Navigating Autism: Keep Looking Up

He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it.

I had one of those days yesterday, the kind that left me with a kink in my neck that prevents me from looking up from my beat-up Uggs. The kind of day that prevents me from looking up at all. Yesterday, I cried on the playground of my son’s preschool. It’s been a decade or two since I let it all out in the midst of flying balls and staring children, but let me tell you, it is still just as embarrassing.

It was only for a second. I reeled it back in as quickly as it escaped, but it lasted just long enough for me to reveal my ugly-cry face to my son’s preschool teacher. She was probably having a hard enough time already as she was coming to me to talk about my autistic son’s behaviors in a general education class.

Why is my autistic son in a general education classroom? Well, I could argue it’s for inclusion or exposure, but the truth is that I fought to keep him in the general education system because it just felt right to me, as his mom, at the time.

When Henry was not talking at all at two years old, our pediatrician suggested preschool. Get him around some other kids and the words will come, the doctor advised. Give it three months.

That’s what we did. I was so nervous putting him in preschool before he could ask for water, or even for me, but he needed something. So did I: I needed a break.

Three months came and went and, while Henry adjusted to nap-time and separation anxiety in a “typical” way, the words did not come. Instead of lessening my fears, preschool exposed new ones I had yet to discover. Still no words came. When I came to pick Henry up each day, he was always playing happily and he was also always playing alone. Maybe he was playing in close proximity to other children, but he was never playing with them.

It was like a seam in the universe was stitched between my boy and this world. While I was made aware of Henry’s solitary nature, I was always comforted by the teachers and preschool director, who patiently reminded me that some children take longer to adjust than others. We waited, and a year went by.

Within that year, we got our answer: autism. It all added up. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it also made sense. In a way, the diagnosis was preferable to the potential diagnosis. Either way, I’d be worrying, but at least now I knew why.

We did speech therapy and child development class and requested an IEP meeting with the school district. They offered us a special ed preschool program where Henry would receive speech and occupational therapy weekly and be amongst his “peers.” The school within our residence district happened to be the best program in the county. With high hopes, my mom and I went to take a tour.

We walked into each classroom with smiles on our faces, eager to hear about the different activities, but I couldn’t help notice all the self-directed children engaged in self-directed play right next to one another. When the tour came to an end, we thanked the teachers and walked to the car in silence. Opening the car door, I plopped myself into my mom’s passenger seat and began to cry.

“I don’t think I can send him here, Mom.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”

It was my gut, my heart, and my disregard for pragmatics that led me to keep Henry at his general education preschool. At that time, the child advocate who represented us told me straight up, “I think you’re making a mistake.” I respected his honesty, but I told him that my child needs the world. He needs the world to stay with him. He needs the world to continue playing around him, circling him, while he pauses for a moment.

The world needs to be there when he wakes up. If it’s not, he may think that he’s alone and go back inside his mind to hibernate for another year. Another valuable year. I told our advocate that my son may be bullied in the general education system, but that may be better than being ignored, isolated, segregated, separated, numb, disenfranchised. I didn’t want him to be a bystander.

Maybe pain is a part of real life, and he deserves to live a real life and learn from it, as we all must. He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. My heart knew what felt right to me as a mom. So we kept him in general education and his amazing private preschool was happy to have him stay, no questions asked.

The director of the program even shared with me that she has family members with autism and that, in her experience, social progress is the key that unlocks the doors to both speech and sensory issues. I agreed that in order for Henry to learn to speak, he needed to be spoken to, constantly, by everyone around him. That’s exactly what general education could give him that special education could not.

My child advocate strongly disagreed. “It’s not better to be bullied as a child, ever.” It was hard and painful logic to refute. I did not refute it, I just followed my heart. It’s all that I’ve done since I started on this path, and I’ve tripped and fallen plenty of times along the way, and that’s okay. However, I cannot afford to take my child down with me when I hit the pavement.

I tripped yesterday, like a child on a playground. This time, I wasn’t a child. I was a mother. A broken-hearted mother overcome with a hundred different emotions in one moment. As I listened to my son’s teacher gently break down for me that he’s struggling and that she’s struggling with him, so many feelings showed up. Initially, it was good-ol’-fashioned embarrassment. I know I don’t need to (nor should I) feel embarrassed over my son’s disability, but sometimes, I just do.

I was sad that this day had come, the one I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge as it lingered off ahead somewhere on the distant horizon of the future. This was the day my child advocate was trying to protect us from. While Henry wasn’t being kicked out of his general education preschool (he wasn’t even in trouble) this day now stood as a pillar along the rocky road I’ve been walking. It was a marker in time, a reminder, a reality check.

My son’s teacher wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help calm Henry down when he gets upset. She is the kindest soul and loves my son, and she just wants to help him, but I could see that she’s tired. I recognized that look of defeat. It’s the one you get where you’ve tried everything and it makes no difference at all. It was like looking in the mirror. She merely asked what I do at home when Henry gets upset and the ugly-cry face unleashed itself.

Her intentions were pure, and I’m so grateful that she came to me. I knew as soon as she began to speak that this conversation was different than the ones she has with other parents, because my son is different. There it is: cue the face. As if this returned realization was not enough to sufficiently and publicly upset me, there was still another layer of reality that I had to confront.

I didn’t have the answer to her question. I froze as if I’d just been called on in geography class while passing notes. Was this a trick question? Why couldn’t I answer it? It was a very straightforward inquiry. Yet I stared back at her with a vacuous expression and, like my son, I struggled to find the words I needed in that moment.

I couldn’t find them because they weren’t there. I don’t know how to calm my son down when he “melts down.” I try to comfort, love, and support him. I try to reprimand, discipline, and explain to him. I try to ignore, detach, and disengage. I try everything. To no avail.

I fail. I get pushed and kicked. I tear up, hold in, let go, and still, my son remains end-of-the-world level upset. It is defeating. It’s exhausting. It makes you want to give up.

What I didn’t have the composure to say to her in that moment is that I’ve spent the last three months of my life fighting tooth and nail to get my son behavioral therapy. I was too proud to tell her that we’d lost our health insurance over the summer. I was too emotional to explain that as certain behaviors have escalated, my family’s resources have dissipated like sand running through a child’s fingers. Instead, I just said, “It’s been hard,” and she understood.

