Category Archives: Baby

Scheduling Babies

So many parents with new babies are told, “get your baby on a schedule. Things will be a lot easier and you will get more rest.”

The problem with this advice is that it comes too early and without enough information. When babies are born, they schedule us and we do not schedule them. We need to follow their lead. For three months they should be spoiled. After three months children can learn some scheduling. But the first thing to work on is night sleep. After three to four months, children can learn to sleep for longer stretches. So parents can let up on their responsiveness to their children at night and see if they can learn to fall back to sleep again without cues from us.

After night sleep is accomplished, children develop into nappers over time. Napping is usuallly haphazard until closer to 9 months of age. By that time children start developing a natural schedule of two naps a day. By 15 to 18 months those two naps become one longer nap and then you have your child scheduled! But you didn’t do it. Children evolve into that schedule over time. Don’t let anyone tell you to push your child into a schedule before they are developmentally ready.

What Is A Good Playdate?

Ah, remember those days when we, as kids, ran out and played in the neighborhood with other kids. I remember  running inside to tell my mother I was hungry so I could  gobble down a sandwich just to get back outside for our  game. Dirty sneakers, muddy pants, smudged faces, and  sweaty heads were the norm after school and on weekends.  Bats, balls, gloves, ice skates and sleds are in every  picture from my childhood. Play was arranged by stepping  out the front door. Arranging a playdate? My mother rarely  had to face this parenting challenge. Today, parents need  to decide about playdates regularly.

I recognize that some neighborhoods may still have the  community environment that allows spontaneous play, but  most families today face the problem of separation between  friends which then require parents to arrange playdates.  What is a good playdate? How can we arrange a playdate so  that we are comfortable about safety, diet, and  constructive play?

Playdates are very important for children. From the  time children are three years old and recognize that there  are people their age on this planet, they want to interact  with playmates. Children develop their brain power through  interaction with people. So playdates are a necessity in  this increasingly isolating society of ours. A good  playdate is one where children play actively with each  other sometimes causing conflict and solving it together.  Battles over legos, homemade forts, or who plays what role  leads to problem solving skills, compromise, creativity,  and use of the imagination. We know that creativity is all  but erased in computer games. Imagination is stifled by TV  and movies. Kids can get enough of those without wasting  time with a friend with screens in front of them.

Good playdates take more than the type of play.  Supervision is necessary even for the closest of friends.  Someone needs to be there to be sure conflicts don’t get  out of hand or to help support the friends’ activities. An  adult can also be sure that kids don’t snack  inappropriately between play. Good snacks are increasingly  important and can be easily accepted when provided with a  little creativity.

Obviously, good playdates take some work. Parents  need to talk to one another – not just about scheduling the  playdate. Good playdates really depend on communication  between parents. Meet the parents of playmates. Stop in  at drop-off and observe a little of the play environment.  Parents need to make sure the other parents know your  expectations. Be explicit about your expectations over TV  and computer time. Ask about outdoor time during playdates  if the weather permits. If you are the host parent, be  available for some supervision. Be true to the other parent  and enforce agreed upon rules for the playdate. Many  parents want to hear that parents have the similar opinions  about play. It is wonderful to find good playmates and  families that carry out similar values in playdates. This  is important even as your children enter middle and high  school.

If a playdate doesn’t work out to your liking take  control of the playdate. You can require that your child  and that friend play together at your house. If you don’t  approve of play between your child and their friend, veto  the playdates or minimize their time together. You do not  have to debate your decisions with your child. You have a  right to agree or disagree with playdates!

A discussion of playdates cannot ignore the ever growing sleepover nightmare. More and more I am hearing  about sleepovers that include very late nights, children  awake later than parents, unsupervised TV and internet use,  and the post-sleepover “hangover” where parents deal with  over tired children on a day reserved for homework or  family time. It is amazing that parents are pushed to give  into these sleepovers without restriction. Parents have a  right to put restrictions on sleepovers – especially in  later years. Even teens can have a lights out time. Time  restrictions on computer and internet use are important.  There are good reasons to limit their use after certain  hours.

If sleepovers and their aftermath get out of hand  (moodiness, decrease in school work) a parent needs to  say ‘no’ to them. Your child will not suffer because  “everyone else is going to be there”. Your child can be  picked up at 11 and sleep at home. They won’t miss much  and they’ll sleep better.

