Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Robot shows babies are manipulating their parents to smile

There is a special moment between newborns and their parents, when the baby first smiles. Lots of people will try to ruin this moment, saying that it is just gas or that smiling is a learned response so the baby didn't mean it, but those people are awful, because as a parent you just know that the smile was because your baby loves you.

You smile at your baby; your baby smiles back at you. And it is beautiful.

Now some awful researchers decided to make a robot that replicates the way a baby smiles at their parents. If you make it to that link and you look at that baby robot, then I am sorry. If you don't want to click on the link, then I will just give you the results: It turns out that babies are smiling at opportune times so that they can receive more smiles from their parents than they have to dole out.

I know that a lot of data and time went into that study, but that is not necessarily one that I wanted to know more about. What I wanted to believe was that when my baby smiled at me I had earned it.

Tell me about the time your baby first smiled at you in the comments. (I promise I won't ruin it for you.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The best age to start dating

The other night at dinner my son asked me to tell him a story. So I told him about how one day he would be a teenager and how he would be moody all the time, and hair would sprout on his face and that he would want to have a girlfriend. He treated the tale like it was a horror story, because in his words "girls are DISGUSTING!"

But the fact remains that he will one day be a teenager and want to date. My husband and I haven't had the discussion of when he will be allowed to date yet, but I am sure that it will not be in middle school.

Researchers from the University of Georgia followed a select group of students that ranged from sixth through twelfth grades. Each year the students were asked questions about their personal lives and that information was compared against their academic performance for the year.

In results that will probably surprise no one, students who were dating in middle school had significantly poor study skills. But what may be surprising is that students who dated earlier in life had an increased risk of drug use and were more likely to drop out of high school than those who waited to date.

All of this brings up a good question for me to ask parents of tweens: At what age will you allow your child to start dating? (I know that individual answers depend on the child, but tell me in the comments what your rule of thumb is.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Doing nothing on a day off

I have a day off soon. I am not going on any trips or spending time with friends or traveling somewhere fun. I am not doing anything but sitting still, ignoring all chores, and enjoying the idea that no one needs me. And I am crazy excited about it.

There is a certain martyrdom that working Moms tend to take on: We work hard at the office and then we try to be fully present for our spouses and children. And we are exhausted. So, it's time for Moms to take a vacation - a vacation away from everything.

Because the reality is that a stressed out Mom affects her children. A recent study done in conjunction with Project: Time Off went to a brutally honest resource for its data on work stress affecting home life: Children.

The study found that the majority of children notice their parents' work stress invading the home and they are upset that their parents never disconnect. That information has a direct relationship with earlier studies released by Project: Time Off which found that parents are not using all their vacation time, despite the widely acknowledged truth that rested workers are more productive.

So, I am taking a day off. From everything. Maybe I will read some books. Or maybe I will watch a movie. Or maybe I will just sit and pet the cat. Honestly, they all sound good at this point.

Hey, Moms, what would you do on your perfect day off? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Four day school weeks

Five mornings a week I have the same conversation with my son involving the reality of it being morning (despite the lack of sunlight) and how he will need to depart the happy warmth of his bed and zombie-walk his way to the bathroom to get ready for school. My cheerful morning greetings are met with dreariness and drudgery.

But that is because I live with bears. And, in my experience, bears don't like waking up for anything that's not fun and games.

On the weekends, however, when my little bear is allowed to sleep in as long as he wants, he is a happy child. Ridiculously, run-around-the-house happy.

So, when I read about the idea of moving to a four-day school week for students, I have very mixed emotions. And since I love lists, I have put my thoughts in the proper format:
  1.  Yes, sleep and the chance to allow brains to rest are important, but so is structure. At least in our family. My son responds well to a structured day, and even on the weekends, I ask him about his plans and goals and make sure he has a good mix of free time and activities.
  2. Would we switch to a four-day working week for adults, too? Changing to only four days a week for children instantly becomes a nightmare for families with parents who work full time.
  3. In a time when we hear so much about educational reform, wouldn't it be great to have four days spent in core classes and one school day devoted to the arts?
How would your family life change if your school went to a four-day week? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

First comes love, then comes marriage...or whatever

Marriage before baby or baby before marriage?

