Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Science of Parenting

The article below is from Margot Sunderland's work. She is the author of "The Science of Parenting," a book my friend Sarah turned me on to in a comment to a post on this very blog. Thanks Sarah!

Press Release
Amelia Hill
Education correspondent
The Observer

Nanny no longer knows best, the 'Contented Little Baby Book' could undermine a child's development, and Dr Spock's advice that a child should be left to cry could cause psychological damage.

When it comes to the crowded and hotly debated world of how best to bring up baby, there is a new theory that uses brain scans to argue that controlled crying (sleep training) not only damages babies' brains but produces angry, anxious adults.

[Note: Cape Town Psychologist, Abraham le Roux, points out that the results of forcing babies to ‘self soothe’ (necessary for sleep training) are of serious concern too. Later as adults these people are likely to need to continue to try to self soothe, and the soothers used may include alcohol, drugs, compulsive overeating, obsessive sex, etc.]

'If you ignore a crying child, tell them to shut up or put them in a room on their own, you can cause serious damage to their brains on a level that can result in severe neurosis and emotional disorders later in life,' said Professor Margot Sunderland.

Sunderland is a leading expert in the development of children's brains and a British Medical Association award-winning author, who has already written more than 20 books on child mental health.

Based on her four-year study of brain scans and scientific research, Sunderland entreats parents to reject the modern theories of baby experts such as Gina Ford and Channel 4's Supernanny, Jo Frost, who preach strict discipline, routine and ‘controlled crying’.

Sunderland's book, The Science of Parenting, provides step-by-step guidance on how to react to every swing in a child's mood, even down to the best way to hug an upset baby.

'The blunt truth is that uncomforted distress may cause damage to the child's developing brain,' said Professor Sunderland, who is the Director of Education and Training at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London. She believes that parents often do not give adequate recognition to their children's distress.

While the importance of touching, cuddling and physically soothing their babies is paramount, she also advises parents of the dangers of attempting to minimise their children's anger and emotional distress.

'Parents should never try to persuade their child out of feeling a certain emotion,' she said. 'Even if your child is reading a situation in a completely different way to you, it is important to prove to them you are empathising through the time you give them and the language and facial expressions you show.

'If your child is upset, you will increase rather than reduce their feelings of stress by not taking their upset as seriously as you would wish someone to take your own,' she added.

‘Attempting to jolly them out of their mood will result in them internalising their stresses, which will take the same toll on their bodies and brain as unsoothed crying.’ Sunderland also believes parents often unwittingly discipline children through shame and fear.

'It can get quick results and parents often do not realise they are doing it,' she said. 'But the price on a child's developing brain can be very high and leave a legacy of anxiety and social phobia for life.

It is all too easy to break a child.' Instead, Sunderland encourages parents to be very emotional when their child is well-behaved and very matter of fact when they behave badly.

Sunderland believes that parents who use fighting words and phrases that demand absolute and immediate obedience will create a defiant child while thinking words, that activate their brains by giving them a choice, will defuse intense states of emotional arousal.

Often, however, Sunderland advises that words are not necessary and that calmly holding the child who is refusing to listen is enough. 'Sometimes the child's brain is too hyper-aroused to respond to language and a warm and loving touch is the only thing that can calm them down without conflict.'

Sunderland offers the following advice to parents:

· Do not try to persuade the child out of their emotions, however extreme or unreasonable you might feel those emotions to be.

· Do not minimise their emotions: show through touch, tone and facial expression that you understand the intensity and quality of what they are going through.

·Be their emotional rock: be kind and calm.

·Hold them - touch is vital to calm and soothe a child.

Further Recommended Reading:
Gerhardt, Sue. (2004) "Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes Your
Baby's Brain", Brunner Routledge, New York and Hove

Friday, January 18, 2008

Where's the Love for the Skinny People?

