All Your House Is a Stage: Babyproofing as Safety Theater

Babyproofing may offer more safety theater than actual safety.

In his 2009 critique of the TSA, technologist Bruce Schneier argues that most anti-terrorism resources are wasted in response to movie-plot threats.
Whether the threat is real (terrorists flying planes into buildings) or imagined (“terrorists contaminating the milk supply”), Schneier argues that movie-plot stories have an outsized effect on our decision-making. Our collective response to those movie-plot threats, Schneier argues, is “security theater,” that is, “measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.”
Babyproofing – the various steps taken to protect babies and young children from hazards in their homes – is more similar to the TSA’s responses to terrorism than we might like to think. Many baby safety devices are movie-plot driven responses to isolated or extremely rare events that parents attempt to ward off by investing in expensive and often underperforming to ineffective gear. Babyproofing may offer more safety theater than actual safety.

Many dangers aren’t that dangerous

Some babyproofing measures, like fencing pools and securing dressers, can lessen life-threatening dangers. But many of the other dangers we attempt to avert through babyproofing aren’t as dangerous as we imagine them to be.
Outlet covers are a useful example. Cheap tiny plastic plugs and more expensive sliding plates are intended to guard against electrocution. These devices fall far short of their promise, not because they fail to prevent electrocutions but because electrocutions are so rare to begin with. A child who puts a finger or fork inside an electrical outlet is not going to get “electrocuted.” That’s because the word “electrocuted” specifically refers to a person killed by electricity.
And although people do die from electrocution each year, those people are largely adult men who are killed by a hazard at their occupation, such as high-voltage wires. The likely outcome of tampering with a home outlet is electric shock, which still happens surprisingly little. One 2013 estimate was 68 children under the age of one, all of whom were released from the emergency room, which suggests that their injuries were relatively minor.

Babyproofing doesn’t work

Of all types of babyproofing gear, the baby gate is probably considered the most important. A study released in Pediatrics in 2012 used the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) – a database of injuries from 100 representative emergency rooms across the country – to estimate the overall rates of pediatric injuries from falls. The researchers found that in the U.S., a child is injured by a fall every six minutes.
Although newsworthy, that six-minute claim is probably misleading, at least about the need for baby gates.
The study looked at a wider age group than would normally be considered for babyproofing: children ages zero to five. Using NEISS data, researchers estimated over 900,000 stair-related injuries, but that number included the daredevil kindergartener antics of jumping off or riding a tricycle down the stairs. Approximately 439,000 children between zero and two were estimated to have been injured between 1999 and 2008.
That figure, however, is not an accurate reflection of the number of injuries that could be prevented with baby gates. 25,000 of the falls occurred from baby walkers, which are no longer sold in the US out of safety concerns. Another 9,500 were in strollers, which suggests that some falls occurred in public places that could not be expected to have baby gates. 45,000 of the falls occurred when children were being carried, meaning that a baby gate, even if installed properly, could not have prevented a fall.
One additional comment from the researchers suggests that babyproofing may provide some false confidence and even a potential safety hazard. The researchers also examined the narrative reports of injuries in the NEISS fall data, and found that having a gate doesn’t necessarily prevent an accident: “A review of the case narratives in this study showed that the gates were often removed by another household member or the young child was able to knock or climb over the gate.”
The gates themselves can also lead to other unintended injuries. Another group of researchers studying NEISS data specifically on baby gates estimated that between 1990 and 2010 children sustained an average of just under 1,800 injuries a year from baby gates. Kids aged two and under were most likely to be injured by falling, while kids between ages two and six were most likely to crash into the gate.
Furthermore, that injury rate is climbing, from 3.9 children per 100,000 children in 1990 to 12.5 children per 100,000 in 2010. It’s unlikely that gates are getting less safe; rather, it’s likely that more parents are buying gates, and with more of any baby item, there are going to be more injuries.

We develop a gear-based approach to problem solving

If babyproofing is safety theater, it’s a large-scale production with expensive props.
Bath thermometers – as well as color-changing tub inserts, bath mats, and rubber duckies in coordinating patterns – are designed to tell parents when the water temperature isn’t safe for their babies. Many of these items are made redundant by your own hand, which can easily test the safety of water temperature. And if you don’t trust yourself to accurately gauge the temperature, you can always lower your hot water heater to 120 degrees.
More gear makes parents feel confident that they have done something, that they have made their babies safer. But that reassurance comes at a cost. Imagining that you buy all of the standard recommended babyproofing items, and that you had to buy impermanent ones (say because you’re a renter or because you don’t want the locks affixed to adulthood), here’s a rough cost estimate of the least expensive babyproofing items available, according to their current prices on Amazon:

  • Removable drawer locks, two packs for kitchen and one for each bathroom: $30
  • Removable oven door lock: $5
  • Universal stove knob covers, pack of five: $8
  • Entry-level wall-mounted baby gates for top and bottom of stairs: $60
  • Insertable outlet covers: $3
  • Pack of screw-in sliding outlet covers for objects you want to plug and unplug frequently: $12
  • Toilet seat cover: $8
  • Tub faucet cover: $8
  • Table cover bumpers: $9

You might look at this list and think that $143 is a small price to pay for a safety, but is that what you’re really purchasing with these babyproofing items? You’re not buying a guarantee of safety. Your child could fall from lots of things other than the stairs, and even the stairs if you forget to close the gate. Instead, you’re buying a talisman that makes you feel safer.
Encouraging parents to buy more gear to make their babies safer also obscures much more effective and coordinated approaches that could increase safety for all babies. The National Electric Code requires tamper-resistant spring-loaded electrical receptacles in new and renovated homes, which decrease risk of accidental injury from electric shock without requiring outlet covers. The authors of the Pediatrics fall study advocate for new building codes for home staircases, which could reduce falls more successfully than inconsistently-used gates.

