parenting

RECENT POSTS

Mom’s Memo To Schools: Please, Make These Random Half-Days Stop

May I share with you the delights of my children’s April school schedule? They get out at 12:40 because of parent-teacher conferences on these days sprinkled through the month: Tues., April 1; Weds., April 9; Tues., April 29. Oh, yes, and just when you thought it was safe, one more on May 7. (Plus they’re off April 18-25 for spring vacation.)

That’s in addition to our new regular Friday early dismissals at 1:40. When we got word of that, one mother I know said to the superintendent, “You must really hate parents.”

I don’t think the administration hates us, but I do think that perhaps we haven’t spoken up loudly enough about the logistical stress these half-days create. And they’re common around the state, from year-round early-release Tuesdays in Newton to April half-Wednesdays in Westwood.

They’re an old tradition. Many of us remember the joys of occasional half days from our own school years. You know, back when our mothers were mostly housewives. Now, virtually all mothers work, and I venture to say that virtually all working parents wish that all our public schools provided universal, affordable after-school care.

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

Or at the very least, reliable after-school care on random half-days. At our school, a team of mothers has created a “half-day matinee,” gathering all the children who need looking after for a movie that runs until the normal 2:30 dismissal time. But their altruistic efforts are in danger of being overwhelmed by demand: More than 200 children have been coming to the movies this month, straining even their heroic volunteer powers.

“First-world problems,” you may say, and I’d agree but go a step further: This is specifically a first-world middle-class problem. Continue reading

Marathon Reflection: How To Raise Secure Children In An Insecure World?

Police clear the area at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as medical workers help injured following the explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Police clear the area at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as medical workers help the injured following the explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)

One year ago, on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, Dr. Gene Beresin shared advice on how to talk to children about the frightening event. Here, a year later, he and Dr. Paula Rauch, a fellow professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, help parents draw broader lessons about how best to help children face such stresses and even grow through them.

By Drs. Paula K. Rauch and Gene Beresin
Guest contributors

For the most affected families, April 15th, 2013 was a life-changing event. For many in our community it produced a lesser, but still significant, set of challenges, and for some facing other family adversity or chronic stresses, it may have seemed like a minor event with little personal impact.

Regardless of how personal or significant the marathon bombing and its aftermath were for you, every one of us will face life challenges within our families and in the larger community. How can we face stressful experiences in ways that support our children’s resilience, and help them grow through those challenges? How do we raise secure, confident children in an uncertain world?

Start small

Children develop confidence and competence by facing new experiences, difficult transitions and unavoidable frustrations throughout childhood. Life continually presents a child with developmental challenges, such as falling asleep alone in a crib, saying goodbye at a new preschool, facing the first day of school with a sea of unfamiliar faces, dealing with a relentlessly annoying peer, being cut from the travel team, and, for some teens, making this month’s tough decisions about college.

It is often tempting as a parent to want to smooth over these challenges, alleviate uncertainty and facilitate a child’s comfort and success. But it is important to recognize that these age-appropriate frustrations and disappointments are essential for building lifelong coping skills. Children need to learn how to manage new and difficult situations, and while parents cannot solve the challenges for a child, they can provide appreciation and emotional support for that child’s efforts. Living through a multitude of such experiences makes the normal feelings of distress more familiar and less frightening.

Face serious challenges together Continue reading

The Grandma Effect: A Little Caregiving Sharpens Brain, A Lot Dulls It

(Douglas/flickr)

(Douglas/flickr)

There’s an old saying in medicine: “The dose makes the poison.”

Personally, I find the adage holds true in many contexts, from nutrition to exercise to parenting: often too much of a good thing turns toxic.

Here’s the latest twist: A new report finds that grandmothers who care for their grandkids once a week experience a boost in mental sharpness. But if that one day of cozy caregiving expands to five or more days a week, it can put grandma on edge, and her brain can grow duller, with more memory and other cognitive problems.

Here’s what the researchers conclude, from the abstract:

The data suggest that the highest cognitive performance is demonstrated by postmenopausal women who spend 1 day/week minding grandchildren; however, minding grandchildren for 5 days or more per week predicts lower working memory performance and processing speed. These results indicate that highly frequent grandparenting predicts lower cognitive performance.

And here’s more info on the study (via news release) published online in the journal Menopause:

Taking care of grandkids one day a week helps keep grandmothers mentally sharp, finds a study from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project study in Australia…That’s good news for women after menopause, when women need to lower their risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.