I have been thin my whole life. I was a healthy 7 lbs. 8.5 oz. at birth and I gained 35 pounds during pregnancy (totally normal and healthy), but you get the picture. I have this thin, long frame that's similar in proportion to a 5' 2" women only stretched out to 5' 8." I think I mainly inherited it from my dad's side (he has the same tall thin frame), but my mom was nicknamed "Stretch" in high school and when I look at pictures of her mom when she was younger, I see that I have a lot of Grandma Welsch in me, too. Anyway, this is just me, but it took me a long time to become comfortable with that. Why? Because people were and are always telling me there is something wrong with that. In school, growing up, the other kids teased me for being too thin, in their opinion. It made me feel ugly and like an outcast. I have struggled with growing up into an adult who doesn't care so much about what other people think of me. Scott has always harped on me for that. He says I shouldn't care so much about what other people think, but I am a people person. I just care a lot in general. So, my self confidence, at least in my outer appearance, has been shaky at times. I have to keep reminding myself that I am not so bad looking.

It helped that in college I gained about 5 pounds and kept them on. Actually, I gained like 10 pounds my freshman year when I still liked the cafeteria food, but I was eating and snacking a ton and once that leveled out and I got sick of the cafeteria, it went down to 5. But back in high school and earlier, I ate like a horse to no avail. I never put on weight. I remember one time a girl from my school told me that a girl from another town's basketball squad had asked her if I had an eating disorder or something. She said no way because I eat all the time and never went the bathroom by myself, that I am just that skinny. Ugh. I wish she hadn't told me that. It confirmed my worst fears - that people were looking at me and thinking something was wrong with me. But in college, things got a little better. People responded to me a bit nicer on average, and I gained some confidence in myself.

Then it was off to grad school. Unfortunately, grad school meant lots of stress, little to no exercise (I have always sucked at exercise if it is not some planned activity like a sporting event), adopting some bad eating habits, and I guess, getting a little older. I put on another 15 pounds in the course of 6 years, and even then I was still on the low end of normal for BMI (body mass index) for my height. At that point I wasn't so much worried about being skinny but I did know that I needed to be healthier, that most of that weight was fat which wasn't good for me either. That is where I was at when I got pregnant with Nicky. I was okay with my weight - ideally would have liked to be maybe 5 pounds thinner, but maybe not - I just knew I wanted a more toned body. The weight number didn't matter so much.

Fast forward to my pregnancy. I felt really great about my body during pregnancy. I didn't feel fat - huge at the end, yes, but I loved my basketball tummy. My hips spread - great, I've always wanted hips (seriously!). My butt got bigger, but not too big because I had a tiny butt before pregnancy. I got tons of stretch marks because of these two things. Not fun, but I knew that my body was doing what it needed to do. Oh, and my boobs got bigger of course. Super nice bonus; I always hated being flat chested. So all in all, I loved being pregnant. Then came the weird faze right after Nicky was born where I had the jelly belly and wondered what my body was going to do now that it wasn't pregnant. I remember shopping for clothes to wear to Nicky's baptism just a few weeks after he was born and having a hard time because things fit so weird because of that jelly belly. Yes, I was up a few sizes from pre-pregnancy but that I expected. It was that darn jelly belly that was causing all the problems and a girdle only squished the extra skin/fat up or down but it was still there! I complained to a family member and she asked if I was worried about not being able to lose the pregnancy weight. I know she didn't mean anything by it, but then I felt bad. I questioned if others thought I wasn't going to lose the weight or if I really did look bad right at that moment. Oh, postpartum body image issues. Now, after talking to bunches of other mothers, I know that those body image issues are completely normal, especially the first time when you don't know what to expect.

Anyway, despite those worries, the weight came off over the next 6 months. It was pretty gradual thanks to the demands of taking care of a colicky infant and breastfeeding, but I did learn that my weight loss was faster than normal for most women after pregnancy. I was okay with that as long as it was healthy. I did feel a little guilty because I wasn't exercising at all other than taking care of Nicky, holding and carrying him a bunch, and occasionally going for a walk with him to the park once spring rolled around. So as my weight was going down and approaching the magic number - the ideal weight for myself that I had in mind - I was thrilled. I had no idea that my weight would hit that ideal number and then keep going down! Oh no, I thought, I don't want to go back to to skinny high school me! I like having hips, and a butt, and some cleavage! I don't like how I look as much when I am that thin!

