CHILD RAISING IN A TIME OF MULTITASKING

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
CHILD RAISING IN A TIME OF MULTITASKING
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

In these challenging times, we risk losing our sense of balance. Technology and global competition have changed how we work. Multitasking has been glorified while new stresses on working parents sap more energy. Yet the most important jobs – like child raising – can’t be done without our full attention.

Working parents are less productive when they worry about their child care arrangements or about their co-workers’ resentment of parental time off when a child is ill.

Families suffer when parents – tethered to smart phones and laptops – bring work home. They may be home, but their jobs are their focus. They may be less engaged with their families, less available to them emotionally.

Yet that availability is critical for child development and strong family relationships.

Children and parents need protected time together to focus on each other, to watch, listen and respond with a minimum of intrusions.

From the start, babies and parents are learning to understand each other and themselves.

Since newborns have been listening to their parents’ voices for several months before birth, I like to help parents discover how much they and their babies already matter to each other.

I hold a newborn with his head in one hand and his bottom in the other. I ask the mother to stand on one side and to talk to her baby in one ear while I talk in the other.

Of course, most every newborn turns his head to his mother. And every mother grabs her baby, kisses him and says, “You know me already!” Then I do the same thing for the fathers. Eight in 10 babies turn their heads to their father’s voice instead of mine. With the other two, I tip their heads toward their fathers – to establish the “conversation.” The fathers react just like the mothers.

In our research, we found that 2-month-olds are already “conversing” with their parents. Sometimes a baby leads; sometimes he follows. He is learning that he can act on his world, and that he will be heard.

Babies and parents are working hard to get to know each other. They are already sharing emotions.

In another experiment, researcher Ed Tronick and I ask mothers to interact normally with their 2-month-olds – and then to turn away. When the mother turns back, we ask her to be unresponsive, expressionless: the “still face.”

Within 11 seconds the baby realizes that something is not right. Then he’ll try 15 different behaviors – smiling, crinkling his eyelids and cooing – to try to win back his mother’s attention.

The baby’s response changes if the mother is depressed. In the “still face” experiment, the baby gives up after only three tries.

Since we can detect maternal depression early and know how to treat it, we have an opportunity to protect children and families.

We used this research on Capitol Hill to advocate for the Family and Medical Leave Act (passed in 1993), which mandates job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks a year, although it is unpaid.

Parents need time with their new babies before returning to work. But these crucial interactions do not end after the first three months.

Workplaces can encourage strong families (and boost productivity, too) when job and family life are in balance.

Families also depend on strong communities where parents can find and share emotional support, practical advice and resources.

For many families, the workplace is their community. Workplaces must learn from strong communities about how to support healthy families. We must all put families first to keep our nation strong.

For more information on family and workplace:


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.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, 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 currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

A 1-YEAR-OLD WHO RESISTS HER CAR SEAT — AND HER MEALS

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
A 1-YEAR-OLD WHO RESISTS HER CAR SEAT — AND HER MEALS
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. I’m the proud father of a 1-year-old baby girl.

Every time we put her into her car seat for a drive (5 to 20 minutes long), she seems fine and playful for the first few minutes but within no time, she’s crying for attention. She’ll do the cry-stop-cry-stop for as long as 20 minutes.

She’ll reach a point where she’ll just burst into continuous tears. My wife and I have tried toys, Cheerios, cookies, singing and even ignoring her to see if she would stop. The toys, food and singing work just for a minute or two but that’s about it.

We’ve reached the point where we dread going for drives. We know that she’s OK because her diaper is dry, she’s well fed and she’s not tired (when she is tired, a pacifier puts her to sleep in no time).

There is another issue as well. Our daughter is a great eater when it comes to formula and Cheerios (sometimes some cookies). However, we’ve been working on trying to give her solids but with no success.

You’ve said that milk is fine until age 3 but you also recommend the child having bread, yogurt, orange juice, etc. Our daughter will have minimal to no solids – I mean like two to three pea-sized pieces of chicken/tomato/cucumber, etc., MAX!

