I Hated Little Nutbrown Hare, Until We Watched his Show

After binging “Guess How Much I Love You,” I’ve decided Big Nutbrown Hare is everything you want a parent on kids’ show to be.

On any given day, when my two-and-a-half-year-old heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth before bed, his other mom and I find ourselves with some creature other than a human child. Sometimes he is a robot, off to brush his robot teeth. Other times he is Te Ka, the lava monster from Disney’s Moana, and he has hot teeth which he has to brush with hot paste (to keep them hot, of course). Sometimes he is simply the neighbor’s dog. But more often than not, he is a baby rabbit, someone he calls “Little Brown Hay-er!”
That would be Little Nutbrown Hare.
The classic children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney was gifted to us while I was still heavily pregnant. The illustrations by Anita Jeram are charming – Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare are rendered with feeling, but also a kind of ease. They show both visible brushstrokes and a kind of familiarity with rabbits that makes them seem more real, and they are both very animal-like and oddly human-like at the same time. I’m a sucker for classics (you should hear me wax poetic about Winnie The Pooh) so I really wanted to love it. I did.
But I did not love it. I didn’t love it to the moon and back, and I didn’t even love it as high as I could reach.
For the uninitiated, the book features two characters: Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. Their relationship is never explained, but it can be assumed that they represent parent and child, and both are identified as male with “he” pronouns. The plot surrounds Little Nutbrown Hare getting ready for bed (so great for bedtime stories), and trying to express how much he loves Big Nutbrown Hare. He’s trying to use physical measurements – I love you this much, I love you as high as I can hop, I love you down the lane as far as the river – to describe something immeasurable and unknowable. It’s the sort of desperate reaching for language that anyone who has ever been overcome by love would be familiar with.
And Big Nutbrown Hare, his caregiver, responds by one upping him. He does this every single time. If Little Nutbrown Hare loves as high as he can reach, the joke is on him, because Big Nutbrown Hare has longer arms, so he must love more. He turns a simple expression of love into a contest, telling the smaller hare that he will never be able to love as much. It ends with Little Nutbrown Hare exclaiming “I love you right up to the moon!” and then (spoiler alert) Big Nutbrown Hare counters with “I love you right up to the moon … and back.”
I think it is supposed to be cute and all in good fun, and certainly that is how most people read it. But it got under my skin.
I hated Big Nutbrown Hare.
With time, I came to hate the book itself. I squirreled it away somewhere where I wouldn’t have to read it. I didn’t care how adorable the illustrations were or how perfect it was – Big Nutbrown Hare was a jerk, and that was that. Furthermore, the whole book was just another example of every non-human animal in children’s literature being assumed male. It wasn’t even realistic. I am not a zoologist, but I am fairly certain father hares do not care for their offspring.
Which is why I was not excited when I discovered that there is a “Guess How Much I Love You” television show. Why did there have to be a show? It’s a short book with hardly any plot. How was there even anything to expand upon? I was sure it was going to be stupid, so with the certainty of a dedicated naysayer I tried to veto it before my wife and I could even preview it.
But then reality set in. Winter had just started, we had watched every single episode of “Sarah & Duck” approximately twelve hundred times already. I got a terrible cold. Nobody wanted to go outside, and there it was, staring at us on Amazon Prime, taunting us. We cracked.
The show uses the original book as a jumping off point, to tell the story of a Little Nutbrown Hare who lives in a meadow and who is friends with a lot of other animals (Little Field Mouse, Little Gray Squirrel, Little Redwood Fox, etc). During the day he of course plays and has adventures, and at night he goes home to the hollow log he lives in with his father, Big Nutbrown Hare. Big Nutbrown Hare is everything you want a parent on kids’ show to be. He allows his son to try and fail sometimes, but he is endlessly loving, endlessly patient, and always ready to explain a full moon or show which berries are good to eat.
The show takes place in the natural world, without human characters, and despite my reservations, it is really cute and sweet. The lessons are good and there seems to be a decent amount of gender diversity among the animals of the meadow. Plus, whereas in the book making both hares male feels like an assumption about animals, in the show it reads differently. Big Nutbrown Hare is a progressive single father who just wants the best for his son, and who is more than willing to be emotional and talk about love at the end of each and every episode. He’s basically a parenting hero.
My kid was instantly hooked. He was already very interested in bunnies, but Little Brown Hay-er was somehow more appealing than any floppy eared critter he had ever seen. We had to play Brown Hay-er constantly for weeks, in endless games of make-believe in which he would sternly instruct me.
“You,” he would say, pointing at my chest, “you, dad hay-er.”
Reluctantly, I got the book back out. And you know what? In the time I spent away from it, time while my son was growing bigger and learning to walk and talk, something changed. Either the book changed or I did, because now when Big Nutbrown Hare says “I love you to the moon … and back” I don’t get angry.
Instead, I find my eyes getting wet. He’s just a parent assuring his baby that no matter what, a parent’s love is bigger than everything. It is a love big enough to always keep you safe, to be there when you need it, to always have your back no matter what. As far as you reach to try to describe it, you will never be able to reach the ends of it, because it goes on forever.
I love that right up to the moon … and back.
Find it on Amazon Prime, here. (And not because they’ve paid us to tell you that.)

