Paid Family Leave Would Actually Make Businesses Stronger

Paid parental leave isn’t bad for business. In fact, it can actually help the bottom line.

Paid parental leave – parents want it, babies need it, but policy makers tell us that businesses can’t afford it.

The importance of maternity and paternity leave to families has been proven time and again. When mothers are able to take maternity leave, they are more likely to breastfeed and do so for longer and are less likely to be depressed. Fathers who take paternity leave are also more likely to be engaged parents, not only during the initial weeks but down the road as well.

But is there a reason for businesses to support paid leave?

With every other developed country except the United States guaranteeing workers paid leave, the feasibility of paid leave has been well-tested across the world. But nevertheless, there still remains an underlying fear that it’ll somehow be bad for businesses in this country.

The good news, however, is that paid parental leave isn’t bad for business. In fact, it can actually help the bottom line. Although the U.S. doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave, some states, like California, do. A peek into California’s paid leave system can help us see how such a policy would impact both families and businesses, and researchers for years have done just that to help us answer some questions the business community might have about paid leave.

Will workers who take paid leave return to work?

Ah, the good life. No deadlines to meet. No rushing out the door to make a meeting on time. Nothing but baby-snuggles and watching the Today show on the couch. Maybe once a woman gets a taste of staying at home, she’ll decide that’s where she wants to remain and leave the workforce permanently, after her employer just shelled out thousands of dollars while she was on leave.

It turns out, however, paid leave actually makes employees more likely to come back to work after having a new child. For California employees in lower paying jobs, 83% returned to work after receiving paid leave, compared to 74% of those who didn’t take paid family leave. Employees might be more likely to be loyal to a company that was loyal to them.

Will paid leave be too costly for employers?

Paying employees for work they are not actually doing is typically not a good business decision. But when it comes to paid leave, it can be.

In California, nine out of 10 employers said that providing paid leave either had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on their company’s profitability and performance. Providing new parents with time to care for their child simply wasn’t the financial disaster businesses worried it would be.

The reason why has to do with turnover. If an employee quits, hiring a replacement can be extremely costly for an employer – roughly one-fifth of a worker’s annual salary. The cost of paid leave is small in comparison to recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee. Because employees who use paid leave are less likely to quit, the company saves in the long run.

But what about small businesses?

Small businesses care about their employees, and also want to see them benefit from paid parental leave. In California, small businesses were actually less likely than larger companies to report any negative effects from paid family leave. A majority of small businesses surveyed by the Small Business Majority found that most support paid leave, funded either by employee contributions or employee and employer contributions, and most already offer some sort of family leave.

For some smaller enterprises, however, providing paid leave would be a true stretch. But a government-administered paid leave program could actually help alleviate some of this burden and help small businesses compete with larger ones that are able to offer generous benefit packages out-of-pocket.

Will people take advantage of it?

We all know how easy it would be to stuff a pillow under your blouse and then tell your employer you need three months off to care for a “baby” while secretly sailing the seven seas.

Prior to California’s implementation of paid family leave, employers had significant concerns about people taking advantage of the program. But 91% of employers surveyed said they did not know of any instances where their employees abused the state leave program.

Would paid family leave put a strain on the economy?

Paid family leave can actually help stimulate economic growth. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, if U.S. women participated in the labor force at the same rate they do in Canada or Germany (countries with generous paid leave policies), there would be 5.5 million more women in the labor force. These women alone could grow the GDP by 3.5 percent, which would result in $500 billion of additional economic activity. 

If a lawmaker proposed a policy that cost $500 billion, kept women out of the work force, and meant families spent less time together, it wouldn’t get a single vote. But our status quo is hurting the economy just as much. A lack of paid family leave is putting undue strains on families, and draining our GDP.

As a country that believes deeply in the importance of family and the spirit of entrepreneurship, policies that help parents bond with and care for their children while helping a business’s bottom line should be at the top of our priority list. Financial security is critical when you are a parent of a young child, and paid leave helps provide that while also ensuring stability for employers.

With states like California acting as a test case, we can see that paid leave reduces employee turnover, and can help a business’s bottom line. Paid family leave may be parent and baby tested, but it’s business approved.

It's Not Too Late! 6 Resolutions We Hope Our Elected Officials Make This Year

In case they haven’t finished their list of goals yet, we have six suggestions for family-friendly resolutions we hope our policy makers are going to keep this year.

Forget eating healthier and exercising more. Throw out that day planner – you’re never going to use it anyway. Let’s talk about some resolutions that will truly have a profound impact – the ones our elected officials are making.
In case they haven’t finished their list of goals yet, we have six suggestions for family-friendly resolutions we hope our policy makers are going to keep this year.

1 | Protect health care for all Americans

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, earns the first spot on our resolution list because it’s already in danger. House Speaker Paul Ryan and President-Elect Donald Trump have vowed to repeal the health care law this month, promising they will come up with a replacement plan sometime in the next two years, before the repeal would officially take place.

This approach is dangerous, however, as it could lead the insurance market to the brink of collapse and cost an estimated 30 million Americans their health insurance. When our lawmakers set out to reform health insurance law this year, it is absolutely necessary they have a plan in place before they vote to repeal, and guarantee all Americans – mothers, fathers, single adults, and kids – keep their access to health insurance.

2 | Ensure all parents have access to paid leave

When the ball dropped, millions of people resolved to “spend more time with family.” But for many new mothers and fathers, that might not be a promise they’re able to keep if they don’t have access to paid parental leave.

During President-Elect Trump’s campaign, he recognized the need for new mothers to spend time recovering from birth, promising six weeks of paid leave. While this is a step in the right direction, his plan leaves out many parents – including new fathers wishing to bond with and care for their child – as well as parents who grow their family through adoption.

Paid leave is essential for family health and well-being. Our lawmakers should guarantee it’s available to all parents.