Parents need to be aware of what happens in playdates  and sleepovers and exert some influence over them. Bad  playdates and sleepovers are not helpful to your child or  to your family’s functions. Keeping your child’s  interactions with friends as healthy as possible is a  worthwhile concern for all parents. Parents need to feel  empowered to exert their influence even into teen years.  Your child will be better off for it.

What The Newborn Nursery Won’t Tell You About Your Baby

Newborn nurseries are magical places. Wonderful people care for new babies and their nervous mothers. Before the pair go home to experience new life together, nursery nurses are able to teach a number of essential tasks to make the first few months go well. They teach mothers how to feed, and bathe their infant. Mothers learn how to monitor for signs of illness in a baby. With these important functions to teach it is no wonder that nurses don’t cover less important worries that new mothers have. Fortunately, that is where I come in. As a pediatrician I get to teach new mothers about their babies too. And in the first visit with me, mothers are often perplexed about many simple things that we as practitioners in medicine take for granted. Over the years I have made a list of worries other than feeding that mothers have at their first check up at two weeks of age. Here they are.

1. How do I stop his hiccups?

Many mothers experience hiccups in their babies even before birth. But it is more disturbing to us to see a baby’s little body shake with hiccups. Fortunately, we don’t have to do anything about them. Hiccups occur as a natural reflex. This reflex tends to subside as babies grow. It may be hard to watch. But remember, babies aren’t bothered by hiccups. We are, but they are not. Just leave them be. They’ll be fine.

2. My baby sneezes and coughs. Is she sick?

Oh, those immature reflexes! They haunt babies for months. Sneezes and coughs are also reflexes that are a bit hyper in babies. These, too, will decrease in frequency over the first several months.

3. My child sounds congested.

Congestion is not a reflex. Congestion is a blockage in the nose that makes it hard for babies to breathe. But babies often sound congested without even having any blockage. Why is this? Babies have narrow nasal passages with loose mucus membranes. Air moving through a narrow space makes a noise. In musical instruments air makes a pretty sound. In babies’ noses, air makes a congested noise as it moves along those vibrating mucus membranes. So a parent only needs to be concerned about congestion they see – not a congested noise they hear. With congestion you see, a few drops of saline solution usually helps clear their little noses.

4. My baby is fussy and hard to console sometimes.

All babies have fussy periods. These occur with more frequency and for longer periods of time at six weeks of age. Babies usually settle down and are less fussy at three months of age. Even though it goes away, that doesn’t make it easy to deal with while it is happening. Keep your baby close, support his belly and have extra people around to help out. That’s how to get through the fussy baby times.

5. My baby has so much gas! Is that normal?

Whether your baby is fussy with gas or not, it is normal for babies to be gassy. It is a natural process for our bowels to develop a flora of bacteria that creates gas in their bowel. Only a small percent of babies have fussiness caused by this gas.

6. What about this green poop he has?

Stool color changes with time even when the baby’s diet does not. Nursing babies progress from brown muconium stools to yellow watery stools to yellow seedy stools to green stools. Bottle fed babies change more rapidly through these color stools and end up with the typical brown stool faster than nursing babies. It might be hard for a pregnant woman to imagine being concerned about the color of poop. But…you will see. It is amazing how much talk there is about poop once you have the baby.

7. Besides pooping the only other things my baby does is eat, sleep and pee! And he sleeps a lot! When will he wake up and interact a little?

For the first few weeks after birth most babies just eat, sleep, pee, and poop. This can be surprising to parents who expect an expressive baby. Many parents start longing for more interaction. It becomes difficult to be at the service of an infant and get little of the warm and fuzzy things in return. The interactive time will come. By two months of age babies are usually focusing on parent’s faces and smiling back at them.

8. Well, before two months what is my baby seeing?

It is hard for babies to tell us what they are seeing. However, physicians have studied the visual preferences babies have in the first few months of life. At first babies prefer sharp contrasts between light and dark objects. This is likely due to the fact that the color interpreting cone cells of the eye develop over the first month or so. After the first month babies prefer to look at oval objects similar to the general shapes of faces. This leads to the focusing on particular faces by two months of age. By four months babies will be able to see across a room. And by six months any stray object that you didn’t see such as a small toy or a bit of fuzz will be picked up and thrust into their mouths.

