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?

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Roots of Empathy: Can Babies Heal Bullies?

Can spending time with a baby prevent bullying? One school program, Roots of Empathy, brings babies and their moms into classrooms. And research suggests that participating classrooms show a reduction in bullying and aggressive behavior.

Is it really just that simple? What is the exact nature of the Roots of Empathy program, and how can we reproduce these results in our own children’s classrooms? Because even one child bullied, is one child too many.

Roots of Empathy has developed a research-based school program for primary school children in which the teaching tools consist, in the main, of a local baby and parent. The program has spread across Canada and to 10 other countries, as well. More than 800,000 children have experienced the program since the nonprofit’s founding, in 1996. Roots of Empathy Founder Mary Gordon, says the long-term goal of the program is to build a “more caring, peaceful, and civil society, where everybody feels a sense of belonging.”

The Roots of Empathy program has local parents volunteering themselves and their babies, coming every few weeks to classrooms, so that children can witness a baby’s vulnerability and development over time. Gordon says she started the program because she wanted to find a way to help children talk about their feelings. “Roots of empathy is a bit of a trick. We use a baby to help children find the vulnerability and humanity in this little baby so that then you can flip it back to their own experiences.

“They realize this sudden universe of ‘everybody in the world feels the same as me. We’re not so disconnected.’

“It’s very hard to hate someone if you realize they feel like you. It’s very hard to be bullying someone if you realize that.”

Lisa Bahar, a licensed psychotherapist in Newport Beach, California, explains that the goal of the Roots of Empathy program goal is to realize that “we” are all the same, “in the sense of wanting to belong, to be loved and cared about. This kind of unique vehicle of bringing a baby into the classroom is what I consider a wonderful way to allow children to relate to someone who is nonthreatening, and who can give a young person the awareness of true connection to other human beings. This creates empathy, sympathy and compassion,” says Bahar.

But is this really something we need to have in our classrooms? Shouldn’t parents be teaching empathy at home? “If we are educating children who can read well and compute well but can’t relate well, we will have a failed society. Learning how to relate to one another requires empathy. You have to understand how the other fella feels,” says Mary Gordon.

Can It Heal A Bully?

Can the Roots of Empathy program help turn around a child who is already a bully? Bahar says yes. “Spending time with a baby activates the senses as we observe the eyes, the responses, the touch, and the expressions of the baby. These sensory impressions can be internalized and experienced through the baby. The pathology that exists within the bully will fight to resist the impact of these sensory lessons, the insight will nonetheless be gained, as the child experiences a sense of connection to another living being,” says Bahar.

Studies from 2000 onward, confirm that the Roots of Empathy program is effective, reducing bullying and aggression over the course of the school year and over time, in general. Children who take part in the program have an increased sense of positivity about the classroom environment. They feel more of a sense of belonging and acceptance. Students are also more likely to engage in “pro-social” behavior, for instance sharing with and helping their peers, and including them in their activities. Perhaps most important of all, the program appears to reduce fighting among classmates by 50 percent, on average. This is notable, since in general, classroom squabbles tend to increase over the course of the school year.

Roots of Empathy and the Root Cause of Bullying

But Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV, says that as a method of targeting bullies, Roots of Empathy misses the mark. “Roots of Empathy is a truly wonderful and beautiful program that by bringing a baby into the classroom teaches school age children about human relatedness, reading/understanding emotions, and human-to-human engagement. However, they missed the mark for targeting prevention of bullying. Clearly, the creators do not fully understand the root cause of all bullies,” says Walfish, who explains, “All bullies carry a secret that they, personally, have been the target of bullying, mistreatment, and mishandling by someone important within their family. That important someone is usually their father or mother, and in less frequent instances, an older sibling. Often, the mistreatment is abusive—emotionally or physically.

“The child who is the victim in his own family cannot ‘hold’ or contain the hostility and rage, and thus becomes the bully. He goes to school or out into the world and looks for an easy target. Then, he expels his hostilities onto another innocent victim.  It is a vicious cycle,” says Walfish, suggesting that playing with a baby is just not going to cut it, not going to stop that cycle, and is certainly not going to prevent that cycle from occurring in the first place.

Erin Clabough, PhD, a neurobiologist and author of Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control  (December 2018, Sounds True Publishing) sees Roots of Empathy program as, at the very least, a valuable tool in developing empathy, even among bullies. “Being a bully doesn’t mean you are pathological. Everyone can be a bully if they are placed in the wrong kind of situation. Part of our role as parents is to put our kids in roles where they can experience healthy things and feel how rewarding they are. Roots of Empathy is an incredible program that works to increase social awareness in kids and its effectiveness is supported by lots of peer-reviewed studies.”

But according to Clabough, the Roots of Empathy program isn’t enough. “Bringing a baby into the classroom to decrease the incidence of bullying in a school is a great start. But if that’s all we do, it will make as much meaningful change in a person as playing with a puppy for the afternoon. It’s a cute stress-reliever, a great wake-up call, and you can certainly learn a lot about nonverbal emotional communication from a baby, but these kids also need to practice cross-age relationships in an ongoing way.”

