Thursday, September 27, 2012

Playing with Fire

"Has deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage."
Appropriate fire-starting
 This criteria is one of about fifteen criteria used to diagnose a child with Conduct Disorder, a sad precursor to Antisocial Personality Disorder, a disorder seen in adults whom we often call "Sociopath".  You may be asking, "What is all this diagnostic mumbo jumbo about, Dr. Momsie?" Well, blame it on Momma Kat, who has inspired me today to write about "someone playing with fire - literally or metaphorically- and probably shouldn't be."
A lot of parents have probably heard the warnings about behavior such as fire-starting that could be an early indication of Conduct Disorder.  All parents probably have at least an ounce of concern regarding our child's behavior.  We send up little prayers, consciously and sub-consciously, "just help them be normal."  No one wants to raise a serial killer.  And, most of us won't.  Most loving, responsive parents will have children who are similarly "normal."   Even a few problematic behaviors, such as fire-starting or even animal cruelty may be passing phases or temporary acting out.  In fact, I've known several young men who acted in monstrous ways toward animals as children, who are quite well adjusted as adults. 

Even Dr. Momsie herself had a little fire-starting phase.  Really!  As a child I was obedient and conforming, probably the furthest thing in existence from Conduct Disordered.  But, I loved a blazing fire. There is just something fascinating about the warm glow of a flame.  It's relaxing and cozy.  That's why they put those fireplaces in Starbucks and bookstores.  And, there is something appealing about watching an object being consumed in flame, being transformed from a tangible object into ashes. 

Let me give you a couple of examples, one of which may be classified as normal curiosity and the other a potential fire-starting problem:

A young girl around the age of ten, let's call her DrMomsina, likes playing with fire.  She often burns matches, lights candles, and plays with cigarette lighters.  One dark and stormy night, the electricity goes out in her home.  This is not a rare occurence in her small town with turn-of-the-century electrical wiring.  She immediately lights a collection of candles in her room.  "Well, isn't that nice," she thinks.  "Beautiful, controlled and calming.  Maybe I'll just burn this kleenix a little to see what happens."  The next thing she knows, the flame on her kleenix quickly burns up to her hand.  Her immediate reaction is to throw the flaming tissue into her trashcan.  And, wouldn't ya know, the entire contents of the trashcan immediately burst into flames.  She rushes out of her candle-lit room to let her father know that she's set her room on fire.  He calmly tosses the trashcan out the back door into the rainy night.  DrMomsina never caught her room on fire again.  Chalk it up to normal curiosity.

Little Fuego is also around ten years old.  He also likes playing with fire.  He often burns matches, lights candles, and plays with cigarette lighters.  One dark and stormy night, Fuego is wandering around his neighborhood.  His parents aren't quite sure where he is, nor do they really care.  Before Fuego left the house, he stole his mother's lighter.  He escapes a sudden downpour by slipping into his neighbor's shed.  Before long, Fuego is running out of the shed and back into his home.  He listens to the wee-aah, wee-aah of the firetruck sirens zooming into his neighborhood.  There is something pleasant and exciting about this to Fuego.  Fire-starting sends his adrenaline rushing, and he begins to continually seek the same type of rush he recieved that dark and stormy night he lit his neighbor's shed on fire.   This is more than normal childhood curiosity.

So, what is the difference between DrMomsina and little Fuego?  DrMomsina did not develop a pattern of distructive behavior, and her reaction to the fire she started was fear.  Fuego, on the other hand, started the fire with the intention of starting damage, derived some pleasure from his fire-starting experience and was engaging in a variety of delinquent behaviors (stealing, running away, etc). 

It is really very rare for children to be diagnosed with Conduct Disorder (about 2%).  So, parents, if this Halloween your otherwise normal little ghoul lights a fire in his trashcan, don't panic.  Just calmly toss it outside and return to your pumpkin carving.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Erase Your Fears Before They Begin!

