Good parenting in 4 paragraphs, toddler to preschool edition

Telling a toddler or preschooler "no" doesn't teach him what you want him or her to do.

Instead of saying no, try: 1. giving a positive direction to his urge; 2. distract and redirect; 3. offer choices that lead to the behavior you want; or 4. childproof the situation. Children naturally want to please adults and get that positive attention, so work with it.

Use those 4 tools to guide the child, and add one more: teach him or her to think for himself. Example: "It's cold outside, do you want to be chilly or warm?" (warm!) "What do you need if you want to go outside and stay warm?" (coat!) -- do this a few times and he'll start thinking it through on his own.

Once a child learns to do something on his own, never do it for him, even if you're tired, or it's late and you're in a hurry. Responsibility cures misbehavior, and the first responsibility we all have is toward ourselves. As a parent, it's your job to make sure your child takes on that job as soon as he or she is able. Whether it's cleaning up a mess they've made, making other good behavioral choices, problem solving, negotiating, or simple social skills that lead to forming friendships, the sooner your child learns to take an active role in his or her own life, the sooner you'll have a little freedom to enjoy their new skills and achievements with them.


What is colic?

Q: My baby can't fall asleep at night, he starts crying and nothing I can do will calm him. He pulls away from the breast and screams until he shakes. Should I let him cry it out? Is he sick? What can I do?

A: What happens if you hold him in burp position on your shoulder and pat or jostle his bottom? How about when you bounce him gently and walk him around in that position? If that seems to give him relief, your son may have colic. Of course, check with your pediatrician to make sure nothing else is wrong.

Colic is a term for tummy distress that happens every night in very young babies. It's painful, and loud, and it takes a while for baby to settle. Letting your child "cry it out" won't work, because he's really in pain. It usually takes from a few days to a few weeks to pass. That's likely because your child's digestive system is maturing and becoming able to handle what you eat. You may not want to put him through this suffering every night, though. So how do you help?

Colic has been tied to mother's diet in breastfed babies, and to the ingredients in formula in bottle fed babies.  If you're formula feeding, try switching to a non-dairy, or non-soy based formula. Whatever you do, don't put rice cereal in a young baby's formula. His tummy is not ready to digest grains, so it just sits in his tummy and blocks the nutrients he needs from getting into his system. If you're expressing milk, or formula feeding, ake very sure you are sterilizing properly. Don't use bottles that have been sitting out or in the fridge too long.

If you're breastfeeding, the top colic triggers moms report are: dairy, onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, and chocolate, followed by spicy foods and other strongly flavored foods. Some even report that cutting out beef seemed to relieve colic.

Now vegetables and beans are believed not to cause gas in a breastfed baby, because the fiber that gives adults gas doesn't travel through breast milk. But some babies do react to something after mom eats certain vegetables, that causes intestinal distress. So my advice is go through the list, starting with dairy. It takes about a week to see full relief. You may even see improvement within a day or so. It's fine to try avoiding everything on the list, just make sure you get the proper nutrition without them. It may take some time to figure out what's causing the problem, and baby will grow out of colic on his own over time.  If symptoms get worse, or new symptoms show up, call your pediatrician to be sure there isn't something else going on.

Mood Boosters for Moms

As fall approaches many folks start to feel a drop in energy that seems to match the lag of daily sunlight. Some feel a drop in their emotional energy, or find themselves feeling more overwhelmed or stressed.  You're not imagining it. Human beings need a certain amount of sunlight every day for physical and nutritional health. And we also need it for our mental health.

Moms need all the energy they can get, and new moms can be hardest hit, because the post baby hormones are on their own schedule altogether. Before running to the doctor or worrying about yourself too much, try some natural ways of recharging your energy and boosting your own morale.

Here are five tips to help you keep your emotional state and your physical energy in a comfortable range as temperatures drop.

1. Go outside every morning as early as you can and get morning sunlight for about half an hour a day. Bring baby with you. If you can't get outside, try to at least spend some time at the window getting outdoor light. The more sunlight you get, the more vitamin D your bodies will make.

Even if it's raining (or snowing) or overcast, this will help to balance your serotonin levels and adjust your circadian rhythm (the natural body cycle that gives us our day/night schedules of wake and sleep).  If you live in an area that doesn't get much sun, you might want to consider a vitamin D supplement; or consume more meat, liver, fatty fish and mushrooms.
Eat healthy, whole natural foods. Cut sugars, starches and white flour and rice out of your diet. 

