I'd love to hear about our experiences with any and all of the above. If you can, and want to send in pics or direct me to books, I'm happy to take a look. 

Happy Reading!


Selling the house, visiting Mickey Mouse and other misadventures

First off, I really wanted to thank you all for such thoughtful comments on the last couple of posts. Your various ideas, hopes, worries, beliefs and so on have made me think hard this week. In a good way. I want to return to the topic of raising moral children and some research that I've uncovered that might help us think together about how to do so, with and/or without religion. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be writing about this research this week (it may actually take me a while to digest it first, before I can filter it to its most important components and make it coherent to others).

But I'm not going to be posting this week at all. Hopefully, Tracy will get some time out of her insane schedule to post a couple of times. But I won't be because I'm "COOCOOMANGA," as my dear boy says to me often. I am feeling nutty, whacko, off kilter, to say the least. You see… we're putting our house up for sale tomorrow. My first house, my dream house, the place that I've lovingly loved and cooked in and played in with my kids since they were born… We have to sell it.  (More on why when I actually accept that fact completely).

So, I'll be in California. With my kids and husband. Frequent flyer points are awesome!  Ostensibly, we're supposed to be going because of a family reunion (husband's family), but really it's about getting out of the house with its 5 bajillion planned open houses that will kill me with two 4-year olds (if I was in town for them, that is). We'll go to Disneyland. My boys' minds will be blown and that will make me deeply happy (while the ambivalent-about-Disney-characters-and-over-marketed-plastic-crap-industry part of me will be repressed completely). I cannot freaking wait to go on the Peter Pan ride again. And to show them the "real" Mickey Mouse. And to buy them those dorky ears. I SERIOUSLY cannot wait. Don't ask. Someday I will explain to you what Disneyland meant to a first-generation Romanian family who immigrated to Canada in the height of the badness that was pre-Revolution Romania — suffice it to say that one of my favourite childhood memories is my mother's INSANE glee at the thought of going through the Haunted House just ONE. MORE. TIME. 

Back soon!

Develpmental science and god: Now there’s a topic I never thought I’d post about

I thought I'd try to tread on ground that is usually considered decidedly UN-scientific. I've been thinking a lot about religion, faith, and the like, given that it's Passover for some of us, Easter's around the corner for even more of us, and spring has most definitively sprung in my neck of the woods. I find it fascinating and troublesome that there is shockingly little research out there on the implications of religious beliefs and/or the belief in a god (or gods) on children's development. There are studies out there that touch on the subject, of course, but systematic programs of research that investigate whether children benefit or are harmed by certain types of religious beliefs vs others do NOT abound (a kind reader pointed me out to this line of research, but it deals more with the cognitive developmental implications of assigning "theory of mind" to human vs non-human agents… in other words, not quite what we're looking for). But there ARE some studies scattered around that might help us think about the question a bit more deeply.

First, I'll back up a bit and give you my personal context which, let's face it, will colour the way I see the research and  the questions I most want answered through science. In fact, that last little bit I just wrote? That is a doozy of a thing to say for some people, I know. Yes, I firmly believe that science CAN and SHOULD inform how we think about religion and faith and its impact on children's well-being. Sam Harris, at an awesome TED talk, said it MUCH better than I could, so go ahead and listen to his talk on the subject and let me know what you think. His basic premise: Morality has for too long been the sole purview of religion and faith. This is a bad thing. A science of morality can and should exist… and the sooner the better.

(Of course, this doesn't mean we shouldn't also talk about what might be outside the bounds of science… and why. The why part is crucial for me. Karen Armstrong is this brilliant woman who does an excellent job of cracking my brain open every time I read another page of her book, The Case for God)

I'll come right out and say that I generally consider myself a hethen in that I was raised a (very guilt-prone, heavily moralistic) atheist. I do not associate myself with one religious institution and although I have stepped foot in many types of places of worship, I do not groc most. Of course, this upbringing and belief system will now heavily inform what my children will learn about religion and faith. There are several studies that have shown that, in general, children and adolescents most often appropriate the religious beliefs of their parents. Yes, they question them. But the better the parent-child relationship is, the more likely that children will align with their parents' faith. Also, factors such as growing up in a relatively strict family, with a father working out of the home and a mother in the home, and marital happiness all are associated with an increased chance of children and parents sharing the same religious beliefs