3 | Protect our common home

Recycle more. That was my New Year’s resolution last year. I finally bought some bins and stopped cringing every time I threw away an empty milk jug. This small step probably hasn’t had much of an impact on protecting the earth from climate change, pollution, and landfill waste. But luckily, our lawmakers wield much more power than I do and have an opportunity to really make a difference.

The majority of Americans think that our government currently is doing too little to protect the environment. Keeping the Clean Power Plan in place and following through with the Paris Climate Accords are great places for our lawmakers to start.

This year, we hope that our elected officials remember that when they cast their votes, they’re making life-changing decisions about our children’s future home.

4 | Invest in early education

Every new parent makes the same promise to themselves – to give their child the best possible start in life that they can. Forty-two states have taken the same pledge, by providing state-funded preschool to help all kids reach their full potential.

State legislatures are often tempted to cut funding for preschool and shuffle the money to something flashier like tax cuts or new highway projects, but they must remember that investing in early education is good for the economy: for every dollar states spend on preschool, they net a $7 return as the child grows.

Providing our children with the best start possible should be an easy choice for lawmakers this year.

5 | Make child care affordable

“Save more money for college” tops the list for many moms and dads this January, but for parents of young children, they might already be writing checks to a daycare that’s more expensive than their local college. In 33 states, average childcare costs exceed in-state tuition, and parents are feeling the strain.

President-Elect Trump has put forth a plan to address the rising cost of childcare, but critics note the plan focuses heavily on deductions, which mostly benefit wealthy families. Lawmakers should recognize the importance of having safe, high-quality, affordable childcare, and make sure it’s available to all families.

6 | Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit

Lawmakers of both parties have long sought to improve the lives of working Americans, typically through different means. But in the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan, they came up with a solution that has lifted millions of families out of poverty – the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Federal EITC gives working families a tax credit equal to a certain percentage of their income, up to a maximum of $3,359 for families with one kid, and $6,242 for families with three or more kids. The credit promotes work, reduces poverty, and promotes children’s well-being. Over half of all U.S. states also have a state EITC, and lawmakers in states that don’t should make it their goal to expand this credit and help lift more families out of poverty.

Happy and healthy families – that’s what we all want for 2017. With affordable health care, access to paid leave, a healthy environment, quality early care and education, and a tax code that helps working families, our lawmakers can help make it happen. We hope that our elected officials will make family-friendly legislation a top priority this year.

And if they don’t? I’m going to pick up the phone, write a letter, speak up at town hall meetings and continually remind them about the needs of the families whom they represent.

That’s my New Year’s resolution.

New Peanut Recommendations Ask Parents To Be Brave

New guidelines issued this month advise parents to introduce peanuts into their kid’s diets as early as possible to protect them against peanut allergies later in life.

Did you know that bravery was a prerequisite for parenthood? I have to admit, I didn’t realize how often I would have to muster up my courage as a mom.

I think the first time it truly hit me was when I was in the hospital about to give birth. I have never been more frightened in my entire life. I wanted to run as far away from that place as possible. But then some deep-seated instinct kicked in, because I knew I had to be brave for the child I was about to welcome into this world. 

Over and over again, throughout my eight-and-a-half years as a parent, I’ve had to be brave for my child’s sake. Whether it was the first time I gave him solid food, let go of him in the swimming pool, sent him off to preschool, or watched him wave goodbye from the camp bus, each of these scary feats were actually critical steps in his development.

As most of us are well aware, there are so many more moments ahead (cell phones, overnight camp, dating, driving, college, etc.) when we’ll have to be courageous for our kids, even if it feels like we are jumping off a cliff.

The latest bravery test for parents involves peanuts. Even though many of us grew up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a staple lunch option, we now see peanut-free classrooms and lunchrooms, and are very cautious about serving food with peanuts during playdates and birthday parties.

This is because over the last 10 years the number of peanut allergies has doubled in countries where parents are advised to avoid peanuts during pregnancy, lactation, and infancy. According to CNN, two percent of American children currently suffer from a peanut allergy.

A peanut allergy is serious business. It can lead to anaphylaxis and even death if allergic children are exposed. Unfortunately, no treatment exists for this type of allergy, so the only option is to avoid the trigger. This causes inconvenience and panic on a daily basis for parents, schools, and others responsible for children’s lives.

In fact, for years we’ve been told to not give our children peanuts at a young age because it could cause them to develop an allergy. Many parents, myself included, avoided giving their children peanuts until they were at least three years old, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But many scientists now believe that exposing our children to peanuts at an early age will help their immune system to better tolerate the peanut proteins, and therefore prevent a peanut allergy from forming.

New guidelines issued this month advise parents to introduce peanuts into their children’s diets as early as possible to protect them against peanut allergies later in life.

New recommendations

Collaborating with 25 professional organizations, federal agencies, and patient advocacy groups, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) just released new guidelines for introducing peanuts into a child’s diet.

The recommendations fall into the following three categories:

Children who are believed to be most likely to develop a peanut allergy

This recommendation is for infants who have severe asthma, an egg allergy, or both. Parents have two options: 1) Either introduce your child to food containing peanuts at four to six months or 2) visit an allergist who will administer a skin prick test or a blood test to determine whether your child is allergic to peanuts.
If your child is not allergic, you can introduce peanut-containing foods at four to six months. If your infant is allergic, you should refrain from feeding any products containing peanuts.

Children with mild to moderate eczema

These children are less likely to have an allergy. You should introduce peanut-containing foods when your child is six months old.

Children with no eczema/food allergies, and no family history of either

These children can be fed peanut-containing foods at the same time they are introduced to other solid foods.

No matter which category your child seems to fall into, the experts still encourage you to consult with your child’s pediatrician for help determining if your little one is at risk and how to safely add peanuts to their diet. It is good practice to keep your pediatrician in the loop when you plan to introduce peanuts in case there is an adverse reaction. (This is where the bravery really comes into play!)

Why the change?

Medical experts began to question the existing guidance on peanuts as they saw a major difference in the number of allergy cases in various countries depending on when children began eating peanut products. There were lower rates of allergies in countries where children typically eat high levels of peanut protein starting in infancy compared to countries like the United States where peanuts are avoided during the first few years of childhood.

