Selected Instructions for Helping Non-Babies Fall Asleep (Based on Advice for Babies)

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone!

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone! Read on to see where you can apply those sleep induction skills elsewhere in your life:

Grandparents

“When your grandma is very upset and clearly needs to go down for a nap, pick her up and shush very loudly in her ears. Spittle may fly and shortness of breath will likely set in soon, but do not be deterred. If she begins to scream, match the volume and intensity of your shush to the shrieking sound. This is to help recreate the loud, cacophonous nature of the womb.”

Siblings

“Your brother is nodding off on the couch but keeps jolting awake – he needs a little nudge. Pick him up, lay him on his side, and swing him back and forth. Do not be afraid to really get some altitude out of your lifts. This, too, matches the conditions of being in utero, because pregnant women sit in extremely violent hammocks much of the day.”

Dog

“If you notice signs that your dog is getting drowsy, drop everything you’re doing and find a piece of large, square cloth. Lay the blanket down at an angle so that it looks like a diamond, and fold the top triangle down almost all the way – leave about an inch. Lay your dog down on its back (a natural resting position for dogs) with its head protruding past the fabric: fold the right corner down to the left and tuck behind the writhing canine’s tail, followed by the top left corner folded down to the right past the jackhammer-like kicking of the leg, and bring up the bottom and tuck it into the collar. Really swaddle that canine tightly; it may even seem too tight, but Fido’s serene visage will indicate otherwise. Your dog will instantly fall into a deep, restful sleep.”

Cat

“Kitty is having a tough time settling in for its 30th nap of the day. It’s time to strap that cat into the car seat and go for a scenic drive! Try to avoid surface streets, because every time you come to a stop, kitty will wake up and screech at you, swiping erratically. It is strongly advised that you drive on the highway, finding a time where there will not be any traffic. If your cat escapes the buckle, return home and swaddle it while wearing protective goggles.”

Roommate

“Your roommate is struggling, tossing and turning in bed with a bad liquor headache, and the shut-eye she needs just isn’t forthcoming. Bring her to the gym on campus, find a yoga ball, and cradle your roomie while bouncing vigorously up and down on the giant inflated ball. You can also swivel, slow down and speed up, and sing her a Chainsmokers song. If your back begins to throb, take a break by standing up, but continue to mimic the feel of the yoga ball by jumping in such a way that you don’t actually ever leave the ground but rather alternate between tip-toes and flat feet.”

Parents

“Your father is not relaxing in his recliner and is straining to find those sweet Zs. Give him a small plastic nipple with a stuffed animal attached, and Pops will hold the little fuzzy bear and suck his way to the Kingdom of Dreams. Pick it up and reinsert as many times as needed; it’s also advisable to sprinkle your dad with a dozen more such nipples so he can reach blindly and find one himself when he drops it.”

Rabbit

“Your rabbit is probably gassy! That’s all. Lie it down on its back like you were going to swaddle it, and work its legs so that it looks like it’s riding a bicycle. Bunnies love to kick anyway so this will go over well. This intense leg movement works the gas out, but pretend not to hear the farts to spare the little fluffer some embarrassment. You can also give the bunny some gas drops with a syringe, as long as you understand that you’re doing this strictly because you’re so sleep-deprived. Gas drops are a scam.”

Stranger

“You come across a stranger trying to nap on the grass at a park, but they’re having trouble. You’re prepared: the Ergo is already tied around your waist. Hoist the stranger up over your shoulders, guide its legs through the leg holes, then click him or her in. Tighten the straps for a snug fit and use the hood if it’s sunny and you’re worried about a sunburn. It’s a good idea to find a walking path where you can mosey without stopping, because it’s the close human contact combined with motion that will ensure a restful slumber for this rando.”

Teaching Children to Carry On, Through Grief

Last fall, as our beloved family dog faded quickly into his final weeks, I tried to prepare my children gently for his passing.