Children will always devise a more creative solution

The basic premise of babyproofing is that you crawl around to get a “child’s eye view” and then install barriers to prevent your child from killing or maiming himself. One problem with this approach is that the barriers are ineffective or inconsistently used. Another far bigger problem is that although we’re at a child’s level, we are not actually seeing the world through those eyes, because that child doesn’t see “danger,” but rather “exciting new challenge.”
In his profile of Schneier and his analysis of security theater, Charles C. Mann recalled a conversation briefly after 9/11. Schneier bet Mann that the United States would not see another large terrorist attack in the next decade, at least not using airplanes. That’s because, Schneier argued, Americans were now prepared for the specific occasion and would attack airplane hijackers. The same goes for shoe and snow globe bombs, methods that aren’t likely to be used because they’re now highly publicized. Terrorists are constantly innovating.
Babies will also invent a solution around any new obstacle. There’s scant data on babyproofing effectiveness, but some of the existing data suggests that kids are creative problem-solvers when it comes to dismantling safety devices. Install a baby gate? The baby will learn to climb over it. One small study of outlet covers found that kids ages two through four could remove even the most difficult covers in an average of 39 seconds.

Babyproofing robs parents and children of valuable lessons

We buy table corner protectors to avoid cuts, stove knob covers to prevent burns, door guards to avert pinched fingers. We buy drawer locks to shield our kids from sharp things. But tables aren’t the only household objects that have corners. There are walls, doors, and the ubiquitous IKEA MALA easel, to name just a few household fixtures. Stoves aren’t the only things that can burn kids. Doors aren’t the only things that can pinch them, and knives aren’t the only things that can cut them. When we babyproof selectively, we’re robbing kids of the category learning that hot things burn or sharp things cut.
When parents stage elaborate safety theater, we rob ourselves of valuable lessons as well. When we’re constantly preparing for what might happen rather than what is happening, we increase our parental anxiety. When we’re always anticipating and neutralizing potential hazards around our children, we miss the chance to trust our children to explore and learn from the world around them. When avoiding homes without stove knob covers and drawer locks, we further isolate ourselves during a period when many parents already feel cut off from the world.
Are you a believer in babyproofing? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Today Is an “I Hate Kevin” Day

I’m invisible, and today I’m letting myself be mad about it. I hate Kevin. I wish he had never been born.

