Mister Rogers on Distracted Daycare: What He Would Say

Mister Rogers probably would have had plenty to say about distracted daycare.  We know that, because in 1983, a 30-minute special entitled “Mister Rogers Talks with Parents about Daycare,” was broadcast on U.S. national television. Hosted by none other than Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, the program advised parents on topics germane to the placement of children in daycare, including

1) managing separation anxiety,

2) transitioning from home life to the daycare environment, and

3) choosing a daycare that works best for parents and child.

Unfortunately, Mister Rogers’ daycare special was filmed prior to the advent of mobile internet technology. So, it did not broach the subject of distracted caregiving and its dangerous consequences for child wellbeing.

If the show were aired today, it would need to address the risks of entrusting the health and safety of children to daycare workers who regularly check their portable internet-enabled devices to the point of distraction.

In the present article I define the problem of distracted daycare, explain its ramifications for child welfare and imagine a similar contemporary television show, “Mister Rogers Talks with Parents about Distracted Daycare.” In this fictional show, Mister Rogers would offer advice to parents concerning how to protect their children against the threat posed by distracted daycare workers.

What Is Distracted Daycare?

‘Distracted daycare’ indicates those distracted caregiving behaviors displayed by workers in modern daycare businesses, behaviors that potentially endanger the health and safety of the same children these workers are paid to educate, care for and protect. It can also indicate a daycare business where distracted behaviors are rampant among the caregiving staff.

Distracted daycare and distracted parenting are manifestations of a more general phenomenon: distracted caregiving. So, let’s start by defining that term.

Distracted caregiving is a form of escapism. With the aid of a smartphone, tablet or other internet-enabled device, caregivers flee to social media sites in order to escape the daily grind of household chores and the banal duties of child rearing. The receipt of push-notices (or pings) immediately draws the caregiver’s attention away from the child’s needs and towards a virtual world of titillating adult experience.

Surge In Distracted Caregiving

The past ten years have witnessed a surge in distracted caregiving and studies documenting the phenomenon:

  • In a Boston Medical Center study,caregivers were observed interacting with children while dining at restaurants. Of 55 caregivers, 40 were distracted by their portable devices to such an extent that, according to the researchers, their “primary engagement was with the device rather than the child.”
  • Another study found that regular distraction undermines a caregiver’s ability to properly monitor children’s activities, provide educational instruction or prevent accidents that lead to physical injury.
  • A third study links unintended physical injury to children with poor caregiver supervision or caregivers with high-risk personality traits.

Maximizing Profit

In today’s predominantly private daycare ecosystem, the problem of distracted caregiving is magnified. In order to maximize profit, childcare businesses employ low-paid, contingent workers from the most “wired” generations. These daycare employees, often called “teachers” or “teacher’s assistants,” typically feel:

1) Resentful towards daycare owners and clients for their low wages;

2) Entitled to use internet-enabled devices during work hours even if there is a policy against it;

3) Blameless for any accidents that could have been prevented had they not been distracted; and

4) Convinced that they should protect and be protected by fellow daycare workers when accused of distracted caregiving, even if the coverup involves lying or other forms of deceit (what I call “distracted daycare workers’ omerta”).

How Does Distracted Caregiving Harm The Child?

Distracted caregiving in private daycares is a pressing child welfare issue. The harms children suffer as a result of distracted caregiving are very real. They can be divided into three categories: physical, cognitive and emotional.

Physical Injury

The most obvious harm children suffer as a result of distracted caregiving is physical injury. Between 2000 and 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission compiled statistical data that support the claim that caregiver inattention causes physical harm to children:

1) Playground injuries involving children less than 5 years old spiked 17%

2) Nursery accidents went up 31%

3) Swimming pool injuries jumped 36%

However, in specific cases, it proves difficult to assign blame for these injuries. Distracted caregivers will typically minimize or deny the distraction, refusing to acknowledge that the child’s injury could have been prevented if but for the distracted behavior.

According to Wally Ghurabi, the director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center, “Folks are not going to admit the fact that—look I was doing this [e.g. texting or posting on social media], and that’s why … [the] kid fell off [the playground equipment] and broke his arm.”

Cognitive Damage

Distracted caregiving can also undermine children’s cognitive development, resulting in postponed speech acquisition, social-emotional delays and, in extreme cases, the onset of psychopathological disorders. 90% of brain development occurs in a child’s first three years of life. Neglecting to interact with the child during these formative years can cause lasting cognitive damage. Children can, as a result, develop an array of pathologies that survive into adulthood, including an aversion to healthy relationships, anti-social behavior, and several psychopathological disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder.

Emotional Harm

A third harm distracted caregivers inflict upon children is emotional trauma. In the Boston Medical Center study of caregivers dining with children, researchers observed regularities in the caregivers’ distracted behavior and the child’s emotional reactions. When the child attempted to gain the caregiver’s attention, the most common caregiver reaction was to reject the child’s intervention and express irritation.

These negative and insensitive interactions between caregivers and children can produce deleterious long-term effects on a child’s emotional well-being. One study finds that a lack of attentive care in the first three years of a child’s life makes the child more prone to emotional disorders, especially depression, in their adolescent years. Distracted caregiving can effectively stunt a child’s capacity to develop healthy emotional relationships with others.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that distracted caregiving endangers children physically, cognitively and emotionally, distracted daycare is nevertheless an under-reported child welfare issue. Many childcare businesses seek to deny, obfuscate and cover up incidents involving harm to children in their care. Likewise, due to under-reporting, most state and county agencies tasked to regulate private daycares have yet to realize the full magnitude of the problem.

Mister Rogers Talks With Parents About Distracted Daycare

Mr. Rogers on distracted daycare
What would Mr. Rogers have said about distracted daycare?

Imagine a contemporary television special entitled “Mister Rogers Talks with Parents about Distracted Daycare.” What advice might Mister Rogers offer parents concerned about the dangers of distracted daycare?

Selecting A Daycare

While no daycare is perfect, parents should select a childcare facility that minimizes the dangers distracted daycare workers pose to their children’s safety. In Mister Rogers’ special, he took a tour of several daycares, speaking to owners, directors and workers.

Four things that parents should look for are (1) an open-door policy, (2) a no-internet-enabled-devices-during-work-hours policy, (3) a camera surveillance network in all rooms and areas (including the playground) where children stay (not including restrooms) and (4) public complaints and notices.

Open-Door Policy

  • Open-door policy. The daycare that parents eventually select should have an open-door policy. With such a policy, parents can show up to the daycare at any time unannounced to observe daycare activities and worker behaviors (for an example see Toddler Town Chicago’s Open Door Parental Policy). Parent coach and author of The Nanny Whisperer, Tammy Gold, also recommends intensive parental monitoring of “babysitters, daycare workers or nannies [who] are on their smartphones, texting, emailing and otherwise distracted.” However, not all daycare businesses will open the doors for parents to make surprise inspections, citing the parent’s presence as a disruption to the flow of student activities.

No Internet-Enabled Devices

  • No-internet-enabled-devices-during-work-hours policy. The daycare should also have human resources policy forbidding the use of internet-enabled devices by workers during operating hours (for an example, see Kinder House Day Care Technology Policy). While some daycares have a no-portable-device-in-the-classrooms policy, others adopt a more laissez-faire approach, only banning recordings of children that daycare workers might post to social media sites. The daycare owner and/or director should be able to produce the no-internet-enabled-devices-during-work-hours policy on demand, explain how it is enforced and report how many violations of the policy have occurred in the past year.

Camera Surveillance

  • Camera surveillance network. Ideally, the daycare should have cameras recording all activities in the child areas during working hours. However, most daycare businesses still do not accommodate the request for camera recordings on the grounds of employee privacy. The reason for this is that direct surveillance of daycare businesses makes it difficult for these businesses to attract and retain low-paid daycare workers. Such workers may see the easy access to their portable devices as a trade-off for low wages. Even where there is camera surveillance, many employees know the blind spots of these cameras, the places where they can check internet-enabled devices without fear of detection.

Public Complaints And Notices

4) Public complaints and notices. At the very least, parents should contact the public agency (usually state or county) that regulates private daycares and ask how many complaints and notices the daycare has received in the previous 12 months. If there are many, or if they are serious, give that daycare a miss.

Demanding Accountability

Parents should hold daycare workers, directors and owners to account for any harms to their children that they believe resulted from daycare workers’ distracted behavior. A significant obstacle to making these allegations stick is the inability of parents to easily gather evidence that the worker’s distracted behavior contributed to the harm or that the harm could have been prevented if the worker were not distracted.

In most U.S. states, daycare businesses must complete an incident report and inform the parents when a child is physically harmed on daycare premises. Claims that repeated injuries were self-inflicted is a possible warning sign that the harms were the result of daycare workers’ distracted behavior.

If the child is pre-verbal (can’t yet speak), it is difficult to determine the truth of these claims. Parents should interview the director and the worker to determine the exact circumstances under which the injuries occurred. Lodging a complaint against the daycare with the state or county agency that regulates private daycare businesses is always an option.

Communication is also essential. Parents should talk to other parents about the problem. Sharing incident reports allows them to detect patterns of distracted behavior among specific daycare workers. Parents need not be ashamed to withdraw the child from the daycare if they suspect that it is a site where distracted behaviour is rife among the caregiving staff.

Last Resort – Suing The Daycare

Although no parent plans to sue their child’s daycare, in cases where a worker’s distracted behavior causes severe injury to a child, filing a lawsuit is a perfectly reasonable response. It can also be employed as a last resort, in case satisfaction cannot be had through less formal channels.

Following the example of Mister Rogers, it helps to consult experts on technical matters.The Injury Claim Coach is a good resource. Here, legal experts explain that most daycares require parents to sign waivers of legal liability. The waivers, however, are not an adequate defense in a court of law. Indeed, they are commonly struck down by courts as contrary to public policy.

Distracted Daycare: A Story

Injury Claim Coach offers an example of a child injured by a daycare worker because of “lack of supervision” and distracted behavior (cell phone use). In the example, 12 three-year-olds were left alone as the caregiver spoke on her cellphone. While the caregiver was distracted by her phone conversation, one of her charges repeatedly bit a second child on his back:

Later that evening, when the child’s mother was bathing him, she noticed several deep bite marks on his back. The mother applied an antibiotic to the wounds and bandaged them. The next morning, the child had a high fever. The emergency room physician diagnosed the child with a staph infection likely caused by the bite marks.