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I'm really excited about some new research out of Uppsala University!  (See the exclamation point?  That verifies that I'm excited!)  Researchers at Uppsala have determined that emotional-based memories can be erased from your brain.  Well, actually, they have found a way to keep memories that may elicit fear from actually being stored in your emotional memory.  So, in essence, fearful memories are prevented! (Another exclamation point = more excitement!)
See, even Jr. is excited!
This is how your brain works:  You experience something scary.  You think about this scary thing that happened.  Your thinking about that scary experience helps "consolidate" the memory in the emotional memory portion of your brain (amygdala, in case you're curious).  Then, every time you hear, see or smell a stimulus that is related to that scary experience, up comes the memory.  You feel scared all over again.  This is an extremely powerful connection. Anxiety disorders like Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and phobias can be attributed to the power of emotional memory.

So, maybe you can see why I'm so excited?  If we can prevent fearful events from solidifying into emotional memory, than we may have the key to preventing many anxiety disorders. Yippie!

And the real exciting part is that it seems fairly simple. Those geniuses at Uppsala (by the way, anyone know where that's at?) prevented the consolidation of emotional memory by basically keeping the participants from thinking about the fearful experience.  First, they pulled a Pavlov's dog, and paired a picture with an electric shock. Remember how Pavlov paired his dogs' food with the sound of a bell and before long the doggies would go nuts just from hearing the bell?  Same kind of thing.  The Uppsala researchers' scary shock could easily be paired with the picture, causing an emotional memory connected to that picture.  But, in half of their participants, they followed the shock with repeated presentations of the picture.  The other half had some time to think about how scared they were.  Those that were given time to think about the experience were more likely to consolidate the memory, moving it from short-term memory into long-term emotional memory.

This makes sense to me. I used to have horrible nightmares after reading a scary book or seeing a scary movie.  That was until I started to purposefully avoid thinking about that scary story and instead thought of something more lovely and pleasant before bed.  Voila! No nightmares. 

So, when you're scared, just don't think about it.  Try to distract yourself by doing or thinking something else.  If your child experiences something scary, distract them immediately with something not so scary.  Only time will tell if this idea will be filed under "Easier Said Than Done Advice."  I'm sure that it will be very difficult to avoid pairing really traumatic events with emotional memories.  And, this intervention must be done immediately, before the proteins of emotional memory are created.  But, hopefully, this research may help us prevent some rather benign experiences from turning into full-blown anxiety disorders.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Something Positive: A Childhood Memory

Does it seem like Dr. Momsie has become a Negative Nancy?  I just noticed that I seem to do a lot of complaining lately - complaining about Jr.'s daycare (which I really love), complaining about free-range parenting, complaining about the pressure on teachers, complaining about irritating parenting advice.  And, now, I'm complaining about complaining! 

Mama’s Losin’ ItSo today I take a break from complaining to write about something positive.  I'm taking my cue from a writing prompt provided by Mama Kat at  I want to stick with the theme of my blog (parenting, children, psychology), so let me tell you about a memory from my childhood that always makes me smile.  Emotional memories are often tied to our sense of smell.  Everybody knows this, right?  You catch a whiff of something familiar and immediately are taken back to a childhood memory.  This is just part of the amazing-ness of your brain.  Your "primary olfactory cortex" (smell center), has a direct link with your amygdala and hippocampus (emotion and memory centers, i.e. limbic center). Only a few synapses (brain connections) separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala and hippocampus.  Olfaction is the sensory modality that is physically closest to the limbic system, and so smell-induced memories are particularly potent. This olfaction-emotional memory tie is often most strong for negative emotions (i.e. the smell of hot metal connected to memories of a car accident).  But, pleasant memories can also have olfactory triggers.  Let me tell you about mine.

