Category Archives for Parenting

What Are Night Terrors and How Can I Help My Child Through Them?

Night terrors—fits of screaming, flailing, and intense fear and dread—are terrifying for children and parents alike.

While we’re used to soothing our children after the occasional nightmare, during a night terror a child’s fear is usually irrational and inconsolable, no matter what you try.

Almost 40 percent of children (as well as a small percentage of adults) will experience occasional sleep disturbances that qualify as ‘night terrors.’ The good news for kids is that—while frightening—sleep terrors aren’t usually dangerous and most children outgrow them in time. And the good news for parents is that there are a number of things you can do to help your kids until the terrors pass.

What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors are episodes of “screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep.” Episodes may last a few seconds or a few minutes and rarely last longer. 

Unlike standard nightmares, in which the dreamer will wake up and may or may not recall details of the scary dream, a night terror involves someone who experiences a terrifying episode but remains asleep. Upon waking, the night terror sufferer generally doesn’t recall details. 

Night terrors usually happen in the first third to first half of the night. The good news is that they generally don’t happen during nap time so kids can get some additional rest if they have the opportunity to nap during the day.

Who Gets Night Terrors?

Night terrors generally happen between the ages of 4 and 12 and may be slightly more common among boys. A family history of night terrors or sleepwalking can also make a child more prone to experience them. 

Night terrors may also be more common in children who are:

  • overtired, ill, or stressed
  • taking a new medicine
  • sleeping in a new environment or away from home
  • not getting enough sleep
  • having too much caffeine

What Are the Symptoms of Night Terrors?

During a night terror, a child might:

  • Scream or shout in fright
  • Sit up in bed, terrified
  • Stare wide-eyed but stay asleep
  • Sweat, breathe heavily, and have a racing pulse
  • Kick and thrash
  • Be inconsolably upset
  • Possibly get out of bed and run around the house, or become aggressive if blocked or restrained

After a few minutes, the child will simply calm down and go back to sleep. They are unlikely to remember any of this the next day.

How to Help Your Child Cope With Night Terrors

While upsetting for parents and children alike, remember night terrors are generally harmless. The best way to deal with them is to wait patiently until they pass and make sure your child doesn’t hurt themselves if they’re thrashing or sleepwalking.

Don’t try to wake your child during a night terror. It rarely works, and children woken like this are likely to be confused and disoriented, and may take longer to go back to sleep. 

If your child has night terrors you can help prevent them by: 

  • having a set bedtime that you stick to: don’t let them stay up too late 
  • creating a simple, relaxing bedtime routine: sing some songs, or read a bedtime story
  • preventing your child from getting overtired: if they need to nap they should, or they can go to bed early
  • reducing stress: talk them through anything that’s bothering them, or try some pre-bed kiddie yoga or guided relaxation to help calm them before bed

One addition trick that can help if your child has a night terror around the same time every night is to try waking them up about 15–30 minutes before the night terror usually begins and see if that helps disrupt the occurrences of the terrors. This sleep stages chart may help you track the best time to wake your child.

When to See a Doctor

Occasional sleep terrors aren’t a cause for concern, but you can mention them at a child’s regular doctor’s appointment. 

However, you should consult your doctor if sleep terrors:

  • Become more frequent
  • Routinely disrupt the sleep of the person with sleep terrors or other family members
  • Lead to safety concerns or injury
  • Result in daytime symptoms of excessive sleepiness or problems functioning
  • Continue beyond the teen years or start in adulthood

5 Easy Ways to Get Outside and Active With Your Kids This Spring

With springtime well underway (well, in most places anyway) its time to get out of the house; time to stop being so cooped up and staring at screens all the time.

For children, especially, outdoor play is vitally important. According to Claire McCarthy, MD of the Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health blog, outdoor play helps children with socialization, healthy risk-taking, and even helps them develop creativity and better executive functioning, like the ability to “plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask.”

So how can you get outside and active with your kids this Spring? Here are five easy ways:

Go on a Spring Scavenger Hunt

Spring is a great time for building a fun and engaging outdoor scavenger hunt for kids. The possibilities of what they could search for are endless: a tree budding, a bird building a nest, tulips and daffodils starting to bloom after a long winter sleep.  

Give each child a picture checklist list of spring items they’re likely to find along your route and then just head out on a walk. Give out ink stamps or stickers for each item a child finds. The scavenger hunt will help kids not just enjoy the outdoors but really pay attention to the world around them.

Travel On Your Park Passport

Let’s face it: grown-ups love getting stamps in our passports. So why wouldn’t our kids love it, too? 

The kids can make their own passport booklets from construction paper and you can fill them with pictures of local parks—both new ones and old favourites—as the ‘destination’ for their trips. Each week you can visit one or two parks, and as proof of their travels the kids get an ink stamp or a sticker in their passport as they cross a park off their list. It’s a great way to see the neighbourhood and visit parks you might not usually get to.

Not enough parks nearby? No problem! You can add in libraries, schoolyards, nature trails, or even just a stand of trees the kids can explore. Anything that gets them excited to be outside will work.

Make a Nature ABC Book

Just because we’re outside doesn’t mean we can’t still be learning, right? Combine the physical with the educational by building a Nature ABC Book!

Go for a nature walk, and with your phone or a camera let your kids identify and photograph items they find—one for each letter of the alphabet. See some ants? That’s A taken care of! See the bark on that tree? There’s your letter B! 

The LifeTales app would be a great way to record these finds, in either still photos or videos. You can even include notes or voice recordings from you and your kids talking about what they found.

Go for a Bicycle or Scooter Ride

Getting the bicycle—with or without training wheels—out of the garage is a classic rite of a new Spring. Learning to ride is an important milestone for many children, a sign of their growing independence. The popularity of scooters has also grown in recent years, with two-wheeled versions available for older children, and more stable three-wheeled scooters for young children who are still working on balance and coordination. 

They’ll be having so much fun they won’t even realize its good for them! (Just be sure to keep a few bandages around the house to deal with the inevitable skinned knees). 

Make sure tires are pumped up, chains well oiled, and that properly fitted bike helmets are worn. A bell and reflectors are also good safety ideas.

The Canada Safety Council offers good tips on making sure your kids understand the rules of the road and how they can stay safe on a bike or scooter.

Get Your Kids Gardening

What could be more appealing to little kids than getting to play in the dirt? That’s why gardening is a perfect outdoor activity for children! It can help them learn about natural lifecycles, develop a taste for those dreaded vegetables, and even aid in their cognitive and motor skills development. Spring is the right time to start planting for a tasty harvest come summertime.

For results that will keep kids interested (and that will see them eating a little salad they grew as soon as possible) focus on fast-growing seeds. Think lettuce, radishes, and green onions (planted from tiny bulbs called sets). Kids can do their own planting, water and weed their own beds or containers, and harvest fruits and veggies they grew.