The parent alleged in court that the daycare was negligent and breached its duty of care to protect her child. The court agreed and ruled the daycare center was negligent. The court said the teacher breached her duty by leaving the children alone. “But for” the teacher’s actions, the child might not have the infection.

Satisfying Legal Standards

The standard legal elements that must be satisfied for a distracted daycare injury claim (civil suit for negligence) to be successful include:

1) The daycare center shoulders a duty of care (obligation) to prevent the child from suffering undue harm

2) The daycare center breached (violated) its duty of care

3) The child’s injuries were directly and proximately caused by the breach;

4) The daycare staff or management could foresee the injury

5) The nature and value of the child’s injuries must be proven.

The major roadblock for parents alleging that the children’s injuries were caused by a daycare worker’s distracted behavior is satisfying the threshold of proof required by a court of law (usually preponderance of evidence). Evidence that distraction contributed to the harm — in other words, “but for” the distraction the harm would not have ensued — is often difficult for parents to gather and easy for daycare owners, directors, and workers to hide.

Surveillance Cameras

Since parents wish to avoid sending their children to distracted daycares, naming and shaming these private businesses is a valid option. Another option is petitioning state and local governments to actively police distracted behavior in private daycares by, for instance, requiring surveillance cameras.

Keeping daycare workers, directors, and owners accountable for distracted behaviors and the harms they cause to children is of utmost importance to society at large. Harming children physically, cognitively and emotionally has terrible long-term social costs, from delinquency to addiction to incarceration.

Communities ought to honestly address the problem of distracted daycare, not minimize, deny, and cover it up. Parents, lawmakers and child welfare professionals should regularly broach the issue with the daycare business community. In the end, as Mister Rogers would remind us, open discussion of the problem and cooperative efforts to resolve it will make us all better neighbors!

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Gifted (Part I)

You suspect your child is gifted. Actually, you pretty much know your child is gifted. You know it from observing your child. And you know it from all those articles you’ve found with their bulleted lists of gifted children behaviors—you’ve mentally ticked off most of the items.

So okay, now that you know, what should you do?

Dr. Shannon W. Bellezza of Triangle Behavioral and Educational Solutions, suggests that parents find out how schools in their area test for giftedness. “Some schools do universal screening around 3rd grade to see which children may be gifted. Sometimes there are options for parents or teachers to nominate children for testing to qualify for acceleration in certain subjects. Parents should find out how their school screens for giftedness and follow through with the appropriate procedures.”

Testing For Giftedness

Can’t wait that long? You don’t have to, if you don’t mind paying out of pocket. “Many private psychologists offer IQ tests for children as young as 3-4 years-old, including the Stanford-Binet and the WPPSI tests,” says Alina Adams, a school consultant and author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten.

Adams cautions that there are many variables to these tests, which means the results will vary, too. “An important thing to remember is that the tests are different, and it’s entirely possible for a child to test gifted on one, but not on another. Also very few IQ tests are reliable before the ages of 10-12, so it’s possible your child will test gifted one year, but not the next,” says Adams.

Before having children tested, parents should consider that “gifted” means different things to different people, says Parenting and Family Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz. “At times parents with reasonably bright kids latch on to the label ‘gifted’ without actually getting confirmation by a teacher or psychologist. There is no universally recognized standard for gifted. School districts will set criteria for admission into a gifted/talented program but again it is the school’s arbitrary standard rather than a definition based on research.”

Fostering The Gift

Some parents don’t bother with confirmation. Tobi Kosanke, for example. She and her husband just assumed their 13-year-old daughter girl was gifted and ran with it: did what they could to foster their child’s development. “We nourished her intellect as a baby and toddler with toys, music, and books.”

“Gifted,” by the way, is not the same as “genius.” Alina Adams points out that unlike the lack of universal school standards for giftedness, there are actual accepted distinctions that separate those in the category “genius” from the merely “gifted.” “Giftedness can be anything from the top 90th percentile, to the top 95th or 97th. Genius is the 99.99 the percentile. The needs of the two groups are different.”

“Those with IQs between 125 to 145 can basically handle anything they decide to do. Those with IQs of 145 plus often have a harder time making themselves understood, which can get in the way of achievement. There is also the concept of multi-potentiality. When people are good at most anything they try, it becomes harder to narrow down exactly what they want to do. So they end up doing nothing, like the metaphor of Buridan’s ass,” says Adams.

Gifted=Special Needs??

Laurie Endicott Thomas, author of Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free, has a different way of looking at IQ. She thinks that children on either end of the IQ spectrum should be thought of and treated as special needs children. “Keep in mind that a gifted child’s IQ is at least 30 points above the average. You would not dream of putting a child with an average IQ (100) in a classroom for mentally retarded children (IQ of 70). Yet gifted children are expected to thrive in a classroom that is geared to children whose IQ is 30 points below theirs. Not only will the gifted children be miserable from boredom, they will be wasting their time and developing bad study habits. (There’s no need to take notes if you know that the teacher is going to repeat the same boring thing 10 times!)”

Here Adams disagrees. “It really depends on the child. Some children who have tested gifted are so used to being the smartest kid in the room, the one that everyone fusses over and praises, that being put in a situation where everyone else is as smart—or even smarter—than they are, is a horrible experience. Some kids shut down completely, and become depressed. If their entire self-image is based on being the best, learning that there are others like them can be devastating.

“Another problem with gifted programs,” says Adams, “is that most public school-based ones operate on the assumption that all gifted children are gifted at the same things in the same way on the same schedule. The whole point of being gifted is that you are uniquely talented in a particular area. I’ve worked with families where their extremely verbal child struggled in advanced math, while other children with incredible math skills floundered in advanced English classes where their very literal-minded approach made parsing the nuances of texts nearly impossible.

Adams gives the personal example of her gifted son, who, when faced with Hemingway’s iconic six-word short story, For sale: baby shoes, never worn, insisted that there simply weren’t enough facts available to draw a definitive conclusion. “Sure, you could assume the baby died. But you could also assume it was an ad from a baby shoe factory that was closing down.”

Educational Needs

Horowitz has a more general view of gifted programs versus mainstreaming gifted children. “The best advice for a parent is to make sure that their child’s individual educational needs are being met and the parents should arrange a conference with the teacher or teachers early in the school year to make sure this is occurring. If the teacher can meet the child’s needs in the regular classroom than there is no need for an additional program,” says Horowitz, adding this caveat: “If, however, the school has identified a child as eligible for a gifted program, I believe the parents should take advantage of the offering.”

Whether or not to mainstream your gifted child is likely to be determined, says Bellezza, by school policy and availability of resources. Bellezza details the various types of school instruction that might be available to a gifted student depending on the school. “Pull-out enrichment (when the child is removed from the classroom for specialized instruction), push-in enrichment (when the child remains in the regular classroom and is given specialized instruction via differentiation by the classroom teacher or from another teacher who comes to the classroom), or some combination are usually offered by schools.”

William Schlitz of Keller, Texas, and his wife, Dr. Myiesha Taylor, decided to bypass the school system altogether. “My wife and I have homeschooled our 3 children here in Texas. We did not make the decision for religious or conservative political reasons. The decision was made to specifically address the gifted status of our two oldest children and tailor their education to create an academic environment that allowed them to thrive. Part of that was our desire to create a secure environment where our kids felt safe, free from bias, and could focus on their education. Like many who start this process we were concerned if our decision would hurt our children’s future (college?). But in reality it served as a launching point for all of them to thrive.

Education Disinterest

Schlitz’s and Taylor’s eldest daughter, Haley Taylor Schlitz, is today a 15-year-old senior at Texas Woman’s University. “Haley made the jump to homeschool when we became concerned about her academic progress at a local middle school. It was Haley’s growing disinterest with her education that led us to have her formally tested for giftedness. Her tests demonstrated a very highly gifted person.”

Haley went on to become a Davidson Young Scholar, and a member of both MENSA and Intertel, graduating homeschool high school at age 13. The young woman has been on the Dean’s List of TWU for the past two years with a GPA of 3.7. Haley will have her BS degree in May 2019, when she will be 16 years-old, and plans on attending law school starting the following Fall semester. Another son is about to follow in Haley’s footsteps. Ian, at 12, has just passed the entrance exam at a local community college.

Having taken the journey of homeschooling her children, Myiesha Taylor has developed insight into gifted education processes around the United States, and has served as a resource for families traveling a similar path. To this end, Taylor created a Facebook group, Brilliant In Color, that helps families of color discuss how to navigate giftedness for their children.

Testing, confirmation of giftedness, and education aside, some parents wonder what being gifted will mean for their child’s emotional makeup. Will being gifted mark a child as different? Do gifted children have difficulty finding and making friends, and cultivating relationships? Will a gifted child, of necessity, always be lonely? How will being gifted affect the child’s world view?

Social Skills

“Gifted children are prone to problems with loneliness and depression. Often, the gifted children themselves are blamed for having ‘poor social skills.’ Yet the real problem is that children generally develop real friendships only with other children whose IQ is within 15 points of theirs.

“If your child’s IQ is 100, then 68% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ As a result, your child is likely to have lots and lots of (rather dim-witted) friends. But if your child’s IQ is 140, less than 2% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ You may need to get involved in some organization for the gifted in order for your child to find children whom they can befriend,” says Endicott Thomas, who suggests parents of gifted children visit the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website.

Endicott Thomas describes the emotional downside of being gifted. “Because of their abilities to use abstract reasoning, gifted people are often keenly aware that the universe is indifferent to human suffering, that many social institutions are stupid and cruel, and that many adults are hypocrites. For this reason, gifted people need to find some way to make a positive difference in the world. Otherwise, they can suffer greatly from a problem called existential depression.”

On Being Different

Alina Adams disagrees, suggesting that the real problem with being gifted (and knowing it) is watching out for inflated egos. “Professionally, I can tell you that gifted kids love feeling different, and knowing things other kids don’t. Personally, I can tell you my husband and I tell our kids, ‘You’re not that great. Even if you’re one in a million, there are 6000 people out there just like you. And many more who are better.’

“Some parents like gifted schools and programs so that their children can be with like-minded peers. We like them because they prove to our kids just how not special they are,” says Adams.

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

5 Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe Around Dogs

Dogs can be wonderful companions for children. They are loyal, fun and provide unconditional love, so it’s not surprising many parents want their children to grow up with a family dog. Despite these attractions to the idea of a canine/child relationship, not every parent knows how to keep a child safe around dogs.

Children and dogs speak very different languages. The way a child shows affection may feel confrontational to a dog, which could cause the animal anxiety or stress. Children also find it hard to understand that a dog isn’t a cuddly toy and sometimes needs to be left alone.