Today is an “I hate Kevin” day. I have those a lot. Mommy says it’s okay. She has them too. You can’t control how you feel but you can choose how to act in response to your feelings. The behaviorist says that’s the biggest difference between me and Kevin. I can make sense of my feelings, all he can do is react.
The penis grabbing is getting worse. He’s doing it in school now. Today at lunch he stuck his hand down his pants and started doing the humping thing. I said, “Kev hands up, okay?” Then he started to cry, and everyone saw what he was doing, and I just wanted to disappear. Leela tells him everything is okay but he screams and throws his salad all over the floor. Before the aides even realize what’s happening my friends have cleaned up the mess, taken Kev to the bathroom, and calmed him down. Sharfa has taken something from everyone’s lunch so he has something to eat.
“Everything is just fine now isn’t it Kevin?”
No one ever asks ME if everything is fine. No one asks me if I’m okay after my brother sticks his hand down his pants in the middle of lunch and then throws his food all over the floor. You’d think, just once, someone might say, “Wow Kayla, that must have been embarrassing. Are you okay?” But they never do. I’m invisible, and today I’m letting myself be mad about it. I hate Kevin. I wish he had never been born. He wasn’t supposed to be born. I’ve heard the story. Mommy’s body knew he was broken and took away his air. Mommy’s body is smart.
I don’t have a normal life. I don’t have a normal family. I’ve had enough sleepovers to know how normal people live, and we don’t live like they do. I wish we could.
Take tonight for example. It’s a typical night in our house. 9:30 p.m. is bedtime, Mommy and Daddy say so, and Kevin starts screaming and thrashing. I go to my bed, because I’m the “good” one and just wait for it all to be over. Crying, counting, more crying, time out, Mommy and Daddy arguing because this one or that one always gives in, blah, blah, blah.
Tonight it only takes 15 minutes and Kevin’s in the bathroom. He can’t pee alone. Bob (his stuffed elephant) and Kevin Owens (the plastic wrestler) have to pee with him. Daddy stands at the toilet making the “pssss” sound, praising Bob and Kevin Owens for pointing their penises at the water and getting all their tinkle in the potty. Other daddies don’t have to do this.
Now Kevin is in our room and Mommy has to get him in his pull up and pajamas. 10-year-old boys aren’t supposed to wear pull ups and they can dress themselves. He lies down, and even though the tucking in routine has been the same for the past year, he recites the steps and makes Mommy repeat them.
Kevin: Cover me.
Mommy: Cover you.
Kevin: All way end.
Mommy: Pull the blanket all the way to the end.
Kevin: Kevin Ownens head here.
Mommy: Kevin Owens head goes here.
Kevin: Bob go here.
Mommy: Bob goes here.
Kevin: Need pink book.
Mommy: You need a pink book.
Kevin: Goes here.
Mommy: It goes here.
Kevin: Night night see moanin.
Mommy: Night night see moanin.
Now Mommy comes to me to sing our song but she’s not really here. Sometimes she is. Sometimes she looks right in my eyes and sings all the words to the song and she’s all with me, but tonight she’s somewhere else. She sings the words and looks right at me but she’s somewhere else in her head. Maybe she’s at work. Maybe she’s thinking about laundry. Maybe she’s in the other world she’s made for herself where Kevin doesn’t live.
I love that place. I go there sometimes too. I think it’s hard to pretend you’re in a place when you’re not in that place.
It took me a lot of growing up to realize Mommy isn’t here when she’s here. You have to pay really close attention because Mommy is good at pretending. You can have whole conversations with her and it seems like she’s paying attention but the next day she won’t remember a thing you said. Tonight is like that. She’s singing to me, making all the right faces in all the right parts but tomorrow morning she’ll ask me, “Did I remember to sing our song?”
I wonder if other mommies can do that: leave their body to sing all the words with all the right faces while they’re somewhere else. I wonder if other mommies HAVE to do that. I don’t think so. I think it’s just the mommies with broken children. I think when a child is broken the mommy breaks too and that’s how they’re able to be in two places at once. I wish Mommy was here with me, the song just isn’t the same without her.
Kevin: Kaya scatch my back?
This is the part of the routine no one knows about. It’s our secret. After Mommy and Daddy leave Kevin says, “Kaya scatch my back,” and I crawl into his bed with him. I have to repeat the steps too.
Kevin: Get under covers vis me
Kayla: I know I’m under the covers with you
Kevin: Put you hand up back my sirt
Kayla: I’m putting my hand up the back of your shirt
Kevin: Don’t ickle me
Kayla: I’m not tickling you
Kevin: Now you scatch
Kayla: I’m scratching
I scratch and scratch and just before he falls asleep Kevin says, “Night night Kaya I yuv you.”
Then I say, “I love you too Kevin.”
Sometimes, not all the time, maybe just on nights he needs to be sure he asks, “You yuv me?”
“Yes,” I say, and he says, “Awe! Gank goo.”
Tonight is one of those nights. He needs to be sure, so I stray from the routine a little bit and say, “Yes yes yes yes yes I love you,” and he smiles a little bit just before he falls asleep.
I feel so guilty. I’m a horrible sister. He knows. He knows about the world where he doesn’t live. He knows Mommy has to go there sometimes and leave the pretend Mommy to sing my song and now he knows I go there sometimes too. If I was a better sister I wouldn’t have to go.
Usually I go back to my bed once he’s asleep but tonight I’ll stay. I’ll stay all night long until the early morning so Mommy doesn’t see me here and it stays our secret.
It’s nice watching Kevin sleep. He has a really cute snore. I wonder if I did this when we were in Mommy’s tummy. Mommy says no. She says we each grew in our own bubble and when you’re in someone’s tummy you can’t leave your bubble to go visit someone in theirs but I think she’s wrong. I bet I left my bubble all the time to visit Kevin in his and scratch his back. I imagine the two of us growing just like this, face to face, hand in hand, but Mommy says that’s not right either. Once we got really big and ran out of room in her tummy my head was right at Kevin’s feet. That’s why I’m so goofy. I spent that last month in Mommy’s tummy getting kicked in the head all day.
I can’t sleep so I play with Mommy’s favorite part of me. It’s the little roll of fat at the bottom of my tummy. Mommy calls it a little extra Kayla and you can never get enough Kayla. I don’t like the roll of fat. It hangs over my bikini bottom and I’m afraid people are going to call me fat.
I told Mommy this one day and she got really mad and said, “Don’t you ever call yourself fat. You’re beautiful, you have a beautiful figure you’re perfect just the way you are.” But she says the same thing to Dana and she doesn’t have a little roll of fat that hangs over her bikini bottom. We can’t both be perfect we look completely different. I think Dana’s the perfect one. Dana is perfect at everything, Kevin is broken and I’m just … me.
I’m not even supposed to be here. It was just supposed to be Kevin. He zoomed down from Heaven too fast, crash landed into Mommy’s tummy and a piece of him fell off. That’s me. Mommy says that’s just a story I made up in my head but it’s not and I know it. I’m the piece of Kevin that fell off which is why neither one of us is whole or right without the other one. No one knows what if feels like to be a piece of somebody else. I’m the only one.
Do you know when Kevin is sleeping or smiling you can’t see the facial dysmorphia? He looks perfect. He is perfect. He isn’t destroying the makeup counter at MAC or throwing books at us in Barnes & Noble. No one is staring at us with pity or just ignoring us. He isn’t grabbing his penis and humping the floor in full view of my friends. I can have sleepovers like other girls because he doesn’t wander the house naked and flap like a bird until his medication kicks in. I have the life I see when I sleep over other people’s houses. Mommy says they have problems, too – we just can’t see them. Sometimes, when I sleep over other people’s houses, I walk around opening closets looking for their problems but I’ve never found any.
I feel better. Mommy is right about letting yourself be mad. If you don’t give the mad thoughts a voice they get louder and louder until that’s all you can hear. I’ve said the angry thoughts out loud like Mommy taught. I told God I hated Kevin and I wish he wasn’t here and God said “Okay,” took the bad words away, and replaced them with good feelings. I can look at Kevin and feel love again and I don’t need the world where he doesn’t live. I never stay long anyway. I feel peaceful when I’m there but here, I feel whole.
Tomorrow is going to be better. I’ll remember that Kevin and I are the most special twins in the world because the piece of him that’s missing grew into a whole person who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him flying down from Heaven too fast. I will lie here all night with him and Mommy won’t know. It’s not like Mommy still creeps downstairs to make sure we’re breathing. We’re 10 for God’s sake. She won’t see us curled up together hand in hand. It will still be our secret.
I’ll have to set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. because Mommy’s been getting up at 6 a.m. Daddy says she’s finally gone off the deep end. She says she’s quitting her job to become a professional beaver trapper. There’s a Mommy beaver named Becky living in our backyard with her five babies. They’re sooooooooo cute but don’t say that in front of my mom. They’re eating all her plants and trees so she goes out there every morning around 6:30 to yell at Becky and throw sticks at her. She thinks this will make Becky want to move but I don’t think it’s working. We can’t even call her Mommy anymore. She wants to be called Rachel The Great Beaver Slayer. I’m not allowed to tell Dad because he’ll say she’s being obsessive but Mom says she’s going to disguise herself as a rhododendron bush and stake out the beaver. She needs evidence. I think she’s taking Becky to court.
Yeah, I don’t have a normal life. I don’t have a normal family. I’ve had enough sleepovers to know how normal people live, and we don’t live like they do. But then again none of them have beavers, or a mother in the backyard disguised as a rhododendron bush, and that must be boring.

My Kid Has a Favorite and It’s Not Me

We try so hard as parents not to play favorites. I just wish they would do the same.