Last fall, as our beloved family dog faded quickly into his final weeks, I tried to prepare my children gently for his passing. It seemed unfair that they would have to endure this flagrant loss in the very same year during which their parents had separated and were heading for divorce.
With one hit still fresh and our recovery scarcely in progress, we were faced with a stark and painful illustration of how significantly our family was changing.
At first, I wanted desperately to protect my children – if one narrow column of time could bulge with such excess grief, then what would my children begin to believe about the rest of their lives, sprawled out before them like an open, lawless range?
The end was inevitable, of course. Our dog was 13 years old, ailing, and miserable – visibly ashamed by all the accidents he was having in the house, by all the falling down, by the not getting up again. He was still my dog, my loyal pard, but he was not my dog anymore.
I found a veterinarian who would perform euthanasia at home; I tried to use the time leading up to our appointment wisely.
I talked to my children in the morning, snuggling under blankets on the couch while I sipped my coffee and reflected, out loud, that death was the sad underside of the things we loved. I didn’t mention the appointment for euthanasia – that concept, I thought, was more than they could bear. I only told them that our dog was sick, and that his death was imminent. I brought it up at dinner, in the car on the way to piano lessons, while reading books before bed.
“It’s coming and it’s awful, but it’s going to be okay,” I said. It was a common refrain that particular year.
For my four year-old son, it helped when we spotted death as a natural part of life wherever we could. One afternoon in late September, we sat together outside on the patio.
“You see that tree out there, buddy? The dead one?” I asked, pointing to a slender elm at the back of the yard, silenced by disease.
“Yeah, I do,” he said, “The one that’s naked, you mean?”
I nodded.
“So leaves are clothes for trees?” he imagined.
“Yes,” I said, “and that one doesn’t need them anymore.”
I explained that the tree’s body was no longer working and it might fall on its own, but its roots would always remain in our soil.
In contrast, my older two children entered the maze of grief in their own ways. My 11-year old daughter simply wanted to turn back time and allow our dog to be a puppy again. My eight-year old son wanted me to please stop talking about it and let it be over with – he had only the exit sign in mind.
What were any of us supposed to be feeling and doing during that time? Anything, really.
Standing in the middle of grief is agony, but if we step back and look over it – a corn maze in autumn, if you will – it is only the process of transition between the living and the dying of something we love. It has both an entry and an exit point, with a myriad of routes from one to the other. Around each corner lies yet another component: anger, sadness, despair, and even love at its most overwhelming, for when we lose a thing, or decide we must let it go, we begin to see its value more clearly. Grief evolves, therefore, over time. As a mother, I am grateful for this simple fact.
Together, my children and I recorded our pup’s paw print, first with poster paint, and then with a plaster mold. Neither project emerged perfectly: capturing an outline of a dog’s paw in any medium is like trying to catch everyone smiling using a camera obscura. It didn’t matter – the project itself was part of our process of letting go.
Finally, when the dog’s last full day was upon us and my children were all tucked away at school, I began to focus on my own process. How much time could I actually spend that day, lying next to my old friend, cradling his head, draping my leg over his side, sobbing?
I had ordered a set of palm-sized memory stones, each of them etched with a paw print on one side and our dog’s name on the other. I laid all five stones on the kitchen floor in front of him. Curious, he sniffed them, wetting each one with his velvety nose. An hour later, the veterinarian arrived, and a quarter of an hour after that, it was over.
When our children came home that day and their father and I told them our dog was gone, they began to buckle and wail. We held them – on the floor, on the couch, wherever they landed – all five of us awash.
Then, we remembered: once, I had to break him out of the dog pound with a carpool of preschoolers in tow. Twice, he got his head stuck in a garbage can.
We laughed, and I offered everyone a memory stone. Our youngest child took his and closed his fingers around it. Each of our three children could drop their stone into a pocket, bring it in the car, tuck it under a pillow. They were tactile, intimate charms that my children would carry with them everywhere, as the grieving do. They would each do so, that is, until such time as they didn’t need to anymore.

A Girl and Her Dog: a (Complicated) Love Story

If you peel away some surface-level differences – they’re different species, for one – they actually have a surprising number of similarities.