Buddy System

Clabough suggests that the buddy system is a great way to provide this sort of relationship practice and provides a means to build on the Roots of Empathy program. “Having a buddy in lower grades that kids see once a week is a great way to do this through the school setting, as is providing older mentors (for example, an 8th grader mentoring a 6th grader new to middle school). Our elementary school (Free Union Country School, in the Charlottesville, Virginia area) does a great job with this—every child in grades 2-5 has a smaller buddy in grades PreK-1. The buddy partnerships change each year, and as the children advance through school, they look forward to the time when they can finally be the big buddy,” says Clabough.

The practical benefits of the buddy system, suggests Clabough, are broad. “This buddy system normalizes having friends of different ages, it allows kids to grow meaningful connections to individuals outside their normal social groups, it creates a broader sense of belonging, and it strengthens every kid’s support network. Perhaps most importantly, it gives kids a chance to practice empathy through both teaching and looking at things from a different person’s perspective,” says Clabough, a mother of four, who concedes that, “The Roots of Empathy program has other components that are worth exploring.”

After the Florida Mass Shooting: PTSD in Teens

Can just listening to the news and viewing disturbing images cause PTSD in teens? This is a question some parents are asking in the wake of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High school, in Parkland Florida. These parents wonder if their teenagers’ sleeplessness, nightmares, and frightening thoughts are more than just strong but temporary reactions to the news. The answer is a definite yes: if your teen is experiencing such symptoms, it could be posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and your child should be seen by a mental health professional.

Florida Mass Shooting

Perhaps thought you’d done as good a job as any parent might do in explaining the awful news coming out of Florida to your teen, but here it is, two weeks later, and your child still can’t get through the night without waking up drenched in sweat and shaking. Is this a genuine mental health issue or is it something that will pass with the healing qualities of time? What should you be doing to support your teen?

Dr. Robin Goodman of A Caring Hand, a nonprofit that specializes in helping children cope with bereavement, confirms that even teens outside of Florida can experience posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the mass shooting, “We do know that direct physical exposure (witnessing the event or being there) or emotional exposure (knowing someone who was injured or who died) as well as indirect exposure (seeing and reading about the event in the news and on social media) can impact teens and lead to trauma reactions,” says Goodman.

Knowing that teens even far from Parkland can suffer emotional trauma from the fallout of the mass shooting is one thing. But what are the symptoms of PTSD in teens? What should parents be watching for?

Jessica Tappana, of the Aspiring trauma counseling center, says that teens can be impacted by PTSD every bit as much as adults. The difference is that teens may hesitate to reach out to the adults in their lives for help. That means that their parents may not even know their children are struggling. And not all of the complicated feelings teens may experience after a mass shooting like the one in Florida can be labeled as posttraumatic stress disorder.

Healthy Response

“In the immediate aftermath of the traumatic shooting, it is normal to expect youth to be shaken and more anxious. Certainly students returning to Stoneman Douglas this week are going to feel anxious, but youth across the country who have watched the news coverage of Stoneman Douglas and the many “copycat” threats since are experiencing anxiety as well. Some of this nervousness is a normal response to the trauma.

“In the weeks following the trauma, you can expect teens to be processing this anxiety and talking about the trauma; their personal experiences; and their reactions. This is their way of trying to make sense of the experience, and facing their emotions about the situation is actually a healthy response,” says Tappana.

Teens protest the Parkland, Florida mass shooting in TallahasseeSo when does a teenager’s reaction to the traumatic school shooting become an issue of concern?  When do you seek professional help? “If time goes on and your child’s anxiety about the shooting is impacting his or her ability to function, you may want to seek professional help. PTSD develops when the brain doesn’t heal from the trauma and instead sees danger around every corner,” explains Tappana.

“Teens developing PTSD might be avoiding situations that remind them of the school shooting (i.e. school, the news, etc). They may be thinking about the shooting constantly or even having nightmares.

“For teens who were at Stoneman Douglas or who have attended another school where there was a threat, there may be ‘flashbacks’ where it feels like they’re experiencing the threat all over again.  Withdrawing or reacting to everyday situations in an extreme manner can also indicate a problem.

Wait Three Months?

“Traditionally, mental health professionals wait until about three months after a trauma to diagnose PTSD. That said, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Speak to a mental health professional regarding whether counseling might help children process their reactions to the shooting. This is especially true if children’s concerns are interfering with their ability to feel safe at school, interact with peers, or otherwise function on a day-to-day basis,” says Tappana.

Dr. Sal Raichbach of the Ambrosia Treatment Center cautions parents that PTSD isn’t just something that happens to soldiers, “When we think of PTSD, we often think of active soldiers or veterans who have seen wartime and are plagued with flashbacks from the battlefield. But PTSD is a lot closer to home than we think. Any traumatic event can trigger PTSD, from abuse in the household to a school shooting, like the one we’ve witnessed in Florida,” says Raichbach.