A pregnant woman's nose is ultra sensitive.  One molecule of doggie scent or car exhaust odor can seem to be a massive cloud of stench.  Usually, this was a negative thing during my pregnancy with Jr., leading to nausea and extreme irritability (ok, so everything led to extreme irritability).  But, one lovely morning, as I was running in my neighborhood, a smell hit my olfactory nerve that immediately invoked a pleasant memory.  I can't even describe the smell, but I know it was good.  It immediately took me back to this:

No, it wasn't the smell of raisins.  It was the smell of my grandparents house.  But, not really my grandparents house, as they lived in a town with an oil refinery, so the smell was really quite unpleasant.  But, something in their house.  Maybe grandpa's cologne or their fabric softener.  Or, maybe the plastic of those silly California Raisins figurines that were all the craze in the late 80's.  We looked forward to many things during our trips to Grandma and Grandpa's: climbing their apple tree, sneaking a peak at MTV, sitting in Papa's lap, taking walks with Grandma, and going to the store to get new California Raisins toys.  I don't remember playing much with the raisins, but I do remember wanting more and more (isn't that what kids do best?)  I'm sure my sister and I would cleverly set them up in their band formation right before we glued ourselves to the tv to watch Jem and the Misfits. 

However insignificant they were at the time, those darn raisins have carved a memory in my brain.  A pleasant memory of sweet times with my grandparents and my sister.  A memory that makes me smile.  A memory only able to be recalled by the nose of a pregnant woman.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Silly Old Wives Tales and New-Fangled Nonsense

There seems to be to be a great divide among moms.  Yes, we all know about the "mommy wars" that divide breast-feeding and formula-feeding moms, attachment parenting and Ferber method moms, and even helicopter and "free-range" moms.  But, I really think all these mommy wars really can be broken down into a more simplistic paradigm: old-school thinking versus new-school thinking.  Some mommies think the old, tried and true methods are the best, while others cling to every new study that hits their favorite parenting magazine. 

Quite frankly, I'm sick of them both.  I have to hold my tongue every time I'm offered a silly old wives tale to solve my baby's newest problem.  Usually, these folks don't handle rejection of their ideas easily.  They fall back on, "Well, it worked for my kids.  And,they are all just fine.  Humph."  Really, I know your kids.  They aren't just fine.

I'm also exhausted by all the new-fangled nonsense out there, bombarding new parents with crazy promises and expectations.  "Do it just this way or with this gadget," they vow, "and your child will be the smartest, fastest, most emotionally intelligent baby in his infant class."  Gag me with a rattle.  I know your kids too.  They are all stressed out.

New moms, you've probably heard them all.  Everyone has some brilliant advice on how you should take care of your baby.  They don't even need to know your baby to know exactly how to solve your every parenting problem.  Please, when you hear some advice that sounds fishy, find out what pediatricians and research would suggest.  Let me debunk some common myths.