As scientists explored this trend, they found that eating peanuts can actually help prevent allergies. This idea is known as the dual-allergen exposure hypothesis, which suggests that eating small doses of the allergen at a young age can help children develop a tolerance and reduce their chances of forming an allergy.

A large medical trial, known as the Learning Early About Peanut allergy (LEAP) study, led to these new recommendations. It is the first and only large, randomized prevention trial for peanut allergies. More than 600 children participated in the study. Each child was randomly assigned to one of two groups: The first group ate low-dose peanut-containing food three times a week starting in the first year of life and continuing to age five. The children in the second group avoided eating peanuts for the first five years of their lives.

The children in the first group were given peanut butter or Bamba, a peanut-flavored puff snack produced in Israel, instead of whole peanuts because they’re a choking hazard for young children. All the children participating in the study were considered high risk for developing a peanut allergy due to family history or having eczema or an egg allergy.

At age five, the children in both groups were given peanuts and observed. The study found that 18 percent of the children who had been avoiding peanuts had a peanut allergy at age five, while only one percent of the children who had been introduced to peanut-containing foods at a young age were allergic.

According to experts who conducted the study, this result showed that early introduction of peanut flour had a prevention effect of more than 80 percent. They also evaluated the children a year later and discovered that all the kids who did not have an allergy at age five still did not have peanut allergy at age six.

Advice for feeding your child peanuts for the first time

You may be very nervous to feed your child peanuts for the first time. Fortunately, the NIH guidelines walk you through the best way to approach this risky moment:
1 | Prepare a full portion of a peanut-containing food such as:

  • Peanut butter dissolved or thinned with water
  • Peanut butter
  • Peanut flour or powder mixed with a fruit or vegetable puree
  • Several pieces of Bamba, a puffed snack containing peanuts that can be softened with water.

2 | Offer your infant a small part of the peanut serving on the tip of a spoon.
3 | Wait 10 minutes.
4 | If there is no allergic reaction after this small taste, then slowly offer the rest of the snack. According to the Mayo Clinic, typical allergic reactions to peanuts include runny nose, skin reactions, like hives or swelling, itchy or tingling in or around the mouth and throat, choking or gagging, shortness of breath, or wheezing.

It is a good idea to give your child the first bite of peanut-containing food during the day when your pediatrician is in the office. Keep the number handy just in case you notice an allergic reaction.

Feeding our baby peanuts for the first time may feel like risky business, but we now know that it’s the best way to prevent an allergy from forming later on.

Despite What You May See or Hear, Racism is Still Not Okay

I often think about how lucky I am to be able to raise my daughter in the small Connecticut town where her father and I grew up. It’s the town where both her grandmothers still live, and has many wonderful, endearing factors with a strong sense of community perfect for families.

While in college I moved to the neighboring city of Danbury where I lived happily for six years. Many of my neighbors there were Hispanic, and probably some of the friendliest, most welcoming individuals I’ve ever met. I still have very fond memories of my time in Danbury, which is why recent remarks by students of nearby Wilton High School toward the students of Danbury struck a particularly painful note.

Students of the affluent town started chanting, “Build the wall!” to the students of Danbury during a football game on November 11th. Instances like this really hit home when it happens next door, despite the fact that these events have been happening, and continue to happen, all over the country.

In mid-December, a similar incident occurred in Missouri when a group of white students turned their backs on the opposing basketball team who was predominantly African-American, deeply upsetting those who believed their actions to be racially motivated.

Racism is not dead, and while I don’t believe students in either of these situations fully understood the harm their words/actions cause, I think it is important that we educate our children about the pain these behaviors inflict on others. Especially because they seem to have increased as of late.

When I was in high school I knew racism was far from invisible. It just didn’t seem as overt as it’s been in recent weeks. I experienced the feeling of discrimination myself on few occasions, from people who didn’t even understand who they were possibly offending.

Sitting at a party I overheard a guy behind me saying how he wished “all the wetback Puerto Ricans would get back on the boat and sail away,” not knowing that the blonde haired, green eyed, fair-skinned girl sitting in front of him was half Puerto Rican. Surprised and insulted, I spun around and said, “Um. What the hell do you mean? I’m Puerto Rican.”

His response was, “Oh. I don’t mean ones like you.” Ones like me? Ones who don’t fit the stereotype of what people envision Hispanics to look like? Because I’m not tanned with brown eyes and thick, dark, curly hair my bloodline doesn’t count in his racist remarks? Yeah, sure, he meant the other kind; the people he deemed to be the “obvious” kind.

While the severity of my experience pales in comparison to others, it stayed with me, and I know I never want my daughter to feel the frustration and anger I did at that very moment.

While the incident at Danbury was referred to as a teachable moment, I venture to say this is more than that. This is a teachable time.

In light of the recent comments, such as the supposed wall being built on the Mexican border, some people feel license to let discriminatory comments fly, and it’s not okay.

Unleashing such remarks and acts under the umbrella of “border security” is simply an excuse to practice hate. One need only look at the news in the last couple of months to find reports of Muslims being threatened with violence, and swastikas and other cruel, racially motivated statements being painted on buildings, to understand that things need to change. Though in some instances apologies were issued, the problem remains that people suddenly feel bold in their expressions of hate.

I don’t wish to question why this increase in outspoken hate began; I just want it to end. This is a time that parents need to sit down and explain that just because one wishes to get a rise out of people, dishonoring other people’s race or heritage is unacceptable behavior. One of the beautiful things about this country is that it’s a melting pot for people of all cultures, races, and religions. It’s a beautiful thing to hold our arms out to all people, and nothing would be more depressing than to watch this attitude, to which many still commit, change; for our home to become a place where people are made to feel ashamed, afraid, or need to defend their heritage.

Teaching our children kindness and respect towards others is more necessary than ever in these confusing times. It’s our job as parents to explain that despite what kids may see and hear on television or social media, hateful, racist behaviors are not funny, and not to be tolerated. It’s the only way our melting pot can remain a place where everyone is accepted, and anyone’s dreams are always possible.