Seven Cost-Free Ways to Foster School Readiness

Here are seven ways to nourish childhood and, at the same time, help your child be ready for school.

In our hurry-up, competitive world, it’s no longer left to the Six-Million-Dollar Man to be better, faster, and stronger. We’re pressured to expect the same from our young children before they’ve even entered kindergarten.

In interviews with teachers in both public and private schools, a consensus emerged about school readiness. Summarized by Lisa Marshall, “In my class, I had children who came to school already reading but were otherwise entirely unprepared. Other children, who had prepared by climbing trees, listening to stories, engaging in free play, and doing chores were socially, emotionally, and intellectually ripe for every kind of learning.”

The bottom line: take a deep breath and pause, worry less about worksheets and flash cards, and focus more on your children’s childhood. Children do childhood really well when we let them, and – bonus –a healthy childhood is more than enough to prepare them for school. Here are seven ways to nourish childhood and, at the same time, help your child be ready for school:

1 | Surround your child with stories and language

“Children who have been surrounded by stories at young ages are better readers and writers. Having an internal and deep understanding of ‘narrative’ makes a huge difference in developing literacy,” notes Theresa Souchet.

Stories are seeds: of imagination, of play, of empathy. Tell stories. Tell the same one over and over until your child can say it with you. Read stories. Sing to and with your child. Recite nursery rhymes and snippets of poems – or whole ones, if you can remember them. Your child doesn’t need to be able to make absolute sense of a poem to benefit from the language and rhythm.

2 | Encourage imaginative play

“The research on play is unequivocal: it is the essential work of childhood. Nothing else serves children’s development better. In my classroom, children with the richest experience of play, of nature, of household chores, were the best prepared to take on every kind of learning challenge,” states Lisa Marshall.

Play lays the groundwork for later learning. The child’s body and mind are engaged in so many different ways: sorting, constructing and de-constructing, imagining scenarios and their outcomes, experimenting, developing fine- and gross-motor control, noticing patterns, succeeding and failing and trying again and giving up, cooperating and fighting…the list is endless.

Provide access to open-ended toys, sticks, rocks, boxes, pieces of fabric, and the like. These objects can turn into anything or everything with a dash of imagination.

3 | Provide time in nature

“One of the most important issues facing young children is their increasing levels of stress and anxiety. Many children have a hard time coping with the demands of school. Children who have a more balanced lifestyle, one that includes play and time outdoors, seem much happier and better adjusted. If I could make one recommendation to parents it would be to encourage their children to unplug and go outside,” explains Mary Jo Wood.

Unstructured time outside in nature is a tonic for the child’s soul. It also instills a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, which will serve well as a platform for a lifetime of learning. Let your child experience the forces of nature: the implacable weight of earth, the power of fire, the persistence of water, and the ever-changing wind.

4 | Establish family rhythm

“A home filled with routine provides a sense of predictability that reduces stress on the young growing body and mind. This prepares an inner foundation upon which intellectual development can begin. A school-aged child who enters the classroom from a home that is filled with a reliable rhythm has typically developed the fundamental inner order for success in academic learning,” states Regina Selig Mason.