One of my favorite photos of all time hangs in our living room above the mantelpiece. It’s from the days when our family of five (dog included) was crammed into a one-bedroom apartment, where my daughter took over the bedroom with her tyrannically bad sleeping habits and my wife and I ended up moving into the living room. Dog and baby boy slept in whatever corner we could find for them.
The photo was taken on our little deck, and it’s of my daughter Alice – maybe two and a half at the time – sitting next to our dog Wynette, hugging the pup’s head with a look of pure love on her face. Wynette is peaceful, content, and the tip of her tongue is just barely visible. She was licking Alice’s face at the time, but it wasn’t the high-velocity “I’m doing this instead of biting you” frantic slobber she sometimes engages in when Alice is doing what toddlers do to dogs. No, this was a calm, sweet gesture, and Alice was giggling. They were both about as placid as they get, which is the only reason I cautiously backed away long enough to take the photo.
But here’s the thing about that shot: It’s kind of a lie.
They don’t interact like that, except on very rare occasions when the stars have aligned just right, and both of them have achieved a certain inner peace. For a toddler, peace of any kind can be hard to come by, and for a toddler’s dog, true serenity is a commodity in shorter supply than the cat poop and chicken bones they crave so intensely.
Alice, being a charming but volatile and authoritarian three-year-old, hasn’t made life easy for her dog since her dramatic arrival more than three years ago. She’s grabbed Wynette’s tail, squeezed her ears and paws, pushed her, even licked and bitten her. Her favorite move for awhile was the sudden, drive-by slap she’d inflict with no clear motive. The dog is, accordingly, somewhat afraid, or at the very least deeply wary. She skulks away when Alice plops down next to her on the couch and retreats to safety when her three-foot-tall overlord gets an Africanized bee in her bonnet.
Deep down, though, they do love each other (or, as Alice would say, “we love our chuthers”). It’s a complicated love, but then again, when is love easy? If you peel away some surface-level differences – they’re different species, for one – they actually have a surprising number of similarities.
They have both sneezed so hard that they’ve hit their head on the ground. They both love cheese and bread. They both express their lunatic side by running wildly around a room, destroying everything in their path. They love routines, comforts, and predictability. They both love being outside and getting filthy dirty. They make me and my wife laugh deep, tear-producing belly laughs. They are kind, sweet, and they are completely genuine at all times. They play hard, they work hard, and they love hardest of all.
Perhaps most unifying of their personality traits is that they share a complex relationship with affection, and although they seem totally at odds they’re both rooted in the same imperfect yearning for connection. Alice hugs and touches almost entirely on her own terms; usually when I (her own papa) ask if I can hug her, she’ll say sweetly, “Um, no thanks, maybe tomorrow, mkay?” Affection is vitally important to her, but it isn’t what propels her, feeds her soul, or typically what centers her when she’s off-kilter. She gets a lot of joy and nurture out of intimacy, but other driving forces are just as important to her nascent exploration of attachment and connection. We highly encourage this body autonomy and defend it, hard, with anyone who tries to force a hug or a tickle on her – it’s her body and she gets to set the rules.
Wynette, on the other hand, leaves it entirely up to us. She never asks for a scratch, a hug, or even loving attention. She’s not one of those dogs who backs up into you for a booty scratch, or paws at you to get a good rubbing behind the ears. She doesn’t come to us even when she has an itch so intense she’s flopping on the floor like a dying fish, or when she’s depressed that my wife left for work and could really use a cuddle. No, she demands nothing, which is why my wife and I have to seek it out. When the time is right, when we offer, she’ll lean into a scratch, a hug, a calm caress. It’s not that she doesn’t love affection – she wants nothing more than to sleep on our bed with us, after all. It’s that for whatever reason, she’s put it in our hands, a potentially lonely strategy when your human companions are busy caring for two small children.
I used to dream of Alice running wild with Wynette, spending her summers exploring creeks and chasing squirrels and all kinds of adventures that kids have with dogs in movies. I still dream of it, even now, or at least of Wynette sleeping curled up at the foot of Alice’s bed, the two of them going on walks together, taking life on as a team. If anything like that happens, we’re still years away from it, and that kind of parental patience can be tough. But I still believe that Wynette can truly be Alice’s dog.
Being an inconsistent, emergent human being, Alice constantly tries to hug Wynette. She usually runs away, the toddler gets upset and pouts, and we point out to her that she doesn’t like random hugs like that either. She sort of gets it, in the way a child in the throes of the egotistical phase gets anything like that, but she torments the dog anyway. She chases behind and “plays” with her, completely unaware of the warning signs Wynette is giving off: tail tucked between her legs, head low, doe-eyed pleas for help.
And yet, the love runs deep. Alice speaks to her dog as though she were an equal conversational participant, asks her how her day was, and tells the dog about her adventures at preschool. Alice proudly shows every new outfit, hairdo, toenail polish, and pair of shoes to Wynette: “I’m gonna go show my dog!” Among her first words were “Wyna” (Wynette) and “Doo-too!” (good girl!). When Wynette rides along in the back of our little hatchback, Alice speaks to her the whole trip, and whenever we drop the dog off at the local doggy daycare, Alice tells her all about the fun she’s going to have playing with her furry friends.
And against all odds, Wynette loves Alice right back. It’s not as fierce and intense a love, but Alice is part of the pack, and the pack is sacred to a pup. Wynette just wants to love the humans in her life, and only wants to be loved back – it really is that simple for her. I never would have believed Wynette would emerge as a bastion of wisdom, but it’s almost exactly what’s happened: our formerly hyperactive dog – an animal that once had so much energy we had to walk her for two hours a day – has slowly morphed into a gentle, caring, and yes, wise old soul. She tolerates Alice because she’s part of the family, but she loves her because – and I do believe this – she sees the best in everyone, Alice included. Call it naiveté or call it sagacity, Wynette wants everyone who approaches her to be good. Alice is still working on earning her dog’s trust, and slowly but surely, my little girl is chipping away. The elegant simplicity of Wynette’s needs is beautiful, and Alice knows she has a dog with a beautiful soul.
The photo in our living room, a deceptively simple instance of affection, is the best of them both, most certainly the best of Alice’s treatment of her dog. I treasure it because it’s one of only a handful of occasions where their particular needs for affection aligned so perfectly that I could bask in the connection they were forging. They were both lost in love for one another, two complicated souls stealing a peaceful moment together before the insanity of life resumed.
It’s a beautiful love, it really is.

Beyond the Family Pet: How Animals Enrich the Lives of Kids

Not only does contact with and knowledge of animals, both pets and wildlife, make kids smarter, but it also makes them healthier.

It was after dinner, and I was at the sink washing the dinner dishes when my son shrieked.
“It’s a raccooooooooooon!” he yelped, jumping up and down in excitement as his eyes bulged. “A REAL RACCOOOOOOOOON!” he trilled.
“Huh?” I stumbled back from the sink and looked around the kitchen.
“ON THE ROOF OF THE BARN!” His entire body was trembling. I followed his pointed finger and watched the fat, banded critter through the window as my son loudly narrated its every move.
When it was gone, I turned to him. “Have you seen a raccoon before?” He looked at me. “Like at the zoo or something?” He stared blankly. “How did you know that was a raccoon?”
He smirked as he strutted out of the room. “I just knowed, Mama.”
Later that night, as I made a final sweep through the toy room to tidy a few last things, I found a small plastic raccoon, perched atop some blocks arranged in the shape of a barn. It was my turn to smirk, remembering the wildlife set he got in his stocking as I placed the little raccoon back into its bin amongst gray wolves, grizzly bears, and elk.
Like most parents, I am in constant awe of what my children learn through their interactions both with the natural world and at play. They are always picking up on tiny details that I miss or fixating on particularities that I find unimportant. Children are the observers of the world.
And when it comes to animals and the natural world, I have even more reason to be in awe. Not only does contact with and knowledge of animals, both pets and wildlife, make my kids smarter, but it also makes them healthier.
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Young boy with his well-trained 4-H calf.

