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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Why Germany Does Kindergarten Better Than the U.S.

Germany probably thinks the U.S. does kindergarten all wrong, and before you ask why you should care what Germany thinks of your kid’s kindergarten, keep in mind that the whole concept was invented by a German. While you’re worrying about the Common Core and if Junior is keeping up with the mini-Joneses, German kids are camping under the stars as part of a program designed to develop independence and social skills.
These excursions, called kitafahrten happen once a year at most schools, when little kleinkindsset out on their gummistiefel for a few nights to sleep in tents, play with razor-sharp knives, and generally fend for themselves with limited adult supervision. They learn to roast a bratwurst by the fire, look out for one another, and take care of themselves, and it’s all very much in the spirit of Friedrich Fröbel — the guy credited with actually coining the term “kindergarten” in the first place. “Child Garden,” as Fröbel envisioned it, was intended to set kids free in nature, where they could learn from everyday experiences rather than books. To this day, many German kids learn to read and write at age 6, after they’ve roughed it in the woods, which they sometimes do while still transitioning out of diapers.

Put Away Your Smartphone; Your Kids' Health Might Depend On It
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine say kids shown 'fragmented' attention by their mothers could develop emotional problems.
Kitahfahrten is pretty much the antithesis of American-style helicopter parenting and, before you dismiss it as crazytown, bear in mind that Germany has the lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe. So they might know a thing or two about developing the kleinkinds. And they’re not the only culture focused on letting kids go in order to let them grow — just ask the Polynesians.

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A Guide to Determining the Quality of Your Kid’s Screen Time

    Childhood interaction with media used to be simple. Sit down in front of the TV when cartoons came on at 6 AM. Get up when mom wanted to watch General Hospital. The only thing that saved our feeble, developing brains was the Sesame Workshop. Sesame Street — and to a lesser extend 3-2-1 Contact and The Electric Company — taught us to read, spell, count, and be nice to furry puppets, all by sitting on our duffs.
The TV still counts, but its grip is slipping in an age when your toddler can rock some Monkey Preschool Lunchbox on the iPhone while checking out the latest episode of Dora on the iPad. How do you control the all-present screen? “It’s the adults who matter most in shaping environment,” says Michael Levine, PhD, co-author of Tap, Click, Read and executive director of the Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “Technology should extend and expand human relationships, rather than constrain them.”
If you don’t know the namesake of Levine’s center, Cooney was the groundbreaking producer who came up with the idea in the ’60s that preschoolers could actually learn to think from the idiot box. Today, her center is a non-profit that does research on all things digital, including when, what kind, and how much media time is appropriate for your little screen demon.
Put Your Kids On A Digital Diet
“Kids between 3 and 5 are consuming between 3 and 4 hours of media a day,” says Levine. “The issue is how to balance the diet.” He says that the bottom of this digital food pyramid isn’t something digital at all: “It’s important for part of that pyramid to be media-free.”
“Cookie Monster knows that cookies are not an anytime food, they’re a sometime food,” he says. “Cookie knows he needs to eat his colors. There’s the equivalent of fruits and vegetables on the digital side. Reading and doing things that relate to intentional educational progress are the wholesome calories. There’s still room for a lot of treats, but for kids who are heavy media consumers and struggling in school, you need to rebalance the diet.”
Not All Screens Are Created Equal
The big key any time your child is face to face with a screen is that there’s more interaction than consumption. “There’s a big difference between sitting and watching, or playing with an app, and actively participating.” Levine says that Facetiming with the grandparents is some healthy media time, while another screening of Minions is the digital equivalent of a rice cake“A 3-year-old who is parked in front of their iPad to play the game they love for 45-minutes, has a very different experience — not necessarily a bad experience — but a different experience than a 3-year-old who has a 25 or 30 minutes video chat. It’s what we call a ‘serve and return’ interaction. More passive, or inert, screen interaction is proven by research not to have as much benefit.”
The 4 C’s
In the same way you can tell that broccoli is better for you than a Flaming Cheeto (because one has a flavor that exists in nature, and the other has the flavor of a Taco Bell commercial), you can judge the nutrition of kid’s media with a few guidelines:
  • Context: Where are they watching a screen? Are they having a video chat with a relative or solving a puzzle app? Or are they on the couch with their tongue hanging out? Which do you think is better? (Hint: It’s the first one.)
  • Content: What’s on that screen? “The quality of the content is king,” says Levine. “Does it have something behind it that’s research-informed, science-based.” Most everything that airs on PBS — from Sesame to Super WHY! — has a team of Ph.D. advisors behind it.
  • Child: Is what’s on that screen relevant to your kid? Make sure that you’re giving them programming and games that fit their personality. Whatever they’re passionate about, there’s probably a show or app that is going to foster it.
  • Cultural: Does your kid see a lot of different kinds of faces on that screen? Because children need to be able to see themselves in the characters they watch. Thinking back, the Scooby Doo gang solving the case of the haunted amusement park always did seem like a white-people problem.

