BABIES WHO WANT TO WALK; AND BEDWETTING

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
BABIES WHO WANT TO WALK; AND BEDWETTING
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. Are there any studies about babies who develop learning disabilities if they never crawl? Or, is this an old wives’ tale? A friend’s baby is almost 11 months old and he will not crawl. He is trying to walk but will not crawl.

A. I am not aware of any studies on the long-term development of children who don’t learn to crawl before walking, but I have known many children who skipped crawling entirely, went straight on to walking and never developed any learning disabilities that anyone was ever aware of.

I don’t think it helps parents to scare them about unknown or improbable risks that they can’t do anything about. On the other hand, if there is already other evidence that this 11-month-old is not developing on target in any way (leaving out crawling on the way to walking as an isolated finding is not evidence), then early identification and intervention can make an enormous difference in optimizing the child’s ultimate progress.

If your friend is worried, she should start with her pediatrician, who should be able to provide an initial developmental assessment. See our newly revised “Touchpoints Birth to 3: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development” (Da Capo 2006) for information on the range of behaviors a healthily developing 11-month-old can be expected to display: They are so much fun!

Q. I have a daughter who outgrew bedwetting years ago. This year she started sixth grade and has now resumed wetting the bed every night.

My daughter and I agree that the bedwetting must be due to stress. But she is doing well in school, with good grades and new friends. There are no big negative stress factors — just the newness of sixth grade.

What can I do to help her stop this problem?

A. Bedwetting in a child who has been dry for six months or more is altogether different from bedwetting that has never ceased. When a child this age who has been dry for years starts bedwetting, it is concerning. I would look for possible causes for this sudden change, for example, a urinary tract infection, or diabetes and other less common medical or neurological causes. Check on it with her pediatrician.

In this situation, stress can only be settled upon as a cause after medical ones have been ruled out. After you have determined that there is no medical reason for her bedwetting, then you and she can face together any new stress that she may feel about entering sixth grade.

Sixth grade can be a time of great change and great anticipation. If they didn’t start in fourth or fifth grade, boys and girls are likely to start showing new nervousness and excitement about each other now. Some girls have already had their first period and the others ought to know their time is coming.

Sixth or seventh grade may be the start of middle school– what a terrible time to lump together so many children undergoing such drastic upheaval, without the pressure to act grown up from older students (9 -12 high schools), or the opportunities to feel grown up provided by younger ones (K-8 elementary schools)! No longer nurtured by a single teacher, students may already be moving from class to class, teacher to teacher, and feeling much more like they must fend for themselves.

For many children this age, it seems like time to say goodbye to childhood, and to prepare for the unknown. As much as they may act as if they were eager to forge ahead, many sixth graders struggle with mixed feelings about the end of this somewhat more carefree period of their lives.

I am impressed that your daughter is so open and eager to work on her problem with you Rather than feeling so ashamed that she wants to hide it. Her close relationship with you is the single most important protective factor against whatever you and she may fear about the adolescent years ahead!

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

TODDLERS AND VEGETABLES

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
TODDLERS AND VEGETABLES
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My 3-and-1/2-year-old son will not eat vegetables at all, except (very occasionally) a couple of baby carrots. He has thus far defeated every one of the strategies I’ve used to sneak in veggies. He will eat certain kinds of fresh fruit, so I give him those whenever possible.

We also avoid sweets and use whole grains rather than refined flour. But I worry that he’s getting poor nutrition – his diet is so heavy on meat, cheese, pasta and bread (in addition to whatever fruit he will eat, the current favorites being cantaloupe and red grapes).

For his age, he’s only in the 25th percentile for height, while 50th for weight. Our pediatrician said he didn’t need a multivitamin and she didn’t see any cause for worry about weight. What do you think?

A. Vegetables! I hated them as a child – and I still hate them. My younger brother hated them more. As I watched my mother hover over him for hours trying to shovel vegetables into him, while completely ignoring me, I began to hate my brother even more than vegetables. Now you know why I became a pediatrician – to stamp out vegetables, and to overcome my guilt at wanting to kill my brother!