I am left now with an emotional string tied around my index finger. It’s a conscious reminder of the changing tide, and of the knowledge that not a single one of us can predict or control it. No one can tell me what is right or what is best for my son. No one can tell me if it’s fair to his teacher or the other children to keep him there and for how long. At least not yet. Only time will tell.

It took Henry one year of general education preschool to begin speaking. It took him one year to make a friend. Not just a child who plays near him or alongside him, but a friend. An adorable little girl who is always by his side when I arrive to pick him up. His first friend, his first words, what are they worth? Are they worth risking potential bullying? Are they worth extra stress on his teachers? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Yesterday, I cried on the playground. Today my neck is frozen in a downward position. Even though it hurts, I must keep looking up. Life is marked with pain, regardless of the road you take. It’s a patient beacon that waits for us like rest stops along the highway of life, summoning us to pause for a moment to recall that we’re all lost travelers being led by unreliable navigation systems that are constantly rerouting.

While I have more work to do, more tears in store, and (God-forbid) more ugly cry faces waiting to be unleashed, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only my heart and his to navigate daily, until and if the time arrives to nudge our hearts in a new direction.

Yesterday was a hard day, but it’s not the end of the road. I know that I must continue on and that as long as I am looking up, I will see the signs that time will mark for me along this journey. While it may hurt at times, the pain is worth every detour, rest stop, and pothole. It’s worth every tear on the playground. It’s life, and it’ll be waiting patiently, next to me, when my son pauses to look up.

Are Divorce Rates Really Higher for Families With Special Needs Kids?

The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study offers excellent insight into whether or not the divorce rate is higher for families with Special Needs children.

Your child has just been diagnosed with a life-threatening or life-changing diagnosis. You are dealing with all the emotions, grief, and stress that come with your new normal. As you begin sharing this news with others, one of the first things you’re told is that the rate of divorce is much higher with families like yours.
This is really the last thing you want to hear. Your child has just been diagnosed with a major issue, with which you’re trying to come to terms. This in and of itself is life-altering. Now, you have to worry about whether you’ll beat the odds of the marriage category you’ve just been placed in, statistically speaking? This feels like a slap in the face.
Sometime ago, I decided to look this up and see what the current stats are. I found plenty of articles to back up this opinion, like this one in the Huffington Post and this one on Families.com.
What drew me in, however, was a research study published by the National Institute of Health. And what I found surprised me.
Previous studies have shown that there was an increased risk of divorce, but one of the problems with these studies is that they only look at snapshots of time – studying school-aged kids, for example, or adult children. They didn’t consider the lifetime of the marriage.
The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which the NIH published, offers excellent insight into whether or not the divorce rate is higher for families with Special Needs children. The results of the 50-year study were published in 2015.
“…we found that divorce rates were not elevated, on average, in families with a child with developmental disabilities. However, in small families, there was a significantly higher risk of divorce relative to a normative comparison group. ”
The results found that there was about a two percent higher risk. When you figure in a statistical margin of error of three percent, the difference is negligible. They did, however, find an interesting result about family size.
Among families without special needs, the more children they had, the more likely they were to divorce. The opposite is true of families with Special Needs children. If they had more children they were less likely to divorce.
The study hypothesized that perhaps it was due to the care of the child with Special Needs being distributed amongst more people, making it easier to manage and also providing extra support as the parents age.
I should note a few limitations of the study: There were not many minority populations represented within the study, and it was conducted with a cohort of people who tended to get married younger and have more children than today’s couples. Future studies are warranted to see if the findings can be replicated.
It has been found in other studies that marriage later in life generally makes for a more stable marriage, so it is unlikely that that would change the result. Due to the longitudinal nature of the study and the rigorous methods used, I feel this is a good snapshot of what things look like within many of our families.
What we can take away from this study is that there is hope. You aren’t doomed to divorce your spouse. Your marriage will take work and care, like any other person’s marriage, but you have just as much of a chance to make it work as anyone else.
So ignore this statistic that gets thrown at you and go spend time with your spouse and child.

I’m That Mom Who Cries at Everything

I cry happy tears every day, and I encourage you all to do the same. Let’s all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, okay?

My mother was constantly caught off guard by commercials in the 70s and 80s. She would just stop and stare at the television, instantly engrossed in the Band-Aid tearjerker or Folger’s coffee warm and fuzzy wakeups with surprise visits from grown coffee drinking children. Every time the commercial came on, she would stop and watch it like it was the first time.
And then she’d cry. Not a debilitating, crazy person cry. But she would be teary-eyed for a few minutes as she went back to cooking or reading Good Housekeeping or admiring my brother’s latest Lego creation.
I didn’t understand the concept of ‘happy tears’ as a child. I’m not sure most kids do. I can remember asking why she was crying after one of those commercials had done their damage. “Because it was happy,” she would say.
I’ve never been a crier. I’ve found all it produced was a headache. Instead, I would find myself deep in thought, bordering on meditation, when something very serious or sad happened.
When all my brothers, our spouses, my nieces, and my father gathered around my mother’s hospital bed to take her off life support, I remember being very calm. I was more concerned about the comfort of everyone else. I didn’t want to break down. I just took in the moment. I removed myself and immersed myself simultaneously.
Three months later, I suffered the worst loss. My two-year-old son, Noah, died in a swimming pool accident. He was our only child. Of course, shock played a big part in the non-medically sedated state I usually I found myself in. I just went on autopilot from day one. I had no idea I could do that. I just did. My husband needed me. I needed me.
Two-and-a-half years later, I became a mother again. Miriam Phoenix was born, and we were about to emerge from the worst and re-enter the best again. It was a happiness magnified by the most giant magnifying glass ever.
It was also incredibly complicated. This sadness and happiness needed to make friends if we were going to be the parents Miriam deserved.
I found that the tears flowed more easily at the happy stuff. The firsts. The first time my husband spoon-fed her. The first time she mimicked my voice. The first time she kissed me before I could kiss her. The first time we all walked together, Miriam in the middle holding our hands.
To everyone else, we looked like a normal family. But the grief would always be trailing behind us. I would try to outrun it. But I was terrible in gym, and sometimes it caught up to me. I didn’t cry though. I just didn’t.
Miriam had her nursery school Holiday Show a few weeks ago. As I sat waiting for it to start, I looked around at all the other parents. They were laughing and commiserating and simply being normal. I waved to a few mothers I knew. I went back to being immersed and removed simultaneously. My mother bubble.
The show started with the older kids. They filed out in front of the giant bulletin board decorated with construction paper candy canes and dreidels in one white-shirted line.
And I lost it. I started crying. This wasn’t even my child’s class! I just felt it all so strongly. I glanced around and noticed many of the other parents seemed comparatively unaffected by the cuteness of this.
How hard these kids worked on this show! Learning their songs and their adorable hand motions. I was overwhelmed. This will never happen again. These kids. These songs. How can you not cry?
Miriam’s class was next. My cheeks hurt from smiling at her. She was so proud. She loved the audience. She was totally in the moment. I cried some more. I looked around to see if I could find any fellow criers. Nope. Not a one. Maybe it’s me.
I want more criers in my club. Happy criers love company.
I will continue to cry at every Back to School night. Every teacher conference. Every time Miriam pushes me out of the door of her classroom and says, “Mommy, gimme a kiss. And a biiiiiig hug,” and then throws in a “see-you-later-have-a-nice-day!”
In fact, the happy tears rolled down my cheeks just this morning. Miriam woke me around 6:30 a.m. to tell me that she was having so much fun in her new big girl bed. Then she went back to sleep. I just let the tears roll and eventually went back to sleep myself.
I cry happy tears every day, and I encourage you all to do the same. Let’s all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, okay?

