What We’re Listening To: Story Pirates

What do whoopee cushions, dino bank robbers, and dogs’ rights have in common? They’re all subjects of the hilarious podcast Story Pirates.

What do whoopee cushions, dino bank robbers, and dogs’ rights have in common? They’re all subjects of the hilarious podcast for kids (and the grownups who love them) by Gimlet Media: Story Pirates.
It’s on heavy rotation in our household, with my kids requesting some of the episodes by name. And on more than one occasion around the dinner table, we have sung “Some day … some day you will turn into spaghetti!” (From the episode “The Girl Who Turned into Spaghetti,” obvi.) Because, well, my daughter seriously might turn into spaghetti. Apparently it’s been known to happen.

What it’s about

Each episode of Story Pirates is done in three parts. In the first part, the two hosts – Lee and Peter – read a story written by a child. The kid can be as young as two, right on up to tween. Given the age of the authors, the stories are not always linear and are often adorable.
In the second part, talented improv actors take the original story and turn it into sketch comedy. The fundamental story remains unchanged, but the actors take liberty with dialogue, often add in a song or two, and generally make podcast mayhem.
Finally, one of the hosts interviews the author of the story to hear a bit more about the child’s inspiration for the story, and a bit what life is like where they are.

Why we love it

The kids love this podcast because it’s hilarious. I mean, a story about whoopee cushions? You can bet my kids are all over that.
But the podcast is also empowering. This is a podcast where the kids write the stories! I mean, how cool is that? It has even inspired my daughter to submit a few stories of her own for the show. Her “The Big Pirates Steal Mate” was an instant classic, though, alas, not picked up by the Story Pirates crew.
Despite (or perhaps because of?) the potty humor, I love this podcast for those reasons too, but also because of the interviews with the kids at the end. The host, Lee, has a way with kids that gets them to open up about little aspects of their lives in Iowa or Minnesota, or wherever they are. It’s a unique opportunity to catch glimpses of kids’ lives, what they love, and why they love to create.

Start with this episode

We have two absolute favorite episodes in our house. First, as mentioned above, “The Girl Who Turned into Spaghetti.” It’s about – spoiler alert – a girl who ate so much spaghetti that one day she woke up to find that she actually was spaghetti. Double spoiler alert – it all turns out okay in the end, after a surprising twist that her mother also turned into spaghetti when she was a kid!
Our other favorite is “Dino Bank Robbers Who Actually Stole for Charity.” Perhaps you think you can tell what the episode will be about based on the title? Well, yes. You’re right. But oh my gosh, this one is so funny. My favorite line, when the police officer dino tells bank robber T. Rex to put his arms up: “This is as far as they go!”

If you like this podcast, you might also like:

Check out The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian, a serialized science-fiction podcast where you follow along with the adventures of eight-year-old Finn and his friends Abigail, Elias, and Vale as they explore space, meet aliens, and try to prevent their planet from being vaporized. You can contribute your own ideas to this show, too.

The details

Rating: Listen with kids. Specifically recommended for ages three to 103.
Subscribe to Story Pirates on iTunes here.
Find our review of another great podcast for kids, Circle Round, here.

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.

These Are the Type of Books You Should Stock on Your Baby's Book Shelf

As a new study shows, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn.

We all know by now the importance of reading to babies, right? Doing so promotes their language development and literacy skills. Reading to them as they grow stimulates their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world.

“It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants,” says Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor. The benefits of reading aloud to children from the time they come into the world are widely researched and documented.

What’s not as widely discussed is which books in particular we should be reading. As a new study from the University of Florida tells us, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn. Published on December 8 in the journal Child Development, the study found that books which clearly name and label people and objects are the optimal kind to read to babies because they help them retain information and stay present.

“When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” says Scott, who co-authored the study. “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life.”

To reach this conclusion, Scott and her colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab, evaluating them first at six months and again at nine months. The researchers used eye-tracking and electroencephalogram techniques to measure attention and learning at both developmental stages.

In between the lab visits, parents were instructed to read to their infants at home, following a schedule of 10 minutes of reading every day for the initial two weeks and every other day for the second two weeks, with a continual decrease until the infant returned to the lab at nine months. The storybooks were randomly assigned to the 23 participating families.

The authors explain that, “one set contained individual-level names and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books’ eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story…

The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled eight individuals, with names such as ‘Jamar,’ ‘Boris,’ ‘Anice,’ and ‘Fiona.’ The category-level books included two made-up labels (‘hitchel,’ ‘wadgen’) for all images. The control group included 11 additional nine-month-old infants who did not receive books.”

As it turned out, the group of infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing on and engaging with the images. By observing their brain activity, it was clear that these infants were also able to distinguish the individual characters after reading. This outcome was not found in the control group at six months (before book reading), or in the group of infants who were read books with category-level labels.

The results of this longitudinal study are consistent with Scott’s previous research on how the specificity of labels impacts infants’ learning. Books that specifically name characters improve cognition in infants. No wonder my son has always loved the “Pete the Cat” book series so much!

