Category Archives for Baby

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.

When do babies become toddlers?

It’s a common question: when should you start thinking of your baby as a toddler? 

When you’re deep into the day-to-day experience of raising a young child, time is lightning fast. You see your baby everyday. Being so in the moment makes it harder to take a step back.

When you do, it’s easier to realize just how many milestones have passed since that transformational first week at home. As American author Gretchen Rubin once wrote about parenthood, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

So when should you start the mental head shift?

Your Child’s First Birthday: The Day Toddler Life Officially BeginsY

As the name implies, the toddler development stage is defined by “toddling” or unsteady walking. While all children take their first steps at their own speed, it’s common for children entering the toddler stage to make more effort to move under their own power. 

You can expect them to become steadier on their feet and more interested in exploring their own ideas as they move through this stage. 

The U.S. Center for Disease Control defines two phases of the toddler period, each of roughly 12 months. 

  • The first stage begins when your child turns one. What should you expect? According to the CDC: “Their desire to explore new objects and people also is increasing. During this stage, toddlers will show greater independence; begin to show defiant behavior; recognize themselves in pictures or a mirror; and imitate the behavior of others, especially adults and older children.” 
  • The second spans ages two to three. Again, from the CDC: “Toddlers will experience huge thinking, learning, social, and emotional changes that will help them to explore their new world, and make sense of it. During this stage, toddlers should be able to follow two- or three-step directions, sort objects by shape and color, imitate the actions of adults and playmates, and express a wide range of emotions.” 

See the CDC’s toddler pages for more information about safety tips and positive ways to help your child develop a healthy mind and body. 

A child walks on a wooden boardwalk. During the toddler years, children show greater interest in exploring their world. Photo courtesy of Japheth Mast via Unsplash.
During the toddler years, children show greater interest in exploring their world.
Photo courtesy of Japheth Mast via Unsplash.

Popular culture is full of nightmare stories about the “terrible twos,” reflecting the growing adventurousness and, yes, willfulness your child will demonstrate through this period.  

Strong, consistent boundaries will help you and your child to navigate this exciting growth stage together. You will also likely find you now enjoy more variety in your daily activities than you did during the infant stage, and more opportunity to experience the world together. 

Looking back down the first year mountain: Here’s what you’ve accomplished

By the time your baby becomes a toddler, you will have helped them to explore their: 

  • Bodies—This journey began with learning to focus their eyes to look at your face, and progressed to the beginning of motor control over their fingers and toes. It’s the beginning of a lifelong journey in using their body to explore the world. As Australian director Baz Luhrmann once observed about the human body, “It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.” 
  • Language—Babbling sounds and forming simple words in context (“mama” or “dada”) are common at this stage. Reading, talking and responding to your child will continue their development and growth in this key area. 
  • Food—With solid foods introduced sometime between four and six months, your child is developing the beginnings of their interest in food. What have been the hits? The misses? The sudden rejections? Jot them down in a LifeTales story to remember the ups and downs of vegetables.  
  • Family—Your child has begun lifelong relationships with you, your partner, and other key family members, such as siblings, grandparents, and other special caregivers. The feelings of safety, security and trust will help to define their sense of being and personhood.  

Capturing the moments that matter most to you

Living in the smartphone age means that it’s never been easier to capture the parts of childhood that speak to you. Starting a Child Journal is a great way to capture the stories inside your photos and video, and tell your child what they were like at each stage of their life. 

A toddler cruises on a couch, ready to take those important first steps. Photo courtesy of Meghan Thompson via Unsplash
A toddler cruises on a couch, ready to take those important first steps. The LifeTales mobile app helps you capture and remember the moments the matter most to you.

What are the sweetest or most challenging moments of your child’s toddler stage? Get in touch at hello@lifetales.com. We’d love to feature your toddler memories or hear from you about other topics we should explore. 