Despite these issues with communication, most dogs tolerate human behavior. Bites are rare and almost never happen without warning. There are also plenty of things parents can do to reduce the chance of a bite, so here are five tips to keep your child safe around dogs.

Tip One: Teach Children How to Greet a Dog

There’s an expectation from some parents that all dogs should be friendly. This is transmitted to the child, who may not understand that strange dogs shouldn’t be approached. Keeping a child safe around dogs means teaching the child to approach the dog with caution.

As a dog owner, I’ve often had children run up to my pet at the park—sometimes screaming with delight—and pat him on the forehead. Their parents usually don’t ask permission or stop the child from approaching my dog, which is to them, an unknown dog. This is most definitely not the way to keep a child safe around dogs.

Despite the child’s good intentions, this sudden approach by a stranger can be a scary situation for a dog. Dogs don’t know what a strange child wants when the child approaches without warning. The dog often has no way to escape this unwanted attention. A dog’s attempts at communicating discomfort are usually missed or ignored.

little boy plays with dog in autumn park

Many dogs, including my own, are able to tolerate this sort of behavior. But some dogs may become defensive or even bite if they feel trapped, scared, or startled. For this reason, it’s important for all children to know how to politely greet a dog. This reduces the chance of a bite and teaches respect for dogs.

Here’s a simple four-step process you can use to teach your child how to greet a dog:

  1. Ask Permission: The first thing to teach a child is that he or she should never approach a strange dog without a parent’s permission. Similarly, the parent should always check with the owner before allowing a child near a dog. Never stroke (or allow a child to stroke) a dog if you can’t speak with the owner first—even if the dog is tied up in a public space.
  2. Proper Approach: Once the owner has given permission, show your child how to walk towards the dog with an outstretched arm and a closed fist. This protects the fingers and gives the dog a chance to communicate his feelings.
  3. The Dog’s Decision: The dog will sniff the child’s hand and either turn away or continue looking. If he turns away, he doesn’t want to continue with the interaction and you should leave him alone. This can be difficult for a child to understand, but it’s important to teach a child to respect a dog’s wishes. If the dog continues looking at the child or licks the child’s hand, the dog is giving his permission to be greeted.
  4. Stroking the Dog: Once the dog has signaled that he’s happy to continue making friends, the child can stroke him on the chest, shoulder or back. The child should avoid reaching over the dog’s head.
little girl offers dog food from her hand
Keep your child safe around dogs by teaching your child to seek permission to greet the dog.

Even if the dog has shown positive signals of accepting your child’s friendship, you and your child should watch for signs of discomfort. Signs of a dog’s discomfort might include moving away, yawning or licking lips. If you see any such signs, have your child move away. Doing so teaches your child how to read the dog’s body language, which is critical to keeping your child safe around dogs.

Tip Two: Dogs Don’t Like Hugs

With their fluffy coats and big round eyes, dogs can seem like the perfect cuddling companions. The sad truth, however, is that most dogs don’t like hugs. Hugging feels restrictive to canines and they often don’t see a hug as a sign of affection. This can be difficult for young children to understand, but it’s important children learn that a dog is not a teddy bear.

There are some exceptions to the hugging rule. I’ve known several dogs that actively seek hugs from their owners and even strangers. Dogs, like people, have individual likes and dislikes. The average dog, however, tends to shows signs of anxiety when hugged. The dog may make “Whale Eyes” or lick his lips. The child should look for these signs when hugging a dog and be honest with himself as to whether the dog is really enjoying the hug, or would rather have a back scratch. If the dog is not enjoying the hug, the child should stop hugging the dog, of course.

While most dogs don’t enjoy hugs, that doesn’t mean a dog will automatically become aggressive or bite when hugged. Family dogs, in fact, often tolerate hugs from children and adults. Even so, it’s not fair or kind to hug dogs  when it’s not in a dog’s nature to enjoy hugging. To hug a dog is to put him in a situation that makes him feel stressed and anxious.

Tip Three: Understand A Dog’s Discomfort Body Language

As a parent, the most important skill you can develop to keep your child safe around dogs is understanding the dog’s basic body language. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Canine body language is surprisingly complex, but the signals for anxiety, stress or unhappiness are often easy to spot. The following signs tell you when a child’s play is becoming too rough and/or the dog should be left alone:

  • Repetitive yawning despite being well rested
  • Licking of lips when there’s no food in the area
  • Heavy panting
  • Turning the head away from the child
  • Giving “Whale Eye” by tilting the head away and showing the whites of the eyes
  • Moving or crawling away

These signals are the dog’s way of communicating he’s uncomfortable. If your child is the one causing the discomfort, it’s time to have your child give the dog some space. This is the smart way to keep your child safe around dogs.

There are, of course, other body language signals that dogs use to communicate feelings. In some situations, a dog will display the more obvious emotions of fear or aggression. Most people know that growling, teeth baring, and raised hackles are signs a dog shouldn’t be approached—especially by a child. In contrast, the classic “play bow” is a signal that a dog wants to play.

Such emotions are generally obvious even to humans who don’t understand canine body language. It’s the subtler signals of canine emotion that are often missed.

Tip Four: Supervise Children and Dogs at All Times

Dogs can make brilliant family pets. Many are patient, tolerant and loving around children, which is why the child/canine bond can quickly become so strong. Even so, parents should always supervise time spent between young children and dogs. Most dog bites happen when the parent or caregiver is nearby—and there are always warning signs that might have prevented the bite, if only someone had been paying attention. Except for the case in which there is a physical barrier between dog and child, for instance a sturdy fence, parents should actively supervise a child’s interaction with a dog.

“Active” supervision refers to parents watching the dog for signs of discomfort. The parent should be watching the dog without any outside distractions. No checking your phone screen, or watching television. You’re on watch. If the dog shows signs of anxiety or defensiveness—or if the play is becoming too boisterous—the parent should calmly step in and lead the child away.

Supervision isn’t only important when the child and dog are at play. Parents should always be on the watch for dangerous encounters between child and dog, such as, for instance, a child walking towards a sleeping dog. This can be hard work—always watching your child’s interactions with a dog—but active supervision is the best way to prevent a bite.

little girl huddles with dog on white rug

Tip Five: Show Your Child How to React to a Strange Dog

Just as I’ve seen children run up to dogs without first asking permission, I often see off-leash dogs approaching people with their owners nowhere in sight. This is often just a dog being playful, and wanting to meet new people. A boisterous dog can, however, be scary to a child. The child’s reaction can also sometimes make the dog mistakenly believe the child want to play.

To avoid misunderstandings, it’s important for frightened children to know how to react to a strange dog. The worst way for a frightened child to react to a dog is to run away screaming. Instead, the child should stand still with hands together and avoid making eye contact with the dog. The phrase “Be a Tree” is often used to describe this technique. A boisterous or playful dog usually becomes bored when someone behaves in this way. Once the dog loses interest, the child should calmly walk to an adult.

Admittedly, this is a lot to ask of a young child who is scared. But Be a Tree is a useful technique to teach children once they are able to understand how to behave around dogs. The Be a Tree technique also works well in the rare case in which a dog behaves aggressively towards a child.

Most dogs are brilliant companions and unlikely to bite. They should, however, always be treated with care, gentleness, and respect. For this reason, it’s important for children to know how to greet and interact with a dog. This helps keep the child safe while building a stronger bond between child and dog. Parents should also be able to identify common canine distress signals, so they can end an interaction before it becomes dangerous.

Do you have any questions about how to keep your child safe around dogs? Do you find it difficult to teach your child to behave politely around dogs? Please let me know in the comments and I’ll answer as soon as I can.

How Should Kids Brush Their Teeth?

How should kids brush their teeth and when should they begin? The simple answer is that the minute that first pearly white tooth pops out of your baby’s gums, it’s time to begin brushing. At first, use a very soft brush and some water. Later on, at around 18 months, use a pea-sized glob of fluoride toothpaste. After the age of seven, children can be trusted to brush their own teeth, with a bit of supervision from parents.

No parent can doubt the importance of a child’s teeth. Teeth help children eat and speak and support the bones in their faces so they look nice. But teeth don’t take care of themselves. If children don’t brush their teeth, plaque can form in a thin coating on the teeth. Plaque (PLACK), is a sticky, thin film of bacteria that attaches itself to the teeth.

The preferred food of the bacteria in plaque is sugar. That may be the sugar in a piece of candy or a glass of soda pop, or it may be the sugars that develop from the carbohydrates we eat, for instance noodles, grains, and potatoes. Any time children eat starchy or sweet carbohydrates, they feed the bacteria on their teeth. As bacteria interact with starches and sugars, they turn into acids. These acids burn their way through children’s tooth enamel, making the holes in their teeth that we call cavities.

Mother brushes little girl's teeth

Brush Their Teeth: Gums, Too!

The bacteria in children’s mouths don’t just cause cavities. They also attack children’s gums. If kids don’t brush to remove the bacteria-filled plaque in their mouths, they may end up with gingivitis (jin-ja-VIE-tis), or gum disease. Gum disease not only looks and feels bad, giving children sore, swollen, red gums, but can also cause tooth loss. Gums, after all, are the tissues that hold and support the teeth inside the mouth.

Children should brush their teeth twice a day, after eating breakfast and again before bed. It doesn’t hurt to brush after lunch and after having a snack, too. It is brushing the teeth that removes plaque from children’s teeth, keeping them and their gums, healthy.

Cute little boy brushes his teeth

All of the teeth should be brushed, and not just those in the front. If children can think of their mouths as having four parts or quadrants, it makes it easier to cover all of them. Spend 30 seconds brushing each section of the mouth, beginning at the back and working toward the front, front and back of each section, gums and teeth, for a total of two minutes of brushing altogether.

Angle the brush 45 degree toward the gums from the upper and lower teeth. Move the brush back and forth using short strokes along teeth and gums, making sure to cover all the teeth and gums, front and back. Make sure the tip of the brush is upright when brushing behind the front teeth, both top and bottom.

Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too! Plaque sticks to tongues as well as teeth.

Brush Their Teeth: Two Minutes

It can help to play a 2-minute song as children brush, or to have them sing one in their heads. When the song is over, they’re done brushing! Alternatively, parents can use a two-minute hourglass to help children keep track of how long they should brush their teeth. Some battery-operated or electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer, and will vibrate when it’s time for the child to move along to the next quadrant.