How to Help Your Kids Understand and Relate to the Immigrant Experience

Ten ways we can start to connect our kids to a compassionate and fact-based understanding of the immigrant experience.

Few Americans have the opportunity to interact with recent immigrants on a regular basis. Many of us are disconnected – geographically, socially, or both – from immigrant communities, but have a strong desire to connect our kids to a compassionate and fact-based understanding of their experience. 

Rachel Godsil, co-founder of Perception Institute, a consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists focused on race, gender, and other identities, helped us formulate 10 ways to start. 

1 | Look in the mirror, look around

Do your kids come from a family of immigrants? Do they know where they came from? Do they know where their friends and teachers and neighbors came from? “What makes someone an immigrant is that they moved from their country of origin to the Unites States,” says Godsil. “That’s it. When our children realize that our own families or our close friends’ families were once immigrants, hopefully they will be able to see the category of ‘immigrant’ in a positive light despite the hostile rhetoric from the recent campaign.”

2 | Explore similarities and differences

Immigrants’ stories share certain narrative plot points: A departure. A journey. An arrival. A reception. It’s great to explore the common themes of risks and rewards, losses and gains, persecution and freedom. But don’t leave out the differences. Look at how and why certain types of immigrants have been welcome or unwelcome in certain places and time periods. You can put yourselves in the shoes of different immigrant groups during different historical periods and ask each other: What part of immigrating would you have been great at? What part would you have struggled with?

3 | Resist generalities and embrace complexity

“The default in the brain is to generalize,” explains Godsil. Let your kids know that the only way to know how an immigrant feels about his or her experience in America is to know the person for a long time and listen to the person for a long time.

The New York Times ran an excellent profile of a Syrian family who’ve experienced enormous generosity in Canada – but it’s not an uncomplicated happy ending. Their attitudes about assimilation and adaptation are complex. The article would make a great entryway into conversation with middle and high school-aged kids. 

4 | Sharing experiences reduces bias

Studies show that the best way to rid your kids of ignorant and phobic biases about immigrants is to genuinely participate in ongoing shared experiences with immigrants. It’s not enough to make them aware that immigration exists, or even to find opportunities for your kids to help immigrant families in some way.

Shared schooling is ideal. Shared sports teams or performing arts ensembles are terrific opportunities. Any activity that will invite you to share meals with immigrant families on a regular or semi-regular basis is well worth the effort to discover (local community centers and religious institutions might be a good place to start).

If you live very far away from any immigrant populations, this study documented that sharing the stories of loved ones having intimate and meaningful contact with “outgroups” – which recent immigrants are often considered – will also reduce bias in kids. 

5 | Get geographical

Remember physical maps? You might want to get one and hang it prominently in your house. Mark the places in the world your family, friends, teachers, and neighbors come from. Mark the places in the world you’re hearing about in the news. Mark the places in the world the people you’re meeting are from.

6 | Observe the positive contributions of immigrants and the positive influence of immigration.

It’s a lens through which you can look at so much of what you see in fashion, dance, music, film, technology, law, sports – how has this dress or twirl or song or adventure flick been influenced by immigration?

Food is another terrific way in. Are there specialty grocery stores or restaurants frequented by recent immigrants to your town? Go to them! You may be the only native English speakers there. You might have an experience of being an outsider, the experience of having kindness extended to you when you’re out of your comfort zone. Even if you don’t have much human interaction, you’re experiencing and appreciating the contribution of a culture other than your own through the food you eat.

7 | Debunk myths.

“We’ve got to get rid of the idea of the ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ or ‘real’ American,” says Godsil. “It’s almost always a coded way of referring to ‘white people’ and excluding people of other races and ethnicities.”  For tweens and teens, she recommends the video “What Kind of Asian Are You” by Ken Tanaka, which uses humor to explain this dynamic. 

8 | Swap the term “illegal” immigrants with “undocumented” immigrants.

Explain why it’s difficult or impossible for some people to get the proper documentation you need to be an American citizen. Depending on the maturity of your children, address the fears that the children of undocumented immigrants in America have about their fate under Donald Trump.

9 | There is such a thing as too much empathy.

Kids can get exhausted by emotionally triggering exposure to tough stories (adults can, too). Godsil says: “It can lead to crippling anxiety and depression, avoidance of the topic, and to misallocating efforts towards, for example, a specific cute kid seen in a video, over the needs of an entire population.”

The balance between care for others and care for self is a tricky balance indeed; pay attention to clues your child might be offering about her empathy overload level. 

10 | Frame their exploration as a gift.

Let’s face it, kids are self-absorbed. It might be good, then, to assure them that their engagement with immigrants will enhance their lives. Studies have shown that diverse groups outperform homogenous groups, not just because diverse groups have a more varied skill set, but because people in diverse groups have to think harder about the presumptions they’re making, which brings out a rigor and ingenuity not demanded of the homogenous group.

“To the extent that we can help our children see themselves as part of a multi-racial/ethnic/religious community that they do not need to dominate,” offers Godsil, “we are giving them a huge gift, because then they are not afraid. When people are afraid they are insular. They lose out.” 

The Myth of the Poisonous Poinsettia

Despite the myth being debunked, poinsettias have continued to be incorrectly identified as poisons.

‘Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the house

hidden dangers were lurking

plants to hide and trees to douse

A few weeks ago, my parents took my two-year-old with them to pick out a Christmas tree. When they returned, my son struggled into their kitchen, beaming behind the beautiful white poinsettia he had picked out for me.

“Don’t let him eat it,” my dad joked. This was a child who had refused most food that wasn’t apples or Christmas cookies for the duration of our visit, so there was a vanishingly small likelihood he would consider eating the plant. But my dad issued that warning anyway, as he and my mom have done for as long as I could remember, because poinsettias are poisonous.

