Category Archives: Parenting
Until this week, I was shockingly misinformed about fever. Despite being generally well educated and pretty savvy about medical stuff, I had some serious misconceptions. Misconceptions that may have led to unneeded treatment of my child, and definitely led to a lot of unnecessary anxiety for me!
My poor kid has had some UTIs lately, and one involved a fever up to 104° (40° C) for several days. My husband and I had to threaten, coerce, and manipulate her to get her to take some ibuprofen to get the fever down. I was terrified she’d get brain damage, start hallucinating, or seizing, or . . . I dunno, other unspecified awful stuff. I slept next to her, my clothes arranged like a firefighter’s, so I could jump up and run her to the emergency room if the fever went over the magic number (101° while on ibuprofen) one of the doctors specified.
During our next visit with a different doctor, he mentioned that fever is not a problem, and doesn’t need to be treated. But it was a brief comment amongst a lot of other critical information about kidney involvement, ID and sensitivities, and the right antibiotic. I felt like I’d gotten some mixed messages, but I didn’t think about it much at the time.
Two weeks later, my lucky kiddo came down with Fifth Disease. And her temperature went up. When it rose to 103.7°, and her skin felt as hot as a baked potato fresh from the oven, I woke her up and tried to get her to take some medicine. Despite (or because of?) her evident misery and restless sleep, she refused, so I pushed fluids, kept the covers off her, and stroked her with a wet cloth.
Now, we had called the advice nurse that evening, and she told me, “A fever between 100 and 104 is therapeutic.” In Worried Mom mode, I didn’t reflect on it much. My baby was frighteningly hot! Everything in my guts said, “Fix it! Cool her off! NOW!”
But later, with a little distance and a lot more sleep, I decided to investigate just what the deal is with fever. Turns out, fevers in response to illnesses are relatively harmless. (Heat stroke is a separate issue.) They might even help get you better faster. They don’t cause brain damage or any other lasting harm, and are self-limiting to 107° or less. Pediatricians do not recommend taking a child’s temperature frequently, or waking them up to take “antipyretics” (that’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to bring fevers down. Many parents dose antipyretics wrong, which is a much greater risk to a child’s health than a fever is. Even febrile seizures are not likely to cause harm, and using antipyretics doesn’t seem to prevent them. Oh, and if it’s lower than 100°, it’s not a fever, it’s a normal fluctuation in body temperature that happens every day for all of us.
TL:DR version – even high fevers in children are harmless. (NB: Fever in young babies is more complex.) You can give your kid medicine if they are suffering, but the fever itself isn’t anything to worry about.
This still feels wrong to me. But I checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. I think part of the reason fever phobia is so stubborn in our culture is that pediatricians focus on fevers. Every office visit starts with taking the child’s temperature. Any fever is focused on and investigated – how high? How long has the child had the fever? Presumably they’re trying to find out what is causing the fever, and to eliminate possible serious underlying conditions. Which is sensible, but gives us parents the impression that fever is scary. Plus clearly different doctors have different attitudes and give conflicting advice about fever management. Add in the historical use of “fever” in the names of many scary childhood illnesses, and it’s a great recipe for continued fear in parents!
Fever itself isn’t dangerous, and in the future I’m going to attempt to stow my anxiety and deal with it more rationally. Of course, my child tends to feel quite miserable, has trouble sleeping, and won’t eat or drink much when her fever goes over 101°, so I might still give her medicine, but at least I know now that the risk I’m battling is her discomfort, and I don’t have to worry that she’s cooking her own brain.
For reference by worried parents, here is a nice rundown of the common worries and the facts about fever.
This morning I asked my five year old to retrieve her backpack from her room. She insisted it wasn’t up there. I was pretty sure it was. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs with my wonky ankles only to find it there. So I told my ten year old, “I’ll pay you fifty cents to go check Claire’s room for her backpack. And if it is there, you also get to go ‘nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah’ to her.” (Including taunting hip shaking and derisive jazz hands, naturally.)
Turns out, it was in the front closet. No wonder we couldn’t find it – it was put away where it belongs! I admitted I was wrong and Claire was right, paid Chloe her two quarters, and went about my business.
Claire is in a developmental stage with a lot of anxieties, especially about nightmares. She has trouble falling asleep, wakes up and comes to my bed in the night, and resists bedtime at all costs. I’ve worked with her to make bedtime less scary, empathized, expressed certainty that she can feel scared, have nightmares, feel bad feelings, and still survive, and that it will get easier. I’ve given her more bedtime help and support because she is truly in distress over this, and that is valid. But I also offered to pay her a quarter every morning that she doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. And also, when she leaves that quarter lying around in some random place, I take it and put it back in the stash and pay her with it again the next successful morning.