5 Ways To Participate In Screen Time
“There are lots of ‘joint media engagement’ moments that are extremely powerful and successful for parents of young children,” says Levine. If you’re looking to make the daily grabbing for the phone a bonding time, try one of these apps:
  • Toontastic – For young kids create their own cartoon adventures. It worked for a little entrepreneur named Walt Disney.
  • Learn With Homer – A top learn to read app for children 3 – 8. Next stop Dostoyevsky!
  • Motion Math Hungry Fish – Those fish are hungry — hungry and didactic!
  • Madden 2016 – First-person shooters, no. But playing a strategy-intensive sports game with your kid, then taking that out to the backyard? Yes.
  • And if you don’t want to just visit the app store, but give something back, here’s a quick way to get kids into making video games.
Spend “No Screen” Time Wisely
Above all, read with your kids for 20 minutes a day — which is usually at night. That’s all they need to boost literacy skills. If your child looks like a junkie going through withdrawals when you take the iPad away, producers are trying to make that separation anxiety easier. “What I’m seeing now is the evolution of a new band of transmedia producers who understand that it’s TV plus games plus social, and are actually telling kids to unplug. Characters are getting tired inside the game. Screens are telling you to go outside and play.” And we all know Elmo is better at motivating your kid than you are anyway.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Peppa Pig Voice Actor Switcheroo Is Exactly Like Recasting James Bond For Kids

After a staggering 13 years, the voice behind the muddy puddle jumper will be different. Not sure I'm okay with this.

Who plays Peppa Pig? As of February 2020, there will be a new pig in town.
After a staggering 13 years in the role, actress Harley Bird will no longer be the voice of the titular pig in the popular children’s series Peppa Pig. For children — or slightly crazed dads — this might be exactly like when a new actor takes over the role of another British icon: James Bond. In other words, this is going to be a big deal (for me) and it might be a really rough transition (for me). Will the new voice of Peppa — Amelie Bea Smith — be a George Lazenby or a Daniel Craig? Let’s hope for the latter.
When I look at my daughter’s Peppa Pig coloring books, or Peppa Pig storybooks, without fail, I will always do the voice. One thing I like about the Peppa Pig franchise is that it’s pretty easy to imitate Peppa’s voice and pig snort, which isn’t’ to say that snort and voice are generic. I’d like to think the true artistic brilliance of Peppa Pig is in the fact that young voice-actor Harley Bird has made such specific choices. I’m not talking about the accent. The accent isn’t the voice. I’m talking about the emphasis Peppa puts on sentences like “So, George isn’t truly sick then, is he mummy?” Or “Miss Rabbit won’t tickle you…George…but I WILL! SNORT SNORT SNORT.” None of these lines are delivered casually. They are delivered with a very specific sense of mayhem wrapped in love.

What is Peppa’s catchphrase? 