Picking the Perfect Lullaby

No matter which lullaby you pick, the important thing is singing to your children

Ask any large group of adults what they most fear and their list will likely include:

  • Public speaking 
  • Heights, skydiving or bungee jumping
  • Singing in front of others 

While it’s entirely possible to live your life avoiding items one and two, having kids may push you to sing in public in ways you never thought you would.

The connections between music and other life skills are rich and varied. Scientists have long theorized that’s there’s a connection between music and math, for example, although Scientific American notes the exact nature of this relationship remains fuzzy.

Other associated benefits may include higher emotional intelligence, better social skills and a greater appreciation for tone and rhythm. 

Beyond the possible skill benefits and a general appreciation for music, hearing a lullaby can form iconic childhood memories. 

Whether your parents chose to sing pop songs by Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, traditional nursery rhymes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or camp songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Old MacDonald,” you may yet have strong feelings to that music and hearing your parent sing it.

Singing is an activity that parents and children can enjoy at any age, and it can also be a key part of your bedtime routine. A lullaby can help set the mood for the end of the day and help your baby’s brain to understand that it’s time to relax and wind things down.

Where to begin? We’ve compiled some quick suggestions as you get started. 

Don’t be shy about singing a lullaby.

Particularly in North America, it’s very easy to internalize cultural rules about who is allowed to sing (people with “good” voices, whatever that means) and who is not (everyone else). However you feel about singing in other parts of your life, try not to let that judgement into this process. Singing develops your child’s bond with you. What matters is that you do it, not how you sound. As Ian Mendes has written for Today’s Parent, “If the sound of mom’s gurgling digestive juices helped baby doze off, then the bar is set pretty low for you as a singer.”

Work with your voice’s natural range.

If you can barely hum “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” then songs like “Memory” from Cats or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” may not be the best choice for you. Longevity should be your guiding principle. When your child develops a fondness for your lullaby, it’s possible you will still be singing the same song 10 years from now. Have mercy on your vocal cords and pick a tune that you can sing easily and without strain at various volumes. (Seriously, have you considered “Ba-Ba-Black Sheep?” It works pretty well.) 

It’s okay if you don’t know the whole lullaby.

Can’t remember the weird second verse to “You Are My Sunshine”, which ends with the heartwarming line, “You have shattered all of my dreams”? No sweat. Your baby won’t care if you know a single verse or just the chorus. In some ways, it’s easier to choose a short song that you can easily loop when it’s 3 am and you’re gamely singing while pacing their bedroom in a vain attempt to get both of you some sleep. 

Ear plugs can be your best friend.

Keep a pair of earplugs handy if you’re got a fussy baby who’s fond of screaming along to your midnight (or afternoon, or morning) performances. You’ll still be able to hear yourself singing and it may help take the edge off.

Have a few back-ups for days when you “absolutely cannot sing that wretched song” one more time.

You’re going to get tired of singing the same song (trust us on that one). For mental variety, pick a secondary lullaby or two that are also easy to sing and toss them in now and then for you and baby. One of our team members used the classic song, “ABC,” as her back-up lullaby because it’s easy to sing at different pitches and speeds.

Pick an existing lullaby you like and make-up new words.

Want more of a challenge? Pick an easy song you like (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” maybe) and swap the words out. You can describe what you see in your baby’s nursery, talk about what you did during the day, or tell your baby about people in your family. Young babies won’t care, but it can be a fun game for you to play as they get older.

The Internet is your friend: Source the lullaby that’s perfect for you

Still not sure what to do? Pity the parents who successfully raised children in the dark era before YouTube and run a search. You’ll quickly find over six million examples of lullabies you can learn from a range of cultural backgrounds. 

Failing that, if you find your kid passes out to your improvised version of Feist’s “1234” or Beyonce’s “Halo,” embrace what works and do your thing. Sing to that child and fear no judgement! 

Thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to record an audio file or video of you singing to your child. Adding your lullaby traditions to a LifeTales story collection gives you both have a soothing memory to reflect upon as your children grow and your voice inevitably changes.

