Toddlers with kitchen knives

I just finished reading this interesting article from NPR that was reflecting about the lack of tools in children’s lives and how they should be more involved in preparing their food from a very young age. The article argues that this may result in them eating more vegetables.

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Book Review: Thank You Prayer

Thank you for the food we eat.

Thank you for the world so sweet.

This sweet and simple book/prayer is the perfect length for RJ at 11-months old. She can sit through the entire thing, and she seems interested in the illustrations (which are done by the same illustrator as the more popular I Love You Through and Through and How Do I Love You?).

This book does not mention Jesus but refers to God twice simply as God. So this book could be used by families from a variety of religious/spiritual persuasions.

Dangers of sleep deprivation for kids

I just finished reading this article from the May 2015 issue of the Walrus Magazine about the prevalence of sleep deprivation among children. This article cited research that has shown that ” [sleep] deprivation early in life can affect later cognitive performance and neuro-developmental functioning” and also have negative social and behavioural consequences.

So as much as it felt cruel to sleep-train RJ, now that she is regularly sleeping 11-12 hours at night and napping during the day I feel like I did the right thing when I come across information like the studies referenced in this article.

Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too)

Do you fantasize about moving your entire family to France? I know I do. And Le Billon, a Canadian who married a French man, did just that and then wrote a memoir about it (I just started typing “momoir” which I have just discovered is an actual word that would also describe this book).

This book was a bit of a downer actually. In reality, being a foreigner is France is not always that great (I related to this because I have also spent a year living in France). France is culturally very different than Canada. Do they have a better food culture? Yes. I felt that this was the case before I read this book, and reading it confirmed it for me, while elucidating the methods whereby this food culture is promulgated.

At the end of the book Le Billon talks about her return to Canada and how certain aspects of French food culture were pretty much impossible to continue in Canada. Farmers markets and local produce are harder to come by and more expensive (although the French spend a higher percentage of their income on food than we do: check out this nifty diagram). French schools and workplaces are equipped with cafeterias with high quality food, and it would be unusual (and probably considered antisocial) for people to bring their own food from home and eat alone.

There are some food habits that Le Billon’s family picked up in France that they were able to continue in Canada. Some of these were: making time for sit down meals, making meals feel special (I liked the idea that tablecloths were used regularly and setting the table was part of setting the mood), not snacking in between meals, not feeding “kid’s food” to kids but having the whole family eat the same thing, and not using food as a reward or pacifier.

This book also had some tasty looking recipes. It was an interesting read, and like Bringing up Bebe, Parenting without Borders, and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, it is a good reminder that as authoritative as those BabyCenter emails or your mother-in-law sounds, the North American parenting way is not the only, and perhaps not even the best, way to parent your child.

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Book Review: The Happy Sleeper

I finally hit the wall and decided to sleep train RJ. For six months I slept in the same room as her (usually with her in the crib and me in a bed). But finally I felt too exhausted to continue waking and feeding her every two to three hours. I had also read that the best time to sleep train was before 8 months because that’s when separation anxiety starts. And I also know people who didn’t sleep train and have 2 year olds who don’t sleep through the night. I realized I was not cut out for this.

I found this book at the library after I had already ordered Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West on a recommendation from my Nurse Practitioner. Since I got my hands on The Happy Sleeper first, it became my go-to sleep training method. Good Night, Sleep Tight is gathering dust somewhere after I briefly flipped through it after it arrived in the mail.

The Happy Sleeper though, I flip through it almost every second day.

Here’s how the Happy Sleeper training method works (spoiler alert!): you have a consistent bedtime/naptime routine, put the baby in her crib, leave the room, and let her cry for 5 minutes. After 5 solid minutes of crying, you go in and recite a verbal reassurance script, then leave the room. The key to this method is consistency. The theory is that the baby will detect your pattern and know that you are close by. If you break the pattern (e.g. by breaking down and picking the baby up out of the crib to cuddle her) you will just be providing “intermittent reinforcement”. This is the same principle that makes gambling so addictive…

Full disclosure: this is a Cry-It-Out (CIO) method. It differs from Ferberizing because in the Ferber method the time interval between room checks changes. Good Night, Sleep Tight is also a modified CIO method that involves sitting in a chair next to the crib during the crying and then progressively moving the chair out of the room in stages.