And don’t forget edible flowers! Nasturtiums, pansies, lemon marigold, and hollyhock are all colourful additions to a garden that are not only easy to grow, but whose petals make tasty additions to salads, edible decorations for cakes, and fun garnishes for a tall glass of lemonade.

22 Dos and Don’ts for Planning Your Family Vacations

It could be a dream family holiday, a summer road trip, or a weekend getaway with the kids. But have you thought of everything? What are you forgetting? Here are 22 dos and don’ts to help you have a happier, more relaxing family vacation.

DOs

DO be flexible

There’s no such thing as a perfect vacation, so let that idea go now. You’ll be happier in the long-run. And don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t go to plan. There’s sure to be some other event or attraction right around the corner that you didn’t know about, and that can be just as exciting.

DO create an “adventure kit” for each child

Fill this with activities and snacks for the travel portions of your trip. You can even theme this to your destination. Make it a rule that the kids can’t open their kits until you’re underway—it will add to the excitement and anticipation for the trip to begin!

DO bring a night light

A strange hotel room can be scary for kids—and hard to navigate in the dark for adults, too! Help prevent bad dreams and stubbed toes: pack a night light.

DO carry zip-top bags and changes of clothes

For every kid. Even for teenagers. Spills and accidents and pukes happen. Don’t get caught short.

DO pack more than one phone charger

Because if you’re all taking pictures all day you’re all going to need a charge at the same time. Make sure if you are overseas that you also bring travel plug converters with you.

DO plan a variety of fun activities

Depending on your destination some activities may require advanced planning. And keep in mind the need to have a bunch of different activities planned that require different lengths of time and that suit different kinds of weather. Can’t go on that historic walking tour because its pouring cats-and-dogs outside? Maybe a trip to a museum or art gallery is in order instead!

DO plan on a slower pace

Especially if you are used to traveling without children, plan for a slower-than-expected pace for your days. You won’t get out of the hotel when you plan to. You won’t get to see and do as many things as you plan to. That’s par for the course with kiddos, so just roll with it. You’ll still have a good time. See point #1 above!

DO make local culture and history enjoyable for the kids

Bear in mind the distance you plan to cover in a day, and how little legs and feet might cope with a lot of walking or hiking. Dragging irritable children around because you’re trying to do too much will suck the fun out of the most exotic locale. Plan shorter excursions each day, and include ones that don’t require as much walking. For example, site-seeing bus tours can be really engaging for the whole family and they let you sit down while you see the city.

DO try the local delicacies

Talk to some locals and get recommendations for where they eat. You’ll get an authentic experience and you’ll likely pay less than at restaurants catering mostly to tourists. Encourage your kids to savour new flavours when you’re on vacation—but have some more familiar back-ups handy for picky eaters.

DO make time for yourself

If you’re traveling with another adult (or more) tag out once and a while. Split up and take the kids on your own for a bit to give your partner a break. They can return the favour later when you do some solo exploring of your own. Some holiday entertainment destinations offer a child-minding or babysitting service, so you might even have an opportunity for a real kid-free date night!

DO bring back some local toys or books

Local toys and books make wonderful souvenirs and will be one-of-a-kind keepsakes that you can’t just grab at some airport store.

DON’Ts

DON’T pack everything you own

They will have stores where you’re going where you can pick up anything you forgot and can’t live without. I promise.

DON’T offend the locals

Whether you’re overseas or just in the next town over remember that you’re a guest where someone else lives. Don’t be that tourist. For more exotic locales know the important local customs you’ll be expected to follow. Try and learn a bit of the language if you can, and install a real-time translation app on your phone to help avoid misunderstandings.

DON’T expect the excitement levels to last all day

Everyone needs a little downtime, especially kids. Nap time is real. Take advantage of some downtime yourself while the kids sleep or chill out with a crafts project. Parents can get burnt out on travel, too!

DON’T force the kids to do everything with you

Many family-friendly resorts and hotels have kids’ clubs with age-appropriate activities to keep children entertained and occupied. Plan a day with some low-key activities and just let the kids be kids.

DON’T forget the sunscreen

Sunscreen. Wet wipes. Favourite toys. Passports. There are lots of little things to remember. Try writing out a list well in advance of your trip, or use one of the many online versions to help you remember all the odds-and-ends. Important: make sure you check with a local travel clinic whether your destination requires any travel vaccinations!

DON’T forget to keep a trip scrapbook

Encourage your kids to capture their memories of the day in a scrapbook. You can do this right before bed, with each child have a page or two of their own. They can write, draw, or paste in memories of the day (this is a great place to keep ticket stubs and all those event and attraction wristbands! See how many you can collect on the trip!) They can cut-and-paste in maps, postcards, stamps—you name it.

DON’T overdo it on social media

Live in the moment, not on your social media. Yes, you’ll be taking some incredible and adorable pics, and of course you want to share them. But limit your time on social to one or two times a day while you’re away. Or better yet: just post once before you go to bed and upload a mini-album of your day.

DON’T try to do too much

Pack too much into your agenda and you’ll spend your days rushing around and anxious about what you’re missing out on. Dial it back. Enjoy where you are and what you’re doing as you do it. Leave some room in your schedule to embrace the unexpected. And leave the #FOMO at home.

DON’T check in with work

Leave work at work. Enjoy your time away. Those emails will still be there waiting when you get home.

DON’T forget to drink enough water

Stay hydrated. You’ll feel better and will have more energy to explore if you’re drinking enough water. Depending on where you are in the world make sure you’re filling up from a trusted source of clean water.

DON’T forget frequent toilet breaks

And if you’re drinking enough water then don’t forget the need for restroom breaks whenever possible. Especially with young kids always insist they do a just-in-case pee before you head back out on the road, even if they went recently. Don’t trust that there’s a toilet at your next destination and get caught without one!

The Top Royal Baby Names for Boys and Girls

With the arrival of the first baby (a boy!) for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—a.k.a. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s—its time to start thinking about what little Baby Sussex might be named. British royalty tends to have a long list of given names (Harry has four, as does his older brother, William). But unlike other celebrities, names within the Royal Family tend toward the traditional and are usually drawn from a pool of names handed down from earlier generations of British and European royalty.

Harry and Meghan’s little boy can probably count on at least some of his names coming from the lists of most popular Royal baby names below. Whether you’re having a boy or a girl, these regal names should offer some inspiration for you, too.

THE 10 MOST POPULAR ROYAL BOY NAMES

Albert

Meaning: Noble, bright.

The most popular name for royal boys. Queen Victoria’s prince consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, bore the name, as did their son, grandson, and two great-grandsons. Albert is also one of Prince Harry’s names.