The ten year old wants an Instagram account. I’m considering letting her have one (really, me getting one on her behalf and letting her post through me, since the age requirement is 13). But I’m thinking that I’ll make her write an essay about the potential risks and pitfalls of posting on Instagram and turn in it to me before we proceed. I will point her toward appropriate source material. But I will also grade it, and she has to pass to get an account.
Sadly, I say, “Pick up your damn _________ and put it away!” way too often. I pledge to at least try to leave the “damn” out, even if I don’t manage to make cleaning up a well-planned, Mary-Poppins-themed game as part of a thoughtful and consistent daily routine.
I let them attend church with friends. Until I hear a report that they were offered the opportunity to get full-immersion baptized last Sunday. Then I flip out. Then I hear the further report that she may have misheard, and I calm down. Mostly.
Most of the time lately, I feel like life is kind of a controlled fall. I’m doing the best I can, feeling a bit frazzled, but also having fun with the girls. I keep waiting for life to calm down a bit, for things to normalize and allow some predictability and routine. But I’m realizing that this will actually probably never happen.
But today, I want to talk about something that’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t spent day after day taking care of a small child. You get totally worn out because almost every interaction you have with your toddler is a power struggle. It’s amazing how utterly draining it can be simply to tend to life’s necessities, and maybe go to the library or (God forbid) get a sibling to one of their activities. Because every time you want to do anything, you are met with resistance.
Here’s an easy, relaxed morning with your spouse or friend:
Each person grabs their own choice of simple breakfast food. You discuss your plans for the day, and decide to buy some groceries, then swing back home and eat lunch. You spend five minutes cleaning up the breakfast stuff, then hit the store. Everyone hops out of the car and heads in. You cruise through the aisles, each picking up needed items, helping each other remember needed stuff, and check out. Back home, you both help bring bags in, put food away, and get lunch started.
Here’s the same experience with a toddler:
He insists he wants Cheerios for breakfast, but only if he can get them himself. He wants to climb the pantry shelves like a monkey to get them. When told that is unsafe, he throws himself on the floor and screams for five minutes. After helping him get over that, you talk it over and agree he can stand on a chair to reach the cereal. He gets the box, and you put some in a bowl with milk, cut up some fruit for him, and give him a cup of juice to go with it. He looks at the bowl of cereal and says, “NOOOO, I want eggs!” At this point you can tell him to like it or lump it, you can try to remind him that he wanted the Cheerios, or you can make him some eggs. Every choice is bad, and at least two lead to a screaming temper tantrum. Breakfast takes 45 minutes, and ends with you hunched over the counter, eating the kids’ leftovers because you’ve spent so much time and energy on their breakfast, you never made any for yourself. Don’t forget to clean everything up yourself, while the toddler hangs off your ankle complaining he’s bored. You probably have to mop even if he didn’t deliberately throw food this time.
You know what? I’m not even going to do the trip to the grocery store, because typing it is too exhausting to contemplate. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks yourself.
And no matter what discipline style you use, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get constant blowback and have to deal with it. (Even if people are very harsh with punishments, toddlers just don’t have the mental equipment to control their obnoxious behavior traits – they don’t remember, plan, or regulate their impulses well at all, and neither total unconditional parenting nor brutal spanking, nor anything in between is going to change that.) And the whole point of this post is that, however you deal with opposition, the dealing with it, over and over and over again all day, is what sucks the life out of you.
And that’s why the uninitiated don’t understand. There’s a certain underlying thought of “You’re the adult – just make them do what you want.” And securing compliance from a small child is often quite doable, and one interaction doesn’t drain all your resources and energy. So people who are with their kids for two hours a day, or who babysit, or who witness one interaction between a parent and child at a discount store or park or whatever – to them, it seems relatively easy and they can’t fathom how taking care of small children all day is a hard job.
The good news is a lot of these people will someday take care of small children for long hours, and we will get to laugh at them.
This is a great book for parents who worry that their toddlers don’t eat enough. I would say that the focus of the book is definitely on anxiety about getting enough calories in to your kid, with getting more variety a second goal, and more aspirational nutrition running third. So if your child eats plenty of food, is gaining weight well, and you mostly want to teach him to love whole grains and broccoli, this might not be your go-to manual. If, however, your doctor is concerned that your child has fallen off her growth curve and you find yourself chasing your toddler around trying to get extra food into her, this is going to be very helpful.