9. When do they stop burping, gagging and spitting up?

Babies are messy little creatures. They drink and gulp their meals. Belch frequently. They gag on almost anything at the beginning. And often spit up or throw up what seems like half their meals. It sounds awful but is quite natural. Since most of their food is liquid and taken in by sucking, burping is a natural consequence of this form of feeding. If babies didn’t burp they could become more bloated and more gassy. Burps will come if they need to. Not all babies burp after all feedings. Spitting up happens with burping. It is of no consequence so long as the baby gains weight on the amount of food they keep down. And gagging is helpful for babies to protect themselves from aspirating their liquid food. Due to a baby’s gag reflex, it is rare for any baby to actually aspirate food into their lungs. So even though these issues are messy, they help our babies stay healthy. They do become less frequent after nine months of age.

10. My baby breathes in a funny way. Sometimes she even stops breathing for a second. Is that okay?

Babies do breathe in a funny way. They can breathe ten times rapidly, then take a deep breath and not breathe for five seconds. If we traced newborn breathing patterns on paper we would have nothing but squiggly lines. Their breathing patterns smooth out and become more regular at three to four months of age. Until then, their irregular respirations can startle parents until they recognize how normal their baby’s abnormal breathing is.

These are the most common normal body habits of babies that disturb new parents. Some of these cause real fear and concern for first time moms and dads. Having some knowledge about these nuances of newborns can help parents relax. And that is good for parents, good for baby and good for the new family. It would be nice to hear about all these issues in the newborn nursery but it would just be too much to handle at that special time. Having some reference for these issues after you go home is more appropriate. So it is with that in mind that this was written for expectant parents.

I hope you can relax and enjoy your new baby.

Toilet Training Made Easy

At times I feel like I can hear all the phrases used in different households by different people. I can hear mothers saying “Do you need to use the potty now? Do you  want to try?” When changing diapers at the changing table children hear, “When are you  going to use the potty? Mommy doesn’t want to change these diapers forever, you  know?” Another phrase that echoes around is, “Oh won’t it be great when you are using  the potty?” Grandparents get into the fray with the admonishing phrase, “You don’t have  her out of diapers yet? I had all of you out of diapers before you were walking.” Oh  friends and neighbors aren’t innocent. “You should put her in pull-ups” or “Just buy  him Sponge Bob underpants” or “Put him on the toilet every hour”, or “Have you tried M  & M’s as a reward?” It is as if it takes a village to toilet train a child!!!

Yet it is wonderful when a child is finally toilet trained. It marks an end to a  stage. Parents deal with less mess. No more buying diapers. And the most appreciated  factor is that the never ending unsolicited suggestions from relatives and strangers will  stop. Getting there will be great. But getting your child “toilet trained” requires little  “training” from you.

The amazing thing about this process is that most children train themselves when  they are ready. After all, they do have ultimate control over this issue, don’t they? They  decide. They have control. The biggest battle of “toilet training” is fighting all the  pressure to “train your child”.

Think of it from the child’s point of view. When all the young child is hearing is  “potty, potty, potty….,” they recognize only that a fuss is being made over them. When a  fuss is made over them for doing nothing, there is no motivation for a child to change  from doing nothing. They are smart enough to realize that if they change and go in the  potty, then they risk all the fuss about them over the potty will end. From the child’s  point of view isn’t it better to continue having people make a fuss over you for not going  in the toilet?

There is an easier way to toilet train. First, despite what you are told, most  children do not go on the toilet before two and a half at the early end. Most children  toilet train themselves at three years old. By the time your child enters that age, he has  probably seen people go to the bathroom and perhaps has tried copying the action  himself. But as your child approaches three, it is time to stop talking and reminding  about the toilet. You should pay no attention to toilet issues. It should appear to them  that it doesn’t matter to you where he goes to the bathroom. In fact, it shouldn’t matter to  you since they have control of this issue, right? Make diaper changes boring – even  emotionally cold. Don’t let diaper changes lead to play, reading, or other fun. Make it  all business. Make sure grandparents and others don’t pester your child about the toilet either. Tell them he will train when he is ready. Your child may try to go to the  bathroom in other places like a corner of a room. A quick correction and coldness will  suffice for any “accident”. Don’t over-react to it. Only respond with praise to your  child’s toileting actions to valid attempts at the toilet. This way the only attention your  child is getting over this issue is with positive attempts at the toilet. Eventually he or she  will move towards this positive experience. Be patient. After all your child will not go  to college in diapers.