Silly Old Wives Tales
  • "Babies should be put to sleep on their stomachs.  It really won't hurt them."  Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began suggesting that babies be placed to sleep on their backs in the early 1990's, sudden infant death has markedly decreased.  Maybe some babies would indeed sleep better on their tummy, but it's just not as safe.  Don't risk it.
  • "Oh, your baby won't sleep through the night?  Put some cereal in their bottle!  They just need a full tummy!" Out of complete desperation, I tried this one.  It didn't work.  I should've listened to the research (and my instincts).  Both say that this is wishful thinking.  Babies wake up for a variety of reasons, and cereal isn't a magic cure.
  • " I gave my baby solid foods and whole milk when they were two months old.  I think your baby is hungry and needs some steak."  Yes, maybe you were given cow's milk and crackers in the hospital, but we now know better.  Many babies tummies are not ready for solid foods until they are 1/2 a year old.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your baby is holding his head up, showing interest in solid food, able to move food from a spoon down his throat, and have doubled their birth weight before trying that first solid food.
  • "Your baby needs a walker and some special walking shoes to learn to walk.  It's very important."  Neither of these things have been shown to accelerate walking ability and, in fact, research is now showing that they contribute to delays in walking. Plus, you'd better be ready to supervise that baby in his/her walker, lest s/he fall down a flight of stairs.
New-Fangled Nonsense
  • "You just gotta get Bubba some of those educational DVD's.  He'll be reading before he's potty trained!"  Don't waste your money.  After monitoring over 800 children over three years, Harvard Medical School researchers found NO educational benefits from these silly programs. In fact, they can actually contribute to language delays!  Babies learn language best from live models, i.e. mommy and daddy talking to them.
  • "Don't you dare give that baby immunizations.  He'll end up with Autism or something else horrible."  Immunizations are good.  They keep your baby from getting measles, mumps, polio and a bunch of other yucky illnesses you are too young to know about.  There are absolutely NO links between immunizations and Autism, or anything else horrible.  Only good things.  Like healthiness.
  • "Be sure to tell Bertha everyday how smart and talented she is.  It is important for her self-esteem!" Ah, yes.  Self-esteem.  Somewhere along the line we began to believe that without constant praise and accolades, our children would not develop that oh-so-important quality of holding themselves in high esteem.  And, without self-esteem, they are sure to live a lifetime of depression and failure.  Well, new research is showing quite the opposite.  Carol Dweck, in her book "Mindset" uncovers a large body of new research showing that children who receive too much  praise of their abilities begin to wither in the sight of failure (and failure is inevitable, right?)  Children who always hear how smart they are, for example, begin to believe that abilities are fixed traits, and if they fail, then they must not be "smart" after all.  That makes failure terrifying.  But, on the other hand, if you encourage a "growth mindset" in your children by praising effort instead of ability, they will thrive when faced with a challenge, perservere when given a difficult task, and even welcome failure.  So, instead of telling Bertha how smart she is, maybe try something like this, "Bertha, I noticed how you worked on that math problem really hard and tried three different solutions before you found the correct answer.  That is awesome!"  Encourage your child to fail today.  For their own good.
What popular new ideas or old-school fables drive you crazy?  Let Dr. Momsie know either in the comments below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Help for New Teachers

My loyal readers have probably noticed a general decrease in my number of postings in the past few weeks.  Now that school is back in session, I have been busy as can be with beginning of the year behavior problems and crisis intervention.  One thing that always comes up in the first few weeks and months of school is new teacher melt-downs. 

Teaching is not what it once was.  Picture the one-room school house with mixed-aged kids, smiling and grateful to be in school, obediently facing forward while the teacher (you) writes ABC's on the chalkboard.  A child raises his hand.  You call on him.  He quietly and politely asks, "May I please sharpen my pencil?" Ah, how lovely.

Now completely erase that image from your mind.  Replace that tranquil picture with a room packed full of rambunctious, overactive children.  There are too many children for the amount of desks in the room, so some children are sitting on the floor.  They don't stay on the floor long.  Instead, the decide to roam around the room.  You ask them to sit down.  They don't.  Maybe they don't even hear you.  You try again.  You really need to get back to teaching your curriculum, as your Kindergarten students will soon be given a reading assessment (no time for ABC's - parents should have taught them that).  They still don't listen.  Now, they are stabbing each other with their pencils.  Someone screams out, "Teacher! I have to use it!"  Ah, what a nightmare.

It has been estimated by the Alliance for Excellent Education that every day, nearly a thousand teachers leave the field of teaching.  Another thousand switch schools in search of better teaching conditions.  The rate of attrition is nearly 50% higher in poor schools than in wealthy ones.  This attrition rate has been estimated to cost schools 2.2 billion dollars a year (cost of recruiting, training, and replacing teachers).  Of teachers leaving the field, most cited lack of planning time, too heavy a workload, and problematic student behavior as the reason. 

These numbers are no surprise to me. Teaching is a hard profession, and it becomes more difficult every year. The stakes get higher, the hours get longer, the children become more difficult, and the pay is not compensatory.  You have barely a minute during the day to catch your breath, and during your "break" you are expected to meet with other teachers, plan lessons, grade papers, complete a mountain of paperwork, and maybe even supervise a couple of kids.  Most teachers I know stay late and take work home.  It's no wonder that new teachers often wonder what they got themselves into.

