Saturday, October 6, 2012

Feeding with Love and Respect

I just saw this video on facebook and had to post here and comment.  The video has over a million views on YouTube and is quite cute at first blush. Dad seems to be a genuinely engaged and loving father, and it is shown as a humorous and cute way to get an infant to eat his solids: oh the lengths we go as parents.

However, I really had a visceral reaction to it: My bone is that it really is, at its core, a disrespectful way of approaching feeding.  Perhaps I'm a wet blanket about this video, but it's a bit of an issue for me when I see parents coercing, forcing, or otherwise manipulating their child into eating.  The dad in the video seems loving and involved; he strikes me as being devoted and caring.  But having worked with families whose young children were coerced, either overtly or through distraction, to eat, it really bothers me.  Most of us worry that our kids won't eat enough, but eating, just like every milestone, takes time to develop.  For me the most important feeding skill a child learns in the early months is that they are in control of what goes into their bodies.  Distracting them with music or toys shows a lack of faith that the child will learn to eat what and how much they need to eat to grow well.  It sends the message that we do not trust our children with their own bodies.  And it sends the message that how much you eat is of more importance than the development of eating skills --kids will generally eat what they need, even if it is not as much as parents want them to eat.

Maybe this music-video-eating was a funny and accidental discovery.  Maybe it was an occasional thing.  Maybe they do this ritual every meal.  Whatever the case, I am really not fussy about having intake be a higher priority for me than it is for the child.

Particularly when infants and children are underweight, it is easy to get into a viscious cycle of doing whatever we need to do to get food in.  But in the long run, manipulating a young child to eat does not give them the power or control to become healthy eaters as toddlers, preschoolers, teenagers, and adults.

Back to the video:  this kid is cute, for sure.  And it is amusing (in a way) how much more this child eats with the video on.  But is he really involved in eating?  Or is he passively taking the food dad gives him?  Is he any closer to becoming a competent eater?  Does he 'need' to eat that much?  What happens next week when the video isn't enough?

To be sure, a child this age would not be independent eating, but developing competence is different: competence doesn't exclude cooperation, support, or guidance.  I am sure that if the video weren't played, they would have a fussy little guy (and probably a bit hungry too) for a few days, but if dad just put the spoon, or soft pieces of banana or avocado, on the tray, I speculate this little guy would soon become more interested in the food itself (which is the main point of sitting down to eat, isn't it?).

To paraphrase Ellyn Satter, author of "Feeding with Love and Good Sense" and "How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much", our job as parents is to provide good food and a reasonable mealtime routine; our kids' jobs are to decide if and how much to eat.  That's a division of responsibility I feel strongly about in helping our children become healthy and competent eaters.

(Postscript:  There are some effective family-oriented approaches to eating disorders that do take some of the responsibility of eating away from kids.  I view this as quite different because the eating disorder has interfered with the child's ability to take on this responsibility.  I wonder, however, what contribution early eating experiences have on the development of eating disorders.  Would they be less prevalent if we didn't try to control our children's intakes from the get-go?)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Toddler in the Garden

Summer 2012
Spring 2011
Our (almost) 3 year old has been watering our indoor herb garden for a year and half now, has been picking peppers (prematurely) in the garden this summer, and has a penchant for reorganizing the vegetable markers.  But now we can add "tamarind watcher" to the list.

Our tamarind plant was lovingly grown from seed in our basement under lights this spring.  Now our toddler has placed it on our kitchen table as a centrepiece.  And what a perfect centre-piece it is.  The tamarind leaves fold in towards each other in the evenings as we eat dinner, and are still opening back up again over breakfast.  We have a larger plant outside that gets included in our daily 'tamarind talk', and it is lovely to see our little guy take such an interest in watching this plant change.  I think it leads him to pay a little more attention to the other (less active) plants in our sill: he wants to keep all of our window-sill herbs (especially the basil) "happy" with daily watering.

Our tamarind plant

Montessori Toddler Gardening (Pinterest)
Gardening Activities for Kids:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tipping Point

There has come a time during my breastfeeding relationships with each of my sons that something small yet extraordinary has happened (beyond the other extraordinary things that happen when one breastfeeds). Long after the cracked nipples have healed, when engorgement has settled, and several weeks after I feel like we've got breastfeeding down pat, I stop 'paying attention' to the process of breastfeeding and start taking for granted that it has reached a comfortable plateau of competence: I know when he's hungry, he knows I respond, and we both pretty much know what to do about it.  

But just when I stop really actively paying attention to breastfeeding (and can start walking while breastfeeding, and feeding him easily in a wrap, I am made aware of the process again because of a tipping point between how much I contribute to breastfeeding relative to my infant son.

That moment came last week. I was fumbling in the dark to help my 3 month old latch on in the middle of the night. I couldn't tell where my nipple was (it's never where I left it), and I couldn't quite see where my son was veering and bobbing his head. I was readjusting both my breast and my babe in an awkward little dance when, seemingly out of nowhere, bam, a latch on.   It was so unexpected when it first happened because until then, I was the one in control of ensuring my son was close enough, high enough, turned towards me enough.  I knew the moment that he would latch on because his success depended on me.