It seems that all the other kids her age are eating quite well. As you’ve mentioned, we tried giving her solids before her regular feeds (when she’s hungry) but haven’t gotten anywhere.

Also, when she’s in the highchair, we’ll immediately take her out if she starts throwing the food onto the floor. I must mention that from 6 months of age till 9 months, she was eating oatmeal baby cereal once a day. She then reached a point where she didn’t even want to see the spoon coming toward her.

People tell us that she isn’t eating her solids because we started solid feeding too late. They all think we should have started at four months instead of us starting at six months.

A.    A two-fer!

First the car seat:

You are not alone. Nor is your 1-year-old. Babies were not designed to be in car seats, no matter how well car seats were designed to protect them. Many 1-year-olds hate them. Their energy is likely to be focused on getting up and getting going. Whether they’re already walking or not, at this age, children are intent on moving, practicing their moves, strengthening their muscles, learning to balance and to experience the world around them. So of course your baby is bound to protest until she can get going again.

You say she’s crying for attention, but it sounds like when you give it to her, it doesn’t help. So it may be that she’s just letting you know that she hates being restrained, and can’t wait to get out. Don’t let her until you’ve arrived at your destination. But don’t worry. When she’s older, and takes walking for granted, she won’t mind sitting still as much as she does now.

In the meantime, she might be more likely to settle if one of you can sit next to her and soothe her. You’ll miss out on being together as a couple on your drives during this period, but it doesn’t sound like you could be having much fun anyway with all that screaming. (And of course this won’t work when you’re all alone to drive her.)

The other possibility is that she may be motion sick – that could be why she seems fine for the first few minutes. Does it make a difference if you drive more gently, taking it easy on the accelerator and the brakes, and slowly around the curves? You might try a bottle for her to suck on to see if this helps to settle.

Next, the picky eating:

It sounds as if the advice and criticism from books and friends are making you doubt yourself. Yet what you describe can be right on track for many children, as long as their growth and health are. (And we don’t think you need to worry about having started solids at six months.)

You say you could spoon-feed her cereal from 6 to 9 months – and then, nothing doing. Nine months is the age when many infants seem to announce to their parents that they are ready to take over. They’ll start grabbing for the spoon, and now that they can, they’ll pick up food between finger and thumb and throw it on the floor. It is time to start involving them in their own feeding. At this age give them a spoon, and let them try to shovel in their food themselves. Or try one spoon for each hand, so that you can use a third one to feed her while her hands are busy.

But at 1, or a few months later, many children start making a fuss about feeding. If you try to force them, you’ll lose. You are right about the pea-sized pieces of food. Just put a few of these on her table at a time. That way, she won’t be overwhelmed, and when she hurls them overboard, you can just start again. Many children need to be introduced to the same new food over and over before they’ll give it a try and many more times before they can accept the taste and texture.

If your pediatrician can check her out, and offer vitamin and iron supplements, you’ll be able to relax, and avoid the struggles that tend to just make the picky eating worse. You and she are lucky that she still likes her milk! (See our book “Feeding Your Child: the Brazelton Way,” Da Capo 2003, for more suggestions, and information on children’s nutritional needs.)

The best part – that no matter what, you are a proud father! Congratulations.

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.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, 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 currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

SEPARATION ANXIETY

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

Q. I am a professional and a married mom with two wonderful boys, ages 3 and 1.

The 3-year-old struggles with severe separation anxiety every time I go to work. He wants me to be the person who does everything for him.

He throws a fit if his father or grandmother diapers him or helps him dress. Getting out of the house in the morning is so emotionally exhausting that it’s affecting my job.

We have a strong bond and spend one-on-one time together every day, but this aspect of parenting is so hard. Now my other boy is starting to behave the same way.

A. Is your 3-year-old close to the person who takes care of him while you are at work?

Your confidence in his caregiver can reassure him that everything will be OK until you return. If you have doubts, your boy will pick up on them.

If you give in to his tantrums, you are sending the message – even though unintentionally – that he’s right to want you and no one else.