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Physical benefits of animals

The health benefits of pets are well-documented. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devote an entire page to the specific health benefits of having a pet, including increased exercise and outdoor activities along with increased opportunities for socialization.
What’s more, exposure to pets can actually decrease the risk of developing allergic sensitization into young adulthood. While scientists have not determined the exact relationship between owning a pet and developing allergies, they suspect that high-dose exposure to certain pet danders and allergens triggers a non-allergic immune response.
Further, simply being in nature has health benefits as well. In fact, children who are regularly exposed to nature experience decreased stress levels and bolstered resilience for coping with stress.

Animals as therapy

Not only can animals prevent children from getting sick, but they can help in treatment, too. Animal therapy has roots going back to the Middle Ages, when doctors in Belgium noticed that patients who rehabbed alongside animals had better prognoses than those who did not.
Animals often have a profound calming influence, unlike that achieved through human interaction or companionship. One study found that simply watching fish swim around an aquarium could lower someone’s blood pressure, which might explain the abundance of fish tanks I’ve noticed in doctor’s waiting rooms.
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Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they know an appreciation for animals and curiosity go hand in hand.

 
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Another study found that petting a dog decreased the stress hormone cortisol in a stressful environment significantly more than resting quietly did. Visits from pet therapy animals have been shown to decrease the stress hormone epinephrine in cardiac patients, and having a pet present decreases heart rate and blood pressure more significantly than having a friend or family member present.
The therapeutic benefits aren’t limited to physical symptoms, either. Animal therapy is often used for psychiatric and behavioral therapy as well. Taking care of animals has been shown to increase children’s self-esteem and confidence while helping them to develop empathy and perspective-taking skills. Horse therapy has had proven results for autistic children, improving their subsequent interactions with family pets as well as their general attitude and behavior toward animals.
One of the most successful and ambitious programs to incorporate animals into therapy is the Green Chimneys residential program in New York. Here, children aged six to 18, many of whom have experienced extreme neglect or abuse, develop a sense of self-worth as they learn to care for pets, farm animals, and even hawks and falcons. Some children tend to injured animals or go on to become guides or caretakers for the animals when visitors come to experience farm life for a day.
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Boy training pet dog
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Environmental benefits

Our kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from learning about and appreciating animals. Our environment benefits, too. The more students know about local wildlife, the better they absorb ecological lessons about the environment and conservation. This, in turn, leads to a generation more likely to value pro-environmental behaviors.
Children who play outside and are exposed to wildlife regularly form emotional attachments that last well into their adult years and translate into pro-environmental behaviors, like recycling and alternative energy use.

How to get started

How can a parent set their child up for successful interactions with animals? How do we ensure that the first experiences with a family pet or new wildlife are positive ones?
By bringing realistic animal-themed toys and books into the home, parents can introduce both pets and wildlife in a controlled and safe environment. These toys, books, and games can spark conversation, inspire questions about how to act appropriately around new animals, and get your child excited about meeting them.
These kinds of toys can even prepare your child for broader lessons. In one study, preschool children who participated in guided play with animal toys were better able to absorb a subsequent lesson about the food chain.
You can support your child by role playing how to approach a new animal using realistic animal toys. If it’s a wild animal, this might mean giving the animal plenty of space and not moving erratically. If it’s someone’s pet, it may mean asking permission before you greet it and offering a hand to sniff before petting. Children who talk about and practice new interactions go into them with increased confidence and a higher likelihood of success.
Teaching your child different animal names and breeds will build even more interest and confidence around animals. For more ideas about introducing your child to the wide world of animals and preparing them to reap the rewards of a lifelong relationship with nature, check out some of the many free activities and resources available online.
Children who care for and about animals enrich their lives physically and emotionally and are more likely to grow up to be stewards of the environment.
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Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they know an appreciation for animals and curiosity go hand in hand.