The Happy Sleeper book contains much more information than just this method. It contains a lot of information based on sleep research about sleep cycles and how to create positive sleep associations and encourage self-soothing. The authors argue that children’s sleep problems are caused by over-parenting. By continuing to feed/rock/etc. your baby to sleep once they are able to learn how to self-soothe (around 5 months), you are preventing your baby from developing the skills that will help them (and you) get some quality shut-eye.

The CIO method in this book is sort of a last resort for people like me who didn’t know all the content in the other chapters about how to develop good baby sleep habits starting at birth. This book has separate chapters on sleep for 0-4 months, 5 months-2 years, and 2 years and up.

Having to resort to a CIO sleep training method is painful as a parent. This book did a good job at presenting research that helped give me the confidence to be consistent in this method. There was even a sidebar in the book with mantras to repeat to yourself when the baby is crying. For example,

I want my baby to go to bed feeling confident in her ability to get comfortable and fall asleep on her own.

Now, close to two weeks into this method, I feel that this has been happening for awhile already. This book has improved my life a lot. RJ seems to be just as happy and fond of me as she was before we did sleep training, if not more so. Being less sleep deprived and having some free time in the evening has noticably improved my mood, thus improving my relationships with my spouse AND with RJ.

I plan to buy a copy of this book and hope that if I have another baby I can use the sleep principles in this book to help that baby be a happy sleeper too.

Book Review: Parenting Without Borders

Another book in the cross-cultural parenting practices genre. This was my least favourite one. In any parenting book there is always an agenda: how will reading this book make you a better parent?

In Bringing up Bébé, the message I took from it was that complete self-sacrifice for the sake of your child is unhealthy for both you and the child.

When I read How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, it started to dawn on me that some of the difficulties and frustrations I have with parenting are not inherent to the process of raising children, but are very much a part of the way my culture deals with raising children. In a way it is both hopeful and depressing because there are many societal influences on raising children that are beyond our control.

Parenting Without Borders seemed to focus a lot of using scientific studies to confirm that other specific parenting practices around the world are superior to those that are used in America. “Superior in what way?” You might ask yourself. Well, the book jacket tells us that this book will offer “research-based insight into which strategies can help us improve our own children’s chances.” By this I think is meant their chances at doing well in the global marketplace.

And this is the point at which every parent should stop and ask themselves: what is my goal in parenting? Do I believe that society is so competitive that I need to focus on doing everything I can to boost my child’s IQ? Or do I believe that (HERE COMES MY CHRISTIAN BIAS) God will provide and the goal of parenting is to encourage my child’s appreciation of life and their integration into the family unit in a happy and harmonious way that doesn’t necessarily prioritize them above the other thinking/feeling members of the family? (Okay we do prioritize RJ above the cat though).

Christine Gross-Loh focuses a lot on Japan in this book because she has spent time living there. She also talks about a few other countries. Unlike in How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, she provides very little detail about how the concepts in this book have affected her own parenting. The result is a book that replaces that personal memoir quality with descriptions of scientific studies, making it drier and less relatable than Eskimos.

Overall though, this book did have some interesting information in it. One stand-out part for me was its discussion of education in Finland. By international measurements, Finnish students perform much better than American students. They also have shorter schooldays, no homework or grades until grade 11, more recess and teachers all have Master’s degrees and more autonomy over the classroom curriculum.

Although I find the attitude of emulating other cultures so we can be more “successful” a bit suspect, I read this book cover to cover. Would I recommend it to a friend? If you’ve already read Bringing up Bébé and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm and are still craving something in this genre, then yes, I would. But it’s not as good.

Book Review: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm

Before I bought this book, I read some of its negative reviews on Amazon. I particularly enjoyed the review titled “Not worth the money if you actually want to learn something”. This reviewer informed me that this book is “laid out as part memoir part light (very light) cultural anthropology.”

Very light cultural anthropology was exactly what I was in the market for, so I ordered the book and I was not disappointed. It was an enjoyable read. It did not contain a bunch of concrete parenting tips (perhaps what the Amazon critic was looking for) but it was pleasant armchair travel and helpful for me to get more of a sense that some of my difficulties with North American-style parenting are not necessarily because I’m a failure, but perhaps because different cultures have different strengths (and weaknesses!) that we can learn from in order to make this whole parenting thing a little more… fun? Smooth? Survivable?

I appreciated that Mei-Ling Hopgood talked about experimenting on her own child with some of these parenting practices, especially hearing about the times when it didn’t go well. Not that I took pleasure in hearing about her struggle, but rather it just made the book very relatable for me.

I would recommend this book to a friend.