“I don’t want you. I don’t want you. I don’t want you.”
It’s the phrase we fear in the deepest darkest pit of our psyches where junior high dates and first periods go to die. It’s the phrase that spills angst all over our best laid plans for autonomy.
Now put that on repeat and blast it on your biggest 80s boom box and you’ve got a sense of my current mental state. No woman is an island. But can you just send me to one until this storm passes?
You know that phrase “Daddy’s girl?” It’s cute, isn’t it? You picture a nightgown-ed daughter dancing on her Daddy’s feet and field trips to Home Depot for dollhouse supplies.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes for the Mommy in the Daddy’s girl trio:
My three-year-old kicks me in the sternum while I wrestle her into her pajamas while she screams, “I want Daddy to do it!”
“We have three kids, kiddo,” I say and dodge a foot. “That means, luck of the draw, you’ve got me tonight.”
Her response? A totally non-ironic kick to my uterus along her personalized c-section scar while she tries to scramble away.
I tap out at that point … just lay back onto the hardwood floor and watch her scissor kick in circles with her Paw Patrol pajama pants halfway up like a little old lady stuck in her pantyhose.
Here’s the thing. I love that she loves her dad. I love that they have a special bond and he “gets her” in all her stubborn toddlerness. I also get that this could very well be a phase – a phase that has lasted from birth to now, but here’s to keeping that hope alive. I also get that she is just a kid whose ability for empathy is slim to none.
I am the grownup. I remind myself of this by the hour when she cries for her dad while we eat lunch and she asks how many hours until he is home again. I remind myself again when she wants him to be the last one to kiss her at bedtime and again when he needs to be the first one to see her write her name and tie her shoes. We try so hard as parents not to play favorites. I just wish they would do the same.
I want her to want me.
I want that feeling of being chosen. I shouldn’t need it. Her twin brother loves everyone with an equanimity that even I can’t muster. And her older brother is the same. There is plenty of love to go around in our house. But when she runs around me to get to my husband when we come home from a date night, it’s going to sting.
I tell myself that I am not in middle school anymore and this has more to do with the fact that she averages approximately 10 more hours a day with me than him. I am the old toy and he will forever be the new. But man, those words “I don’t want you” leave a mark. I try not to let her see me get upset more than the obligatory “that hurts Mommy’s feelings, can you say you’re sorry?” with the best poker face I can summon.
But I have walked away to grab a Kleenex. I have locked onto my Headspace meditation app like it’s a personalized meeting with the Dalai Lama. And I have reached into my vault of affirmations and picked a few to carry me through:
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.” – Brene Brown
“I like you very much. Just as you are.” – Mark Darcy, “Bridget Jones’s Diary”
“Let it go.” – Elsa, “Frozen”
And it works most of the time. Because the truth is, I know exactly why she prefers her dad. It’s because I birthed a Mini Me. She is a mover and a shaker and the very strong yin to her twin’s easygoing yang. We are two waves crashing into each other more often than not. One day, if I’m lucky the tides will shift and we will roll together in easy harmony.
But for now, I’ll hug the dog a little longer than necessary and continue to take up the mantle of second place. Because that’s what moms do … we fill in the gaps. We are the mortar that holds the family together and everybody who’s anybody knows it.

I Miss My Husband

It seems silly for me to say I miss my husband because it is silly, because he’s right here next to me most of the time.

I miss my husband.
It seems silly for me to say that, because it is silly, because he’s right here next to me most of the time. In a development that has surprised at least 65 percent of the guests at our wedding all those years ago (including probably both of us), we are still very much married, with four kids, and all the chaos to show for it.
But I miss him still. It’s true, even as we move around each other through the kitchen and the bedrooms and the school concerts and the 500 grocery store trips we take per week, combined. I miss him the way you miss something you used to have and totally took for granted, like collagen or personal space or uninterrupted sleep.
We are good at what we do, tag-teaming our way through this working and parenting life like a well oiled machine on our good days, passing kids to each other like relay batons without even breaking our strides. It’s a thing of beauty, a master dance that took years to achieve and yet still is so tenuous that one string pulled could unravel it into a pile of children at our feet. Even so, I have the gall to miss him.
And I do.
I miss him.
I miss how, when we first started dating, he had this way of looking at me like I was something delicate and fragile that needed to be handled with care. It was the first time I had ever seen myself as anything other than hard edged and mostly broken.
I miss the way we could sit across a table in a dimly lit restaurant and talk for hours about everything and nothing at all, and it would feel like time had stopped and the universe had shrunk down to just us two and a candle and a bottle of cheap wine.
I miss being able to banter back and forth about how we wanted to spend the time that spread out before us, languid and easy and open – so arrogant, like it would always be that way, and we could make it into whatever we wanted.
And today?
Well, today, he looks at our children the way he used to look at me.
Today, we lie across a bed, a child or two tangled in between us, and it’s like the universe has expanded just enough to fit the whole six of us into it nice and snug.
Today, we don’t plan and plot and worry as much about the future, not because it’s not still laid out there – it is, I hope – but because what’s right in front of us right now is so miraculous that it’s hard to pull our gazes away for long enough to remember to dream.
So, yes, I miss my husband, the same way I miss my youth, or my pre-baby body, or who I was in high school. Fondly, sure. Nostalgically even. That guy I married all those years ago was incredible, no doubt.
But this one I have now is even better.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

The Benefits of Letting Grudges Go

Consider that the harmful effects of long-standing grudges also hurt those we most want to protect: our children.

You may be at work, at home, or in a waiting room when the mental video clip starts rolling – the one highlighting the slights behind that grudge you hold tight. Painful memories cycle before your mind’s eye, reminding you of just how justified your grudge is – from the time the relationship-assailant started flinging barbs your way to the final affront that became the proverbial last straw in your association with him or her.
The more your thoughts stir up old wounds, the more you grow from annoyed to seething. The clip ends with you declaring that you are “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” or some other line-in-the-sand-drawing proclamation. Pulse racing and teeth clenched, you steel yourself to strike back hard if someone dares to utter the overly simplistic suggestion to “just let it go.”
Why should you “let it go” when you’ve been wronged and, potentially, wronged for a long time by a relative, friend, or co-worker?
Well, you may just want to let go of your grudges, not for the sake of letting the offenders off the hook, but to stop the damage that grudges can cause to your emotional and physical well-being. Moreover, reclaiming your sense of wellness helps to ensure that of your children’s, who are watching the way you handle adversity and taking cues from you on how to manage their own conflicts.