The Parent’s Journey

Being a parent is such an incredible experience that it is hard to remember not being a parent even after only a  few weeks of being one. The responsibility is great. To  have a newborn so dependent on you is on the one hand very  gratifying and fulfilling and on the other hand very scary.

I came across a quote by Richard Carlson, the author  of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Mr. Carlson says, “We are  given the opportunity to be responsible for children for a  relatively short period in their lives, to guide them until  they are ready to find themselves”.

This quote speaks of the dilemma parents face in  loving, caring, and protecting their child, at the same  time giving up control, letting them grow, and allowing  them to become themselves. How we do this over time is a  very personal part of parenting that cannot be taught. It  must be lived and experienced. Facing this conflict is one  all parents must do whether we get blind sided by it or  face it openly.

When we become parents we get lulled into the idea  that we control so much. We are satisfied by feeding our  child and hearing satisfied burps coming from him or her.  He falls asleep on our chest and we feel the awe of having  our child sense the security of our arms. It takes some  time, many months, for us to see a personality in our  child. Then we see our child’s desire to call some shots.  At some point we turn against our child’s will by saying  “No, I can’t let you do that”. We see the resistance the  child puts up when their will is crossed. We watch further  as we see their will develop into interests, and their  interests eventually into who they are. We help by  promoting their interests while continuing to say “No” to  some of their desires. We strive to balance discipline and  permissiveness. We recognize their skills, sometimes  before they do. Sometimes we don’t see it until long after  they have been using it. We worry. We have fears for them  that they don’t see and don’t want to hear about. We give  them attention; they take some control. We try to stay out  of some parenting traps and dig our way out when we fall  into them. We lift them up when they have fallen. We  recognize their emotional outbursts and help them through  them. We listen to their dreams, realistic and far-fetched. We acknowledge their successes (hopefully as  theirs and not ours) and we feel their pain in their  failures.

It doesn’t end. Parenting continues for life and  beyond. (Even if our child happens to die before we do, we  continue to think of them as our child). Without a doubt,  parenting is the hardest job we will ever have. Few of us  succeed at it without the support of others. It takes  faith in ourselves as parents. It takes faith in them as  individuals. We need to have courage to allow them the  space to become themselves. As Jack Kornberg says in his  book, The Art of Forgiveness, Loving, Kindness and Peace,  “Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control.  We can love and care for others but we cannot possess our  children, lovers, family or friends. We can assist them,  pray for them, and wish them well, yet in the end their  happiness and suffering depend on their thoughts and  actions, not on our wishes.” And so it becomes very  important for parents to learn what we have control over  and what our children have responsibility for. That quest  defines the short term and long term aspects of each  parent’s journey.

The Emergence Of Permanence

Your nine month old wants an electric cord but you distract him with a stuffed animal and he takes the bait.  Even at one year of age distraction to another object  replaces a desired one. At fifteen months, your methods of  distraction to an object you favor over one your child  favors may take longer but still works. But by eighteen  months your child persists after the TV remote even though  you try to distract him with two or even three different  fun items. What has happened? Why was it easier to  distract your child to a new object at nine months to a  year of age but at fifteen to eighteen months your method  isn’t working?

The problem is not with your method. The problem is  with your child’s development. By eighteen months of age  your child has developed the idea of permanence.  Permanence is when your child knows the object you are  hiding behind your back is still in existence and is the  object they want. Before this age your child might  “forget” that the remote or the electric wire ever existed  once you hid it from them and introduced a new item. This  is an important piece of information for parents to  understand. Without knowledge of this many parents fall  into a trap.

The trap goes like this. We as parents are used to  using distraction for over a year to give a child something  else rather than something they want. But as a child  develops permanence and persists after the hidden remote,  parents often continue to try distracting them by offering  them bigger and better choices. The offers continue until  something that pleases the child is offered. If this  pattern continues then a child learns to persist and act  out and something good will come their way. Does this trap  sound familiar?