Make sure to use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Get a new one every three months. Some toothbrushes have bristles that turn pale when it’s time to change to a new brush.

If children become sick with a cold or the flu, buy a new toothbrush once the child is recovered. It’s a good idea to have several spare soft-bristled toothbrushes on hand in the home for this purpose. Buy a bunch when they go on sale.

Brush Their Teeth: Floss ‘Em, Too!

Floss your child’s teeth as soon as there are two teeth that touch. Do this once a day. Slip the floss between the teeth to remove food that gets trapped between the teeth, where a toothbrush cannot reach.

To floss, take a strand of floss between thumb and index finger, wrapping the floss around a finger at each end of the strand for good control. Insert the floss gently and curve it around each tooth, sliding it up and down along the insides of the teeth and just below the gum line. Use a new section of the floss for each two teeth, so as not to transfer plaque from one tooth to the next.

Even when children do a great job brushing and flossing, it’s important to have their teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist (hi-JEN- 7i ist) or dentist twice a year. A professional cleaning gets the plaque we might miss, even with the best of efforts. The dentist or hygienist can also give children tips on better techniques to use when they brush their teeth.

Red-headed brothers get a lesson in tooth brushing from bearded dentist

Limit sweets and starches to starve plaque of its favorite source of nourishment!

Brush Their Teeth: Water or Toothpaste?

You can begin using fluoride toothpaste for a child of 18 months, using a pea-sized dab on a water-dampened soft-bristled toothbrush. Children should be cautioned not to swallow toothpaste when brushing. Make sure that children spit the foamy mess of toothpaste and loosened plaque out into the sink.

Children can rinse their mouths out with water, after they brush0 their teeth. This gives them more practice at spitting!

Brush Their Teeth: Infants

An infant’s teeth should be brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush moistened with water.

For an infant or very young child, hold the child in your lap, facing away from you, or stand behind a young child. The head should be tilted back so you can see the teeth. Brush their teeth gently with a circular motion, angling the bristles toward the gums.

Infant has his teeth brushed

It’s important to make tooth-brushing a fun time for parent and child, in order to avoid a situation where the child fusses and fights when it comes time to brush their teeth. You want the child to develop good dental hygiene habits right from the beginning. That’s the best way to prevent painful cavities and expensive dental work.

Let your child see you brushing your own teeth, night and day. Doing so sends a message to your child that this is something that everyone does and that it’s important.

Brush Their Teeth: Make it Fun!

Make tooth-brushing a fun time by gargling noisily or trying to sing songs as children brush their teeth. Roll your eyes and make faces at your child as the two of you brush your teeth together! Tell jokes. Do whatever you can to reinforce the idea that brushing teeth is fun and represents quality parent-child time.

Think of keeping your child’s teeth clean as having the same importance as wearing a seat belt in a car, or putting on sunscreen. If you feel this way, your child will come to feel this way, too.

If you can’t find a toothpaste your child likes, have children brush their teeth with plain water. Your child will still get the benefits of brushing.

How do you make brushing fun?

How do you keep kids from fussing at tooth-brushing time?

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

5 Tips for Managing Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are dreaded events most parents associate with the “terrible twos.” Many, if not most tantrums can be avoided (see: How to End Power Struggles with Toddlers). But when tantrums do occur, they are exhausting and upsetting for both parent and child. Five simple techniques can ease the experience for everyone: be empathetic; narrate your child’s experience; walk him to the goal (then walk away); hold your child facing away from you; and resist lecturing your child (more on these techniques later).

In toddlerhood, children become aware that they are beings separate from their parents. This is the time children begin to explore the limits of their independence and capabilities. It is typical of children this age to demand the right to behave according to their own wills. A power struggle results when the parent tells the child what to do. The child’s subsequent meltdown expresses this idea: “I am me. You are you. You don’t tell me what to do. I tell me what to do.”

Toddlers can only learn to fend for themselves as individuals by asserting their independence, and by exercising control over their own behavior. They do this as they learn how to stay dry and feed themselves. They learn that it’s possible to delay gratification: that dessert, for instance, comes after dinner. Their language skills grow in leaps and bounds and they become social beings, capable of making friends. These are the skills of independence: things that others cannot do for them. Toddlers learn these skills by performing them.

Toddlerhood is a critical period in a child’s development: the time when the child realizes he is an independent being, separate from his parents. This phase of development is mirrored by adolescence, in which teens shrug off their parents’ authority in favor of the independence of adulthood. When toddlerhood is positive and successful, the toddler feels empowered, rather than overpowered by his parents. This is a good foundation for the child’s upcoming adolescence, way off in the distant future, when the child must again assert his separateness and independence from his parents.

Tantrums Express the Desire for Independence

If the child was forced to behave according to a parent’s dictates in toddlerhood, the child will rebel and meltdowns ensue. The same is true of teens. The trick is to guide, rather than demand. If the child was guided to make safe, positive choices as a toddler, he will likely continue to make safe, positive choices as a teenager. Supportive parenting is the key to success in both toddlerhood and adolescence. One lays the ground for the other.

How then, can parents ensure a successful and positive toddlerhood for their children? How can we, as parents, avoid meltdowns and power struggles? And considering that none of us are perfect parents, and may not always handle things as we should, how bad is it if we screw things up, at least now and then? “Toddlerhood is the most challenging phase of human development for parents and the most critical one for children in the lifespan. Any adult that I have treated in psychotherapy in my private practice was found to be stuck somewhere in a toddler milestone,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV.

5 Tips for Managing Temper Tantrums

If you’re scared witless at this point, chillax. Making an occasional mess of things won’t scar you or your child for life. Besides, Dr. Walfish has you covered with these 5 tips for managing temper tantrums. Read these tips, follow them to the letter, then lather, rinse, repeat until your child turns 3 or so. (It’ll be fine. We promise.)

  1. Be genuinely empathetic to your toddler’s struggle.
  2. Narrate the struggle. Learn to speak reflectively with empathy in the moment of a conflict. You might say, “Johnny (use his first name since pronouns are not mastered by children until the age of 4 years) wanted more video and Mommy said it’s bath time. Johnny got mad. It’s hard to stop when you want more.”
  3. Physically walk your screaming child to his next destination. If your child resists the idea that it’s time to take a bath, for instance, walk him to the bath. This will help settle and calm him down in the space where he needs to be. Children will escalate their yelling, and protest, thinking you might change your no to a yes. If, after getting your child where he needs to be, you then walk away, your child will calm down faster.
  4. If your child is out of control or has been aggressive (for instance hitting, biting, scratching, or pinching), calmly hold your child on your lap facing away from you. By holding the child, you provide a safe container whereby you can act as a receptacle for your child’s rage. By remaining calm in the face of your child’s rage, the child learns that she can be super-angry and still, you do not attack, criticize, blame, or collapse as the target for his/her rage. Tell your child when she stops pulling on you, you will let go. The moment her muscles relax release her and praise her for learning to settle herself. You will not have to hold her too many times before you see a decrease in the frequency and intensity of her oppositional tantrums.
  5. Do not lecture your child. Kids hate to be told what to do. Rather, after a tantrum, talk gently with your child about what he wanted and was feeling when he was so upset. Together, the two of you can come up with alternative ways he can get what he wants without a meltdown.

Still worried? Dr. Walfish stress that the main thing is to “Always accept your child where he is.”

“We are all on a learning curve,” says Dr. Walfish. “No one is perfect. We all want the same thing: to be acknowledged, validated, and accepted—flaws and all!”

In other words, don’t be angry at yourself or your child, even when you forget to do the right thing, even as he falls apart in total meltdown. Realize that there are both good and bad days ahead. And love him no matter what.

How to End Power Struggles with Toddlers

Is there a way for parents to end power struggles with two-year-olds for good? Probably not. But parents can certainly aim for fewer power struggles. You may even turn most of the struggles into learning experiences, if you keep the goal in mind and work it with all you’ve got.

What causes power struggles with two-year-olds? It’s about a milestone in the child’s development. The child at two, now understands that she is an individual, and that her behavior is a choice, under her control. Exercising that choice reinforces the idea for the child that she is an independent being: no one can force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

“Toddlers must claim their separateness from their parents. The adolescent phase mirrors toddlerhood in that teens must resolve the separation they first declared during toddlerhood. This means, “I am me – you are not me! Don’t tell me what to do!” That is their way of asserting and declaring control and independence.  During this phase they must also learn control over their body functions including toilet-training, self-feeding, delayed gratification, language development, coping with disappointment, and social skills,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV.

Power Struggles: Testing the Limits of Power

This need of a toddler to be a distinct individual means that when the parent tells the child to do something, the child will do the opposite action, because that’s part of the process of individuation; or becoming a separate person, distinct from others. Going against a parent’s wishes, at this stage of development, is about children making decisions for themselves, and about testing the limits of their power as human beings. It’s about learning the boundaries of their own abilities, their choices, and their behavior.

The trick for us as parents is to guide children to make positive decisions, whenever possible. This allows the child to be independent in a productive and meaningful way. It’s the difference between demanding something, and helping the child see the smart thing to do. It’s about empowering children, as opposed to overpowering them.

Toddler playing with toy mobile phone
No power struggles here. This boy is comfortable exploring what it is like to be an adult with a mobile phone.

Let’s take a look:

Tracy wiggles her finger into a small hole in the fabric of the living room sofa. “Stop that,” says her mom. “You’re going to make the hole bigger. Leave it alone.”

Tracy, however, is two years old. Telling her not to do something is like egging her on to do exactly that. Which is why the little girl now pokes her finger into the hole of the fabric some more, casting a mischievous smile at her mother as if to say, “Ha ha. Who’s going to stop me?”

Now, we all have good and bad parenting days. If Tracy’s mom had been having a good day, she never would have demanded the girl stop what she was doing. Instead, she would have distracted her. “Oh look! The begonia has a new flower bud!” she might have said, pointing to a potted plant on the other side of the room.

Tracy would have forgotten all about the hole in the sofa. And the potential for a power struggle would have been nipped in the bud, right there and then. No raised voices, tears, or tantrums.

Tired and Cranky=Power Struggles

But because Tracy’s mom had been up half the night with Tracy’s new baby brother, she was tired and cranky. She was not in the mood to do the kind of creative thinking necessary to engage in positive parenting. And so, Tracy’s mom, without meaning to do so, set off a power struggle with her two-year-old daughter.