Holding onto grudges hurts you, emotionally and physically

On the surface, nursing a grudge can feel like the right thing to do. After all, grudges signal that someone has crossed a line with us, that our dignity matters, and that we had the strength to stick up for ourselves, either by distancing ourselves from the offender or being guarded and combative whenever the offender is near.
However, once we shed the armor of our indignation, we find that holding a grudge doesn’t heal the underlying injury. In fact, stewing over past slights causes us to remain stuck in feelings of anger, resentment, and vengefulness. These feelings of unforgiveness then compound the emotional harm by leading to anxiety, depression, or stress which, in turn, can cause us to approach new relationships with defensiveness and distrust.
Moreover, the negative feelings sustained by our long-held grudges can take an enormous toll on our physical health. Research has found that people who maintain long-term grudges experienced higher rates of a host of ailments, namely: heart disease, cardiac arrest, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain.
Given this profound mind-body connection, holding onto a grudge (no matter how seemingly justified) is not worth the damage to our relationship with others, our emotional well-being, or our physical health. If that isn’t reason enough to let go of our rancor toward a transgressor, consider that the harmful effects of long-standing grudges also hurt those we most want to protect: our children.

Our grudges negatively affect our children, too

Choosing to nurse a grudge can induce such stress and depression that it can negatively affect the way we parent our children. “Make no mistake, parental stress has an impact on kids,” advises Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist who notes how often her young patients tell her how stressed-out their parents are.
In particular, stressed parents exhibit less patience with their children and are quicker to yell at them. Stressed parents are also quicker to yell at each other, at times within earshot of the children. As a result of this heightened tension in the home, children experience their own stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
If your grudge is also causing you to be depressed, consider that studies have shown that depression negatively affects our parenting, as well. Depressed parents are less emotionally engaged with their children and less likely to adequately socialize children. This, in turn, puts the children at a disadvantage in achieving normal emotional development.
Even if a parent isn’t stressed or depressed by a grudge, the time that a parent spends dwelling on a grudge means less time spent on fostering an emotionally positive home for a child. According to Dr. Gail Gross, a family and child development expert, emotionally engaged parents who create a home that is “deliberately filled with warmth” enhance a child’s emotional well-being, temperament, and ability to cope with stress.
Aside from being impacted by a parent’s disposition, children are also significantly influenced by the way their parents interact with others. Children watch how their parents react to difficult people, and often imitate parental behavior when they find themselves in similar situations. This is a sobering thought for any parent bent on maintaining grudges.
Considering the influence we have as parents in shaping our children’s emotional well-being and behavior, it is incumbent upon us to serve as better examples by adopting an attitude of forgiveness.

What forgiveness is and what it isn’t

Whether you decide to forgive your transgressors for your children’s sake, your own sake, or because of your spiritual beliefs, forgiveness does not mean excusing the harm done to you. Forgiveness also does not require associating with the person who harmed you.
Instead, forgiveness means consciously choosing to let go of hostility towards an offender, whether or not the person apologized, for the sake of moving on from the offense. Importantly, as you shift your thinking away from anger and toward forgiveness, you will stop viewing your past through the lens of how you’ve been victimized.
Adopting a forgiving attitude brings with it significant benefits. Among them:

  • Reduced anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved hearth health
  • A stronger immune system
  • Reduced hostility toward others
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Healthier relationships
  • A greater sense of peace, hope, and joy
  • More restful sleep

How to adopt an attitude of forgiveness

No matter your age, you can choose to reap the benefits of a forgiving attitude at any time. The following tips can help you start incorporating forgiveness into your thoughts and actions:

1 | Reflect on the totality of the circumstances surrounding the grudge

Have a final “sit down” with everything the offender did that upset you, reflect on why it hurt you so much, and examine how you’ve reacted to the wrongdoing since. The goal here is not to re-traumatize yourself, but to understand your reaction to the offense and give yourself the compassion your offender did not.

2 | Consider that the offender might actually deserve your empathy

Is the offender herself a victim of abuse or mistreatment? If so, the offender’s behavior toward you may have been less about hurting you and more about the offender’s misunderstanding of what constitutes acceptable behavior.

3 | Accept that the offender may never own up to the pain he caused you

If the offender is aware of how deeply he upset you and still has not sought amends, let go of the expectation that he will – or can – take responsibility for his behavior. Letting go of this expectation frees you from being disappointed each day that your much-owed apology doesn’t materialize.

4 | Choose to genuinely forgive

When you forgive someone to please your spouse or to keep others from feeling uncomfortable, true forgiveness cannot take root. Instead, forgive because you are determined to move on from past hurts – whether or not you choose to reconcile with the offender – and because you want to stop any emotional or physical damage the grudge may be causing.

5 | Commemorate the forgiveness

Forgiving someone who caused you pain is a big step forward that deserves commemorating. If contacting the person who wronged you is unwise or impossible, commemorate your decision to forgive by confiding in someone else whose guidance you trust, or by writing down your reasons for choosing to forgive.

6 | Forgive yourself for holding a grudge

Whether you’ve recoiled from a hurtful situation for several weeks or several years, forgive yourself for taking as long as you took to consider forgiveness as a way of dealing with the offense at issue.

7 | Seek help if the grudge you want to let go of won’t let go of you

If you are unable to release a grudge after sincere effort, consider seeking guidance from a spiritual leader, a confidante, or a mental health provider.
Releasing your hostility toward someone who hurt you can help you see that transgressor as human and flawed, potentially leading you to regain affection for that person, says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The John Hopkins Hospital. In some instances, this may pave the way for a reconciliation.
In other cases, reconciliation may be impossible because the offender has passed away, or undesirable because the offender is still abusive or refuses to admit the wrongdoing occurred. Even if reconciliation is not the goal, however, adopting an attitude of forgiveness is a worthy pursuit for its bounty of benefits.

Manage your triggers: Grudge-avoidance through slight-avoidance

An ounce of (grudge) prevention is worth a pound of (forgiveness) cure. To prevent foreseeable slights from accumulating into the basis for a new grudge, take proactive steps to avoid situations you know will end up making your blood boil.
For example, if you have a friend who is consistently and unapologetically late, avoid planning time-sensitive activities with her. If a relative habitually makes comments at your expense, avoid being alone with him, call him less, or put him on speaker when he calls if you think doing so will discourage him from making insulting remarks. If a co-worker has a reputation for stealing credit from others in the office, document all of your hard work and loop your boss into your progress as often as possible to claim all credit due to you.
People will do things we find offensive or downright infuriating all of the time, whether those people mean to upset us or not. It’s easy to make these slights larger than life by replaying them in our thoughts, over and over, until our sense of indignation practically screams that a grudge is justified.
However, you can choose to stop the reel, take steps toward forgiveness, and consider how to better manage your triggers going forward. Think of the health benefits that forgiveness brings to you. If that doesn’t stop the tape, think of the health benefits that forgiveness brings to your children.

