Thursday, March 31, 2011

Starting Solids

Since I've already done a post on breastfeeding, it's time to explain how/when/why we started solids. We did not start any solids until the babies were 6 months old. Even at this point, solids are just for fun. "Just for fun till the age of 1." This is a chance to explore new tastes, textures, and practice independence. The babies still get all of their needed nutrition and calories from breast milk.

First taste of solids

We also didn't ever give our kids rice cereal. It has no nutrition and isn't needed. There is a myth that babies who start rice cereal at 4 months will sleep longer. This is not true and in fact, because the cereal is a carbohydrate, they are likely to feel full before getting their needed nutrition (breast milk) and wake up earlier and more hungry. At 6 months our kids were reaching for food. They had already mastered picking everything up to put it in their mouths. After a lot of research, we decided to start with avocado.

 By the second time we fed them, we remembered the bibs

The research I read said avocado's taste is the closest to breast milk. I did not test this theory in any way. It's very difficult to choke on avocado. Avocados have a lot of nutrition and are high in good fats, which all babies need. The kids had a lot of trouble trying to pick up the slippery avocado. We let them hold some and we mashed some (with breast milk when we needed to make it smoother) to feed them from a spoon.

This was sweet potato and banana

We introduced sweet potato and banana after that and just continued introducing vegetables and fruits. We introduced a new food every 4-5 days always watching for any possible allergic reaction. Because we always gave our kids large pieces of food to hold - avocado, banana, etc - they quickly learned not to bite off more than they could chew. This is important to teach and teaching it with foods that are almost impossible to choke on seemed like a good idea.

Green beans and pears

We also never purchased baby food. We did the math and baby food is expensive. Buying real food is much cheaper, especially when you are feeding two at a time. This was really only inconvenient when we traveled, but even then knowing we were giving our kids nutritious, real food made it worth while. We also didn't have to trash, store, or re-purpose any baby food containers because we didn't have any. Yes, it is messy when our kids eat, but that's part of the fun!

Blackberries are messy

Sunday, March 20, 2011

TV and Computer Time for Babies

Before you read ahead and become offended, please read the disclaimer. Also, the photos used are cute, but in no way related to the post.

A few years before having kids I was fortunate enough to attend a conference about how the brain learns. The presenters are neuro-scientists and it was for educators. Basically we spent 3 days looking at fMRI and PET scans to test educational theories. I loved it. Some of the research supported what educators already knew, for example, kids who can rhyme learn to read earlier than kids who can't rhyme, but can recognize their letters. The brain scans show that rhyming develops the same pathway in the brain that will later be used for reading. Recognizing letters is a type of symbolic recognition and is handled by a completely different part of the brain. It's nice when everyone can agree.

One of the big topics discussed was TV and computer time for babies/children/teens. When sharing this research I'm most often told they got it wrong. The brain scans were obviously lying because parents/educators have another idea. I have had people get offended that I'm saying what is best isn't what they did or are doing. They react like I'm accusing them of child abuse. It's crazy and why I started this post suggesting you read the disclaimer.

Multiple research groups across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia have all taken on this topic and their results have all shown the same thing. They took babies and set them in front of a television with a baby video on the tv. The kids sat staring at the TV and when the video ended some sat still staring, but many cried and seemed to want more. The brain scans showed a different story. The babies couldn't seem to make any sense out of what they were seeing and the constantly changing images were actually killing off some of the connections in the brain. It was slowly causing minor brain damage. This was only noticeable when reading the brain scans, but every time a baby was watching TV the same thing happened. Those connections didn't seem to ever come back.

Next the research teams tested 5 and 6 year old kids. They watched age appropriate educational videos. Once again the kids sat staring at the TV and got upset when it was over. They asked to watch more. The brain scans this time were different. The kids were learning from the shows. They were developing new connections and reinforcing ones that already existed.

Obviously something had changed. Here's where the real fun begins. There were two different theories. 1 Something changes in the brain chemistry in the first few years that causes this. 2 The type or content of the videos causes the difference.

Some of the research groups started narrowing it down based on age. They tested toddlers (16-20 months old) and it was still damaging. They tested 3  year olds (35-37 months) and it was beneficial. They tested 2 year olds (23-25 months) and it was harmful. Are you excited to see when the change happens yet? This is how I know I'm a nerd - I was on the edge of my seat wanting to hear every bit of this information. They tested kids who were exactly 30 months old (2.5 years) and it was beneficial. This research takes months to complete and this is where the story ends for now. They are still trying to narrow it down and see when the flip seems to happen. I am looking forward to hearing the new research, but until then our kids won't see any TV until they are at least 2.5 years old.

The other type of research is even more fascinating. This testing first proved it doesn't matter the content with kids under 2 years old, it's always harmful. They then looked at the benefits from different types of shows and computer games for the older (3-7 year olds) groups. There were many shocking discoveries.

First, the pacing of the program is the most important factor. If you watch a show and count the number of scene changes you will get an idea of the pacing. The greater the number, the worse it is for children. The most beneficial shows were paced as in life. The child's walking pace if they were going from room to room changing their own scene is actually the ideal pace of scene changes on TV. Cool, right? So shows with pacing like Mr. Rodgers are much better than the pacing of Baby Einstein videos.