But that doesn’t mean that teens are going to experience PTSD the same way as those in the military, or war veterans. “PTSD in children usually differs from that seen in adults, and teens fall somewhere in the middle. Kids tend to reenact their trauma during play or watch for signs that the trauma will recur and try to prevent that from happening. Teens, on the other hand, will often show more aggressive behavior and potentially engage in self-harm or use drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms.”

Unprocessed Trauma

Why do teens experience symptoms of PTSD after incidents like the mass shooting in Florida? “PTSD is the body and mind’s response to unprocessed trauma. When trauma is processed properly, with enough expression either through shaking in the body, through crying, or through the expression of rage and fear, it becomes ‘resolved.’ This means the body and mind won’t be haunted by the experience forever, which might lead to nightmares, chronic and constant fear, and the feeling of being perpetually unsafe,” says psychoanalyst Claudia Luiz.

Why do teens outside of Florida experience PTSD? It may be because of the extensive and inescapable media coverage of the event. “Research from 9/11 has shown that people can develop PTSD just from watching a traumatic event on television over and over again. Teens have been fascinated by this school shooting more than others because the distressed students have continued to speak out,” explains Dr. Carole Lieberman, author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How To Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror, who adds that the most important thing parents can do to help kids with PTSD is to acknowledge their reactions to the event as understandable. “It is important to talk about what happened and to get them to express their feelings about what happened. Ask them if they’re worried that this will happen at their school. Ask if they know anyone who they think has angry feelings and might be ready to explode like Nikolas Cruz. Ask if they know any classmate who has guns. Ask if they themselves sometimes get angry feelings that make them fantasize about hurting people or hurting themselves.

“If they have feelings about hurting others or themselves, get them into therapy. Also, if their symptoms of PTSD don’t resolve on their own in a month, get them into therapy,” says Lieberman.

Practical Tips

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV offers the following practical tips for parents:

  • Before injecting too much information into your teen, first ask “What did you hear?”
  • Listen not only to what your teens say, but also pay attention to what they do.
  • Emphasize to your teen “You are safe.” Explain details of the measures schools have already taken to reinforce safety, for instance locking school doors and practicing emergency lockdown drills.
  • A senseless school shooting at their school or anywhere else can make teens (and adults) feel powerless. Give your teen a sense of control by suggesting she write a letter send it to a surviving child or family affected by a school shooting. Or offer to help your teen have a bake sale so she might send the proceeds to the families. These actions are proactive and also offer your teen an opportunity to feel helpful and giving.
  • Limit exposure to TV news, online broadcasts, and social media. Repeated exposure to the violent stories and graphic pictures can re-traumatize your teen.

What if you can’t tell whether your teen is experiencing PTSD or just normal teenage angst? “In my opinion, parents are the first line of defense against mental illness in children. They interact with their children more than anyone else, so they are usually the first to observe signs and symptoms. If you know your child or teen has experienced a traumatic event, talk to them and keep an eye out for any further signs of PTSD,” says Raichbach.

Dr. Goodman adds that teens aren’t the only ones affected by the mass shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida. “Parents must take care of themselves and get their own support so they can best support their teens.”

ADHD Symptoms: ADHD or Sleep Deprivation?

ADHD symptoms can sometimes be a sign of simple sleep deprivation. That’s the upshot of the discussion at a recent conference in Paris. Psychiatric researchers presented a roundup of the data that suggests that sleep and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are linked. Some of the experts, however, remain unconvinced that such a connection exists. Instead, they say the ADHD symptoms we see in sleep-deprived children only mimic the symptoms of ADHD. What we’re really seeing, say these dissenting experts, may be a sleep disorder.

That’s important, because the upward increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD is striking. We need to know if it’s possible we’re not seeing ADHD after all, but something altogether different. If it’s not ADHD and we treat the symptoms with drugs, we may not be addressing the root cause, and may even be making things worse. Especially since some medications for ADHD, for instance, Ritalin, can make it difficult for children to sleep.

“If adults don’t get enough sleep, they’ll appear sleepy,” says Dr. Syed Naqvi, a pediatric sleep expert at UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute and Children’s Health. “Children don’t do that. They show ADHD-like behavior instead—hyperactive or inattentive.”

Dr. Naqvi says he sees lots of children in his practice who have been diagnosed with ADHD whose behavior doesn’t respond to medication. What they really need is sleep. Once the issue of quality and duration of sleep is treated, the symptoms improve.

ADHD Symptoms from Ritalin

Naqvi has seen the occasional case where ADHD medication was the actual source of the sleep problem. In other words: these kids with ADHD symptoms didn’t actually have ADHD. They were exhibiting the symptoms of ADHD because they needed better and more sleep. And the drugs they were given for their ADHD symptoms exacerbated their sleep issues and caused them to be even more symptomatic. They needed sleep, not Ritalin.