In addition to a regular schedule of events, routines can be especially helpful during those tricky transitional times of the day: waking and sleeping, meal times, leaving the house, and returning home again. 

5 | Invite your child into the world of chores

“When I taught in a small farm community, the children were more responsible and self-disciplined. I attribute this to a life of rhythm and chores, a life circumstance that required they participate in the daily functioning of their homes. They carried this sense of responsibility into the classroom,” notes Theresa Souchet.

Young children don’t need assigned chores (those are more appropriate around age six or seven), but they do need to be around while you are engaged in chores, and they need you to invite them into that world of work. Let them join you in cooking, cleaning, fixing, and maintaining. Let them see you enjoying those things so they can imitate your actions and your attitude.

The sense of accomplishment and belonging that children derive from doing real work together is essential to their sense of being worthy and able to contribute to the world.

6 | Model self-discipline and good manners

“Parents have to be ever vigilant of their behavior and demeanor in front of children, who respond immediately to the models in front of them, mimicking positive and negative behaviors. When parents and teachers are self-disciplined, children feel safe and comfortable, an important prerequisite for learning,” explains Theresa Souchet.

Harness the power of imitation, which is at its strongest in the young child. They will do what you do. They will also say what you say. Make sure you are worthy of their imitation!

7 | Minimize choices

“When a young child is given too much freedom of choice in areas that are better decided by adults, he has been forced to make sense of complexities beyond his capacity for understanding, which is overwhelming and confusing,” Regina Selig Mason notes.

Reduce the number of choices you offer to your young kids. Let your children experience the reassuring certainty of living in a world in which caring, experienced adults model good decision-making. Let them see that you know how the world works and that you have learned how to navigate through life. This will inspire them to learn from you, from others, and, ultimately, from their own experience.

When You and Your Spouse Disagree About How to Raise the Kids

The first year or two was mine to call the shot. But as they became toddlers, I had to cede control.

In the beginning, I didn’t realize how different the parenting styles of my husband and I were. We wanted to imbue our children with the same values (kindness, respect for others, enthusiasm for learning) and had the same goals (getting them out of the house and independent enough to schedule their own doctor’s appointments by the time they graduate).

When your children are babies, let’s face it, there’s not a lot of actual parenting that goes on. Aside from loving them unconditionally, at that stage parenting is mostly care-taking: changing diapers, wiping runny noses, and the like. Yet, at that point, we still had the same values (discussing how our children were the cutest on earth) and goals (getting them to sleep for more than two hours at a time).

The first year or two, we rarely disagreed. We had the same opinions on baby-wearing (great for naps), breastfeeding (free food), and vaccines (as many as advisable, as soon as possible). But as our children grew from babies to toddlers, things began to change.

I sewed the boys handmade stuffed animals. He brought home Hot Wheels with names like “Blade Raider” emblazoned on the sides. I read them “Peter Rabbit.” He introduced them to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When their wrists stretched past their sleeves this fall, we both bought them new shirts. Mine had pictures of polar bears and foxes on them. His were football jerseys.

I’ll give you one guess which ones they preferred.

When I was discussing the idea for this article with my husband (after all, it’s a good idea to check in before writing publicly about disagreeing with your spouse’s parenting style), I tried to give him examples of how we differed.

“You know, things like how I cook them oatmeal for breakfast and you give them Pop-Tarts.”

“But they like Pop-Tarts!” He retorted.

Therein lay the problem. The first year or two was mine to call the shots. I chose who I saw for my pregnancy (midwife), what kind of births to have (one with an epidural, two without), and what baby food to feed them (homemade). But as they became toddlers, I had to cede control.

The kids were growing up. My husband introduced them to baseball, soccer, and basketball. Having been a hopeless athlete as a kid, I preferred our backyard time to be unstructured play. Whereas I had wanted to minimize brand influences to encourage their own creativity, my husband was excited to bring them into the world of Superman and Wonder Woman. While I tried to minimize screen-time (or at least I told myself I did), he bonded with them over Mario Kart.

(“It’s not Mario Kart,” he will tell me upon reading this article. “I don’t know the names of any other video games,” I’ll reply).