Some other favorite children’s book collections of ours (now scientifically proven to be educational!) include: “Little Blue Truck,” “Cordouroy,” “Llama Llama,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

What are the best-loved books at your house? Next time you read them you might notice, do they clearly label characters and objects? Respond in the comment section below!

Actually, I Don't Want to Breastfeed in Public

There are many people standing up for a woman’s right to breastfeed in public these days. That’s wonderful, but it’s left me a bit confused as a new mom.

If you have the confidence to lift your shirt (or pull it down) and expose your breast in the middle of a waiting room, a swimming pool, a playground, a Christmas party, or at your husband’s place of work, then I truly admire you.

I’ve tried it. Instead of feeling empowered and proud of my body’s ability to provide the perfect nutrition for my baby girls, what I felt most was, “Oh my gosh, I really don’t want to do this in public ever again.” Of course, I did. A few times, merely due to necessity, but I didn’t like it one bit.

I don’t like the feeling that everyone around you is trying not to look at you while they’re also blatantly trying to actually look at you. Not because they’re perverts but because your breast is exposed. Who wouldn’t want to look at that?

Breasts are gorgeous! I’ve had two of my own for most of my life and I still can’t help but look at  women’s breasts when they pop into my view via real life, magazine, internet, or television.

Breasts are perfect creations – perhaps more perfect than a tropical sunset or a supremely ripe strawberry. They’re multi-purpose, too. They lure our partners to us in an irresistibly seductive way and then, nine months later, they actually feed our children!

I must say, breasts are gorgeous, and mine are too, let me tell you. As much as I appreciate positive attention, I don’t want everyone on the airplane to see my breasts. I don’t even want my in-laws or my cousins or my very own sisters or my mother to see my breasts.

I’m a grown woman. I’ve put a great deal of effort into making sure these gorgeous puppies are only revealed to those most worthy (specifically, my husband, my hungry newborn children, and, as infrequently as possible, my doctor).

There are many people – women and men – standing up for a woman’s right to breastfeed in public these days. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s left me feeling a bit confused as a new mom.

If I’m not comfortable with exposing my breasts in public to feed my child, what does that say about me? Does it mean I’m insecure? Does it mean I’m not a good mother? Not dedicated enough? Not “natural” enough? Does it mean I care more about my appearance than my child’s well-being?

Instead of baring the breast in public, I would gladly bring a bottle of formula (gasp!) to feed my child while we’re at the doctor’s office. Does this make me less of a mother?

Why would I feel ashamed for wanting to keep a part of my body private that I’ve been taught to keep private for the 28 years I’ve been alive prior to becoming a mother? For my entire life, my breasts have been something society has taught me to cover, and now, suddenly, I’m supposed to be completely okay with popping one out in the lobby of my husband’s office?

If I was at the grocery store without any nursing children of my own to feed, and I lifted up my shirt and unclipped one side of my bra, I would be on the local news and probably asked to leave the store for “indecent exposure.”

If I was in a toy store and I walked around the store with one breast exposed and my hand just barely covering the nipple (the part of my breast covered by a nursing baby’s head), it wouldn’t be surprising for the store to call the police and assess my mental health. However, once you become a mother, you’re supposed to be okay with this.

Again, I repeat: if you’re okay with exposing your own beautiful breast in public to feed your child, I think you’re one very awesome gal. When it comes to my own body and my own breasts, it’s just not for me, and that’s okay. Wanting to keep the most private parts of your body private – even as a breastfeeding mother – shouldn’t be a surprising thing. Hey, maybe it’s not, but I don’t see anybody else talking about it.

I want other new moms to know that it’s really okay if breastfeeding in public is something you’re not going to take part in. It’s okay to bring a bottle of pumped milk or even formula to the playground instead. Even if you’re in your own home and there are relatives visiting, it’s okay if you’ll only nurse in the confines of your bedroom.

I don’t want to breastfeed in public, and I don’t have to. That’s okay.

KidKusion | Teething Armour

Cover shopping cart handles, crib rails, and stroller bars with this multi-purpose teething pad. Simple solutions to soothe a teething baby.

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KidKusion Teething Armour

 
Cover shopping cart handles, crib rails, and stroller bars with this multi-purpose teething pad from KidKusion.

Learn more at Kidkusion.com
 

Innovation:

When baby’s gums are fired up as their teeth are coming in, parents will do whatever it takes, wherever they are, to help ease the pain. The teething pad is a one-of-a-kind pad attachment to any sort of rail that baby’s mouth might encounter. With low profile hook and loop fasteners, the pad attaches securely without potential for scratching baby or grabbing clothing. It’s sensorial pad has a ridge and bump pattern for baby to massage their gums and teeth all they want.
 
Also from Teething Armour is a clever wrist band teether that slides over baby’s hand giving them a soft, food grade silicone bump and ridge plate landing pad for their sore gums, and keeps fingers free to explore.
 