What were the go-to lullabies in your house growing up? What are they now? Have a suggestion for a different blog topic? Get in touch at hello@teamlifetales.com. We’d love to hear from you!

The photo, “White and Wooden Wall Decor,” appears courtesy of Charles DeLuvio.

Managing the Overshare: A Duchess’s playbook for digital privacy

As social media platforms evolve, it’s getting easier to share your life with the people you care most about. 

But for every genuine, two-way connection, there are the (sometimes) well-meaning folks who don’t respect boundaries. Some even take their social updates a little too far.

We’ve all got a few of them in our friend networks. They’re the people who:

  • Always post the most unflattering photos from last call (but they look great). 
  • Ignore your successes, but get angry or pout if you don’t like and comment on their wins.
  • Insist they can’t sit next to their exes at events and threaten to hijack the proceedings if you don’t cave to their demands. 
  • Publicly post about being ready for grandchildren or drop proposal hints into photo comments.  

Managing other people’s drama is challenging enough when you’re single or recently married. Add a pregnancy or a new baby to the mix, and the stress around oversharing can snowball. 

Even being rich and famous doesn’t necessarily protect people from their oversharing friends and relations. 

What can we learn from Megan Markle?

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, visit with crowds outside Belfast’s Crown Liquor Saloon.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, visits with crowds outside Belfast’s Crown Liquor Saloon. Photo courtesy of the Northern Ireland Office via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/niogovuk/40972135291/in/photostream/.

This week, Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, returned to New York City for her baby shower. It’s the first time the former star of Suits has been back to the U.S. since marrying Prince Harry of Wales last spring. Their wedding ceremony was watched by 18 million people worldwide.

But their storybook day was nearly upstaged by the willingness of some relatives within Markle’s father’s family to overshare about her life.

Thankfully, few of us will face the same kind of media and social pressure as the new duchess. But we can take some helpful ideas from how Markle’s managed her oversharing relatives.

1. Figure out who’s got your back

The Duchess turned to many long-time friends to organize her shower. They include tennis champion Serena Williams, international and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, and stylist insider Jessica Mulroney. And Mulroney, who met Markle when she was filming Suits in Toronto, also acted as her defacto maid of honour when she got married.

Like the Duchess of Sussex, we all need to determine which friends are capable of reciprocal trust. If there’s someone in your circle spreading rumours or not standing by you, it might be time to introduce better filters on what you share.

2. Keep the circle small when it matters most

Harper’s Bazaar reports that a small group of only 15 people attended the Duchess’ baby shower in the New York. This choice minimizes the risk of leaks to the press. Your life may not generate photos worth thousands of dollars to tabloid editors, but everyone goes through times where privacy and discretion make life more manageable.

3. Control the space

You don’t have to rent the pricy penthouse floor at The Mark, as Serena Williams reportedly did (though kudos if you do, it’s beautiful). There are other ways to manage who sees what if you don’t want to show personal photos to everyone.

Facebook allows you to create friend groups that tier access to your content, Instagram offers private accounts and LifeTales always lets you decide whether your connections see a single story or a whole collection.

4. Put boundary breakers at a distance

It’s not easy to be estranged from a parent. If your older relatives show a continued lack of respect for your space, as Markle’s father has done, you may need to put some personal distance between yourself and your boundary breaker. So, consider limiting the amount of photos, news and personal details you share with them until trust can be re-established.

Like the late Princess Diana before her, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is certain to live part of her life as a mother and wife in the spotlight.

But as Elaine Lui has observed in her ongoing coverage of the union, the Duchess is the first member of the royal family to bring prior experience with celebrity to her new role in public life. We’re most curious to watch how she’ll use digital tools to manage her new family’s privacy as she becomes a parent.

Got a suggestion for a blog topic? Get in touch at hello@teamlifetales.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Photo courtesy of the Northern Ireland Office via Flickr.