Q&A: Tummy time

Camilla writes:

"How important is tummy time? My daughter (7 weeks) screams
whenever I put her on her tummy. How bad would it REALLY be if I just let her
hang out in the bouncy seat during her quiet alert stage? I feel like I'm torturing her when I force her to stay on her stomach, and then the whole quiet alert stage is destroyed."

You know most of the time I say to do whatever gets you through it and
makes everyone happy, but this time I have to say it: Tummy time is

Tummy time lets your baby's brain and neurons and muscles and nerves and
reflexes develop progressively, they way they need to, to support more
advanced activities like crawling and walking and running 5Ks and
writing legal briefs and doing the Cha Cha Slide.

It's not the enforcement of tummy time that's important, it's the opportunity. So that means that you need to give her the chance to be on her stomach, but that it doesn't have to be painful, and that once she gets past that stage she's moved past it. So a baby who responds to tummy time by rolling onto her back doesn't need to be forced to stay one her tummy–she's developing appropriately by learning to roll over.

Remember the whole brouhaha about exersaucers? It's the same thing. The problem with saucers is that the kids don't get the chance to hang out on the ground and learn to crawl. It's the chance to spend enough time on the ground that's important, not advancing through a rigid series of steps to learning to crawl, as kids get there different ways. It's the time being allowed to work the movement through on their own. So as long as you're leaving your kid on the ground for enough time every day, saucers are fine to rotate through the repertoire of things to keep your kids engaged.

At any rate, the best summary of what happens developmentally during the tummy time months is written by Rachael Carnes of Spark Plug Dance in Eugene, OR, in this article "Great Stuff Happens Before Walking and Talking." And the best list I've seen of how to make tummy time fun and not torture is also written (not surprisingly) by Rachel in this article "It's Tummy Time!".

Thoughts about tummy time? One of the coolest things Rachael told me (back when we were in a mothers' group together when our 8-year-olds were babies) is that the way humans develop as babies is the reverse of what happens when we get old. So babies start out curled up and breathing, and develop greater movement abilities. And as we age toward death we lose those movement abilities gradually and end up curled up and breathing. A little morbid, but also extremely cool.

Q&there-is-no-A: Stopping early waking

This post is for Fahmi and Kellanne and Nikki, and for everyone who's written to me over the years or not even bothered to write,and for the thousands of other parents who have gone through this and just suffered in silence or just cried.

Some kids go through a phase (during toddlerhood or late toddlerhood) in which they wake up really early, like between 4 am and 6 am. And they're up for the day. And there isn't anything you can do to get them back down to sleep.

I do not have a solution. I have a bunch of suggestions for things that you can try, and one or more of these things have worked for some people. But there are many, many, many other parents who have tried all of the things on the list I'm about to put up and others I haven't even thought about, to no avail.

Here's the list of things to try:

  • Blackout shades (Either ones you buy or ones you make with cardboard or aluminum foil)
  • Changing the child's diet to exclude gluten, dairy, soy, and/or other common allergens
  • White noise machines
  • Making the room warmer
  • Making the room colder
  • Putting more or fewer clothes on your child
  • Earlier bedtime
  • Later bedtime
  • Cutting down (or out) naps
  • Increasing naps
  • Listening carefully to figure out if there are any ambient noises (like a neighbor starting a car) that might be waking the child up
  • Moving a child out of a sibling's bedroom
  • Moving a child into a sibling's bedroom
  • Praying to a higher power
  • Giving up belief in a higher power
  • Making charts about appropriate wakeup times (although this often works for kids closer to the age of three, so don't disregard it entirely)
  • Buying fancy clocks

Again, some of these things have worked for people, so try them. But know that many parents, good parents, smart parents, parents who have solved all kinds of weird parenting issues, have never been able to get past this one.