Samela does a good job of walking parents through both normal toddler behavior that can complicate healthy eating (can’t sit at the table for long periods, will graze all day on snack food if allowed, etc.), and the standard dietetic requirements. She discusses macro- and micro-nutrients, and cautions against common pitfalls such as depending on commercial “toddler foods,” letting a child drink vast quantities of milk, or expecting a toddler to eat far more food than they actually need.
The advice about what to feed your toddler seems pretty good, but a bit unambitious at times. Perhaps I hang with too crunchy a crowd, but I know a lot of mothers who would stroke out at reading the recommendations to feed your toddler a Nutella and Fluff sandwich, frozen yogurt sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles, or a pudding cup with vanilla wafers. However, if a parent is worried about getting enough calories in, these Whole Food heresies are probably defensible, and they are counterbalanced with many more healthy suggestions. As a mom whose children eat plenty of food, but gravitate to white starches too much, I would have loved more advice on nudging them in the direction of vegetables, but again, that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of this book.
The one thing I found truly irksome about this book was its disregard of breastfeeding. This book is explicitly aimed at children 12-36 months old, and it has not one breath about continued nursing. I understand that nursing past one is very rare, but it is recommended by health professionals and organizations, and it deserves at least one sentence when there’s an entire section devoted to “Milk.” Even chocolate milk gets a positive side-bar, and rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk are all discussed, but giving a toddler the biologically normal and most healthful milk is not even mentioned. Maybe sustained nursing is unusual, but is it really less prevalent than parents giving their kids hemp milk?
All in all, if I knew a pretty mainstream family with an underweight toddler, a parent who was anxious about getting enough calories in, or a mom who was “addicted” to processed foods from Gerber and Beech-Nut, I would heartily recommend Give Peas a Chance. For the average family dealing with a health-but-picky kid, I’d say it’s useful enough. For crunchy folk, or parents who are looking to make their child love kale and quinoa, I’d say another book would probably be a better fit.
This popped out of nowhere right around bedtime this week. Instead of voicing my first thought, “They require 30 days’ notice before quitting, and if I’m paying, you’re going,” or even a more constructive, loving solution, I worked from the key fact – it was the end of the day, and Claire did not have the resources to discuss something she clearly found so distressing. At this time of day, and with this much emotion, there was no prayer of having any rational information go into her brain. So I empathized, telling her I understood that she was very scared and wanted to quit gymnastics. Then I said we needed to wait till tomorrow to talk about it more.
When she brought it up again the next day, we were lucky enough to have time and space for a mini family meeting. I told her about brainstorming. We would sit together and write down every idea we thought of for the problem, no matter how silly or weird. Then we would look through our list and pick one or two approaches to try first. She caught on pretty quickly, and gave me some ideas. Even one or two other than “I quit gymnastics,” so that was a great start! Here’s our list:
- Mom helps Claire on the bars
- Mom talks to teacher about alternatives
- Claire quits gymnastics
- Claire goes to drop-in daycare while Chloe’s at gymnastics
- Claire does the high bar even though she’s scared
- Claire doesn’t do that part of class and sits off to the side
- Claire takes a water break during that part, and sits with Mommy
You can probably guess which ones were my contributions! I did tell her about the 30 days notice, and that I would expect her to go to classes we had committed to. So that helped motivate her to try some of the other ideas. In the end we decided to combine me talking to the teacher and Claire taking her water break during that part of class. She really is petrified by it – I think being physically separate from the gym floor and being right with Mommy during that part of class is helping her agree to this compromise measure.
I wanted to share this process because it would have been awfully easy for me to simply impose my own solution. Of course, the “traditional” parenting approach would have been “No, just suck it up.” My mushy mommy heart wanted to say, “Of course you don’t have to go – I won’t ever let you be scared!” The funny thing, though, is even if I had said, “You can’t quit, but I’ll talk to the teacher so you can take your water break during that part,” it wouldn’t have gone over well. Instead I allowed my child some space, giving her a voice in the process, and showing I respected her feelings and her problem-solving skills. I feel this really helped her accept a solution I liked better, plus it helped her build skills for the future. As she grows, this is a foundation for her to work around strong emotions, use reflection and openness, and feel more confident in her resilience when she faces something daunting.