On the other hand, taking care of grandchildren five days a week or more had some negative effects on tests of mental sharpness. “We know that older women who are socially engaged have better cognitive function and a lower risk of developing dementia later, but too much of a good thing just might be bad,” said NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, MD. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today, Moms: For The Kids, Of Course

mikebaird/flickr

mikebaird/flickr

My 11-year-old daughter recently asked if she could take a hot yoga class with me. My first reaction was negative: it’s too hot, it’s not “fun” and it’s one of the few things I do that’s truly mine — 90 minutes in which I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs.

Of course, I said yes. And I’m glad I did. She made it through class, and was totally into it (though she wished there’d been more “tricks” and less pose-holding).

“That was great, Mom,” she said afterwards. “When’s the next class?” And whether she becomes a yoga fan or not, I consider those 90 minutes to be a small gift: another way for me to show her how strong and able a body can be, and how good it feels. It doesn’t much matter if it’s yoga or running or swimming or playing ultimate frisbee — our kids are clearly taking their physical activity cues from us.

A new study out of the U.K. confirms this: researchers report that physical activity levels in mothers and their pre-school kids are directly associated. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that interventions to promote more physical activity among mothers (who, understandably, are often exhausted, harried and not great at fitting exercise into busy, kid-filled days) might also benefit their young children.

Here’s some of NPR’s report on the study of 554 mothers and their kids:

Mothers’ increased physical activity boosted children’s moderate and vigorous activity overall…

It’s not entirely clear whether it’s the mother’s activity that influences her child’s, or if mothers are more active because they’re busy keeping up with a playful child, says Esther van Sluijs, a behavioral epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge and the study’s lead author.

But busy mothers don’t have to drop all other priorities to play with their children all day. Van Sluijs says just small changes – walking to the park instead of driving or playing a good game of tag instead of a board game – can make a difference. Continue reading

Must-Read: New Yorker Piece On Newtown Shooter’s Father

Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, on Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, on Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

Warning: Do not start reading the gifted writer Andrew Solomon’s New Yorker piece on Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza, if you have anything urgent to do.

Once you start, you won’t be able to stop — at first, because you’re hoping for some kind of answer to the unanswerable. Then because you find yourself feeling such pity for this man who could truly have no idea that his son would morph into a monster. (“I want people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them,” Peter Lanza tells Andrew Solomon.) And ultimately because it offers the first truly detailed, even intimate look into the Lanza family’s life, and you can’t stop hunting for clues to the ultimate evil, even though you know you’re doomed to failure.

For me, the biggest revelation was that it was not Peter Lanza who chose estrangement from his son. Soon after the December, 2012 shooting, when it was reported that Adam Lanza hadn’t seen his father for two years, I jumped to the conclusion that father had abandoned son, perhaps fueling rage at that abandonment.

But Solomon’s sensitive narration describes the distance as coming only from the son, who, through adolescence, seemed to sink ever further from weirdness — Asperger’s, social isolation — into deep distress and pathology. Adam started refusing to see his father, and stopped returning his emails, and neither parent seemed willing to force the issue. Solomon writes:

I wondered how Peter had felt through this period. “Sad,” he said. “I was hurt. I never expected that I would never talk to him again. I thought it was a matter of when.” He asked, “How much do you accommodate the demands and how much do you not? Nancy tended to, as did I.” Peter added, “But I think he saw that he could control her more than he could control me.” 

And the closest thing I found to a takehome message:

All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables). Nancy’s error seems to have been that she always focussed on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son. She thought that she could keep the years at bay by making each day as good as possible, but her willingness to indulge his isolation may well have exacerbated the problems it was intended to ameliorate.

Readers, your own reactions?

New Reason To Ban TV In Kid’s Bedroom: An Extra Pound A Year

(Aaron Escobar/Wikimedia Commons)

(Aaron Escobar/Wikimedia Commons)


By Jamie Bologna
Guest contributor

We’ve known for a long time that obesity is among the greatest health risks confronting Americans.

We also know that the challenge for many people starts early. In fact, children who are overweight or obese between the ages of three and five are five times more likely to be overweight or obese as adults.

Now, there’s new research out today that adds to our understanding about one risk factor for childhood obesity: televisions in kids’ bedrooms.

Radio Boston’s Anthony Brooks spoke with Diane Gilbert-Diamond, an assistant professor of Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth and the lead author of a new study on childhood obesity and television. The conversation, edited:

AB: Professor Gilbert-Diamond, we’ve known for some time that TV viewing is an established risk factor for childhood obesity—what further information did you uncover in this study?