This is my white whale. Every other question I've gotten has either been solvable (Drop in milk supply during your period? Check. Kid starts screaming exactly an hour after he goes to sleep for the night? Check.) or bearable (The 4-month sleep regression will be over in a few weeks. Check. Your hair's falling out in clumps at a month post-partum? Check.) or so unusual that it only affects a few people (In-laws selling pot during Christmas dinner. Check. Your neighbors tell you that they hear you having sex through your baby monitor and their cordless phone? Check.). But this early waking thing affects SO MANY OF US and yet we haven't been able to figure out how to stop it.

The only good news about it is that it eventually goes away. Unfortunately, it takes months. But it does go away.

I promise you that there will come a Saturday morning in which your child will wake you up at 7:30 am and you will be annoyed because 7:30 is too early for a Saturday morning. And if it doesn't happen, you can borrow one of my children and he will wake you up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. Guaranteed.

Thoughts? Who out there could never solve the early waking thing? Did you go the despair route, the rage route, or the demoralized acceptance route?

Discussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 3 “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race”

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman allsummer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. The first week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise. Last week we talked about Chapter 2 about sleep. This week we're talking about talking about race with your kids.

This chapter is called "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race" and I found it really, really interesting. One of the things I think is so much fun about this book is the way Bronson and Merryman start with the assumption and then tell the story of the research process instead of just reeling off figures. They tell you what the researchers thought they were going to show, and whether that turned out to be what they showed or not.

This chapter opens with a description of a study that was trying to look at the effects different ways of talking about racial differences would have on little kids. But that study didn't pan out, because so many of the white parents in the study dropped out or refused to talk about race with their little kids. So the researcher started looking at why the white parents were so uncomfortable talking about race with their kids.

We've been taught that racism is learned behavior. So we assume that if we don't want our kids to be racist, and instead want them to know that people are people, we should just not talk about it, because talking about it makes a big deal out of it.

The problem with that, though, is that little kids naturally categorize things and people. They can't help it; it's a normal and necessary part of learning to be human and to interact with others. And physical difference, like skin tone, is one of the easiest distinctions to make. And that kids naturally prefer people they see as "like them." One of the researchers said that:

"kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they're going to form these preferences on their own. Children categorize everything from food to toys to people at a young age. However, it takes years before their cognitive abilities allow them to successfully use more than one attribute to categorize anything. In the meantime, the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible…The spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics–such as niceness, or smarts–is called essentialism. Kids never think groups are random."

So, basically, we're letting kids interpret physical differences, like race, all on their own, without any guidance, thinking they're blank slates. But instead they're drawing the exact conclusions we don't want them to.

Another mistake white parents make is assuming that the Diverse Environment Theory is true. The DET (Bronson and Merryman's term) is that if you surround your kids with people who all look different, the kids will just learn that everyone's the same and it won't be an issue.

I have to admit that I assumed that was true. I've been assuming my kids are cool with everyone because we live in NYC and they each have had friends and classmates of all different races and ethnicities. But the research (and Bronson's anecdotal experience) shows that, once again, when we don't give our kids guidance by talking explicitly about race and ethnicity, our kids aren't drawing the conclusions we want them to.

As I was reading, I was thinking about how easy it is for me to talk about gender with my kids. How many "Of course girls can be doctors" conversations we've had. But we don't have many conversations about race like that. (The last one was probably during the 2008 election, honestly.) So I wasn't surprised when the authors pointed that out, too.

There's also a whole discussion about the fact that schools that are more racially diverse seem to have more stratification, so the reality of desegregation isn't what we thought/think it would be. I'm not even sure how to start unpacking that.

But what I'm taking away from all of this is that I need to start being explicit about talking to my kids about why their friends look different than they do, and what that means.

I feel like I have NOT done a good job of summarizing this chapter. Can someone else help me out? Thoughts? And if you're not a white parent, please go ahead and comment on what you see white parents doing/not doing and how that dovetails with how you talk to your kids.

Teaching kids about chores

The winsome and caffeinated Kate would like to talk about chores:

"Can we talk about chores? And motivating the
recalcitrant child? If charts, allowance, bribes, threats are not
working, what to do?