I recently asked my experienced teacher friends and readers via Facebook and Twitter what advice they would give new teachers.  Here are some of their suggestions sprinkled with some Dr. Momsie advice:
Life can be frustrating! But, don't give up!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Most of your colleagues know what you're going through and would be glad to watch your class for a minute, give you quick advice, or just be a listening ear.
  • Find a mentor teacher.  If your school provides you with one, you're lucky.  Use them.  If not, pinpoint that teacher who seems to have good behavior management, high test scores, or some other quality you covet and ask them for advice.  Most will help if they know you need it.
  • Keep in mind that the first two months are the hardest.  After you get the knack of things, it is easier.
  • Take advantage of lessons that are already done.  Don't try to re-create the wheel.
  • There are some great websites for new teachers like that share some practical, time-saving suggestions for new teachers.  Check them out in your free time (which is, like, never).
  • Remember that the student that is giving you the most difficulty is likely the one that needs you the most.  And, s/he may end up being your favorite student by the end of the year.  Don't give up on them!  You don't know the impact you're having, even on your most challenging days.
What else?  Do you have some encouraging words for new teachers?  Please share them in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Are You Ready for Another?

Dreaming of a sibling

Just as soon as you can get home from the hospital with a new baby in your arms, the questions start to surface from friends and family, "When will you have another?"  And if your social circle has enough common sense to postpone that question long enough for the baby to learn to roll over, you'll hardly make it past the baby's first birthday without incessant questions of "Are you ready for another?"  And, sometimes, it isn't just family and friends that quickly become interested in the growth rate of your family.  Sometimes, it's your own biological clock.

At about nine months old, when Jr. started to walk and become more independent, I began to feel the urge to have another baby.  I missed holding him, carrying him, rocking him, and all the other special mommy-infant bonding moments that seemed to be slipping through my fingers.  Although my uterus and my heart wanted a baby, my very rational mind knew the timing was ridiculous.  My hubby reminded me that we should take the time to enjoy Jr. before having another baby (and that our pocketbook couldn't afford paying for two kids in daycare.)  We discussed a very rational and logical plan for when to conceive our second baby, considering finances, the necessary time needed to accumulate more personal days at work, timing for maternity leave, and anything else under the sun.

I've felt very comfortable and peaceful with the plan we created.  Until last week.  Hubby came home one evening and announced, "Maybe Jr. needs a sibling."  I panicked, "What?  What about our plan?!  Stick to the plan!"   It seems that he wasn't really listening during our "plan" discussion.  The next morning I went to work and discovered one of my new-mommy friends with a baby just two months older than Jr. is now pregnant with their second.  Her excitement was contagious.  "Maybe we need to revisit our plan," I thought. 

Instead of rushing into a baby hysteria, I pleaded with my rational mind.  My estrogen-filled mind said to throw away the "plan" and get going on family growing.  My mom had my sister and I just 13 months apart and we are the best of friends.  Plus, I'm not getting any younger.  Do I really want to be having babies into my 40's?  If I wait too long, will Jr. be more resentful and jealous of his sibling?  If I "get out of the groove" of early morning rising and nursing, will I have more difficulty getting back into it with a new baby?

I started doing what social scientists do best . . . look at the research.  What does research show about baby spacing?  I quickly found a fairly recent study out of Notre Dame that suggests close spacing of children (less than two years) is associated with lower academic achievement scores in reading and math.  Another interesting study suggests that babies born less than two years following a sibling are more likely to be diagnosed with Autism (ok, there are many alternative explanations for this other than birth spacing.)  I'm not so interested in these studies.  In the grand scheme of things, I'm not looking for how to have the "smartest" child.  I just want a well-adjusted, psychologically healthy child.