Peppa’s most iconic line — on par with the line “Bond, James Bond” — is easily the phrase or variations on the phrase “I just looove jumping up and down in muddy puddles.” Here’s an example of how that goes down, if you are somehow unfamiliar.

I’m not saying that another voice actor can’t pull this off, I’m just saying that for me — a man who thinks about this stuff way too hard and has become a crazy person from watching kids’ shows like this — the one and only Peppa Pig will always be the original. Will I notice when new episodes feature the newer voice actor? That sort of depends on whether or not I’ve had a cup of coffee yet, but I often notice when Dad Tiger sounds totally different on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and that lack of continuity unnerves me. So yes, I will probably be pretty freaked out when Peppa’s voice changes.

Can parents cope with a new Peppa?

This isn’t to say that I won’t adjust. I mean, I wasn’t sure about Daniel Craig in 2006 as James Bond, but that turned out pretty good. I mean, as a kid, my favorite Bond was probably Roger Moore, which is somewhat laughable. So, who knows, perhaps my not-quite-3-year-old daughter will become an Amelie Bea Smith Peppa fan, while I will remain sure that Harley Bird is the person who truly created the role.
In any case, Smith will appear in her first new Peppa Pig episode this Valentine’s Day, and you can bet that we’ll be watching. I know that I’m capable of adjusting to a new Peppa, but it won’t be easy. However, I can find solace in one thing. As far as I know, John Sparkes will continue to be the voice of the narrator of Peppa Pig. This guy, with his pseudo-Michael Caine-delivery, is my rock, and the one thing that truly gets me through most Peppa adventures.
Here’s a tip. Next time you do the voice of the narrator on Peppa Pig (seriously, that’s not just me, right? How insane have I become?) Try having tacking on a Michael Caine-ism and see what happens. For example. “Everybody loves jumping up and down in muddy puddles…Not a lot of people know that.”
It will make your day. And, if your kids are paying attention to you, maybe they’ll laugh, too.
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The Consequences of Leaning on Your Child For Emotional Support

Children are naturally empathic so it’s easy for moms and dads to place children in situations where they feel more like parents than children. But this behavior can be extremely damaging.

When he was a child, Brent Sweitzer heard a lot about his parents’ troubled marriage. Much more than he cared to. His mother was guilty of parentification. And in retrospect, Sweitzer says being her emotional support system was quite damaging. 
“When my mother shared her emotional pain with me, I felt like I was falling down a hole,” says Sweitzer, now a father of two and a licensed therapist in Cumming, Georgia. “In adulthood, I found myself avoiding close relationships, especially romantic ones. I was afraid to share my real feelings and authentic self with others.”
It wasn’t until Sweitzer went to counseling that he realized he habitually put other people’s needs before his own. He also learned that children aren’t supposed to comfort adults about their adult problems and that kids’ brains aren’t developed enough to handle that level of responsibility. Later, he took some time out from contact with his mom so he could heal. Sweitzer’s mother, who he says didn’t realize she had caused him any harm, has since apologized.
Children are naturally empathetic, so it’s easy for parents to cross the line unintentionally into “parentification”: placing children in situations where they feel more like parents than children. 
“Kids are easy to exploit like that, unfortunately,” says Aaron Anderson, LMFT, director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver. “If you teach children to be available whenever you’re having an emotional breakdown, they will be, whereas another adult wouldn’t.
It’s not a conscious effort to exploit their kids, Anderson says, but parents think, It’s so much easier to talk to my child; they care for me and they give me a hug when I’m feeling down.
Reaching out to a child for love and support might not sound like it could damage their development, but when such behavior “parentifies” kids, it can. There are two types of parentification: “Instrumental parentification” refers to kids caring for younger siblings or taking on household tasks, and is generally less damaging to children. The more problematic type is “emotional parentification,” in which parents, through a range of behaviors, turn to children to fulfill their emotional needs. Kids who regularly experience the latter can take on an unhealthy role — an amalgamation of parent, therapist, and best friend — in the parent-child relationship. 
What Sweitzer experienced with his mom was emotional parentification, a form of dysfunction that’s harder to put a finger on than overt abuse. Like Sweitzer, a lot of men don’t recognize it when it happens. As adults, they might go to therapy for help with anxiety or depression, or to figure out why they keep getting divorced. Feeling like a parent inappropriately leaned on them for emotional support isn’t typically what brings guys into therapy. 
We hear a lot more about “toxic” mother-daughter relationships. Women, in general, tend to be more emotionally expressive than men, so it makes sense that they might turn to kids to fulfill their emotional needs more often than dads. Moms are primary caregivers more often than dads, and so bear more of the brunt of finger-wagging parenting criticism. 
“Men probably ‘parentify’ less often, because they’re taught, ‘Don’t lean on kids, don’t lean on your spouse, don’t lean on anybody,’ really,” Anderson says. “Throughout their lives, men are told not to feel and to stop being emotional.” 
Although parentification likely happens less often among fathers, it still happens, to boys as well as girls. And men who had these experiences growing up but don’t realize it are at risk for repeating the behavior with their own kids.