Of course, I don’t always rise to this level of evolved parenting. Sometimes I don’t have the resources or I don’t stop to think. But I’m going to try to remember this experience and invest a couple neurons in creative openness in the future. I think it brought us both to a better outcome and prevented us from being opponents on this issue.
I’m in the middle of season 3 of Breaking Bad, and it’s definitely a compelling show. All the actors really are as great as you hear, the writing is very tight and doesn’t rely on Idiot Plot elements, and the show can be beautiful to look at. But sometimes it can be downright scary, the stuff they do!
In just a dozen or so episodes, I’ve seen such shocking images as:
- Baby wrapped up in multiple blankets before being buckled into car seat
- Car seat straps wide and loose with no visible chest clip
- Crib with bumpers and tons of fluffy blankets under and around the baby
- Propping a baby on her side instead of back sleeping
- Smoking in the baby’s room
Oh, and there’s been some milder stuff like drug use, murder, rape, decapitation, and dissolving a human corpse with acid.
Even though it can be disturbing at times, I’m definitely hooked! I’m kind of curious whether Walt will go back to cooking. And of course, I’m on the edge of my seat about the pool fencing – when are they going to show us that already?! Or are we going to see that fancy high tech system they talked about? They are such teases!
I like to think I’m a pretty good parent, but I admit I really fall down on limiting screen time. I think the cause is twofold. When I’m desperately trying to pay the bills or handle raw chicken or something, I use the TV or computer to occupy the kids and keep them out of my hair. On the other hand, when I’m finished with pressing tasks and get some leisure time, I sure as hell ain’t the mom who says, “Hey, let’s go for a bike ride, that’ll be fun!!!” Nope, I’m right there on the couch or in front of the computer myself.
Being me, I decided to do something radical, rather than attempting to moderate our daily habits. Yesterday was our first weekly screen-free day. The children awaited it in terror. I wasn’t exactly sanguine myself, but I wanted us to spend a whole day doing other stuff, interacting with each other (gasp!), and prove to us all that we could live without the idiot boxes.
I prepared by planning to abandon many chores. I was ready not to get much done, as I helped the kids find fun stuff to do outside their normal routine. And part of the point was to spend time together after all, so I gave myself permission to leave the Christmas tree half-denuded, the floors unvacuumed, and to put off bill-paying till today.
The other preparation was a list of screen-free activities. I wanted to have a set of options at hand for the inevitable, “We’re booooored!” moments. Since we’re all used to plopping down and being entertained by pixels, I realized I might not be able to come up with good ideas on the spur of the moment.
Here’s what I did with the children yesterday:
- Played Crazy 8s and War
- Played Monopoly
- Read The Hobbit aloud to Chloe
- Read a bunch of different books to each other
- Baked brownies
- Went outside and rode bikes and climbed a tree (I watched)
Here’s what the girls did without me, while I cooked, cleaned, and ran the household:
- Played with toys
- Found old flip phones and played pretend with them for an hour or more
- Practiced riding a bike without training wheels (up and down the hallway inside!)
- Colored with markers
I confess, to get them to be nice and play with each other while I prepped dinner, I did tell them I needed to get dinner all set before we could bake brownies, and so they needed to stop whining and fighting (an activity not at all confined to unplugged days) and let me work uninterrupted for a while. Normally I avoid using any kind of food reward for the kids, but since this was an activity as well as a treat, and I was doing something unusually challenging, I relaxed that rule a bit.
All in all, it was successful. We spent time with each other. We learned that as alluring as TV and Minecraft and Facebook are, we can survive without using them at all! This in turn has inspired me to be more vigilant about limiting screen time on a daily basis. Once we all got through a whole day without this stuff, it makes it easier for me to say, “That’s enough for today, you can find something else to do.”
I plan to keep doing this, and I learned a few things I’ll use in the future. First, we need a couple board games Claire can play. I plan on picking up Trouble, and maybe another preschool-friendly game, if I can find one that isn’t too annoying. Second, planning an outing would be a very good idea. If I had arranged the schedule differently, we could have hit the park for two hours and really gotten more physical activity and used up more time! Third, this is a great way to encourage reading. Chloe’s a good (heck, Gifted™ ) reader, but she resists reading at home. It took until the evening for her to pick up a book on her own and just read to herself for entertainment. It’s a good indicator that I need to cut off her other entertainment options at a certain point to make room for reading in her life.
I encourage everyone to give this a try. It’s really good for bodies, brains, and relationships. And the cold turkey aspect helps set us all up to be less attached to our devices, which is a vital skill in the modern world!