When I turned 50, I began to get along with my brother – of course we both had to wait for this moment until our mother had died. But I’ve never forgiven her for vegetables. So every time I am asked about young children and vegetables (and in the course of 50 years of practice, I have discovered that my mother was not the only mother who cared so deeply about vegetables), I tell mothers, and grandmothers, “Forget about vegetables.”

They turn pale. Open their eyes wide. Feel faint. I offer them a seat, and repeat, “Forget about vegetables.”

As they gasp for breath, I continue, “When a young child struggles with you over food, you won’t win. The more you struggle, the more he’ll hate whatever you’re trying to shovel into him. Back off. Apologize. Let him know that you know that only he can swallow the stuff you prepare for him.”

As they begin to recover, they stammer, “Really? No vegetables? No green vegetables? No yellow vegetables?”

“Really,” I say. “You can cover them with a multivitamin during this temporary period – usually between 2 and 3 years old – when any battle over food will backfire into even worse nutrition. They’ll make it through this with enough milk, meat, eggs, grains and fruit.”

As a pediatrician, I would carefully monitor for growth and general health. Height and weight need to be considered not only separately, but together, and not just at one single moment in time, but over time. The context of a child’s overall health, eating habits and activity level, and his parents’ height and weight, also need to be factored in. Any parent who is concerned about a child’s weight, height or eating certainly deserves to have this taken seriously by the child’s pediatrician.

Of course, the truth is that science is still working to identify all the active ingredients of vegetables, and how they promote health – and not all of these are contained in multivitamins. Yet even once this has all been fully worked out, there still will be certain basic bodily functions – such as eating and breathing – that we can’t take over or control for children.

Jessica Seinfeld has written an intriguingly entitled book, “Deceptively Delicious,” in which she whips up a number of child-friendly disguises for vegetables. If you try this kind of maneuver, try not to make an issue of it, or to take your stealthy nutritional missions too seriously.

Instead, keep mealtimes relaxing and enjoyable, and focus talk on fun things, but not on food.

Many children take time to acquire tastes for new foods, and their taste-sensing equipment actually matures with age. So in the meantime, you can introduce a vegetable over and over, in very small amounts, so that there is no pressure to try it. The tiny bit of new and different food should just repeatedly appear – without commentary, without pressure, without monitoring of or reaction to whether or not it is consumed. On the sixteenth time, you may be surprised to see the child give it a try, and you may be disappointed as you watch him spit it out. In the meantime, if you avoid processed sweets, and salty and fried foods, your child’s palate will not become overwhelmed with and addicted to these easy-reach taste blasts, and will be more likely to welcome the more subtle tastes of – vegetables.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.
www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

HOW MUCH SHOULD TODDLERS SLEEP – AND NAP?

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN:  FAMILIES TODAY:
HOW MUCH SHOULD TODDLERS SLEEP — AND NAP?
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. How much sleep does an 18-month-old really need? My son sleeps 10 hours at night (waking several times) and takes a 1 hour nap during the day – well below what the books (and common sense!) say he needs. However, he seems rested and energetic and is developing normally. What do you think?

A. What the books say about the amount of sleep children need at different ages is usually limited to averages. Individual children, though, may fall at one end of the range or the other. (The average at this age would be about 12 hours at night plus 1 to 3 hours of napping.) We think that your observations that he is rested, energetic and developing normally are reassuring.

However, you also mention that he wakes up several times at night. Does he just briefly rouse, never becoming fully awake, and quickly settle down to sleep? Or does he become fully awake, and if so for how long, and what does it take for him to get back to sleep?

Has this only begun to occur recently? If so, and if it rapidly resolves itself, it may mean that he is responding to some minor stress, or even to the stress of development – the temporary backslide in one area of development just as a new developmental skill is coming together – a touchpoint.

But if this has been going on for some time, or persists, then we would suggest that you bring this to the attention of your child’s pediatrician. There are a wide range of readily treatable causes of sleep disturbances that you wouldn’t want to miss. If the waking at night is a regular bother for you or for him, then it is a sleep problem worth addressing. (See our book “Sleep: The Brazelton Way,” DaCapo Press, 2003, for more information.)