Giving up Is Not an Option

The truth is, “what someone is capable of” is not fixed or finite; it changes and shifts as we learn and grow.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
My cat, Mittens, is – how can I describe it? Let’s just say he’s not the brightest cat on the block. As a friend observed, “he’s one notch above a stuffed animal.” I argued for two notches, but Debbie had a point. Poor guy. It’s not his fault that he was born with no street-smarts or even house-smarts, and that he sleeps 23 1/2 hours a day. He’s also terribly timid and runs away if he sees even an ant. The most dangerous thing he’d ever attacked was a Starbucks straw. So imagine my amazement and shock when Mittens recently caught a mouse in our living room! It goes to show, you never know what someone is capable of.
The truth is, “what someone is capable of” is not fixed or finite; it changes and shifts as we learn and grow. I’ve seen this truth play out (to one mouse’s misfortune) in many ways, in my own life, and in the lives of others. You think you know someone. You think you know what she is capable of – the limits of her talent, the depth of her insights, the scope of her parenting skills. And then, it turns out, you misjudged. The person you thought you knew so well has unsuspected depth, humor, even virtuosity.
And that person could be you.
When I was trying to break into publishing children’s books, a well-known agent wrote me a letter in response to several manuscripts I had sent.
“Your stories are intriguing,” she wrote. “But they all have cracks in the middle. The beginnings don’t go with the endings.”
This pronouncement from an authority in the publishing world sounded fatal. My stories were broken. They had a genetic flaw – a death sentence for my future as a writer. It didn’t occur to me at first that I could actually fix my stories, although, as Woody Allen pointed out, “that’s why God invented the word ‘rewrite’.”
And rewrite I did. Eventually I sold my first book (minus the ominous crack) and saw it displayed in the gleaming window of a Fifth Avenue bookstore I used to wander through so wistfully.
But things did not always go so smoothly. Though I have sold books the first time out, some required over 100 submissions before being accepted, while others have been rejected twice that many times. I once had 10 picture books rejected by an editor over the telephone in 10 minutes. One rejection a minute; that’s a record!
I do sometimes get disheartened, but then I say to myself, “giving up is not an option.” After all, no one, including yourself, can define or circumscribe your limits, your potential, or your talent. Qualities such as drive, courage, tenacity – and the fact that you probably don’t take 23 1/2 hour naps – affect what you accomplish. Whether you’re raising a two-year-old, writing a memoir, or chasing a mouse, remember your inner self is a cosmos, infinite and uncharted. No one can survey it at a glance, or predict the limits of what you can achieve.
As for Mittens, he’s back to attacking Starbucks straws. But I have new-found respect for him. You never know what he might do next!

The Physical and Emotional Reasons Your Kids Need a Family Dog

Just a few cold hard scientific facts why our kids are the first to benefit from man’s best friend.

When I was five, my great-aunt beckoned me close and whispered a fabulous lie to me: that animals could talk to each other only at midnight on Christmas Eve. Being a child who believed the fairy tales of dragons, knights, and fairies were true, I completely believed her. That night, I forced myself to stay awake until midnight to listen to my pet parakeets talk. Of course, I was disappointed as animals cannot speak English. However, that never squashed my intense love for animals.
Although I never had a dog as a child, I did have parakeets and I adopted the cocker spaniel that lived on my Grandmother’s farm. When my own children were old enough, I began what my husband likes to call the “Butterfly Cycle,” which is really me just filling our house with caterpillars (“for homeschooling”), two guinea pigs, and then the formal presentations to make my case for a family dog.
As my kids repeatedly watch “Pets” on Netflix, I am happy to say that I am now expecting – my pup is due to arrive just in time for autumn, my favorite season ever. And in the spirit of my intense, animal-loving excitement, I would like to share a few cold hard scientific facts why our kids are the first to benefit from man’s best friend.

Physical health benefits

Dogs and leashes go together like peanut butter and jelly. Imagine a crisp fall morning with a light fog settling as you stroll down the sidewalk with Rover. Dogs may “force” you to get out of the house and get a little bit of exercise, so naturally dog ownership might increase health due to morning and evening walks. Beyond that, dog (and even cat) ownership offers several physical health benefits:

Sleep

An Australian study, inspired by British and American research in the 80s, studied the extent of pets and overall human health. The study noted that families with pets, on average, made less doctor visits. In particular, pet owners were significantly less likely to suffer from sleep problems, such as falling asleep. I imagine that a small child (and adults) feels safer with Fido on the night watch.

Heart health

The same Australian study listed above also noted improved heart health among pet owners, especially cat and dogs. The study analyzed heart attack rates and revealed that dog or cat owners were less likely to succumb to heart attacks. This benefit is a combination of increased cardiovascular exercise plus decreased stress levels from having a companion. This benefits even kids who are, for the most part, stuck at desks all day at school. Going on a walk with their dog helps balance their exercise to sitting ratio.

Seizure alerts

For those who suffer from epilepsy, a sudden attack can leave an individual in a dangerous position when the seizure starts. Amazingly, some dogs can sense the onset of a seizure. Families with epileptic children benefit from this type of dog, who can alert them with enough time to get the child to a safe position before the seizure starts. The BBC chronicled the story of an Irish family whose Great Dane pinned an epileptic tot against the wall to prevent her from falling during an episode. Their Great Dane predicts seizures about 20 minutes before they start. ABC News also highlighted a service dog that assists in seizure alerts.

Improve verbal skills

Perhaps you’ve seen your local library hosting more frequent “read to the puppies” events? There’s more to it than just fluffy puppies – although that is a huge perk. Studies have noted that being around animals helps children improve their verbal skills by offering them a judge-free zone to work on their speech and talk to the animals.

Emotional health benefits

“They” say that dogs can sense if their owner is feeling blue or experiencing an emotional upset, and that they help restore a positive emotional environment. Dogs can also help teach valuable lessons that improve the emotional health of a child:

Teaching empathy

When my son was visiting my sister and her Foxhound over the Fourth of July weekend, Foxy quivered with each firework blast. My two boys rushed to her side and began singing their favorite lullabies to her. “We are calming her down, Mama,” they proudly whispered. This situation is nothing unusual, because pet ownership is one of life’s many opportunities to teach empathy. Children often are the dependent ones, looking to us for every single basic necessity. When children become the ones to tend to a dependent creature, they are learning to give the gifts that they have been given, from food to shelter to unconditional love.