Wild Rumpus

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!
When I hear the term “wild” I am automatically transported to the scene in Maurice Sendak’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” in which Max is sent to his room for behaving, well, wild. Even more poignant is when, on the island, Max is crowned King of the Wild Things and one of his first matters of business is to order all to dance at the wild rumpus. While stomping and roaring they all are able to release their inner beast. Thrilling, isn’t it? It’s exciting to think that for one brief moment one can rid themselves of social customs, enforced mannerisms and expected formalities. And don’t you think that for Max, and for the “wild things” living in our own homes, a spontaneous wild rumpus might have been more effective than being sent up to his room. What a wild idea!
I find that when my children’s behavior, and mine for that matter, begins to escalate it is because they’ve bottled up unresolved issues. These issues may stem from hunger, sleepiness, feeling unwell or uneasy, stress, disappointment, and much, much more. The scale of discomfort can range from mild to severe. But whatever the cause they almost always feel better, even if only momentarily, when they can distract themselves with a burst of healthy energy.
I am certain that if asked my children would inform you that I have, in fact, sent them up to their rooms and that, at times, was certainly warranted. I wonder, though, if they would also tell you of the times I, like King Max, ordered instead the commencement of the wild rumpus.
Sometimes we would stand together encircled about the room. Huffing and puffing, sucking air in and blowing out, we imagined ourselves as giant, monstrous volcanoes. Standing with legs spread wide apart and arms held tightly together, reaching high up to the sky, we would roar loudly, allowing ourselves to erupt. Roars were followed by jumps into the air. Hot lava spewed as we landed on feet, straight-legged, knees locked together, and arms held soldier like at our sides. Huge cities populated by our living frustrations would be destroyed by hot, flowing magma. We did this again and again. Boom! Crash! Bang! Wild!
Other times we would manage our anger by rolling up socks, tucking them tightly into squishy balls. We did this to every pair of socks that we owned. Armed heavily at the top of the stairs we would wait for Dad, the unsuspecting intruder, to arrive home from work. Once he stepped inside and sat down his bag a battle would inevitably commence. Socks would fly targeting Dad who eagerly returned the fire. Parents and children ran to and fro. All the while sock balls bombarded every square inch of the front room. Squeals and screams of delight erased angry feelings and snarls. For especially hectic phases, socks would be exchanged for marshmallows. Wild!
Still yet, one or more kids just couldn’t keep mean notions inside and that’s when they were deemed truly wild. Transformed into beasts of their own choosing they were banished to the “forests” outside. As dinosaurs, cheetahs, tigers and even crocodiles they would run from captors or chase their prey around and around the trees. Exhausted but content they inevitably returned ready to act nice and sweet. Wild!
Whether by spewing volcanoes, attacking intruders with sock ammunition, chasing prey or dancing at a real life wild rumpus, I find that our wild moments can often be tamed by a healthy change of focus and energy. May Max less often be banished to his room and more often be thrown a wildly vivacious rumpus.

Calling all Kid Artists! Now's Your Chance to Doodle for Google

If you’ve got an artistic kid in grades K-12, you should know about Google’s annual Doodle contest.

For the last 10 years, Google has run a contest that is open to students in grades K through 12, in which the students are invited to create a doodle that may be featured as, “an interactive experience on Google.com.” In addition, they are eligible to win great scholarships and tech packages for their schools.
This year’s theme is, “What inspires me?” If your child is artistic, this is an amazing opportunity for them to get wide exposure by having their artwork displayed on Google.com. Students should create a doodle and describe what it is and how it represents something that inspires them.
Parents, teachers, non-profits, and after school programs may enter doodles on behalf of their students, but only one original per student may be submitted. Any medium may be used to create the doodle.
The winners will be in the following categories: State and Territory Winners, National Finalists, and the National Winner. The doodles will be judged on Artistic merit: Based on artistic skill, Creativity: Representation of the contest theme, use of the letters in the Google logo, and the unique approach to the doodle Theme communication: How well the contest theme is expressed in both the artwork and the written statement.
The contest is judged by grade groups (Grades K-3, Grades 4-5, Grades 6-7, Grades 8-9, Grades 10-12) by a panel of guest judges selected for each year.
The national winner will receive a behind-the-scenes experience with the Doodle team and a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 Technology package for their school/non-profit organization, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
The four national finalists who do not become the national winner will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive a $5,000 college scholarship, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
State winners will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive Google Hardware, an assembly celebration at their school, and Google swag.
Once the entry period is closed and the judges have narrowed the field to the 53 best doodles, the public will be asked to vote online by selecting their favorite doodles, one from each grade group.
See previous winners here and apply here.

How to Foster Your Son's Love of Reading

Boys are less apt to develop a love of reading and statistically score lower on reading tests. How can we better support them?

As an English teacher, it’s been paramount that I instill a love of reading into my children. My three-year-old daughter will still sit on my lap and read almost anything with me, only getting up for a snack. My son used to love reading even more than his little sister, but he’s five now, and I’m afraid he’s already losing interest. It’s no surprise either. Boys are less apt to develop a love of reading and statistically score lower on reading tests.

I don’t blame my son for not wanting to sit still any longer than he’s already required to. He spends eight hours a day being schooled. This is a lot for his brain. When he gets home, his body wants to play, and play hard. Sitting with his mother on the couch to read some books is not appealing. However it’s on my husband and me to help our son find that love of reading once again. We may just have to work a little harder.

In an article in The New York Times by young adult fiction author Robert Lipsyte, he discusses the problem of why boys read less than girls beginning in grade school lasting through young adulthood. He mentions the helpful website, guysread.com, and quotes the author Jon Scieszka when he says, “Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

Since my son’s interest in reading has plummeted, my husband has been more cognizant of this fact. In return, my husband has been more purposeful in trying to set aside time in the evening to read with our son and have our son read early-reader books to him. It’s also been vital that my husband reads his own books in front of our son too, showing him that he reads for pleasure. Masculine men who play sports can also enjoy the act of reading.

What I’m looking for now are what kind of books can rekindle that love again.