Except that they’re not. Poinsettias were cleared of all charges in the 1970s, when researchers at Ohio State found them to be non-toxic. Snopes and other myth-busting websites have exonerated the poinsettia. Yet poinsettias have continued to be incorrectly identified as poisons.

What accounts for the persistence of this holiday myth? And what can the example of the poinsettia teach us about fear-based parenting?

According to Ecke Ranch, the company responsible for cultivating poinsettias into the flowers we recognize today, Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night) were so named because they bloom during the holiday season. They feature in a Christmas miracle story about a poor girl whose paltry offering of weeds bloomed into brilliant red flowers when she placed them by her chapel’s nativity scene.

The plant most Americans know it is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, a former medical student and amateur botanist who, as the United States’ first ambassador to Mexico, found the plant and brought it home to his South Carolina greenhouse in the late 1820s.

The plant, which Ecke Ranch suggests was used as a fever treatment by the Aztecs, did not become “poisonous” until 100 years after its introduction to the U.S. The poison poinsettia myth has its roots in botanist Joseph Francis Rock’s assertion that a two-year-old child died from sucking on the plant’s leaves.

It’s not clear that the child existed, or if the child did exist, if he died an early death, or if the child did die at a young age, if it was a poinsettia that did him in. But the myth spread like, well, poinsettia, which had taken root across the U.S. and into Hawaii, where the myth originated. By 1944, that myth was solidified in Harry L. Arnold’s “Poisonous Plants of Hawaii:

The milky juice and the leaves are poisonous. The two-year-old child of an Army officer at Fort Shafter died from eating a poinsettia leaf in 1919. The poisonous substance is neither an alkaloid nor a glucoside, and is probably a resin. It causes intense emesis and catharsis, and delirium before death. The writer has been unable to find any definitive statement of its pharmacological action or its antidote.

The myth then became an invasive species, growing into medical publications and then popular magazines throughout the U.S. In the 1970s, the Society of American Florists, wishing to restore the poinsettia’s good name while improving their business, commissioned a study from researchers at Ohio State, which found that poinsettias were not poisonous.

The child who may or may not have existed and who may or may not have died is long gone from memory, but the effects of his story linger nearly 100 years later – a testament to the long-reaching effects fear can have on our collective parenting decisions. Belief in poisonous poinsettias has been as persistent as belief in Santa Claus, in spite of mounting contrary evidence.

But in the case of the flowers, why do we keep believing long after we should? One theory is the name, which sounds close to “poison” and keeps danger front-of-mind. The Museum of Hoaxes identifies this theory, as well as “guilt by association.” Poinsettias, which look similar to holly and mistletoe, got unfairly grouped with these actual poisonous plants.

That belief may be starting to change. Over the past few holiday seasons, the Society of American Florists has encouraged its members to download and distribute a flyer about poinsettias. Perhaps their ongoing campaign is working. In 1996, researchers studying calls to Poison Control Centers reaffirmed that poinsettia exposures did not result in toxicity. In 2004, Poison Control Centers received 2206 calls about poinsettia exposure, which made the poinsettia responsible for 3 percent of the phone calls for plant exposures.

Plant-exposure calls to Poison Control have fallen over the past decade, as have calls about poinsettias, which have dropped every year in both number and percentage from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, poinsettia exposures accounted for only 343 calls, representing .77 percent of the phone calls for plant exposures.

The decrease in calls to poison control do not tell us that children are eating poinsettia any less often, or that people aren’t buying poinsettias as often, although either could be true. It may suggest that the publicity campaigns like this one sponsored by the Society of American Florists are working to restore the poinsettia’s good name.

The cautionary tale of the tree-turned-torch

Poinsettias are not going to kill us. But what about the other holiday plant at the start of our story? Christmas trees have been much-maligned for face and eye injuries as well as falls. But more than any of these injuries, Christmas trees are most feared for the fire hazards they pose.

We’re warned to spend the holiday season obsessively watering our trees, quickly disposing of dry needles, and unplugging strings of lights when not in use. Artificial trees invite different warnings about frayed wires and broken bulbs.

Christmas trees have done more to earn their reputation than poinsettias. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s November 2016 report on “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees,” Christmas tree fires are responsible for an average of 210 house fires each year, which lead to an average of six deaths and 16 injuries, in addition to 16 million dollars of property damage.

We should be emboldened by these figures: 210 is a small number of trees, and even that average is on the decline. In 1980, there were 850 fires. In 2014 – the last year cited within the NFPA’s November 2016 report – there were 170 fires. While numbers like 16 million dollars in property damage sound grim, focusing on another big number can help us put this data into perspective.

The National Fire Protection Association reported average is 210 Christmas tree fires per year. It’s reasonable to assume that each of those fires was started by a single Christmas tree. Using the National Christmas Tree Association‘s data on Christmas tree sales, we can determine that from 2010 to 2014 (the same period reported on in the NFPA’s data), there were an average of 28.3 million real trees and 11.4 million artificial trees sold, for a total average of 39.7 million trees.

We cannot know if those trees are all sold to homeowners instead of businesses, or how many trees are not sold but cut down, but taking a conservative estimate and assuming that just half of that number – 20 million – go to homes, then the average number of Christmas tree fires per year represents one fire for every 100,000 trees. Again, that’s a reasonably conservative estimate.

It’s further reassuring to examine what sorts of fires are included within the NFPA report. Twenty-three percent of the fires included in the 2010-2014 study were intentional; that is, the trees had been set on fire on purpose. It’s likely that most of the trees involved in those fires were being burned in home fireplaces as a means of disposal, when the fires then got out of control.

What’s more troubling about Christmas tree fires is that they’re more deadly than other kinds of home fires. An ignited Christmas tree can destroy a living room in one minute, which helps to explain why Christmas tree-involved house fires are significantly more deadly than other types of house fires.

When a Christmas tree is the first item ignited, house fires carry a one in 34 chance of death. For all house fires, that risk is much lower, one in 142. So although the likelihood of a Christmas tree fire is astonishingly rare, such fires are more dangerous either because of or in spite of all of the PSAs we view each season.