Usability:

Easy to use and quick on-and-off, the teething pad is a simple solution to soothe the wrath of a teething baby and protect them from the toxins and germs on shopping cart handles. It’s 4 velcro loops allow you to attach your keys, as well as baby’s toys. Machine washable. Ages 3 months and up.
 

Price:

Teething pad: $17.99
Teething wrist pad: $5.99
Gnaw on with this collection from KidKusion.

If You're in the Throes of Colic, Just Hold On

It was, quite simply, awful. Dreadful. Wretched. But you know what? It passed. Colic passed. And I lived to tell the tale.

Oh, my friend. Your baby has colic. That’s what your doctor tells you, even if she can’t quite tell you what exactly that means. The Internet isn’t clarifying things, either. Is it indigestion, tummy troubles, gas? Is it simply the “witching hour”? Is it acid reflux?
All you know is that your baby cries. Every day. For hours at a time.
You don’t know how to help. You can’t make it stop.
I imagine you’re tired. If your baby is crying in the evenings, you probably feel like you’d do just about anything to help him go to sleep. You’ve tried swaddling. You’ve tried sleep sacks. You’ve tried Harvey Karp’s “5 S’s” method. You’ve tried white noise and alpha music.
You’re even considering taking your mother-in-law’s advice and offering some rice cereal at bedtime, despite the fact that your doctor says it’s a no-no and your online friends say it didn’t work for them. MIL says it helped her kids to sleep, so maybe it’ll help yours?
If your baby is crying in the middle of the night, I imagine you’re groggy and desperate. There’s nothing worse than getting woken from your own broken sleep by the cries of your needy newborn. Again.
There’s nothing worse than knowing that you, no matter how hard you try, are simply not enough. Not enough to soothe. Not enough to induce sleep. All you want is to go back to sleep yourself.
I imagine you’re sad. Maybe even depressed. There’s nothing so heart-wrenching as listening to your baby sobbing night after night. It doesn’t matter that it’s not your fault. Your baby is sad, distraught, devastated. And you can’t fix it. There’s no worse feeling than knowing that all the snuggles in the world can’t help your little one feel better.
I imagine you feel guilty. Sometimes, at least. Someone posted in one of your parenting forums that they discovered that their little one had been suffering from GERD for months, and that once they got her on reflux meds, she immediately started sleeping six hours at a time every night. Maybe your little one, too, has severe heartburn?
Someone else shared an article positing that tongue tie is intrinsically connected with colic. Suddenly, you’re ashamed of refusing to get your little one’s anterior tie clipped or lasered or whatever. Sure, it would have hurt short-term, but would it have prevented these regular nighttime fussies?
Or maybe, on the other hand, your child doesn’t have tongue tie. Does he? Did the doctor or lactation consultant or anyone even bother to check? Is it too late to find out now?
What about probiotics? You read on a blog somewhere that gut imbalance is the root cause of colic. Maybe you’re now wondering if thrice-daily doses of probiotics are the answer. What’s the best brand? Can you even afford it?
Maybe you’re thinking shamefully of your cesarean, medically necessary or not. Haven’t studies shown that babies born via c-section have different gut flora than babies born vaginally? Is this all your fault because your baby wasn’t birthed ‘naturally’?
I imagine you’re angry, at least some of the time. After all, depression and anxiety often manifest as anger. Chances are, there are times you’ve felt on the verge of snapping at your baby. You want to yell at her. Maybe you put her down on the changing table a little rougher than necessary. You’re tempted to just plop her into her swing and walk away, to let her cry her little heart out because you just can’t take it anymore.
You used to laugh incredulously at campaigns to stop Shaken Baby Syndrome – those ridiculous billboards and ads in parenting magazines and the flier the hospital sent home with you. Who would ever shake their baby that hard? you wondered to yourself or aloud to your partner. How ridiculous.
Now you know. Now, you fully understand.
I imagine you’re fed up. Haven’t you tried everything? You’ve cut dairy and gluten and broccoli and every possible irritant you can think of out of your own diet. Didn’t help.
You’ve tried snuggling the baby in a ring sling every night, pacing and bouncing and trying desperately to soothe him. Didn’t help.
You’ve tried diluted lavender oil on her feet, even though you’re a little wary of this essential oils stuff. Didn’t help.
You’ve even picked up an amber necklace on Etsy, hoping the succinic acid or whatever the description said it was will help ease any unidentified pain. Didn’t help.
You’ve been to the pediatrician’s office several times in between normal well-baby checks, only to be told that it’s normal. There’s nothing you can do.
The good news is, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.
In most cases, colic passes on its own. Remember how it appeared out of the blue one day? Well, it disappears in the exact same way much of the time. You might get a day here and there at first, when your little one goes to bed easily, at a normal time, and you realize that there were no long bouts of crying that day.
For just this one night, you feel like you can breathe. Sure, your baby is still up every hour or two or three all night, but she actually goes back down easily. You get some real sleep in between. The next morning, you actually feel refreshed – for the first time in weeks.
Sure, the crying starts up again the next night, but somehow, you feel better equipped to handle it. You’re a little more patient, a little more loving. That night of relative rest shored up your defenses.
After a week or so, you get another respite, and another a week or so after that. Maybe two blessed crying-free days in a row. You’re on a roll!
Before you know it, the haze of colic has lifted. You’re having more good days than bad. A few more weeks pass, and suddenly, you can no longer remember when you were last up until 2 a.m. with a baby who wouldn’t sleep.
Sure, you’re still exhausted; you have a small baby, after all. But it’s normal new parent exhaustion. The kind you can adjust to. You no longer feel frazzled and on the edge. It’s amazing how good you feel now that your infant is no longer screaming into your face on a daily basis.
Believe me, friend, I’ve been there. For three awful months, my own baby, my second-born, had colic. It started a few weeks after we brought him home from the hospital. At first, it was just a day here and there, but then it really set in. For months, I was rarely in bed before midnight.
I tried everything I could think of. I had his tongue tie clipped. I offered gripe water. I did probiotics. I bounced and swayed and wore him. I swaddled him. I went gluten-free for about two weeks. We spent hours every night in the bathroom, because sometimes the white noise of the bathroom fan soothed him – and when it didn’t, it at least masked his wailing so that everyone else could sleep.
It was, quite simply, awful. Dreadful. Wretched.
But you know what? It passed. Colic passed. And I lived to tell the tale.
It’ll pass for you, too. You’ll emerge on the other side, tired and worn down, but with a baby who is at last willing to be soothed.
Just hang in there, my friend.