When Dads Are Guilty of Parentification

Men tend to seek support from their children in different and often more subtle ways than women, says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California. 
“I’ve worked with fathers who have turned their full attention to their young children, often a young daughter, to avoid emotional intimacy with the mother,” says Manly. “The child then ‘replaces’ the mother, who often becomes angry and embittered, and becomes Daddy’s little princess.”  
Kids enjoy being doted on this way, but fathers who do this often don’t set firm and clear limits for children, so they’re robbed of seeing their parents as a healthy united front. These kids often grow up to be entitled and seek out partners who will take care of them. This type of parentification reduces their ability to mature into strong, confident people, she says. 
Manly also has clients (women as well as men) who say their fathers are like little kids who avoid any part of life that isn’t fun. “When a father has this attitude, the child is naturally forced into the role of parent,” she says.
Manly adds that many men will say that their wives are their best friends, which is great, but sometimes she’s their only friend as well. When Dad isn’t getting along with Mom, he might confide in his teenage son or daughter about his relationship problems, which is never appropriate. Another common scenario Anderson sees in his practice is dads who, after they discover their son found his stash of porn mags, tells him, “Don’t tell your mother.”
That’s a parentified relationship,” Anderson says. “He’s relying on his son to protect the secret, which puts the child in the position of protecting the parent, whether it’s to protect him from embarrassment or getting in trouble with his spouse.”
Although it might not strike a lot of parents as problematic behavior, it’s not okay to tell your kid, “I had a stressful day at work and need a hug,” Sweitzer says. 
“That’s more about your needs and not your child’s,” he says. “It interferes with children’s autonomy. They might think, ‘What will happen if I don’t hug? Will my parent stop loving me?’ It’s fine to ask your child to sit on your lap, for example, but it should always be a choice for the child.”
Typically, dads are more likely than moms to parentify through play, Anderson says. A man raised by a parentifying father might feel guilty not doing certain activities with his dad, rather than his wife, because he knows his father has few friends. Or a child might play catch with his father or go to a ballgame not because he wants to but because Dad is bored and wants his son to entertain him. 
Dads might wonder, “WTF is wrong with bringing my kid to a ballgame? I’m just spending time with them and doing something fun.” But it’s the emotional reliance aspect that’s key, Anderson says. Put another way, it’s the “why” that’s important: If your child feels obligated and put in a position of providing support for you (say, going to a baseball game with you even though he hates baseball), that’s inverting the parent-child relationship, which is a problem. 
“We don’t want to discourage men’s engagement with children, but they should ask themselves, ‘Is this fostering my child’s autonomy and is it primarily to meet my needs or the healthy developmental needs of my child?’” says Sweitzer. “It’s not wrong to want your needs met, too, but ask yourself if you’re going against the needs of your child.”
The parent-child relationship shouldn’t be inverted even when children are young adults, says psychotherapist Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW, co-author of The New “I Do.” One of Gadoua’s clients, for example, asked his young adult daughter to help him decorate his new apartment after his divorce from her mother, which inappropriately put her in an adult role. In addition, the daughter probably didn’t feel free to say no, because her dad needed her.
Parents who parentify can get defensive about it when it’s pointed out during therapy, Anderson says. Common protests include: “But my child is so smart and mature — they can handle it,” “You should’ve seen my parents; I’m way better about it than they were,” and “My kids love me and like helping me.”
More traditional parentifying parents might raise children with the philosophy that they’re the authority and can raise kids, and talk to their kids, however they want, Sweitzer says. He adds that they might say things like, “Blood is thicker than water,” “What happens in the family stays in the family,” or other philosophies that can be co-opted into excuses to parentify kids. 