Eat whole grains. Switch out whole wheat or white bread with Ezekiel bread, or any other flourless sprouted grain bread. You can find them in the freezer at most large groceries. Sprouted grains breads have balanced, natural nutrients, and the sprouting process creates enzymes and other nutrients that give you a natural boost.

Before you worry about supplements, try natural foods that contain B vitamins, like brown rice, nutritional or brewers' yeast, dark green leafy vegetables. Any colorful vegetables are good for your body and your mood. Get enough lean protein and healthy fats, but make sure your plate is about half freshly cooked and/or raw vegetables.
3. Avoid fast food as much as possible. That stuff is designed to affect your system and create an addiction. It bloats you and adds stress to your body functions that contribute to depression.

4. Exercise every day, no matter how bad you feel. Even if the only exercise you get is dodging raindrops during that morning half hour, it will help. If you're stuck in bed, you can still touch your toes, stretch, and do simple Pilates mat exercises like leg circles and leg lifts.

5. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep when your baby or child sleeps. Forget about the house. It'll still be there!


A recipe for natural fun in the sun

A lot of parents of babies and small children feel  uncomfortable about using chemical-based sunscreen on their children. It's recommended to avoid these over the counter creams in very young babies because their skin is so thin that some chemicals can easily cross into their bloodstream. So what's a parent to do on a lovely beach day? Of course you'll want a big umbrella for baby and you to rest under, a floppy hat to shade baby's head, and lots of water or nursing to keep you both hydrated. But did you know that many natural oils have their own SPF factor?

A recent study on the natural sun protection of these products found that many common food and spice oils have an SPF  between 2 and 7.5. You can find it here. Authors Chanchal Deep Kaur and Swarnlata Saraf found that good old olive oil has one of the best SPF factors, at 7.5. Coconut oil is close, at 7.1, and lemon grass oil, which also keeps away mosquitoes, has a natural SPF of 6.2. There are claims that other oils have higher SPFs, but to date I've not seen exact figures, however, raspberry seed oil and date seed oil rate as similar to titanium oxide, a sun block, for skin protection, according to a study published in Food Chemistry magazine in 2007.

What does SPF mean? It stands for sun protection factor, and it means that the product will allow you to stay in the sun that many times longer without burning. So if you put olive oil on your skin, and you normally would get a burn after 15 minutes of direct sun, olive oil would allow you to stay in the sun a little under two hours, as long as you remember to keep applying.  Now I wouldn't recommend pushing the limits of the SPF for your skin or your baby's but a layer of one of these oil before a dip in the water may help prevent sunburn, just stay well within your time limit for safety's sake.


More energy without caffeine

Parents need extra energy and alertness to get through a day of kids, work, and care, but not everyone wants to overdo caffeine. Lactating or pregnant moms may want to avoid it altogether. So what are some safe ways to boost energy during the day, and help you sleep at night? Here are some suggestions based on what nutritionists have discovered about the components of foods; as well as folk remedies, and health suggestions based on research into mood regulation.

Not every person will react to the foods listed in the same way. For example, some of us will feel sleepy an hour after eating fruit on an empty stomach, some will feel energized after eating one, with no drop afterward. Only you can tell how your own body reacts.

Although juice and smoothies may give some folks energy, I don't recommend them for people who tend to get sleepy after eating sugars, or if you're on a diet.  Here's why: removing the fiber or breaking down a food by blending means your bloodstream absorbs the sugars and starches faster, which can cause a spike and then drop in blood sugar. When your blood sugar drops you will feel drowsy. Some of us will then feel cravings for sugary or fatty foods around the same time: this means your insulin levels are so high, and your blood sugar so low, that even if your stomach is full you aren't getting enough energy to function properly. You want to avoid that cycle of overeating and cravings: when your blood sugar is low, your brain and body aren't going to get enough nutrients to function properly. And your system can go into crisis mode, triggering more overeating and unhealthy cravings.

The same thing happens when whole grains are refined into flour. The body can overreact to the flood of sugar and starches. Whole grains are the best, whole grain flours are second best because they can cause the spike-drop in blood sugar. White flour isn't a good choice because it's the furthest removed from the natural balance of whole foods. Manufacturers try to compensate by adding in fiber and vitamins, but this isn't as good for your body as the naturally occurring nutrients. Try eating a piece of plain white bread on an empty stomach and see how your body reacts over the next hour, to see if that might be slowing you down during the day.