Instill confidence

Has your child ever “helped” fold a piece of clothing, stepped back at the mangled pile of cloth, and felt so proud of themselves? Practicing life skills is an excellent way to improve self-esteem and confidence. Owning pets is another outlet for children to practice their real life responsibilities, even something as simple as filling Fido’s water bowl each morning.

Offer therapy

Animals, especially dogs and horses, offer a wide range of therapy benefits to children. Therapy dogs are known to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and reduce healing time. Researchers demonstrate great success with therapy dogs especially for children with PTSD or autism. Children unable to connect with a human for support connect to the dog because of a dog’s ability to convey unconditional love.
It’s hard to deny the science: Dogs bring a lot to a child’s life. I know you seasoned dog owners are laughing at me as I await my turn for midnight potty runs and the incessant chewing of a teething pup. Like life and parenting, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. I’m not denying that someone has to learn to use the pooper scooper – but hey, that can be a life lesson in and of itself.
So if you’re considering inching your way into the pet world, consider the Butterfly Cycle.

Chickens: the Underrated Pets You Didn’t Know You Needed

Keeping a flock of chickens offers all the richness of adopting one adorable mutt and requires only a fraction of the work.

Chickens might be the most underrated pets of our time. My husband and I have kept backyard chickens for six years. While they’re not snuggly, keeping one flock of chickens offers all the richness of adopting one adorable mutt and requires only a fraction of the work. What they lack in snuggles they make up for in eggs.
Still not convinced your family needs chickens? Read on.

Chickens offer a chance to discuss death with your kids

Although they generally live about eight years, they only lay regularly for three, four years max. If, like us, you adopted your chickens primarily for the delicious eggs, there’s no shame in letting them go when production peters out.
If, unlike us, you have the energy to raise kids, keep houseplants alive, and nurture a bevy of dumb birds who give even less than an infant at the pre-smiling stage, I’d like some of whatever you’re smoking.
Despite any of your plans for your chickens to meet their maker in a humane, cruelty-free way (there are farmers who can take care of it for a price), nature might intervene first, particularly if your coop isn’t super secure. Though it requires no planning and is free of charge, this method is highly inconvenient. Racoons and foxes leave a gory mess in their wake. At least, that’s what my husband said. I couldn’t bring myself to look.
Of course, you can also do the dirty deed yourself. Pro tip: A sure predictor that you’ll have an impromptu death chat with your kids sooner rather than later is hearing your husband, who seldom curses, yell a string of obscenities audible from your backyard to your half-asleep ears at daybreak. Ask my husband about the YouTube video that taught him how to de-feather a chicken.
(Sorry, I can’t share my hyper-local, super free-range crock pot chicken soup recipe; I invented it on the fly.)
While it’s never fun or easy to talk to kids about death. I’m grateful we had the opportunity to broach the topic when our chickens kicked the bucket, rather than after the dealth of a family member or a friend.
 
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Chickens are dumb animals

This makes it a lot easier to deal with the fact that they will not be your forever (or 10- to 14-year) pet. This also makes it easy to say, “Oh, hell no!” when your friends ask if you’ve stopped eating chicken.
When we open the coop to feed our chickens, they try to escape. Never mind the fact that their coop supposedly provides them shelter from hungry animals with claws and sharp teeth (see Chickens offer chance to discuss death, above). Meanwhile, our backyard offers no such protection.

Chickens eat everything

This includes the buttery crusts of your kids’ grilled cheeses and the overly sweet milk remaining in their cereal bowls. For better or worse, having chickens means you can no longer nibble on your kids’ castaways in the name of avoiding food waste.
Chickens eat anything that isn’t rotting, including cantaloupe rinds, the fatty edge of your steaks, and the Wheat Thins that you simply can’t have in the house because they rob you of your last remaining shred of self-discipline. They even eat chicken (cooked) and eggshells. (See also: Chickens are dumb animals.)

Chickens teach kids about the food system

Despite being dumber than playing Pokemon Go at the Holocaust museum, chickens are amazing teachers. For example, having chickens has taught my kids firsthand how much processing happens to your food before you find it waiting for you at the supermarket, as if by magic.
Yes, kids, that brown stuff clinging to the eggshell? That’s chicken poop. No, the hen doesn’t poop while laying. It’s physically impossible. (In this regard, female chicken design is more intelligent than human female design. Go figure.) It’s just that the hen might have stepped in poop and then stepped on her egg, or else she laid her egg on top of a pile of her own feces.
My kids know that, while store-bought eggs need to be refrigerated, we can safely store ours in a bowl on the counter. Unlike the commercial egg producers, we don’t wash away the protective layer known as the egg bloom.