The simple, natural childhood I pictured for my children was shifting. The one where they sat peacefully on the floor playing with wooden blocks and listening to indie kids’ music was fading away. The one where they jumped off the couch yelling, “Cowabunga, dude!” was becoming a reality.

(“You’re the one who lets them jump off the couch, not me,” my husband will point out. “I’m trying to illustrate a point,” I’ll say. “Besides, where do you think they got the idea?”)

I couldn’t put my finger on what I found so annoying about this situation. Was I worried about losing my sweet and innocent boys? Hurt that they always seemed to prefer their dad’s interests over mine? Did I truly feel my way was better?

After all, had I been parenting 50 or even 30 years ago, I would’ve had complete say over what my kids wore, ate, and read. He would’ve been in his office, oblivious to what was going on with the kids. They would’ve been completely under my domain, and shouldering that burden alone would have frustrated me even more than having to share it.

Besides, his way isn’t really so objectionable. Sports provided some structure to the boys’ boundless energy. Their love of superheroes gave us the opportunity to discuss the importance of standing up for those who need help. The more I thought about it, the more I realized we could instill the same values and achieve the same goals whether we went with my naturalistic approach or my husband’s more conventional one. Sometimes I even wondered if I truly thought my way was better, or if I simply wanted to fit in with the parenting trends of the moment.

At the end of the day, I think my frustrations might be more centered on them preferring their dad’s world over my own. Every parent dreams of passing on their interests to their child. To see those interests passed over can sting a bit. In all honesty, the more they turn out to be like their dad, the happier I am. He’s a wonderful person and, as far as I’m concerned, the more like him they are, the better.

(“Yeah, I don’t care if you write about that,” he told me. “Just as long as you really emphasize that last part,” he said smiling.)

In the end, we can’t control who our children will become. In a year or two when they enter school, they’ll have a whole new world of influences. All we can do is point them in the direction we want them to go and hope that the path they inevitably choose instead is still a good one.

7 Signs You're Parenting Right According to a Clinical Psychologist

In my work as a clinical psychologist, there are seven signs I see that tell me a child has an awesome parent.

Parents often worry that they are failing their kids. Modern parents hold themselves to higher standards as we guide our children to adulthood. It’s easy to get caught in a comparison trap with other parents or look for outwardly measurable signs of our success.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, there are seven signs I see that tell me a child has an awesome parent.

The seven signs of being an awesome parent

1 | Your child displays a range of emotions in front of you

Sometimes the timing of our child’s big emotions is difficult. We may not wish to see as much of the big emotions as we do, but your child’s ability to express anger, sadness, or fear in front of you is a good sign that she feels emotionally safe with you.
It worries me greatly when children hide their feelings from their parents. Often, this is a sign of big problems in the parent-child relationship. Avoid shutting down or distracting your child out of her feelings. Instead, pay attention and show appreciation for them.
“I can see from how you’re kicking the wall that you’re very angry. And you’re telling me this is because your sister won’t let you play.” This tells your child you can handle her feelings and you understand her perspective.

2 | Your child comes to you when hurt or facing a problem

I know that a parent is doing an awesome job when their child comes to them as a first port of call for their problems. This means you have provided a secure base that your child can return to when he needs help.
A good way to encourage this is to welcome your child with open arms and listen to his problems, even if small or the problem seems petty to you. This sets up the relationship to be open to communication about things that are difficult in your child’s life.

3 | Your child can discuss thoughts and feelings without fearing your reaction

This is a positive sign of an accepting, open, and flexible parent-child relationship. Some parents  unwittingly restrict communication with their child through their behavior, such as over-reacting to thoughts or feelings they don’t like or those that question their behavior as a parent.
Other parents appear so fragile to their children that they don’t want to burden their parent with their thoughts and feelings. I get concerned when parents say, “My child is my rock.” Parents are the rocks; children should never be their parent’s rock.
You can support this by accepting your child’s thoughts and feelings without making it be about who you are. If you need additional support for your feelings, do that with another adult – not with your child.

4 | Your feedback is non-critical and non-labeling

Awesome parents give non-critical feedback about behavior and avoid labels such as ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘greedy’, and ‘lazy’.
If your child eats all the chocolate biscuits before anyone else has a chance to share them, an awesome parent focuses on the behavior: “You ate all the biscuits without sharing. It is important in our home that you share with your siblings. How do you think you could make this up to your family?”
This is very different from saying, “You greedy girl. Go to your room.”