An article in the November 1997 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family examined the impact of a new baby on the mother's relationship with her first child.  They found,
"The birth of a sibling results in significant changes in the family environment. At the same time, positive interactions with the older child diminish, especially if the birth interval is short (emphasis mine), and the mother increasingly adopts controlling parenting styles. These changes result in lower levels of verbal development. About 2.5 years after the sibling birth, negative effects are detected on achievement and on socio-emotional adjustment. Some positive effects of sibling birth also are noted on verbal ability and peer relations."
The average older sibling in this study was 14.2 months of age when their sibling was born.  Another article in the Journal of Marriage and Family by the same authors (Bayder, Hyle, and Brooks) found that "younger children received substantially less developmental resources following the birth of a sibling. It was found that the birth of a sibling is associated with a significant increase in the behavior problems of the children, but these increases are temporary." 

I even began to read some of the psychoanalytic literature on siblinghood, which is really out of my regular scope of literature review.  Although these followers of Freud and Klein have some questionable theories on sibling rivalry, they also note the likelihood for sibling affection and relationship. 

Overall, it seems that research would indicate that sibling spacing should be greater than two years.  So, that fits nicely with "the plan." I feel relaxed again.  It could just be that I'm overthinking this whole thing!  I have to remember, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD." (Isaiah 55:8). 

Indeed, "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  Even new babies.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jr.'s First Haircut

Jr. is closing in on 18 months.  And, his hair has been an impossible mess of curls.  Tangled, messy, beautiful curls.  So beautiful that many a stranger has said, "Oh, SHE's so beautiful!"  Hubby can only hear that so many times before he demands a haircut.  Ok, so he didn't demand necessarily, but he did vow to not cut his hair until Jr.'s first cut.  I wanted my hubby to stay employed, so I suggested we get it cut this weekend.

I found one of those cutesy, kid-friendly salons with obnoxious puppets on tv, lots of loud colors, seat belts on the chairs, and every stylist's pockets full of lollipops.  Even with all the appropriately distracting environmental stimuli, I wasn't convinced this haircut would occur without incident.  Remember our last ride in an airplane?  I pictured a wildly crazed devil baby, screaming, kicking, and even biting (he recently may have picked that up in daycare).  Jr. hates getting water in his ears and on his face, so I was sure that would be the trigger.  I loaded my purse with a cup of apple juice, pacifier, gummy fruit snacks, and matchbox cars.  My plan was to keep shoving things in his mouth (ok, probably not the matchbox cars) until something worked or the haircut was over. 

Here's how it went:

No problems at all.  There was a very cleverly placed television playing a strange cartoon figure (I'm still not sure if he was a scissor or a wishbone) and his friends singing nonsense songs.  My poor tv deprived boy was mesmerized by scissor/wishbone-man.  It took about five minutes to give him a trim (I insisted on keeping some curls).  Before he could even squirm, the stylist handed him his prize-claim card and we were out the door. 

Or, almost out the door.  He spotted some cars and trains in the waiting area.  Even after allowing him to play five minutes and offering up the treasures in my purse, we couldn't avoid a tantrum.  So stinkin' close.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Semi-Free-Range Kids

So, who hasn't heard by now of Lenore Skenazy and her book "Free-Range Kids"? Ms. Skenazy single-handedly started a parenting movement after a media storm elicited from a column she wrote in the New York Sun. She was soon deemed by the media as "America's Worst Mom" (ouch). What could she have done to deserve such a title? Ms. Skenazy left her nine-year-old son alone in a New York City Bloomingdales with a subway map, a transit card, $20 for emergencies and quarters for a payphone.  

A media and mommy war insued.  Either you loved Skenazy for giving her kids the freedom to grow into independence or you crucified her for neglecting her child's safety.  And, quite quickly, Skenazy wrote her book on the topic, "Free-Range Kids:  Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry."  Nuts with worry?  That could describe me on my worst days.  As my frequent readers may have probably discerned, half of my writings are stories about being a neurotic momsie and the other half are advice on how to avoid anxiety.  So, I quickly put Skenazy's book on my public library queue. 