Dr. Preston Wiles, an ADHD expert with the O’Donnell Brain Institute, agrees that the rise in the number of children taking medications for ADHD symptoms is “concerning.” Wiles says the increase in pediatric prescriptions for ADHD medications is due, in large measure, to the fact that there are so few clinicians who are qualified to render an accurate diagnosis of ADHD. Many of the “experts” prescribing these medications have little understanding of child behavior.

“Pills can be a poor substitute for taking the time to truly understand what is going on with behavior,” Dr. Wiles says.

Little Girl wearily rubbing her eyes
ADHD symptoms or just plum tuckered out?

Kars4Kids spoke with Dr. Naqvi to find out more about why children aren’t getting enough quality sleep and what parents can do to help:

Kars4Kids: What is the impact of technology, for instance, kids texting friends at night and the exposure to bright screens, on our children’s quality and quantity of sleep?

Dr. Syed Naqvi: Using technology in the bed with blue light-emitting screens or socializing at that time results in increased arousal and stimulation of the brain that should actually be winding down time in preparation for sleep. Such technology use frequently results in an artificial delay in sleep, causing inadequate sleep which in turn, impacts on daytime alertness.

Kars4Kids: What can parents do to improve a child’s quantity and quality of sleep?

Dr. Syed Naqvi: Parents should make sure there is a consistent routine for bedtime for the whole family with dimmer lights and a quiet environment, and allowing for age-appropriate sleep time and duration. Control the use of technology an hour before bedtime, and limit caffeine or sugary drinks intake from late in the afternoon. Younger children should go to sleep earlier, teenagers a little later.

Kars4Kids: Is it safe and/or effective to give children melatonin to help improve quantity and quality of sleep?

Dr. Syed Naqvi: Normal children do not need any sleep aid. Melatonin in small amounts may be used in select cases and is generally safe. Discuss the issue with a sleep specialist for a persistent sleep difficulty or any other need for using melatonin.

Mother showing tired boy with ADHD symptoms that it's time to go to bed
Is he exhibiting ADHD symptoms? He may just need more sleep.

Dr. Naqvi also offers a few tips to help parents figure out whether sleep disturbances may be affecting their children’s behavior:

  • Watch for signs of breathing problems, for instance snoring or short intervals where breathing is halted. If you see possible signs of breathing problems, have your child evaluated by a sleep expert.
  • Measure the duration of nighttime sleep the child is getting and monitor any daytime sleepiness.
  • Monitor your children’s school performance and seek help if things don’t improve after starting on ADHD medications.

Is Dyslexia a Gift?

Is Dyslexia a gift? Or is it a curse? Is it a learning disability or a learning difference? It all depends on whom you ask. But dyslexia sure does make it difficult to read. Dyslexia, in fact, is defined as an unexpected reading difficulty that occurs without relation to intelligence, age, motivation, or education.

How could that be a good thing? It makes it hard to read. It comes out of the blue. How can one learn anything without having the knack of fluent reading, let alone attain a high school diploma? How is someone who find it difficult to read going to get through school and get a job?

It is often said that the first three years of school are spent learning to read. After that, students read to learn. Students with dyslexia find it difficult to read, so of course they’re going to find it difficult to learn, right? On the face of it, it sure looks as though dyslexia is a curse, rather than a gift.

Gift of Dyslexia: Superior Understanding

So far, we’re talking facts. Except that there’s another set of talking points on dyslexia that appears to contradict these facts. These alternative arguments say that people with dyslexia just have a different way of learning, that of course people with dyslexia are going to fail if you teach them the way you teach more typical students. This line of thinking holds that people with dyslexia have a superior way of learning and understanding, if only you teach according to their abilities and gifts.

Judy Packhem, a reading specialist, owner and consultant at Shaping Readers explains, “Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by problems with phonological processing skills. In layman’s terms, dyslexics have trouble with accurate and fluent word reading, spelling and decoding (sounding out words). Functional MRIs show a difference between the brains of dyslexics and non-dyslexics. Simply put, the wiring in the brain for reading processes is different. But while their reading skills are lacking, dyslexics excel in other areas.”

If you’re a parent of a child with dyslexia, by now, you’re wondering: what are these “other areas” at which people with dyslexia “excel?” According to Packhem, people with dyslexia are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, which is why some 35% of all entrepreneurs have dyslexia. Packhem recites the usual list of geniuses said to have dyslexia, including Albert Einstein, Steven Spielber, and Bill Gates on her list.

Can Kids With Dyslexia See It As A Gift?

All fine and good. But how do you help children with dyslexia to see their difficulty as a gift? Because if you fail at making them see this, they’re going to feel inferior to their peers who have no trouble whatsoever when it comes to making sense of text. From Packhem’s point of view, the relief that comes with diagnosis solves that problem. “Once diagnosed, dyslexics are often relieved to learn that there is an explanation for their reading difficulty and that they aren’t ‘dumb,’” says Packhem. “They know that having dyslexia means they need to learn in a different way. With the right treatment, dyslexics are able to learn to read. It requires intervention that is multisensory, explicit, language-based, and emotionally sound.”