This is a weekly struggle — not asking for
anything hard or unusual, would take less than five minutes if done when
originally asked, but stretched to 2-3 hours of horror, whining, temper
tantrums. Seriously refused to attempt to put a pillowcase on when we
changed the beds on Friday and as a result slept on an unmade bed.

The idea of "playful parenting" this kind of stuff makes me crazy,
because I really think this is just part of being in a family. Everyone
does a little bit. Mom and dad do more, kids do less. Kids who do as
they are asked in a prompt, non whiny way get allowance. The end. I
honestly don't have time for games–or for the drama. The two extremes
are letting the child out of every responsibility or continuing to ruin
my weekend day to put some order into my house. (And I mean very
little order. Just want to be able to have clean linens, clean floor,
clean bathrooms once a week. We're not talking House Beautiful.)

PS It should go without saying that we didn't spring this idea of
helping to clean up/contributing to what the family is doing in the last
five minutes or whatever. I am definitely one of those

Her email sparked some deep thoughts on my part, because I'd not even thought of assigning my kids Chores. But then I realized that I hadn't codified my requests for work as chores in my head (perhaps because of my whole weird hoarding-spectrum issue that doesn't let me really conceptualize the running of a house the way normal people do). But that I do ask my kids to do plenty of tasks around the apartment, and many of them repeat at regular intervals (putting dirty dishes in the sink, put clothes in the hamper, change the cats' water, etc.) so I'm not, in fact raising my children as if I were a wolf. And you are not raising your children as if you're a wolf if you haven't made a job chart, either, as long as you're giving them age-appropriate responsibility for something.

Anyway. It's the compliance Kate wanted to talk about, not whether we make our kids do chores or not. This statement:

"I really think this is just part of being in a family. Everyone
does a little bit. Mom and dad do more, kids do less. Kids who do as
they are asked in a prompt, non whiny way get allowance. The end. I
honestly don't have time for games–or for the drama." 

Yes. Exactly. Kids aren't doing us a favor by holding up their end of the family. Hang together, or we hang separately.

But, to be honest, I don't know how to enforce this with any kids except my own. I'd like to think that I've inspired a spirit of teamwork and family unity, but I'm not kidding myself. My older one can see when I'm serious, and he just does it because he knows I won't give in so the sooner he does what I ask the sooner he can get back to his book. My younger one has the kind of hopeful heart that would've made him a beloved English 19th century poet, but even he can't outbadger me when I've made a decision. 

Is there anyone who feels like they've been successful at getting either buy-in or non-grudging compliance with chores in a way that can be replicated by other parents? One thing that strikes me is that my kids see me struggling with chores, so they've never had the idea that things just get done. They know that someone has to do them. (I may also inadvertently be teaching them that done is better than perfect.)

But I'm thinking there has to be a way to avoid the crying and whining that doesn't involve using mind games to trick kids into compliance. Because the goal is not just to get the chores done, but for kids to learn that there are things you do just because you're a member of society.


Q&A: Attachment parenting to daycare transition

Adriana writes:

"I am currently a stay-at-home mom to my almost 11-month old son. I was blessed with a year off in between finishing up one long-term workassignment and beginning another this September. By way of instinct, I
ended up caring for my son using many "attachment parenting"
approaches  (co-sleeping, baby-wearing, etc.). No surprises, attachment
parenting works in creating attachment! So now, with only the brief
summer months standing in between being full-time at home with J and
leaving him in daycare (7 hours a day, 5 days a week), my heart is
literally breaking as I fearfully anticipate the unknown. I love the
daycare we have chosen. It's a formal/institutional setting, but it
seemed like a warm, loving, and incredibly well-run place where the
children were joyful and the staff both professional and kind.
Nonetheless, as attached as J and I are to each other, I'm scared of him
losing trust in me as I abandon him daily (sob, this one is the
worst… perhaps I'm being over-dramatic but that's how it feels), of
missing his growing-up moments, of his being fearful and lost in this
new situation, of our entire routine changing… AND of somehow hurting
him in the long run. I've been a pretty laid-back mom so far, but this
has gotten me into an absolute tizzy. 