So, as I sit singing with my children at the Passover seder (my husband
is an atheist/agnostic Jew), as I cry with my in-laws about the plight
of oppressed people (thankfully, they focus on oppression
EVERYWHERE, not just for the Jews), as I watch with a mind-boggling
amount of pride as my children sing "the four questions"… in FREAKING
HEBREW, as I read from the haggadah and say words I don't believe (but
also don't feel hypocritical about reading), I wonder what this whole
thing is all about. I wonder what I'm teaching my children. What is this "thing" that they will likely appropriate from my husband and me? What are the core messages about religion and faith that I'm imparting to them? I wonder
what I'm going to say to my kids when they ask me why I'm praising a
god I don't profess to believe in, why I celebrate a group of people
who I most definitely do NOT feel are the "chosen" ones (for that would
imply that others have not been chosen and, dude, that can't be a good
thing). But I DO sing, and I DO teach my children these rituals and I
DO feel they are important and meaningful and quite beautiful (some of
it, not all, of course). I think the themes of oppression, death, rebirth, renewal, hope and transcendence are so important to discuss… over and over, year after year. I DO want them to celebrate spring and connection and love with their extended family. I want them to feel
connected not only to this generation and the last, but to generations
and generations before them who sang the same songs, told the same
stories, ate the same food, made the same jokes (oy… the jokes). And
I can't seem to do this outside of a context that revolves around a
deity that is not my own.

And we'll also be going to Easter Egg Hunts this weekend.

So many of you will be going to church and telling another story this weekend to your children. But at our seder table last night, I kept realizing that the Christian story at this same time of year has such similar themes: oppression, death, rebirth and so on. I'm not a theology expert and I've read far too little on the subject of how these Judeo-Christian stories arose in the first place and are connected. But it DOES seem to me, on the most basic level, that we're telling some pretty darn similar stories to our children.

So, here's what I'd like to talk about… or, rather, here's where I'd like to start this conversation that I hope can take us to some interesting places: What are you teaching your children about morality, faith, god, religion, worship, and so on? What do you most hope to give your children by telling these stories? What questions do you wish science would tackle in this area? Do you even think science has a place in this discussion? How would you feel if your children appropriated a completely different set of beliefs about faith than you espouse?

(I FULLY acknowledge that I have only touched on the two most widely talked about religious traditions in this post. In part, I do this out of ignorance. I don't want to misrepresent faiths that I know only a tiny bit about. I'd love to hear from you about the whole variety of faith-based traditions that are being practiced at this time and how you think they can effect your children's well-being.)

Let’s recap: 4 – 5.5 months pretty much sucks… for most of us

I'll start with a confession. When my boys were 4 months, I hit my wall. I was so sleep deprived; I often got 2-4 hours of sleep / night for weeks. On a good night when my husband took several night feedings, I would get 5 hours of sleep (I know, this seems like HEAVEN for some of you right now, but I'm a sleep wuss so I couldn't cope well even with that "much" sleep). I NEEDED my brain back. So the first time we tried sleep training, the boys were 4 months. The short story is that it was a miserable failure… I was a miserable failure. There was no pattern to how often they'd wake up and how long they'd cry.  Although we'd TRY to be consistent and implement a sleep-training plan (not CIO, but still some crying was happening all the time) there always seemed to be some major issue that one or the other of the boys was going through: one started teething as early as 4 months, one would be hungry constantly and needed to  "cluster feed," the swaddle seemed too confining, the swaddle seemed too loose, one had flipped on his stomach, the other didn't burp before being put down, and so on. In sum, it sucked. And there seemed too many variables at work, too many possible and impossible baby reasons for them to legitimately need a better, less wimpy, more kick-ass, responsive, sensitive mom. So, after about a week of banging our heads against the wall with some pretty basic sleep-training methods, I gave up. And then I proceeded to lose my mind for the next 2 months. The only thing that got me through it was knowing that it was TEMPORARY. I knew I had a plan and I would put it in place… at 6 months.