But that is where I am at now - back to my high school weight:( It is hard for me because of a few reasons: 1) people, especially people struggling with being overweight, often don't want to hear about how I am struggling with being underweight (thanks for the empathy) 2) people jump to extreme suggestions like saying I need to wean Nicky which is clearly not my goal or saying I must have hyperthyroidism even though I have none of the symptoms other than the weight loss, or 3) people have no experience with this so they just don't know what to say. I am most frustrated with the first problem because I really relate more to women how are overweight than to women who are normal weight. I relate to the body image issues, to feeling looked down upon, etc. But I have, on so very many occasions, found women who are overweight or normal weight, in my opinion, but still uncomfortable with their weight because they want to be thinner for whatever reason to be rude and flippant with me if I dare mention my struggles with keeping on weight. In the guise of a joke (although sometimes they are just plain rude) often times they will be sarcastic ("Oh you poor thing!" as they roll their eyes) or imply that I might have an eating disorder (nice!) or just act like my problem doesn't matter, that it isn't really a problem. Ugghh!! Why are people so insensitive and self-focused! Why can't people be more empathetic even if they haven't been in the exact same situation I've been in? People are too often wrapped up in their own emotional struggles and they simply aren't available to be kind, giving, and compassionate to those around them. So disappointing...

So, I am plugging on. I have found a few moms who are in the same boat as I am and a few friends who aren't but are still empathetic and helpful. Thank God! They have given me some good suggestions. I am trying to make sure I eat something every 2 or 3 hours and making sure that I am getting lots of good healthy fats and proteins. My go-to foods right now are almonds and peanut butter and other nuts/nut butters, eggs, coconut milk (in smoothies), and hummus. I also try to add olive oil to my foods when applicable. It is difficult though because my first impulse when I'm hungry is to grab carbs. That will only lead to a spike in blood sugar, I know, followed by a crash a little later on if I don't pair it with some protein. Also, Nicky can't have nuts yet. The new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is 3 years old for nut products if the child has had any type of other allergic reaction, and Nicky has had reactions to milk, shrimp, and some topical reactions to ingredients in his baby wash before. Dang it - that's almost 2 years away!! And this kid always wants to eat what the big people are eating so I have to distract him with a Nicky-friendly baby snack. This works some of the time, but at other times he gets really upset (can you blame him?) or tries to steal my snacks, LOL! Also, he really doesn't like eggs at this point - doesn't matter in which form (scrabbled, hard boiled, sunnyside-up), he ain't having it!

Previously, I would have went to dairy products when I needed protein and good fat, but I have developed a mild allergy to it now. This is not surprising considering that I ate an abundance of dairy over the course of my life - probably too much. Dairy, for various reasons, is a highly allergenic class of foods so I guess I just reached a tipping point of overexposure or maybe I've had an allergy for a while that's been getting worse little by little and I just didn't know that the dairy was causing it. A friend from college recently pointed out that I always had a stomach ache right after meals where I drank milk. Why didn't I notice that?! Anyway, the good news is that I can still have some yogurt and cheese because the allergenic protein in milk is modified in the process of making cheese or yogurt and so not so allergenic as in milk. So, Nicky and I can have some of those 2 things in moderation without it setting off symptoms.

If anyone has an other suggestions for healthy good-fat or protein foods I could incorporate more into my diet, I am game!

I also note that there is a portion of our society that does think that there is no such thing as too skinny and that is really sad. This is the push behind eating disorders and the unhealthy weight standards for women in Hollywood and modeling and even real life. I understand that the rest of society is pushing back against this trend and that is great, but it needs to be done in a positive way! Skinny people and fat people are not mortal enemies!! And we need to look at how healthy people are instead of their size. Stop with the judgments and the prejudice, everyone! Yes, kumbaya:)