If parents of fifteen to eighteen month olds recognize  this risk of using distraction, they can avoid this trap  and avoid feeling like your child is ruling you by their  behavior. If your child starts persisting for an object  you don’t want him to have, get that object way out of  reach and out of sight. Your child will start acting out  in frustration and disappointment. You may try one or two  simple attempts at distraction but if they don’t work, stop  trying. Allow your child to experience disappointment  without a response from you. The child will learn to move  past this emotion in a very short time. They will learn  that you are in control and they can’t persist in behavior  to win something. This age is when children want what they  want but can’t have everything they want. Since they have  learned about permanence, it is time for them to learn  about disappointment.

The Attention Control Game

It often seems that as I grow as a parent that I move from one trap to another. Things may be smooth for a while but then with one child or another I find myself involved with  a behavior that I don’t want but repeatedly seem to get into with my child. This behavior  might be something that only I get. Or when I bring it up to my spouse I may find that  she is dealing with it too. At some point I realize that this behavior is driving me crazy. I  realize my child knows “how to push my buttons” again. It could be tantrums, whining,  arguing, or other noxious behaviors that I don’t want. Yet, the more I respond to it the  more often I seem to yield that behavior from my child. How do I fall into these traps?

All parents fall into traps through what I call the “Attention – Control Game”. Other  parents tell me how their children know “how to push their buttons” too. Almost  all behaviors that “push our buttons” fall within this attention – control game. To  understand this game I divide children’s behaviors into four categories.

The first behavior category is one done just for attention. We all know how children seek  and need this vital resource. In fact it is important for children to get a lot of attention to  support the positive attributes they have. We need to give our children attention in order  to demonstrate their importance to us and to build their ego so they gain knowledge about  the good things they are able to do. Giving positive attention to our children is as vital a  role for us as it is a vital need for them.

The second category of behavior is one done just for control. These are behaviors that  kids do to control us or our response. It may be as simple as a long “please” and sappy  eyes just to get something at a store. But if it works to control us it provides them a  benefit beyond getting a candy. Kids need to have more control over time. They need  the sense of power to help support their budding egos. They need to know that they have  the power to control things for themselves in order to build confidence for encountering  the world outside our family.

A third set of behaviors that are important to children are ones that yield no attention or  control from a parent. Why are these important? These are self-sufficient behaviors.  These are things such as a child who spends hours on a drawing or a child who builds  with legos for a whole morning. These are behaviors that the child is drawn to from their  inner being. These flow from talents, skills, and areas of interest the child has and for a  large part doesn’t need the reinforcement that a parent’s attention can bring. We want  our children to discover these talents and skills. They need the opportunity to use them.  The self-fulfillment becomes reinforcement enough. And the child comes to value the  part of them that has that particular skill.

The last category of behavior is the one that traps us. All behavior that drives us crazy  falls into the category that gives the child attention and controls us. These behaviors are  often negative. They serve no logical use for the child. But regardless these negative  behaviors never change so long as the child gets attention for the behavior and controls  the parent’s response. It is this category that I emphasize whenever parents talk to me  about behaviors that are bothering them. Understanding this phenomenon of attention  and control is crucial in order to change our response and get out of negative behavior  traps.

Whether it is temper tantrums, refusal to go to bed, whining, or any other negative  behavior, if a parent can understand their response and how it reinforces the child’s  behavior, parents can then change their response and modify the child’s behavior  overtime.

In order to rid your house of negative behavior, three steps need to be taken.

1) The parent needs to ask how he (she) gives the behavior (such as temper  tantrums) attention.

2) The parent needs to understand how this behavior controls the parent’s  response. How does the behavior control you?

3) And finally the parent needs to make a conscious decision to control their  own reaction to a behavior and not give the child any attention for the negative  behavior.

If done correctly the parent can watch that behavior slowly disappear. And they will  be prepared for the next behavior that will drive them nuts when it inevitably appears.  Because our kids know how to push our buttons, it won’t be long before we fall into the  trap once again.

Taming The Tantrums

So you are in the checkout line at the supermarket and your toddler wants one of those colorful candies. You’ve been out doing errands and the supermarket is your last stop. Your son has been great up to now. He’s been a trooper as you dragged him from errand to errand. But now, as dinnertime approaches, he has reached his limit. You say no to the candy and here comes his full fledged fit. He wheels back his head, screeches out and starts flailing his arms and legs. He’s thrown himself into one of his best tantrums. Oh how you wish this behavior would go away. It is just so embarrassing, especially in public. How are you supposed to deal with a tantruming child in a supermarket as (it seems) half the world looks on? Should you give him the candy? Offer something else? Just ignore him? If I ignore him, won’t other people think I am a bad parent?