Think of it this way: the blender, juicer or factory is doing some of the work of eating your food for you. Less work means fewer calories burned by eating and digesting, and more calories getting into your body, too fast for  to process normally. Some folks won't be affected, but many of us are. Only you can tell what's affecting you, by paying attention to your own reactions to food.

I include environmental stimulation in the list because of the importance of sunlight and darkness to regulate your system. The better you keep to a natural environment and schedule, the better your health, energy level and mood will be. The same thing works for kids. Morning sunlight and fresh, cool air for you and your baby will naturally regulate sleep and energy cycles, as well as your emotional health.

Of course a good night's sleep is the best energy stimulant you can get, so if you're not getting enough, you won't be able to continue at the same pace, no matter how much stimulation you get.

If you want to link to this post, I'll continue to add information and suggestions as I continue my research, so you can check back in or add suggestions/comments. And always, rely on your own judgment: google these suggestions for further information on why they might work.

Food and drinks that may gently give you energy without caffeine/chemicals

ice water (try adding a slice of lemon, cucumber, or mint, or a splash of juice)
black pepper
hot peppers
 wheat germ
nuts and seeds
citrus fruits

lean protein coupled with complex carbs (beef stew, peanut butter with an apple, beans and brown rice)

most whole grains (this is not the same as whole grain flour, which can make some people sleepy)
brown rice
red rice
black rice
wild rice
wheat berries
(corn and barley tend to have more sugar/starch so they're not on the list)

supplements-- take them in the morning!
B vitamins
Omega 3 fatty acids
L-tyrosine (also good for stress)
kelp powder

any mint
red clover
bay leaves

anything that has the following ingredients
white flour
white rice
Environmental stimulants:
cool air
sunlight or bright lights
changing positions/locations, even briefly
cold water (splash it on your face, jump in the pool or shower)
brisk exercise of any kind
Cheerful or high energy music
Other people-- whether it's visitors, play dates, phone calls, people walking by, other shoppers, or family members, having other folks around you can give you and baby a little extra stimulation

Food, drink  and environments that calm

warm water (tea, hot water with honey, bouillon, soup)

"brassica" vegetables:
broccoli rabe, broccolini etc
brussels sprouts

starchy vegetables:
sweet potatoes
winter squash



supplements-- take at night:


Environmental calm:
Lights low or off
Reduced noise levels
No visitors, turn off the TV
regulated sound and airflow like a fan, white noise machine, low, calm music
warm (not hot) air 
deep breathing 


Free Events for Kids! Next week's World Science Festival

For the last few years, Brian Greene, the Columbia physicist, and all around fantastic dad,  has worked with NYU and other partners to bring us the World Science Festival in New York City. The series uses all five senses to engage us in cutting edge scientific ideas. There's dance and performances illustrating string theory and art exhibits about physics, and gourmet kitchen classes about chemistry. And they've always made kids' events a centerpiece of the free events:

 Top of the list for me is the Ultimate Science Street Fair on Sunday, June 2. Centered around newly renovated Washington Square Park, the street fair features booth upon booth of well-planned and fun science-based games that draw big crowds, and most important: animatronic DINOSAUR and real Kareem Abdul Jabar-- he'll read to kids from his book on African American scientists and inventors, AND give a little introduction to the physics of basketball.

There's a CSI booth where kids can solve a mystery (you could not keep the 7-12 year olds away from this one last year), and a hands-on exhibit so kids can compare the skulls and teeth of walruses,  cougars, warthogs, lions, and dolphins, there's even a polar bear observation station (you have to see it!)

Kids can build their own little garden at Window Farms, use a solar telescope, play video games that sneak in some cool physics and biology tricks, they can make their own healthy snacks at Eat Play Learn with the White House pastry chef, Bill Yosses,

Young astronomers and their parents can see the stars up close at Pier One's star party beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.  Festivities include stargazing, dancing, local food trucks, and a Stargazer sail, right in the middle of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
New this year are Apprentice programs, where youngsters 8 and up can do anything from learning about oceanography from the whales, apprenticing to a Robot Maker ; an evolutionary biologist (bug hunter), the entomological neurobiologist (bug listener); a science reporter (and you get to report live from the festival!) and other  cool science jobs. These programs are all located at NYU Kimmel center on the south side of Washington Square. Drop off your kids for an hour or so and enjoy the sights in the Street Fair, while they get psyched about a career where their skills will always be in high demand.