For Parents of Babies Who Think They'll Always be Angels

Here is a list of Toddler Truths that you should come to grips with.

I know, I know, when they sleep they look so peaceful and innocent that you can’t imagine what people are talking about when they mention the “terrible two’s.” At nine months, spaghetti-kisses and applesauce-hugs are actually incredibly sweet. 

By the time your toddler is two or three years old, you’ve paid enough dry-cleaning bills to know that prime seating at the dinner table is no where near your beloved toddler. Here is a list of Toddler Truths that you should come to grips with:

1 | Children lie  

Yes, I said it! They indulge in self-preservation at an early age. They refuse to go down for crayons on the wall, shampoo on Elmo, or even lipstick on the toilet seat. They will look you dead in the eye and deny any involvement in the incident. They may blame the dog or even you, yourself. You are not alone if, at some sleep-deprived moment, you question if you were responsible for the offense. Stay strong. You are the parent. You can do this.

2 | Toddler poop in underwear is disgusting 

Remember when you first took your baby home from the hospital and their runny, yellow poops didn’t smell? Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. 

A mushy brown lump in Super Hero undies is best just thrown away. Don’t try to clean that shit, just get rid of it. I give you permission. No one wants that running through the washing machine in the cycle before you clean your washcloths.

Parents, if your child goes to daycare and has an accident there, don’t get mad at your childcare provider if they throw the underwear away. Unless you employ Mary Poppins, no one wants to roll that up in a plastic bag and have it hanging around in a backpack all day. Just consider the $4.99 pack of six underwear part of the cost of the potty-training “business.”

3 | Sticky telephone screens are not always a result of candy

Honestly, most of us use our phones to entertain our children while we are at the grocery store, post office, in the car, at the doctor’s office, even in church. When we get those phones back, 100 percent of the time the screen is smudgy and sticky. Why is this? As the wonderful parents we are, we rarely give our toddlers candy during those times, and yet the screens are still filthy. 

The truth is that kids pick their noses. They dig in there with the same finger that they use to search your apps and play their games. The little lumps on your screen are sticky little boogers straight from your child’s nose. If you are not for sharing germs to build up natural immunity, my advice is to carry around sanitizing wipe packets. I hear they kill 99.99 percent of germs.

4 | Toddlers will embarrass you

Of course, we’ve all heard stories about toddlers innocently pointing at the large man driving the automated cart at the grocery store and loudly informing you (along with the rest of aisle nine) that he is fat. Yes, this is embarrassing, but at least you have the option of leaving the store. 

The humiliation I’m talking about is mortification that you can’t escape. I’m talking about when your toddler repeats overheard complaints you made to your husband about his overbearing, selfish, nagging, in-your-business mother who always “compliments” your cooking. You know, the one you’d like to backhand if given the chance? 

Yeah, well, when your three-year-old repeats that at Easter dinner, trust me, you will blush with shame. Unfortunately, the vocabulary your child will use will negate any of your attempts to convince those at the table that your child has “an over-active imagination.” It’s best to simply serve yourself a piece of humble pie and accept the fact that you will never live it down.

5 | Despite the discomfort of living with a toddler, they are extraordinary self-esteem boosters

No one else on the planet will unapologetically flatter you the way a toddler will. When you’re feeling emotional, bloated, and exhausted, there’s nothing like a two-year-old telling you how beautiful you are. Or when you ask them what their favorite color is and they tell you, “Green, Mommy, just like your eyes.”  Or when you’re driving around looking at Christmas light displays and everyone in the car is oohing and ahhing at their beauty when a small voice in the backseat says, “But not as beautiful as you, Mommy!” 