J also tends towards a more inhibited, cautious, and
sensitive personality type right from the beginning which has made me
feel even more over-protective of him (what if he has a hard time
adjusting socially or spends his day miserable because he doesn't want
to be there). As you can see, I'm stuck in a cycle of anxiety-producing
what-ifs! Finally, I come from a cultural and family background where
daycare is not the norm. My family is providing no reassurances due to
their own reservations (ie not "believing" in daycare or nannies). My
mom stayed home with us when my brother and I were babies, and when life
circumstances no longer made that possible, she and my dad organized
their schedules so that at least one of them was home with us, even
though this was incredibly difficult and meant someone working a night
shift to make it possible. As a child, I never once had a babysitter
(besides my grandmother) and was never in a daycare situation. So I have
no personal experience on which to reassure myself that all will be

I'm definitely excited to go back to work and have
been wishing for the best of both worlds. So my question is, how do I
ease this transition for the both of us? My wish is that both J and I
have happy, fulfilling days when apart as well as together, that he'll
flourish in daycare and have fun, and then also be happy to be at home.
It's possible, right? J will be 13.5 months when starting daycare. I
would love to hear different people's experiences, especially those who
practiced attachment parenting."

Bad news first: I think the first couple of weeks might be rough for you. But mostly because there's a sleep regression/developmental spurt that happens right around 13 months. In some kids it's barely noticeable, but in others it hits like a Mac truck. So it's possible that your son will be going through that and that everything going on will be rough, including the transition to daycare.

Now, the good news: Since your son is so securely attached, he's got a great base to be secure enough to adjust to daycare. Assuming the daycare is a safe place with a consistent routine and consistent, loving caregivers, he will be fine once he's past that developmental leap.

If possible, both of you will be eased into the process if you could do a week of half-days before you start full-time. It'll get your son used to the routine of drop-off and pick-up, and knowing that the people there are nice and the other kids are fun, and that you always come get him at the end of the day. And it'll get *you* used to getting everything packed up and ready to go in the morning (do NOT underestimate the stress of that) and letting your sweet little thing go for a few hours with the caregivers before you have to add being present mentally at work into the mix.

It will, of course, work out. Maybe not in the first day or even the first month. But if you trust the caregivers, your son will adjust and probably even love it. (If you don't trust the caregivers, look for a different situation. Trust your instincts. You know when something's wrong, and don't feel guilty about acting in your instincts.) Good caregivers will want to know as much as you can tell them about your child, so if they know from the first day that your son is cautious, they'll be happy to know that and work with it.

I think one of the best surprises you're going to get from this experience is having other smart adults who know a lot about little kids give you feedback about your son. They'll also become good partners in helping you troubleshoot things that come up as he grows.

Now, the lack of support from your family is a completely different issue. (Aside: I love when people say they don't "believe" in things like daycare or extended nursing or anything else that exists independent of our belief in it. It's like saying you don't "believe" in gravity. Um, OK.) You already know this, but unless they're willing to come and care for him all day for you, they don't get a say. But the flip side is that your choice to use daycare might be making them question their own choices (or lack of choice, as the case may be). So I'd try to avoid confrontation about it, and just let your happy, healthy son be the proof that daycare is fine, just as babysitters are fine, just as all-day momcare or all-day dadcare or all-day grandparentcare or whatever configuration of daycare we come up with is fine. As long as it works for you and your son, it works. And if it doesn't work any more, you change it.

Readers? Who's gone through the SAHparent-to-daycare transition? What do you have to help? Either actual tips, or moral support?

The Wonder Weeks iPhone app

You all know of my love for the book The Wonder Weeks. I love it because it explains what developmental leaps happen when with your child, up through the first 15 months or so, so you know why your happy or sleeping baby is suddenly wigging out and/or not sleeping. By doing that, it revealed exactly why there's a hideous 4-month sleep regression as well as an equally-if-not-more-hideous 8-9-month sleep regression. It's a book that tells you what's going on, not what you're supposed to do. I can't count the number of times people have said to me, "It let me have patience with my baby and realize I wasn't doing anything wrong." Score. 