As far as Packhem is concerned, the gold standard for the effective treatment of dyslexia is the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach. “O-G succeeds where traditional teaching does not in that it is able to create new neural pathways in the brain for reading,” says Packhem, who has a master’s degree in reading and literacy and is a certified dyslexia therapist.

But what, exactly, does it mean to “think out of the box?” What does it mean, in practical terms, to learn in a “different” way? For Arvin Vohra, founder of the Vohra Method of study, and author of Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions, and The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math, it’s about a difference in vision, in how people with dyslexia see things. “Students with dyslexia often treat letters as three dimensional objects. Just as we consider a pen rotated to still be a pen, they often see a b and a d to be the same thing. This poses a challenge in initial stages of reading, but thanks to the work of many educational innovators, a challenge most students can overcome. But the positive benefits of dyslexia are huge! Students who have that 3 dimensional reading facility have a huge advantage in advanced math, as well as in non-academic areas like sculpture and sport,” says Vohra.

Dyslexia: Gift and Curse

Phil Weaver, of the Learning Success System, doesn’t necessarily agree. “Dyslexia is a gift and a curse. You have chosen a very controversial subject. We deal with that statement every day and know well how emotional people can get around that simple phrase.”

Weaver suggests that you can’t define dyslexia according to a single standard. “The exact definition of dyslexia is wildly disputed. So before saying dyslexia is a gift it would be good to know how the term is being used.

“Many schools and professionals will use the term ‘specific learning disability,’ instead. Sometimes this term is used to circumvent providing necessary programs and other times simply to be more descriptive. In fact, all this vagary of speech is one of the main problems in the space.

“Dyslexia can refer to phonological dyslexia, visual dyslexia, or kinesthetic dyslexia. Phonological dyslexia is a problem with language, which could be either a problem deciphering sounds or a problem with abstractions. Visual dyslexia could be a problem with the eyes which could be treated with visual therapy, or it might be Irlen syndrome*, or a difficulty with visual mental skills such as visual memory, visual discrimination, or visual closure. Kinesthetic dyslexia describes problems with directionality and proprioception. Or, to confuse things even more, any possible combination of any of those, which is actually more likely,” says Weaver.

Children With Dyslexia Need Help Not Battles

“There is a large faction that will claim that only phonological dyslexia is true dyslexia. And they get quite defensive if anyone says otherwise. All of this is ridiculous. These children need help and endless battles are fought over definitions.

“With all of that in mind,” says Weaver, “if we can just go with a basic assumption of some specific learning disability. This means that a child (or adult) has a problem with a specific learning skill, in this case reading, but is otherwise intelligent.”

Building on this idea, Weaver suggests that once we stipulate dyslexia as a difficulty with perception or mental function, we can speak about compensation, which is what people do when they have any sort of deficit. For students with dyslexia, says Weaver, compensation is often seen in the area of social skills. “Students with dyslexia may develop some amazing social skills in the interest of hiding their problem,” says Weaver, who suggests that compensation occurs with a student’s thinking skills (cognition), as well. “When we think we use our internal visual, auditory, and spatial skills. These all work together in such a way that we really don’t notice them. And we all use these skills a bit differently. When one skill is weak, the others will become stronger to compensate.”

In summary, says Weaver, there are an infinite number of ways in which the “gifts” of dyslexia display themselves. “You will hear a lot of generalizations such as ‘dyslexics are visual thinkers.’ The truth is that some dyslexics are amazing visual thinkers. Others may actually have a weakness in that area and that is the cause of their dyslexia. These generalizations all sprout from specific subjective experiences.

All Kinds of Dyslexics

“You’ll also hear many claims of dyslexics being highly intelligent. The reality is that dyslexics span the full range of intelligence. No specific gift of intelligence comes with dyslexia. There are highly intelligent dyslexics. Dyslexics of average intelligence. And there are dyslexics of low intelligence,” says Weaver.

Weaver cautions that while some students with dyslexia do develop their gifts, others never get past the issue of low self-esteem. The low self-esteem comes from feeling inferior to their neurotypical classmates, who have no trouble reading. “If they don’t get past the typical self-esteem issues caused by the disability then it is unlikely those gifts will help much. Some get past it by intentionally developing self-esteem. Others do well by constantly proving themselves.

“For dyslexics to not feel “less than” the neurotypical I think it is important for them to realize that there truly is no “neurotypical.” We all think differently. Some are easier to fit into a box and learn in the standard ways. This just means that their neurological differences are not so obvious,” says Weaver.

Concrete Example Of Dyslexia As Gift: John Crossman, CEO

For John Crossman, however, a 46-year-old man with dyslexia who is CEO of Crossman & Company, the difference is indeed obvious. “I consider dyslexia a gift in that it pushed me (without knowing it) to sharpen my skills as a public speaker. I can now write a speech in my head and deliver it without every writing down a note. I give a speech about once a month and almost never use notes.”