Lately, my five-year-old has gotten into playing with Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Legos, so I tried to find books about what I knew he already liked. Luckily, these characters often take the form of early-reader books. This way, he can enjoy the characters he loves and work on his reading at the same time. We usually head to the library to pick them out and, if it’s in the budget, we let him pick out one or two books per month from Scholastic, too.

For Christmas, he received six books from the Magic Treehouse series. These books have reignited his passion for books. The main characters, Annie and Jack, go on adventures in their magic treehouse to ancient kingdoms, a land of dinosaurs, and beaches with pirates. The series are chapter books with very little pictures, which helps my son work his imagination by picturing Annie and Jack in the scenes of these mysterious places. I love seeing the suspense in his eyes, it’s the joy from reading brought back.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what our kids read, what matters is that they love reading. Their passion for books will get squashed at some point while they’re in school. It happens. So it’s on us as parents to encourage their love of books outside of school.

Life is busy, but the more our kids can take ownership in their reading, the better. As our kids get older, we may not like the things they’re into, but it’s part of the game. Let them read whatever they want now because as they get older, their teachers will be the ones picking out their books for reading assignments.

Do everything you can to foster their love of reading because it’s a skill that will take them further than anything else in life.

Could Daycare Surveillance Actually Be a Bad Thing?

More and more childcare facilities are investing in software that allows parents to log in and watch their kids in real time. Could there be drawbacks?

More and more, daycares and childcare facilities are installing CCTV cameras and investing in software that allows parents to log in and watch their little one in real time. Some parents love this new technology and enjoy being able to check in on their child during the school day, but others worry that these surveillance systems may have negative implications.

As a former teacher, I have some reservations about the idea of parents being able to watch a class. I worry about it violating the teacher’s privacy. There are lots of things that go on in a classroom that don’t involve children at all.

Overworked teachers will often eat, mark books and papers, prepare for classes, and even change their clothes in an empty classroom. While a classroom is certainly a shared space, it’s also the place where a teacher spends the majority of the day and should therefore offer some measure of privacy.

Another concern is the potential use of the recorded images. The companies that produce this technology are quick to point out security features and password protections, but passwords can be shared, computer screens can be left open, and screenshots can be taken and disseminated elsewhere. This technology could lead to a situation where anything that now happens in that class is potentially available to view in the public sphere.

Some may think this is acceptable and even preferable. Why shouldn’t classrooms be open? What do teachers have to hide? If only exceptional levels of teaching and learning are taking place, why does it matter if they are open for observation?

Here are some reasons it does matter. First, exceptional levels of teaching and learning are not happening every minute of every day. Even award-winning teachers have off days.

Second, I’ve witnessed a variety of occurrences in classrooms that would benefit from the relative privacy of a closed door: For instance, a teacher suffering from a diabetic seizure, an out-of-control child punching another student, an older student losing control of his bowels, small children changing their clothes for a school play, a student disclosing abuse, or a teacher finding out about a death in her family.

It’s easy to see how any of these scenarios would be problematic if filmed and viewed publicly.

Whenever a teacher is observed by either a colleague, administrator, or by a group of parents during a school open day, it inherently changes the nature of their lesson. They are bound to experience some anxiety, as anyone would when being monitored. More importantly, it interferes with the normal camaraderie between teacher and students.

Teachers, of course, expect regular observations and appraisals by administrators and use feedback to improve their teaching practice. However, constant monitoring can be draining. Working to appear professional, teachers may seem stiff in comparison to their normal classroom persona and, in doing so, damage the rapport with their class.

Teaching is a performance. We become attuned to our unique and familiar audience. Throwing in a constant unseen viewer changes the dynamic of that performance.

Educators might also feel self-conscious about some of the more animated yet effective parts of their job. Teachers routinely sing, dance, make animal noises, pull faces, and put on character voices – all of which may suddenly feel embarrassing in front of an adult or unknown audience.

Like it or not, every teacher also usually has one parent that acts as a thorn in their side. These surveillance systems may encourage difficult parents to micro-manage every aspect of a teacher’s performance, which goes a long way to stifling a teacher’s overall effectiveness.

Although these issues concerning teacher’s privacy and dignity are close to my heart as a former educator, the protection and welfare of children is even more important to me. Here, too, the use of surveillance in the daycare and school classroom is deeply troubling.

In group settings, people very quickly fall into assigned roles. There’s the quiet and thoughtful ones, the leaders, the motivators, the organizers, and unfortunately, there are the maligned, the blamed, and the ‘naughty’ ones.

Children (no doubt motivated by what they see from parents and teachers) quickly work out which of their classmates are behaving and which are not and often gleefully relay this information to their parents. For a poor child to be labeled as a “problem” is damaging enough, but imagine if that child knew that groups of parents were watching his every transgression, or if every time he made a mistake there was an audience ready to criticize.

Children can become typecast in behavior roles, which can be almost impossible to escape. This reputation follows them from class to class, from grade to grade.

The act of observing bad behavior also becomes a shaming mechanism. This can lead parents to think it’s within their right to admonish a student simply because they witnessed an event, even though they were not present and perhaps don’t understand the context or other drivers.

Mike Holiday, a parent and homeschool educator, is very concerned about the issues of privacy posed by surveillance in the classroom. “A camera in the classroom might put everyone on their best behavior. But the possibility of abuse of power is too great. It is also a huge step towards legalizing other invasions of privacy.”

Parents witnessing stigmatizing behavior problems is bad enough. Add to that the bystanders who believe they understand an entire incident simply because they’ve watched it on-screen. Sometimes seeing isn’t believing. A camera angle can make all the difference. A critical event that happened off-screen may not be taken into consideration, and therefore, viewers who think they have the whole story simply don’t.

Some parents may use the camera as a control device by telling their children, “I’ll be watching you.” This can do irreparable harm to the authority of the teacher within the classroom. Perversely, this can be used as a control device by the teachers themselves with such statements as, “Your mother can see what you’re doing.”

Even more worrying is a tactic witnessed by Kristi, from South Carolina: “The teacher told the kids that Santa watched them through the cameras.” Kristi approves of the use of cameras in the daycare center for visual records in case of incidents or emergencies. But she’s opposed to “the teacher indoctrinating the kids to think surveillance is okay.”