Mine is not a unique or even particularly interesting story. It is SO common. So what's the deal with this age? Four months is the beginning of a major stage transition in cognitive development. Babies at this age are now beginning to coordinate simple actions, like reaching and grasping, into routines that have a deliberate impact on the world. Now your baby can actually reach what he’s aiming for, put it in his mouth, and explore it. That means that objects are accessible, reachable, touchable, and YUM, suckable. But more than that, babies at this age are beginning to develop expectations. They start being able to PREDICT what's going to happen in the world. When they reach, they expect what they reach for to be there. Having this prediction confirmed time after time gives them a sense that their actions are causing a particular effect. Piaget termed this level of cause-effect thinking “magico-phenomenalistic causality” (ah, yes, we psychologist are so hip with our terms…), which just means that the baby has a kind of magical expectation that his actions will produce desirable effects. With respect to people, these growing expectations are the key to gratifying exchanges of smiles and gestures; it's that incredibly social "aha" time when the baby realizes when I coo to mummy, she'll laugh, when I laugh, she'll laugh back! Babies will now make a noise in order to elicit a smile from the parent. A time when attention to other people is not just a static state of awestruck delight (like at 3 months and before), but a state of turn-taking, when every noise, every gesture, is offered in order to get a response from the other person. That response means everything. And so, in the middle of the night, perhaps during dreams, certainly when babies wake up throughout the night or during the "middle" of their nap, this is what they're most concerned with: re-engaging that power to socially connect, experiment with, and play with the most important people in their worlds.

When we try to sleep train at this age, we need, at some point (like, at 4 in the morning!), to cut off this quest for a reaction. And babies are not usually happy about this. If they coo, they want you to goo-goo back. ALL. THE. TIME. If they cry, they want you to run and soothe them. EVERY. TIME. They're playing with these cause and effect relationships and they want to feel like they've mastered this little world that continues to grow for them.

In short, the four month stage transition is as magnificent as it is crazy-making. I think one of the hardest parts of this time is that most parents have reached the end of their sleep-deprivation ropes. It's around this time that many of us lose all that adrenaline we've been running on and the realization of how difficult it all is, and how long it could go on for, hits hard. Maybe for some of us, an equally bad part of this stage is that we've lost much of the social support we had when our babies were newborns and our kind mothers, friends and neighbours brought us freezable dinners and words of sympathy that made us feel a little less alone. Also, many parents have to return to work around this time in their baby's life and oftentimes this seems like an impossible transition to make.

How are you coping with the 4-month stage? What's the hardest part for your family? If you've already been through this period, what do you remember about this time in your family's life and please tell us all how you managed to muddle through it…

Let’s recap: 3 – 4 months is iffy, but for some, sleep training works

Here's a question from N., the gist of which represents a significant number of emails that I receive.

My baby is about to turn 3 months (currently 2.5) and I would love
to try sleep training.  I am very sleep deprived and it is causing
marital strife.  Our baby gets up at night every hour to three  and
sometimes he will only fall asleep while lying on us.  Naps are a joke
as they simply don't exist or, if the do, they are 5-45 minute catnaps
in my arms….there is no schedule.  I am not functioning well and it
is terrifying me!  I would like to try CIO when my baby turns 3 months
but I have a feeling that within 10min our baby will begin screaming
fits and my husband won't (right or wrong) go for this…he will only
let the baby cry for 5-10 ….I'm willing to go for much longer because
I am that desperate!
I can't wait an additional 3 months until the 6 month mark…any ideas or wisdom would so greatly be appreciated!

and foremost, this is SUCH a tough age. I remember the panic I felt
when I realized how much longer this whole infancy thing was going to
last. At the time, I couldn't imagine making it "to the other side." A
few thoughts: First, your baby actually does need to wake up at least a
couple of times during the night to be fed. That doesn't mean she needs
to wake up every hour for that nourishment, but it's good to keep in
mind that the vast majority of infants need their stomachs re-filled
every 3-4 hours or so. Second, you may find that your baby hits 3
months old and naturally starts sleeping longer stretches (and not
necessarily on top of you either). These shifts may occur naturally,
without you doing anything at all because those first 2.5 months are filled with huge biological changes
that are settling down right about now. But if your baby DOES continue
to wake up every hour or two and does not settle down easily afterwards
and if you simply can't go on like this much longer, you can certainly
consider some form of gentle sleep training methods.