Returning to the National Fire Protection Association’s report, at least some of the resulting deaths may have been avoided by fire prevention education. In some cases, clearly flammable materials like kerosene were stored near the tree, creating an avoidable fire hazard. In other cases, homeowners reentered the home for belongings. Examples such as these demonstrate the need for fire safety education at all times of the year, not just the holiday season.

For children, the holiday season’s invitation to magical thinking is a source of wonder and excitement. For parents, a different kind of magical thinking leads to fears of things that will likely never come to pass. The truth is that we should be worried less about our kids’ safety and more on our own.

Fall-related injuries and back strain are the number one and number three holiday-related injuries, and happen overwhelmingly in adult populations. But we can’t very well get rid of all the ladders and stools. And fearing all the chairs in our homes would drive us mad. So we build elaborate narratives around the more novel “dangers” of the holiday season.

This year, display your poinsettias without fear. Un-baby-gate your tree. But maybe lay off the eggnog before hanging any lights.

Best in Show: Our Top Picks From The ABC Kids Expo

Our top picks from the All Baby and Child Expo in Las Vegas.

We recently visited the ABC (All Baby and Child) Kids Expo in Las Vegas. It was a fantastic experience. The ABC show has been around for a number of years and features thousands of vendors showing off their latest and greatest offerings to buyers and the media. Most of the vendors were focused on pregnancy or the first couple years of life, so the majority of these products are designed for that phase of your family’s life.

We spent time with a bunch of these vendors and did Facebook Live segments with some of the brands we thought were doing really interesting things. This Top 10 roundup includes some of these folks and some others we just happened to think were onto something special. Without further adieu, here’s the list.

austlen baby stroller

Best in Show

 Austlen Baby Co. – Entourage Stroller

Our number one spot goes to Austlen Baby Co. They have a new stroller called the Entourage and the thing is rad. It’s expandable, can carry a couple hundred pounds, and they have so many thoughtful accessories that can turn this stroller into just about anything. We got a full demo of the Entourage from the company CEO and her passion for creating so much more than a way to push your baby around really shined through.

Although it works in just about every scenario, we imagine that the entourage would be most appealing to folks living in a urban environment who spend a lot of time walking from place to place doing errands. Hands down, this stroller is the most versatile baby transport system we’ve encountered to date.

Other awesome products

There were so many great offerings at the show that we could have had our top 30 picks, but we’ve added these nine other products that we think are tapping into something neat.

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bloom life at-home contraction tracker

Bloomlife At Home Contraction Tracker

Bloomlife is a pregnancy tracker that’s focused on tracking contractions. This can be super helpful with all sorts of things, not to mention helping to determine with your obstetrician if you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.

It’s a stick-on and reusable wearable that uses some pretty unique technology coupled with a mobile app. It allows for more than one user, so your partner can also stay in the loop. Not only is the product really sweet, but these guys are just starting out, so now is the time to get involved in their beta program if you’re pregnant. We were genuinely impressed with their excitement about what they’re doing and their understanding that the technology they’ve developed could have big-time implications as they grow. Nice job guys!

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Giggle Lotions and potions

Giggle – Lotions and Potions

Giggle has been around for a while, but when we met with CEO Beth Guastella we were blown away by her enthusiasm for what they have going on right now. They recently launched a new product line of lotions and potions for babies and toddlers.

We tried out the sunscreen and it rubbed into the skin so well it was amazing. Most kid sunscreens spread about as easily as refrigerated butter, but putting this stuff on won’t send you into battle mode with your toddler. The packaging looks amazing and will fit in nicely with any bathroom decor. Plus, the products smell great – nothing overwhelming, just pleasant.

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Sound Bud

WavHello – SoundBub

WavHello is a cool company that makes all sorts of audio goodies for your little sprout – like their belly buds that allow you to play music to your unborn baby directly through your belly.

The product we really liked was the SoundBub. This cute portable Bluetooth music player connects to any Bluetooth-capable device so you can play tunes for your little one while they sleep or while you’re on the go. With its VoiceShare mobile app, you can record your voice and play it through the SoundBub remotely. We thought this was super cool for the on-the-go parent who wishes they were there for bedtime and soothing.

Not only does SoundBub help with on-the-go connection, it’s also almost indestructible. Your little one will love chewing on the ears, hands, and feet of their favorite character.

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summer infant liv camera

Summer Infant – LIV Cam

Parent Co. is based in Burlington, VT and we’re known up in these parts for our active lifestyle – lots of hiking, biking, skiing, and of course camping. This portable and rechargeable monitor from Summer Infant is perfect for the new family that doesn’t want to lug around their plug-in monitor and those brick-sized plugs that generally come with them.

Simply download the app and connect the camera to get audio and video directly to your phone without the need for WiFi or a cell connection. It has a four-hour battery life which hopefully is enough to get your little one down or stay in touch during a nap.

We love this monitor because of its many practical applications for new parents. It’s perfect for a trip to the in-laws, a visit to a friend’s house, or a night out in the woods.

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tote savvy diaper bag

Life in Play Company – ToteSavvy

We met Lauren Kutting, the founder and CEO of Life in Play Company and she gave us a demo of her simple but brilliant idea called ToteSavvy – a bag insert that turns any handbag or backpack into a diaper bag instantly.

This nifty insert comes in big and small sizes and allows moms to carry their favorite bag without sacrificing style for utility. It’s not always mom carrying the diaper bag around, so this invention is perfect for dads, too. Simply pop ToteSavvy into your messenger bag or backpack and you’re ready to roll.

We really loved this because it’s such a simple solution to something that all couples deal with. It makes transferring your baby (and all the stuff that goes along with your baby) between parents quick, easy, and stylish. Nice work Lauren!

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just born sparkle blanket

Just Born – Sparkle Collection

Just Born has been a trusted manufacturer of very high quality baby products for over 80 years. Recently they’ve been focused on creating pieces for babies that are gender neutral. Their Sparkle Collection consists of bedding, accessories, blankets, bath accessories, and toys that aren’t your traditional pinks and blues. This is particularly appealing for expecting parents who’ve chosen to keep their baby’s gender a surprise.