Second, the content of the program and its impact on the brain was not what I expected. Shows that were thought of as violent (Power Rangers) were compared to shows that were thought of as non-violent (Berenstain Bears). Kids were more likely to have the positive feeling part of their brains light up for the violent shows than for the non-violent. Researchers sat down and watched each of the shows noting everything negative and everything positive. For example, every time someone was called a negative name, teased, pushed as well as every time someone was complimented, teamwork was demonstrated, and a helping hand was offered. Turns out that the non-violent shows often spent 25 of the 30 minute video dealing with a problem, i.e. kids not getting along, and 5 minutes resolving the problem. They had very high negative scores and very small positive ones by the end. The violent video spent 25 minutes talking about teamwork, helping and only 5 minutes actually fighting. They had high numbers of positive and small numbers of negative. While adults had been watching these shows for years, no one expected this type of correlation. With the help of a brain scan suddenly the way researchers look at videos completely changed.

Third, the researchers focused on the interactive nature of the video and included computer time as well. This did prove what was expected - the more interactive the better. TV shows that got kids up and dancing or answering questions that were posed were much better than the shows that kids just sat and watched. Computer games were rated equal to interactive videos (not better) when controlled for the pacing and programing. Interestingly, pacing was always the most important factor with programing being second and interactiveness falling into the third place.

This research is still continuing to see what else matters and where it will fall on its impact on children's brains.

When we do let our kids have screen time when they are 2.5, we will consider these things when choosing what they can view. We are of course trying to be perfect parents, but honestly that was out the window when they were just a few minutes old. More realistically, we are trying not to screw the kids up when it's preventable. I'm sure a few years from now they will come out with research that says we did many things wrong, but we have to take what we know and make decisions based on that and when in doubt, just go with our gut instinct.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kids and Pets

We have a little puppy that is a huge part of our family. Ok, he may not look that little to you, but he is little to us. There are many benefits to raising kids with pets (preferably the furry kind). The biggest health benefit is a huge decrease in allergies and asthma. An increased immune system has also been proven in these kids.

Our sweet puppy

We did a lot of research and met a few puppies before deciding this was our dog. We had both grown up with dogs and agreed we wanted a large dog. Small dogs typically bark or yip constantly and are more likely to bite young kids. Big dogs are typically quieter, gentler, and better suited to being around young children. We found our puppy in a shelter and he had a great disposition. He is not an alpha dog by any means and he has never shown food aggression.
He's always around.

There are many other lessons learned from having pets. How to be kind, gentle, and loving are all demonstrated in the home. Kids will confide in pets and this has been shown to increase self-confidence and self-esteem. They learn impulse control and can improve social skills. Something as simple as playing fetch teaches kids how to take turns and share.
 The boys (minus the husband)

An animal will teach natural consequences - if he doesn't want to be petted or played with he will just walk away. We are very lucky to  have a dog that is great with kids. If they do something he doesn't like, for example pulling his ears, he will lick them in the face. This makes them let go and laugh. They stop pulling his ears and everyone is happy once again.

Just one of the pack

Children raised with animals also tend to get more exercise. Kids chase the dog around and play outside more often. Our dog requires a daily walk, which is always a fun time for our kids. We can't wait till they are old enough to walk it instead of getting to ride though!
Not the type of ride I meant...

Having a pet is also a good way to teach responsibility. Giving the dog food, water, and letting him outside are just the tip of the iceberg. Seeing the dog go to the vet, get medication, and shots also helps kids empathize with a shared experience.
Monkey see, monkey do

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tummy Time

We started with tummy time a few days after they were born. You hear about how important tummy time is, but many people don't know why. This time helps babies develop upper body strength and neck control. As they learn to push up, turn their heads toward you, and roll over you can see the physical changes. What you can't see is the brain development that goes along with this. As babies learn body control, they are also learning to better use their brains.
 They rolled away from each other right after this photo.

When they first succeed, they are surprised. Then they need to figure out exactly what they did that caused the success. They are learning many skills at once so it's not surprising that after easily rolling over one day it takes a few minutes the next day to remember how to do this again. The more they are allowed repetition the more this pathway in the brain is cemented and it becomes easier - to the point they don't even have to think about it.
 Tummy time for everyone

Will babies eventually develop this without tummy time? Absolutely, but it will be later. There have also been recent studies showing that babies are having more neck problems from sleeping with their heads always turned to one side. Many parents complain about forcing their child into tummy time because their baby screams.
 We're not happy.

We went through this for about a week. We used many distraction techniques - bells, scarves, books, our dog, anything that would keep their attention. We changed locations and when all else failed would have them lay on us.
 Developing upper body strength
A little change of location

 Tummy time certainly didn't hurt them and the research proves it helped so it's one of the things we made time for every day, even after they could roll over. They need to keep building that upper body strength so they can learn to crawl, walk, push, etc.
Daughter asleep, Son rolling over for first time - 5 weeks old