The Problem with Parentification

“The parent-child relationship by definition is hierarchical,” says parenting expert Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist in the Vancouver area and author of Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up. “Kids need to be able to lean in to the emotional rest that hierarchy provides for them. The child leans in by being braced by the strong backbone of the parent. If you’re besties with your littles, they’re leaning in and you’re leaning back into them, and the structure becomes wobbly.”
When kids can’t find that “emotional rest” with you, she continues, it interrupts growth and development, particularly emotional development. The end result is kids who are emotionally immature.
“That’s not to say there shouldn’t be closeness in a relationship; there should be, without a doubt. But the parent needs to be in the lead position,” Lapointe says. “Then you get to enjoy the happiness of your child, and your child is free to be happy and not captive to the needs of the parent.”
Many parents aren’t aware of the power differential in the parent-child relationship, Sweitzer adds. Moms and dads are physically bigger and have a fully developed brain, and kids are dependent on them for all things. “Parents can forget that, particularly if they’re in a crisis,” he says.
It’s an unfortunate paradox that parents’ well-meaning efforts to give their kids agency can, at times, lead to parentifying behavior. For example, Lapointe has clients who gave their 8-year-old a say in what school he wanted to attend. They wanted to consider his opinion, but Lapointe pointed out that that was parentifying: “Now it’s on the kid if that decision doesn’t work out, which is terrible!” she says.
“The number one most problematic thing happening today to kids and parents is what I call ‘Hulk children’: Kids are absolutely running the show, and parents are putting them in that place,” Lapointe continues. “Parents have emotionally and behaviorally abdicated their lead position. To a large extent, it helps explain the anxiety epidemic.”
The helicopter parent is a kind of symbol of parentification, Anderson agrees. 
“Here’s this parent putting themselves aside, to the point that they forget themselves,” he says. “They forget to go out with friends, as a couple. They’re focused solely on their child, and as a result their kid becomes an emotional support system for them, which a child shouldn’t be.”
Children who are emotionally parentified have real power in the family, which is where that entitlement effect stems from. But they also tend to be insecure, because on some level, children know they’re not capable of soothing adults. This makes kids feel anxious, Sweitzer says.
Studies have linked all kinds of negative effects with parentification, including depression, anxiety, and compulsive caregiving. But some research has found positive effects, as well, such as greater resilience in kids who are parentified. One study published in the mid-2000s found that parentified young kids of color caring for parents with HIV/AIDS showed some positive effects, including less substance abuse and better coping skills.
The effects of parentification are complex and need more study, the authors of the above-linked 2011 paper noted. They found that a temporary period of increased responsibility due to, say, a parental job loss, might be more tolerable for a child. Cultural factors also affect how a child might react to parentification. Significantly, the researchers also found that perception was a key factor in how parentified children react. If children feel their experience was inequitable or unfair and that there was little acknowledgement or appreciation on the part of the parents, they tended to have more mental health problems than kids who didn’t feel that way. 
In addition, children’s personalities are a big factor, as well, Gadoua says. Put simply, some kids handle the pressure better than others. But it might be safer not to make that bet.

