Browsing Tag

Parenting Philosophies

Family Nudity Is All About Comfort Level, NOT Sexuality

By February 15, 2016 1 Comment
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Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton caused an online uproar back in October after he posted a partially obstructed picture of himself in the shower with his 2 year old son on Instagram, which you can see to the right. Comments and concerns raised by this situation ranged from positive and supportive of bathing with own’s own small children to outraged and accusations of child abuse. So, what is the “right” answer?

When parents ask me how to address nudity, I usually ask them to reflect on their own levels of comfort with nudity. The general rule with respect to parents’ and children’s nudity is that everyone needs to be comfortable with how much is bared. In particular, it is very important that parents agree on how much nudity they are comfortable with showing in front of their children. If parents have very different views about their comfort levels, I advise families to err on the side of modesty. That way no one feels uncomfortable.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens

Keep Your Sick Kid Home and Away From Mine!

By December 8, 2015 1 Comment
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We all know that dreaded feeling when you’re meeting with someone and their children, and you can immediately tell that they or their children are ill.

When that happens to me, I mentally start preparing myself for the impending sickness that is almost certain to be passed along to my family, and then I try to manage the disappointment and fleeting rage that momentarily crosses my mind. Sure enough, later that evening I’m usually woken up in the middle of the night by a crying child, and I can tell that something is amiss based on the pathetic-sounding cry and whine. I sleepily fumble my way into to their room only to find a shaky, feverish kiddo that’s miserable and immediately my mind flashes back when I had that sick visitor or play date.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a germaphobe, and some exposure to viruses is a good thing. Exposure to some germs is a necessary evil that helps beef up the body’s immunity, allowing our bodies to more effectively fight future illnesses.  One study showcased in Science Magazine has even shown that mice exposed to millions of bacteria and organisms fared better than those mice that essentially were raised in a sterile “bubble,” because their bodies were able to more efficiently fight against illness.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Newborns + Infants, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens

Transparenting Pink Boys and Blue Girls

By September 21, 2015 No Comments
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You may remember last year when Transparent, an Amazon original comedy-drama series took home five Emmys at the 67th Emmy Awards, which was a big leap for the subject matter into the public eye – and yet another step toward positive, wide-spread visibility for a subject that’s still unfamiliar to people. The series depicts the process that a father of three adult children must undergo as he comes out to his family about his true transgender identity. Like Caitlin Jenner, Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, the lead character of Transparent brings the experience to greater understanding. What is perhaps less known is that awareness of being transgender can often emerge as a young child, and the stories like those of Jeffrey Tambor’s character (pictured right) don’t always shed light on the fact that from early childhood, many transgender adults have struggled to be out and open about who they are.

For most parents, upon hearing the words “it’s a boy,” or “it’s a girl,” conjure up a picture of how their child will look, what the child will wear, toys they will like, and who they will marry.  All of these ideas are based on the assumption— and the expectation of most parents — that their children will be heterosexual and gender-conforming.

What happens, then, when our children do not follow the path we imagined when they came into our lives as babies?  Do we give our children space to express themselves without judgment, for example, when our sons want to wear pink converse sneakers or our daughters want to wear a necktie?  Many parents like myself absolutely want to expand gender roles for our children, and consider ourselves feminist, progressive, open-minded, etc.  Truth be told, however, when we see behaviors in our children that we associate with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, we are often uncomfortable and may, out of fear or worry, say or do things to inhibit our children from being who they truly are.

It’s important to understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity — very different aspects of who we are as humans —  are often conflated, and both tied up in conversations we have when talking about children who are not gender-conforming.

Sexual orientation is quite simply who we are physically/romantically attracted to; some people are solely attracted to the opposite sex, some to the same sex, and others experience attraction to both/all genders.  It is believed that sexual orientation is wired in us from birth and that by middle school a child is aware of this aspect of themselves regardless of whether they have acted on any feelings or shared them with anyone.