George

Meaning: Tiller of the soil, farmer.

The second most popular royal boy’s name, Royal Georges share their name with St. George, patron saint of England, who legend says fought a fire-breathing dragon. There have been six kings of England named George and someday there will be a seventh—Will and Kate’s oldest son, George, who is third in line for the British throne.

Charles

Meaning: Full-grown, a man

There have been two English kings with this name, a father and son both in the 17th Century. Prince Charles, next in line for the throne, will make three. The name Charles (and variations) have been popular amongst European royals going all the way back to 800 AD and the first Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Great—better known as Charlemagne.

Edward

Meaning: Rich guard

While there have been lots of kings named Edward, the most famous has to be the most recent: King Edward VIII. He was king for less than a year, abdicating in 1936 to marry American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. If you count the earliest Edwards in English history—Edward the Confessor and Edward the Martyr, who ruled before 1066, then Edward wins as the most popular name for English monarchs.

Christian

Meaning: A follower of Christ

While there have been five royals whose name includes Christian, the most recent was Edward VIII—it was one of his seven (!) given names. Christian has also been a popular name amongst European royalty and came to Edward VIII through his great-grandfather, Christian IX of Denmark.

Frederick

Meaning: Peaceful ruler

While there’s never been a King Frederick of England, the last four King Georges all had this name amongst their given names. Frederick has also been a popular royal name in Germanic countries, including Prussia and Denmark.

Louis

Meaning: Famous warrior

Prince William and his son, Prince George, both have Louis as a given name, and William and Kate’s youngest son’s first name is Louis. William got the name from the Queen’s beloved uncle, Earl Louis Mountbatten. The name has been even more popular in France, where there were an astonishing 20 kings with the name!

Arthur

Meaning: Noble, courageous

Most famous for the legendary sixth century King Arthur, more recently George VI (the Queen’s father) and Prince Charles both count Arthur as one of their given names.

William

Meaning: Resolute protector

The popularity of this royal name goes all the way back to 1066 and William the Conqueror. There have been four King Williams, with our current Prince William slated to be number five someday (unless he decides to reign under one of his other three given names). 

Henry

Meaning: Home ruler

This royal name is a bit fraught, given the last guy to have the name (Henry VIII) had a bad habit of executing his wives! William IV had Henry as a given name, as does Prince Harry—Henry is his actual first name.

THE 10 MOST POPULAR ROYAL GIRL NAMES

Victoria

Meaning: Victory, conquer

Considered an unusual name at the time of her ascension to the throne, it’s now hard to imagine a more thoroughly royal girl’s name than Victoria—maybe that’s why its the most popular royal girl’s name. Queen Victoria might have helped this along, however. She is widely believed to have encouraged (or perhaps insisted) that her descendants use the name.

Mary

Meaning: Wished-for child

One of the current Queen’s given names, Mary is also the name of several famous English Queens, including Mary I (the first woman to rule England in her own right), Mary, Queen of Scots (who took the throne at the age of just six days!), and Mary II (who wrested the crown from her father, James II, in what is known as the Glorious Revolution).

Louise

Meaning: Famous warrior

The most famous royal Louise was the Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. A strong supporter of the arts and higher education and an early feminist, many features of the Canadian West are named in her honour (after her time spent in Canada when her husband was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. These include the province of Alberta, Mount Alberta, and the stunning Lake Louise, a glacial lake within Banff National Park.

Alexandra

Meaning: Defender of Mankind

Another of Queen Elizabeth’s given names, the first royal girl to be named Alexandra…was actually Queen Victoria! Named Alexandrina in honour of her godfather, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, it was only on taking the throne that young Alexandrina chose to be known as Victoria.

Elizabeth

Meaning: Oath of God, or God is Satisfaction

The longest-serving British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II shares her name with another illustrious English Queen, Elizabeth I who reigned in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Also known as herself, whose full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I was the last of the five Tudor monarchs.

Alice

Meaning: Noble, truth

Prince Philip’s mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg, who married Prince Andrew of Greece. The mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, she famously stayed in Athens during the Second World War and sheltered Jewish refugees from the Nazis, for which she is recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.

Margaret

Meaning: Pearl

The best-known Margaret in the Royal Family was Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, the Queen’s younger sister.

Charlotte

Meaning: Free man, petite

The name Charlotte entered the Royal Family in the 18th Century when King George III married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The most recent Charlotte is Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, the only daughter of Will and Kate. She is fourth in the line of succession to the British throne.

Augusta

Meaning: Majestic, grand

Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg married into the British Royal Family in the 18th Century. When her husband died, she was presumptive regent of Great Britain until her son came of age in 1756.

Helena

Meaning: Light, torch, bright

Princess Helena was the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was an active patron of charities, one of the founding members of the British Red Cross, and president of the Royal British Nurses’ Association.

5 Tips to Introduce Your Kids to Concert Music

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in Califnornia. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.
Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in California. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.

Want to bring a little classical music in your home? It’s a great way to introduce your kids to music and a long history of artistic excellence.

But first, I humbly suggest you rethink the terminology.

Classical music = concert music

When you think of classical music, you’re really thinking of concert music. Many of the pieces in the standard repertoire was composed by European men between roughly 1650 and 1900. It’s also usually played in formal spaces like concert halls (hence the name).

While this music is often referred to as “classical music,” that phrase is about as helpful as “real imitation margarine.” Why?

When we name something a “classic,” we’re connecting it with the ideals and restraint of ancient Greek art, which immediately rules out the great bulk of concert music. A lot of concert music, often as not, is filled with sturm und drang or angst and exaltation. It’s not exactly restrained.

So, concert music it is.

Why should you introduce kids to concert music?

Concert music constitutes some of the greatest music humans have ever cooked up. As a musical art form, concert music informs, edifies, educates, entertains, inspires, and packs a toy shop’s worth of joy. Introduced at the right time, it has the power to stay with children for the rest of their lives.

Tip #1: Lead by example

One of the great truisms of modern parenting is that children are more likely to read if they are read to and if they see their parents reading.

The same is true with music. It’s incumbent upon parents to set an example by listening to concert music at home and in the car (the latter might require some negotiation, but it is my experience that it CAN BE DONE).  Don’t be afraid of playing the same piece over and over again; familiarity breeds affection.

(Having said all this, don’t play one type of music to the exclusion of all others.  The distinctions we have created between “concert music” and “rock ‘n’ roll”, and “jazz” and so forth are meaningless to children.  They tend to just like music – all music – which is how it should be.)

Tip #2: Embrace noise and buy some drums

You don’t have to go full drum-kit, but playing along with your little maestros is a fun family bonding activity (slip the earplugs in if you need to–we won’t judge). Photo courtesy of Matthijs Smit via Unsplash.