In order to deal with tantrums, parents need to understand why children have tantrums in the first place. Most children go through periods of “trial and error” behavior. They try a behavior because they didn’t get their way. Many different behaviors develop in this way; for example, temper tantrums, breath holding spells, head banging, pulling their own hair, and even whining. There really isn’t a rational reason for their behavior except that they are frustrated and act out for attention because of that frustration.

So if tantrums are due to “trial and error” behavior why do they repeatedly occur? First of all, children have short memories. They may not get anything from one tantrum but because of a short memory they try it again another time. It takes a child a long time to really remember that a behavior doesn’t yield him anything. The other reason why the behavior comes back is that the child gains something from the behavior. Children can become the center of attention during a temper tantrum. At the same time they can be in control of the responses they are getting from people. The attention they get and the control they have can make a tantrum a powerful tool for a young child.

So how should parents response to a tantrum? Here are some rules to follow:

1. Remember that this behavior is just “trial and error” behavior. In your child’s mind they are saying – “if I try this fit what happens?” That is why if they get no real response from their action, they will try some other behavior instead – eventually!

2. Remember the struggle for attention and control. Getting attention for a behavior and being able to control other people’s responses are rewarding actions for children. Don’t reward tantrums by giving them attention or letting them control you by getting under your skin.

3. Children have short memories. If you don’t give attention to a tantrum and another tantrum occurs within the same week, don’t be discouraged. For most families it takes months for tantrums to decrease in frequency. Children continue with their “trial and error” behavior for a while to be sure they aren’t getting a result. This is especially true when a parent is changing their approach from one of giving attention to a tantrum to taking attention away.

4. Remember that a child’s behavior is theirs – not yours. Many parents in public places feel like their child’s behavior is the parent’s responsibility. But that is absolutely false. Only the response to the child’s behavior is the parent’s responsibility. The behavior should be owned by the child not by the parent.

5. Safety first. Your child won’t look out for his/her safety while having a fit. Make sure they are in a safe place to have their fit before you decrease your attention to them.

6. Finally, everyone who cares for your child needs to treat tantrums the same way. If children receive benefits from tantrums anywhere you are more likely to see the behavior again.

So back at the supermarket, the poor parent with the tantruming toddler needs to ignore her child and finish the task at hand. The parent needs to get out of the store as quickly and calmly as possible. And during the ride home the tantrum will go away. And that parent will be ready to succeed when the next tantrum blossoms from their child again. Hopefully others who witness scenes like these will have greater understanding and empathy towards the parents who are trying to tame their toddler’s tantrums.

Parents Role In Reading

There has been a growth of programs to increase reading. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a program  to increase reading at home. Libraries have always  emphasized reading. Radio programs are plugging reading  programs. A recent study showed that when adults have  books at home the more literate the household becomes. It  has been suggested that Pediatricians ask mothers during  office visits “How many books do you have at home?” as part  of an effort to increase reading. Certainly, reading is  important. But why all the effort to increase reading?

Some troubling statistics answer the question. Today  many college graduates in America cannot read and write  well. Many high school graduates fail reading and writing.  Americans, in general, are reading less. Book sales in the  U.S. have decreased. Books are losing to computers and  T.V. and as a result 30 percent of our high schoolers are  dropping out nationwide. It is a shame that it has to be  emphasized anew. Many years ago it was assumed that  Americans had high literacy and high education levels. But  today we are dropping. This is a cause for every parent to  take up. What can parents do?

Reading must be a factor in your parenting today.  Children need to see books. They need to hear words. They  need to see parents reading. It doesn’t have to be a chore.  Parents do not need to tediously teach their kids to read.  That is a role for teachers and schools. And not all  children learn to read at the same rate. Don’t panic if  you have a late reader. But kids need to see the  importance of books and reading everyday in their home.

Books on tape are a great alternative. It allows  children to use more imagination than videos. They can  play or draw while listening. During a long drive, books  on tape make the ride shorter. If the book isn’t over they  may not want the ride to end.