Gender identity is one’s innermost sense of being either male or female, or in some cases, both or neither. Gender identity is believed to be established by age 4, though for some children—and adults, coming out as transgender may be delayed based on fear of rejection, lack of safety, or simply not understanding their experience and not having a place to openly explore their feelings.

For most children, their assigned sex at birth (“it’s a girl!” or “it’s a boy!”) will match their gender identity. This is referred to as being cisgender (cis is pronounced like the “sis” in the word “sister”).  But for some children, they will have a profound sense of being a gender other than the one assigned at birth. For example, a three-year-old child assigned male at birth but who feels like a girl and wants to be girl, and is insistent, persistent, and consistent about this feeling, may in fact be transgender.  And for a growing number of children—teens in particular, there is a fluid, or non-binary gender identity that can include wearing a variety of “girls and boys” clothing, appearing androgynous, using the pronoun “they,” and other ways of eschewing the limitations or inaccuracy of either a male or female identity.

We often hear the term “gender non-conforming” when referring to children who behave in ways that are not consistent with more traditional gender norms or gender roles.  This might include girls who are tomboys or boys who prefer to play with dolls.

What should we do as parents if our children are among those who express themselves in ways that suggest that might be LGB, or T (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender)?

The most important thing is to give children the room they need to explore who they are, and to express themselves openly and freely.  There is no way for us to know what any of these behaviors might mean with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Many children who enjoy gender expansive (gender non-conforming) behavior do not experience discord with their assigned sex at birth, and are not destined to be same-sex attracted.  But some will follow that path and, as parents there are things we can do from early on to create a safe, accepting environment if our children are in fact LGBT identified at some point in their lives.

How do we support our children in this process, no matter what path they end up on? We can avoid “gender policing,” which often shames our kids and shuts down their need to express themselves with clothing, toys, hobbies, etc.

Sometimes by habit, or reflex, we might say to our son who is eyeballing a play kitchen at Toys R Us, “those are for girls,” or when our daughter wants to play touch football with the neighborhood boys instead of encouraging her, we caution her with “that’s too rough for girls.”

I’m sure many of us say things that reinforce rigid gender roles without realizing we are doing it, and simply paying attention can reap dramatic changes in the level of comfort our children have to simply be who they are.  What we know about LGBT children—teens in particular, is that family support is the most critical factor in their overall well-begin.  Too many LGBT youth are rejected when they “come out,” and it’s that rejection that shatters the foundation of trust and security and sets up our kids to struggle emotionally, academically, and socially.  Believe me, our children are listening closely to what we say in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, and what they hear will be their clues for whether or not they can trust us and turn to us when or if they need to share about those parts of who they are.

If you are a parent who believes your child may be transgender, based on the criteria that they assert their gender on a persistent, consistent, and insistent basis, there are many online resources to help you better understand “gender dysphoria,” the clinical diagnosis that applies to these children and to find highly experienced medical providers and mental health professionals in your area to help support them.

Transgender Actor Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine (courtesy: Time.com)

Transgender Actor Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine (courtesy: Time.com)

Transgender individuals are gaining visibility in the media with the popularity of shows like Transparent, as mentioned above, Orange is the New Black (featuring Laverne Cox, pictured left), and the widely-publicized transition of Caitlyn Jenner, to name a few. Jeffery Tambor, who won for best actor for the lead role in Transparent recognized the significance of his win by dedicating to the transgender community, saying, “thanks for your patience, thank you for your courage, thank you for your stories, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for letting us be part of the change.”

Likewise, there are many emerging voices of parents of transgender children who are now advocating for their children at school and in the broader community; many of their stories are told in books, in videos, and on their personal blogs and websites. The voices are out there – and I believe connecting with other parents of transgender children is incredibly empowering and certainly the best path toward being educated and informed about the best ways to support and take care of your children.

 

 

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

How to Survive When Your Toddler Throws A Tantrum in Public

By September 14, 2015 No Comments
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 Let’s face it: everyone is lucky if they survive the toddler years, parents and toddlers included. We’ve been lucky in that our son’s temperament is rather laid back, but we’ve had our fair share of breakdowns in the grocery store and family dinners out interrupted by unexplained temper tantrums.