It’s a fact of existence that kids love noise and parents detest it. Yet, I recommend that you invest in some decent percussion toys and encourage your kids to “play along” with recordings and videos. Better still, do it with them.

Picking up a drumstick will make you an active, not passive, participant in the musical process. It’s also a lot more fun than you might think.

Worried about “insulting” Bach or Mozart or Beethoven with your talents? Friends, they’re long dead and beyond insult. Besides, is playing along with a recording any more insulting than the disco arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was featured in Saturday Night Fever?  

I rest my case.

Tip #3: Introduce kid-friendly movies about music

There are dozens of kid-friendly story that model the role of concert music in modern life that are perfect for kids under six. My three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter love them.

Some examples:

Tip #4: Go to local concerts together

Take your kids to experience music at local events. Many cities and towns hold children’s concerts or musical events geared for families.

Outdoor festival concerts are even better, since they allow kids to run around and move to the music. Try to listen to the pieces on the program beforehand. Music literacy is very similar to written literacy.

A little bit of preparation, even a tiny amount, can pay off big time in terms of intensifying the experience for your kids. 

Tip #5: Get a piano

Bringing a piano into your home will increase your children’s exposure to music.

Don’t assume your instrument has to be an 8’11¾” Steinway “D,” which has a list price of approximately $130,000. A little spinet will do.

Put the piano in a place where the kids can bang away without making the rest of the family crazy. When it’s time for lessons (I recommend you start at age 6 or 7), the piano will be an old friend and not a new torture device.

Speaking of lessons—you’re never too old to start. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa or Whomever should think about taking lessons and practicing together with the kids for a bonding experience like no other.  

Piano or keyboard?

A child practices piano skills while sitting at a Yamaha.
Piano or keyboard? Professor Greenberg has some feels about that.
Photo courtesy of Siniz Kim via Unsplash.

Don’t know much about pianos? It’s an instrument made out of wood, medal, leather and felt.

It breathes. It is real. Its mechanism follows the will of the player’s body.

An electric keyboard is made out of plastic and circuitry. It is not real. It does not breathe. In my opinion, they have no place in your home. 

Unsure where to start? Here’s a starter playlist  

Would you love to bring concert music into your home? Not sure where to start?

Here are some wonderful performances of great works to get you going:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos; Trevor Pinnock conducting, on Archiv.
  2. Wolfgang Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, & 41; Neville Marriner conducting, on EMI.
  3. Ludwig van Beethoven, Nine Symphonies; John Eliot Gardiner conducting, on Archiv.
  4. Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals; Charles Dutoit conducting, on London.
  5. Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Carlo Rossi conducting, narrated by Boris Karloff, on Vanguard.

Nighty-Night: Bedtime Music Guaranteed to Put Kids to SLEEP

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in Califnornia. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.

Dinner’s over. The table’s cleared and dishes are done. Now, there’s just one thing between you and an hour or two of peace. Bedtime, also known as The Witching Hour.

We all know how it’s supposed to go:   

  • The pajamas, diaper, or pull-up are on.
  • Hands and faces are washed.
  • Teeth are brushed.
  • This week’s favorite story is read and re-read again.
  • Cuddles are had, lullabies sung and goodnight kisses bestowed.

And that’s exactly when the stall tactics begin.

  • “I’m hungry!”
  • “I’m thirsty!”
  • “I need to go to the bathroom!”
  • “I want to stay up with you!”

Finicky sleepers are enough to push anyone to their wits’ end. But who do you call?

Dead European composers!

Seriously. Listening to classical music at bedtime is a surefire way to get your kids relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep.

How classical music can make your bedtime routines smoother

Classical music with a steady beat and steady harmonic rhythm can prime your kids for sleep, says composer Robert Greenberg. Photo courtesy of Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash.

Music helps to calm, quiet, engage, distract and transport human beings of all ages to the drowsy state that is the gateway to a deep and restful sleep.  

As a pianist, composer and PhD in music composition with four children of my own, here’s what I’ve learned through experimentation and hard experience.

When picking classical music for bedtime, the piece should have:

  • A steady beat.  Why? A steady beat of moderate-to-slow speed induces steady breathing of moderate-to-slow speed, a necessary pre-condition for snoozing.
  • A steady harmonic rhythm, which means that the chords, or harmonies, change with a high degree of regularity. The harmonic rhythm of Johann Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon changes with the regularity of the seasons, creating a soporific effect that even a caffeine addict will feel. Contrast that to the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, for example, in which the jagged, explosive, unpredictable expressive mood is partially a product of a fairly irregular harmonic rhythm.
  • No vocal tracks. Voices and the words they contain grab and hold our attention. In general, it’s not conducive to snoozing.
  • No orchestral sections. Their greater dynamic range of loud and soft extremes in orchestral music may be too stimulating. I’ve found it’s better to stick to works for solo keyboard or chamber music. Save the 1812 Overture or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for your mornings.  

A note about the ‘Mozart Effect’ 

Over 225 years after his death, Mozart’s still being used as an aspirational model for many parents who want their children to achieve prodigy status. Photo courtesy of Anton Shuvalov on Unsplash.

Before we get into particular recommendations, I want to note that many fine, well-meaning music lovers have made small fortunes writing about “The Mozart Effect,” “The Bach Effect,” and even “The Alternative Art-Punk Emo Hardcore Effect.”

Regardless of composer or period, these advocates promise that playing certain specific classical music to children, both in utero and post-birth, produces smarter, happier and well-rounded children.

Sadly, such promises are utter nonsense. 

What works best for bedtime is instrumental music with a steady beat and a steady harmonic rhythm. While this definition eliminates most Emo Hardcore music, it does include the bulk of European instrumental music composed between roughly 1700 and 1800, and much of the instrumental music written to the late 1800s. 

That block of time spans the High Baroque and Classical periods, including notable composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Mozart. But it also captures work from hundreds of other worthy composers, whose music will just as easily put your children to bed.

So rest easy that if my selections don’t work for your family, you could also choose music by:

  • Arcangelo Corelli
  • Guiseppe Torelli
  • Antonio Vivaldi
  • George Frideric Handel
  • J.C. Bach, C.P.E. Bach or W. F. Bach (all three Johann Sebastian’s sons)
  • Georg Philipp Telemann
  • Joseph Haydn
  • Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (a real composer, honest)

Whether any of their compositions will also improve your children’s SAT scores is a conversation for another post.