We’ve all been there: arguing with a two-year-old and feeling stupid when the child gets the best of us. Sometimes it is the child who sets the scene for a power struggle, doing something she knows she’s not allowed to do. At other times, the parent sets the power struggle in motion, by making a demand of the child that feels like a challenge. No matter how it begins, however, the power struggle leaves everyone feeling bad: parent and child (and anyone within hearing distance).

We’ve established that Tracy’s mom could have distracted her daughter to prevent a power struggle. But that isn’t the only tool available to end a power struggle before it begins. Tracy’s mom might have asked for the little girl’s help with the sofa, which would have made Tracy feel in control of the situation (not to mention powerful and cooperative). Tracy’s mom might have asked the two-year-old to help her turn the sofa cushion so the hole doesn’t show. She might have explained that a small child could get a finger caught in the hole and get hurt, and that the couch looks so much nicer this way. Using this tack, this mom can make Tracy feel really big about keeping other children safe and helpful in terms of making the family living room look nicer.

Requesting Tracy’s help prevents a power struggle in which Tracy would be made to feel powerless, overpowered by her mother’s demands. Instead, Tracy feels empowered, since her help is needed, even requested, to improve the situation. Compare this outcome to a power struggle, in which the child is made to feel as though she must obey: that there are no choices. By requesting a child’s help, a parent can put the power back into the child’s hands by making her feel part of the solution.

Toddler plotting mischief
This boy is plotting some kind of mischief–the kind that tends to end with power struggles. It would be good to give him something positive to do that will make him feel big.

That doesn’t mean we can or should let children do things that endanger them. Sometimes, we really do have to forbid behavior. Often, however, there’s a way to help children work through the logic demanded of the situation. Failing that, we can offer children a choice of behaviors to choose from, or distract them with something interesting.

Take the two year old child who is exhausted and needs to nap. Told that it’s time to take a nap, the child will scream, “No!”

That’s because you’ve taken away the child’s power by giving the child a command: take a nap. It’s a recipe for a power struggle. The child must protest. But once you’ve “blundered” by commanding your child to do something, you still have a way out of the power struggle. You escape the tantrum by offering your child a choice: “Which stuffed animal would you like to have with you for your nap? The brown teddy bear or your Snoopy dog?”

In offering a choice, you’ve found the way to restore your child’s power over the situation. Having a choice and the power to make a decision restores justice to your two-year-old’s world. He just wants to exert his human right as an independent human being. For this purpose, choosing between a teddy or a stuffed dog is all it takes.

Toddler girl paints the wall of her bedroom
This little girl thought she’d be like her mom and do some creative “decorating.” What would you do to prevent power struggles in a case like this?

Here, it should be noted that power struggles are more than just tantrums, or finding creative ways to prevent them. A power struggle is a negative experience with an unhappy ending. A command to take a nap sets up a negative experience that will always be associated with naptime. The mom who offers a choice between stuffed animals at naptime, on the other hand, gives her child a chance to feel happy and powerful. Nap, in this case, becomes an opportunity for a child to exercise his own free will, rather than a nasty, tear-filled struggle between parent and child. This mother sends a message to her son: “I trust you to make good decisions,” instead of, “You aren’t big enough to make decisions. I will tell you what to do.”

Let’s say you are putting your child’s coat on because it’s cold outside. The child is struggling and screaming, “No, no, no!”

It’s a full-blown power struggle. Can a parent end a power struggle in progress?

Often, the answer is yes. You might, for instance, ask if your child’s small rubber duck should sit in the right front pocket of the coat, or the left? Or you could sing a silly song to distract your child. The trick is not to let the crying and screaming go on without doing something to refocus your child. You want to turn the struggle into something else: a child’s choice instead of a parent’s command; cooperation between wise child and loving parent; or even an opportunity for the child to choose laughter over tears.

End Power Struggles with Humor or Distraction

Ending power struggles is about seeking ways to give your child more power in tricky situations. The child who doesn’t want to go to sleep may be able to choose the best way to sleep: his sleeping circumstances. The child who hates to wear a hat can earn a prize for wearing one, or choose the type of hat he must wear. It’s not always easy to find the way to a happy, independent child. It helps if parents remember that the goal is a raising a child to be a confident, capable adult.

Sometimes, all you need to do to defuse a power struggle is to change the tone. Picture this: you ask your child to pick up his toys and put them away. He says, “No!”

Instead of arguing or repeating your demand, you say the same thing in a funny, sing-song voice while rolling your eyes. He laughs and says, “Again!”

You say, in the same funny, sing-song voice, “Not until you pick up those toys and put them away. Now put away the truck!”

He laughs and puts away the truck.

“Now put away the policeman.”

He laughs and puts away the policeman.

Power Struggles Replaced by Laughter

In this way, the two of you continue until all the toys are put away. The child has learned that his good behavior—putting away a toy—is rewarded (with more funny-sounding, humorous commands). The child chooses to do as requested, instead of engaging in a battle of wills with the parent. He puts his toys away and the struggle is gone, replaced by laughter and a fun time for both parent and child.

In this case, instead of forcing the child to do as you say, you have inspired him to do the right thing of his own free will. This time you used humor. But next time it might be about offering choices, or making the child feel part of the solution, as with Tracy and the hole in the sofa.

High Level Parenting

But how does a parent get to this high level of parenting in which power struggles are a thing of the past? How does a parent get to this place of always finding the right thing to say to the child? In addition to keeping the goal in mind: restoring the child’s power, there are two other things we can do as parents to end power struggles:

Detach: It’s easy to get sucked into the emotion, into the wanting to be right. After all, you’re the parent, and the child is the child. The parent is supposed to rule, to be in charge, to make decisions for children. A parent has to learn that it’s better to be smart, than right. If you feel yourself getting steamed up, it’s sign you’ve already entered a power struggle. Stop what you’re doing and saying and take some deep breaths. Think: cut the emotion, just detach. Think: how can I restore my child’s power?

Self-Care: You know how on airplanes they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child with his oxygen mask? That’s because if you become oxygen-deprived you’ll be no good to your child. By taking care of your own needs, you make it possible to care for your child’s needs. So do what you can to take good care of yourself. Get enough sleep, even if it means skipping housework for a nap. Do whatever it is that makes you feel fulfilled, whether it’s working out, or getting your nails done.

If you do feel cranky or sluggish, make a note of it. Make sure you don’t allow your mood to get you and your toddler into power struggle hell. Do something to baby yourself that makes you feel better. Go slow. Think.

And if you slip up and a power struggle occurs, don’t beat yourself up over it. Parenting a two-year-old is challenging. “Toddlerhood is the most challenging phase of human development for parents and the most critical one for children in the lifespan. Any adult that I have treated in psychotherapy in my private practice was found to be stuck somewhere in a toddler milestone,” notes Dr. Walfish.

“Toddlerhood is the time I prescribe parents, especially moms, to be all there with their kids.  If moms work, choose an ever-present warm, nurturing, and firm caregiver.

“Toddlerhood is the foundation (bricks and mortar) laid upon which adolescence must resolve. Parenting is most challenging and rewarding when toddlerhood is done well.”

First Pair of Shoes for Baby

Buying that first pair of shoes for baby is a big deal. But confining those little feet by putting them in shoes is a bad idea until such time as a baby is walking out of doors. That is when shoes become necessary to protect the feet from things like weather, glass, gravel, dirt, worms and other creepy-crawlies. When indoors, it’s far better for baby to be barefoot, or in socks or booties with non-skid bottoms for warmth. This is best for baby’s foot development.

It can be a challenge to resist the impulse to make that trip to the shoe store once the baby is walking. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that shoes make walking difficult for baby. That’s because even the softest, most flexible pair of baby shoes can’t help but get in the way of free movement of the feet.

Once baby is walking, on the other hand, you do need to have some shoes for when you go out of the house. Shoes are then necessary to protect the baby’s feet, keeping them warm, dry, clean, and uninjured. Just keep in mind that it’s best for baby to go barefoot (or in socks or booties) whenever possible, so his or her feet can move unrestricted.

A baby's fat little feet on a wooden floor
Barefoot is best, especially indoors.

Some parents think that buying that first pair of shoes for baby will motivate him to walk sooner or better. This is a myth. Shoes make it more difficult for your baby to learn to walk because they restrict the natural movement of the baby’s feet. Think barefoot, which is what baby should be, most of the time, to get baby walking like an expert.

Of course, it’s fun to buy that first pair of shoes for baby. The shoes themselves are generally adorable, and baby understands that this is a big deal. The baby tends to feel pride in reaching an important milestone. Mommy and daddy are proud, too.

First Pair of Shoes for Baby: What Kind?

What kind of shoes should you buy when purchasing that first pair of shoes for baby? Look for shoes that feel light in your hands. See if the shoe is flexible by bending it at midsole. The shoe should fold almost in half, easily. The soles of the shoe should have ribbed, rubber soles to keep baby from slipping and falling.

The next step is making sure the shoe fits. Here there is often the temptation to get a shoe that is a bit larger to save money and time. But a shoe that is too big is a shoe that makes walking difficult for baby. Resist the urge to buy shoes with “toe-room,” even though it means buying another pair in the not-too-distant future.

Some babies walk more easily in shoes that come up over the ankles. They need the extra support. These high top shoe styles also stay on better, especially for babies who can’t resist taking their shoes on and off. Other babies, meanwhile, do just fine in regular shoe styles. What you want to avoid are unusual or trendy styles, no matter how cute they might be, such as clogs or boots with pointed toes. These may look adorable but make it hard for your baby to walk and may even affect the natural development and growth of the foot.

First Pair of Shoes for Baby: Type of Material

When choosing that first pair of shoes for baby, look for natural materials that bend and breathe. Canvas or cloth sneakers with a not-too-stiff rubber, medium-ribbed sole, or even a soft leather shoe is perfect. The main things are flexibility, so the foot can move and grow, and air, so little feet don’t get hot and sweaty.

Medium-ribbed rubber soles should also go a long way toward keeping your baby from slipping and falling. But if you buy leather shoes, you can scrape the bottoms of the soles with sandpaper to rough them up a bit. That should do the trick of keeping baby steady on the feet.

Getting the Right FitBaby walking holding onto Mommy's hands, seen from behind

Choose a shoe that looks like your baby’s foot, with a square or oval outline or shape. There should be no more than a half inch of space between your child’s big toe and the outermost tip of the shoe. That length is about the width of your thumb.

The back of the shoe should hug the baby’s heel without pinching it. If the baby’s heel pops in and out of the shoe, the shoe’s too big. If the shoe appears to pinch the baby’s heel, it’s too small.