Parenting From the Pages of "The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook"

Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible.

Tuesday, 1:23pm.

I’m hiding in the living room watching soccer on my iPad when Harry walks in dressed in a black ninja costume, plastic sword in hand. He looks for me underneath the end tables, inside the fireplace, and beside the couch.

“Daddy, where are you?”

Crouching behind a faux leather recliner no one in my family sits in, I breathe as quietly as possible. I clench every muscle.

Harry yells out my name, elongating both the first and second syllables. “Daaaaa-dddddy!”

My heart thumps. When I was a kid and anxiety threatened to overwhelm me, I would recite state capitals in alphabetical order: Montgomery, Alabama; Juneau, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona. When that trick no longer did the trick, I switched to washing my hands 96 times a day. Then I switched to trimming the carpet in our living room with a pair scissors, taking great care with each individual carpet fiber.

Much later, I discovered alcohol and then marijuana, a drug that, for a time, I thought of as an old friend, one who could quiet my mind long enough for me to stop driving over the same stretch of highway 13 times in a row or rearranging my wallet, my keys, and my inhaler on the nightstand until I burst into tears because the items were never perfectly aligned.

Now, after I very nearly ruined my marriage, I take special medication and read everything I can get my hands on concerning how to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder. For example, Edmund J. Bourne, the author of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Fifth Edition,” suggests you “find an alternative, positive obsession.” So, at 38, I obsess about soccer in lieu of my son, a precocious four-year old who is used to me playing with him almost every hour of the day.

“Daaaaa-ddddddy!”

I hold my breath.

Harry screams like a banshee and then stomps into the dining room.

Alone again, I glance down at my iPad and refocus my attention on the soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, two top clubs in the prestigious English Premier League. I’ve already watched this game from beginning to end twice, so I know that Tottenham, the team that I arbitrarily decided to obsess over, loses 2-0 even though they retained possession of the ball 58 precent of the game and took 14 shots on goal, four of them on target. 

During my first viewing of the match, I took extensive notes. Total number of fouls committed: 27.  Corner kicks taken: 11. Yellow cards given: 5. I didn’t just jot down important statistics, I also wrote down detailed observations concerning Tottenham’s offensive and defensive strategies as well as how both could be improved. I wrote down rambling musings on the different coaching strategies employed; on the effects, both negative and positive, of the dreary weather in London on game day; of the betting odds. I did all of that, and yet, several days later and with my son desperate for my attention, I still feel compelled to watch every single play.

Harry yells my name once, twice, three times. I hear him kick something in the dining room, and then say, “I’m a dumb kid!”

Removing my earbuds, I peer around the corner of my hiding spot. My son is sitting Indian-style underneath the dining room table, repeating “I’m a dumb kid” over and over and over again. Lately, he’s been saying “I’m a dumb kid” a lot, and I feel directly responsible.

Since I was a child, there’s been a voice inside my head that says things like: I’m neurotic, I’m no good, something is really wrong with me. Bourne calls this “anxious self-talk,” which is “typically irrational but almost always sounds like the truth.”

My son is far from dumb. He can write most of his letters. He puts together Lego sets with minimal assistance. He can tell you what fossil fuels are (“dead dinosaurs that you put in your car”), and how all the dinosaurs became extinct (“a huge asteroid hit the Earth and killed them”).

In a study published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, researchers discovered that the higher the level of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, the higher the intelligence. I think about this as my son continues to berate himself.

“Harry, don’t say that, please. You’re not dumb,” I tell him from behind the recliner.

“Where are you, Daddy? I can’t see you.”

I watch my child, who begins telling his sword a complicated story involving a green ninja named Eric (the boy’s favorite uncle is named Eric), a one-eyed monster, and a pit of lava.

“I’m Ninja Eric and I’ll hit the monster and throw him in the lava and he’ll die because good guys kill the bad guys and the good guys win and I’m a good guy.” He makes an explosion sound with his mouth, sending spittle flying onto the floor. “You’re in the lava now, monster! It’s so hot! You’re gonna die!”

Just like that, I forget about soccer, my so-called positive obsession. My brain shifts from the pulled hamstring of Harry Kane, Tottenham’s leading goal scorer, to Harry Huckleberry Everhart, my only son.

In “The Anxiety Book,” Jonathan Davidson, M.D., writes, “When you suffer from chronic anxiety, your internal police department, both biological and psychological, responds to false alarms every day, sometimes on an hourly basis.” Hiding behind the recliner, I can almost hear sirens over the sound of my son telling his macabre story. 

I engage in a lighting round of What If?, a game my central nervous system plays from time to time with or without my consent. What if Harry, like his father, becomes obsessed with death to the point where he finds it difficult to breathe and nearly impossible to do normal things such as go to school, make friends, or hold down a job?

What if Harry is never able to go back to school because instead of peacefully resolving conflicts with his peers he continues to yell, kick, hit, and throw things?

What if Harry ends up paralyzed by anxiety and turns to drugs and alcohol like his father once did?