Weaver suggests that what Crossman sees as a gift is part and parcel of learning to cope with dyslexia. “In the context of dyslexics realizing that they have a fantastic opportunity for having very pronounced skills that they can maximize and profit from, talking about dyslexia as a gift is quite healthy. With that realization must come the acceptance that those gifts emerged from a difficulty. With that healthy acceptance, a dyslexic can strive to both maximize the gift, and work to overcome the difficulty,” says Weaver.

Referring to the plasticity of the brain, that the brain can grow connections, improve, and change, Weaver comments, “We are not forced to live with the same brain we were born with. We can change it if we want to. To what extent no one knows. But we can only start with a healthy look at where we are at any given moment.”

*Irlen syndrome is a controversial topic. Some of the studies conducted on Irlen syndrome were in some ways faulty, and it is disputed whether or not the syndrome actually exists.  For more information, see:

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.”

Ban Best Friends in Schools??

At Prince George’s school, best friends are banned

Should schools ban best friends to encourage inclusivity? British parenting expert Liz Fraser thinks so, but the public wildly disagrees (and so does this author). Fraser cites four-year-old Prince George’s school, Thomas’s Battersea, as setting a positive example for its ban on best friends.  According to the Daily Mail, Fraser, a mother of four, told Good Morning Britain that having a best friend is too “territorial.” “It immediately [separates] this friend out as being different from all other friends, which immediately sets you into a mini group,” explains Fraser.

“Some children don’t have a best friend. I didn’t have a best friend. If I did have a best friend, I think it’s because no one wanted to be friends with us.”

The British expert also asserts that men don’t have best friends (which would appear to contradict the concept of “bros before hoes”).

“Boys don’t have best friends,” said Fraser. “They have mates, whereas girls have a best friend. It’s very territorial, it’s quite possessive, and for me there’s an element of it’s actually not to do with this friendship, it’s more about telling everybody else this is my best friend.

“I think it’s a good idea to try and keep things a bit more broad.”

Two good buddy-roos.
Boys can so too be best friends!

Fraser urges elementary school teachers to encourage children to be friends with groups of children, rather than with just one best friend. But psychologist Dr. Mark Rackley, appearing on the same segment, disagrees, stating that having a best friend teaches children how to form relationships. Moreover, said Rackley, best friends can be crucial for only children, who don’t have the benefit of long-term, supportive sibling relationships.

Viewers agreed with Rackley, with the backlash against Fraser, severe. Some called the idea of banning best friends “ridiculous,” while others called the concept “rubbish” (and worse). The controversy was so huge, it made its way over to the United States, where Dr. Barbara Greenberg weighed in in a column for U.S.News:

“The phrase best friend is inherently exclusionary. Among children and even teens, best friends shift rapidly. These shifts lead to emotional distress and would be significantly less likely if our kids spoke of close or even good friends rather than best friends. And, if kids have best friends, does that also imply that they have ‘worst friends?’ A focus on having best friends certainly indicates there’s an unspoken ranking system; and where there is a ranking system, there are problems. I see kids who are never labeled best friends, and sadly, they sit alone at lunch tables and often in their homes while others are with their best friends.”Two young girls lying on the grass in opposite directions, smiling best friends

Nonsense, says Bryan G. Stephens, in a reader op-ed he contributed to the conservative website Ricochet called, Ban Best Friends?

“Adults deciding who kids get to be friends with? That will not only breed resentment, it will reduce engagement in school. I have seen children without a best friend at school (in 6th grade I was one), and it hurt my performance in school. In 12th grade, when my then best friends and I broke up, I made it a point to find a new best friend, one whom I am still best friends with, so take that, social do-gooders.

“Think of all the friends I ‘excluded’ by having this one.

“To look at it another way, having someone force the kids in 6th grade who did not like me to be my ‘friend’ would have made things 100 times worse. I was already being bullied. Having teachers force apart cliques to include me would have [bred] resentment on their part, and guess who would have [borne] the brunt of their ire?” wrote Stephens.

Little boys, best friends, hugging, facing camera


Stephens’ brief defense of best friends had a positive response from readers. So positive that not a single reader disagreed with him. Readers at Ricochet, it seems, saw a nefarious political motive behind the drive to ban best friends in schools. One commenter described such bans as coming from “Big Brother,” with others suggesting the ban on best friends as a construct of the radical left, or in reality, a desire to ban the “free market.”

Like Stephens, this author has been on both sides of the equation. Bullied and excluded in the early years of primary education, then quite popular for a time, with best friends coming and going from 6th grade through high school graduation and beyond into adulthood. To ban best friends would have meant grudging acceptance, which would have caused immense hurt. It would have hindered, not helped my self-esteem to be tolerated.

Best friends, on the other hand, are invested in keeping a relationship going, much as a married couple wants to keep a marriage healthy and strong. It takes work to build and maintain any long-term relationship. Through the months and years, best friends learn to listen to one another and grow. Best friends acquire experience in what makes things worse, and perhaps more important, they learn what makes things better.

Little girl best friends take a selfie

Is there a down side to best friends? Not if you’re teaching children to be kind and nice to everyone. Having a best friend doesn’t mean you have to be mean to, or exclude anyone who is not your best friend.