I think toddlers see us for who we really are. They’re not beholden to the cultural rules of our day. They can actually see your genuine love despite your glasses, bags under your eyes, extra rolls, unbrushed teeth, need for a shower, sweatpants again, and utter fatigue. Having someone recognize your light from within is worth putting up with the occasional lying, pooping, nose-picking, embarrassing child who has stolen your heart.

Is an Emergency Department Visit Necessary? Probably Not as Often As You'd Think

Roughly half of children being seen in the emergency department don’t need to be there. How can you avoid being one of those parents?

There are many costs to using the emergency department for non-urgent care.
There’s the literal cost of care, given that emergency room visits generally have higher co-pays than clinic visits.
There are also plenty of figurative costs. Bringing your child to the emergency department when she does not have a serious illness or injury is likely to lead to a long wait, because she will be triaged behind the actual emergencies. After that long wait, you’re likely to receive an unsatisfying diagnosis and/or treatment: a Band-Aid for a cut, a directive to drink fluids for a run-of-the-mill cold, etc.
These experiences may erode your trust in the emergency department, especially when you receive the bill. It’s hard not to feel snubbed, like your child’s pain doesn’t matter, even when you are being told that your child is medically fine.
If you and your not-so-sick child are in the emergency department all night, both of you might miss out on a good night’s sleep, and, as a result, school and work tomorrow. While logging all that time in the waiting room, you and your child are also susceptible to hospital-acquired infections from all of the other sick patients.
Visiting an emergency department for a non-emergency can also have longer-range consequences. Taking a child to the emergency room for common ailments like ear infections can harm continuity of care, argues a recent review article in the The Journal of Pediatric Health Care.
When parents seek treatment for such issues at the ED, their children’s primary care providers (PCPs) might not receive valuable information about different illnesses. Without knowing how many ear infections or cases of strep throat a child has had, a PCP will not know whether or not to recommend interventions, like tympanostomy tubes or tonsillectomies.
All of these consequences focus on your child, but there are consequences for other people, too – including the truly sick children whose care may be delayed by overcrowded emergency departments or by overstretched hospital staff.
Given all of the negative consequences of bringing children to the emergency department for non-urgent conditions, it’s surprising that so many parents are doing it. A study of 31,076 emergency department visits from 33 different pediatric practices found that nearly half of those visits (47 percent) were classified as non-urgent by hospital staff. In other words, roughly half of children being seen in the emergency department did not need to be there.
Why are so many parents bringing their children with non-urgent conditions to the emergency department? How can you avoid being one of those parents?

It’s rarely a matter of life and death

The ED is for acute medical problems that may kill or maim if left untreated, which is why many hospitals around the country use the Emergency Severity Index to triage patients. The ESI’s triage algorithm is easy to read and worth parents’ time, because it shows exactly what a triage nurse or other healthcare professional will be asking when evaluating your child’s case.
The ESI flow chart begins with one easy question: “requires immediate life-saving intervention?” A “yes” answer leads to an ESI score of 1, and hasty attention in the ED.
A “no” answer leads to another set of questions. If the situation is not high-risk, the triage score will be somewhere between 3 and 5, depending on how many resources will be required to help a patient. If a patient does not require any resources (say, for a cold or flu), then the patient will be scored a 5. Many parents who bring their children to the ER for non-urgent categories will get a 4 or 5.

Why parents head to the ED

If their children are not at serious risk, why are so many parents heading to the ED?
One recent study found that parents’ tended to rate their children’s conditions more severely than medical professionals did. The hospital staff determined that of 381 visits, 298 (78.2 percent) were non-urgent cases.
In other words, just over two in 10 patients actually needed emergency care. However, almost 40 percent of parents asked to rate their children’s conditions reported that their children needed emergency care.
One explanation for overuse of pediatric emergency services is that parents, who are, on the whole, less experienced medical providers than doctors and nurses, are simply not good at evaluating whether or not a medical condition constitutes an emergency.
That explanation, however, fails to account for the nearly 40 percent of parents in the study who brought their children into the ED knowing that they had a non-urgent condition.
One way to better understand why parents bring their children to the emergency room is to simply ask them. Two different interview studies have done just that, questioning parents who took their children to the ED for non-urgent conditions. Both studies took place on weekdays during normal work hours, in order to determine why parents chose the emergency room over a PCP.
In the first study, researchers identified three main reasons for choosing the ED over the PCP. Some parents indicated that they chose the ED because their PCP recommended it, either after an in-person visit or after a phone call.
Another group of parents chose the ED because of problems with their PCPs, including impolite staff, confusing directions from the PCP, or even a PCP whose accent was confusing to parents. Parents also saw advantages to the ED, which was available for walk-ins and might be closer to home.
The second study found similar reasons for ED use, but went a step further in matching those reasons to parents’ health literacy. Researchers found that parents with lower health literacy tended to seek care for a diagnosis and treatment, while parents with average health literacy usually came to the ED with a diagnosis in mind but seeking reassurance from a trusted source.
Both groups feared “getting it right” when it came to their children’s diagnoses. In that sense, the ED operated as a space to reassure parents that they were providing good care to their children.
The most interesting finding of this second study was that all parents heard alarm bells over some symptoms. No matter how much health literacy they had, nearly all parents in the study panicked about fever. Parents feared ear damage, brain damage, and other consequences frequently misattributed to fever, and took their children to the ED even when it was not recommended by their children’s PCPs.