We found that even after accounting for TV viewing, having a TV in the bedroom is associated with about one extra pound of weight gain a year.

About 60 percent of adolescents have TVs in their bedroom. Forty percent of kids have TVs by the age of six.

Just having the TV there, not even necessarily turning it on, just having it there?

We presume that kids with a TV in their bedrooms are watching them. But having the TV in the bedroom, no matter how much TV they’re watching, is associated with more weight gain.

Any idea about what’s behind this connection between weight gain and having a TV in the bedroom?

Our study couldn’t look at the mechanism directly, but we think that what’s going is that kids with a TV in their bedroom have more disrupted sleep. So, for instance, they may stay up later watching TV or may have poorer quality sleep after seeing the bright screen or watching exciting TV shows late at night.

Every phone, every laptop, every tablet can now be used as a TV. Is the lesson here that parents should really lay down much stricter rules about screen time in their bedrooms? Continue reading

Sibling Study Finds No Long-Term Breastfeeding Benefits For Kids

(5-month old baby, Wikimedia Commons)

(5-month old baby, Wikimedia Commons)

When Ohio State sociologist Cynthia Colen embarked on the biggest study yet of the long-term effects of breastfeeding, she expected it to yield still more evidence of “breast is best.”

Her research focuses on the health gaps between rich and poor, and she anticipated findings that would underscore the high price paid by poor and working-class mothers, whose jobs often stand in the way of breastfeeding.

But the data did not go there.

Previous research had reported a variety of long-term breastfeeding benefits in children, ranging from slightly higher IQs to lower risks of Attention Deficit Disorder. But those studies had mainly compared children across different families.

Dr. Colen’s study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at thousands of siblings within families, comparing those who were bottle-fed to those who were breastfed.

And all the previously reported long-term benefits evaporated.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I thought, ‘Of course there’s going to be some confounding. We know that children who are breastfed are much more likely to come from middle-income families; to have parents with higher levels of education; they’re more likely to be white; more likely to live in middle-class or safe neighborhoods — all these things that we know are going to impact these long-term child outcomes.’ But I didn’t expect such a dramatic reduction.”

So, in this study spanning 25 years of data on more than 8,000 children ages 4 to 14, the long-term benefits of breastfeeding dwindled down to virtually nothing?

“Nothing. Exactly.”

Yikes. It takes courage to question breastfeeding benefits these days. So let’s be clear: Dr. Colen is by no means against breastfeeding. On the contrary. And the evidence for the short-term benefits of breastfeeding is overwhelmingly clear, from improved immunity for the baby to healthier weight for both baby and mother. But, she says, “We need to just get a more balanced conversation going.”

“I’m not saying that women shouldn’t breastfeed and I’m not saying that breastfeeding is not beneficial,” she said. But “I think we have to be honest and try to understand more about what breastfeeding can and cannot do for women and their children, and to start to expand the conversation to these larger social and economic factors that we need to address.”

Those social and economic factors include the need for better maternity leaves and more affordable daycare — as well as higher school quality, safer neighborhoods, more family-friendly jobs. Dr. Colen argues for taking a more careful look at what happens in a child’s life beyond infancy, and for understanding that breastfeeding may be difficult to the point of impossibility for some groups of women. (Interesting paper: Is Breastfeeding Truly Cost-Free?) Continue reading

Head Lice News: Ordinary Conditioner — Yes; Selfie Spread — No

Combing out lice and nits with a special comb

Combing out lice and nits with a special comb

We parents are easy marks when we’re in the midst of a panicked battle against a family head-lice infestation. Whether it’s herbal “repellents” heavy on rosemary or chemical blasts of insecticidal shampoo, it’s hard to say no to any potential weapon when the foe is so tiny, so persistent and so high on the “yuck” scale.

So here’s a bit of helpful and potentially money-saving news from the Entomological Society of America. Their headline: Ordinary conditioner removes head lice eggs as effectively as special products. From their press release:

Eggs from head lice, also called nits, are incredibly difficult to remove. Female lice lay eggs directly onto strands of hair, and they cement them in place with a glue-like substance, making them hard to get rid of. In fact, the eggs are glued down so strongly that they will stay in place even after hair has been treated with pediculicides — substances used to kill lice. Some shampoos and conditioners that contain chemicals or special oils are marketed as nit-removal products. However, new research just published in the Journal of Medical Entomology shows that ordinary hair conditioner is just as effective.