What if Harry ends up drinking and smoking and snorting not because his peers are doing it, or because he’s craving a buzz or thinks it’s cool, but because he just wants – no, needs – to feel normal, to stop feeling jealous of every single other human being on this planet, all of whom seem to pass Algebra and visit the zoo and go out on dates without hyperventilating or sweating uncontrollably?    

I open my mouth to say something. Nothing comes out. I try to move but can’t. My eyes water, and, stupidly, I look down at my iPad. The game is approaching the 36th minute, which is when Shkodran Mustafi, one of Arsenal’s defensive players, scores a goal with his head. Having seen the replay nine times, I know that Mustafi is off-sides whenever he scores the goal, but the sideline referee doesn’t call it.

Five minutes ago, I would’ve cursed at the screen, fantasized about doing something wildly inappropriate to the referee’s house. But now, as I watch my son strike one of the chairs with his sword and call out, “Die,” I don’t give a damn about soccer. I give a damn about my son. I put my head in my hands and try to take some deep breaths.

“I found you!”

I open my eyes, and Harry slices the air with his plastic sword, the harmless blade missing my head by mere inches. “Daddy, why are you crying? Is it because your soccer team lost? Is that why you’re crying?”

I touch my son’s cheek. With his floppy brown hair, Bambi eyes, and smooth, olive complexion, he is an extremely attractive child. “Looks like his mother,” I often tell strangers who comment on his adorableness while we’re in the grocery store, “and thank God!”

“No,” I say, “it’s not that my soccer team lost.”

He frowns, pushes my hand away from his face. “Are you sad that you had to quit your job and take care of me? Because I was a dumb kid at 4K and kept being bad?”

My heart rate increases. I also suffer from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, affects approximately two percent of people under the age of 65. 

I don’t know what to do or what to say. Should I show him the 277 letters I’ve written to him, each one numbered, dated, and addressed to Harry Huckleberry, each one containing purple expressions of fatherly love alongside detailed descriptions of him and all the cute things he’s done? Or should I show him the list of positive self-talk statements I wrote down and keep in my wallet? Maybe I should read some of them aloud, so he would know that I am not a perfect father, but I love my son more than anything else and I strive to raise him the best way I know how. As he looks at me, I have no idea what to do.

Then I recall something from page 426 of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.”

“Patience,” Bourne writes, “means allowing things to unfold in their own natural time.” As I look into my son’s beautiful brown eyes, that’s what I decide to do: be patient.

“Harry,” I say, “from now on, whenever you say, ‘I’m a dumb kid,’ I’m going to give you an example of something cool I’ve seen you do. Got it?”

A mischievous grin appears on his face. “I’m a dumb kid,” he says, barely containing a laugh.

I walk into his bedroom and come back with an intricate airplane made of Lego pieces.

“You made this fighter jet for your ninjas last week,” I say. “You got a little frustrated putting the pieces in place, but you stuck with it and I’m proud of you for that. You’re a smart kid.”

His cheeks redden a bit, and then he swipes his sword at my hand, knocking the ninja airplane to the ground.

“Let’s play ninjas, Daddy!”

“I’m ready,” I say and stand up.

***

There was a time when I was ashamed of my chronic anxiety, even though 18 percent of the adult population suffers from it, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

There was a time when I would never have revealed to anyone how many therapists I’ve tried (five), or how many times I’ve worked through the exercises in “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” (seven), or how many times I’ve read and taken notes on “The Anxiety Book” (nine).

There was a time when I would’ve been extremely reluctant to reveal that I used to have daily panic attacks, and that every night I’d ask God to please not let me wake up in the morning, please just let me die.

There was a time when I would’ve been ashamed to confess that I take 10 mg of Buspar twice a day.

Fortunately, that time has past. Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible. Perhaps it’s time I replaced soccer with a new positive obsession: sharing my story with others.

Self-Interest is Not Selfish in Relationships

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless. That doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless.
We’re taught to put a high premium on kindness, generosity, and the needs of others. Sharing is one of the first lessons that many of us can remember learning as toddlers.
Making a decision based on our partner’s preference or going out of our way for a significant other – even when we’ve had a difficult day ourselves – is the adult equivalent of letting a classmate borrow the crayon that we really wanted to use, no? At any age, these selfless acts are considered fundamentally good.
That doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.
What happens when a spouse’s unflinchingly self-sacrificing behavior is built, brick by brick, into a wall so airtight that it’s no longer possible to understand the interests and desires that they hold near and dear?
Maybe it’s as simple as your partner constantly deferring to you to choose the movie or restaurant, or perhaps they are always willing to talk through the challenges of your day, while never quite opening up about their own. Maybe you feel they are always telling you just what you want to hear.
These selfless acts may feel good in the moment but, over time, they’ll limit your ability to authentically connect in your relationship. You may never learn whether they really like Mexican food and comedies best, and you may always wonder if their political views could actually be so similar to yours.
Finding yourself in a constant state of agreement may grow frustrating – and you’ll likely find yourself questioning if your partner’s selfless behavior is too good to be true. (For your sake we hope it’s not, but your concerns are perfectly valid!)
In extreme cases, you may even feel as if you are being stonewalled, which, according to Dr. John Gottman, happens when a listener withdraws from an interaction. Have you ever felt as if your partner’s conversational generosity was simply a tool to shut down the discussion and avoid becoming more fully engaged?
Jackie: Where should we go this weekend?
Jim: I’m happy to go wherever you want to go!
Jackie: That’s great, but I want us to decide together. What would be your perfect getaway?
Jim: I will go anywhere you want. Just say the word!
Even if this conversation is sealed with a kiss and plans for an amazing weekend trip, the fact remains that Jim’s selflessness comes with a side of disengagement – and there’s no way that this goes unnoticed for Jackie.
If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance of authenticity and honesty with your selfless partner, perhaps you need to consider working toward deeper, more intimate conversations with them – drawing out their core opinions, setting a standard for more intentional, open, engaged, and reciprocal communication. Dr. Gottman has three basic rules for intimate conversations:
1 | Put your feelings into words
2 | Ask open-ended questions
3 | Express empathy
In order to draw your partner further into more connected conversations, I suggest focusing on the latter two tips. Practicing these skills in your day-to-day interactions may help your spouse to communicate more genuinely (dare we say selfishly?) with you. Here’s how you can apply these principles more specifically with your self-sacrificing special someone.