One epic tantrum happened in our local grocery store while my husband was out of town for a week and I was about 25 weeks pregnant with our second baby. We needed groceries, leaving without food was not an option, and my son had a massive breakdown. Arms and legs flailing, and screaming. Getting down to his level and talking to him didn’t help, distraction didn’t help, he was unhappy and would not be pacified. I have to say part of me was impressed by the meltdown as it was sustained. That kid had stamina! It went on for about 10 minutes as I threw the last groceries into our cart and rushed to the checkout aisle.

As I rushed to check out, I apologized to everyone around me. I remembered judging mothers before I had kids, so I expected judgmental looks and whispers from passersby of “can’t she control her child?” Here we are, I thought to myself, karma has won, the shoe is on the other foot. I totally deserved this very public tantrum and any judgment I received from others in the store. But instead nearly everyone looked at me with pity and offered me the reassuring words, “don’t worry about it, we’ve all been there.” Thank goodness for caring strangers!

That helped me feel better about myself in the moment but didn’t help me prevent or stop the meltdown. So why do toddlers have tantrums in the first place and what can you do when a tantrum happens in public?

Unfortunately, temper tantrums are a normal and important part of toddlerhood. Yes, ear piercing screams and flailing about because you won’t let your two-year-old play with a knife is perfectly normal. Frustrating for both of you, but completely normal.

What causes tantrums is actually highly dependent on biology.  Worry not, your child isn’t having a breakdown in Target because you’re a bad parent or because you use the wrong parenting philosophy.  Despite what some claim, the children of Attachment Parents and Tiger Moms have tantrums too, because it’s normal and natural. While toddlers have developed some level of autonomy through walking and basic language skills, they haven’t developed two important cognitive factors: 1. The necessary language skills to express themselves and; 2. self-control.

In the case of the first, it’s important to know all communication requires both receptive and expressive language. Receptive language is the language that we understand, i.e: When someone says “cup,” we understand it means a thing that holds liquid and that we drink out of. Expressive language is the ability to communicate to others, i.e. to say to someone, “I want the cup” and to refer accurately to a cup (instead of saying “cup” but meaning “plate”).

Receptive language develops first, with expressive language playing catch up. Unfortunately for toddlers this means that they often understand much more than they can express and that, of course, leads to frustration. Alternatively, sometimes they don’t have either the receptive or expressive language to understand or express how they feel and that too leads to frustration.  Essentially, it’s really frustrating to be a toddler.

As a comparison, we’ve all had the experience of needing to communicate with someone when there’s a language barrier. It could have been at work, or in your personal life but we’ve all encountered someone who speaks a different language from us who we need to communicate with but can’t, or struggle to.  It’s usually a really frustrating experience, even as an adult.

prefrontal-cortex NIH

Image of the brain and prefrontal cortex, c/o NIH

Essentially the same thing is happening with your toddler when they’re struggling to communicate with you. Unfortunately for them they haven’t yet developed the all important skill of self-control, which prevents most of us from breaking into an uncontrollable rage when we get frustrated. The development of self-control is linked to the part of the brain that also regulates emotion. This part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex and it sits, appropriately enough, at the front of the brain. Unfortunately for everyone the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to fully develop. In fact, it’s not considered to be fully developed until age 12, with higher executive level functions not truly developing until we’re in our 20s.

As adults we’re used to being told “no” and for 90% of us we don’t fly off the handle when we hear the word. We might not be happy about it, it may frustrate us, but we don’t scream, yell and throw ourselves on the ground. This is because our prefrontal cortex has developed appropriately and we’re able to regulate our emotions and our reactions. For the other 10%, we’ve all encountered them in airports, on the subway and at customer service counters, and they’re usually acting like toddlers having a meltdown when receiving information they don’t like.

So take comfort fellow parents, if your child has a tantrum in public or otherwise, it’s not because you’re doing parenting wrong or have ascribed to the wrong parenting philosophy. It’s biology, pure and simple, and there’s nothing you can do to skip this developmental stage.