Avoiding the Parentification Trap

“It’s hard asking parents to be psychologists, essentially,” Gadoua says. “Parenting is very challenging, and a lot of your learning is going to be in hindsight. Looking back you’re going to say, ‘Wow, I shouldn’t have done that.’”
All human beings have a fundamental need to feel seen and heard, and everyone, most psychologists will tell you, has some piece of baggage from their own upbringing that they bring into their relationships with their own kids. That sets us up a bit for failure on the parentification front.
“People often fantasize about what it’d be like to have a child,” Lapointe says. “We’ll finally get to be with someone who loves us the way we’ve never been loved before. So from the outset we’re a little set up to look to children to meet our needs. So we overshare or try in many other ways to fill a hole inside of us that shouldn’t be, or really, can’t be, fulfilled by children.”
The most important thing, she says, is for you to be the answer for your child, not to have all the answers. 
“You’re not going to be perfect, but when you do make a mistake, you need to repair it,” Gadoua agrees. “Repairing something that isn’t right can help create resilience in children and teaches them that they need to repair their own wrongs, as well.”
Taking care to not parentify, which helps kids become confident and secure adults, shouldn’t be confused with coddling. It’s not shielding kids from the pain of the world. Parents who avoid this are just not overburdening them in ways that aren’t appropriate.
For example, It’s okay for kids to see parents cry and, in fact, it’s important that parents don’t tell their children they’re fine if they are crying. That teaches them not to trust their perceptions, as they can see from a parent’s energy that Dad is sad, Gadoua says. It’s better to say something like, “I need to cry right now, but it’s not your job to take care of me — it’s my job.” Parents need to let children know they already have the support they need. Ideally, parents actually do have that support.
“Parents should make sure they have an adult support group to lean on and that they’re doing adult things with adults,” Anderson says. “That way, you don’t turn toward kids to fulfill those needs. When you have good adult relationships, no child can compete with that.”
Expressing emotion, in other words, is okay as long as parents are not leaning on their kids when dealing with adult problems. In the parenting workshops he leads, Sweitzer suggests that parents pay attention to the language they use when expressing anger or frustration with kids.
“If kids are being disrespectful, it’s appropriate to say, ‘I’m frustrated that you’re not listening to me,’” he says. “Because you’re owning up to your feelings and bringing up something in the moment and something your child can control.” 
The beauty with kids, however, is that parents don’t have to try to get love and support from them — they’re naturally dependent on them and love them. 
“As a family, there’s a need to feel united and safe and cared for,” Anderson says. “Those are all appropriate needs and should go back and forth. But there are age-appropriate ways to do it.”
Sweitzer says he’s mindful to get his emotional needs met through adult friendships and in his own therapy. 
“I’ve also worked hard to listen for what my children have heard or perceive about our financial situation, so that I clarify with them what they are responsible for as members of our family — helping with chores, playing, going to school — and what they’re not responsible for: taking care of the grown-ups,” he says.
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Monday, February 10, 2020

Why Do Babies Hiccup So Much? For Brain Development. Seriously.

Baby hiccups might seem like a strange quirk or muscle development, but they're so very much more than that.