As I
mentioned in Part I of the 3 to 4 month stage description, this is the
only stage that I am somewhat hesitant to recommend because the
distress levels of the baby really do need to be monitored by the
parent. But on the other hand, there are several reasons why we
included this stage — in the book — as one of the
possible periods to sleep-train:
1. There are DESPERATE mothers like the one who posted the question who
can't go on feeling sane without some change. I don't know this
particular woman's circumstance, but many mothers also either need or
want to go back to
work by the time their child is 3 months old. These mothers often have
choice but to try SOMETHING. My main point is that if you feel you
have to do something, don't try sleep training at 4 months if you can
avoid it and earlier than 2.5 months isn't wise either.
2. We have heard remarkably consistent reports from parents who did
gently sleep train (i.e., not CIO methods, more like "no-cry sleep
solutions") at this window with great success. Although I personally
didn't feel comfortable doing any kind of sleep training with my boys
this age (especially since they were 4 weeks premature and I had "issues", let's just say…), I strongly
feel that it's important to provide the developmental
and let parents make the decisions for themselves.
I think it's important to consider the unique properties of each
developmental stage and think about whether there are some special
considerations that should be made in terms of methods that might work
best. From my perspective, I'd like to emphasize that whatever method
is used
during this period, it shouldn't result in letting the baby cry for
more than 5-10 min max (I don't know about your baby, but mine cried
more than that if they were in their carseat and I stopped at a red
light). This is the only age at which I'm careful to dissuade parents
from picking a method that will involve prolonged distress because
the baby is simply biologically incapable of regulating intense
distress by herself; she
needs mom and/or dad to bring her back down (of course, some babies DO
calm themselves down at this age, but very few can do so when they are
really, really wailing).

you find that your baby doesn't take to sleep training easily during
this age, and you feel you need to stop, then there ARE things you can
do to maximize your own sleep. Some common suggestions: (1) Enlist your
partner to take half the night shift and you do the other half. So, if
you're breastfeeding, you can consider pumping or supplementing with
formula and asking your partner to take the 10 pm – 2 am shift and you
can take over for the 2 am – 7 am shift. That way, each of you are at
least getting a 5-hour chunk of sleep in a row. (2) Hire a "mommy's
helper" if you can afford it. This person can help soothe your baby to
sleep after you feed her during the day and maximize nap times for you.
She can also take your baby for a walk while you catch a nap. (3) Every
3 days or so, you can ask your partner to take the full night shift so
you can catch up. Again, your partner can give the baby a bottle of
breastmilk or formula when the baby wakes up. That way, you can always
refuel twice a week and feel just a little more human. (4) If you can
afford it, night doulas or night nurses that come very highly
recommended can be serious life-savers when your partner can't help.
Hiring someone even once/week might just give you enough energy to get
you through the worst of this time. (5) Some people also find that
co-sleeping during the worst of the frequent wakings works for them. It
really DOES come to an end eventually and although 6 months seems
completely impossible to imagine getting to at this point, your baby
WILL get to that stage when sleep training may take much easier
(believe me, I really DO get it, having had twin babies who woke up
every other hour — and NOT the same hour — througout the first 6
months, I feel your horror like I was there yesterday).

What do you
think? Words of encouragement or wisdom for N.? Anyone out there who sleep-trained during this age and was
thrilled with the results (I know you're out there because I've talked
to many of you)? Does anyone want to respectfully gasp in horror at my
recommendation to try sleep training at this age?

On a lighter note…oh, and thanks for the therapy

Funny - Mom 1 It might be the relatively low ebb I've been operating on the last two weeks, the fact that – after a relatively snow-free (yes, I am in Canada) winter – I came to work in slushy armageddon this morning, that the last few pounds have turned into the last several pounds, the planning now for activities in August when I can hardly even imagine what we'll look like by then…I don't know. But I need a break! Levity please, enter stage right. 

I was truly heartened to hear readers owning up to a mix of parenting styles and, better yet, to how comfortable many of you sound with the parenting you are STRIVING for. That's key isn't it?  Take the self-judgement and blame out of it. Do your best, adjust as needed and then just accept the kind of parent you are (are still becoming). 

I am a working Mom. Do I do my best? I try to. My style – strong authoratative flavour with a pinch of permissiveness, garnished with authoritarianism. Hey, we have places to get to on a schedule. I cannot use every "putting on coat" opportunity as a teaching point. It just isn't going to happen.