Ask open-ended questions

Start paying closer attention to the way you engage your partner in conversation. If they are more selfless than most, you may need to be especially careful to avoid the use of yes or no questions. After all, what selfless spouse wants to say “no” when their favorite person wants to hear “yes?”
Maximize your partner’s ability to assert their opinions and preferences, in their entirety, by keeping your questions to them wide open. You may need to do it more often than feels natural. Ask “What would you like to have for dinner tonight?” instead of “Should we go out for Mexican for dinner tonight?”
The results may not be immediate, but as you establish a more consistent pattern of open-ended questioning – from restaurant choices to the best way to manage your finances – we’re willing to bet that your partner will begin to realize that you expect them to engage with you at a deeper level.
Reestablishing the ground rules for conversations in your relationship may take time, but it will pay off in the long run in the form of a deeper connection with your partner.

Express empathy

Perhaps your partner struggles with authentic self-expression because their innermost opinions have never been validated with any sort of intentionality. Assuming you’ve started asking your spouse more open-ended questions, they may have begun opening up about their true preferences and desires. The trick now is to turn toward them (as Dr. Gottman always says) by engaging more fully in the conversation.
Show your partner that what they’re saying makes sense to you. If your partner is only taking baby steps away from constant selflessness, take baby steps with them. You can even show empathy for something as simple as your typically-deferential spouse’s admission that they prefer Italian food to Mexican food (bear with us, we know this sounds a little crazy).
“Oh, I totally understand that,” you can say. “I feel like we always get more for our money when we go out to that Italian place down the street. And they have a great bread basket! What’s the best Italian food you’ve ever had?”
Engaging with your partner in this way shows them that you are paying attention to their needs, and that you may be in agreement with them as often as they are in agreement with you! Start small by validating their restaurant preferences, and watch them become more comfortable asserting their input in more consequential situations.
Written by Alli Hoff Kosik for The Gottman Relationship Blog.

A Wild Child

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!
When I dreamed of children, I conjured a wild child. Loud and bright. The kind you could not slow down. That leaps before she looks. That isn’t afraid of anything.
Some kids, when you let them loose, take off. They run for the corner of the playground. They run around, just to see their legs work. Sometimes they try to watch their own legs in motion and fall.
My first is terrified of things. Noises, smells. Hand dryers, heights. She is a cautious child. If the tension of a moment, a book, a show, is powerful, she looks away. She cannot look. She cries easily. She draws like it’s a second language. Her inner capacity for fantasy must be so great, so wild, that the world she sees looks strange. I don’t know how the world looks to her, but I know it scares her. Despite trepidation, she is loud and bright.
Aren’t all children? I see my own more clearly now in the mix of kids at school, the kids in our community. When a child grows confident; when a child articulates desire and organizes herself in pursuit – that is wild.
If you look at the children of today, it’s easy to assume – they are not nearly wild enough. Post-millennial American children are not that wild, and yet we desperately want them to be. It might be a byproduct of our fear, but we want them to experience a stage of fantasy and freedom in a culture increasingly bounded by money and futures. We want to protect them; we know we’ll need their courage.
What is wild is how swiftly the world seems to be moving away. Online, people refer to their children as cubs. Little wolves. Bears. Never puppies or kittens, these wild things. I’m fascinated by these kid-animals on Instagram, the accounts dominated by wildlings – in the woods, unencumbered, explorers all, captured out of doors. They are dressed in knits, in homespun. Throwback children, nimble pioneers. Who are these outliers? They appear to have unbounded time with their children. That alone, a fantasy. They seem immersed in the beauty of trees and sky, no roads for miles. The wildlings make for pretty pictures.
The mundane revelation of reproduction – there is so much time indoors. Naps and feeding alone make for hours by a bed, kitchen, a toilet, a washing machine. Shortly beyond napping life, there is school, then homework, early bedtimes. Most children today grow successfully boxed, in containers we have built for them. We go from house to daycare or school to activities or after care and to the house again. The days are long, yet there’s no time for running free. I understand the yearning for freedom. Childhood is rife with boundaries. The parent walks an impossibly narrow line.
When you have your child, wild or not, you apprehend. It’s not socially desirable to have a wild one. Wild is bouncing off the walls. Wild doesn’t follow directions. Wild is anti-social. Wild is aggressive. Wild is a handful. Wild never stops moving. Wild wears people out.
The contemporary wild bears two extreme strains – the inbounds child and the wildling. The wildling appears to be raised out of doors. They’re homeschooled, unschooled, or attending outdoor preschool; they’re completing survival training and reading about bravery. They have animal encounters. They’re scouts all. In the other strain, these kids are overscheduled, already behind in any endeavor that might lead to the good life. School is for fixing them, somehow. Preparing them for a future we cannot predict. Do not be fooled by the wildlings, which are every bit as documented and prized – overparented – as the inbounds.
Is the wildling reactionary, an anti-capitalist, pro-social fist raised in defiance? The free-range cubs on Instagram, I assume they’re wealthy. The families appear to labor but do not seem burdened by work.
In a wintry corner of New York, I’m raising my city kids. We go to a gym down the street where they can jump, run, and climb like wild things. It’s a colorful place with ninja lines, a trampoline, ladders, the best of child parkour. Even the most placid kid turns feral. They bounce and swing their way to red cheeks, sweaty hair.
There are places one can live out of doors, and places it’s less feasible. My daughter was born in California. There was never a reason not to go outside. We walked, jogged, and hiked to her first birthday. Then we moved to New York, where winter is an atmospheric threat; the radio warns you not to leave the house. There’s an argot employed only for weather, from “lake effect” to “persistent snow bands” to “blizzard-like.” I wish the terms were more endearing. If Lake Erie freezes over, the snowflakes harden and fall like glitter. Sometimes the snow dumps overnight, in a beautiful quiet. Just as often it falls during the rush hour. The buses run late. Wild is driving with your children in a terrifically persistent snowband. Wild is being absolutely grateful to be home, to have a warm home and no desire to leave.
I’ve known cold winters: Chicago, Maine, and Germany. Weather isn’t scary. One morning, when my child was four, we went to meet the bus at our corner. I may have been under-dressed. We waited minutes past our pickup time. Then we waited longer. Maybe I called, and they kept telling me it was almost there. I was afraid to go back inside; didn’t know whether to just pull the car out. My child was properly bundled, but I got dangerously chilled. After that, I understood the fear mongering in each storm forecast.
When it’s too cold, they call off school. They don’t want kids waiting out for buses that can’t get through. The assumption is that city kids don’t have warm enough coats, hats, pants, and gloves. These are another kind of wild – children presumed to be on their own in the morning, under-parented, perhaps. Wild is children who are sent home with food on Fridays, enough to get them to Monday. Wild is a school district that feeds all children without charge, because so many qualify for free lunch. For these children, wild is hungry, not free.
Of children – there’s precious wild, and real wild. There’s what I thought they’d be, and what they are. And then there’s everyone’s children, who are authentically wild, with or without us. I like to think my own have tamed me, training my heart for a more ferocious love.