Q. I have a 3-year-old son who is becoming terribly resistant to taking naps until late in the afternoon, which of course impacts on his behavior (and we have a 5-month-old baby boy in the family now as well, which is a part of this as well).

If he does eventually put himself down for a nap in the late afternoon, bedtime is a nightmare as well. How hard should we try to get him to take a nap? I really do not think he is ready to completely drop his nap, based on his mood on days he doesn’t get one. I just don’t know how much of an issue I should make it. Any advice would be much appreciated.

A. It does sound as if he may be beginning the transition away from the afternoon nap – not a struggle you want to fight, nor one you’re going to win. We’d bet that he wants to be up and around as much as possible so as not to miss out on all the fun his baby brother is having.

Why not put him down for a “rest” early enough to prevent the bedtime “nightmares?” If he sleeps, fine; but if he doesn’t, don’t bother with a nap too late to help. Instead, when he doesn’t nap in the afternoon, try moving up his bedtime a little earlier. Some children who aren’t getting enough sleep actually start sleeping less and less, or sleep less restfully. If he really isn’t ready to give up his afternoon nap, he may show you this by sleeping more at night – if given the opportunity. (Three-year-olds average about 11 hours of sleep each night and an hour’s nap each day, but the range varies from one child to another).

If you can break away from the 5-month-old briefly in the early afternoon, this could be your special time to cuddle and relax together with your older child. Maybe this will help with his moods. As you say, sharing you with his new brother is bound to affect his moods and his sleep.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

THE ANCIENT PRACTICE OF SWADDLING

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN:  FAMILIES TODAY:
THE ANCIENT PRACTICE OF SWADDLING
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. Are there any negative side effects to swaddling with the baby’s arms down along the sides of the body?

A. Swaddling – snugly wrapping your baby in a blanket – is an age-old, nearly universal strategy for comforting young infants. It seems to have fallen out of favor a few hundred years ago in many cultures, but not in the Middle East, and not among many Native American tribes.

Many Native American peoples have long used cradle boards – a flat board to which cloth or animal skin was attached – to keep their babies snug, warm, easily carried and out of harm’s way.

Many cradle boards have “bumpers” at the top ingeniously extending beyond the baby’s head so that it is fully protected. In some tribes they were positioned at a gentle angle for feeding or upright so that the babies in them could watch other family members at work and begin to learn about their world.

In fact, we would expect that these babies would be able to muster up more energy for visual learning since the cradle boards kept their little bodies at ease and under control.

Recently, swaddling seems to have been making a comeback, in the United States, the United Kingdom and other European countries. This may be because now that we understand the advantages of positioning babies on their backs for sleep to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, we need a way to help babies fall asleep and stay asleep in that less comfortable position.

Swaddling has many obvious benefits, helping to keep babies warm, calm and comfortable. Swaddled babies will rouse less and sleep longer. At the beginning of life, the snugly fastened wraps recreate the womb’s supportive fit, cutting down on a newborn’s startles and jerks – motor reflexes that otherwise make the baby feel uncomfortable and often start to cry.

Modern science has established numerous other benefits of swaddling, and special circumstances in which it is particularly helpful. One study has even shown that premature infants may have improved neuromuscular development when regularly swaddled.

But you ask about negative effects. A recent study showed that Hopi infants raised in cradle boards did not start walking any later than those raised without them. There are, though, studies that link swaddling to early hip problems (hip dysplasia and dislocation), but the risk may be the result of the specific position of the legs under the swaddles. These studies suggest that it is important to avoid fully extending the legs, or rotating hips outward when swaddling a baby. Swaddling babies so that their hips and knees are bent and with enough slack to allow movement appears to be safer for their hips.

In warm climates or over-heated buildings, care must be taken not to let an infant’s body temperature rise dangerously high when tightly wrapped. There are a few studies that have found that babies swaddled from head to toe all day long for several months may be more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D, presumably because swaddling cuts down on their exposure to sunlight, which is needed to activate Vitamin D.