Children should be taught to include other children at play and in activities so their feelings won’t be hurt. They should either invite all their classmates to their birthday parties or give out invitations outside of school (so the one or two children not invited won’t find out they’ve been excluded). Children should be taught not to mention party invitations within hearing of children who might not have been invited. Empathy for less popular children should be stressed and inclusion encouraged. Children should be asked, “How would you feel if no one wanted to play with you?”

But that doesn’t mean that schools should ban best friends or that children should not form best friend relationships. Being nice to all and having a best friend are not mutually exclusive concepts. Think about it this way: you can be friendly to people and still be committed/married to a single partner/spouse. You can be inclusive and still be exclusive and this is not at all a contradictory idea.

Two teenage girls show joy in each others' company.

Yes. Teach these concepts to children: Be nice to all. Don’t bully or tease less popular kids. Try to include them in your parties, play, and other activities.

But say yes, as well, to BFFs. In allowing your child to have a best friend, you’re giving your child an opportunity. You’re allowing your child to learn how to have a close relationship. This is a crucial life skill.

By having a best friend, your child learns about commitment and trust; how to listen and get past disagreements; and yes, even how to be married and parent children. Long-term relationships—whether with a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or best friend—all involve the same critical skill sets.

Two young girlfriends eating treats on the beach, smiling at each other.

So schools, please don’t ban best friends. A ban on best friends would only keep children from acquiring the experience they need to cultivate and maintain life-partner relationships. A school ban on best friends would eliminate the possibility of experiencing what it means to be extra special to just one person. It would mean not having the chance of gifting that feeling of being extra special to someone else.

And finally, you’d be robbing students of the joy and pleasure of having someone who understands them better than anyone else in the world, in a world that is darned confusing.

Know this: a best friend is an anchor and a rock and a pleasure.

Now why would anyone want to take that away from our children?

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!

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Close Physical Contact Important for Crying Babies

Close physical contact between babies and those who care for them is important. We’ve known that for years. A new study shows us that not enough close physical contact has an effect on babies at the molecular level of their very cells. It’s something that can be seen even four years later. That’s according to a new study published by the University of British Columbia, in conjunction with the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

The study found that the molecular profile of children’s cells was immature for their age in those four-year-olds who had experienced more distress and less close physical contact as infants. This begs the question: are such children behind their peers on a biological level? What would this mean for their health?

In an article for Science Daily, Michael Kobor, a Professor at the UBC Department of Medical Genetics and head of the “Healthy Starts” theme at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, explained what the researchers think it means. “In children, we think slower epigenetic aging might indicate an inability to thrive,” said Kobor.

While no one knows, at this point, what this lack of close physical contact, and the resultant lag in the development of cell profiles means in terms of child development or adult health, we’re a bit farther ahead than you might think. This study actually builds on the findings of a similar study performed on, um, rats.

Close Physical Contact in Humans

This study, however, is the first ever to show that the act of touching, for humans, is so important that having or not having close physical contact affects us at the molecular level. Whether our mothers and fathers hug and cuddle us may even have lifelong consequences for the epigenome. This is our personal biochemistry makeup that is responsible for the way our genes express themselves.

The study, published in Development and Psychopathology on November 22, included 94 healthy children in British Columbia. Their parents were asked to keep a journal detailing their 5-week-old babies’ behavior in terms of fussing, sleeping, crying, and feeding. They were also told to record how long they had close physical contact with their babies. Fast forward 4 ½ years later. This is when researchers swooped in to take painless DNA samples of the children, by swabbing the insides of their cheeks.

The researchers were looking for something specific in those DNA samples. They were looking for DNA methylation, a biochemical change where some sections of a chromosome get tagged with small molecules made from carbon and hydrogen. These little molecules serve as “dimmer switches” that tell each gene how active it should be, which mean the molecules affect the way the cells function.

Close Physical Contact and DNA

Mother enjoys close contact with her infant, in the baby's bedroomHow much methylation there is and where along the long chain of DNA methylation happens, is something that can be affected by outside influences, especially in children. Scientists also know how to predict all the ways these epigenetic patterns will change as a person ages.

The scientists in the British Columbia study saw methylation differences between children who’d had lots of close physical contact and those who’d had little. The difference in methylation was consistent and was seen in five places in the DNA. Two of these methylation sites are inside the genes. One of them plays a role in the immune system, while the other has to do with the metabolism. The scientists don’t yet know what this will mean for the children in terms of their development and future health.

What they do know is that children who were experiencing more distress, but receiving less close physical contact, had a lower epigenetic age than expected for their age. Many recent studies have shown a link between this developmental lag and poor health.

“We plan to follow up on whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,” says lead author and postdoctoral fellow Sarah Moore. “If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

Asked how parents can gauge exactly how much contact is “enough”, Moore said, “Since we don’t have follow up outcomes of these children, we can’t extrapolate. I would say that if we further research this combination of infant distress and level of contact, that perhaps the ‘right amount’ of contact depends on the child’s needs, since we found that an association between contact and epigenetic age depends on child distress levels.”