My son, of course, has always been a part of this jig (it takes two, there is no doubt). He needed to do the actual latch on, he coordinated his tongue, his jaw, his suck, his breathing. He needed to be hungry or want soothing.  But it was up to me to make sure all the other pieces were in place. Well not anymore. As long as my breast is somewhere in the vicinity, my son can hone in like SONAR, and stick the landing like a gold medal gymnast. Like two magnets snapping together.  Because he now has head control, awareness, and conscious intent to get to that milk, my son has added one more little component to his side of the breastfeeding effort.  

What a cool moment. In describing it it almost becomes trite.  It seems so 'minor' that it should be inconsequential, but it marks a pretty significant shift in the way I think of my son. It's like watching something as seemingly simple as the CanadArm in action --simple two sides fitting together like they were meant to, but so much goes into making it happen.  It is a moment for me to acknowledge that the ever so gradual transition from infant to independent adult has just made one small little shift.  One small step for baby, one giant leap for motherhood.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Do We Need to Teach our Kids "No"?

Our 18 month old let us know he wanted to go for a bike ride this evening. There was still plenty of time before bed, the weather was descent, and there was really no compelling reason not to go for a little spin around the block on my bike, with my little guy in front on his bike seat.

However, I felt compelled to say no --and nearly did-- because gosh darnit it wasn't part of the plan this evening, and, well, he's just going to have to learn that he can't get everything he wants.

I paused, reconsidered, and ended up going for a lovely slow bike ride with him, enjoying the gardens in the neighbourhood before heading in for a bath. The leisurely ride gave me time to think about why I had felt compelled to say no to a reasonable, and completely doable request.

The question really is, do I need to create learning opportunities to teach my son that he can't get everything he wants? Do I need to say no to tonight's bike ride because it will prepare him for the night I have to say no?

In one word? No.

There are plenty of times for him to experience no without me contriving situations. I'll say "no" to biking when it's raining. He'll hear "no" to running onto the street. And he'll expect "no" if he pulls the cat's tail (though I often leave this up to the cat to express!). If he is going to have a lot of natural and authentic opportunities to learn that there are times things won't go completely his way, I certainly don't have to make our evening difficult and upsetting by turning him down just to "teach" him. My son is learning all the time. I certainly don't need to add artificial learning just to prove a point.

The best part of all this was that I was the one who learned something.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene -by Ingrid Bauer

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a sensitively written, supportive, and informative book! Ingrid Bauer is considered to be, I understand, one of the pioneers of Natural Infant Hygiene (aka Elimination Communication (EC), Infant Potty Training). Though initially skeptical of the entire idea of early potty training, I explored the idea of listening to my son's bowel and bladder cues through chatting with another mom about her journey with EC. Still not convinced, the gentle push to try EC came from a recent article in Mothering magazine (June 2010). The article had me running out to get a potty just shy of my son's 6 month birthday with excited curiosity. The basic premises of EC --that infants are born with an awareness of their elimination, that infants (if given the means) will avoid soiling their immediate environment, and that parents and infants can develop an awareness and relationship that enables early elimination habits that don't involve diapers-- make a lot of sense to me from an evolutionary and animal-based approach. Non-human animals demonstrate all of these abilities, and many non-western cultures practice EC as a matter of natural course (though there is no name for it in cultures where it just 'is the way it is done').

Although much of how I got started came from 'sitting in' on on-line chats, Bauer's book clears away any of the confusion that arises as on-line parents apply, adapt, and analyze the various successes and challenges that come along with this relatively fringe (in North America, anyway) idea of offering a potty to a newborn, and not using diapers. Bauer is sensitive to the realities of living in a culture that does not make it easy to apply EC in the same way as non-western cultures. These barriers include maternity leaves that may limit one-on-one time for developing the skills of communicating with an infant about elimination, parents working outside the home, and a culture in which we are not only unaware that infants and parents can develop such a relationship, but also where we have not seen it practiced or modeled for us.

It is important to point out that EC is an approach that is about communication and respect, and is very different from 'potty training' where a child is taught and rewarded at a later age for developing toilet skills. Bauer uses the analogy that breastfeeding mothers gradually develop a breastfeeding relationship with their infants that allows them to 'know' intuitively when their infant is hungry, and that eventually infants develop ways to indicate this need. It is not 'taught' and is not forced or coerced. The same is said of EC.

This book helped ground me in some of the ideas about EC early enough in my own EC journey to feel that I can move forward with more confidence and enjoyment in a process that has already proven to be a fun and rewarding experience.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Unconditional Parenting -by Alfie Kohn

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn

This book takes the deeply ingrained ideas that praise motivates and punishment prevents, and turns them on their heads. With ample references to research studies (most of which, however, are a decade or more old), Alfie Kohn makes the case that parents have choices beyond being authoritarian or permissive. Although it was an enjoyable and clearly written book, it is one that needs to be re-read a few times to fully wrap my head around how to truly parent unconditionally.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Baby Whisperer -a book review

Two of the first books I read as a mom of a newborn were Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with your Baby (2001) and the multiple-sub-titled The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping Eating and Behaviour --Beyond the Basics from Infancy to Toddlerhood (2004) by Tracy Hogg. Although I did not read either book cover to cover, I did glean a lot of helpful concepts from the books (while at the same time disagreeing with some of her concepts).