For my husband and I we chose to get married before having a baby. Even though we had been together for a really long time, it was important to us to have the contract in place before we brought a new life into this world.

Other couples end up having the baby first - whether intentionally or not - and then decide to get married later (or don't).

I'm not trying to start a debate on what the better path is here - I'm just stating the obvious that both of these scenarios occur and it is a deeply personal opinion on what works best for the couple.

Then why bring it up at all? Well, mostly, because there is some good news. In the past, couples who had a baby before they said "I do" had a higher divorce rate than couples who followed the traditional order of marriage then baby. But that is no longer true: The Council on Contemporary Families just released a study finding that couples who tie the knot after having a baby stay together at about the same rate as those who enter marriage before having a baby.

In our family, my son will often look through family photo albums and point out pictures of the adventures my husband and I had before marriage and asks, "Where was I?" I always tell him the same thing, "We were still waiting to have you." And for now, that answer is enough.

Do your children know the story of how their parents met? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cave-Grandmas wanted more grandchildren, too

I like having my Mom over for dinner.

There are many reasons why, including that I think she needs a break from working all week, I like to cook, and I think family meals are important. But the real reason is because it is a really great way for her to spend time with her grandson.

I love watching the two of them together, because they have a such a special bond. In fact: Thanks, Mom, for being such a wonderful Grandmother.

There is a new (somewhat controversial) theory expanding on the idea that Grandmothers acquired longevity to ensure their offspring could have larger families. The theory says that our early ancestors needed help in taking care of larger families and who better to handle that task than Grandma? The new theory gets a bit speculative, implying that Grandma's ability to watch the children lead to a stronger pair bonding between men and women and monogamy over time. 

(So, thanks to all the Moms out there who just really wanted to see their daughters settled and would do anything to make that happen.)

I am not sure how the research will pan out, but for now, I think we should all agree on one thing: Grandmas are cool. In fact, all grandparents are cool. My only wish is that they all lived a little closer to come over for dinner more often.

What do you hope your child learns from their grandparents? Tell me in the comments. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Keeping your eyes on the prize

I can remember my first pair of glasses that I wore at four years old. They were 1980s-style (too-big-for-your-face) with a little cluster of strawberries on the arms near the hinge. I have had very poor eyesight for my entire life. My wonderful husband, however, has excellent eyesight. And thankfully, our son seems to have his Daddy's beautiful eyes.

Because I have struggled with vision issues, I am sensitive to any information around eye care. So I was excited to hear about the latest research around improving your child's vision. And the crux of that research relies on one idea: Get outside.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that the simple act of spending times outdoors in the sunlight can reduce the risk of nearsightedness developing in children.

I spent plenty of time outdoors when I was little and I am sure that the sunlight and fresh air did wonders for my health. And since I already think a lot about my son's overall screentime, it is important for me to equip myself with the same statement that my parents used on me:
It's time to go outside and play for a while.
Do you worry about your child's eyesight? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Inviting the allergens into the house

I rarely talk about my cat on this blog, but I have one and I absolutely love her. She has been with our family for about 14 years and she is super sweet, especially around our son. When he was a baby, she would rub up against his toes until he giggled. Today, they are good buddies and she always comes into his room to help me wake him up for school.

I am particularly thankful to her for one other thing: She may have prevented my son from developing a cat allergy.

I am allergic to cats, but I take medicine every day to alleviate my symptoms. (I am not alone in this.) This is not, however, a fate that I wanted for my son, so we watched the two of them closely to see what would happen. Five years later and my son doesn't have any reaction to our cat. In fact, when we did get him tested for allergies, he came up as negative for cat dander.

Was it my husband's allergy-free genes or growing up with a cat that helped?

Researchers have recently completed a preliminary study that shows babies who grow up in a furry-friendly household have enriched gut bacteria. The enriched gut bacteria actually shares microbes with the family pet's bacteria, which reduces the chance of the child developing allergies. This may sound disgusting, but keep in mind that all organisms that share a household are also sharing bacteria - whether they are furry or not.