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Thule Chariot Charger

Thule – Chariot Cougar 2

When you look around the roads in Vermont, you’ll see a Thule roof rack on every other car. One would think that our tiny state must be the outdoor activity capital of the world. Well, we’re not far off.  Little did we know that Thule has been expanding their product offerings well beyond bike, ski, and kayak racks.

The aptly named Chariot is one rad piece of gear.  It’s incredibly versatile and can be used in a myriad of ways including stroller, bicycle tow behind, and a running or skiing tow-behind. You can even mount skis to this thing and rock out with your little sprout on your favorite cross country track.

What makes the Chariot Cougar 2 one of our top picks is this versatility. Too many of us go out and buy a whole bunch of kid transport items like a bike seat. Thule has come up with a product that’s truly universal and we dig it!

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Wean Green Food containers

Wean Green – Food containers

There are an endless number of products available to help you pack your little one’s lunch. From bento containers, to the plain brown paper bag. Although some of us long for the simpler days when pulling a peanut butter sandwich out of a brown paper bag was completely acceptable, there’s clearly a better way.

Wean Green makes eco-friendly tempered glass containers in a ton of sizes that fit nicely together and they’re virtually indestructible. We love that they’re dishwasher and freezer safe, and they look great, too. In a demo at the Expo, we watched them drop these containers on the floor and shake them with liquid inside and these things held up to it all. Nice work, Wean Green!

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lug bug baby carrier

Lug Bug

If you’ve carried a baby in a car seat for any length of time you’re keenly aware of the forearm burn that goes along with it. Lug Bug makes the experience of carting your tot around much less taxing.

All baby car seats have a carry bar, but unfortunately, they’re not set up properly for any kind of extended carrying. Your arms are forced into a completely unnatural position and you quickly find yourself constantly switching hands and positions if you need to carry your tot for more than a minute or two.

Lug Bug is fully adjustable and allows you to carry your car seat while keeping your forearms from exploding! We love that two dads saw a need for something in the market and built a product to address that need. So many folks have a great idea and then just assume that it’s already been done, or that it’s too much work to get started. Well, it is a ton of work and these guys have pulled it off.

Research Tells Us Your Kids Are Lying And You Don’t Know It

New research shows that many parents wouldn’t even know if they’re raising Pinocchio.

We all know that children can tell some far-fetched falsehoods from time to time, but most parents believe that they can discern the difference between a truthful report and a tall tale, at least when it comes from their own kids.

That’s what parents reported in a recent study published by the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Unfortunately for them, and for parents everywhere, the study, “Can Parents Detect 8- to 16-year-olds’ Lies? Parental Biases, Confidence, and Accuracy,” found that although parents were more likely to believe their own children, they were just as hopeless at detecting lies from them as they were from complete strangers.

This study builds on the popular idea of presumed honesty and truth bias. The concept of this is nothing new when it comes to relationships built on trust. A 1997 study by DePaulo et. al. confirmed that adults judged their own friends’ and partners’ statements as more honest than those of complete strangers. And, as one would expect, the closer the relationship, the stronger the truth bias held true. In simple terms: we want to believe the people we love, so we give them the benefit of the doubt. And when it comes to love, most would agree that the parent-child bond trumps all.

So does the same bias hold true for the delicate relationship between parent and child? Are parents more likely to trust their own children? Are parents better at detecting lies from their own children than from children they’ve never met? How about age – are parents more likely to believe younger children than they are to believe teens?

The results are in and the kids take all. Parents are mostly clueless when they’re being lied to.

In the study published in the upcoming July 2016 issue, researchers Evans, Bender and Lee gave children a test during which the answers were readily available on an answer key set to the side. They then filmed the children while asking them if they had peeked at the answers to the test.

Researchers showed the video footage to three groups of adults: childless adults, parents of other kids, and parents of the kids in the videos. While childless adults and parents of other kids were just as inept at identifying lies as the kids’ own parents were, they were far more likely overall to predict that kids were indeed lying.

Meanwhile, parents of the kids in the videos were nearly twice as likely to predict that the answers were truthful. In reality though, these parents were no more accurate in their predictions than the other groups of adults. And, for the record, their kids were no less guilty of cheating. Simply put, the parents in the study were twice as likely to believe their own kids even when the kids were lying.

So what’s it all mean? Parents believe and trust their children, even when the trust is unfounded. And of course, trust is central to any relationship. But can too much trust be a bad thing?

It’s not uncommon to read about juvenile offenders or even convicted felons whose parents maintain their innocence against all odds. And even once their offspring are found guilty, parents often plead for lighter sentences while justifying the behavior of their convicted children. Remember the infamous letter written by Brock Turner’s father after the Stanford rape trial? While unconditional love is an admirable and even necessary trait of parenting, it seems that it can also obscure reality when it comes time for children to take responsibility.

This study suggests that it may be time for us parents to step back and evaluate our kids more objectively. We can continue to love, support, and encourage our kids but if we want to raise a generation that takes responsibility for their actions, perhaps we need to stop giving them the automatic benefit of the doubt, and start holding them accountable for their actions.    

WE Movement Co-Founder Craig Kielburger Can Help You Raise Service-Oriented Kids

An interview with Craig Kielburger about the ways his organization, WE Movement, is helping kids experience the life-changing power of giving back.

Craig Kielburger founded his first charitable organization, Free the Children, when he was still a child himself. At the age of 12, Kielburger was moved to act after reading a newspaper article about child labor in Pakistan. 

Since those early days, Kielburger and his brother, Marc, have inspired and enabled millions of children to experience the life-changing power of making a difference through their multifaceted organization, the WE Movement.

Kielburger believes there’s a basic tenet missing from our modern notion of childhood: “I think in our society we need to see a well-rounded childhood as having absolutely academics, absolutely music, absolutely sports, but there’s a fourth pillar that’s often ignored which is this idea of service and giving back.”