What’s the best way to keep your kids out of the ED?

Boost your own health literacy.
What’s clear from the interview studies is that parents with stronger health literacy are better assessors of risk, better able to distinguish between non-urgent, urgent, and life-threatening situations.

1 | Learn to identify true emergencies

You’ll probably know a true emergency in the unlucky case you see it, but if you need reminders, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children site for parents offers a useful list of situations that count as emergencies.
Although medical emergencies come from the whole alphabet, remembering just the Bs is a good start: behavior changes (like disorientation), bleeding, breathing problems, broken bones, burns, and button batteries (only if swallowed). All of those things will be considered high priority in an emergency department, because they are either life-threatening, high-risk, or causing severe pain.
When you’re on the fence about whether or not emergency care is right for the situation, your child might be better served by urgent care. Many lacerations, for example, are urgent but not life threatening, and therefore do not require a trip to the ER. In fact, they may be more quickly resolved at an urgent care center.
Some hospitals, like the Mayo Clinic, operate both emergency departments and urgent care centers, which makes it possible for parents who are unsure about the severity of a condition to be redirected by the hospital staff.
If you don’t have a combination ED and urgent care center near you, and aren’t sure which of the two to go to, check out Colorado Children’s Hospital’s helpful quiz to train you to distinguish between urgent and emergency situations. Actually, if you have time to take the quiz, you probably have an urgent care need and not an emergency.
Many other terrifying-looking medical issues, like a high fever in a child over three months old or even febrile seizure, do not require urgent care and can be handled through follow-up with your child’s PCP, which is why the next step is so crucial.

2 | Develop trust in your child’s primary care provider

Try to see the same PCP for all of your child’s well visits. Doing so can help you build trust in that person’s judgment, which you can lean on when making middle-of-the-night healthcare decisions.
Your child’s PCP is there to monitor your child’s health, but also to educate you about how best to care for him. Make sure you are receiving the resources you need, including, for example, information on urgent versus non-urgent situations.
Many PCPs operate phone services for health questions. These hotlines are different from the insurer hotlines you might call to find out about health coverage. Instead, these hotlines put you in touch with a healthcare professional, often a nurse, who will help you determine how serious your child’s health issue is. That person can also contact your PCP to get further advice about how to proceed.
If your pediatrician does not have a triage after-hours phone service, ask why not. If you don’t trust your primary care provider, get a new one.

3 | Ask what you’re buying with an emergency department visit…and where else you can buy that

The hardest part of deciding not to go to the emergency department with a sick or injured child is probably not a medical issue. It’s a philosophical one.
One possible explanation for the overuse of emergency departments for common childhood illnesses is that parents are seeking reassurance more than they are seeking medical care. Although training yourself to identify true emergencies, developing trust with your child’s PCP, and cultivating a list of after-hours resources will all help you make better decisions, what you need most is to develop trust in yourself as a parent.
If you review the above studies about the ages of children brought to the ED, you would notice a distinct drop-off after the first few years of life. That’s not because young children are necessarily any more vulnerable than preschoolers or kindergarteners. It’s because parents of one-year-olds don’t trust themselves to identify and resolve their children’s health problems.
For the first three months or so, no new parents know what they’re doing. This is also the time period when some issues, like fever, are considered emergencies. So you might choose to follow an informal three-month rule, erring on the side of caution and making frequent calls to your child’s PCP until you can start to separate urgent from non-urgent.
As you begin to learn these distinctions, and develop your health literacy, start to trust as much in yourself as in your child’s medical staff.

11 Personal Items You're Going to Want Postpartum That No One Seems to Mention

Do your postpartum self a favor and stock up on these must-haves now.

Baby number one joined a well-prepared household. For nine months, I rested in my baby-free bed and read about what to expect. I took classes on breastfeeding and infant care. I studied the correct holds to stop a crying baby. I organized the baby’s room with tons of new baby gear. Each room had a stash of supplies, so burp towels and wipes were never more than a few feet away from me. I purchased everything my newborn would need and then some.

Then I came home with my infant in my arms.

Only experience prepares you for how you will feel. My baby suffered a fractured clavicle, while I suffered fourth degree tears. I felt like I was run over by a truck. Sleepless nights led to foggy days riddled with sweet moments.

I hobbled to the bathroom for the first time, eased myself down on the commode, and then cried when I realized I left my hospital bag, full of postpartum supplies, on the kitchen table. I was ill-equipped to handle the pain, blood, and the disaster of my private bits.

The birth of baby number one was rough. I swore to never go through it again.