Other studies suggest that very tight swaddling may slightly increase a baby’s vulnerability to respiratory infections, perhaps because it limits the normal expansion of chest and lungs. These studies seem to suggest avoiding prolonged swaddling, swaddling from head to toe, and overly tight swaddling. This shouldn’t interfere with the containment and comfort that swaddling still can offer, and many pediatricians feel that swaddling a baby for 12 to 20 hours a day in the first weeks is perfectly fine, and that it can be gradually decreased after a month or two depending on a baby’s comfort without it.

As for swaddling the arms alongside the body, we have not found any studies to suggest that this is a problem. However, it is important to leave the arms free often enough that babies can discover their fingers and thumbs, so that they can learn to use them to comfort themselves by fondling the soft edges of their blankets, their own soft cheeks, or by sucking on them.

Swaddled or not, it is critical to position babies on their backs when asleep, or likely to fall asleep so that they are at less risk for SIDS. It is also critical that when awake all babies are given plenty of time to play while on their tummies so that they can strengthen their arm, shoulder and back muscles. This has become a major concern for babies who spend much of their awake time in car seat-like baby carriers. We did once encounter an 8-month-old with delayed motor milestones, not yet sitting on his own. He had been a fussy baby, and his mother had religiously adhered to an intensive regimen of swaddling that some pediatricians recommend for such babies. Swaddling does seem to reduce crying and can even soothe pain. We had no way of knowing whether he’d had too much swaddling for his own good, but we’ll always wonder.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

A POTTY-TRAINING DISSENTER, AND A GRABBY GRANDDAUGHTER

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
A POTTY-TRAINING DISSENTER, AND A GRABBY GRANDDAUGHTER
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

A reader dissented from our toilet-training advice in a previous column:

Q. Are you serious? A 4-year-old who resists potty-training! Give me a break.
Children need someone to set boundaries and say, “Get your butt in there and use the potty or you are gonna be in trouble. I know you can do it. You know you can do it
Now go!”

How hard is that? The child won’t have to undergo therapy simply because you put your foot down and say, “Your behavior is unacceptable at this juncture of your life.”
In other words,”You’re too big to still be wearing a diaper. It’s over. And it’s time to be a big girl now.”

A. Good luck! And let us – and the many parents who have unsuccessfully tried this – know how it goes!

Way back in the early 1960s I learned that pressing a child to become toilet trained was too often unsuccessful (15 to 18 percent failure rate). Too many children would respond by withholding their bowel movements, causing chronic constipation and enlarged colons. Some would smear their feces in their clothing, or wet the bed long into later childhood.

The incidence of these failures can be reduced by leaving it up to the child in steps that I have outlined in “Toilet Training: The Brazelton Way” ((Da Capo 2004).
Most of the world carries their infants almost nonstop until they are ready to walk. In these places, parents help their babies learn early when and where to go because they can pick up on their bodies’ cues.

But in our culture we are asking children to adapt to our busy lives. Since most of us don’t hold them close in the first year to help condition a physical response to their bladders and bowels (“elimination communication”), we must respect their own timing and wait until they are cognitively ready – which won’t come until at least two years of age.

In the 1960s, when we learned to leave toilet training to the child’s timing, these problems were significantly reduced (2 to 5 percent failure rate). I would be concerned to recommend that we return to the practice you suggest without considering its negative consequences for far too many children.

Q. My 1-year-old granddaughter has some habits I don’t understand! Anything she gets a hold of, she puts behind and around her neck, which is worrisome when
it is something like a cord. She’ll hang a camera by the strap around her neck, and she continuously tugs at her little shirts or tops. What might we do to help?

A. What a fascinating observation – I am not sure I understand your child’s behavior either!

Perhaps she is imitating adults around her as they dress, putting on a scarf or a tie, or as they shoulder a pocket book. Perhaps she tugs on her shirts and tops when the labels at the back of her neck scratch her. Children who are hypersensitive to touch are often bothered by these labels, and even when they are able to speak, they don’t necessarily let anyone know.

Don’t try to stop her in either of these behaviors for your attention to her at these times might just reinforce them. But be sure that she doesn’t have access to anything that she could strangle herself with, especially when in her crib.