So now that you’re breathing a sigh of relief that your toddler’s public tantrum isn’t your fault, how are you supposed to handle it when the inevitable happens?  How do you manage your tiny, otherwise lovable ball of abject rage in the best way possible for them and for the sanity of those around you?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has great recommendations for handling tantrums and we use them in our home.  I would highly recommend you check them out, but I’ve summarized and organized them below as well.

Generally:

  • Catch Them Being Good: Praise is a powerful tool for any of us, but especially for children. Day-to-day when you catch your child being well-behaved, being patient and gentle, let them know you noticed and give them praise for behaving so well. This can help incentivize good behavior.
  • Zero Tolerance: Have a zero tolerance behavior for things like hitting, biting, kicking or throwing. Make sure your child knows that behavior isn’t acceptable as soon as it happens.
One of the "To Go Kits" Leslie and her husband keep available when they know their son is likely to have a tantrum. We use small toys, one with wheels, one soft, a book and triangle crayons. Triangle crayons are life savers, no rolling off the tables.

One of the “Go Kits” Leslie and her husband keep available when they know their son is likely to have a tantrum. Each has a toy with wheels, a soft toy, a small book and triangle crayons. Triangle crayons are life savers, no rolling off the tables.

Before heading out:

  • Set yourself up for Success: If you know your child is more likely to have a tantrum when they’re hungry or tired, before you leave make sure they’re rested and have eaten. Or pack a snack. We know our son throws tantrums when he gets bored, so we created these little “go packs” that we take with us whenever we’re heading to a restaurant, doctor’s office or any other place we know he’ll have to sit for a while. Pro tip: triangle crayons, they don’t roll away.
  • Know Your Child’s Limits: Just like adults, kids have good days and bad days. If you know your child is having “an off day” put off running your errand if you can.

During a Tantrum:

  • Distract: If you can, change rooms or locations, sing a song, offer up a toy or point out something in the area that they might find interesting. If you’re in a store, leave your cart at customer service and take your child outside for a change of venue.
  • Offer Alternatives: If possible, give your child some measure of control over the situation but offer them a choice of alternatives. For example, “we can’t go to Nana’s house today, but we can go to the park or to your friend’s house after this, which would you like to do?”
  • Pick and Choose Your Battles: We all know that consistency is best, but some days it’s a case of survival. It’s OK to compromise or give-in a little if you’re in a situation where you know you can’t leave (ie: doctor’s office) and you know your child has reached their limit.

When All Else Fails:

  • It’s OK to Walk Away: Sometimes you have to pack up your things (toddler included!), and go home. Consider the errand or the event a wash and go home to nurse your wounds. If the tantrum happens at home, it’s also OK to make sure your child is in a safe place (preferably with another trusted adult) and take a 10-minute sanity break. I have had to do both of these things more than once.

On the bright side, temper tantrums are a temporary phase, even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Most children outgrow regular tantrums by the time they’re three or four, with the odd tantrum remaining through ages five and six. In the meantime, may the odds be ever in your favor.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Toddlers + Preschoolers

Crib Notes: Is Cosleeping Really Unsafe?

By June 23, 2015 10 Comments
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This post was written in response to a question by TheScientificParent.org reader Kate.

It has been every parent’s worst nightmare for generations – finding their infant dead suddenly and unexpectedly. As a father of two, I remember the sleepless nights alternating between crying infants and complete silence, wondering if my boys were actually breathing. The fear is palpable. As a pediatrician who has had to pronounce infants dead and as a member of the team in my county that reviews infant deaths, I have far too often seen the grief and confusion when that fear becomes a reality.

For centuries we’ve struggled to understand the cause of, and even define what Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is. Over the years, the fear SIDS (sometimes known as cot death or crib death) has spawned multiple attempts by researchers and device makers to develop products to prevent SIDS – including apnea monitors, sleep positioners, or wedges. None of these interventions have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of SIDS. But what has been shown to reduce an infant’s risk of SIDS is very simple and many parents aren’t aware of it.