Although the results from the small study are inconclusive, it is encouraging. You may not have to choose between your pet and your baby if you are concerned about allergies. It is possible that issues may work themselves out with constant exposure, leaving you to focus on teaching your children how to play nice with the family pet.

Are you allergic to any animals? If so, do you have them in your household anyway? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The goths who like to roller skate

When my husband and I were in our 20s, we discovered an all-night skating rink. We both had fond memories of roller skating when we were younger and decided to go. The rink had a familiar feel to it: There was a disco ball in the center, 80s music blaring over the speakers, lots of first-time skaters hanging onto the wall, and the smell of leather and slightly musty air.

And there were goths. Dozens and dozens of goths. They went around the oval rink in pairs and clusters, their black dusters trailing close to the wheels of their skates and their ultra pale faces looked ghostly in the light of the rink. It wasn't goth night or anything special like that. We had just happened to find a very large population of goths who really enjoyed roller skating.

I was never a goth girl. I wasn't in love with their style, their makeup or appreciation for other eras. I was a boringly normal teenager (you're welcome, Mom!). I didn't even have any goth friends, because - at least when I was in high school - they tended to only want to hang out with their own kind.

Goth teens are normal enough to see these days, but research indicates that parents should still beware if their child suddenly wears all black and develops a penchant for dreary music. HealthDay recently reported a study indicating that goth teens are more likely to suffer from depression than their non-goth peers. And let's be clear here: Becoming a goth doesn't necessarily mean that your child will become depressed (this is not about causation), rather that teens who are prone to depression are also drawn to certain aspects of the goth lifestyle as well.

Which brings me back to the roller skating. We have since been roller skating as a family, and I find myself sometimes looking for goths. Granted it hasn't been an all-night skate and we live in a different neighborhood, but I still think about them all in black with their gently swaying bodies as they turn about the floor: Happy. 

What's your fondest memory of roller skating? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Stop dreaming of ball gowns and start dreaming of power suits

Sometimes I ask my friends what they wanted to be when they grew up. The answers are always beautiful, and I think that if we all followed our dreams, the world would be filled with more fire fighters, ballerinas and a variety of amazing circus acts (but thankfully, no clowns).

But we live in the real world, which needs accountants more than it needs cowboys and female CEOs more than princesses, which is why we need to work on changing our daughter's dreams.

The Family Wealth Advisers Council recently studied breadwinning women and found that the one trait they all had in common was that they dreamed of having successful careers when they were young. The survey found that very few of the women included in the results dreamed about being the higher income earner in their families. So even though these women dreamed of having successful careers, they still believed that a man would out earn them.

This survey could have large implications on the future: We should encourage our daughters to think of themselves as successful CEOs instead of prom queens, and let them know that it's OK to dream about being a princess, but we should all strive to be the type of princess who can save herself.

What did you want to be when you were young? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Why Moms aren't in the picture

I have several problems with taking pictures on my cell phone.

The first problem is with my son. Every time I take out my phone to take a picture of him, he starts to pose and smile in an ultra cheesy way instead of the natural way he was smiling a few seconds earlier.

Clearly I have told him one too many times to smile for the camera.

The second problem is that while flipping through my phone I see lots of pictures of him and him with his dad, and him with other relatives, but there are not a lot of photos of just him and I or even the three of us together.

Family photos are important to me. Reviewing the evidence of my childhood, my Mom was the primary photographer for our family, and I don't have nearly as many photos of her as I would like to have. Am I setting up my son to have the same thoughts when he reaches adulthood?

The real question here is: Why aren't more Moms in the picture?

A recent survey by Harris Poll confirms that Moms are usually the primary photographers in the family. But one of the biggest reasons that Moms stay behind the lens is that 40% of them do not like the way they look.