I reneged on my promise. Twice. By my third pregnancy, full of experience, I reverently checked off my list of personal supplies and prepared for my homecoming.

You will be sore and tired, because your body went through a major ordeal. You focus on baby’s needs, but forget to eat. You can’t remember where you stashed that thing. You can’t even think of the word for it, but you know it’s somewhere in the house.

Do your postpartum self a favor and stock up now.

Put baskets with extra underwear and pads within reach of every toilet and your bed. A personal travel pack fits into your diaper bag. Talk to your doctor about pain relief options and what the hospital provides, then pick up these 11 items for postpartum self-care:

1 | Preparation H. Tucks pads

A Godsend. The cool, soft cloths are gentle enough to clean your delicate areas and sturdy enough to line the top of your menstrual pad (or disposable undies). In a pinch, you can make a DIY version using the main ingredient, witch hazel.

2 | Dermoplast

Get a bottle for every room where you might pull down your undies! No joke! I found the blue bottle to be superior to the red bottle. Both use Benzocaine as their active ingredient, but the blue bottle contains menthol and lanolin, making it perfect for afterbirth care. After gentle wiping or spritzing, a quick spray on your privates eases the sting.

3 | A package of disposable, dark-colored (or old) underwear

Most hospitals put you in mesh underwear. It feels awkward, but it’s oh-so-practical. It’s much easier to toss everything instead of having a pile of disgusting undies to wash. As you heal, accidents still occur, so you don’t want to ruin your favorite pairs.

4 | Pads

You will use pads, from the biggest overnight pads to regular-sized ones. My hospital provides padscicles, but they are super easy to make at home, using this DIY guide.

5 | Peri bottle (squirt bottle)

After using the bathroom, a quick squirt of soapy warm water keeps your personal spots clean. Most hospitals provide this, but having an extra for the second bathroom or travel is worth it. It’s hard to feel fresh when you’re a hot mess. Unless you have a bidet, a peri bottle is your new best bathroom friend.

6 | Mild, mild, mild liquid soap

Now is not the time to use harsh scented soaps to clean your female parts. You want something gentle and mild. At the hospital, I was told to put a drop into my peri bottle for cleansing.

7 | Flushable wet wipes

Adult wet wipes are soothing to the skin and very gentle. Perfect for a couple weeks of uncomfortable bathroom visits.

8 | Disposable nipple pads

Nursing or not, you will leak. Enough said.

9 | Caffeine

Blinding postpartum headaches, especially after an epidural, are a real thing. Ask your doctor beforehand on how to address it. Experience taught me that a combination of caffeine and Tylenol stave off shooting headache pains. After baby number three, iced coffee did the trick. One inexpensive caffeine pill equals one cup of coffee, so keep a bottle on hand.

10 | Vitamins

Your body needs to recoup. Keep taking your prenatals for at least six weeks postpartum, longer if you desire.

11 | Stool softener

It takes a bit of time for your system to regulate. Doctors recommend a stool softener for those first few days.

Make those first weeks easier on yourself by thinking about your needs beforehand. I know, I know, it’s more fun to buy a layette then it is to buy a package of Depends. Thinking about snuggling blissfully with baby is preferable to thinking about what you will do when you can’t wipe after number two.

Experience has taught me that I don’t want to be without these 11 items after birth and you won’t want to be either.

4 Research Skills That Explain Why Not to Panic About Arsenic in Baby Formula

If you know arsenic to be poisonous, you were probably shocked to learn that the food you’re feeding your baby contains it.

The Clean Label Project recently released a study of more than 500 infant formulas and baby foods representing 60 brands. The results, which the CLP published as an infographic, look terrifying:

  • 65 percent of baby food and 80 percent of formula contained arsenic.
  • 36 percent of baby food contained lead.
  • 58 percent of baby food contained cadmium.

Myth-busting Snopes was on the case almost as soon as the CLP published its results. The CLP did not publish its findings in a peer-reviewed journal. It did not provide any data to support its conclusions. It did not disclose any conflicts of interest. The Snopes investigation also identified previous controversies with Ellipse Labs, the company that did the product testing for CLP.
This is not the first time critics have addressed methodological problems and conflicts of interest at the CLP. When the organization published results about pet foods earlier this year, its methods drew a great deal of criticism, including a lively Reddit Ask Me Anything in which two of the researchers answered very little.
All of these are reasons enough not to trust the CLP’s findings about baby food and infant formula. But that debunking isn’t necessarily helpful to parents who want to avoid being taken in by the next headline-grabbing “study” of a baby danger.
Here are four research skills to help you digest the CLP’s study of baby food and prepare yourself to be a more critical reader of the next big baby scare.