10 Musical selections for better bedtimes

An orchestra plays for a packed assembly hall.
Not all symphonies are created equally for bedtime, says Robert Greenberg. Here are his top 10 picks. Orchestra photo courtesy of Arindam Mahanta on Unsplash.
  1. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello.  A suite is a collection of dances, and Bach composed six such solo cello collections from 1717 to 1723. They form the bedrock of the cello repertoire and are the most frequently played solo works ever composed for the instrument. Listening to a solo instrument soothes the mind because of the intimacy of concentrating on a single, musical voice. Cellos have a round, sweet, and relatively low/deep sound that compounds that effect. Not sure which recording to choose? I recommend Janos Starker on Mercury.
  2. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Composed in 1741, this epic keyboard work consists of a theme and 30 variations, concluded by a reprise of the theme. This is the most thematically “appropriate” piece on this list. Composed to help a former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony sleep at night, it will help your kids, too. Recommended recording: Glenn Gould’s 1982 piano recording on Sony. (Gould’s 1955 recording is too fast for bedtime.)
  3. Joseph Haydn’s String Quartets Op. 33. These six string quartets, composed in 1781, were published together as Opus (or “work”) 33. They’re works of great beauty, brevity, and expressive directness. Recommended recording: The Kodály Quartet on NAXOS.
  4. Wolfgang Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp. Composed in 1778, this is an ethereally beautiful work from Mozart’s repertoire. Recommended recording: Yehudi Menuhin conducting the English Chamber Orchestra on Virgin Classics.
  5. Wolfgang Mozart’s “Haydn” String Quartets. Mozart composed these six string quartets between 1782 and 1785, and dedicated them to his friend and mentor Joseph Haydn. Upon hearing these quartets, the Haydn told Mozart’s father that, “Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” They should help your kids relax, too. Recommended recording: The Alexander String Quartet on Foghorn.
  6. Wolfgang Mozart’s Piano Trios.  Mozart composed five mature trios for piano, violin and cello between 1786 and 1788. Recommended recording: The Beaux Arts Trio, on Philips.
  7. Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartets Op. 18, known as the “Early String Quartets”.  The six string quartets in this collection—elegant lyric, and ahead of their time—were composed between 1798 and 1800. Recommended recording: The Alexander String Quartet, on Foghorn.
  8. Johannes Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. Brahms wrote this preternaturally beautiful work, scored for clarinet and string quartet, near the end of his life in 1891. I humbly and happily suggest that it is among the most perfect pieces of music ever composed. Recommended recording: Karl Leister, clarinet and the Vermeer Quartet on Orfeo.
  9. Johannes Brahms’s Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano (known as the “Horn Trio”). Another pieces of perfection from Brahms, you’ll want to listen to it for yourself once the kids are asleep. Recommended recording: Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Barry Tuckwell, horn on London.
  10. J. S. Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias (“Two and Three-Part Inventions”) for harpsichord. This last piece is a household favorite.  I have played this music for my youngest two kids (aged 12 and 10) nearly every night for the last ten years. Once, many years ago, I attempted to substitute something else. My daughter, five years old at the time, staged an demonstration and shut down the house. I never swapped it out again. Recommended recording: Kenneth Gilbert, harpsichord on Archiv.

We’d love to hear from you

Are you a believer in music as a gateway to better bedtimes? What kind of music plays well in your family? We’d love to hear about your journey. Drop us a line at hello@lifetales.com.

Do you have professional expertise of value to families? Would you like your expertise featured on our blog? Send your pitch to hello@lifetales.com. We can’t respond to all inquiries, but we’ll be in touch if there’s a fit.

Viruses, Colds, Bacteria—Oh My!

Dr. Brown’s tips for keeping your house free of colds all year long

Dr. Vivien Brown, MD, joins us for another blog post about healthy pareting
Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Dr. Vivien Brown, MD, back as a guest blogger to LifeTales. Dr. Brown is a family physician in Toronto, Canada and a well-known national and international speaker on women’s health. She’s also the author of A Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging: Seven essential ways to keep you vital, happy and strong.

Flu season might be winding down in the northern hemisphere as we move into our spring and summer seasons, but it’s just picking up in the southern hemisphere with the onset of winter.

Global air travel also makes it easy for colds, flu, bronchitis, sore throats, and many sinus and ear infections to surface at home, school and our workplaces year-round.

So how should you keep your family safe?

Think twice before asking for antibiotics

Many people assume that getting sick means they need an antibiotic to get better.

In fact, taking antibiotics for colds and other viral illnesses not only won’t work, it has dangerous side effects—over time. Globally, overexposure to antibiotics is producing drug-resistant bacteria that don’t respond to antibiotics that may have worked in the past.

Increasingly, I find myself prescribing antibiotics in increasingly higher doses to help my patients recover when suffering from serious bacterial infections.

Antibiotic resistance is a widespread problem, and one that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US call “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.” With time, bacteria that were once highly responsive to antibiotics have become more and more resistant.

Among those that are becoming harder to treat are pneumococcal infections such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Meningitis

What’s the difference between bacteria and viruses?

Although bacteria and viruses are both too small to be seen without a microscope, they’re as different as giraffes and goldfish. 

Both types of infections are caused by microbes — bacteria and viruses, respectively — and spread by things such as coughing and sneezing, contact with infected people, especially through kissing and sex, contact with contaminated surfaces, food, and water, contact with infected creatures, including pets, livestock, and insects such as fleas and ticks.

But the infections are dissimilar in many other important respects, most of them due to the organisms’ structural differences and the way they respond to medications.

When should you ride out a cold or see a doctor?

A white ceramic cup with a metal spoon, a paper box of tissues and a pair of upside-down glasses imply it's flu time in this household.
Oh, we’ve all been there. When a cold hits, it’s time to bunker down, grab the tissues, get some tea and wait for your symptoms to pass.

While viruses and bacteria can cause similar symptoms, concerns that suggest a serious infection may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Decreased appetite
  • Overwhelming fatigue

Other symptoms, such as sore throats and swollen glands, are more generalized and may need an expert opinion to decide how best to proceed. They can occur with either bacterial or viral infections.

If your infection, sore throat, cough or flu-like illness is overwhelming and feels like the worst infection you can recall in some time, you should always go and get checked by your health care professional!

Another indicator that you need further attention is not seeing improvement or easing of your symptoms within a couple of days.

How to safely take antibiotics

A patient receives a vaccine shot in a medical office.
Getting the flu shot is one way to reduce your likelihood of contracting a serious illness, like the flu.

So what should you do? To increase your bacterial resistance and minimize your odds of getting sick, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections. It’s a good idea to let milder illnesses, especially those caused by viruses, to run their course. This approach helps prevent antibiotic-resistant germs from developing. But leave it to your doctor’s discretion to decide if your illness is “mild” or not.
  2. Take antibiotics for the full amount of time your doctor prescribes. Anything less won’t treat the bacterial infection.
  3. Never use antibiotics left over from other illnesses. Health Canada has guidelines for how to safely dispose of antibiotics.
  4. Help fight antibiotic resistance and prevent infections from spreading by frequently washing your hands and getting immunized, such as a flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine.

