Stories and thoughts from day to day life in the Bullard Family

Book Review: Discipline the Brazelton Way August 15, 2011

Book Review: Discipline the Brazelton Way by T. Berry Brazelton and Joshus D. Sparrow

Written by veteran pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton and child psychiatrist, Joshua D. Sparrow, this book provides a quick run-down of basic discipline techniques and approaches. It is easy to read and gives the reader tangible solutions to discipline “hot spots” as well as a little background on the importance of discipline and how it works.

The book opens with the “touchpoints of discipline,” which are “times when a child regresses in anticipation of a developmental leap ahead.” These are the typical growth milestones: the first 6 months, 7-8 months, 9-12 months, 12-14 months, the second year, and what comes after: emotional development, self-esteem, and moral development. From a theoretical orientation stand point, this section sounds a bit Freudian, or more psychodynamic. It explores how defenses are built in early childhood. The information here seems pretty grounded and was an interesting view on child development.

The second chapter discusses approaches to discipline, such as the parent’s own memories of discipline, influence of temperament, leading by example, interpreting behaviors, and consequences, to name a few. It provides enough information for the reader to get the gist of approaches, though is not an exhaustive in-depth look at discipline approaches.

The third chapter holds all the keys: ways to discipline. Methods are presented in three categories: 1. Usually worth a try, 2. Sometimes useful, and 3. Not helpful. This is where the reader will find things like time-out, taking away toys, spanking, or ignoring behavior. Each way of disciplining is explained and then weighted with pro’s and con’s. I thought this was a great lay-out for presenting different discipline options.

Finally, the fourth chapter explains some of the typical problems of discipline. These include attention seeking, biting, defiance, lying, power struggles, running away, etc. Each issue is briefly discussed and then goes on to suggest what the parent might do to deal with the issue.

My take on the book:

If you are in need of a quick and easy introduction to discipline, this is a great book. It won’t help you develop a personal philosophy on discipline or really change deeply ingrained discipline habits if you have been using any for a while. I am new to discipline (a fairly blank slate), so I could quickly incorporate some of the ideas here and get results.

The book also offers some nice verbal examples of what to say to children. Sometimes, parents just need a script for certain instances and the authors do a good job of demonstrating dialogue around discipline.

While things for me are still fairly uncomplicated (my oldest is 2.5 right now), I am still looking for something with more substance to help me develop a stronger discipline philosophy / approach.

The most helpful technique or bit of information that I have taken from this book is the concept that children at this age (2-3 years) do not have the ability to keep impulses in check and they need our help. BUT, at this age, they also want to do things for themselves and are testing out their independence. This is scary to a child in a way because they realize how much “power” they have. To help my daughter, I have been telling her that she can do it herself (comply with my request) or I will have to help her do it (physical intervention). After two or three times of me “helping” her, she always chooses to do it herself. This applies to things like putting on shoes, getting in the car, giving a toy back to her brother, climbing down from the table, etc. While this is a little over-simplistic, it works for now.

On the whole, the book is practical and to the point. It is a great introduction to discipline and a nice fix if you don’t have a lot of time to put into really learning and understanding discipline in the big picture.


Book Review: Montessori From The Start July 29, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — parentsong @ 11:24 pm
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Montessori From The Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen

The authors of this book are a mother-daughter team who, along with Jane Linari, co-founded the Forest Bluff Montessori School and have written several other books on the subject. The book opens with an introduction to Maria Montessori’s philosophy and teaching approach concerning education for different stages of development. It provides enough background information to ease the reader into the Montessori approach. I have only just started learning about Montessori education and felt that this gave a good over-view.

The book is PACKED with information and gives you all the basics for establishing a Montessori home for children aged 0-3. I took 20 pages of handwritten (small) notes because I simply could not process all the information without doing so! I’ll just provide some key points from each chapter here.

Chapter One: The Completion of the Human Being introduces the overall development of children through age 24. This includes growing independence, coordinated movement, language, and developing will. The key is that adults must prepare the environment to give the child freedom and responsibility.

Chapter Two: Welcoming the Newborn describes how the environment should be set up, what objects to provide and what types of “activities” to do with the newborn. What stood out to me in this chapter was the development of attention in the first three months. Here, it is made very clear that adults should be careful not to interrupt the infant while he is taking in his environment. This means refraining from shaking different toys in his face and overstimulating the poor thing with plastic toys. The authors encourage the adult to notice when sustained attention is taking place and to allow for this to happen by not distracting him.