Moms, we need to change our point of view:
  • Hand the camera to someone else.
  • Don't think about what you look like now, think about if your child will want to know what you looked like when they were 3 or 6 or 12.
  • Don't smile for the camera. Sometimes candid photos are the best ones.
What are your tips for taking more family photos? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lessons in alcohol

While reading my son the story of Dumbo, I had forgotten there was a passage around the clowns drinking some "funny water." And of course my son didn't understand what that meant. So that became the moment when I told my five-year-old about the effects of alcohol.

We had talked about alcohol before at the dinner table when he would ask us about our wine. We kept the conversation short: Alcohol is something that adults sometimes drink, but it is not good for growing children.

As it turns out, like the talks about sex, this is another conversation to have early and often. Experts say that parents should talk about alcohol before the age of nine, because most children become curious to try it out at around age 13.

I say: Why wait to start the conversation? Start with your preschooler and keep the explanation on their level.

The one item I really like on that link is the teachable moments - I forget that there is alcohol in some medicines and that even in old-school children's movies (Robin Hood and the aforementioned Dumbo), there are moments when characters feel the effects of too much alcohol.

Do you let your children try a sip of your alcoholic beverage? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What's better: The ACT or SAT?

Think back to a memorable Saturday morning: You wake up early, somewhat refreshed from a dodgy night's sleep. You eat a decent breakfast, despite the fact that your stomach is roiling, and then you head off to school to take your SATs. Because there is nothing better than to spend four hours of your Saturday taking a test that you believe will decide your entire future.

I took the old SATs, and they were hard enough: Analogies and quantitative comparisons were the diciest parts for me. I often wonder if I would do better with the new version's writing section and corrections for grammar, but I am not sadistic enough to take the test again to find out.

The SAT has long been seen as a standard benchmark to evaluate how well high school students are being prepared for college. And if that is true, then we aren't doing so well. A recent article in The Washington Post examines how SAT scores are at their lowest level in a decade and that many students are abandoning the SATs for the ACTs instead.

This is an interesting history lesson, since the SATs are about to be revised again to make the writing section optional and contain fewer obscure vocabulary words. (Not even my spell check recognizes cacomistle, nor should it.) But the interesting question in the article remains the same: Is it the test that is the problem or the educational program preparing the students for higher learning?

Did you take the ACT or the SAT (and which version)? What was the worst part? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What your child's teacher wants to know

When I was in fourth grade, our house caught on fire. Happily, no one was hurt, but a great number of our possessions either had fire or smoke damage. My brother and I took off a few days from school as a result of our parents trying to figure out how to restore normality to our family.

When I returned to school, my teacher and classmates already knew about the fire - we lived in a small town so everyone already knew - but my teacher really wanted me to talk about it. She asked me how I was doing at least once every 20 minutes. And I was confused, because I was fine. And that's what I kept saying.

Looking back, she was just being a good teacher: She wanted to make sure that I was emotionally stable enough to be in class so that she could let my Mom know otherwise.

And most teachers are consistently good about checking in on their students; just not always on the things that parents want to hear.

According to research by VitalSmarts, teachers and parents are great at communicating - just not in the areas each wants to know about. Parents, for example, say that teachers are not communicating with them on issues like drug abuse or depression. Teachers say that they want to hear more about major life changes within the home, including illnesses and deaths.

I am at an advantage now, as I have a five-year-old. And five-year-olds are not known for keeping secrets. My elementary school teacher friends are quick to remind me that their students tell them everything - from the way their mothers gossip about other family members to the ways their fathers hide out in the garage when its time to do chores. But as my son gets older and starts to realize that life isn't an open book, I'll need to make sure that his teacher still knows what's going on at home.

How do the teachers at your school like to communicate with you? Tell me how you keep in touch in the comments.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Nice is not a four-letter word

In a former job, I used to have a mean boss. The kind of boss who would tear you down in public, make you feel worthless and mock you if you went to your car during lunch to have a little cry. My coworkers and I became adept at figuring out her triggers and avoiding them wherever possible. Some days we spent more time at work analyzing how she would react to something than doing our jobs. That was the least productive I've ever been.