I yell. Oh how I yell. Not often, but when I have to. I don't say anything demeaning or humiliating, I don't shame. It's not about my child's character. It's about his behaviour. Period. We get past it. I am sensitive enough to notice that I am not crossing his emotional boundaries – you know how you can sometimes see someone's face fall when they've just heard something hurtful? I think I've have managed to avoid that. 

I'd say we generally get along really well. He's pretty reasonable, I try to accomodate with an eye toward safety, good health, progress in education and long-term social and emotional well-being. The rest is me – flawed, human. I sincerely hope he is learning something from that too. I certainly wouldn't trade being a parent for anything – anything.

What I am really trying to say with this ramble…is thanks for making me feel so much better today. Seriously. When readers write comments that shows "hey, I'm doing my best, I've taken some lessons from my own childhood, I make mistakes, but I am giving it my best effort and I'm okay with it" (all far better expressed than I've just summarized here), it actually makes me feel relieved. There is a connection in that I find very reassuring. It's the reason you should get out of the house when you have a new baby and go join that play group. The other moms may or may not become your friends, even best friends, but they are like you. It isn't all rosy all the time but you can make peace with that and still enjoy the whole thing.

Some may let the house (or their hair) go when things get overwhelming. Be of no doubt that those things happen to me to. But when I feel overwhelmed, I need levity. I need to see the lighter side of the whole parenting/homemaking process. Call it a salve for my winter-beleaguered soul. This somehow allows me to tolerate leaving the upside down house with what my mother would call "a rats nest" for hair (I've got a lot of wavy/curly stuff) in the knowledge that it will eventually not always be this way.

So with warning that it could just be my mood that's causing me to see the humour in this stuff, here's a bit of levity to get you through…

Scroll down and read "Patience of a Saint".

On baby names…

See also this clip

And this one…hope he isn't getting a stomach ache, oh and this!

Have a great weekend.



A developmental approach to sleep training: The highlights

Approximately half of the readers of this blog continue to be parents struggling with sleep-deprivation due to young children's whacky sleep habits. Although we haven't been focusing so much on sleep issues in the last couple of months, I wanted to reassure those readers that I WILL keep posting questions and research on the subject over the course of the next few weeks/months. I also wanted to urge readers who are most concerned about sleep (or "obsessed" or "consumed by" or "frantic about") that there's about 6 months worth of archived information about all sorts of sleep-related issues (the first 6 months are entirely focused on sleep). Please check them out: there are readers' questions, my answers to those questions and comments in response, and there's TONS of research that's reviewed in those early posts. 

Also, since the US edition of Bedtiming has come out in the last month, I've had a few emails requesting more information about our approach: What's different about this book? What's our parenting philosophy? What method of sleep-training do I most strongly advocate? (People have a VERY hard time with my answer: It depends). So, in a nutshell, here are the 10 main points that we discuss in the book (this was one of my first blog posts, so a few of you might have read them already). 

1. Timing is everything: No matter what method of sleep training you use, it is more likely to succeed at particular developmental stages, and more likely to fail at others. The vast majority of children follow a predictable developmental schedule of emotional and cognitive changes in the first 5 years of life.

2. The best times for sleep training are neither early nor late. Many people assume that getting sleep training over with before the child gets too clever or too entrenched in nighttime habits is the best approach. Others assume that waiting until the attachment bond is strong and/or kids are more independent is important. Both are wrong. The best stages to sleep-train follow a pendulum swing from one age to the next, with difficult periods interspersed between periods of relative ease.

3. Stages that make it harder to sleep-train are those of heightened emotional vulnerability. In these predictable periods, your child will be more dependent, vulnerable, or prone to separation distress, jealousy or shame.

4. Stages that make it easier to sleep-train are when your child is less emotionally sensitive. For an infant, these are periods she is more interested in the nonsocial world of objects, actions, and locomotion, and less concerned with other people. Resilient periods in toddlerhood are when children are not feeling compelled to assess parents' availability, attention, and affection, when they don't need to define their own territories or intentions through defiance, when they are less prone to jealousy and shame and when they are more concerned with winning approval than testing limits.

5. Most sleep-training methods are equally effective. There are at least half a dozen popular sleep-training methods, ranging from "cry it out" to "gentle no-cry solutions." None have been proven more effective than another so pick something that feels right for you. That means go with a method that seems to match your parenting philosophy or approach in general. Ultimately, you have to live with your parenting choices and you know your child best.