Get to the free events early, order tickets for the Apprentice programs now (they're selling out fast!), and most of all, enjoy a family Sunday in the Park with Science!

Listen so your children will talk.

Start listening and responding the minute your child makes their first little noise. Let them know you're listening. Let them talk as much as they want to.

Once they start going into longwinded explanations of how tricycles make it rain, or how to get to the highest level of their favorite video game, you don't necessarily have to listen to every word, but let them talk, nod, ask a few open ended questions (that means they can't just be answered with a yes or no). Ask them about their day and sit and listen to their replies.

Make eye contact, acknowledge their experience.

If they ask you why a balloon is round, google it with them if you don't know the answer-- feed their curiosity, their trust, and their honesty by being open and helpful. If they tell you about something they did wrong, don't punish them, stay calm and kind, and help them problem solve a way to fix it or make amends. If they tell you about their body parts and going to the bathroom and what their poop looked like, listen to that too. If they ask you a question about a body part and you don't know the answer, show them how you look it up properly, on a trusted source, like Medline Plus, part of the National Institutes of Health Web site.

If you remain their trusted Listener, one day when they're teens you will hear something important that you need to know. They will tell you everything that's going on in their lives, and their friends' lives, and you will be able to help when other parents have no idea what their kids are getting into. You may help them realize they don't want to do drugs. You may help them learn how to say no to a pushy boy. You may save their lives. You may find that "teen rebellion" doesn't really exist unless parents make it happen.


Fear vs Respect

Imagine, in a conversation, you have been asked about something you know the other person won't like. Let's say it's something the other person doesn't know you did. For each part of the question I'm about to ask, picture yourself in the situation and think of how you would feel, and what your first thought is.

The question is, when are you most likely to admit a mistake: when you're afraid of the other person? What about when you respect the  person you're talking to? How about in a situation where you feel respected by the other person, and you respect them in turn?

Most people are more likely to hide the truth if they're afraid. It's natural to want to protect yourself from negative consequences, regardless of whether you feel you did anything wrong.

In fact, if that other person is already angry, and you're afraid of their reaction, the last thing a sane person would do is say something that would make them turn their anger on you.

When you respect the other person, you're more likely to tell them the truth. You feel a certain level of trust in their self control, their sound judgment, and their ability to handle what you might say. It might be painful to admit something, but you have a sense that being dishonest would cost you more with this person than telling the truth, even if you lose some status in their eyes.

When you share mutual respect, you have no reason not to tell the other person the truth, because you know they won't judge you for what you did wrong. You won't feel shamed, because you know that they accept you for who you are. And if there's a problem, they'll try to help you solve it, learn from it, and move past it. You know before you tell them that you're already forgiven, and you know that whatever they tell you, you've already forgiven them. Both of you look for solutions, or just listen to and understand each other.

Ok, now imagine that person is more than twice your size, has complete control over what you do, and perhaps where and how you live, and whether there's food on your plate and peace in your life. The stakes for small children are so high, it's hard for parents and caregivers to put themselves in their place. It's so much more than just size.

Next time you need to know something from your child, keep this in mind. Just observe how the two of you interact: how do you sound? What expression is on  your child's face? What do they say, and what is the message underneath it? Most important: how do you react? With respect, trust and mutual problem solving?


Plan your parenthood from the inside out.

According to a large study out of Norway, folic acid supplements, before you ever get pregnant, and continued through pregnancy, reduce the chance of autism in your child by 40%. Only 400 mcg. You can get it in beans, lentils, peas, nuts, fruits, dark leafy green vegetables, asparagus, broccoli and citrus fruit; but if you must, get it from fortified cereal, bread or vitamin supplements. It also prevents spina bifida. How many nutrients are we losing out on by eating processed foods and ignoring fresh whole foods?

We pay so little attention to women's nutrition before pregnancy, and little enough to prenatal nutrition. But think about this ONE supplement. And how many lives could be changed. It costs a few pennies per person to make sure every woman gets supplements. How much does prenatal malnutrition cost society? And each child? and their families?


Restaurant behavior

Well-behaved kids discount -- good idea or too reward oriented?

How do you feel about rewarding kids for good behavior instead of just expecting good behavior? The danger of rewarding behavior that should be normal is that you're creating a negotiation where there shouldn't be one. If you reward good table manners with ice cream (as the restaurant owner did in the story) what does that mean when you don't serve ice cream next time? The child now sees this as a contract: behavior x brings outcome y, where y is ice cream. If there's no ice cream, behavior x may disappear fast!