Since a consensus conference in 1991, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has been defined as a death of an infant under one year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation which includes an autopsy, a scene investigation, and a review of the medical and social histories. SIDS is one type of Sudden and Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID). The reasons why the authorities need to investigate when an infant dies unexpectedly include ensuring no foul play was involved or whether or not a preventable genetic condition (like certain heart arrhythmias) occurred that impact future deaths in a family.

Scientific Parent SIDS InfographicThe majority of infants who die from SIDS have underlying risk factors that can be addressed to reduce the risk of death. Some children are likely born with intrinsic and undetected brain stem abnormalities that make them more susceptible to sudden death and despite risk factor modification, these infants still may die. Some researchers are looking into the role the inner ear plays in SIDS, but the research so far is in its preliminary stages. Unfortunately for many families, approximately 5% of SIDS cases involve otherwise healthy infants with no underlying risk factors. I’m going to focus on the 95% in this post, because the majority of these deaths can be prevented.

Improved death scene investigations over the past 2 decades have shown us that most SUIDs are a result of infants being placed in unsafe sleep positions. Improved examinations by death investigators and Child Fatality Review Teams have shown that for most infants who die of SIDS and a vast majority of infants who die of asphyxiation (also known as suffocation) or undetermined causes are found in an unsafe sleep position. The Back to Sleep campaign started in the 1990s after studies showed that infants placed on their back to sleep had a reduced risk of dying from SIDS. Between 1992 and 2001 the Back to Sleep campaign reduced the risk of SIDS by over 50%.

Unfortunately one of the worst sleep environments for a child is to co-sleep in an adult bed, or more specifically co-bed. We’ve designed adult beds to be comfy and welcoming for us at the end of a hard day, with pillows, blankets and soft mattresses, but these are all major asphyxiation risks for an infant not old enough to roll over or lift their head. Asphyxia while co-bedding can occur from 3 primary mechanisms – the parent rolling over on the child and restricting breathing, the child rolling or being rolled between the bed and a wall, or a child suffocating on soft bedding like blankets or pillows.

But these methods are not how most high-risk infants who asphyxiate while co-bedding die: Most die from carbon dioxide poisoning, by regularly re-breathing in their own or their parents exhaled breath. Any object near the mouth and nose of an infant can create an air pocket in which the exhaled air gets trapped. The infant then re-breathes air with a higher concentration of carbon dioxide. As the carbon dioxide level increases in the bloodstream and oxygen levels decrease, the infant is more likely to stop breathing and die.

These mechanisms for death can also occur in an adult bed without an adult and on other surfaces with an adult – like a couch. It is very easy for an infant to roll off the chest of a sleeping adult and get wedged between the parent and the side of the couch.

Due to an increase in the number of cases of Accidental Strangulation and Suffocation in Bed (ASSB), which have quadrupled from 1984-2004, the number of total infant deaths has stopped decreasing since 1998 despite the drop in SIDS cases. The number of deaths in unsafe environments, like co-bedding in adult beds, is staggering. A report out of Michigan in 2011 demonstrated that 83% of their infant deaths were a result of sleep related asphyxiation. Even looking only at SIDS cases, well designed epidemiological studies have demonstrated there is an increased risk of SIDS from co-bedding by itself after controlling for other risk factors, such as family history and smoking.

Despite the overwhelming body of research showing the deadly risks of co-bedding, many lactation consultants and some prominent anthropologists strongly believe co-bedding reduces the risk of death and increases the length of breastfeeding. While co-bedding may increase the length of breastfeeding and breastfeeding has been shown to independently reduce an infant’s risk of SIDS, the risks of sleeping in an adult bed outweigh the benefits gained by breastfeeding. Many co-bedding proponents claim that so long as the parent removes soft objects or strangulation risks from the bed (such as excessive throw pillows, heavy blankets or pillows and blankets with tassels) that co-bedding is safe. Unfortunately these individuals have failed to understand the bigger picture and the lessons learned from Child Fatality Review.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has several recommendations for parents who want to reduce their infant’s risk of SIDS and SUIDs, in addition to placing your infant on their back to sleep in a crib or bassinet of their own:

  • Sleeping on a firm surface and avoiding soft objects in the crib
  • Avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Breastfeeding
  • Room sharing without bed sharing (place the bassinette next to the adult bed)

The research is clear: Very few infants die alone, on their back, and in a safe crib, and the majority of these deaths are preventable. I understand why some parents may want to co-bed or find themselves unintentionally co-bedding. Co-bedding can make parents feel closer to their infant, it also may make it easier for some parents to extend breastfeeding during the night and to get a little extra sleep. As a parent I understand the exhaustion parents feel in the first weeks and months of life, and I’m not trivializing that, but the research is clear: Very few infants die alone, on their back, and in a safe crib, and the majority of these deaths are preventable.

For more information on safe sleep go to:

 


 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Ages + Stages, Newborns + Infants, Science 101 + Mythbusting

I Had The Measles 48 Years Ago and I Still Suffer Its Effects

By June 15, 2015 4 Comments
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I have just finished reading a plea that went viral on Facebook from a Winnipeg, Manitoba father, Neal Cohen, whose five-month-old baby girl was just diagnosed with the measles. My heart and my thoughts go out to Neal, his wife, and their little girl. The rage this father expressed in his open letter is completely understandable. In a society that has more information at their fingertips than they have ever had, it amazes me that the opinion of a celebrity such as Jenny McCarthy or some selective information can sway people away from their common sense.

I am a mother of two and a grandmother of three (soon to be four) and I am not going to offer my opinion, only my experience. You see, I had the measles when I was a child. I am nearly 60 now, but the experience was so horrible that I still vividly remember it.

It was deep in the summer and very hot. For no reason I could think of, I just started feeling listless. Considering the time of year I thought it could be from the heat. It didn’t get better so I went to bed early that day.

The next morning was my 12th birthday. I woke up from a bad night’s sleep with a raging fever, my eyes felt like they were on fire, and I couldn’t see properly. My head was pounding out an anvil chorus so badly that I wanted to scream and every bone in my body ached. On the heels of that I realized I had developed a rash. It seemed like every time I checked, the rash was moving at record pace, soon covering my entire body from head to toe. I was very, very sick.

I remember my mother on the phone with the doctor and watching the rash come out on my brother. Yes, misery was going to have company. My mother was terrified that my brother and I were going to be left permanently disabled. She was terrified for my hearing; you see as an early 12th birthday present, she’d just let me get my ears pierced. Later as a mother myself I could understand her visceral fear for my life and my brother’s.

The doctor told my mother that for me it was going to be bad. Apparently 12 was somewhat old to have the measles, so the old style of treatment applied. I was to stay in bed nursing chills that rocked my body. My eyes were not to be strained under ANY circumstances; I was not allowed to read books, no TV, no daylight, nothing that could take my mind off the excruciating pain I was in. I had no energy for any of those activities anyways, I was in so much pain I wished I would die.

I spent a week like this, and my mother spent a week fearing the worst, but I obviously survived. Even so, I have been living with the effects of the measles for nearly 48 years. While I had been the picture of health before, since the measles, I continue to suffer from blinding headaches and middle ear issues that have only gotten worse as I have gotten older. I’ve been told that each of these problems – which did not exist before the measles – is likely the result of the severity of the virus’ attack on my body.

Now as a grandmother knowing what the measles is like personally I don’t understand why anyone would think of putting their child through something like what my brother and I went through. A simple shot can prevent terrible illness and lifelong suffering. It bothers me when I hear antivaxxers say, “nobody dies from the measles.” While I survived, I did not survive unscathed. Even the word “antivaxxer” sounds like a new disease.

I now have two precious grandsons, a granddaughter and one more grandchild on the way. I cannot imagine them being endangered by someone who listened to a celebrity, or cherry-picked information on the internet instead of referring to their doctor. Please give your children a fighting chance and talk to your doctor about vaccines. Don’t let your child, or my grandchildren, suffer like I had to. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn

 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Chronic Illnesses + Conditions, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Forget Your To-Do List. What We Need is a To-Don’t List.