At 3, your boy is old enough to understand that you still exist even when you are not in sight. But a reminder will help. Let him know where you are going. Describe your workplace so he can picture you there. Give him a photo of you, or an old small scarf of yours, and tell him to hug it tight or keep it in his pocket.

Does he have a favorite stuffed animal or doll? If not, let him pick one – just one – and encourage him to hold it close when he is feeling sad or frightened.

Remind him that you have always come back and that you always will. Show him examples of other things that go away and come back, like the sun and the moon and the stars, the day and the night.

Read him a book about young children who are either looking for their mothers (“Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman) or running away from them (“The Runaway Bunny,” by Margaret Wise Brown) – the flip side of the same coin.


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.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, 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 currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

CARRYING A TUNE

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
CARRYING A TUNE
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My sons, who are 6 and 3, have been able to hum and sing on key since before they were 2. Why can’t my almost-5-year-old daughter carry a tune? Do most children grow to recognize pitch?

I don’t want to sign her up for singing lessons for fear it might squelch her delight, but it’s difficult to listen to her. I fear the day when peers tell her she’s off-key. For the record, my husband and I are musical, and I was able to sing harmony when I was 4.

A. Your 5-year-old may not be able to carry a tune, but that doesn’t mean she is tone-deaf. Amusia, the medical name for tone-deafness, is an impaired ability to discriminate between pitches. The brain pathway responsible for pitch perception doesn’t fully connect with parts of the brain involved in sound perception and production, according to a recent study. About one in 20 people are tone-deaf. Many who can’t carry a tune can still distinguish pitches, another study says.

Telling the difference between pitches is only part of singing on key, which also requires the ability to remember pitches and to reproduce them. Many off-key singers have another problem. They can differentiate pitches and remember them, and their voices work fine, but they can’t combine these skills. In effect, they lack the aural equivalent of hand-eye coordination.

Perfect or absolute pitch is the ability to identify individual pitches without a reference, like a pitch pipe or a piano. Only one in 10,000 people have absolute pitch. Relative pitch allows you to identify pitches after hearing them. Most people, including most musicians, have relative pitch.

Children’s rapidly developing brains are malleable; we bet that musical training at a young age can make a difference. We share your concern about spoiling your child’s musical joy. It’s hard to learn anything, or to overcome a personal obstacle, without hope.

We suggest you find a music teacher (perhaps with a background in speech and language pathology) who is experienced with young children, and who will take on this challenge with patience and respect.


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.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, 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 currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

POTTY TRAINING AROUND THE CLOCK

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN:  FAMILIES TODAY:
POTTY TRAINING AROUND THE CLOCK
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. Our 2-year-and-9-month-old son was potty-trained for daytime fairly easily at 2 and 1/2. At night he is still in a diaper, and he wakes up very wet. How do we help him to stay dry at night?

A. Your son is following the usual pattern for toilet training. Learning to use the potty during the day at 2 and 1/2 should reassure you. Use the same approach for nighttime: Keep things smooth and easy.

Staying dry at night often takes more time. Many children sleep so deeply at this age that they don’t sense when their bladders are full. As sleep cycles change, most children grow out of this problem. It is far too early to worry about enuresis, or persistent bedwetting. Most pediatricians won’t make such a diagnosis until a child is at least 5.

For children who have been dry at night for several months and then wet the bed, other causes should be considered – for example, a urinary tract infection.

The wait for nighttime dryness can be frustrating. Changing the sheets is no fun, and success seems so close once a child uses the potty during the day. Yet a parent’s overreaction may lead to resistance.

If you can avoid drawing attention to it, have your child limit his liquid intake after supper. Before he goes to bed, he can use the potty not once, but twice – in between, you two could read a story together. Then, let him bring his potty to his bed so he can learn to use it on his own when he wakes up at night. Decorate the potty with glow- in-the-dark stickers to help him find it.

Many parents have told me they have succeeded in night training by gently waking their child to use the toilet a few hours after lights out – usually just before the parents go to bed.