Ask your healthcare professional about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce your symptoms.

General suggestions for dealing with mild viral illnesses

For colds like these, the advice you got from your parents is likely the best:

  • Drink more fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.
  • Soothe your throat with crushed ice, sore throat spray, or lozenges for adults.
  • Don’t give lozenges to young children! Try Popsicles or lots of cold liquid to drink.

We’d love to hear from you

Did you have a memorable illness or cold as a child? How about your kids? We’d love to hear about your journey. Drop us a line at hello@lifetales.com.

Do you have professional expertise of value to families? Would you like your expertise featured on our blog? Send your pitch to hello@lifetales.com. We can’t respond to all inquiries, but we’ll be in touch if there’s a fit.

Sibling Birth Order: Myths and Misconceptions

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Alyson Schafer as a LifeTales guest blogger. Ms Schafer is a parenting expert based in Toronto, Canada, who makes regular media appearances. Her books include Breaking the Good Mom Myth, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, and Ain’t Misbehavin’: Tactics for Tantrums.

By Alyson Schafer

I talk with a lot of parents. In these conversations, I’ve heard just about every myth about sibling birth order.

Put your hand up if you’re heard any of these misconceptions:

  • Older siblings turn into bossy, high-achievers.
  • Middle children always end up feeling left out.  
  • Youngest siblings keep up the baby routine long past the sell-by date.
  • Only children are lonely, spoiled, selfish, poorly socialized—take your pick.

It’s easy to make assumptions like these about children and their sibling. While it’s true that siblings do affect a child’s family life, we don’t always put the impact in the right places.

Myth #1: Getting hung up on birth numbers

Alfred Adler in a file photo from the Alfred Adler Center International. He is wearing glasses, a suit and tie, and looking right into the camera, one finger thoughtfully posed to the left side of his face. Adler's ideas about individual
Alfred Adler is known for his work in individual psychology and ideas of inferiority. Image courtesy of the Alfred Adler Center International.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was an Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist known for his ideas about individual psychology and inferiority. He was also one of the first psychotherapists to think about families, children, birth order, and personality development.

Sometimes, people interpret Adler’s work to mean that a child’s birth number matters most (e.g., being born first or second or fifth). But that view oversimplifies what’s happening.

Have you heard the saying, “You can’t step into the same river twice?” Adler’s ideas about children and personality are similar. Each child’s birth changes the family in the same way that putting your foot in the water changes the river.

Adler was interested in how children change their family’s internal dynamics, and how their personalities changed in turn. There’s a lot more give an take than relying on the birth number allows.

Children are creative meaning makers

Two siblings lie together on a park blanket on a warm day, grinning at the camera. Both boys are dressed in jeans and button-down shirts.
Your children’s perspective on their role in the family may surprise you. Be open to their ideas. Photo by Edward Cisneros via Unsplash.

Instead of their birth order in the family, the child plays a big role in deciding how they fit.

Somewhere during their first four or five years, children begin exploring the benefits and disadvantages of their role in the family. Some things they will accept, and some they will reject.

For example, consider a boy born into a family of girls.

  • One boy might decide his situation makes him special because he stands out.
  • Another boy might decide, “I don’t fit in with my sisters because I’m not a girl.”

So, while birth order may factor into this self-evaluation, the child decides on their role. Their subsequent decisions shape both them and their siblings. 

Myth #2: Only children are deprived by not having siblings

A toddler agilely climbs out of a sandbox, ready to explore and make mistakes on their own terms. Only children don't require siblings to be happy.
Give children space to learn, make mistakes and set their own standards. Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash.

This myth is entirely ungrounded. As any only child will tell you, siblings are not required for human happiness.

Only children are likely to:

  • Spend more time with adults.
  • Develop a big vocabulary through conversations with adults.
  • Get more attention without built-in playroom competition.

But, a child’s response depends on the creative meaning they perceive. They might decide to fit in by acting like a mini adult. Or, they might feel intimated by the competent giants all around them and withdraw.

There’s nothing inherently good or bad about being an only child. Here are some common fears parents have, and a few ways to lessen those concerns: 

  • No built-in playmates. Parents may fear their child will grow up with poor socialization skills without siblings. Try joining playgroups and scheduling play dates with same-age children. Your child will gain social skills, form relationships and learn how to set and respect boundaries. (You might make new friends, too.)
  • Desire to please adults. Without other children around, only children often play more with their parents and other adults. It’s easy to develop a short feedback loop between the child’s action and the parent’s praise, intervention, or suggestions to improve. By sitting back, parents can allow the child to experiment. Emphasize that mistakes are okay, and encourage your child to adopt their progress, not your adult abilities, as their standard for success.
  • Tendencies to loneliness. Rather than something to be feared, alone time gives children the space to explore their interests and passions. Children who spend time alone can become accustomed to entertaining themselves and genuinely enjoy their own company. It’s also a useful skill in adulthood.

Myth #3: Having more children deprives kids of their parents’ attention

Two siblings play together by the shore at sunset.
Bigger families and more siblings create different growth paths for kids. Photo by Limor Zellermayer on Unsplash.

What’s the flip side about myths for only children? That having a baby (or many babies) deprives your toddlers and older children of your attention.

It’s true that having more children increases the demands on parents’ time and attention. Like only children, first-born children experience constant attention from their parents during their first years at home. As a group, they tend to be well-behaved and focused on pleasing adults.

As new siblings enter the family dynamic, some children choose to define their roles in opposition to those their siblings hold. Here’s a few patterns you might see if:

  • The eldest slept through the night, your next children may be more fitful.
  • Your older child only likes meat and carbs, your second child might embrace vegetables and fruit.
  • The oldest child is a model kid, younger children may take the position of being good at bad behavior. Expect to see more naughtiness and challenges to your authority if your child chooses this role. Alternatively, if your oldest child sees a sibling’s birth as a threat to their position, they may start to act out and misbehave. In those cases, the second child may orient themselves to being the “good one.” 

If you spend time with children, you’ll notice they’re very interested in what other children do and say. Observing older children one way in which kids learn and differentiate themselves from each other.

You can expect children with older siblings to:

  • Look up to their older siblings. And, they’ll try very hard to physically keep up to avoid missing anything.
  • Take bigger risks, with less concerned with perfection and mistake making.
  • Express an ambitious “go-for-it” attitude.

Creating positive sibling dynamics in your family

Two siblings run together in a city street. They are holding hands.
Let your children set the tone for their sibling dynamic. Your interpretations won’t necessarily be how they view their role in the family. Photo by Wayne Lee-Sing on Unsplash.

As many philosophers have noted, there’s no one way to be a family. As you bring more children into your household, here are some takeaway thoughts to keep in mind.