Newborn babies don’t do much else besides eat, poop, cry, sleep, spit-up, and hiccup. While most of these actions make perfect sense, hiccups seem like a useless muscle reflex that’s just got to be unpleasant for the child. Well, it turns out hiccups are neither meaningless contractions nor causes for alarm. Weirdly enough, a new study finds they may play a vital role in babies’ brain development.
Curious why infants, especially preemies, hiccup so much, University College London researchers monitored 13 newborns with persistent hiccups. By attaching brainwave-tracking electrodes to their scalps and movement sensors to their torsos, they discovered that each time the diaphragm muscle contracts, causing a hiccup, it triggers three large brainwaves within the cortex. Because the third wave resembles those provoked by noises, the researchers believe this signal allows babies’ brains to connect the “hic” sound of a hiccup to the sensation of their diaphragm muscle contracting.
It turns out this connection is wildly important. “The hiccup sends sensory information to the brain that babies use to ‘learn’ about their body map so that later they can control their respiration voluntarily,” says lead investigator Lorenzo Fabrizi, Ph.D. In other words, these brainwaves teach them how their bodies are constructed, as well as how breathing feels, so that when they are older, they’ll know how to regulate their breathing on their own.
Interestingly, this process begins long before babies are born, as early as nine weeks into pregnancy. “Fetuses hiccup a lot, and moms can feel it through their bellies,” Fabrizi says. Kicking in the womb, which pregnant women also feel, likely serves a similar purpose of wiring babies’ brains and helping them map out their bodies, as Fabrizi’s team discovered in earlier research.
Once little brains have made these connections, however, hiccups no longer serve a purpose. This is likely why they become less and less frequent as children age. Of course, they never go away completely. The researchers suspect grownup hiccups are just a hangover from our early developmental stages.
Even though baby hiccups are perfectly normal, they still make many parents fret. “I think parents worry because hiccups are annoying for us as adults, so we assume that they must be annoying for babies too,” Fabrizi says. “However, some babies even hiccup while they are asleep.”
Lord knows you’ve got enough to worry about as a parent of a squirmy, needy, lovable infant, so go ahead and knock hiccups off the list.
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A Father’s Open Letter To His Non-Verbal Autistic Child

When you were my first born. And I imagined you being my shadow. I had plans. Those plans have changed.

What follows is an open letter from a father to his non-verbal autistic son. As many as 40 percent of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are nonverbal. Historically, doctors have told parents that children over the of five that don’t speak never will, but an increasing amount of research suggests that language delays are far more varied.
Dear Cooper,
I remember the moment it truly hit me that your autism was forever. And not just a word. Or a thing that other people’s kids had. It wasn’t when your mom told me that something seemed off. Or when she did the checklists late at night. I remember I got so mad at her. I defended you. I listened to her say things like nonverbal and delayed and I refused to believe that was you.
I couldn’t figure out why she was looking for something that simply wasn’t there. Those kids weren’t you. I mean, we had things to do. Me and you. We were going to fish and hunt. I had already mentally planned our trips up north with the boys. I was going to spend endless hours playing baseball with you — like Grandpa did with me. I would coach your teams. I was going to teach you to ride a bike. Drive a car.
When you were my first born. And I imagined you being my shadow. I had plans.
This story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.
Your autism didn’t hit me until it got hard. You didn’t sleep. You refused to eat. You screamed at everything. I’d take you outside to the backyard and to the garage and I remember watching you look at the swing set wondering what to do. You stared at the sandbox and toys. You refused to hold the bat I bought you. You looked through trucks. I bought you a motorized car to ride around in. You refused to sit in it.
When we said goodbye to kindergarten I knew it was real. I spent some time being sad. You didn’t know that. Neither did Mommy. I didn’t show anyone. I couldn’t.
I remember sitting in a boat with your “uncles” and listening to them talk about their kids. One was starting hockey. Another one was learning to read. They were your age. I knew we were different. I know now that it was ok for me to be sad and to talk about my feelings and that I could have confided in them for support.
Now you are 8. You are a big boy. You still have no words. You have never ridden a bike. We have never had one of those father-son moments I pictured when you were a baby. But I’m learning that’s okay. I still have incredible things to offer as your dad, even if they weren’t the things I originally envisioned.
Last night I watched you lie on the ground in the middle of a baseball field and stare at the clouds with your mom. You pointed up. You squealed. You smiled. You threw a ball. You clapped. You jumped. You wrapped me in the hugest hug. Then you were done.
It wasn’t the baseball game I pictured. But it still counts.
You have taught me patience. You have taught me it’s okay to be different. You have taught me it is ok to be sad when life doesn’t go as planned.  You have taught me that it is ok to talk about those feelings. You have taught me to fight for what is right. To stand up and say this is wrong, and to encourage others to stand alongside you and say the same.
Your mom and I have spent 8 years trying to find your voice. And honestly, we don’t know if we ever will. But you gave me one.
My job on this earth is to create a world for you, and other kids like you. To be the voice you don’t have, and to build the kind of community I want to see you grow up with. I used to shy away from people with disabilities or just not consider them. Before you, I was so caught up in my own world that I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Now, I see things differently. I notice. You did that for me. And I hope my example will do that for others.
I promise you I will spend my life keeping you safe and making this world better for you.
Thank you.
Jamie Swenson runs his own insurance business in Minnesota and raises three busy boys with his wife Kate. When he’s not coaching sports or arguing with tiny versions of himself, he’s dreaming about sitting in a boat and fishing. 
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11 Soothing Techniques to Calm a Fussy Baby