Can you offer her a lovey (a special doll or teddy bear) when she begins this behavior, so she can turn to the lovey instead of straps or cords? Or try making a big, loose, paper chain with strips of paper attached at the ends and linked to each other. She can ceremoniously put this special necklace around her neck to replace the dangerous ones she comes across. Make sure that it is easily breakable. She’ll be safe and you’ll be busily employed until she gets wise to your tricks!

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.
www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

(ATTENTION EDITORS: A reader’s comment about “‘voluntary’ irresponsible parents” prompts further dialogue on a topic that reflects current events: teenage pregnancy. T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D., help define the terms of the problem – and the solution).

A recent column on why it takes a village – parents and community, including government – to raise a child prompts this reply.

Q. All the possible situations which exist where families need the assistance of the community to raise their children are valid. However, if it were not for all of the “voluntary” irresponsible parents, there would be enough money and manpower to help the children.

In New Orleans, as in many, many cities, some people have children starting at the age of 13 or 14 and go on to have many children only half-related. These parents, usually mothers, are waiting in the line to get free Christmas presents for their children, and are already pregnant with the next one that they cannot afford and do not intend being responsible for.

All the young men who are arrested for heinous crimes – murder, rape, armed robbery, etc. – began their criminal careers as young as 8, and were almost exclusively the children of these very young unwed mothers.

The only way the “village” would work is if these children were taken away from these “mothers” and raised in loving group homes where their needs would be met.
Then, make the mothers work every day like all the responsible parents do, and contribute to their children’s expenses. Also, determine by DNA or any other means who the fathers are and make them contribute to their children.

It’s pitiful watching these young children running the streets on school days and getting into so much trouble at a very young age. But, the government just making more “programs” available to the voluntarily irresponsible parents will just create more of them.

A. The reportedly unintended pregnancy of the teenage daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin might be worth factoring into your thinking about “voluntarily irresponsible” parents. Young adolescents’ new capacity for reproduction does not suddenly endow them with the maturity to know how to use it, nor the abilities to function as responsible parents. Perhaps the “forgiveness” this family is being offered by those who presume to judge can be spread across party and other dividing lines.

You say that there are enough 13- or 14-year-old “voluntary irresponsible” parents to spend all the money for services that “responsible parents” need. We agree with you that there are far too many children born to parents too young to care for them. Yet overall teenage pregnancy rates fell from 1990 to 2004 – after which funding cuts hit harder. The number of teen parents is small compared to the number of adults raising children in poverty, and the dollars spent on them are less too. Still, we can cut costs and suffering by investing in these children’s futures before their problems begin.

You conclude that “more programs” will just create more irresponsible parents – a generalization that cannot be responsibly made without being informed about a very large number of programs. The problem is not “more” vs. “less” programs, but misguided vs. well planned and executed ones.

Political debate is crippled by slogans like “more” or “less” programs, “big” or “small” government. Those who oppose some programs label them “big” government, while at the same time pushing for big spending on the ones they want.

On either side of those empty arguments, what people really want is a government capable of doing what they believe is necessary, whether it is protecting our borders from illegal immigration and our nation from terrorism, keeping our levees and bridges strong and safe, or preventing teenage pregnancy and child abuse – these are all “big” programs, and none of them will work if they’re not done well.

What we need is not “less” or “more,” but government and programs that work. The drop in teenage pregnancy rates is at least partly due to effective programs that are successful in preventing teenage pregnancies, in stopping adolescents from becoming parents before they are ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood. One such program is the Children’s Aid Society Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (www.stopteenagepregnancy.com).

Dr. Michael Carrera’s program has been replicated around the country. We think it would be worth your while to learn about programs like his and how they work. Rather than simply blaming these children (and their parents) for their unintended pregnancies, Carrera has gotten to know some of them, to understand why they do this. Without understanding the cause of the problem, we won’t find the solution. Blame won’t help us get there.

Carrera has learned that many of these children raised in poverty are convinced that they are worthless, and that there is no future for them to live for. To many of them it seems pointless to work hard to get ahead, to wait until later to have babies, because in their world, there is no later. But Carrera has found that by helping these children discover their gifts and develop their talents in carefully designed after-school programs, he can help them begin to reach for their own future.