  1. Observe what your children do and say about their family role. Don’t assume their experience will match yours or project your ideas about what it should be. It’ll give you a clearer understanding and opportunity to course correct as needed.
  2. Give each child the space to play, learn and make mistakes. Whether you have one child or 10, accept each for their uniqueness.
  3. What’s fair isn’t always what’s needed. Many parents adopt scrupulous fairness as a way of not playing favorites. Not only is policing fairness exhausting, if children complain about a sibling-related injustice, they may be expressing a different need. Making everything equal only serves to increase the competitive nature of the relationship between siblings. They will become bean counters, assessing fairness in all things. Life isn’t fair, and sometimes the needs of one demands different time, attention, resources.  Get curious and ask questions about what your children need and how their needs may be different.
  4. Do your best. As adults, children from big families often note that while the first child’s babyhood is lovingly documented, the third child is lucky if there’s a picture. So, accept that your experience with each child will also be different as your family grows . And, make space for your ideas to similarly shift.

We’d love to hear from you

What was your sibling experience? How does it differ from your children’s experience? We’d love to hear about your journey. Drop us a line at hello@lifetales.com.

Do you have professional expertise of value to families? Would you like your expertise featured on our blog? Send your pitch to hello@lifetales.com. We can’t respond to all inquiries, but we’ll be in touch if there’s a fit.

Water, Food Rainbows and Togetherness

What Canada’s Updated Food Guide Means For Your Family

By Dr. Vivien Brown, MD

Dr. Vivien Brown, MD, is pictured in a pink suit with black pin-stripes. She is smiling at the camera in this professional head shot.
Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Dr. Vivien Brown, MD, as a guest blogger to LifeTales. Dr. Brown is a family physician in Toronto, Canada and a well-known national and international speaker on women’s health. She’s also the author of A Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging: Seven essential ways to keep you vital, happy and strong.

Eating is a powerful part of life. Think about your earliest childhood memories. Chances are, food—and the people who made it for you—plays a big part of those moments.

Yet, developing healthy food habits can be a great anxiety source for many parents. That’s particularly true if you’ve got a picky eater on your hands or your child’s suddenly changed their preferences.

In January 2019, Health Canada announced that a brand new food guide for families. It’s the first time Health Canada has revised its recommendations in 12 years.

How can this change help parents? Food guides, which reflect the best available scientific evidence at the time of their publication, offer insight into where to focus your energy in building healthy eating habits.  

And the new guide’s got some great suggestions.

The biggest change? Food rainbows, not food groups

The biggest change to Canada’s Food guide is removing the old food groups: grains, milk products, fruit and vegetables, and meat and alternatives.

Instead, the new food guide encourages Canadians to think of each meal in terms of a plate divided into four sections.

A plate and glass of water demonstrate Canada's Food Guide recommendations. The left half of the the plate is covered in colourful fruits and vegetables. The right half is divided into protein-rich and whole grain foods.
Canada’s Food Guide recommends that Canadians focus on food proportions on a dinner plate rather than traditional food groups. Image courtesy of Health Canada.
  • Two quarters of that plate should include plenty of fruits and vegetables with a variety of color, such as purple grapes, green broccoli or kale, red onion, orange sweet potato or yellow corn. (You get the idea.) Serve a variety of the most colorful foods your family enjoys.
  • One quarter of the plate should be focused on protein, such as tofu, beans, legumes or meat.
  • The plate’s last quarter should be for whole-grain foods, such as brown rice or multigrain noodles.

Unsure what counts as a whole grain? John Berardi, PhD and co-founder of Toronto-based Precision Nutrition (PN), has an excellent overview to finding whole grains in your local markets.

And PN also has a useful visual system for estimating portions using your hand size when you’re on the run.

How you eat is just as important as what you eat

Canada’s new food guide goes further than just identifying healthy foods. If you want to build strong, lifelong eating habits, parents should also be mindful of how we eat.

A group of adults eat together around a long table in an outdoor market. They are talking as they eat.
Canada’s Food Guide now recommends eating with other people is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.
  1. Make time for your meals. While modern life makes it inevitable that you’ll be dining and dashing every now and again, it’s important to sit down and pay conscious attention to your food. It takes more effort to eat a healthy diet if you’re constantly on the move.
  2. Avoid digital distractions. Turn off the TV, put tablets away and keep your phones off the table. You’ll enjoy your food and develop a better sense of social connection with your family. While we’ve all distracted a grumpy toddler with a device in a crowded restaurant, devices should not be a go-to option at dinner.
  3. Cook at home more often. Home-cooked meals tend to be healthier because they give you full control of your ingredients. Decrease or eliminate high sodium foods, food high in sugar and food with saturated fats.
  4. Involve your children in preparing the meal. You can teach your kids a useful life skill and pass your family’s cultural practices along by teaching your kids to cook. Cooking can also be a way to bring children and grandparents together, deepening their sense of family and where they come from.
  5. Eat and talk together. Eating is tied to social activity, family and friends in every culture. When Brazil introduced their food guide in 2015, their government also emphasized the culture and climate of eating, along with food choice. Eating with others improves our feeling of connection, teaches conversation skills and allows us to share healthy traditions.

Ditch juice and give your kids water to drink

Water artfully pours into a clear glass tumbler.
Canada’s Food Guide now recommends that adults and children make water their primary drink. Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash.

Canada’s new food guide puts drinking water front and center in its recommendations, especially for children. 

That news may surprise some parents. Nutritionists and doctors have advised against giving children sugar-heavy drinks like soda for several years. But juice and milk have been staples of food guides in the past.

Yet, the new food guide recommends that Canadian families avoid all drinks that are high in sugar. That includes juice.

What about milk? Dairy is now considered a protein and not an independent category. Drinking milk should be considered against other protein consumption in the diet.

While there is some disagreement about some of these new guidelines, researchers like Yoni Freedhoff have argued that juice and milk may become gateway drinks to pop.

Eating well is a lifelong journey

Vegetables, including spinach, avocado, grape tomatoes, mushrooms and scallions--are arranged with two eggs on a wooden cutting board with a kitchen knife on top of a backdrop of grey tiles. A cooking pan lies partially across the top of the photo.
Canada’s Food Guide now recommends that you eat a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, rather than focusing on food groups. Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash.

I get a lot of questions from my patients about how the new food guide should influence the choices they make for their families.

It’s important to remember that guidelines are not laws. Instead, they provide educated instruction that each individual should interpret. If you have questions, you should always talk to the doctors and medical professionals who know your history and health needs best.

Also, Health Canada’s recommendations reflect recent changes in medical and scientific research. By adding new discussion areas to the guide, Health Canada is asking us to consider new ideas, such as the important of eating with family, that haven’t had a lot of airtime in previous versions.