By June 9, 2015 1 Comment
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Here at The Scientific Parent, in addition to our trusty pack of hamsters on wheels that power our lights, there are just two of us making the blogging magic happen. Leslie and I are research junkies and writers in different phases and types of motherhood, and above all, we’re perfectionists with what we put out there on the web for all of you readers to enjoy. We take our craft seriously and we appreciate the people who join us here to read our blog.

But sometimes it’s hard for us to get all of our Scientific Parent tasks wrangled, especially when our collective and individual to-do lists seem too long to tackle and we’ve been playing dueling viral banjos for weeks, alternating between who’s sick and who’s not. We think summer colds are the worst! Though in a few months, it’ll be something else. But right now? Yeah. We wanna punch summer colds in the face! Congestion, runny noses, fevers, and active boy kiddos are what characterize our hectic lives right now.

So today I’m proposing a to-don’t list. For us, for all of you, for your friends (spread the word!), when we all need it the most.

I’ve spent time researching this and I can verify that there’s no scientific data that says that a once-in-a-blue-moon allowing of your child to eat takeout in front of the TV (in lieu of a well-balanced meal at the dinner table) will permanently damage them. Let’s be honest here. Life is nutty and the last thing our kids need is for us to get nutty. I promise they won’t end up on Maury Povich crying and needing a bootcamp dress-down if they have a Lunchable for dinner and watch SpongeBob SquarePants for the evening. So read on, bold readers, for our to-don’t list for you!

TO DON’T:

  • Don’t ignore the signs you’re clearly sick, and say it’s “nothing.” If you’re sick, keep integrity around your health and take care of yourself like you would your children when they’re sick. You’re human too, and you need to get better! Your behavior around it can also teach them self-love and self-care, and who better to learn those sick-time behaviors from than you? Plus, you’ll feel a lot better when you’re hydrated, fed, and appropriately medicated.
  • Don’t make parenting difficult when it doesn’t need to be. If you’re super tired, it’s okay to rest. We give you permission. Look at your bed! It looks amazing. Go lie down! Find a safe way for your kids to be secure and/or cared for, and take that rest, Mom or Dad. You need it too. On that note, it’s also perfectly fine to get a babysitter so you can sleep and lounge for a day if you are craving it. A rested parent is one who can be present with their kiddos. A babysitter for some non-productive time on your part will not break your kids. We mean it. Non-productive. Put down the scrubber, yo.
  • Don’t punish yourself for opting to reduce your stress once in a while – for example, letting them eat cereal for dinner, sending them to go play when you need some quiet, or allowing them to watch cartoons or play video games as a distraction. You probably have some fond memories of those days when you were little. What you don’t remember is your mom or dad keeled over on the couch, relieved you were out of their hair for a little bit. Should you do this as your automatic solution to things?
    cereal Behold, the holy grail of the To-Don't list: cereal for dinner!

    Behold, the holy grail of the To-Don’t list: cereal for dinner!

    Probably not. But it’s not going to break your kid if you skip the dinner drama that an exhausted version of you might put yourself through, and just let everyone hang out doing what they want and nibbling easy foods. Or have the kids make those oh-so-awesome discombobulated PB&Js they do so well, and watch them beam while you enjoy the fabulous dinner they made you. Plus, you’ve probably eaten unhealthier stuff out of the office vending machine and cleaned bigger messes. Who cares for a night or two? Choosing a less stressful path instead of a more stressful one can go a long way for your ability to recharge, and it shows kids what it looks like to manage stress too.

