Category Archives for Children

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 He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website.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 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 He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website.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.

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?

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