6. There are some ages at which particular methods are likely to work better than others. If you understand the emotional vulnerabilities and strengths that characterize each developmental stage, you will be better equipped to match a sleep-training method with your child’s age.

7. Pick a method you know you can stick with. That means apply the method consistently, and do so for at least a week.

8. Things often get worse before they get better. Children already have sleep habits when we decide to sleep train them. Breaking those habits may involve some disruption, disorganization, or outright rebellion on the part of your baby or toddler. As a result your child may sleep less or wake more frequently before she settles into a new routine.

9. Sleep training is often not a one-shot deal. Even after your child learns to sleep through the night, sleep setbacks can occur at (predictably) difficult ages, requiring parents to think about what's different and how to re-implement effective sleep training.

10. A family that is getting enough sleep, is a happy, healthy family. Mothers in particular often feel guilty about sleep training because of messages from the media, friends and family (including fellow mothers, unfortunately) that their first and only priority should be their child’s happiness. Parents who are considering sleep training for reasons beyond just the well-being of their child (gasp!) are not only perfectly normal, but are doing the right thing. A sleep-deprived child is a cranky, inattentive one who will have a tougher time learning and socializing. A sleep-deprived parent is often irritable, angry, depressed and ineffective. A well-rested mother and a well-rested child will both be happier, healthier, more alert and more affectionate.


Tune in Monday for a new Parenting Challenge. And if you're joining us (or still want to join us) for the first challenge, by all means come by last Monday's comments section and share your ups and downs with us. It's been a GREAT week of generating new ideas and problem-solving together and the weekend is bound to be full of new "opportunities" (ahem…) to pretend-play our kids into complying with all our wishes (Bwahahahahaha!).

Being playful is serious business

So, if you're following along with the Parenting Challenge, you'll remember that I wanted to also share my own experiences of applying some of the techniques that I'm reviewing on the blog. I've been thinking a lot about why it's so hard for me sometimes to take the playful route to gaining compliance from my kids. Beyond the situational factors in the moment, which are VERY much at play (feeling stressed, grumpy, overtired, etc.), there are also larger, "historical" factors at play. In particular, I think that the way we ourselves were parented when we were children will make a big difference in how we think about discipline and parenting. This is kind of obvious on a general level but the way it plays out may not be as obvious. Many of us may have not had the experience of "playing" with our parents very much. But even those of us who did play a lot with our parents, we probably didn't do so during a discipline-related situation. Part of the reason I so often "forget" to take a playful approach to parenting my kids during a conflict is that I myself had parents that took the more "conventional" approach (terrible term for it, but I can't think of another one right now) to discipline. They would put their "foot down", yell, bribe, cajole, insist with threats of punishment and finally resort to punishing in the end. Nothing horrific, just your fairly run-of-the-mill strategies for dealing with power struggles. That's the model I am most influence by, even when I'm not explicitly aware of it.

As a result of how we were disciplined ourselves, we may be more likely to advocate spanking, harsh punishments, threats, and so on. These approaches worked on us, after all… and we turned out "fine." Why wouldn't they "work" for our own kids? And so when I try to implement some of these more gentle, playful and, ultimately (IMO), more effective strategies (at least for my kids), I kinda feel like a wimp sometimes. When I'm frustrated and getting increasingly angry, my reflex is to yell and insist on the kind of compliance my own parents insisted on. I think "Screw this playing around stuff, forget all the psychobabble I've read, I need you to listen to me NOW without all the hoopla of some elaborate game of pretend!"or, just more simply, "I AM THE BOSS OF YOU!!!"

What keeps me coming back to these more playful approaches, however, is watching how magnificently the more power-heavy approaches fail with my boys. We all end up in a heap of tears, or frustrated grumbling, and no one actually feels like they've "won." Here's a passage from Playful Parenting that really resonated with me. Does it ring any bells for you?

"I think parents avoid playfulness in difficult parenting situations because they are afraid of rewarding bad behavior. I have to remain stern and angry and cold so he'll know he did wrong. But being playful isn't about rewards or punishments, it is about restoring the missing ingredient — connection — that caused the problems in the first place. Take the risk of being playful. You will do a much better job of teaching your values and getting cooperation with your rules by being playful than by being stern."

Laurence J. Cohen, Playful Parenting