Chickens can be your kids’ first economics professor

Not only do your chickens have the capacity to teach your kids a biology lesson or two, they can also offer real life lessons in finance. Our five-year-old is thrilled to help care for our chickens. As long as she keeps up her end of the bargain, we let her sell excess eggs to neighbors and friends.
We are currently taking pre-orders, as our young chickens haven’t started laying yet. I can only imagine what our budding entrepreneur will take from the experience.
We got chickens with the expectation that they’d give us tasty eggs, but they’ve given us so much more than that. And we’ve never even had to give them eye drops, take them to the vet, crate train them, or change their litter box.
🐔🐔🐔 Still not convinced your family needs a chicken? Watch this:

When a Pet Dies, How Can You Help Your Kids Say Goodbye?

It’s important to help our kids pay homage to their beloved pets as best we can when their time comes to say goodbye.

Here’s the one security question I still can’t choose: “What was the name of your first pet?”
I was 13 that October, right around the time when the weather turns in Tennessee so that I needed a jacket before I left for school that morning. I ran back in to grab the old Patagonia off the hook when I heard the summons from my mother to check Amber’s food bowl before I left.
Amber, our golden retriever, the dog we drove over an hour to pick out of a brand new litter on a small farm outside of town, and who had been my sidekick for seven years. That dog was mine. I named her in the back of the minivan before we’d left the gravel drive of the farm, picking at random, because that’s how you name a dog when you’re six.
I was in a hurry when I checked her food, worrying about missing my ride and the Latin test I had later that day. But I sought her out, in her favorite lawn chair where she sat like a person with legs tucked under her, and I kissed the soft fur right between her eyes. And then I ran out the door.
And then Amber was gone. My parents took her to be “put down” while I was at school. I hadn’t known. Her bowl was gone when I came home.
 
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They say “out of sight, out of mind,” but it’s not true. Out of sight is in the mind, locked and sealed with nowhere to go. Without a proper goodbye, I was always rounding corners, expecting Amber to be there. I was crying over hair shed on the couch and absently grabbing for a leash that wasn’t there to take her for a walk.
She’d had cancer. I knew she didn’t have long. It was the right thing to do. But I never got my moment. I never got to look into her eyes and tell her that I loved her. In my mind, I’m still calling her in from the yard.
I won’t do that with my kids. As hard as it may be, I want them to have a proper goodbye when the time comes. I owe it to them and to their animals – their companions and sidekicks. Here are five ways I’m going to help them say farewell:

Prepare

Our family dog is 12. She’s doing well, but I’ve noticed the gray in her muzzle and how long it takes her to stand up, like me unfolding myself from the car after a road trip. When the times comes that she can no longer maneuver herself down the back steps to the yard, when she is in too much pain to enjoy her life, we will sit the kids down and talk to them about how she is unable to do what she once did. How she is tired and ready to rest. We will give them time to love on her and whisper the secrets in her twitching ear that they still have left to share.

Tell the truth

I’m not going to say she “went to sleep” or “went to the farm.” That doesn’t help the grieving process, even though the words “she has died” makes my stomach plummet three feet to the floor. They have to understand what happened to her, to wrap their little minds around the idea that things that have a beginning also an end. And then we will watch “All Dogs Go to Heaven”, because I’m going to need it.

Plan a memorial

Letting children decide how to honor their pet is key. I kept Amber’s collar and tags in my hope chest along with handmade quilts and my favorite Indigo Girls album. We buried her in our backyard under the strawberry plants she always got to before we did. I want my kids to be able to choose how to honor our dog. Poems, speeches, favorite foods and walks, best memories and pictures are up for their choosing. It’s their goodbye, and they will be able to say it as they wish.

Feel the grief

Saying goodbye to my grandfather at age 10 was easier than saying goodbye to my childhood dog. I remember feeling sad at his funeral, staring at a face that did not look real, but must be because everybody said so. Perhaps it was because he lived eight states away and visits were annual. Perhaps it’s because he was already old when I met him. I did not know him in his puppy stage.
But with Amber, the grief laid me flat. Denial and anger were the heavy hitters. How could she be gone? I just fed her this morning? How could you take her without telling me? Because of this, I will honor every stage of my children’s grief. As their mother, I will ride out every phase and weather the storm with them as best I can.

Moving on

If acceptance is the last stage in the grieving process, getting a new pet is the reset button. But we’re not going to hurry. I don’t want a replacement pet. I want a pet who will not have to settle for second-best to a memory. I want my kids to understand that this new pet, whenever and whatever they choose, will not be a “do-over,” because no one can fill the place of the one that went before.
Once they have grieved enough to heal, then we will visit the farm or the shelter or the adoption center and let our hearts melt all over again at the new fuzzy faces.
Our pets love us with their whole hearts. It’s in their genetic make-up to take us as we are. We owe them big for all they put up with in us. Because of that, it’s important to help our kids pay homage to them as best we can when their time comes to say goodbye.
I’m still going to need a lot of Kleenex and wine at the end of the day.

Horseback Riding Can Improve Children's Cognitive Ability

I knew horseback riding had health and therapeutic benefits, too, but I never suspected that it could expand her learning ability well beyond the sport.

I was over the moon when my daughter expressed an interest in horseback riding several years ago. What’s more magical than horses? Their majestic stance, graceful trot, and the enduring trust they lend without any expectations are rare in the animal kingdom.
At her first lesson, I beamed when she confidently mounted a small pony and began grasping the basic commands. I rode horses for a short time as a child, so I felt a familiar combination of accomplishment (for having the courage to ride a horse) and love (because it’s hard not to immediately fall head-over-hooves with your four-legged companion).
I knew horseback riding had health and therapeutic benefits, too, but I never suspected that it could expand her learning ability well beyond the sport.
 