Now I work for an amazing company and a dynamic group of people. And we are all nice. We have adopted this policy where we are all nice to everyone that we work with, even when we disagree with them. And you know what? We are a happy, productive, well-respected bunch.

This article from The Atlantic details how niceness in the workplace has become a valuable social currency: I'm nice to you, you're nice to me, we build a relationship and no one develops a stress ulcer. Unfortunately, not a lot of organizations have realized this and everyone suffers as a result.

I think about these things as my son starts his new school. Because school doesn't prepare people for workplaces. Don't get me wrong, I believe education is extremely valuable, but school focuses on the achievements of the individual, no matter the cost. Last year I talked about the Harvard study that showed parents weren't valuing kindness as much as they were valuing achievement, and I wonder how our family will weather this new environment. Will I remember to praise him on the days he shows kindness as well as the days he excels?

How do you recognize kindness in your household? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Thinking outside the lunch box

My son is in Kindergarten, and he is excited. He is excited about all the new classrooms, books, children and fun to be had. But he is more excited about one particular part of Kindergarten, more than anything else: He can bring a lunch from home.

Up until this point, he has eaten the provided lunches at his daycare. Or at least he has eaten part of them - there have been lots of frustrating talks at the dinner table over what he might have been served for lunch that day, since most days he claims not to remember.

But he loves the idea that he now (like Wednesday dinners) has control over what he will be eating for lunch. The problem is that he is at that magical age when he isn't interested in trying a whole lot of new foods. Since my rule is that he can't eat peanut butter and jelly more than twice a week, I've found the quickest solution was to make him partially responsible for what goes into his lunch box.

And because he is now partially responsible, he has become inventive: Grilled cheese sandwiches with macaroni and cheese in the middle, DIY pizza squares and fruity cream cheese rollups are all items that he wants to try. But before I stack all those cute little containers into his super hero lunchbox, I have to remind him of something very important:

Eat until you are full. You don't have to eat everything.

This has not always been my stance. I have been a very much "just a few more bites" Mom up to this point, But a new study from the University of Minnesota Medical School has found evidence that children who have pressure or restrictions on their eating habits often develop eating disorders or obesity later on in life.

Clearly, I do not want that. So, it's time to make sure that any comments around how much he eats or how much food he brings home uneaten at the end of the day is a conversation that takes place only in my head.

I'm up for trying the experiment and seeing how it goes. My goal is to make sure he is getting nutrition while we are both having some fun, regardless of how many bites he takes.

What lunch box tricks do you use to make lunch more appealing? Share them with me in the comments.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2015

    Team Suck - For the Win!

    Last week one of my fantastic coworkers finagled a way for our team to go bowling together. She and I were incredibly excited to get the time away from work to do some team building - even though we both suck at bowling. We suck at bowling so much, that we happily dubbed our team, Team Suck.

    On bowling day everyone had a blast. It was a chance for all of us to get together, relax a bit from the plethora of emergencies that had hit our team that morning, and cheer each other on. My coworkers and I clapped for everyone - on our team or not - and cheered each other over every knocked down pin.

    And this week I learned that cheering for everyone is also the way I will need to cheer my son if he wants to play sports.

    In an article by the Wall Street Journal, experts weigh in on how to not be "that" parent - the one yelling instructions, getting way too passionate about errors on the field or singling out their child from the sidelines. Rather, we should all strive to be the type of parent who cheers for every child and the whole team. Even innocuous remarks such as "keep your eye on the ball" or any criticisms heard from the sidelines have been found to embarrass children in front of their teammates, or make them focus on what their parents are saying instead of what their coach wants them to focus on.

    Another idea from the article that I liked was for parents to take mental notes on small areas of improvement - getting up quickly from a fall or following a coach's directions on a play - for discussion later. (I am always looking for dinner table conversation and celebrating those small wins, seems like a great addition.)

    My son doesn't play any organized sports yet, but I'll see where his interest lies as he gets older. In the meantime, I look forward to my next time bowling at work. (For the record, Team Suck didn't win, but we didn't lose either.)

    What sports do you get passionate about watching from the sidelines? Tell me in the comments.