I was very aware of how my own anxious tendencies might impact my objectivity towards Skenazy's ideas.  I promised I would keep an open mind, and I was really excited to gain a lot of good ammunition against anxious parenting.  I overlooked the first sentence of her Introduction that makes fun of parents who use toilet baby-proofing gadgets.  I tried not to remember my recent annoyance at a house guest that destroyed our toilet-proofing thingy out of impatience to use the potty. (I mean, come on, it's not that difficult. Push the button and lift the arm.  Easy cheesy).   Skenazy is witty, clever, and an amazingly persuasive writer.  I soon realized that I totally agree with her thoughts on the media, baby videos, useless gadgets, and our tendency to be way overprotective and judgmental.  I agree that anxiety is a huge barrier to effective parenting and our children are paying the price by being dependent too long, fearful, rebellious, etc.  We really do need to stop catastrophizing, and start allowing our children some freedom to grow.

The more I read, however, the more I started to think that maybe Skenazy's book was written as a defense - a book of arguments - to convince us all that today's parents (other than her free-rangers) are completely wack-a-doo.  Skenazy comes off as irritated and critical of contemporary parenting trends, ideas, and even experts.  With each passing chapter, I sensed a building annoyance and disgust for us anxious types or any parenting wisdom derived in the last twenty years.  She suggests that, "The avalanche of expert advice . . . undermines our belief that we are equipped with enough common sense to deal with most child-rearing issues.  That battered confidence, in turn, leads us to look ever more desperately to the experts wherever we find them."

Now, she may have a point that most parents have an innate sense of how to take care of their children.  But, I know plenty of parents that don't have all the answers.  We don't always know just what to do at 3 a.m. when the baby is still screaming (I turned to "The Happiest Baby on the Block," of which Skenazy is openly not a fan.  Has she tried Karp's advice, I wonder?  It really works!).    Skenazy suggests that instead of turning to experts, we should turn to an older parent we admire.  She is right!  If someone has access to a skilled older mother who can help, that is the ideal source of advise.  But, not everyone was raised in a home where there was an admirable older parent or even a halfway decent role model.  And, even when you can ask an older adult, you may still have to weed through some strange ideas like giving your baby coffee to calm them down or putting an egg under the crib to cure colic.

Sometimes new wisdom is the best wisdom.  Science has taught us some really amazing things about child development, and I think it would be foolish to not follow the advise of good, sound research.  Shoot, if we didn't we'd still be putting babies to sleep on their tummies, in a bassinet to ride in the car, and many children would go uneducated.   We know so much more than we ever have about children's brains, learning, development, and even safety.  Why wouldn't you embrace that? 

Skenazy somewhat embraces today's scientific findings in the final section of her book that spefically deals with mommy fear after mommy fear.  In many other parts of the book, though, she clings with great nostalgia to the way things used to be.  She suggests that overprotective tendencies come from the fear that our children will be kidnapped and killed, and shares data to show that crime against children has actually decreased.  Yes, it has, praise God!  The Forum of Child and Family Statistics shows that the rate of serious violent crimes has substantially decreased since the '80's.  Well, why is that?  As my brilliant hubby pointed out to me, it is very likely that crime has decreased due to the very overprotective tendencies that Skenazy criticizes. 

Don't get me wrong.  I understand the serious negative impact overprotection can have on children.  Some children are too sheltered and should be challenged with more freedom.  Others live in the ghetto.  I think this is one of the most important caveats that Skenazy overlooks.  With the urbanization of America, many families live away from extended family (those older, trusted parents and other support systems), live in truly dangerous neighborhoods, and/or don't have a "community" that looks out for it's children.  Sadly, his is a reality of today's America.  The children I work with should by no means be out on the street after dark trick-or-treating (Skenazy has a whole chapter devoted to Halloween).  If we all lived on the Upper East Side or Suburbia, it would be easier to loosen up.  But, when you can hear gunshots at night in the neighborhood less than a mile away, you might want to limit your child's bike-riding radius.

Skenazy argues that "children are built to survive" and shares some examples of stories of children in days gone by who were sold into work at young ages, beaten for not stealing, and were married with children in their early teens.  What she fails to discuss were the high mortality rates for children in those "good ole days."  And, seriously, who thinks child labor and teen marriage is worthy of nostalgia?  Yuck.  Praise God for child labor laws.