Chapter Three: Discovering the World provides guidelines for choosing toys for your baby and toddler. It gets quite specific, going into the types of mobiles that should be used and when they should be used. It sounds a bit rigid, but there are valid reasons behind these recommendations and it all serves to support maximum development. Montessori play things are based in reality, which means the objects must make sense (no baby aliens with glowing, singing heads), ordered, functional, and beautiful.

Chapter Four: The Hand and the Brain delves into detail about the development of the manipulation of objects with the hands. I found this to be incredibly interesting as I have worked with children who have difficulty manipulating things with their hands. Movement is learned and guided by thinking rather than mechanical actions. The chapter brings much needed focus to fine motor development, as gross motor seems to get all the encouragement these days.

Chapter Five: Crawling to Coordination goes through gross motor development and emphasizes not placing restriction on this development. Restriction in this instance refers to placing babies in exersaucer-type devices, walkers, strollers, slings or even helping the baby to sit when he cannot hold himself up. Tummy time is an understatement, as the authors suggest that babies should be on their tummies the majority of their waking time to encourage physical development. Baby-proofing the house is also covered thoroughly.

Chapter Six: Practical Life focuses on what types of activities the 15-month-old should begin doing and carries on through to age three. It takes considerable amount of planning and preparation to carry out the recommended activities. As a non-Montessori parent, I would really struggle to be this organized to teach my toddler how to cut and prepare her own vegetables. But if you are interested in teaching very practical activities to your children, this book breaks down the tasks to teach you how to teach your child. Enough examples are given that they can be adapted and expanded to other tasks.

Chapter Seven: Personal Care shows the reader how to encourage independence in self-care from the young child. Steps for independence are provided in the area of sleep, food, dressing, toilet training, and grooming. The authors explain the “sensitive periods” for learning these tasks to minimize resistance from the toddler for things like brushing teeth and toilet training.

Chapter Eight: Language and Intelligence presents information on the development of spoken (oral) language, written language, music and art, and toys and imaginative play. In alignment with the rest of the book, the authors provide detailed descriptions of the types of activities, books, projects, and play things that one should use for optimal development. Basically, things should be reality-based. No stories of talking animals or flying children for toddlers. Limit-setting is also discussed.

Chapter Nine: The Developing Will discusses how discipline, obedience, and self-control all begin in childhood. The authors go on to talk about how it is developed. Through the prepared environment (one that demonstrates order and structure), the adult must make clear to the child what to expect, when to expect it, and where  to expect it. Routine is of utmost importance, as the child’s frontal lobe is not yet fully developed and therefore rely on external structure to define what is going on.

The book closes with a conclusion chapter which illustrates Montessori principles in practice. When I read about these families, I realized that I could not implement many of these things, simply because I am not a super-organized person. It is a pretty incredible thing for the people who can pull this off! I commend them.

My take on the book:

This is probably one the most influential books I have read on parenting to date. I like this particular book so much because it is based on common sense learning. It encourages children to take as much responsibility as early as possible and to build creativity based on the child’s own imagination, rather than the adult’s imagination that is imposed on the child. It may seem as though too much responsibility is placed on the child if you are not used to hearing things such as toilet training starting at 6 months.

One thing that has really changed how I deal with my 2-year-old is understanding that their brains process things so much slower than ours do. They have not yet learned how to filter out things in their environment, so everything receives equal attention. This is why it is so hard to keep them focused! So when it is time to do something else, redirect, or move on from whatever seemingly random thing she has decided to focus on, I repeat my instruction to her calmly 3-5 times. I used to get impatient, but if I stay calm, she listens. It just takes time. I am excited to implement other practices as I see fit for my children’s personalities.

If you are interested in how to give more responsibility to your child or how to develop a Montessori home, this book is a great place to start!


Book Review: Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems July 15, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — parentsong @ 1:00 pm
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Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber

There are a million reviews on this book on-line. You are reading my review, and so I will to my best to make it worth your while.

First of all, Dr. Ferber is famous for the so-called “cry-it-out” method of sleep training. Well, unless you have a baby who is calm, able to fall asleep relatively easily on his or her own, or you are a really super awesome parent who can time everything perfectly and catch all your baby’s cues, then there will likely be some crying when teaching the baby to sleep on his or her own. Now, for the review:

The book is broken into four parts. In the preface, Dr. Ferber indicates how the reader should use the book. This is very helpful and will make using the book more effective.