Keep reading and listening. Take trips to the  library. Use libraries as a resource for books for your  child. Always read a little above your child’s level so  they yearn to read bigger more interesting books. If you are worried about your child’s reading, talk to  your school. There is always extra help available. But  don’t give up at home – keep reading.

Lessons from books are in no short supply. From Greek  myths, to comedies, to English literature, our kids learn  more than words. Life’s lessons are taught through the  experience of centuries. Exposure to books is valuable to  kids and to families – for the lessons and the togetherness  they provide. But in the long run, reading provides an  added value to your child’s education that cannot be  provided in any other way then in their homes.

Our Brand-Name Children

Does your two year old recognize McDonald’s? Does your three year old want Sponge Bob underpants? Does your  six year old insist on Nike sneakers? Does your teen  refuse to wear anything but Abercrombie and Fitch clothing?

There is a disturbing truth at the heart of these  questions. By as young as two years old, many of our kids  are asking for specific brands. Many kids know the name  “Macdonald’s” before they know a name for a vegetable! The  marketing world loves it. They continue to reach farther  and farther into our kids’ world for every marketing angle  they can get, with new ones being invented all the time.  Even video games, for example, now come with products  marketed within the game. In Madden 2005, a football game,  fans drop bags of Doritos as they reach for a ball thrown  into the stands – a not-so-subtle advertisement for a not-so-healthy food.

But our kids live in this culture of buy, get and  receive. What’s the harm? Unfortunately, there is clear  harm. In this era of childhood obesity, literally billions  of dollars are being spent on hooking our kids on unhealthy  foods. Moreover, there is persuasive evidence that the more  children are tied into brand names and our consumer culture  the more likely they are to experience anxiety and  depression during and after their teen years.

I once saw Juliet Schor, an acclaimed sociologist from  Boston College who has researched what she calls “the  commercialized child and the new consumer culture,” speak  to a group of parents. In her most recent book, Born to  Buy, Schor examines the nature of the marketing world and  illustrates how advertisers will accept no limits when it  comes to coercing our children. In her talk she focused on  the negative effects over-commercialization on our  children’s mental health. Dr. Schor is the professor who  found from her research that our children are more likely  to become depressed the more tied in with the consumer  culture they are.

Dr. Schor went to great lengths to show us how the  marketers are using our children to affect all family  purchases from food to cars. It is not enough for marketers  to convince children to buy toys, now companies use  children to influence adult purchases as well.

The advertising industry has created a culture for our  youth that is not terribly healthy even viewed on the macro  scale. “Urban Cool” was chosen by marketers as the theme to  market to kids. Some products such as make-up and sexy  underwear are purchased and used at younger ages today  because marketing groups pushed down the age to which they  were cool and accepted. Some marketing is aligned with an  anti-adult theme. And “nag factor” and “pester power” are  now entwined in advertising lingo referring to how they can  use children to get to the parents. Is this scary to you?  It is to me.

What can parents do? We cannot possibly disassociate  ourselves from all consumer activity. Let’s face it we will  always need to buy food and supplies for our household.  However, I think there is a way to shelter our children  from the pressures advertising firms bear onto our family  life. My wife and I rarely bring our children shopping. We  throw away all store flyers that arrive at the house. We  recycle mail order catalogs before a page is turned. And,  of course, we minimize the exposure to the barrage of  advertising, we receive through electronic media and TV. It  is amazing how this reduces the calls of “mom, I need  this!”.

Part of the message from Juliet Schor is that our culture is being taken away and replaced by a consumer  culture. We can fight this culture war in other ways  according to Dr. Schor. Bring back family dinners. Take  back the outdoors. Discredit brand names. They are made by  underpaid laborers and overpriced for what they are. Be a  non-brand name family. Communicate with and enjoy the  company of like-minded families. Cook great meals and enjoy  good conversation. Have healthy hobbies and habits. All  these actions take culture back into your hands. You are  doing what you want rather than living a life being coaxed  into buying things you really don’t want or need. And by  all means possible, volunteer and help those who are less  fortunate then you are. Do this in all seasons- not just at Christmas and involve your children. You will be amazed at  the perspective this builds in them. Battling this culture  is a lifelong fight. But it may be a worthy one for you and  your family.