Is this starting to sound like a rant against Free-Range Parenting?  I hope not, because I love Skenazy's fight against overanxious and overjudgemental parenting.  I firmly believe that we expect too much perfection from mothers, and the pressure can drive a momsie crazy.  I totally agree that we need to loosen the apron strings, turn off the tv, hide the parenting magazines, give our children some chores/work, and take a chill-pill (I recommend Zoloft). 

I hope to raise Semi-Free-Range Kids.  I'll keep my experts, reasonable safety precautions and supervision, and lots of playful interaction while giving up unrealistic expectations, smothering and overanxious rules, and rigid expectations.  Here's my first baby step . . . Jr. gets his first chore.  One step toward independence,. self-confidence, and a clean bedroom.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What's Your Gift? (With a Poll)

Today in Sunday school, we talked about spiritual gifts, and how they can be best utilized in service at church.  Not this kind of gift  (I can't resist the gratuitous baby pic) . . .

But this kind of gift that the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 12:

6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Paul is saying that each Christian is given a special "gift" by the Holy Spirit, that helps us serve the body of Christ.  These gifts are prophesy (discerning truth), service, teaching, exhortation (encouragement), giving, leadership (organization), and mercy (alleviating suffering).  Although all Christians should be growing in each of these areas, we are specially equipped in one area (there is some argument about whether a person can have more than one gift).  Our teacher encouraged us to try to identify our spiritual gift with the aide of a survey and several examples.  Then, he asked who was gifted in each area. 

Every time I have engaged in this exercise, I have noticed that some women really struggle with identifying one gift.  Women by nature are inclined to be nurturing and emotional.  But, crying at Hallmark commercials doesn't necessarily mean you have the spiritual gift of mercy.  And, just because you like to work with children doesn't mean your gift is teaching.  And, even though you may spend most of your time meeting the needs of others in your life, your spiritual gift may not be service. 

One way to sort through this is to think about your passion.  You may spend most of your time in service, but really get joy and feel fulfilled when you are organizing a team in a leadership role.  Or, you may be a teacher by trade, but find you are most passionate about providing resources for your needy students (giving).

Another way that really helped me figure out my spiritual gift was to think about how I would instinctually approach a spiritual problem.  Let's say the problem is suicide - maybe a friend's brother recently committed suicide.  How would you immediately be inclined to respond?  Someone whose spiritual gift is prophecy (discerning truth) may immediately contemplate what God's Word says about suicide and death, discern why the person may have been suicidal, etc.  Those who are gifted in service would probably immediately think, "What can I DO for the family?"  These are the people on the doorstep with food by the end of the day.  Those that respond with instructions for others on how to approach the family or eventually will sit down the family and share biblical truth about death, heaven, etc. are probably gifted in teaching.  Those who immediately send a loving card with words of love and encouragement are probably gifted in exhortation.  They might also walk beside the family by just being there with them during the next few difficult weeks. If someone is gifted in giving, they might first think to donate to a memorial or even gather the finances to help with burial costs.  Those with a gift in leadership would probably organize efforts to help the family, maybe in creating a care calendar or organizing prayer meetings.  Finally, those gifted in mercy would be immediately burdened to visit the family, hug them, listen to their sorrow, and share their pain.

What would your first, instinctual response be?

Honestly, though I'm professionally skilled in acts of mercy (empathy, listening), I am most naturally gifted as an encourager.  I like to fix problems and help equip others to fix problems.  My heart hurts for suffering people, but I am more naturally inclined to encourage rather than to listen and empathize. 

I'm curious about your spiritual gift!  Please participate in my poll below.

I'm interested in helping people identify their spiritual gift, but I've never been to seminary and am not an expert in spiritual gifts.  So, forgive me if my guidance here is inaccurate!

<a href="" title="What is your spiritual gift?">What is your spiritual gift?</a>
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