How Can You Prevent Trampoline Injury? Stop Treating it Like a Toy

The problem with trampolines isn’t so much safety as it is categorization. When we categorize trampolines as sports equipment, they look much different.

“Everyone wants to have fun. Everyone wants to have fun with their children. You think you are being a good parent, spending time with your child, having fun – and the next thing you know your whole life changes.”
So opens the first post on Alisha Carlo’s The Fracture Factory, a blog where “it’s all fun and games until your kneecaps end up in your thighs.”
Carlo chronicles her family’s experiences with a local trampoline park – from her sister’s ACL tear, to Carlo’s self-imposed ban on family trips to the park, to her husband Jamie’s flouting of that ban, to Jamie’s bi-lateral patella tendon rupture (that’s a double kneecap injury) and long recovery.
The titular “Fracture Factory” comes from one of the nicknames the local hospital uses for the trampoline park. Others call it “The Fractury,” and some joke that the hospital’s surgeons must have invested in the trampoline park.
Carlo’s story has taught me all manner of things I wish I didn’t know. I now know to always read the seemingly routine liability waivers at family fun centers before signing. The waiver for the trampoline park near my home, for example, tells me that “Participants may die or become paralyzed, partially or fully, through their use of the Sky Zone facility and participation in Sky Zone activities.”
I now know that trampoline park injuries are on the rise, from 581 to 6,932 between 2010 and 2014. I now can’t un-know what kneecaps look like when they’re six inches out of place. In short, I now know to avoid trampolines.
At the same time, I’m also sensitive to the problems caused by campaigns to “boost awareness.” Many of these campaigns are problematic because the resulting awareness makes people scared of non-existent threats. I’ve made that argument about many awareness campaigns, whether the focus is moldy Sophiespuffy coats, or E. coli in raw cookie dough.
Trampolines may be one of the rare cases when parents actually need more awareness.

As toys, trampolines cause injury

Healthychildren.org, the parent-oriented website run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, offers simple advice about trampolines: “Don’t buy a trampoline for your home!”
Actually, the advice is even broader. The AAP recommends against trampolines in gym classes and on playgrounds and asserts that trampolines belong in “supervised training programs” only. That advice may seem like an overreaction to parents, especially when the most popular home trampolines have thousands of positive Amazon reviews.
It’s difficult to determine the overall risks posed by trampolines because we’re missing a denominator. As Slate’s Melinda Wenner Moyer points out, we have an estimate of how many injuries occur to kids under age 18.
In 2016, there were an estimated 103,512 emergency department visits as a result of trampolines. Although we could probably figure out how many trampolines are sold in the U.S., that number doesn’t tell us how safe trampolines are because we don’t know who exactly is jumping on them, or for how long.
Imagine, for example, that there were only 103,512 trampolines. In 2016, that would have meant an average one injury per trampoline. That would be pretty concerning.
But imagine there were 20 million trampolines, or, as Wenner Moyer suggests, 20 million trampoline jumping hours per trampoline. That would be concerning, but perhaps no more dangerous than many other forms of entertainment.
Without data on trampoline ownership and use, Wenner Moyer instead relies on injury rates. She compares the injury rates for playground equipment to the injury rates for trampolines and finds there were actually fewer playground injuries in 2016 than trampoline injuries.
“I don’t have any data on this,” Wenner Moyer admits, “but I suspect that American kids collectively spend a lot more time climbing on playgrounds than they do jumping on trampolines.”
It’s hard to determine exactly what proportion of trampoline users are likely to get injured, but it seems that they are being injured at a higher rate than playground users. Their resulting injuries tend to be more severe than those sustained on the playground.
Injuries like Carlo’s husband’s double patella tendon rupture aren’t freak accidents, but consequences of the physics of trampolines. As Wenner Moyer explains, if a young child lands on the trampoline just after it has moved upward from another jumper, the force is strong enough to break that child’s legs.
Wenner Moyer is not a killjoy out to ruin your fun with trampolines. She’s both an owner of a mini trampoline and a parent to young children, now “panic-wondering” about whether or not a trampoline constitutes an acceptable risk.
The goal of her excellent piece “is not to scare you into dumping your trampoline in the garbage; the point is to provide you with facts so that whatever decision you make will be informed, and so that you can minimize the danger by setting a few guidelines if you want.”

As sporting equipment, trampolines prevent injury

After reading about Carlo’s family’s experiences and Wenner Moyer’s analysis of trampoline safety, I won’t be buying a trampoline. My concern is not that trampolines are dangerous. Like Wenner Moyer, I see the value in kids’ risky play.
The problem with trampolines isn’t so much safety as it is categorization. Wenner Moyer categorized trampolines as toys, comparing them to playground equipment. But what if that’s the wrong comparison?
When we categorize trampolines as sporting equipment rather than toys, they start to look much different. Trampolines aren’t viewed as a danger to athletes. In fact, they’re often considered a safety device.
When you think of Olympic diving practice, you probably picture a pool. Most professional divers, however, do significant amounts of dry-land training. The training is, in part, a response to practical problems: If you can’t rent time at a swimming pool, you can still practice on the trampoline. But trampolines also help divers avoid injury while practicing new techniques.
Divers are not simply bouncing around. They use specialized equipment that allows them to practice dives without impact. Unlike amateur trampolinists, divers use spotting rigs when they practice on the trampoline, which allows them to perform complicated moves in safety. Essentially, they’re training at a Sky Zone…except they have safety equipment.
Divers aren’t the only Olympians who use trampolines as safe training devices. Freestyle aerial skiers put in a lot of practice on the trampoline before attempting their skills at death-defying heights.
One group that doesn’t use the trampoline to practice new skills is Olympic trampoliners. They practice new skills while firmly planted on the ground.