Make sure the shoe salesperson measures both your baby’s feet. It’s normal for one foot to be up to half a size larger. Buy shoes to fit the larger of baby’s two feet.

Baby’s Second Pair of Shoes

Babies grow out of their shoes lickety-split. You may have to go shoe shopping again even three months after you purchase that first pair of shoes for baby. Expect it. Check how baby’s shoes fit every few months, by seeing if baby still has about a thumb’s width (half an inch) of space between big toe and front of shoe. Is baby’s toe getting close to hitting the front of his shoe? Time to go shopping!

As for reaching this amazing milestone, congratulations!

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

Effective Communicators: Broaden Your Child’s Future

Effective communicators are the kind of people who, when they speak with you in private, you hang on their every word. Listening from the audience as they speak from the podium, you know you’re being silly, but you feel they’re speaking only to you. And it works both ways: when you speak to them, it feels like they’re really listening—like they really hear you. Now you might not have thought about this, but wouldn’t it be great if you could teach your child to have those skills: to be an effective communicator?

It’s true that some people are just born to be effective communicators. That doesn’t mean, however, that good communication skills can’t be taught. And if they can be taught, they should be taught, for effective communicators are the star pupils of every teacher’s class. Not to mention: they’re sought after as both friends and employees.

By teaching children to be effective communicators, parents broaden their opportunities. Those with a gift for communication have wider social circles, and can make all kinds of friends and connections. Their career opportunities will be more varied, with every possibility of rising to the top, no matter what field they choose.

Becoming an effective communicator can begin in infancy, when a parent makes eye contact with a baby, and speaks at just the right rhythm and tempo. It’s not just instinct. A mother knows when baby has had enough speech, when to pull away. The mother reads the baby’s cues and follows them.

That is pretty much the definition of being an effective communicator: reading the cues of your listeners and following them. And sometimes being the listener, watching for and reading the cues of the speaker. And by reading and following cues, as your infant looks on, you are modeling effective communication for your baby.

Teaching children to become effective communicators is a two-pronged process. It’s first and foremost about understanding the qualities that define effective communication. Then, once you know what effective communication is, you can set about showing children the ropes of being effective communicators.

Effective Communicators:

  • Refrain from speaking quickly
  • Are not too loud or too soft in their speech
  • Never interrupt or speak when others speak, but await their turn
  • Practice active listening by making eye contact, turning to face the other person, and responding with comments and questions that show they are paying attention
  • Consider others before themselves, avoiding the use of “me” and “I”-centered speech whenever possible
  • Ask others for their opinions and ideas
  • Never fidget
  • Speak clearly
  • Pronounce words properly
  • Use good grammar
  • Never use curse words in polite company

Use Daily Conversation for Practice

Having everyday conversations with your child is a great way to coach them in becoming effective communicators. Show them that what they say interests you and respect them enough to let them have their say. By the same token, children should listen and respond to you, making eye contact and making sure to face you. Hands and feet should be still. Speech should be clear, never rushed, and not too loud or too soft.

Children are always watching and absorbing, so you can continue the lesson by having polite, effective conversations that clearly express your views with others, such as a spouse, while children are in listening and watching distance. The conversations your child witnesses or takes part in at home, are the foundations for his own developing communication skills.

During daily conversations at home, it’s fine for you to gently guide and correct your child’s behavior. When you are in public, don’t draw attention to your child’s mistakes. This might embarrass your child and cause him to be self-conscious and awkward about conversing with others in public. Note that in correcting your child only at home, he will learn that home is a safe place to learn. By not correcting your child in public, you show him you respect him enough not to hurt his feelings or embarrass him. An exception: if your child interrupts you while you are chatting with someone else, pause and turn to the child and ask him to wait until you’re finished speaking or listening, please.

If children balk at being directed to make eye contact or face you as the two of you speak, explain that doing so shows interest in what you are saying and is a sign of respect. Ask how he would feel if he were sharing an important idea and his friend kept his back to him and played with a toy while he was speaking. Looking away from someone who is speaking is hurtful, which means it is not good manners, since manners are about caring for others.

You can also talk with your child about being an effective communicator. A parent might, for instance, mention getting trapped at a social event by someone who would not stop talking about himself and who was very boring. You can explain how you tried to give the person various cues (looking at your watch, yawning, looking around the room at something else, grimacing), but the person was seemingly unable or unwilling to read you. Discuss this with your child. Ask what he would have done in your place to politely disengage and why he thinks the person didn’t read your cues.

Effective Communicators Mirror

Repeating what people say to us makes them feel heard. Mental health professionals have long known the value of mirroring: repeating a patient’s words back to him. You can play a mirroring game with your child to practice this skill. Here is a sample dialogue using the mirroring technique:

“I was taking out the trash when I saw a raccoon.”

“You saw a raccoon?”

Yes. I was scared at first, then saw his eyes were gentle.

“He had gentle eyes?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to frighten him so I moved very slowly.”

“It’s nice you didn’t want to frighten him and that you moved so carefully and slowly.”

It’s easy to see how the child who saw a raccoon felt validated and warm after relating his experience to someone who cared enough to really listen. That’s how mirroring works. It proves respect and caring for the speaker. You can practice mirroring with your child, taking turns being speaker and listener.

The Um Game

The Um Game is played by having your child speak about anything she likes, such as a favorite teacher, or toy. Time your child to see how long she can go without using “um,” “uh,” “like,” “you know,” or “er.” This game helps your child become more articulate and can even increase vocabulary. It also teaches eloquence. No great speaker was ever guilty of interjecting “um,” “uh” or “you know,” into a momentous speech.

Social Situations

Children should be shown how to enter a conversation in a polite way. The right way is to walk up to the group, smile, listen to what people are saying, and wait until someone speaks to you before joining in. Your child should also learn to gracefully handle the situation when it is the other way around. If someone wants to join his conversation, he should smile and nod to the person. Once the speaker has finished speaking, your child can greet the new person and make introductions if necessary.

Ending conversations in a pleasant way is also part of being an effective communicator. It’s rude to just walk away from people when you’ve been chatting. The child should, instead, learn to explain why he must leave and remark that the conversation has been enjoyable. He might say, for instance: I need to go help my mom in the garden, but it was great talking with you!

Children should also learn what is and is not an appropriate topic for discussion. It’s one thing for the family to celebrate mom’s promotion at the office, but inappropriate for your child to brag about it to her friends. Some things are private. Also, children should learn to draw others out in conversation, rather than speak only about themselves and their experiences. Drawing out others in conversation is  thoughtful, monopolizing the conversation and speaking only of one’s self is rude and boring.

An understanding of nonverbal communication and cues must be taught from a young age, since children only develop a sense for these later on. Yawning during a conversation, speech, lecture, or sermon is rude and children should learn to try to suppress a yawn during these occasions. Rolling one’s eyes or frowning or otherwise making faces while someone is speaking is bad manners, too. Playing with hair, turning away from the speaker, picking at your nails or nose, and looking at your watch while someone is speaking (with the exception of the bore who will not let you go!!) are all behaviors that are considered poor manners because they make people feel bad.

Children also need to be on the watch for nonverbal cues in others. A child should, for instance, learn to understand and be sensitive to signs that a conversation has gone on long enough or that a person needs to leave. That calls for finishing the conversation or winding up a story. Children should also be on watch for signs that a topic makes the listener uncomfortable and learn how to change the subject.

Children catch on quicker than you’d expect, and come to understand that being effective communicator means being polite, but getting the point across and hearing others, too. Learning to be that sought-after conversationalist and friend means developing listening skills, using good grammar, and most of all, sensitivity. In working with children early on, parents help their children grow to become refined communicators who are adept at speaking to anyone in any situation.

Manners: The Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Manners are all about the Golden Rule: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, manners are about caring for others. Children tend to think they are at the center of the world. Teaching children manners helps them to develop empathy: to have real feelings for all those they encounter, and not to only think of themselves.

The most important thing parents can do to teach children manners is to model those manners for their children. Always say “please” when you want something. Say “thank you,” when someone hands you something or does something nice for you. Say “excuse me” when you burp or pass gas, “you’re welcome” when someone thanks you. Ask, “may I” before coming to a child’s assistance or requesting to use something the child is using.

Modeling Manners

Just by being polite, you are teaching your child to be polite. Being rude, on the other hand, even just by omission (such as forgetting to say thank you), will be noticed by your child. Children are always watching you, even when you think they are unaware, so make sure your behavior is always correct.

Children need positive reinforcement. Watch for opportunities to praise them for good behavior. Use those times to reinforce good manners. “I was so proud of the way you thanked Mrs. Smith for letting you play with Timmy, today,” or, “I was so happy at the way you greeted Mr. Lowry when you came home from school and saw he was visiting.”

Children love praise. If you take note and mention their good behavior, they are sure to continue to earn even more praise from you, their parent. Don’t miss an opportunity to encourage them.

Embed from Getty Images

Modeling good behavior for children is important, but not going far enough. Parents must also serve as active coaches to their children, prompting them to say the right words, for example, “Say, thank you to Mrs. Smith,” or to do the right thing, such as not putting their elbows on the table. Correction is often necessary, too. You can do it in a positive way. Instead of saying, “don’t speak with your mouth full,” you might say, “wait until you’re finished chewing and swallowing, then tell us what you want to say.”

General Etiquette

  • Acknowledge guests or family members, when they enter the home.
  • Use a person’s name rather than “you” or “he” or “she.”
  • An adult should be addressed with his title (Mr., Mrs., Dr., Aunt, and so forth).
  • Introduce friends to each other: “Barbara, I’d like you to meet Joe.”
  • When introduced to someone say, “Nice (or “pleased”) to meet you.”
  • Always knock and wait for a response before entering a room
  • Foul language is always inappropriate, especially when used by children in the presence of adults. It is disrespectful and offensive.
  • It is never okay to insult someone, be cruel, make fun of others, call mean names, or otherwise bully others.
  • Try not to burp or pass gas in the presence of others, but go to a bathroom or unoccupied room to do so, if possible.
  • Always say excuse me after burping or passing wind in the presence of others, even family members.
  • Show respect and kindness for others, such as for elders (you might, for instance, suggest an older person go ahead of you in line at a buffet.
  • Be aware of others’ physical space and never stand to close to others or crowd them.
  • Never point at people or things. Like standing too close, this is an abuse of physical space.
  • Those exiting the room always go first before those entering the room.
  • Allow others to pass you by moving to the right.
  • Always say hello or goodbye when entering or leaving a home.
  • When you see someone with disability, don’t stare. Imagine how it would make you feel if others stared at you or pointed at you. Treat people with disabilities as you would like to be treated.
  • When leaving someone you’ve just met, say, “It was nice meeting you.”