Babies generally come in two modes: Peaceful and fussy. It’s understandable, really. In order to grow and develop they need to, well, sleep like a baby. And when something goes wrong — a little gas, a little hunger — they have no other way to let parents know than to fuss, and cry, and scream. This leads us to the first way to calm a fussy baby: Feed them. If they’re hungry, they’ll fuss. If a bottle doesn’t do the trick, well, then you’re going to have to calm the baby down with some more advanced techniques. 
1. Stand Up
Babies like to stand. Science says so. In studies, infants under six months who were carried immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease due to an inborn calming response that, researchers speculate, probably helped survival in cases of emergency escape where the mother held a quiet child. So if you’re sitting down with a fussy baby, pick them up. It’s that simple.
2. Shush Them

Babies in the womb experience a constant noise that is near 90 db (think, a motorcycle 25 feet away). It must be jarring then, for them to come into the silence of our lives. If baby gets fussy, get right up to their ear and shush (“shh shh shh”) like a white noise machine. To note: This technique is one of the hallowed 5 S’s that pediatrician Harvey Karp proposes to calm a fussy baby. The other is… 
3. Swaddle Them
    This is as simple as it sounds. Babies have a reflex in which they feel like they’re falling (yes, the moro reflex is as spectacularly weird as it sounds) and so their limbs flail and they can wake themselves. So get your swaddling technique down and you will have a baby that’s all that much calmer.
    4. Rock the Baby
    This is another essential from Karp (he calls it “swinging”). An effective rock requires you to pay attention to the baby and experiment. Rock back and forth, up and down, fast and slow, in sync or out of rhythm. The point is to find out what calms them and run with it. 
    5. The Elevator
    One rocking technique that deserves mention — because you might not be brave enough to try it on your own — is what we call the elevator. With your baby well secured (in the crook of your arms is best here), loosen your knees like you’re going into a squat. Drop “one floor” (about 3 inches), bounce back upright, and then drop two floors (8 inches; so your legs are almost a 90 degrees), holding it at that bottom. Repeat as necessary and watch your baby instantly calm down (in some cases, of course).
    6. Check the Diaper
    A dirty diaper isn’t always recognizable by smell alone, especially with infants. Put them on their belly over your knee and give it a dipstick or pull and look.
    7. Burp Them
    If they’ve fed recently and are super fussy, it might be gas. Babies swallow air when breastfeeding or sucking from a bottle, and often have trouble getting it back out. So, burp them.
    8. Give Them a Bath
    If they’re fussy for some time and love to bathe, well, there’s no harm in giving them a bath. 
    9. Wait
    Issues such as colic that can cause a baby to cry have no certain cause or remedy. Colic doesn’t last forever, and time is the best way to take care of the problem.
    10. Put Them to Bed.
    This is easier said than done, but being overtired may be the cause of their crying.
    11. Teach Them to Self-Soothe
    Self-soothing is something that’s taught and sleep training is your curriculum. This, however, isn’t something you can do overnight — or even in a week. Read up on sleep training techniques, pick yours and stick to it. 
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