How to trampoline like a serious athlete

When treated as a toy, a trampoline can lead to serious injury and occasionally death. When treated as a piece of sporting equipment, a trampoline can make a dangerous sport less dangerous.
Parents and kids who want to keep their trampolines might do well to follow the safety guidelines that athletes do. For example, many athletes practice with a safety harness until they have mastered a particular skill.
Although a safety harness may not be a practical solution for home trampoline use, the following three safety rules can dramatically reduce the risk of injury:

1 | Jump one person at a time

This is the rule most likely to be broken by at-home users and the cause of the majority of trampoline-related injuries. If you review the Olympic training videos above, you’ll see that serious athletes never break this rule. That’s because there is real danger to life and limb when multiple people use a trampoline at the same time.

2 | Make it impossible to fall

Athletes don’t get injured from falling off trampolines. That’s not because athletes are better trained than backyard trampoliners. It’s because there is often nowhere to fall. Athletic training facilities use foam pits and other padded surfaces that make falling from a trampoline impossible.

3 | Don’t jump without supervision

A coach or trainer should always watching.
If your child complains about these rules, you can always remind her that following them may get her to the Olympics.

Four Things Foster Parents Want You to Know

I talked to foster parents, not to obtain statistics, but to hear their stories. This is what they want you to know.

According to recent statistics, roughly half a million children are in the foster care system in the U.S. About half are eventually reunited with their families, while one-fifth are adopted. Many of them entered the foster system as victims of abuse and neglect.
But what about the foster parents who step in to care for these vulnerable children when they are in crisis? While there is plenty of data about foster children, information about foster parents can be elusive.
I talked to foster parents, not to obtain statistics, but to hear their stories. This is what they want you to know.

1 | Foster parents aren’t superheroes

Most foster parents I talked to want to dispel the myth that they’re saints.
Colorado foster parent Heather Grimes says she’s accustomed to people telling her “I could never do that.” Grimes and her husband have one biological child and have fostered two younger children, one of whom they adopted.
While she says it took a lot of soul-searching to become foster parents, their decision was not driven by the conviction that they were somehow superhuman. Rather, they chose to take on the challenge in order to show their biological daughter the value of helping others. They also felt it was important to be open to the experience, rather than ruling it out based on fear of the unknown.
Foster parents are, in many ways, like all parents, says Dr. John DeGarmo. Having fostered over 50 children and the director of The Foster Care Institute, he understands how vulnerable foster parents are to fatigue, setbacks, and disappointments:
“There are times when we succeed, and there are times when we experience failures. We are not the perfect parents. We are simply trying our best to provide a home and family for a child who needs one, and help a child in need.”

2 | Yes, dealing with loss is hard (but not impossible)

Many foster parents mentioned they frequently field questions about what happens when a child is taken away from them. Mary and Ken, foster parents in Rhode Island whose foster child was ultimately reunited with his family, talked about how frequently people express apprehension over the idea of getting “too close” to the child only to have the child reunite with their biological family.
Mary says she finds that perspective “peculiar,” considering people rarely, if ever, take this stance on other relationships. “We don’t avoid having good friends or a romantic relationship because those engagements might someday come to an end. In fact, many of them do end, and we accept that as part of our life experience.”
As an expert in the field, Dr. DeGarmo encounters this question several times a week: “Doesn’t it hurt it too much to give them back?” Of course it hurts, he says; heartache is to be expected. “When the child leaves our home and our family, our hearts should break. We should experience feelings of grief and loss. After all, we have given all of our hearts and love to a child in need.”
Heather Grimes, whose first foster child ended up being returned to her biological family, says it was extremely challenging – though certainly not impossible – to be separated from that child, who lived with the Grimes’ for nearly a year.
Two years later, Grimes says, “Her photo is still on our fridge, from her first birthday, in that adorable denim jumper, sitting on the fake grass outside of Sweet Cow ice cream. Her eyes are the most gorgeous shade of blue.” While the Grimes’ may have moved on with their lives, that little girl is still in their hearts.

3 | Foster kids are not bad kids

Many parents said they often receive comments about how hard it must be to deal with difficult, out-of-control kids. In reality, says Emily, a foster parent in Missouri, most are not bad kids.
Currently the foster mom of a two-year-old and having fostered three children previously, she explains, “They just grew up in chaotic, unhealthy environments without proper adult supervision. They are capable of learning the right way to behave, express their emotions, etc. if you take the time to show and teach them.”
Tammy Hoskins says being trauma-informed is crucial in supporting foster children. Hoskins works for a Virginia non-profit serving the needs of high-risk youth. She is the mother of 10 children, four of whom are biological children and six of whom she adopted through the foster system.
Because their brains are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to the deleterious effects of trauma, including difficulty with learning, social-emotional development, brain structure, cognition, physical health, and attachment.
Says Hoskins, “To understand, to empathize, and to work with them in collaborative ways to solve problems is crucial to their healing.”
The work of Daniel Siegel, Karen Purvis, and webinars available through the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) are among the many resources she recommends foster parents take advantage of.

4 | The foster system isn’t just a cold bureaucracy

While the foster system can be impersonal and frustrating, known for its many rules and regulations, it has its upsides, too.
Heather Grimes was surprised to find how much she appreciated being part of the foster system. “I appreciated interacting with the parents of [our first foster child] with the social workers, medical professionals, everyone. I felt like I was supporting a bigger cause. I felt such a sense of pride that my family chose to go to such great lengths for others.”
Dr. DeGarmo points out that foster parents are helping not just the children, but the whole family. “Part of being a foster parent is helping the parents of the children living with us…helping our fellow human beings.”
He also notes that many biological parents of foster children were in the foster system themselves and, for lack of resources, are stuck in this cycle. As most foster parents were quick to point out, the biological parents aren’t necessarily bad people. They, too, love their kids, and they have flaws – like all parents.
From talking to foster parents, I learned that being a foster parent doesn’t require a superhero cape, sainthood, or limitless patience. It does take commitment, compassion, and a desire to help others.