Through the WE Movement, Kielburger is making it easier for parents and teachers to integrate that fourth pillar into every child’s experience. WE Day, an event that takes place in numerous venues throughout the U.S., U.K, and Canada, is the annual culmination of their efforts.

Last April, WE Day came to The Forum in Los Angeles for the first time. Sixteen-thousand students and a gaggle of celebrities came together to celebrate the efforts of young world-changers. The resulting prime time special will air on ABC at 7/6C on Sunday, August 28.

*** What is WE Day and why haven’t I heard of it? As I was researching this interview I thought, “This organization sounds amazing and there is such a wide range of people involved, and you’re all doing so much good in this world.” How is it that I don’t know about this event?! It made me wonder about the negative news bias in mainstream media

Craig Kielburger: WE Day is, as we like to say, the Super Bowl of doing good. It’s the Academy Awards of creating positive impact in the world, or the coolest classroom in the world, depending on how you want to look at it. It’s a celebration that’s free to attend, but you have to earn your way there through a year of service.

So these upper elementary, middle, and high school students have all taken action on at least one local cause and one global cause. What we would say is it’s cause-inclusive which makes it a little unique. So we’re not trying to advocate for a particular organization and often in the charitable world there’s a lot of competition out there. We just want to bring together and celebrate the best of young people, celebrate the best of community.

The event has been around for many years and we fill 14 stadiums every year. We have 4.5 million followers on various social media platforms; 2.3 million young people take part in the WE Schools program every year to earn their way to WE Day – 200,000 get the actual ticket to come.

But to answer your question about why (you haven’t heard about it), two answers come to my mind. I think the smaller answer is pure logistics. This is our second ever national broadcast. (The event) has been in America now for only five years… Essentially it’s just a question of time. It really is genuinely still bubbling up.

The second part is, I actually agree with you. I think that when you look at the idea behind a WE Day or the nature of what our organization is, the WE Movement, there are a lot of stories that make the headlines that tear us apart. No matter what your political beliefs, there is a lot of division. Or if you look at tension: racial tension in this world and geographic division and socioeconomic division, and it seems that we live in a world that is increasingly divided, on a global level and on a very local level. That is what dominates the headlines.

I think to your very point, that’s why we need something like WE Day, because we need to remind ourselves that the world is a good place and that the vast majority of people are striving for good and that communities can come together around something positive. That no matter your political beliefs, no matter your religious beliefs, no matter your ethic origin or socioeconomic background, your color of skin, etc. we can come together around this idea of service and creating a better world.

That may sound naïve to some, but 200,000 young people are filling stadiums to celebrate what unites them.

I know that you felt passionately about social injustice at a very young age and from what I’ve read you were encouraged and led in all the right directions – helped by adults to feel empowered to change what you saw as something that needed to be changed. How do you talk to parents and teachers about the role they play in the lives of young people who want to effect social change?

Those who are present in the lives of young people are critical to that. When you watch the WE Day broadcast that’s coming up on ABC, there are moments where we are aiming it squarely at parents in the call to action. Obviously a lot of the show is aimed to young people, it’s a multi-generational show, but we’re aiming it squarely to parents to recognize the opportunity for a couple reasons.

For 20 years now, 21 years, we’ve work with parents. We actually even do parenting workshops and I typically start a workshop by asking parents to finish the sentence, “I would be a successful parent if my child were…” and then to give a bit of a description. You hear words like caring, kind, successful, good head on their shoulders, grateful.

There’s this universality that despite what we might think, I’ve never had anyone say, “captain of the football team,” or, “valedictorian.” What parents want is something more fundamental. It’s raising good kids. It’s kids who have a sense of purpose in life, kids who have a sense of confidence in who they are, they have a good group of friends around them, a sense of identity that’s rooted in something bigger than themselves.

All of these things can come from service. I think that parents, who so often in our society are wanting to give youth every single opportunity, one of the greatest opportunities is giving them a chance to help someone else. The studies alone have shown that when young people do this they’re more likely to go on to higher education, they’re less likely to use or abuse drugs, they have a higher sense of self esteem. We wrote a book on parenting called “The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care and Contribute,” so I’m pretty passionate on this subject, but often I think parents and teachers don’t know where to start.

Parents often don’t know where to start because the world is so busy around us and there are countless headlines and countless issues. Teachers often don’t know where to start because class time is so precious.

How does WE Schools help with that particular issue?

Whether it’s a core-curricular or extra-curricular, they need to justify that this furthers core academic and life skill learning. So where our program steps in is two fold. There’s We Schools and something else we’re very excited about, We Families, which obviously involves parents.

WE Schools is a free national program that provides a service-learning overlay to core course learning. At the risk of that being too convoluted, basically what this means is we help teachers help students learn through experiential service learning. They can learn life skills, they can learn academic skills, but engaged in service. You learn biology by testing water. You learn Spanish by helping a new immigrant. You learn about American History by helping veterans. You engage in your core learning, doing so within the core framework of service. And in the process you develop all these amazing life skills.

The WE Families program has everything similar to schools, but even a little bit more. It’s a series of campaigns of very simple ways that families can get involved in service. Things like WE Scare Hunger where families will trick-or-treat collecting food at Halloween for local food banks. We’ve collected 7.6 million pounds of food doing that.

Or they’ll do things like WE Are Silent where there’s a pledge not to speak and understand what it’s like to be bullied if you’re a young person – what it’s like not to have a voice. Or your family or your school can have a sister village around the world and we’ll connect that together and you can learn about that village and connect online with that village – even find ways to support, like the clean water project, the teacher’s salary, or a woman entrepreneur in that village.

Or you can add more, you can go overseas and visit your sister village. Every year thousands of families do this with us. Four or five thousand people a year will go overseas and we’ll host them and they’ll meet their sister village around the world and it becomes a learning experience through service trips.

All of this takes place during the year and then WE Day is the celebration that recognizes the amazing actions taken by these young people.