Read a previous review here. Buy it here.

So last week I was on Twitter and discovered that The Wonder Weeks has a Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/thewonderweeks) and…

an iPhone app.

Which I think is just brilliant. Also, the iPhone app is only US$2 (yes, that's two dollars). Even more brilliant. Buy the app here.

Which was worse for you: the 4-month sleep regression or the 8-9-month sleep regression?

It was definitely the later one for me the first time around, because I thought we were out of the woods with sleep stuff (I hadn't seen the Wonder Weeks yet and no one bothered to tell me baby sleep wasn't at least a little bit linear).

Then the second time around I was just so much more tired that the 4-month one hit me hard.

How about you?

DIscussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 2 “The Lost Hour”

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman all summer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. Last week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise. This week we're talking about Chapter 2 about sleep.

The chapter is called "The Lost Hour," because kids are getting an average of an hour less sleep every night now than we did thirty years ago. The first thing I love about this chapter is that Bronson and Merryman are looking at the facts, NOT blaming parents for this sleep deficit. They describe some of the factors that go into kids getting less sleep, and you can find yourself in some of them, but it's not going to make you feel judged. So you can read the research and feel like you want to act on what you read without feeling bad about yourself.

The upshot: Being shorted on sleep causes a lot of bad stuff to happen, for kids especially. I'm not going to repeat the whole chapter, but these are the main points they hit on:

  • Being shorted sleep consistently during the formative growing years (up to age 21) can cause permanent rewiring of the brain structure.
  • Missing an hour of sleep, for elementary school kids, causes a drop in performance equivalent to one grade level. And every 15 minutes missed for high schoolers corresponds to one letter grade. (15–fifteen minutes!)
  • Missing sleep means that kids don't have the ability to absorb and process what they've learned neurologically. They also don't remember positive things, but remember negative things! So lack of sleep contributes to bad moods (surprise!) and clinical depression.
  • Teenagers are not physically wired to fall asleep as early as kids and adults are, but they need as much or more sleep thank adults do. This means that starting high school early is having disastrous results in terms of depression and academic performance for teens.
  • Lack of sleep means your body can't process the way it's supposed to, so lack of sleep is a big factor in childhood obesity, but it rarely gets mentioned.

Again, for the studies and actual stats and interpretations, read the book and not just my summary.

This all scared the crap out of me. My kids usually get a good amount of sleep, but I could see myself letting things slide–I already let them stay up "just an hour" later on weekends and in the summer. It also scared me for myself, because I'm consistently short on sleep, just because I don't go to bed at a decent hour. Duh.

NOTE: I don't think this chapter should make you reexamine anything if you're the parent of a child who's 2 years old or less. I'm going to assume that you're doing what you can to get the best and most sleep possible for everyone in your family (by figuring out how best to help your individual child sleep and then taking care of your own sleep needs as best you can). Bronson and Merryman are absolutely NOT saying "If your 6-month-old doesn't sleep through the night s/he is ruined forever!" like some other authors I don't need to mention. Babies are babies. You can help them sleep, but you can't sleep for them (ha!) and you can't force them to sleep any more than you can force them to learn to walk or talk. So if you're still in the long, lonely, scratchy tunnel of baby/toddler sleep, store this info away for when you actually have real control over bedtimes and waking times and aren't just trying to get more than 5 uninterrupted hours for survival purposes.

Thoughts? I don't think it's anything new than no sleep = cranky, but seeing it laid out in research was awesome/awful. I'd be reeeeeeally interested in hearing from teachers, specifically, on whether you can see any patterns in your students.

Next week: Chapter 3, "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race." (Hint: It's not because we're jerks. Just the opposite.)