Part 1:

It is important to read the first section: it tells the reader how to tell if your child has a sleep problem, how sleep works, and how to help your child develop good sleep practices.

Part 2:

The second section is where Ferber creates his legacy. This section introduces “sleep associations” and how they impact the child’s ability to sleep. The reason a child cannot go to sleep on his or her own is because he or she associates rocking, nursing / bottles, holding, cuddling, etc. with falling asleep. The child is unable to go to sleep or go back to sleep without the assist of the parent. Ferber calls his method for solving this problem the “progressive-waiting approach.” This method requires the parent to put the child down awake (and sleepy) and wait progressively longer before going in to check on the child.

Ferber provides a detailed, step-by-step approach for using this method. He considers the fact that many parents will have a hard time listening to their child cry and is quite open about how the whole situation will happen in reality. It is not necessarily smooth sailing after a few nights of doing this. Other issues may be involved, such as the procedure itself, scheduling, anxiety, or medical issues. The author does a good job for addressing the “but my child is like this” stance and really provides solutions for almost any imaginable situation. Along with sleep associations, Ferber goes into setting limits, night feeding, nighttime fears, and colic and other medical causes that impede sleep.

Part 3:

The third section goes into schedules and sleep rhythm disturbances. The author discusses biological sleep rhythms and schedule “disorders.” Sleep phases refer to the typical times of day or night that sleep or sleepiness happens. Solutions are offered for correcting unhealthy or irregular sleep phases in all ages. Sleep phase issues are further discussed to include problems such as waking too early, long middle-of-the-night wakings, and nap problems. This section is very helpful for seeing how sleep fits in the big picture and how one thing affects another.

Parts 4 and 5:

The fourth and fifth sections address interruptions during sleep such as nightmares, bedwetting, head banging, partial waking, snoring, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy. This section only useful for these specific problems and can come in handy should they arise.

My take on the book:

For our first child, this book was a life-saver. We had tried several different approaches (Pantley’s No-Cry Sleep Solution, Dr. Sears’ sleeping advice, and Tracy Hogg’s approach) to no avail. Our daughter was around 9 months when we “broke down” and used the progressive-waiting approach. We made a chart for timing that spanned over a seven-day period. It took about four or five days to our daughter to learn to go to sleep on her own. More on this process in another post. Thanks to this book, our 2 ½ year-old is a fantastic sleeper. Naps didn’t work out so well until she was over 2 years old, but at least we had our evenings back. That made everyone happier.

What I really like about this book is that it is pretty straight-forward. Ferber presents the method and gives loads of background information so that the reader can make informed choices regarding this approach. He also gives a few options for modifying the technique to meet the parent’s needs. He gives practical advice concerning parenting issues around sleep. It is not a strict “do it this way or your child will fail” book. This approach also fits nicely with other non-sleep issue parenting approaches. For example, if you only have an issue getting the baby to bed and to sleep on his or her own, then you only need to use the progressive-waiting approach (unlike the 12-hour-sleep approaches that require the baby be on a specific schedule).

The part on colic is not helpful at all. If you have a colicky baby, I highly recommend Your Fussy Baby.

If you are a responsible and loving parent, I do not find this approach to be cruel my any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t soft and fluffy. As with any sleep training approach, it really depends on the child and the parents and the relationship. All involved parties need to be “ready.”  There will be crying, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is controlled and your baby’s needs are met (fed, dry, comfortable, etc.).


Book Review: Sleeping Through the Night June 30, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — parentsong @ 11:33 pm
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Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi Mindell*

The book covers everything about infant sleep behavior. The tone of the book is quite conversational. No references to studies or even a bibliography here.

It is not a method book, per se, though the author seems to be presenting a gradual extinction method. This method is rather simplistic and is likely to leave a parent wondering what went wrong if the baby is mildly challenging. The basic approach here is to let the baby “cry it out.” She illustrates with stories of babies crying so hard they vomit. And she tells the reader how to set up the bed so that when the baby does vomit, the sheets can quickly be changed. Hmmm, not very practical advice for sleep training if you ask me.