5 | You encourage your child to pursue interests and talents

Pursuing interests and talents helps children feel a sense of mastery and achievement. It can positively engage children through the teen and young adult years, teaching persistence and helping protect against risk-taking behavior. It’s a wonderful thing to excel at something you love.
Sometimes, I see parents directing children’s interests to fulfil unmet dreams and needs of their own. When you force a child to excel for your own reasons, all sorts of things can go wrong, even when they look like they’re going right. This can set children up for feeling like a failure, feeling intense levels of pressure, and feeling controlled.
Also, if they fail and a narcissist parent’s ambition is behind it, children wear the burden of disappointing their parent on top of their own disappointment.

6 | You create boundaries on behavior to keep your child safe

Awesome parents guide their child’s behavior by setting considered boundaries and limits. Children without limits and boundaries often end up in a lot of trouble or lost.
Boundaries help children feel loved and valued, even if they don’t like the boundaries some of the time. Some examples of helpful limits include a bedtime routine, respectful language towards family members, and not permitting teens to attend parties where alcohol is supplied.

7 | You repair your mistakes

Being able to repair relationship ruptures with your child is a sign of being an awesome parent. If you yell, over-react, or call your child a name, it is important to repair that rupture with your child.
Talking with your child about how you wished you had handled the situation can help. Explaining that your big feelings got in the way of you being able to respond in the way you should have also helps.
Although it’s tempting to look for signs of successful parenting, such as reading levels, whether they eat the “right foods,” or win on the football field, successful parenting is about providing a secure base for your child. This creates a place from which your child can thrive. It consists of an ongoing lifelong relationship not contingent on external results, but rather on love, respect, and connection.
That’s what being an awesome parent all is about.

In Defense of Describing Your Kid’s Age in Months Until College (Or at Least Preschool)

The stages of development don’t care about calendar years. They happen in quick succession, and some things change every single day.

I keep thinking about something I saw on facebook awhile back. A mom friend shared something precocious her daughter had done and got the immediate “Oh, how cute, how old is she now?” response.
“She’s 26 months.”
“Oh! I thought she was two…”
On the one hand, it was hilarious. A little quick math can clear up the confusion easily enough and confirm that a 26-month-old child is, in fact, two years old (two years and two months, to be exact). But it also got me thinking.
Ever since my child was a newborn in my arms, I have run into the idea again and again that the way parents describe their children’s ages is somehow annoying and unnecessary. People ask how old a baby or toddler is and then complain about the answer coming in months (or even weeks).
Why do parents refuse to talk like normal people? Do parents consider their offspring so special that everyone needs to know exactly how many days, hours, and minutes, since their birth? Do they want to force everyone else to do math? What’s wrong with “he’s one” or “she’s two?” Are parents just plain being mean? Even my own wife preferred to call our toddler “almost two” when he was 23 months.
The consensus among non-parents (and some parents, too) seems to be that stating a child’s age in months is overly precious, utterly ridiculous, and hard to understand. It would seem that after six months, our kids’ ages can only appropriately be measured in half-years, but preferably only in years.
Excuse me, but I have learned a few things in the last 31 months of my life (oh yeah, I went there), and those people are wrong.
Go ahead, talk about your child’s age in months. Measure their time on this earth in months for the next 16 years for all I care. Everyone has a calculator in their pocket nowadays, so if people don’t like it, they can easily divide by 12 to reach a more palatable number.
Because look, you are the parent, and you know very well how precious every grouping of 30 or 31 days truly is. I don’t only mean that sentimentally. Practically, young children do not grow up birthday to birthday. They change more quickly than that.
I have been hearing about “the terrible twos” since I was two, but the truth is that a two-year-old is not a thing. On my kid’s second birthday, he was one kind of child, at one point in his development. Three months later, he was someone almost entirely different.
The stages of development don’t care about calendar years. They happen in quick succession, and some things change every single day. A 25-month-old child has very little in common with a 34-month-old child, even though there are plenty of people who would like you to pretend they’re the same age.
While it is true that differences of a few months do lessen with age, they don’t exactly just go away, either. In his book, “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell outlined a phenomena that I expect parents have been aware of for a very long time. Children who start school at a later age than their peers, even when everyone in the class is within one year of age, have an advantage.
So, a kindergartener who’s a little closer to six has had more time to master skills, develop mentally and emotionally, and just plain get bigger than a child who is only five years and one month. (That’s 61 months, in case you are curious.)
So please, parents of toddlers, I implore you, stop yielding to the pressure to measure your kids only in rotations of earth around sun. We know our kids. We know that 27 months is sometimes the more accurate thing to say. When people ask other questions, they expect accuracy. When they ask how old our children are, let’s also give them accuracy.
Plus, if the other person also happens to be a toddler parent, you might get a wistful “Oh, 27! I remember 27. That was a sweet month.”