Impromptu topic: Pets and risk

Yesterday I had to take Alex (the cat) back to the vet. He'd been in last Friday and was on antibiotics for crystals in his urinary tract, but after an initial rally over the weekend was fading fast. He needed sedation and an emergency catherterization procedure, and I had to leave him there overnight. (I'm also going on a last-minute work trip today and won't be back for a few days, so he's staying at the animal hospital.)

My kids were with their dad when it all happened, so I had to explain the situation later. That Alex was really, really sick. That he had to have a procedure that *might* save him, but might not. And that it was possible that he wasn't going to make it through the procedure.

My instinct is always to be truthful and straightforward with my kids. But also to prioritize for them, since they don't know the relative risks and probabilities. So I told my son that Alex was very sick, but emphasized that the procedure was probably going to save him. I told him there was a chance it might not, but tries to stick with the odds.

I want him to feel like people with knowledge and practice and good effort are doing everything they can to help Alex, so he doesn't need to worry. But that even when we do everything we can, sometimes bad things happen, and we can get through them.

I don't know if I'm doing the right thing by being this honest. But I don't want him to feel like I hide things from him. I heard him trying to explain things to Blossom, our other cat, again this morning (she's really freaked out that Alex is gone, and that he was so sick and then he didn't come back with me).

What do you think? Am I being too adult for an 8-year-old (a precocious one, granted)? His younger brother spent the night at their dad's, so I didn't mention anything about Alex to him yet.

Somehow it seems like this would be easier if I weren't getting on a plane today. But maybe my son's being with his dad having fun all weekend and not in our Alex-free apartment is going to help him not worry.


I had no hot water this morning

I'm really glad you all are still talking on Friday's post about the praise chapter of NutureShock, as the post I wrote for today and am 99% positive I saved is nowhere to be found. Which is par for the course on a day so far filled with many many small things designed to send me over the edge into maaaaadness. (What, your 5-year-old didn't get battery acid on himself at 6:45 am?)

Anyway, keep talking about meaty things over there, and I'll rewrite my brilliant (snort) post that went missing.

Other bits of business:

I'm back on Twitter, and not as conflicted as I was before, so follow me at http://twitter.com/AskMoxie (If you don't want to be on Twitter, all my Tweets feed through on the box on the right of this page.)

If you're nosy about where I work and want to follow our Twitterfeed, please do (there's a controversy going on now with a parent trying to get our games banned for teaching kids to be competitive): http://twitter.com/DimensionUGames

Also, I started a hashtag on Twitter for moms who travel for work, and you're all invited to contribute your tips or questions. It's #worktravelmom

You may recall that I called my cats "Good Cat" and "Bad Cat." They've reversed positions, and the annoying one has become quite helpful, while the sweet one is bossy and presumptuous.

And now the big(gish) news: I'd sworn off all committees at my children's schools, but have been getting so worked up about the abysmal state of school lunches that when I read the email call to join the Food Committee at the school both of my kids will be at next year I made the perhaps-rash decision to join. (If you don't have a kid in US public school and don't know why lunches would be disgusting, read the blog http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/ in which a public school teacher photographed and ate everything the kids were served since the beginning of the year. Appalling.)

When I told my older son that I'd joined the committee to try to get better school lunches, he said, "That's ironic, since I always bring my lunch." (Yes, he said "ironic.")

But that's exactly the point. It's a struggle every day to pack his lunch and get us out of the house on time, and I think about all the working parents all across the country who go through this annoyance every day. And I think about the parents who don't have the time or money or resources or food knowledge to pack their kids' lunch, from the single mom of my son's friend who has a super-high-powered job and no time, to the kids at his school who are well below the poverty line whose parents can't afford to pack lunch for them.

Each to her own talents, and one of my talents is figuring out what needs to be done and then helping to convince people to let us do it.

It is, however, also ironic that I ate chocolate pudding and nothing else for supper the other night and now I'm on the Food Committee. But whatever, I made it from scratch and used the good vanilla and butter and dark brown sugar. And I'm an adult, and it's not the only choice I have, day in and day out, at school.

The first meeting's Wednesday morning, and I'll report back in.