“Hope is a powerful contraceptive,” Carrera says. When these children discover their own potential in these programs, they are less likely to become pregnant, and more likely to stay on track in high school.

Instead of giving up on them, we can help them believe in our uniquely American Dream.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

WHY IT SOMETIMES TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
WHY IT SOMETIMES TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My wife has been an elementary teacher for many years, the last 20 years teaching first grade, and probably the one primary need of most of the children is responsible parents. One of the primary problems is that there often is only one parent and in many cases there is no responsible parent.

Politicians are not the answer to providing for the needs of children. Politicians and the government are the crutch. Parents who accept and meet their responsibilities are the answer to meeting the needs of their children.

A. Thank you for this important question. Of course parents should be responsible for the needs of their children, and nothing we have written would suggest otherwise. But what happens when parents are not able to be responsible? Are children simply to be left to be victims of this situation?

What if there are causes beyond parents’ control that leave them unable to provide for their children’s needs? What about our military men and women? When one parent is deployed, the other is left alone to provide for the children. The challenge is infinitely harder since the whole family is always wondering if, when and in what condition the other parent will ever return.

In some military families, both parents are deployed at the same time! When parents are giving their lives for their country, don’t you think the rest of us have a responsibility to pitch in and help out?

There are countless situations in which responsible parents cannot provide for their children – because of some misfortune that befalls them, or their child. Some parents have problems that may make it hard for them to take responsibility for their children, including serious illness or physical disabilities, but can do the job if they get the help they need.

Some children have medical problems so complex and so compromising that no set of parents could provide for their needs all alone. Parents may be competent, caring, honest and hardworking, but their jobs may not provide them with health insurance for their children. Very few parents indeed can afford to pay for the treatment of a seriously ill child.

Sometimes help beyond the immediate family is the only way. What would be wrong with that? A whole community in Indiana rallied around a family with newborn quintuplets – and the whole community shared in the family’s pride and joy! There are some challenges that families can’t possibly handle on their own – for example, a child or a parent with cancer. And what about the resources the family possesses to face their challenges?

An isolated two-parent family might be completely overwhelmed by a child’s illness that a single parent with lots of support from aunts and uncles and grandparents might more readily handle.

We recently read about two hardworking parents of a child with cancer who live in a rural community a hundred miles from medical care and can no longer afford the gas to get there? (In this case, the cancer was caused by a local uranium mine that left exposed radioactive mineral nearby.) Of course the child’s illness is not their fault, nor is the energy crisis. They cannot change either all by themselves.

Your wife was a schoolteacher for more than 20 years. For many families in your community, she must be a hero. If she taught in public schools, then her salary, health insurance, and retirement pension were paid by your neighbors’ tax dollars, while she was helping out their children. Most of them probably need to work, and couldn’t afford to home-school their children even if they’d wanted to. Don’t we need to help each other raise our families?

We agree that politicians and government have plenty of problems. But would you want families in this country to raise their children without heroes like your wife, police and firemen?

Parents’ responsibility alone cannot build the schools, and provide the national security that we need to raise our children. In most parts of the country we need to put our resources together in order to have running water and sewers for our families, and roads and bridges for the school buses that bring our children to school. Parental responsibility is, of course, absolutely necessary, we agree. But it is not enough to raise a family.

More and more parents these days are facing foreclosures, skimping on food and medical care in order to buy gas to get to work. Many AmerIcans are now demanding that our government step in and take action to bring gas prices down and help them hold on to their homes. Some of our country’s problems are too big right now for any family to take on alone.

Government makes a lot of mistakes, creates a lot of problems, and wastes a lot of our tax dollars. But we do need some way of coming together to take care of big issues – like gas prices, health insurance, and the housing crisis. Because, as Winston Churchill once said about democracy, government is the worst of all possible alternatives, except for all the others.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

DAY CARE CONCERNS; AND A TEASING PROBLEM

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
DAY CARE CONCERNS; AND A TEASING PROBLEM
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

DAY CARE CONCERNS

Q. I am working in Dubai. My daughter is 15 months old and living with my family in India. Day care and kindergarten aren’t available near my family. Can you give me some idea about what is taught in day care and kindergarten? Are they really important? Will they really help my child’s education?