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.

My Kid Has a Favorite and It’s Not Me

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

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

Could Daycare Surveillance Actually Be a Bad Thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing the Chess Game of Shorts in Winter

Harry, my four-year-old, is into fashion.

This morning, he emerged from his bedroom wearing a red bandana, a pair of soccer shorts, and a short-sleeved T-shirt that read THIS KID RULES. When he asked me if he looked cool, and if his brand name shorts made him look like a real soccer player, I said:
“Harry, the man makes the clothes. Not the other way around.”
He responded by falling down on the living room floor, and between comically loud guffaws, he said, “Silly Daddy, kids don’t make clothes! And I’m not a man!”
With his red bandana tied neatly at the back of his head, he looked like a miniature Bruce Springsteen coming back from a trip to the gym. I laughed and he laughed, and then I asked him to go put on long pants and a jacket so we could go to the park.
In a flash, he was upright and stomping his feet at me. “No, you can’t make me wear pants! I like shorts!” He crossed his arms. He looked at me as if I’d just threatened to take away every toy in his room and burn them on the lawn.
As a stalling tactic, I sipped my English Breakfast and looked out the window. Frost covered our cars in the driveway. Bundled up in a parka, gloves, and winter boots, my neighbor (originally from Wisconsin) was walking his dog on the sidewalk, his breath escaping in thick, white plumes.
“It’s winter, Harry,” I said. “You can’t wear shorts until spring.”
He gritted his teeth. He balled up his fists. He growled at me like a hungry lion. “You can’t make me do anything!”
I resisted the urge to lecture him, a habit I’ve been trying to break ever since I stopped being an English professor and became a stay-at-home dad. Instead, I watched my only son storm into his bedroom and slam the door behind him.
I finished my tea. I waited until my heart beat slowed, and then I knocked on his door.
“Harry, may I come in?”
No answer.
I knocked a second time.
“Fine,” he said, “you can come in.”
Inside, I found him laying face first on the rug, his red bandana now tied around his wrist.
“I’m not going to take off my shorts, Daddy.” His tone was matter-of-fact rather than angry.
I stepped farther into the room, removed a pair of thick sweatpants from his dresser, and tossed them on the ground beside him.
“Sit up,” I said. “I’ll show you something.”
He didn’t move.
“Please,” I said pulling out my iPhone. “I think you’ll like it.”
Sighing heavily, he sat up, and I showed him a video of Harry Kane, my son’s and my favorite professional soccer player, practicing his dribbling skills on a snowy field in London. “You see how Harry Kane is wearing sweatpants with his shorts over the top? You see how Harry Kane is wearing a cool soccer jacket?”
My son smiled. He asked to see the video three more times. When he’d had enough, he gave me back my phone, and I asked him if he was ready to get dressed.
Without responding, he removed his shorts, revealing a pair of Lego Batman underwear. He put one leg into the sweatpants, and then stopped and looked at me.
“I’m doing this for me,” he said. “Not for Harry Kane.”
I nodded.
He put on the sweatpants with shorts over the top and then added a jacket. He asked me to retie his red bandana around his head, which I did.
“I’m ready to go to the park,” he said.
“First, you need to eat breakfast,” I said. “No candy or marshmallows, either.”
My son then gently shoved me out into the hallway. “I’ve got a lot of things on my mind,” he said, shutting and locking the door behind him.