What is Health Canada’s goal in updating the guide? In general, they want to help Canadians to:

  1. Improve our personal health.
  2. Make decisions that will help us to meet our nutrient needs.
  3. Reduce the real risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases and conditions.

While these are lofty but important goals, we still need to make Canada’s Food Guide apply to our own lives. You can use the information it contains as a stepping stone to avoiding the disordered eating patterns I see in patients every day.

So, the food guide serves as a great reminder to be proactive about our eating habits as we grow and age. To have a healthy life, it’s important to be proactive about food. A meal is a process, not just an end result.

By sharing meals, play and conversation with others, we’ll all learn to make better choices for our health.

What role does food play in your family?

What recipes do you enjoy making with your family? Have you added cooking experiences to your Family or Child collections in LifeTales? We’d love to learn more. Drop us a line at hello@lifetales.com.

Do you have professional expertise of value to families? Would you like your expertise featured on our blog? Send your pitch to hello@lifetales.com. Please note we can’t respond to all inquiries. But we will be in touch if there’s a fit.

Growth Mindset Parenting

How a hot psychology theory could help you improve your parenting chops

Have you heard about growth mindset parenting?

It’s based on a popular psychology theory in in education. Articles on growth mindset also get a lot of buzz in magazines and blogs for the entrepreneurial and self-improvement communities. Even pro athletes like the NBA’s Steph Curry have even talked about taking a growth approach to their careers.

Why should parents care? Because exploring a growth mindset may give you new tools as you take on the responsibilities that come with having kids.

Think back: one minute you were living your adult life, working on your career goals, deciding if you should join a recreational soccer league, or debating whether to try that new takeout place down the block.

Yet the minute you learned there was a baby coming, your priorities shifted. Before you know it, that tiny, vulnerable human being is in your arms. And during your child’s early years, it’s your choices that have the biggest impact on how they learn and grow.

New parents can read all the baby books in the world to get ready (and some parents do). But nothing prepares you for that humbling moment when you look into your child’s delicate face and grasp your new roles. There’s no going back—and no manual.

It can feel pretty overwhelming.

Don’t worry. All the research suggests that parents are made, not born.

What is a growth mindset?

According to Wikipedia, a mindset is, “a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people.” In other words, it’s all the ideas we’ve picked up from family, friends and our experiences about how we’re supposed to think and act. 

Carol S. Dweck is an American professor of Psychology at Stanford University.
Carol S. Dweck. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Growth mindset theory is credited to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, an American professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Over the course of her accomplished career, Dweck and her fellow scientists developed a theory of two distinct mindsets. They found that people basically fall into two groups with very different approaches to life, including what they think about failure.

From Wikipedia: “Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that abilities are mostly innate and interpret failure as the lack of necessary basic abilities, while those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that they can acquire any given ability provided they invest effort or study. 

So, here’s a quick graphic overview:

This diagram, courtesy of "Q.E.D. Choices for Learning, maps the differences in a fixed and growth mindset approach to challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism and the success of others.
The differences in fixed versus growth mindset, courtesy of Q.E.D. Image: Nigel Holmes / Graph Content: Carol Dweck

Dweck’s research showed that people who believe in growth are more likely to continue working hard despite setbacks. Through determination, learning, training and persistence, they improve because they believe that it’s possible for them to change.

That’s cool. But why does mindset matter?

If you think about qualities like intelligence as being fixed, like the number of jelly beans in a jar, then you have whatever you’re born with and no more. Your ability to learn and change is set, along with your ability to solve problems or rise to situations. Which means if you fail, the failure results from your abilities.

Kind of bleak, huh? No wonder people with a fixed mindset avoid situations where failure’s on the line at all costs.

On the other hand, if you think of intelligence as something more like a muscle you can build with practice and repetition, life becomes less all-or-nothing. You’ll spend less time obsessing over mistakes and what they mean if you believe it’s possible to learn from them and improve.

To Dweck, openness to this fundamental belief in your own ability to get better means you could “live a less stressful and more successful life.”

Food for thought, huh?

Okay. So how can I develop a growth mindset and get better at parenting?

A family takes a stroll outside in a wooded park space on a bright summer day. Their faces are turned away from the camera.
Parenting is a journey, not a destination. Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash.

Parenting is hard. Co-parenting with another person can be even harder. You and your partner may have very different ideas about how to raise another human being, and there’s no way to know until the baby arrives.

You may not feel like you have an immediate talent for parenting if:

  • Swaddling a baby seems like folding a squirming origami crane.
  • Staring down the formula and food selections in the baby aisle feels like trying to crack the Da Vinci code in three minutes or less.
  • Keeping a lid on your temper as you deal with day-to-day frustrations feels exhausting. This stumbling block escalates fast if you’ve got a fussy baby (or toddler) who thinks sleeping eight hours or more a night is optional.

If you didn’t grow up in a family where other adults showed you how to cope with these challenges, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Even people who come from big families may feel they have no idea what they’re doing. Comparing yourself to friends or skimming the feeds of parenting influencers intensify those feelings.

Everyone’s life looks shiny on the outside.

It’s all about persistence

But as Joe Hirsch writes in his INC Magazine profile on Curry, “Success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence–not just inborn talent, intelligence or strength.”

The good news? You don’t have to be a rockstar right out of the gate. Parenting is nothing if not an opportunity for persistent learning. 

So, adopting a growth mindset may help you think about parenting as a multifaceted skill at which you—and your partner—will get better.

You don’t have to be experts or achieve someone else’s level of perfection. You just have to commit and be open to achieving what works for you and your kids.

The Huffington Post’s Parenting blog has some great ideas for getting started, including monitoring your self-talk and being conscious of the messages you’re sending about learning and growth to your kids. 

Charting your journey

How will you gauge progress? Photo courtesy of mauro paillex on Unsplash.

Based on our experiences, the LifeTales team is how our app can act as a feedback mechanism for you.

The Personal Collection gives you a completely private space to jot down your thoughts about how you parent. And if you’ve noticed tendencies that you’d like to change, it’s also a perfect place to note your habits without judgement.

In the spirit of Professor Dweck, you can gather data about your choices and impartially assess where they’re leading you. Ask yourself:

  • What’s going well? 
  • What am I good at?
  • Where could I improve?
  • What absolutely needs to happen?
  • Where should I cut myself some slack?
  • If I’m struggling with a particular task, who can I ask for help?
  • Where do my partner and I take similar approaches? Where are we different?

Over time, you may see you’re doing a better job than you thought. And someday, when your kids are grown, you’ll be able to reflect on your experience and share your wisdom.

Does adopting a growth mindset to parenting appeal to you? What are the skills you struggle with?

Get in touch at hello@lifetales.com. We’d love to feature your growth experience or hear from you about other topics we should explore.