The author refers to “sleep associations” that make or break your baby’s ability to go to sleep, which is the same idea that Ferber’s method is built on. I think sleep associations are questionable to begin with. But this author takes it one step further by identifying “negative” and “positive” sleep associations, which is not one of Ferber’s ideas. It may be one of her own or something she picked up from training as a psychologist. Negative sleep associations are identified as the parent or anything that will not be present when the baby wakes (such as a music box or pacifier). Positive sleep associations are the presentation of the room as the child falls asleep (a cuddly toy in a dark room). I have not read this anywhere else and I’m not sure about it because it can become rather ambiguous, depending on how one views positive or negative associations.

The author gives advice of what do in certain situations, such as the child jumping out of the crib, teething, setting limits, moving, traveling, etc. Everything in this book seems to get equal attention. All aspects of sleep, from birth to adulthood, are covered in a paragraph or two each. In this way, everything is sort of glossed over. This seems to make it is more of an “introduction” to sleep. The book will likely train parents more than children (such as if the parent is truly interfering with the child’s ability to sleep).

In all honesty, I did not even want to spend the time reviewing this book. I suppose it is because I have read some very helpful books on sleep and this one offers no new information. I also did not like how the information was presented. For me, I need to know why certain things work and why they do not. I like for the author to have some philosophical background so that I know where they are coming from. This book feels very empty to me, as though the author has never actually had to teach a child to sleep.

*I realize this review is quite biased and less objective than I like reviews to be; my apologies.


Book Review: Your Fussy Baby May 30, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — parentsong @ 3:25 pm
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Book Review: Your Fussy Baby by Marc Weissbluth

I am so grateful for this book. It is the only book on parenting that has made me feel okay about my child. The author has raised four children, one of which happened to be “fussy.” He is also a pediatrician and has extensively studied sleep disorders / sleep issues in children. According to this book, about 20% of babies are considered “extremely fussy.” Using the term “fussy” sounds negative and we all know what happens when we label a child: they become the label. But let’s say that you could use the label because the individual fits the definition and the definition helps you feel more sane about what is going on. Weissbluth states  ad nauseam that all babies get fussy for no apparent reason. It is just that some babies fuss considerably more so than others and he calls these babies “extremely fussy” or the old-school label: “colicky.” Ewwww, no one wants to hear this when talking about babies. But the fact of the matter is our little boy fit right into this category.

How is the fussy baby defined? Extremely fussy / colicky babies cry (or fuss) for more than 3 hours per day, at least 3 days per week, for at least 3 weeks duration. That, to me, seems like a mild definition. But this is the criteria for an extremely fussy baby. Now, to the review:

This book, though quite small, is loaded with information about colic. The introduction really caught my attention with two sentences: that the book is “based on the belief that an informed parent is an effective parent” and “Parents are better able to soothe fussy babies when they understand why newborn babies fuss” (p. xxiii). And it is so true.

It opens by outlining several studies that try to uncover what causes such a condition. Basically, all studies on colic over the past 100 years simply show what does not cause extreme fussiness. The author’s wife shed some light on the subject when investigating the role of melatonin and seratonin in extremely fussy babies. This was the only study in the book that found any positive correlation between any variable and the fussy baby.

The idea that temperament might play a part is discussed and clearly explained. There are many variables and possibilities for how nature and nurture interact in this area. Weissbluth gives several examples of how the extremely fussy baby can be soothed, such as rhythmic rocking motions, swaddling, and lullabies.

The part of the book most helpful to me was the presentation of sleep patterns of extremely fussy babies and what the parent or caregiver can do about them. He gives clear advice of how to avoid sleep problems once the colic has ended at around three or four months.

The author presents the information in an objective way, and maintains consistency of his opinion regarding sleep and causes and treatment of colic throughout the book. He gives different options for people to choose to approach the extremely fussy baby based on lifestyle choices and what the research says is most effective. He gives examples of how to breastfeed or bottle feed and co-sleep or use a crib. These are generally the big issues that divide people on whether to use a certain technique or not. He also gives options for using gradual extinction or just extinction (let cry some vs no cry). I found this to be helpful, since one will often act out of character when faced with a desperate situation.

My take on the book:

I liked this book so much, I borrowed his other book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” from the library. I thought “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problem” was the best book, but this one might be better in that it gives you options for how to approach sleep training. This book helped me to accept my fussy baby for who he was and that it isn’t something he can help doing. He isn’t “playing” me; babies don’t know how to do that when they are this young.