The mom in the linked story, Laura King, has great tips:
 * Take your kids out to eat at least a couple times a month.
* Give your kids a snack before you head out.
* Be sure they’re rested and healthy.
* Be ready to engage with your kids.
* Notice the people, art, music, food in the room and talk about it.
* Encourage your kids to talk with you just like you would talk with another adult.
* Enjoy the time you’ve carved out to be with them.

Underlying all of these ideas is one important one: "practice good table manners at home." In other words, model the behavior you expect. What does that mean to you? There are a range of "good" manners for the table. What matters is that manners show respect for the people you're eating with, and the people who prepared and served your meal.

Most parents  teach "indoor voice, "take turns talking" and "don't chew with your mouth open."
How about "don't bother others while they're eating"? Or "sit in your chair until your meal is finished, and ask to be excused before getting up"? -- not every parent cares for the second rule, but most parents like that first one: it's crucial to a peaceful meal. Pick rules that make sense to you, and model them for your children. When you notice they're not using the skills they've learned, gently remind them, even a single word may be enough -- "fork" if they're using their fingers on the spaghetti, or "napkin" if they need to wipe. Don't be critical or angry, and especially don't humiliate your child into behaving, especially at the table. Family meal time should be a positive, bonding time you all look forward to. And that won't work if you or your children see it as ritualized torment. Explain and encourage table skills, and help your children to learn and display them. And then choose restaurants where your style is welcome.

When you're considering what restaurants will best fit -- and reinforce-- your child's developing good manners, pick places where  you and your children will feel comfortable to start with. Plan ahead; don't just drag them into the nearest restaurant at the last minute, when you're all tired and hungry. I think you already know how that will turn out.

There will be times when you need to eat out at the last minute of course, but if you've been prepping your family with good manners,  relaxed mealtimes, and trust, even a hurried hamburger can be pleasant and restorative for all of you.


What makes a conscientious parent?

Almost every parent has a general idea of what they consider good parenting. And nowadays, there's lots of advice that supports nearly everyone's style and choices. So how do you make good choices when you're not sure which way to go? At BABC, we try to present parents with all sides of the issue, whether it's bottle vs formula, natural childbirth vs medication, spanking vs non-physical discipline vs nonpunitive parenting-- and there are so many variations in between these and other seeming opposites it would be difficult to list them all.

That's why we like to use the term "conscientious parenting"-- based on research that shows that conscientious people tend to live longest. We think conscientious parents raise the healthiest kids, no matter what choices they may make. Applying your thoughtful judgment to your parenting decisions will only help you make better ones. Conscientious people learn what their options are, and think about the possible outcomes and consequences of their choices before they act. They may make mistakes, but they're careful to address and fix them. They build trust and respect in their children because they're both honest and considerate, and expect the same in return. They're attentive parents, and they pass their problem-solving skills on to their children. These conscientious children can think for themselves, reason out good choices, and aren't afraid to talk to their parents about problems and decisions.

So give yourself time to be open minded about your decisions. Read, observe, and discuss-- whether guided by a parenting coach, a pediatrician, or your own parents; friends, or self-help books, or all of the above-- and pay attention to your child's feedback, whether it's spoken, behavioral or physiological. The more you practice, the better you'll get at tuning into your child's developing needs, skills and abilities. And the better your relationship will be.


Letting children heal in their own way.

After a California school shooting a few years ago, parents and teachers were somewhat shocked to see kids at that school acting out the shooting during their daily play. 

What they discovered was that the kids who were doing this were attempting to deal with their feelings by normalizing them. By absorbing the events into their school play culture, they all found a way to get in touch with their feelings as a group, examine what had happened from all sides by role play, and digest the events as a part of their collective experience. 

Kids will find a way to talk to those they trust, to process their feelings and get back to "normal." They are resilient. All they need is for you to be a safe place to turn, when they're ready to talk, or play, or use whatever communication method they need, on their own time.

Parents can make a safe place for their children to express what's in their hearts, jut by listening. A child may ramble on and on about his favorite video game, or her friends at school, all you need to do is let them speak, as long as they need to. A little patience for these little daily moments will pay you both back when it comes time for your child to tell you more important things.

Engaged parents, happy babies

Engaged parents, happy babies