In other words, if your baby cries, hold him/her. Then simply lather, rinse, and repeat as needed. One thing for sure: holding that baby can only help development, as it’s impossible to spoil an infant with too much close physical contact.


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Smartphone Addiction Changes the Brain

Smartphones and teens. They’re so inseparable they must as well be conjoined twins. As parents, we know by instinct this is not a good thing. Even without the studies that are coming out on this subject. Including the new one that says that smartphone addiction changes the brain.


Does the study at least tell us that smartphone addiction changes the brain in a good way?

Nope. No such luck.

But you knew that already. You knew that in your gut.

Now, as much as you might try to persuade your kid to put that phone, it’s going to be a hard sell.

In fact, this author told her 17 year-old son, “I’m writing up a study that proves that smartphone addiction alters the brain. Would you like to see it?”

His answer: “I would, but I’m on the phone.”

Asian teen texting on her smartphone under the covers

Smartphone Addiction and Teens

Joking aside, researchers have just presented the results of a unique trial to the 103rd Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago. The study found that smartphone addiction causes neurochemical changes to the brain in teenagers. The lead author of the study is Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, a professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea.

An earlier study from July 2017, from scientists at Ben Gurion University, Israel, found that those who engage in heavy use of their smartphones, show changes in their understanding of people and social situations (social cognition), have impaired attention issues, and a reduction of activity in the right prefrontal cortex (rPFC). In other words, heavy smartphone use causes changes in the brain.

In the newer study, Dr. Seo and his colleagues looked at the brains of those thought to have become addicted to digital technology. The scientists were able to identify addicted smartphone users by having them fill out questionnaires about their technology use. A special kind of MRI called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) was then used to help the scientists see what was happening to the brains of those addicted to their phones.

Teens texting, only hands visible

Measuring Smartphone Addiction

The questionnaires filled out by participants in the Seo study helped flesh out the picture of just how much the smartphone impacted each teen’s life. The responses showed how much of the day was spent on smartphones; how the smartphone affected a teen’s interactions with other people, face-to-face; how productive the teens were in their daily lives; when and how long they slept, and how these teenagers felt, in general: their emotions. Seo and his team found that teens addicted to smartphones tended to have much higher scores in terms of depression, severe insomnia, impulsive behavior, and anxiety.

In a statement to the Sciencedaily website, Dr. Seo was clear, “The higher the score, the more severe the addiction.”

So, how big a study was this? Was it large enough to be significant?

Well, the truth is, it was a small sampling. There were 19 smartphone or internet-addicted teens plus a control group of 19 teens, not addicted, who were matched for age and gender with the addicted participants. Of the addicted teens, 12 underwent nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that was designed to reduce the addictive behaviors.The addicted teens received MRS brain scans both before and after undergoing behavioral therapy. The non-addicted teens had brain scans just once. What were the researchers seeking? Their specific focus was two neurotransmitters that scientists think may be markers in the brain for different kinds of addiction. One of these neurotransmitter inhibits brain signals. The other neurotransmitter excites the neurons of the brain.

Measuring levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down the rate at which the brain sends signals, was therefore one aim of the study. The scientists also checked the participants’ levels of glutamate-glutamine (Glx), an excitatory neurotransmitter that makes neurons react more to electrical stimulation. The researchers believed that seeing the ratio of these two substances might offer up clues about addiction and in particular, smartphone addiction.

The MRS results showed that in the teens with smartphone or internet addiction, the ratio of GABA to Glx was much increased, in particular in the area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Seo suggests that, “increased GABA in the anterior cingulate gyrus in internet and smartphone addiction may be related to the functional loss of integration and regulation of processing in the cognitive and emotional neural network.”Happy kids on their smartphones

Smartphones and GABA Levels

In other words, kids who are addicted to their smartphones are making too much GABA. This means there is nothing to keep their brain signals in check, since GABA inhibits brain signals: slows them down. There have been studies that show the effects of too much GABA, which may can cause teens to be drowsy, or conversely, over-anxious. An overabundance of GABA may even affect vision and motor control.

Dr. Seo commented that, “the ratios of GABA to creatine and GABA to glutamate were significantly correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, depression, and anxiety.

“The increased GABA levels and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to our understanding the pathophysiology of and treatment for addictions,” said Seo.

Is there any good news here? Happily, yes. The teens who had cognitive behavioral therapy showed improvement in their GABA to Glx ratios, which decreased and in some cases, even became normal. Those were the teens who were formerly identified as smartphone or internet-addicted!

Smartphone Addiction and CBT

The cognitive behavioral therapy undergone by the teens in Seo’s study had 75-minute sessions of mindfulness exercises, once weekly. The exercises included learning to recognize the impulses that drive them to use technology; finding healthy substitute activities; and expressing their emotions.

The moral of the story? It’s possible to wean a kid from his or her smartphone. One can, moreover, counter the bad effects the smartphone has on a teenager’s brain.

But it’s probably not a good idea to wait.

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