Our son has gotten better, aside from his sleep (which is basically horrible). He is happy, smiling and quite easy now at 3 months.


Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block May 12, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — parentsong @ 11:14 pm
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The Happiest Baby on the Block By Harvey Karp

This book is written by a pediatrician and father of one child. His approach is playful and comical, but compassionate and gentle at the same time. He clearly has spent a significant amount of time working with young children and parents.

The book is pretty thick at 267 pages, but a quick read. There are two basic sections: 1) Why babies cry and 2) How to soothe them. This is not a parenting philosophy, so no matter what parenting approach you take, the information in this book will not likely go against what you are doing.

The first section about why babies cry proposes that infants are in their “fourth trimester” during the first three months of life. He gives some anecdotes of new parents dealing with their sweet, adorable, crying baby. This is to illustrate how his approach to calming babies works. He goes into further depth about theories of colic, what it is, what it is not, and myths that cause colic. He writes about putting different parts of the picture together, which include brain immaturity, temperament, big tummy troubles (allergies and acid reflux), tiny tummy troubles (constipation and gas), and maternal anxiety. I like this view because it is often so difficult to tell what exactly is troubling an infant.

The second section goes into detail about the technique for calming the colicky baby. These are the five S’s. These are as follows:

  1. Swaddling: Wrapping your baby tightly in a blanket or sheet to keep him or her from flailing about. There is a certain way to do this so that the baby cannot get loose. The book details the method for swaddling the baby The idea behind swaddling is to allow the baby to actually take notice of what the parent / caregiver is doing to calm him or her. It also puts the baby closer to the womb environment, which is comforting.
  2. Side / Stomach: Positioning the baby in your arms so that he or she is on his or her side or stomach does two things: 1) It triggers the calming reflex by putting the baby in a position most similar to the one he or she was in in the womb and 2) it keeps the baby from setting off the moro reflex, or the startle reflex.
  3. Shhhhing: Literally, saying shhhhhhhhh. This one actually takes some practice and you may need to work up your mouth muscles to maintain the shhh long enough to calm the baby at first. Karp suggests holding your mouth two to four inches from the baby’s ear and starting out as loud as the baby is crying. This can seem alarmingly loud at first, but the baby has to hear it over his crying. Then, back off as the baby’s cry diminishes. Follow the baby.
  4. Swinging: Karp reminds the reader of the five senses and goes on to mention the sixth: movement in space. Swinging here refers to any rhythmic motion: rocking, swinging, bouncing, jiggling, vibrating seats, walking, etc. The baby must never be shaken and the head should always be supported, though not necessarily held still. There is a part in the book that breaks down all the steps to “successful motion.”
  5. Sucking: This refers to eating to satisfy hunger and sucking for comfort (non-nutritive sucking). If the baby is not really hungry, the use of a pacifier can come in handy here. Karp suggests trying a pacifier once the baby is calm (to keep her calm) and to try different brands to find the shape of nipple that best suits the baby.

These five steps are revisited several times throughout the book. This is clearly the most important message to take home. Beyond this, Karp discusses other issues that may be affecting the infant, such as reflux. He also gives a plan for weaning the baby off of these “props” so that eventually, the baby will be able to go to sleep (an stay asleep) on his own.

Much of this information can be found on the Happiest Baby website. The book is nice for making the frazzled parent feel better and does provide some  support for parenting the colicky baby. It made me feel better, which can only be a good thing. The baby won’t be colicky forever, so I know I am not avoiding something that will creep up on me later in life… or am I?

My take on the book:

Personally, I have found these techniques to be gentle and effective. We use all five of these tools, though we keep the baby on our shoulder because he is not happy on his side or stomach when upset. And that is just the thing: you have to play with these things until you figure out what your baby responds best to.

While I do not plan on using Karp’s plan for getting the child to sleep (such as use of a white noise machine, which does not keep our little Tasmanian devil asleep any longer than without the noise), I do use these techniques to keep the baby calm and he does eventually go to sleep and I can put him down. Sleeping through the night* has yet to happen.

I’ll be getting ready for sleep training soon, unless he magically starts sleeping on his own. I just believe in sleep training. I think it is a good habit to have and one I wish I had. Of course, we won’t start until we think the baby is ready. We don’t want to make his life too hard, now.

*Sleeping through the night is considered to happen when the baby sleeps 5 consecutive hours according to Dr. Sears.