The paper, titled “Efficacy of Products to Remove Eggs of Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae) From the Human Hair,” is here. A bit more: “They found that nits on the hairs that were left completely untreated were the most difficult to remove. Eggs on hairs that had been soaked in deionized water were much easier to remove, as were the eggs on hairs that had been treated with ordinary hair conditioner and with products specifically marketed for the purpose of nit removal. However, they found no significant differences between the ordinary conditioners and the special nit-removal products.”

And while we’re on the topic, I see a local head-lice expert, Richard Pollack, quoted in an NBC News item with the irresistible headline: “Selfies (Probably) Not Spreading Lice Among Teens, Expert Says.” Continue reading

Olympic Dreams? Bah, Humbug! Children, Here’s What Really Matters

Gold medallist Stefan Groothuis from the Netherlands jumps in celebration during the flower ceremony for the men's 1000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Gold medallist Stefan Groothuis from the Netherlands jumps in celebration during the flower ceremony for the men’s 1000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

On my first date with the man who would much later become my husband, we went to hear a mountaineer describe his world-class feats climbing rock cliffs thousands of feet high in Greenland.

As we walked out, I said: “The whole thing would have been so much more compelling if there had been some children on top of the 5,000-foot granite wall who needed saving, don’t you think?”

Yes, I confess it. Though it may get me kicked out of Boston, I’m just missing the gene that would allow me to derive meaning from sports, whether it’s rock-climbing, Olympic skating, or even — dare I say it? — Red Sox baseball.

I do appreciate the skill and courage and endurance of top-level athletes. Their beauty and grace. But I can never see the games in which they compete as anything more than elaborate and empty artificial constructs created for an entertainment industry that brings in billions from people who somehow do derive some meaning from it.

So you can imagine my reaction as I watch our children consuming the hoopla of the Sochi Olympics. I see them being sold this story: These athletes are American (or Dutch or Japanese) heroes. They had a dream. They overcame great adversity. And now they may reap the ultimate reward — public glory!

Here’s what I want to tell my children. First, all dreams are not created equal. What if your dream were to build the biggest pile of buttons in the world? Would that have the same level of meaning as the dream of curing cancer or writing the Great American Novel?

Second of all, dreams are fine, but what matters far more is finding something you love that can last. Continue reading

Isis Parenting, Boston-Area Institution For New Moms, To Close

The Isis Parenting Facebook page

The Isis Parenting Facebook page

Sad news for current and expecting customers of Isis Parenting, a chain of one-stop-shops for classes, products and support for new mothers (and fathers, too): The Boston-area institution says it’s closing.

On its website here, Isis Parenting CEO Heather Coughlin writes:

Dear Friend of Isis:

It is with deep regret and sadness that I craft this letter. Ten years ago this May I walked through the doors of Isis’ first Brookline, Massachusetts location for the first time. I was expecting my first child and was immediately put at ease by the staff and classes I completed.

I had no idea at the time how valuable a resource Isis would become for me personally over the next few years, and I could never have imagined the impact it would have on me professionally as its leader.

Isis Parenting is sorry to announce we will soon close our doors and, effective immediately, we will no longer be able to conduct classes or consults. That said, as we continue to sell the remainder of our trusted products over the coming days, we invite you to stop in – for drop-in playgroups, great sales and (most importantly) to say goodbye to a gathering place that has meant so much to so many.

Universal Hub reports here that all the chain’s locations — including Back Bay, Arlington, Needham and Hanover — will close, and that the move is bringing expressions of regret and appreciation from customers. A commenter below the post writes, “What a shame.” And:

My sons both took classes in Arlington and my wife used the lactation consultant services during some difficult nursing problems with our first. The new moms group gave my wife someone to talk to that actually understood what she was dealing with.

Social media comments speculate that the closing comes after an investor pull-out, but Coughlin does not explain the “why” of the closing in her letter. We’ll update this post as WBUR reports further. The Boston Globe reports here that “just this month Isis had announced a new partnership with MetroWest Medical Center. Then, with no warning,” it announced today that it was closing.

Update at 3:13 p.m.: Fortune offers a business explanation here, including:

In short, Isis isn’t going out of business because it failed its customers. Isis is going out of business because it didn’t work as… well, as a business.
“The company has been struggling for the past two of three years,” says a source close to the situation. “And it had a bad holiday retail season, which really pushed it over the edge…. The CEO is exceptional and tried everything she could, but investors were pretty deep into this, so there was no attempt to recapitalize.”

Readers, reactions? Did you patronize Isis and what was your experience?