  • Don’t equate a clean house, scheduled activities, and the “best” ways to do things with you being a loving parent. Loving parents are parents who love their kids and make sure the kids know it and feel it. Parents who do things with and for their kids are parents who do things with and for their kids. They may or may not be loving – it’s not connected unless you insist it is. How you define yourself and your actions has a huge bearing on how you’re going to feel about yourself. A dirty kitchen this weekend in favor of watching movies and bumming around with the kids? Sure, why not. I promise we won’t come and judge it. If you have a dishwasher, stuff it all in there and turn it on without rinsing. It comes out dirty? Run it again! We heard that the dishwasher police are on summer break.
  • Don’t forget to say no when you need to – and don’t forget to say yes when you want to sometimes! It’s okay to say no and not make it mean anything about you as a parent or person. It’s also okay to say yes, we’re all going to bed 7 p.m. today! You deserve to be loved and cared for, and you can put both you and your kids first at the same time more often than you realize. Happy parents go a long way to making happy kids.

So with that, the two of us sniffly bloggers are signing off for the day, grabbing a bowl of cereal on each of our respective coasts and hanging out with our boys.  Our dishwashers are full of unrinsed dishes on the Pots and Pans settings and we’re okay with it. Come join us and spend a little extra time loving yourself today! There’s always another day to nail this whole Super Parent thing tomorrow.

 

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

Your Genes May Give Your Child a Terminal Disease, But Your Parenting Can Give Them A Full Life

By May 19, 2015 No Comments
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“It’s not your fault.”

This is the one thing I wish I had told my mom so many times in my life before I lost her to breast cancer seven years ago. I wish I had expressed that it was not her fault that I was born with the genetic terminal disease cystic fibrosis. I never once blamed or resented her for the fact that I had inherited one copy of the defective CF gene from her (and also one from my father). I can only imagine that she must have blamed herself every day that I had this disease and what having it meant for my future. I worry that she felt guilt every day for my CF-laden life as a whole – something she probably felt she was half responsible for giving me, and fully accountable for dealing with as my only actively involved parent.

When a child is diagnosed with any setback – disability, disease, chronic illness, or deformity, I imagine that the emotional trauma must be similar to watching horrific battles of war take place – the war that no one comes back from and shares or repeats to anyone else.  The war no one ever asks about. The war that is relived time and time again in the mind of the parent.

I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when I was three months old.

Natasha Lungs Photo

After Natasha’s second double lung transplant

I had severe failure to thrive and was literally starving. The digestive system, my digestive system – stomach, pancreas, intestines – is just one of the things that cystic fibrosis causes to malfunction. It gets into every organ. But it most dangerously affects the lungs, causing lung infection after lung infection to the point of fatality at an early age or the need for a lung transplant – which is equivalent to trading one set of problems for another.  For me, it was a trade well worth it – two double lung transplants have given me more chances at life than I would have ever imagined.

But children born with anything from a missing limb to my own terminal diagnosis of CF can live a whole, although maybe unique, kind of full life. In some aspects my life is not on the same timeline as my peers, and in some aspects I have done so much more, and all of that is okay. There is no timeline to being happy or grateful. My mom gave me an empowering upbringing that allowed me to believe that I could conquer anything – that we could outlast everything that CF brought against us. Our fighting genes would not let us lose, so it never occurred to me that there were things that I could not accomplish. The things that I inherited from her, bravery, confidence, will, faith, fight, were all stronger than one copy of a defective recessive gene.

Natasha's Mom in Italy

Kim Kirker, 1961-2007

I wish I could tell her I do not blame her, or begrudge her, but champion her for how she dealt with our prognosis.  If you are a parent facing a seemingly insurmountable diagnosis of your child, protect your child but don’t shelter them, empower them, try to understand their challenges and support them, listen to them, allow them, maybe more gently than some, to live. Be sure to forge a relationship with them, fight with them and even for them, console them and push them. More than anything in the entire world I needed my mom, the most and all that she could give me as a child with a rare set of problems. She was my mom, but also my advocate, my fighter, my hand holder, my tear catcher, my laughter and our relationship was my answer to every “why me?”

I may have inherited a genetic death sentence but I also inherited a great, giant, grand will to live from my mom – all that came from her genes just as much as cystic fibrosis.

Edited by Julia Bennett

 

 


 

Resources:

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Accessed May 15, 2015

The Mayo Clinic: Cystic Fibrosis. Accessed May 15, 2015

 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Chronic Illnesses + Conditions