Just because something sounds dangerous doesn’t mean it is dangerous

The CLP finding you’re most likely to hear about in the news is the shocking conclusion that eighty percent of infant formulas contain arsenic. That’s bound to stick with you, because arsenic is probably the most famous poison.
If you know arsenic to be poisonous, you were probably shocked to learn that the food you’re feeding your baby contains it. The problem here is that many foods contain arsenic, especially rice, which just so happens to be a component of many baby foods. It’s also present in another kid favorite, juice.
The CLP’s arsenic finding is one of many variations on the same rhetorical strategy: name a scary-sounding ingredient, identify a non-food purpose for that ingredient, and voila! You’ve made viral news. It’s the same approach that has worked for the Food Babe countless times…
Subway is feeding you yoga mats! Macaroni and Cheese is stuffing your kids with the same stuff you use to power your car! 
The CLP benefits from our collective chemophobia, such that it can merely mention the name of a scary-sounding chemical in order to stoke fear. Take, for example, the CLP’s finding that 10 percent of its samples tested positive for acrylamide, which, according to its infographic, “is a chemical created during manufacturing linked to brain damage, cancer, and reproductive harm.”
Let’s take those claims one at a time. Although it’s technically true that acrylamide would be created during the “manufacturing” process of some baby foods, that’s only true because “cooking” is part of the manufacturing process. Acrylamide is used in the manufacture of paper, ink, and other materials, but that’s not the use we’re talking about in baby food.
Acrylamide is created during the cooking of starchy foods like french fries and potato chips, as well as some types of crackers. Although the CLP does not name the products that tested positive for acrylamide, it’s reasonable to assume that they were fried or otherwise cooked with very high heat: teething biscuits, puffs, and other crispy snacks.
The second claim, that acrylamide has been “linked to brain damage, cancer, and reproductive harm,” is another one of those true but not true claims. Acrylamide was unfairly maligned as a cancer-causing agent in the early 2000s, but it was found to be a natural part of the cooking process not necessarily linked with human cancers.
Takeaway: If a chemical sounds scary, find out all of its uses before deciding it is scary.

Beware of inappropriate comparisons

Let’s return to arsenic for a moment. It may be true that 80 percent of baby foods tested by the CLP contained arsenic. That finding, however, is not evidence that these baby foods pose danger to children.
The CLP did not compare its results to any arsenic level standard. Instead, it tested for the presence of arsenic and compared products to each other. Because arsenic is naturally present in many foods, it’s reasonable that some products tested positive for arsenic, and that some would have higher levels than others.
Imagine Baby Cereal A and Baby Cereal B. Cereal A was found to have 50 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic. Cereal B was found to have 100 ppb of arsenic. Is Cereal B dangerous? Not according to the FDA, which recently proposed a limit of 100 ppb for all rice-containing baby cereals.
The CLP, however, would call Cereal B more dangerous, because it places products on a spectrum. Those with less detectable arsenic are “better” than the ones with more detectable arsenic, even if all of the products tested meet the FDA guidelines. The CLP could also claim that the “worse” cereal has 100 percent more arsenic than the better cereal, which makes that cereal sound absolutely terrifying.
Takeaway: When you see scary numbers in the news, look for the comparisons. Beware of dangerous items compared to each other instead of to a standard.

Always search for a methods section

The CLP describes its “unique” methods for obtaining its data as follows: “We do not make assumptions for product recommendations based on manufacturer supplied data, peer-reviewed research reports, or data from other consumer advocacy groups.”
Assuming that “make assumptions for product recommendations” means something like “we don’t allow the following sources to influence our product recommendations,” it’s both reasonable and ethical that neither manufacturer-supplied data nor consumer advocacy group data was included in the study.
Wedged in between those two groups, however, is “peer-reviewed research reports.” The entire notion of scientific knowledge is that it is built, piece by piece, upon the work of previous science. If you aren’t identifying yourself within a particular field, and you’re not building your work on the publications of others in that field, you’re not doing scientific research.
It’s possible for a research method to be “unique,” but the methods section of your study should not be. Researchers include detailed methods sections in their research so that other researchers can replicate those findings. That replication is essential to demonstrating a phenomenon actually exists.
Takeaway: If you can’t identify the methods the researchers used, you can’t reproduce their results. If you can’t reproduce their results, it’s not scientific research.

Ask if the researchers are trying to sell you something

The most concerning issue here is that the CLP is telling parents what to buy.
There is nothing wrong with consumer-advocacy groups recommending one product over another. There is nothing wrong with groups like Consumer Reports or even blogs like The Sweet Home offering detailed reviews of their products. There is a problem when a group claiming to be doing “independent” research is profiting directly off of the results of its research.
The CLP’s website features “buy now” links to all the products included in its reviews. It’s possible that those links represent an undisclosed conflict of interest. The CLP could be a part of Amazon’s Affiliate marketing program. If so, the CLP would earn four percent from the Amazon sales of all its recommended products. The CLP happens to recommend more expensive brands more highly, therefore, with each click of a CLP five-star product, they would be earning more than they would if they had highly rated a cheaper product.
Even if the CLP is not an Amazon affiliate, it has not disclosed sources of funding or possible conflicts of interest, which has been a source of controversy for the organization before.
Takeaway: If the same people conducting the research are also trying to sell you something, be suspicious. If they aren’t telling you how they earn their money, be even more suspicious.