Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How we play?

I have discussed in previous posts the necessity of play. More specifically, the need for recess. But do you, as parents engage in play. Not just with your children but as an act of fun?

Probably not. Could you benefit from this kind of activity? I believe so and what could happen is a trickle down effect to your children, how you approach their leisure time and how the two of you might interact as a more relaxed group.

Consider this video about the nature of play.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Peanuts for a Peanut Allergy?

It almost seems counterintuitive. With almost 3.3 million people suffering from allergic reactions when they eat or even come in contact with peanuts or tree nuts, almost two-thirds of whom are children, this type of allergy can prove deadly. In fact, last year there were 150 deaths caused by ingesting, either by mouth or through skin contact.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Research believes they may have the answer to a peanut allergy: give them peanuts. The dose begins in many instances with one-thousandth of a peanut with gradually increasing amounts. The experiment lasted for over two years and was conducted among 33 children. Powdered forms of peanuts were sprinkled on the child's food (in other words, don't try this experiment at home on your tot) with six children receiving a placebo. (A placebo is how science determines the results of the experiment by administering fake doses with real ones.)

The study, conducted at Duke University and Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, found that most of the children who received the powdered form of the peanuts, in gradually increasing doses suffered from no allergic reaction - five of the children did so well they dropped out of the study because of the significant increases in their tolerance for the nut.

Parents should know that there are still no concrete findings on why these children develop this allergy. According to the Cincinnati Center for Eosinophilic Disorders they have looked at numerous possibilities, ruling out a few along the way and being surprised by others. Worries over what a mother had eaten while pregnant were studied. The report concluded that "Notably, cord blood analysis revealed no detectable IgE to peanut indicating in utero exposure was not likely to account for the sensitization. Of further note, maternal dietary factors also had no correlation with peanut allergy. However, there was an association between the duration of breastfeeding and peanut allergy; the significance of this is unclear."

But on the other hand, the study revealed that "there was a strong and statistically significant association between consumption of soy milk or soy formula in the first two years of life and the development of peanut allergy. This consumption typically preceded development of peanut allergy. The association with soy protein exposure and peanut allergy could arise from cross sensitization through common episodes that may prime T cell responses."

Milk allergy was not associated with peanut allergy nor was the use of breast creams, often containing trace elements of peanut oil was also ruled out. But some creams for rashes also contain peanut oil and researchers found that the use of these types of creams was suspect in causing the allergy.

The mystery has yet to be solved. The peanut is actually not a true nut, but a member of the legume family, which includes peas, lentils, soybeans and lima beans. Having a peanut allergy doesn't necessarily mean a person will be allergic to other legumes or nuts because of the varying sensitivity level of the individual to the peanut protein found in different types of nuts and legumes.

So far, after-the-fact treatment of the allergy and avoiding the nut, or traces of the nut in the production of other products is still the best approach in prevention. But the results of this study is promising. But whatever you do, don't try any home treatments not recommended by your child's doctor. But rest assured, the answer to this childhood problem seems close.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Your Child's Break

My husband, who can spend vast amounts of time online conducting his multi-tentacled business endeavors often brings him through the house on what he calls "his union break". Although what he does is not dictated by any labor agreement, he grabs one of the most important things the labor movement has given us: the organized break. It doesn't amount to much - a cup of coffee, a brief moment in the sun, turning on the TV to check the direction of the markets or some banal talking head giving their opinion. It lasts for about twenty minutes or so and it is back to his upstairs office for another marathon session.

Your child needs the same type of break from learning his/her three Rs. We fondly call it recess.

Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist in Carmel Valley, Calif., has collected more than 6,000 “play histories” from human subjects. The founder of the National Institute for Play, he works with educators and legislators to promote the importance of preserving playtime in schools. He calls play “a fundamental biological process.” “From my viewpoint, it’s a major public health issue,” he said. “Teachers feel like they’re under huge pressures to get academic excellence to the exclusion of having much fun in the classroom. But playful learning leads to better academic success than the skills-and-drills approach.”

The best pre-schools recognize this as key to the refreshment of young minds. Idle creativity and improvised play are a huge part of your child's refreshment mechanism. And while we do work on numbers and reading and learning how to write (in the right direction), their young minds are often uncooperative. This is not a learning disability but a need for recess.

Now recess at school is different than downtime at home. While children should have a limited amount of TV time, finding educational programs (and watching them with your child) can constitute learning and if that is the case, they will need a break. This doesn't mean switching the channel to the cartoon network. It means turn the TV off and let the imagine, play with their inner brain and relax without programmed distractions. This wandering is not only healthful for them but in far to many instances, it should be practiced by you as well.

On a personal note, I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law the other day. She was calling to relay a message our grandchildren had spoke of. The television was off, the music was playing in the background and they were reading. The youngest commented: "Hey, this is just like Nana and Papa's house!" How much downtime is your house giving your child? How much are giving yourself?

Monday, March 2, 2009

PreSchool Parenting: Strict Parenting is Consistent Parenting

Amy Wang of the Oregonian posed this question: "Are you a strict parent?"  She is the assistant features editor at the Oregonian and mother herself of two young boys.  It is a difficult question with unpredictable results.

It is in our natures to project into the future.  The only problem is we are not so good at predicting into the distant future.  Near future maybe, but predicting what will happen years from now is not within our scope of skills.  No, Moms and Dads may have been born with eyes in the back of their heads (something that we claim is for watching our child when we aren't facing them but is more often used to question our judgement in hindsight) but their ability to determine which action will make their child a better citizen is simply not possible.

Instead, we should shoot for short-term results that builds gradually.  This is how discipline works.  We call it strict parenting for two reasons.  It lays the boundaries of tolerable behavior and allows you to enforce those rules because of the relationship: parent to child.  But what is strict and how does it affect the relationship?

Numerous studies point to the fact that strictness is actually a good way to build a stronger relationship with your child.  But first, consider your relationship with your parents.  Was it lenient and free flowing or were you forced to live under unreasonable guidelines such as curfews and regular bedtimes?  Did your mother seem more like your friend or someone who was authoritative yet approachable (unapproachable would be not so good to align with authoritative)?  

Whatever you relationship with your parents was, you will more than likely cherry pick some of the best qualities from their experience raising you, filter them and test them out your offspring. .  One of the best skills we possess is the ability to selectively mimic what we see as a good idea, when we acknowledge to ourselves, "this might work" and it doesn't much matter where we get it.  Your parents might not be a good template but if they are, draw on some of their best traits and adopt them.  Just remember, they didn't have much of a handbook to go on either

Strictness is more like consistency when it is done correctly.  You instruct a child on what you think is best and stand your ground.  You do not allow temper tantrums to sway you.  You do not allow comparisons to dissuade your decision (this will come later and make you feel like you are an inadequate parent) and do not let them see you flinch.  

This is also far from what would be considered by social scientists as authoritative rule where there is no leniency, no delicate balance that allows the child to make an argument that might make sense.  But keep in mind, this comes later after the child has found that their happiness and success is all that concerns you.  That their safety and health is really the reason you make them do the things they might not be so anxious to do. Preschoolers are just beginning to test those boundaries and rules and do not necessarily understand what you are trying to achieve.

Once the basis for such things as bedtimes and curfews is established though, structuring homework, dinnertimes and activities are taken for granted.  

I simply don't like the word strict.  I prefer consistent.  Consistent parents have taken the time to decide what is best and are willing to carry through, consistently.  They have tapped their inner "I know what's best" gene and are listening to it.  And at the same time, they are listening to their child and adapting as time moves on.  Consistency is more a state of general well-being, a familiarity with what to expect.