No, Teens Are Not Eating Laundry Pods

All of this media attention is already infuriating for the way it maligns all teenagers as reckless and stupid.

Have you had a very important conversation with your teens about the proper use of household cleaners?

That’s the message of load after load of news reports about the latest internet craze, the “Tide Pod Challenge.” The resulting waves of panic stem from a January 16 report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers about the increase in teenagers exposed to Tide Pods. According to that report, there have been 39 reported cases of intentional single-use laundry packet exposure among teenagers in 2018.

That number does represent a rise over previous years. In fact, there have been as many cases reported in January 2018 than there were in all of 2016. That increase has led concerned parents, YouTube personalities, and one NFL player to discourage teens from eating the pods.

All of this media attention is already infuriating for the way it maligns all teenagers as reckless and stupid. Even if the coverage wasn’t washing over teens’ motivations for taking the challenge, and even if it wasn’t stoking so much unnecessary fear about household objects, it would still be inaccurate because it’s just not clear that teens are actually eating the pods.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a story with the headline “Yes, People Really Are Eating Tide Pods. No, It’s Not Safe,” making it one more news outlet in a chorus raising the alarm. NBC News attempted to explain “Why some teens are intentionally ingesting Tide pods.” Mashable, while reasonably suggesting that we all calm down about laundry packet exposure, slipped into the same linguistic trap in the second half of its headline: “Very, very very few teens are trying to eat Tide Pods.

All of this news coverage makes two issues clear: no one agrees about the capitalization of “Tide Pod,” and everyone is similarly confused about the definition of eating.

Nearly all of the articles and television segments covering Tide Pods quote the AAPCC’s assertion about how dangerous single-use laundry packets are: “The resulting health implications from misuse can be serious. Known potential effects include seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.”

All of these consequences of swallowing single-use laundry packets have been observed among pediatric and elderly populations. As of yet, we have no knowledge of which symptoms were reported by the teenagers included in the AAPCC report. So, is it just a matter of time before one enterprising YouTuber takes the challenge too far?

That’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. Knowyourmeme, which offers the most exhaustive timeline of the Tide Pod Challenge, demonstrates that for years it was merely a satirical suggestion, perhaps brought on by the very medical studies that found a rise in laundry detergent injuries among children. The challenge appears to have been issued in July 2017 by a Redditor who offered others to bite into the pods.

Biting appears to be what most of the people in the videos were doing.

Most of the YouTube laundry pod challenges have been taken down, so we cannot be completely assured that no teens were attempting to eat the pods on camera. There are still compilation videos to be found for the curious. In those compilations, people are definitely biting.

That behavior is consistent with the average YouTube “challenge” video, where eating is not always the goal. What sells are people biting into something and then sputtering and gasping as they spit it out. Other videos in the challenge oeuvre demonstrate that participants rarely swallow the item: the clicks and shares appear to stem from the spewing clouds of cinnamon, hot pepper, or, now, laundry detergent.

Why does it matter that teens are only biting the pods? When we claim teens are eating the pods, we make the situation sound more dangerous than it is. Children who bite into a pod aren’t likely to understand that liquid will gush out of it. Surprised, they sometimes swallow the detergent, which can lead to escalating and extremely dangerous injuries. Teens who bite into a pod know exactly what’s going to happen, which is why they are filming themselves doing it.

Could Eating More Fish Help Kids With Sleep Issues?

A new study found kids who eat fish once a week or more sleep better and score higher on IQ tests than those who eat less.

How often is fish on your family’s menu? A new study from the University of Pennsylvania published in the journal Scientific Reports found that children who eat fish once a week or more sleep better and score higher on IQ tests than children who never eat fish or eat it less than once a week.
Previous studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna can improve intelligence and sleep, and that better sleep can boost IQ scores. This is the first research that has linked all three components, however. In fact, researchers believe that improved sleep resulting from consuming more omega-3s is what increases IQ rather than the fatty acids themselves.
A good night’s sleep is essential for our children’s health and happiness. Besides keeping a child’s temper in balance, sleep provides many essential benefits for our growing children. While asleep, children process and absorb what they have learned. Their bodies have the chance to recover and repair themselves.
Sleep also plays a major role in mood management. Lack of sleep can lead to an increase in negative behaviors, like anxiety, impatience, aggression, irritability, and poor school performance.
During this new study, more than 500 Chinese children between the ages of nine and 11 responded to a survey about how often they ate fish. When the children turned 12, they completed an IQ test that scored their verbal and nonverbal skills. Children who ate fish weekly scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ tests than those who said they “seldom” or “never” ate fish. “Sometimes” eaters of fish scored 3.3 points higher on IQ exams.
In addition, parents answered questions about their children’s sleep patterns, including how often they wake in the middle of the night and their daytime sleepiness. The responses showed that those children who ate more fish had fewer disturbances while sleeping, indicating better overall sleep quality.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to affect sleep in several ways. Animal studies suggest the potential role of the fatty acid DHA in regulating the production of melatonin, which has been shown to regulate circadian rhythm and improve sleep.
Essential fatty acids have helped produce prostaglandins, which are believed to be the most effective sleep-promoting substance and regulate sleep/wake patterns. Epidemiological studies have also shown a link between increased fish intake and improved sleep in children.
The researchers recommend that parents gradually add fish to their children’s diet, starting when they are young if possible. As long as the fish has no bones and has been finely chopped up, children can begin eating it by around age two.
There are some concerns regarding the toxicity of fish to keep in mind. Decades of industrial activity, particularly emissions from coal-fired power plants, have released mercury and other pollutants into oceans and waterways. Unfortunately, those contaminants can end up in the seafood we eat. Concentrations vary depending on the fishes’ age, diet, region of harvest, and other factors.
Large predatory fish, including tuna, shark, marlin, and swordfish, accumulate considerable mercury since they eat smaller fish. These types of fish pose a significant risk to children. They should eat no more than one serving of canned light tuna per week and should never eat canned albacore tuna, also known as white tuna.
In addition, not all fish contain beneficial levels of omega-3s. According to the Environmental Working Group (ERG), eight of the 10 seafood species most popular in the American diet are very low in omega-3s. Therefore, it is important to evaluate which types of fish to feed your children.
ERG provides an incredible resource called their Consumer Guide to Seafood, which allows you to look up a customized seafood list based on age, weight, and other factors.