Tracy Hogg was a British-trained nurse who had a knack for understanding infants' needs. She worked with high profile clients in California who, by all accounts, were at their wits' ends with inconsolable infants. She developed an approach that led to clients dubbing her the Baby Whisperer. Tracy believed that a lot of 'problems' with infants stem from "accidental parenting": developing habits that lead to problem behaviours that are more difficult to 'fix' than to avoid. Tracy died of melanoma in 2004.

In a Nutshell:
The basic premise of Tracy's approach is that it is important to develop a routine from day one with an infant. Her belief was that Eating, followed by Activity, then Sleep and time for You (EASY) should occur in fairly predictable increments (e.g. 3 hours for a newborn, 4 hours for an older child). The underlying personal value in her books is a deep respect for infants as human beings who need to be listened to, and responded to. The way we move our babies and talk to our babies should display a respect for them that we would extend to anyone else in our family.

Tracy believed in the phrase "start as you plan to continue" --begin your way of parenting from the beginning (e.g. start them in a crib if that's where you want them later; start them on a routine from day 1 of life), rather than waiting until you think it's the right time. In contrast to Tracy, I believe starting as you plan to continue relates more to a consistent parenting philosophy than to specific 'techniques'. What I do with my son will change as he develops, but my basic approach to nurturing him is consistent.

This book supported my role as a mom with the following:
-I actually have a routine? When I was lost in a blur of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and naps it was a welcome realisation that there was actually some semblance of a routine in my day of which I wasn't aware. It dawned on me after very little reading that my day DID have some routine of eating, sleeping, and activity. Knowing that my day would roughly be in three hour segments helped me get through.

-Diaper changes are worthwhile ways of spending time with my son!. Changing clothes and diapers, burping him, and changing clothes again may be all I do before Andrew needed to sleep or eat again. It was reassuring to know that this is valuable time with Andrew and is an opportunity for quality social interaction and bonding. You do not need to play with an infant for your time with himto be well spent.

-Slow down, don't go too fast. Make the diaper changes last! (sung to Simon and Garfunkel's Fifty-ninth Street Bridge (Feeling Groovy) Tracy's book helped me slow down to Andrew's pace. When he was crying through a diaper change I initially tried to get it done AS FAST AS POSSIBLE which only upset him more. Once I slowed down, talked to him, and sang to him, diaper changes became one of my (and his) favourite parts of the day. As soon as I lay him down on the change table he would start to smile --one more point for diaper changes as worthwhile activities!

-Slow down for everything. The book reinforced pausing and listening to my son's cries in order to learn how to interpret it. This made it much easier to respond to him and meet his needs better. I am not of the cry-it-out school, but responding without first listen to what his cry was saying is as disrespectful as interupting someone trying to tell me they want a glass of water by giving them a cup of coffee!

-Explain before doing. Letting Andrew know what I was about to do (pick him up, change his diaper, whatever) is a respectful way of treating him, even if he doesn't understand. We do not know the point at which infants begin to comprehend, so start early by respecting them enough to ask permission before 'doing' to them.

Tracy's approach fell flat for me when she suggested:
-Don't let babies fall asleep at the breast. Don't let them feed on demand. As many readers have commented regarding her books, good luck keeping a breast fed baby awake after feeding. It's just not nature's way! Tracy does not respect 'feeding on demand' and takes exception with the word "demand" --if it is semantics that is the problem, then call it "feeding on cue". I will feed my son whenever he needs it. And he may not need it solely for the food value. Breastfeeding is nurturing and comforting. If I find that the feeding is really putting a damper on my sleep (e.g. every 1-2 hours) then I will look for a gentle solution. Otherwise, it's not a problem unless I think it's a problem.

-Activity should follow feeding or an infant will get into the habit of needing to eat to fall asleep. Mammals have been breastfeeding for eternity and have somehow managed to emerge as adults without requiring a bedtime snack to fall asleep.

-Bedsharing is not a good idea. Tracy felt this sets children up for poor sleep habits. I believe it is not for every family, but I also feel that there are many benefits to bedsharing and certainly for co-sleeping. If approached as a way of nurturing one's infant (rather than as a reaction to poor sleep), I believe it creates a very healthy attitude towards sleep (and more sleep for everyone).

Overall, Tracy emphasizes that the key is respecting your infant and responds to criticism that EASY is rigid by emphasizing that if a baby is hungry, feed them! (even if it doesn't fall into her EASY plan of Eat Activity Sleep and You Time). "The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems" is a good go-to book for specific issues that arise (sleeping, etc). Looking up the "problem" in the index is easy. The solutions, however, are but one person's view on approaching the issue. I have taken from her books that which I find helpful, but I remember first to trust my instincts about what is right.