It’s important to keep things low-key. If your son wakes up wet in the morning, don’t make an issue of it. Just respond with an encouraging tone: “Don’t worry. When you’re ready, you’ll be able to stay dry at night.” And he will.


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.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, 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 currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

PRESCHOOLERS’ HABITS: HANDLE WITH CARE

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
PRESCHOOLERS’ HABITS: HANDLE WITH CARE
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

(NOTE:This article is updated from “Touchpoints: Three to Six,” by T. Berry Brazelton,M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)

Many preschool children go through a period of various self-comforting habits such as hair-pulling, rocking, or biting their nails and the skin around them. As if they were exploring the behavior that bothers parents, they seem to run the gamut of habits.

Habit patterns have deep roots. My first child sucked her middle two fingers as a newborn to comfort herself an unusual pattern – and I found myself taking them out of her mouth. My wife said, “You’d never recommend trying to stop this to your patients. Why do you try to interfere with her sucking?” I couldn’t answer her.

A week later, my mother came up from Texas to see her new grandchild. “Isn’t that amazing? She sucks the same two fingers you used to suck! In those days, finger sucking was considered a bad habit. We tried to stop you, but we never could. You were determined.”

I realized then why I’d tried so hard to stop my daughter. Attention to a habit pattern is more likely to set it as a problem than to eradicate it. Thumb bandages, terrible-tasting ointments, or other ingenious measures have the opposite effect from that intended.

An older child can be helped to see that she resorts to self-comforting habits when she’s stressed and needs to calm down. These are signs of tension. Parents can evaluate the pressures on a child who is resorting often to such habits. The pressure isn’t always from the outside.

An over-charged, hard-driving child may need such a habit pattern to help her manage her temperamental intensity. One child, on being reprimanded for her nail-biting, pleaded, “Mummy, can you take my head off? My mouth just bites my fingers. I don’t like it and I don’t know what to do.”

This shows the depth of feeling in a child who is trying to control such a symptom. Do we want to add our own pressure to it? Why not say, “Most people bite their nails. Sooner or later you will stop. In the meanwhile, worrying about it won’t help. I’ve made you feel guilty about it, and I’m sorry.”

Better to reassure her that the habit is likely to go away. This is more likely to happen if everyone (including the child) can ignore it. The various habits common at these ages – thumb sucking, pulling out hair, nail-biting, stuttering, and the many others that parents encounter – can show a common pattern. (See below for guidelines to identify habits.)

Criticizing the child for a habit makes her feel inadequate, unable to “break” the habit. For these reasons, a parent would be best advised to ignore the behavior from the first.

Because all parents are loaded with their own past experiences, this is not easy. Nail-biting was a habit to be “broken” for the last generation. A parent today who was broken of this habit during his own childhood will find it extra hard to “ignore” such behavior today.

HABITS TO GROW OUT OF

  1. Many 3- and 4-year-old children run the gamut of habits. They last only a few weeks or months. Many of these habits may be imitative of a parent, a sibling, or a peer.
  2. Habits may serve a self-calming purpose at a peak of frustration or excitement. A child turns to this behavior as she might have to her thumb earlier. A special doll or other treasured object to hold and touch might help to redirect the child’s need for self-comfort.
  3. When a parent sets up a prohibition, this surrounds a habit with heightened interest or excitement and tends to reinforce it. Either the added attention or the use of it as a kind of rebellion makes it satisfying. All this is unconscious on the part of the child. In this way, what might have been transient behavior becomes more fixed – a habit.
  4. Much less commonly, more unusual kinds of involuntary behavior (for example, repetitive hand washing or staring spells, among others) may seem to take on a life of their own and seriously interfere with a child’s daily life. If they have a more bizarre quality, are more repetitive or disruptive throughout the range of a child’s activities, they require professional attention. A health professional is needed to determine whether these are habits or something more serious (such as obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, or certain seizure disorders) for which treatment is needed. Your pediatrician can refer you to a pediatric neurologist or child psychiatrist.

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.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, 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 currently 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

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  • 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 more