Phone Manners

  • When answering the phone, say “Hello.” When the person asks to speak to someone, say, “Just a moment please,” and perhaps, “Whom shall I say is calling?”
  • When calling, say hello and ask for the person you wish to speak with. For instance: “Hello, may I speak to John?”
  • If you are John, you might respond, “Speaking. How may I help you?
  • If “John” is not home, the child should say, “I’m sorry, he’s not home right now. May I take a message please?” In this case, the child should make sure to write down and deliver the message on John’s return.
  • If John is home but cannot come to the phone, don’t explain why but say, “John can’t come to the phone right now, may he call you back?” Then write down the phone number and name of the person calling and make sure John gets the message.

Table Manners

  • When you’re not sure how to use a utensil or which utensil to use, watch your host or hostess and follow suit.
  • Don’t pick up your fork or spoon to eat until your host or hostess does.
  • Spread your napkin on your lap, use it to wipe your mouth.
  • Use your napkin to unobtrusively remove olive pits, bones, or other inedible bits from your mouth.
  • Pass things at table without being asked. If you want something you cannot easily reach, never reach over others, but ask for it to be passed to you.
  • If you must leave the table before the meal is over, ask your host for permission to be excused from the table. “May I please be excused?”
  • Stay seated at the table during meals.
  • Always chew with your mouth closed.
  • Don’t speak with food in your mouth.
  • Never place your elbows on the table.
  • Don’t eat so others can hear you.


  • When asked how you are, say thank you, answer the question, and respond in kind, “Fine, thank you. How are you?”
  • Don’t interrupt, rather wait until that person nods to you or otherwise lets you go ahead. If it is something that cannot wait, begin what you have to say with, “excuse me.”
  • Keep negative opinions to yourself. Never comment on a person’s physical characteristics unless it is a compliment.
  • Always speak when spoken to.
  • Make eye contact when speaking with others
  • Be a good listener. Let the person say all he wants to say. Answer in a way that shows you are listening and caring.

Public Manners

  • If you bump into someone or step on someone’s foot, say “excuse me.” If you might have hurt the person, ask if he or she is okay and offer help. Apologize.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Don’t pick your nose or pick or touch other (even covered) body parts.
  • Hold the door open for others.
  • Offer help when you can.
  • When asked by an adult to do a favor, don’t complain, but smile and do so willingly and as quickly as possible.

Being a Guest

  • If you’re not sure about something, ask permission Examples:
  1. May I look at this photo album, please?
  2. May I play with this kaleidoscope, please?
  3. May I take a cold drink of water from the refrigerator, please?
  • Respect your hosts’ privacy. Don’t touch things not belonging to you without permission. Don’t enter a closed door without permission.
  • Always clean up any messes you’ve made, for instance, put away any toys that were used, clean up after crafts.
  • Offer to help your host or hostess clean, serve, or clear.
  • If served a food you don’t like, take a small amount and eat as much as you can. Don’t make faces or complain. Your host or hostess worked hard to make a nice meal and you don’t want his or her feelings hurt.
  • Never fight over toys. Take turns using things. Share.
  • Always play fair.
  • Be a graceful loser. Smile and congratulate the winner.
  • Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t push, pull, or poke.
  • Don’t hit.
  • No name calling.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. Watch your hosts to see when it might be time to go home. Do they seem tired? Is it getting late?
  • When invited to an event or someone’s home, always seek out and thank the host or hostess, for instance, say thank you to your friend’s mother at the end of a play date.

Hosting Others

  • Make your guests feel happy and comfortable. Take their coats. Ask if they’d like a drink or something to eat. Introduce them to people you think they’d enjoy knowing.
  • If your guest spills or breaks something, try to make them feel it was no big deal and clean it away as quickly as you can.
  • Thank guests for attending your event or for visiting.
  • Make a list of all those who helped you with your event or gave you gifts. Send them thank-you notes.

Attending Events

  • Always stand when meeting someone for the first time to show respect.
  • Stand for clergy or important speakers
  • It is difficult to sit through a boring speech or performance such as a play or a concert. It is important to sit quietly, however, and pretend to be interested. Keep in mind that the speaker or performer is doing his very best.
  • Don’t roll your eyes.
  • Clap at the end.

Expressing Gratitude

In addition to thanking a host in person when leaving a home or party, thank-you notes are always appreciated as a response to gifts and kindnesses. These should be sent by snail mail.

A typical thank-you note takes this form:
Dear Mrs. Smith,

Thank you so much for the ____. I have always wanted one. I will use it to ________.



If the child is too young to write, the child can draw a picture of using the item and the parent can write out the thank you note in the child’s name. These items can be mailed to the person in question.

Taken all together, this seems like a daunting list, both for the parent who must teach these things, and the child, who must learn them. Step back, however, and see what it is this list is all about: being considerate and kind, nothing more. Discuss this with your child. Ask how it feels, for instance, when someone points at her. Ask how it felt, on the other hand, when Mrs. Smith asked her how she was feeling after she had the flu.

Embed from Getty Images

Good manners can be natural for the person who is caring. It’s just about getting the details straight. Knowing there is a set of guidelines for our behavior in any situation, can be a real comfort for children and for adults, too.

What are some of your best tips for teaching your child good manners? 

Sex Education, Our Children, and Politics

Sex education, until recently, was sensibly handled. Today, alas, sex education has been politicized. Instead of thinking about what children are ready to hear, parents are told to confront children with confusing information.

Planned Parenthood, for instance, is now disseminating sex education information to parents on how to discuss gender and sexual issues with preschoolers. This runs contrary to the sensible approach toward sex education that until now, has been the norm for explaining the birds and the bees. Parents would not bring up the subject of sex, but be prepared to honestly answer a child’s questions as they come up, answering only what the child asks, and no more.

The child is the guide. The child tells you what he or she is ready to hear about. This prevents a situation where a child is told about things that make him or her uncomfortable. This method of sex education also gives parents time to formulate an idea about what they will say when questions inevitably arrive: will I go very technical and use anatomical terms, or translate to child-speak (Daddy plants a seed in Mommy and God makes it grow)?sex education

Planned Parenthood’s parenting and sex education section, on the other hand, encourages parents to look for teachable moments:

“Little kids notice, and sometimes comment on, everything. Your kid may notice another kid on the playground or in their preschool who has a different kind of family than them — a family with a different number of parents, or with grandparents raising kids, or with two moms or two dads, or any number of other situations.

“These observations are good teachable moments. Take a minute and explain to your kid that they’re right — what they’re noticing is different from your family — but that there’s nothing wrong with it, and that we can always be friends with people who are different from us. You’ll be steering your kid in the direction of respecting others as they grow up. It will also one day help them figure out the kind of family they want to build for themselves.”

This sex education method of looking for teachable moments and explaining things to children, giving them so many concepts at once, seems illogical and confusing. Instead of giving children the raw information they need to understand their world, it goes beyond and tells them how to think: “There is nothing wrong with this.”

That is the equivalent of media bias. Children should be given information at the time they ask for it and be left alone to puzzle out the rest on their own. That is how you teach children constructive thinking. Space and silence are prerequisites for thinking. Children deserve that space and silence, too. There is nothing good about being brainwashed.

If your child comes to ask about the gay couple in the park, you can give them the facts: this is a couple where both partners are men. You don’t need to say anything else at all. Unless the child asks further questions.

Seeking Facts

Children are seeking facts and it is our job to either provide those facts or point them to a source for the facts. Children respect and trust their parents to know and understand the things they do not. But children are also seeking reassurance. Sometimes they ask questions because they want reassurance. They want factual, calm answers to their questions. This is what makes their world stable.sex education

Feelings are in unstable territory. Telling a child how to feel is wrong. That includes telling a child how to feel about minorities, homosexuality, or gender issues. It’s not only wrong to tell children how to feel (it’s actually wrong to tell anyone how to feel), it’s confusing to them. A case of too much information.

Telling children how to feel also prevents them from thinking about things and coming to independent conclusions. Our independent conclusions are real because we’ve come to them on our own. When we adopt others’ conclusions by rote, we have no way to explain why we feel as we do. Such “conclusions” are based on air.

But Planned Parenthood disagrees:

“Conversations about sex and masturbation not only give you an opportunity to share accurate information with your kid, they’re also an opportunity to talk about your values. Your values influence how you talk about it, so think ahead of time about what messages you want to send. It’s also a good idea to talk about these values with any co-parents or caretakers, so you’re all on the same page.

“For example, you might want to think about what you’re going to say about why people have sex — is it something people do when they’re in love? That grownups sometimes choose to do with each other? To feel good? To feel close to each other? To have a baby? All of these? Some but not others? At this age, you don’t have to go into detail about all of the complicated reasons people have sex. For now, it’s more about communicating what’s most important to you.”

This idea of sharing values is unnecessary and confusing. Children learn their parents’ values through example. If mommy puts a nickel in a beggar’s cup, smiles, and exchanges pleasantries, the child learns about true charity. The same is true of a parent’s values in other spheres. If parents speak lovingly toward each other, and with respect, the child learns to speak lovingly and with respect toward a spouse.

If it is a value to you to treat the LGBTQ community with extra kindness, your child will see this, too. No need to explain it or what it means. And if your child has a question, he or she will ask. Then you can answer in as few words as possible, using simple language, answering only what is asked.

Not All Babies Are Forgotten

Infant and toddler hot car deaths which we have, in the past, called “Forgotten Baby Syndrome,” is a topic that isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve tried to raise awareness of these tragedies here at Kars4Kids with postings (here, here, here, here, and here) on the Kars4Kids educational blog for parents. We also created a free downloadable app, Kars4Kids Safety, to alert parents to the presence of a baby in the backseat of the car.

Our favorite resource for these efforts has, without a doubt, been Jan Null’s website, noheatstroke.org. That’s why it knocked us for a loop when Null reached out to us with a comment on one of these blog pieces, as follows:

“I am the creator and author of all of the material on http://noheatstroke.org.  First and foremost, all of the cases cited would not [be] due to infants and children being forgotten in vehicles. Only 54%* are forgotten. Secondly, while Forgotten Baby Syndrome is catchy, I have yet to find it documented as something unique in any peer-reviewed literature. It’s like saying Forgotten Car Key Syndrome is something unique when I’m stressed about going to an appointment! Yes, people do forget things and reminders are a great idea, but only for the just over half the cases where they are forgotten.”