A. How tough for all of you to have to be apart! For so many families, scarce work opportunities force a parent to leave spouse and young children for employment in a foreign country. It would mean so much for your family to know that even at such a distance you are thinking about how to make the best life you can for your baby girl. We hope they read this too!

Day care is a solution for working families where there is no community or extended family to take up the slack with the child. Since she is in India and with your family, you may be able to comfort yourself with the oft-quoted but still true statement, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

She can learn a great deal from the adults around her: about herself, her emotions and those of others, and all the complexities of language and — even before she speaks — nonverbal communication. In her interactions with those who take care of her she is already learning to pay attention, calm herself down when she gets upset, try again when she fails, and so many other basic skills that any child needs to become a successful learner.

These will give her a firm base when she does get a chance to enter a school situation, hopefully by the time she is 4, if kindergarten is available where your family lives. (In the United States we often forget how many children around the world still don’t have access to primary education!)

Children 3 and 4 years old need to have an opportunity to learn how to get along with other children, how to share and take turns, to understand themselves and care about each other. These are also important early steps for children to be ready to learn. We have a term, “emotional learning,” that expresses how important the child’s social and emotional development is as a base for cognitive learning.

Can you trust your family and the community they live in to give her these? Then she won’t miss out on these important experiences if she can’t be in day care or in preschool.

A TEASING PROBLEM

Q. I have a 3-year-old son. We carpool to his preschool with a neighborhood boy the same age. One afternoon a week, the boys have an after-school play date. My son used to look forward to seeing the other boy. Recently, however, the other boy started telling my son he doesn’t like him. It doesn’t occur during a heated exchange, but rather just in ordinary situations, like while they are eating lunch. It has gotten to the point where my son will ask him, “Do you like me today?” The boy always says, “No”.

My son’s feelings are obviously hurt, but I think he handles it fairly well. Some mornings he doesn’t want to ride to school with the other boy. I tell him that he just needs to be himself and others will like him — and that what matters is that he likes himself.

Is this normal 3-year-old behavior? Or is it a situation I should remove my son from?

A. Some teasing can be destructive, but other teasing is normal, a child’s way to work on understanding language, behavior, feelings, other people, relationships — so much to learn! This does seem like pretty normal teasing for 3 year olds — figuring out themselves and each other.

At 3, a child is working very hard to figure out what “liking someone else” even means! You might just ask your child what he thinks, and what he thinks the other boy is thinking when he says those words. If you take the teasing too seriously it may make your child feel that the boy’s statements are more powerful than they are, and may make him more vulnerable and less able to handle them.

It seems as if the other child is trying to test out the possibility of dominating him. If your boy gets upset, he accepts the domination. Instead, you could encourage him to say, “I don’t care, I don’t like you either. I want friends who like me. I don’t need friends who don’t.”

The two boys may get over this rough patch in their relationship. If they don’t, they’ll still need to put up with each other in the car! In the meantime, you can try to find other children with whom he can feel liked.

If a child can learn to stand up for himself at this age, he is less likely to be vulnerable to the more serious teasing and bullying that may lie ahead in the school years to come. Bullies look for children who give the impression that they expect to be victimized. This is an early opportunity for you to help your child learn to make it clear that he does not.

You are absolutely right in wanting him to like himself. Congratulate him on not being upset by the other child’s attempt to dominate him. So far, so good! (See our book “Mastering Anger and Aggression: the Brazelton Way” (Da Capo 2005) for more suggestions on how to handle teasing.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2018

Event Phone: 207-375-8184


  • MeAIMH Annual Conference 2018
    May 18, 2018
    8:15 am - 4:00 pm

MeAIMH Annual Training Conference REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN For our 31st Annual Conference May 18, 2018 8:15 AM – 4:00 PM Hilton Garden Inn Freeport Downtown 5 Park St., Freeport, Maine Finding the Hope and Strengths In Substance-Exposed Young Families Featuring: Jayne Singer, PhD Developmental Medicine Center, Boston Children’s Hospital Faculty & Founder Early Care Read moreANNUAL CONFERENCE 2018