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A new study shows that the vibrations produced by horses during horseback riding lead to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system – the same system responsible for the fight-or-flight response, which improves learning in children.
Previous studies have shown that horseback riding enhances physical and mental health, improving circulatory functions, muscle strength, and development of motor functions. But few studies have addressed the effects of horseback riding on children and the mechanisms underlying how riding affects humans.
Mitsuaki Ohta, a professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and lead author of the new study, said in a press release that his team wanted to dive deeper and learn more about the effects of the vibrations.
The study included 34 boys and 72 girls, aged 10 to 12 years old, who were divided into three groups: horse riding, walking, and resting. Participants, who were described as typical healthy children, completed simple tests directly before and after horse riding. As they completed these tests, their heart rates were measured in response to the movements created by the horses.
A “Go/No-go” test, which assesses cognitive response using fast computerized questions, was used to test how the children responded to different situations using either self-control (No-go reaction) or performing a specific action (Go reaction). For this experiment, children were seated at desks after the first 10 minutes of riding, walking, or resting. In addition, they were given simple arithmetic problems to test their mental performance.
Three different horses were used, including a half-breed mare, a gelded Kiso (which is a traditional Japanese horse), and a pony gelding. The findings revealed that riding several of the horses, specifically the half-breed and pony, did have a positive impact on the children’s ability to perform the behavioral tasks. This suggests that horseback riding can enhance learning, memory, and problem solving.
Researchers believe the three-dimensional acceleration a horse produces as it moves is the key to improving these abilities, which many differ among different horse breeds. Horse riding had less of an effect on the children’s results when solving the arithmetic problems. Ohta said the math may have been too simple to have activated the sympathetic nervous system.
Although the findings are promising, many children do not have access to horses or horseback riding classes. The study does reveal that some benefits could be acquired from interactions with more attainable pets or other animals, such as those used in therapy.
“There are many possible effects of human-animal interactions on child development,” Ohta said in an interview. “For instance, the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions, which we described in this study, and the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional influences and non-verbal communication, which requires further research to be understood.”
Horse experts are excited by the team’s findings. “We have personally seen so many incredible things happen through work with horses,” said Laurie Roberts, co-founder of Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy.
“From the mostly non-verbal child on the autism spectrum, who after just a short time is communicating in simple sentences, to the teen who is struggling with depression but over time is able to share their feelings and find a path to health and healing, work with horses has so much to offer. It is wonderful when new research supports the things we have been experiencing in our sessions.”
The study “Horseback Riding Improves the Ability to Cause the Appropriate Action (Go Reaction) and the Appropriate Self-control (No-Go Reaction) in Children” was published in the February 2017 edition of “Frontiers in Public Health.”

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Living With Pets May Improve the Health of Your Baby

A new study has revealed that exposure to furry pets at a young age can actually safeguard children against both allergies and obesity.

Pets are often to blame for allergies. But a new study conducted at the University of Alberta in Canada has revealed that exposure to furry pets at a young age can actually safeguard children against both allergies and obesity.
This is possible because immunity builds up naturally as infants are exposed to the dirt and bacteria from the pet’s fur and paws, even if parents only had the pet while the mother was pregnant.
 
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A team of epidemiologists analyzed the fecal matter of 746 Canadian children at age 3.3 months who were part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) study, which recruited expectant mothers during their pregnancies in between 2009 and 2012. Participating mothers were asked to report on household pet ownership during the second or third trimester and three months after they gave birth.
More than half of the infants in this group were exposed to at least one furry pet in their home while they were in the womb and/or up to three months after they were born. About 70 percent of the pets in the study were dogs.
The results showed that babies from families who had pets in the house were more likely to have higher levels of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira bacteria in their gut. Both of these microbes are associated with lower body mass index and reduced childhood allergies because the microbes train the immune system to react to harmful entities like pathogens. In fact, the abundance of these two bacteria doubled when there was a pet in the house.
Even children who have never lived with a pet can still have higher levels of these bacteria. While babies are in their mother’s womb, they can be indirectly exposed to pet bacteria, with the microbes passing from pet to mother to baby. This means a child can get the benefits of the microbes even if the pet was taken out of the house before the baby was born.
Additionally, the findings of the study indicate that pet exposure could cut down the risk by about 80 percent of group B strep developing in newborns born vaginally. This bacteria can unfortunately lead to blood infection, pneumonia, or meningitis in newborns. Doctors typically treat against group B strep by giving mothers antibiotics during the delivery process, but this new option for preventing it from forming is quite promising.
This finding is consistent with other research highlighting that exposure to small amounts of friendly bacteria when children are young can help make them less susceptible to developing health problems later, like asthma.
But what if you do not want to own and care for a pet? Your children may still be able to reap the benefits of this scientific link between exposure to pets and a reduction in childhood obesity and allergies. Scientists may be able to create a pill – cleverly referred to as a “dog in a pill” – to capture and deliver the microbial benefits that pets naturally provide to children.
Stay tuned for more information on this possible remedy.