Here’s where I’m going to drop the collective “we” and ‘fess up. I serve as contributing editor of the Kars4Kids educational blog for parents. I saw the phrase “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” some years back and thought: “I need to be using that phrase on the blog to help popularize it and raise awareness.”

To my mind, the biggest obstacle to raising awareness of babies dying in hot cars, is the knee-jerk response of parents who say “I’d never forget my baby,” because they think only bad parents forget their babies.

Parents who don’t understand or recognize the cognitive process behind memory failure don’t take precautions to protect their children from this eventuality, with often dire results. To my mind, branding the phenomenon was critical. It had to have a name for parents to latch onto, one that sums things up neatly.

So there I was, confronted with Null’s comment. “If I post it,” I thought, “that will only exacerbate the problem of parents thinking: this can’t happen to me. On the other hand, If I don’t post it, I’m being dishonest.”

I decided I’d write Null and tell him that. I wanted to see what he’d say. Besides, I wanted to know about the other 46% of babies who die in hot cars, but aren’t forgotten.

I wrote to Mr. Null explaining my conundrum about posting his comment and asking about that other 46 percent. He wrote:

“The other 46% are broken down into two categories, but neither of them are the result of forgetting.

  • 28% happen when children get into a vehicle on their own, typically when a car is left unlocked in the driveway or other nearby location.  This is why parents should be urged to lock cars, keep keys and fob out of reach and if a child is missing to always check cars (including the trunk).
  • 17% are when a parent or other caregiver makes a conscious decision to leave a child in a vehicle when they go do some other activity.  These have included getting their hair done, going to a bar, casino or racetrack, having a romantic rendezvous or going to work.

Null added, “I don’t doubt that 54% are forgotten, just that it is nothing unique.  We all have busy multitasking lives and parents do indeed have additional stresses but other than the tragic consequences is it any different than spacing out and forgetting our freeway exit?

“Finally, I really appreciate your efforts to raise awareness about this issue and for every baby’s life that might get saved is important. I have been involved in the issue, primarily pro bono, since 2001 and obviously feel it is an important one.”

“Forgotten Baby Syndrome” An Inaccurate Catchphrase

I saw Null was right: lots of babies who die in hot cars aren’t forgotten, so it’s inaccurate to say they died of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.” The cognitive process that makes memory fail isn’t unique to parents, so it’s not correct to call it a “syndrome.”

“So where do I go from here?” I thought. “What are we going to call this thing?”

I decided to ask Dr. David Diamond what he thought. Considered the expert on forgotten babies, Diamond speaks and writes extensively on the subject, and has testified in trials of parents whose babies died in hot cars.

“I’m reluctant to post Null’s comment,” I wrote to Diamond, “for fear that parents will continue to believe that only bad parents forget their babies, and won’t take precautionary steps to avoid leaving their own babies behind in their cars.”

Diamond, incredibly, responded, suggesting that since the catchphrase is not always well-received and since, “leaving a child in a car is not an act of brain damage or pathology,” he no longer uses the phrase  Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

“I wrote an article here about the phenomenon and I didn’t mention FBS at all,” said Diamond. “There is no need for a peer-reviewed publication on the topic. Forgetting kids in cars is, in theory, the same brain processes involved in any other type of memory failure when the habit memory system outcompetes the conscious fact-based memory system.

“As to the 54% figure – sometimes kids play in cars and get themselves locked in, and other times parents forget kids. I don’t see why it matters. Both types of child deaths are preventable.  There are documented times when parents intentionally leave children in cars because they think the children will be safe. This clearly is poor judgment and is in a different category from forgetting kids in cars. I don’t see why 54% of the deaths caused by memory failures should be trivialized.

“Bottom line – memory is flawed, whether it’s remembering that our headlights are on or that our child’s in the car – being aware it happens to attentive loving parents is necessary to appreciate that we need technology to help us so that kids don’t die in cars and parents aren’t traumatized and incarcerated.”

“Good points all,” I responded in my next missive, “but it does seem like we need a name for this, even if we don’t call it a ‘syndrome.'”

Dr. Diamond heard me.

“I understand the need to have a catchphrase for this phenomenon, that’s why FBS was so appealing. But to have a phrase for it is flawed, first, because the word ‘syndrome’ medicalizes it as a form of brain abnormality, and second, FBS opens it up to ridicule, such as to compare it to ‘forgotten phone syndrome’, etc. It also makes it appear that parents don’t take responsibility for forgetting their kids by blaming it on FBS.

“Bottom line: it is in the general category of a failure of prospective memory, in which we plan to do something in the future, but we forget to do what we planned to do, which is the most common form of memory failure. The reason is not because we don’t care, it’s because we lose awareness of the plan. The insidious aspect of forgetting children is that our brain creates the false memory that we did complete the plan, that we did take the child to daycare. This is why parents go about their normal routine as the child dies in the hot car.

“At a neural level, forgetting a child in a car involves the same brain structures as forgetting to stop at the store on the way home (information is held in temporary memory to be used at a later time while the brain engages in habitual activity). The comparison may offend some, but only the magnitude of the consequences of the memory failures in the two examples is different – the brain structures involved are the same.

Forgotten? Time for a Phone Call

I returned to Null to get his take on Diamond’s position. We decided we had to speak on the phone. My transcript of that call:

Jan Null: If you look at my website, I’ve made a plea not to trivialize forgotten babies. But we have to be careful not to emphasize one factor at the expense of others. We can’t be looking only at that 54% and not be looking at the others.

By the same token, we shouldn’t think that if we have technology to prevent us from forgetting babies in cars, that this alone will solve the problem. It’s like advertising a fat-reducing pill and saying, “Take this, and you won’t be fat anymore,” it’s dishonest.

Every step along the way saves lives, but when one aspect of it is made to be the chief component the other half gets left out of the discussion. When we do that we’re trivializing and saying once we take care of the 54% we’ll only have to worry about the next 46%, as if that’s minor.

Null continued: Take technology and the new legislation: these laws and devices will take some amount of time to make their way to the entire population. It’s not instantly you’re going to have these devices in even 50% of these cars.

Once you have the technology, it’s got a limited application. I’ve written about this on my website: “It is especially important to note that these types of sensors/devices are aimed at the segment of the cases where a child is accidently forgotten (54%), but not the other half of the cases where children gain access on their own or are intentionally left in vehicles.”

The amount of penetration of this technology even within 10 years, well, half the cars on the road are 7 years old, so you’ll be siphoning new technology into maybe half the cars, at best. Even with your technology being put in cars you’re going to have underserved populations who are going to get it last. In areas where people can’t afford to buy cars every year? That’s where you’ll get the technology last. The distribution of technology is going to be skewed to the higher socioeconomic groups.

Null: The Guy Bringing Tools and Trends

As for finding a good term to describe forgotten babies, well, that’s not my specialty. I’m the guy bringing tools and trends. I’ve spent 17 years of my service as a weather forecaster and meteorologist looking at this issue. But that term “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” is misleading. It made people think it was something specific to parents and babies.

I think it was Weingarten who used “forgotten baby syndrome” first, but that’s branding. I’m the one presenting the data for the people who are in the sphere of heatstroke death, people going to congress, people running heatstroke prevention campaigns. Trends and patterns, that’s my part.

I develop trend lines.  If we’re looking at weather and heat patterns, the trend line is going up. The total number of deaths, on the other hand, has been flat for 17 years. The numbers have stayed at 37 or 38 average heatstroke deaths per year.* But it’s pretty much been a flat trend all the way back to 1998. That’s discouraging.

Me: Discouraging? I would have thought encouraging. That the number of deaths isn’t rising. That the trend line is flat rather than going up.

Jan: It shows we’re not doing a good job with awareness, of making parents aware of the problem. Things haven’t changed.

Me: Well, that’s why I say you have to have a name. If not Forgotten Baby Syndrome then something else. But you need to have a name.

Jan: But we have the words. We have campaigns. Phrases like “Look before you lock.”

Me: And the parents say, “I’d never leave my baby so I don’t have to look before I lock.”

Jan: It’s definitely a problem to make parents understand it could happen to them. There’s an urban myth, a story, don’t know if it’s true, that a spouse saw a device and bought two of them, one for the other spouse. The other spouse made the first one take his back. Because he’d never leave the baby in a car. You know where this is going, right?

But again, the branding of it, that’s not for me. What is important is we continue to educate people with statistics and blogs like yours. It’s not going to be a short process or a single device.

Me: How do kids get into cars on their own? They take the keys and find their way in?

Jan: Sometimes. Sometimes the car doors aren’t even locked. They just go into the car.

Me: And then can’t get out? Is that because of child locks?

Jan: Sometimes. They climb over into the backseat and then can’t get out. They don’t know they can get out of the car from the front seat at any time. And sometimes they just don’t make it out.

Me: They’re overcome?

Jan: Overcome by the heat, yes. Sometimes they want to get hold of the key fob and click. Was it Volkswagen that had the Darth Vader commercial of the kid with the key fob, who kept clicking [yes. V.E.]?

Sometimes the kid is looking for a quiet place. Or the parent has an appointment and can’t get childcare, so leaves the child in the car. Sometimes parents are going to a bar or a casino—they think they’re leaving the kids in a “safe” place. It’s intentional. There was a story of someone who had a court appearance, couldn’t get childcare, and left the child in the car.

Me: And when a child dies due to a parent leaving him a car, you never get over it. How can you live with yourself after that?

Jan: There’s a whole sociology to this. For instance it was a spouse or a childcare provider who left the child in the car. Whether or not the childcare provider was paid or just doing a favor.

There’s the crime and punishment issue. Allen Breed looked at this 10 years ago. How are these cases prosecuted? Do you say that causing the inadvertent death of a child is punishment enough? Or do you look at it like a murder? There’s a whole discontinuity in the way these cases are prosecuted. One court calls it a crime and another says it’s a memory failure.

“Forgotten Baby Syndrome” Officially Discarded

I thanked Jan Null for the generosity of his time. Essentially, both Null and Diamond agreed with each other. Forgotten Baby Syndrome was a catchphrase to be discarded. It’s inaccurate. And trivializes the other 46 percent of babies who die in hot cars for other reasons.

It seems we may never find the perfect catchphrase for this terrible thing. But raising awareness, now that’s a goal we can hold onto. We need to make Null’s trend line go down. Way down.

Starting now.

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

*Source: Jan Null, CCM, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, San Jose State University, http://noheatstroke.org