Another area of concern is for those children struggling with developmental or learning difficulties. Surely those students’ privacy is violated if all parents can see which reading group they’ve been assigned to or how much help they receive or if they are sometimes unable to participate in an activity.

Zaida, a mom of two girls and inventor of the Wiggletot Diaper Changer, has other concerns about “the effects of Wi-Fi on thin skulls.” Besides these oft-debated health concerns, she also points to the danger of children having their otherwise private school day dissected by their parents. “Having a parent report back on everything they think wasn’t appropriate or should have been changed in a child could lead to an increase in anxiety in kids.”

Unfortunately, not all children live in caring, loving homes. To that end, most troubling of all is that the use of surveillance could lead to the dissolution of the classroom as a safe space. For children of abuse or neglect, the classroom can represent one of the few places where they are protected, nurtured, and can receive love, attention, and care.

That, if not for any other reason, is compelling justification for keeping classrooms camera-free.

The use of cameras in educational and childcare settings can have benefits. Some parents who are nervous about leaving their children for the first time with strangers may find that this technology puts their minds at ease. Parent Arlene Guzman Todd explains, “I am a big fan of the cameras, they helped provide a feeling of security and allowed me to build trust by watching the caretaker’s interactions with my children.”

There are also situations where parents and carers may not be physically able to see their children, such as in the case of divorce, separation, or when a military parent is deployed. This is the case with Arlene’s husband, an active duty service member. “The live feeds allow him to check in on the kids regardless of what part of the world he is in,” she says.

One school district in Pennsylvania has been trialing a new app that has proved popular with both teachers and parents. The Classroom Dojo program functions like a closed-circuit Twitter account. The teacher can use the app to post photos and positive updates throughout the day, making the parents feel informed and included.

Melissa Fullerton, Director of Communications & Community Relations at Governor Mifflin School District, reports that the result has been that “[t]he ongoing feed of positive and day-to-day updates has led to a noticeable decrease in parent frustration and negative communications.”

The difference here seems to be in the concept of control and consent. There’s no live feed. Furthermore, the teacher can choose when to share updates, exactly what to show, what to exclude, and what days and times are going to best showcase the class and the learning that is taking place. (Friday afternoon after Phys Ed, for example, would probably not be an optimum viewing time.)

We should work toward a balance between maintaining appropriate privacy and respect in the classroom whilst also creating an open and inviting environment for parents.

Could the Key to Better Play Be Providing Fewer Toys?

A recent study looked at what helped improve the quality of children’s play, less or more toys?

Babies begin to play from early on in their infancy. They are curious and attracted to brightly colored toys and sometimes random things like small bits on the carpet and empty packaging. Through play babies learn to interpret their world and increase their mental, social, emotional, and physical skills.
The enormous benefits of play for development has been long known. This has led to much investigation as to what kinds of toys are best for children’s development. Parents and toy companies alike often want to enhance their child’s engagement with play through toys.
A recent study looked at what helped improve the quality of children’s play, less or more toys? Development, estimated that fewer toys in a child’s environment would lead to better play. The study participants were 36 toddlers aged around 24 months. 17 of the children were only children. Children were screened for the exposure to play prior to entering the study to ensure that they had a good repertoire and experience of play.

The study

A variety of 32 sit-and-play, gender neutral toys were used in this study. Toys represented four categories: educational (toys that may teach a concept such as shapes, colors, or counting), pretend (toys that suggest themed play scenarios for “as if” play), and action (toys that can be activated through manipulation or toys that encourage exploration). Toys were consistent with a checklist written on behalf of the American Occupational Therapy Association (2011) to aid parents in toy selection.
The toddlers played in two different conditions. One play session was a Four Toy play session and the other was a 16 Toy Play Condition. In the Four Toy condition, one toy from each category was randomly selected. No more than one toy was designated as battery operated. In the 16 Toy condition, four toys from each category were randomly selected. No more than four toys were designated as battery operated. No toys were repeated for both conditions. Toys that were indicated as a child’s favorite were replaced with a randomly selected toy.
Toddlers attended three individual sessions with their caregiver. The first session was for the purposes of screening the toddlers for suitability. The caregiver was asked to remain on site during data collection and was able to view the session. Prior to the play sessions, each toddler was asked for verbal agreement to play with the statement “would you like to play today?” The caregiver was asked to assist in helping the toddler feel comfortable before separation for the play session occurred. Caregivers were asked to join the toddler in the room during the session and to abide by research protocol if separation distress occurred.
The play session began with a two minute adjustment period in which the researcher interacted with the toddler in a friendly manner. Once comfortable, the toddler was informed that he/she could play with toys in the room however he/she would like to. If the toddler approached the researcher to engage in play, the researcher participated in the reciprocal interaction, following the toddler’s lead. The researcher did not ask or attempt to engage the toddler in any play behavior. Caregivers were also followed this protocol for interacting with their children if they were in the room during the data collection period.
Each session was videotaped. Play behavior was coded following the two-minute adjustment period. The researchers were interested in three things:
1 | The number of toys the toddlers played with.
2 | How long the toddler played with each toy.
3 | The number of actions the toddlers used when playing with the toy.
For example actions such as drumming, dumping, exploring, pretending, matching, gathering, or inserting were all recorded as different types of actions.

What parents can learn

The study found the quality of the toy play was better in the play condition with fewer toys. In the 16 toy condition the children played with more toys but their engagement with the toys was of less substance. The depth and duration of the play was best with four toys.
The researchers suggest that having fewer toys is beneficial to play due to children’s limited attention span at this age. When given a larger number of toys to play with their find it hard to focus and engage in deep play. Parents involved in this study reported toddlers had 90 toys on average in their play environment.
Western homes tend to be overloaded with toys. Parents regularly complain to me about the stress of managing toys and I’ve had my fair share of difficulties with this issue. I’ve never been successful at stemming the tide of toys that flow through my home.
It seems for children, access to more toys does not result in better play. The results of this study suggest that if you have a large number of toys in your home, reducing the number of available toys is beneficial to increase the quality of children’s play. Consider rotating toys on a weekly basis to allow your child to experience different toys. It keeps toys novel and may alleviate any concerns about toys being wasted.