Tagged Parenting

The Merits of Reading Real Books to Your Children

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Credit Getty Images

A new Harry Potter book and a new round of stories about midnight book release parties reminded me of the persistent power of words printed on a page to shape children’s lives.

How do we think about a distinct role for paper, for “book-books” in children’s lives? My own pediatric cause is literacy promotion for young children. I am the national medical director of the program Reach Out and Read, which follows a model of talking with the parents of babies, toddlers and preschoolers about the importance of reading aloud, and giving away a developmentally appropriate children’s book at every checkup.

We are talking about very young children here, and we begin by giving out board books which are designed to be chewed and drooled on by babies who are still exploring the world orally, or thrown down (repeatedly) off the high chair by young children who are just figuring out object permanence and experimenting with ways to train their parents to fetch and retrieve. But the most essential attribute of those board books, beyond their durability, is that they pull in the parent, not only to pick them up, but to ask and answer questions, name the pictures, make the animal noises.

I love book-books. I cannot imagine living in a house without them, or putting a child to bed in a room that doesn’t have shelves of books, some tattered and beloved, some new and waiting for their moment. It’s what I wanted for my own children, and what I want for my patients; I think it is part of what every child needs. There’s plenty that I read on the screen, from journal articles to breaking news, but I don’t want books to go away.

I would never argue that the child who loves to read is worse off because those “Harry Potter” chapters turn up on the screen of an ebook reader rather than in those matched sets of thick volumes that occupy my own children’s shelves. (Although I think there’s something wonderful about looking at the seven books of the series and remembering a midnight party in a bookstore or two, and sometimes coming home from high school or college and taking one — or all seven — to bed with you.)

But what about the younger children, the ones who are working to master spoken language while taking the early steps in their relationships with books and stories? There’s a lot of interest right now in pediatrics in figuring out how electronic media affect children’s brains and children’s learning styles and children’s habits.

In a 2014 review of studies on electronic storybooks, researchers outlined some of the ways that such stories could help young children learn, and some of the ways that they could hurt. They pointed out that especially for children with language delays, certain features of electronic books that reinforce the connection between image and word (for example, animated pictures) may help children integrate information, but that distracting features and games may cause “cognitive overload,” which gets in the way of learning. And they worried, of course, that screen time might displace parent-child time.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is one of the authors of the coming American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on media use for children from birth to age 5. “Preschool children learn better when there’s an adult involved,” she said. “They learn better when there are not distracting digital elements, especially when those elements are not relevant to the story line or the learning purpose.”

In a small study published in February in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at the interactions between parents and their children, ages 10 to 16 months, and found that when they were playing with electronic toys, both parents and children used fewer words or vocalizations than they did with traditional toys. And picture books evoked even more language than traditional toys.

Words and pictures can do many things for the reader’s brain, as we know from the long and glorious and even occasionally inglorious history of the printed word. They can take you into someone else’s life and someone else’s adventure, stir your blood in any number of ways, arouse your outrage, your empathy, your sense of humor, your sense of suspense. But your brain has to take those words and run with them, in all those different directions. Brain imaging has suggested that hearing stories evokes visual images in children’s brains, and more strongly if those children are accustomed to being read to.

And a parent can offer questions and interpretations that take the experience beyond bells and whistles. “A parent can ask, ‘Oh, remember that duck we saw at the pond?’,” Dr. Radesky said. “When a parent relates what’s on the page to the child’s experience, the child will have a richer understanding.”

Story time can also be good for the grown-ups. “Parents have said to me, ‘I need that 30 minutes of reading, it’s the only time my child snuggles with me,’ ” Dr. Radesky said. “We shouldn’t only think about what the child is getting from it.”

Part of what makes paper a brilliant technology may be, in fact, that it offers us so much and no more. A small child cannot tap the duck and elicit a quack; for that, the child needs to turn to a parent. And when you cannot tap the picture of the horse and watch it gallop across the page, you learn that your brain can make the horse move as fast as you want it to, just as later on it will show you the young wizards on their broomsticks, and perhaps even sneak you in among them.

Reading and being read to open unlimited stories; worlds can be described and created for you, right there on the page, or yes, on the screen, if that is where you do your later reading. But as those early paper books offer you those unlimited stories, the pictures will move if you imagine the movement; the duck will quack if you know how to work your parent. It’s all about pushing the right buttons.

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Breast-Fed Babies May Have Longer Telomeres, Tied to Longevity

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Credit Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Breast-fed babies have healthier immune systems, score higher on I.Q. tests and may be less prone to obesity than other babies.

Now new research reveals another possible difference in breast-fed babies: They may have longer telomeres.

Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes and protect the genes from damage. They’re often compared to the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces that prevent laces from unraveling. Telomeres shorten as cells divide and as people age, and shorter telomeres in adulthood are associated with chronic diseases like diabetes. Some studies have linked longer telomeres to longevity.

The new study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a hopeful one, its authors say, because it suggests telomere length in early life may be malleable. The researchers, who have been following a group of children since birth, measured the telomeres of 4- and 5-year-olds, and discovered that children who consumed only breast milk for the first four to six weeks of life had significantly longer telomeres than those who were given formula, juices, teas or sugar water.

Drinking fruit juice every day during the toddler years and a lot of soda at age 4 was also associated with short telomeres.

Socioeconomic differences among mothers can muddy findings about breast-feeding because the practice is more common among more educated mothers. However, this group of children was fairly homogeneous. All of them were born in San Francisco to low-income Latina mothers, most of whom qualified for a government food program.

“This adds to the burgeoning evidence that when we make it easier for mothers to breast-feed, we make mothers and babies healthier,” said Dr. Alison M. Stuebe, an expert on breast-feeding who is the medical director of lactation services at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, N.C., and was not involved in the study. “The more we learn about breast milk, the more it’s clear it is pretty awesome and does a lot of cool stuff.”

The study did not establish whether or not breast-feeding enhanced telomere length. It may be that babies born with longer telomeres are more likely to succeed at breast-feeding. A major drawback of the research was that telomere length was only measured at one point in time, when the children were 4 or 5 years old. There was no data on telomere length at birth or during the first few months of life.

“We don’t have a baseline to see if these kids were different when they came out,” Dr. Stuebe said. “It could be that really healthy babies can latch on and feed well, and they already had longer telomeres. It could be successful breast-feeding is a sign of a more robust kid.”

The researchers were following children who were part of the Hispanic Eating and Nutrition study, a group of 201 babies born in San Francisco to Latina mothers recruited in 2006 and 2007 while they were still pregnant. The goal of the research was to see how early life experiences, eating habits and environment influence growth and the development of cardiac and metabolic diseases as children grow.

Researchers measured the babies’ weight and height when the children were born. At four to six weeks of age, they gathered detailed information about feeding practices, including whether the baby had breast milk and for how long, and whether other milk substitutes were used, such as formula, sugar-sweetened beverages, juices, flavored milks and waters. Information was also gathered about the mothers.

Children were considered to have been exclusively breast-fed at 4 to 6 weeks of age if they received nothing but breast milk, as well as medicine or vitamins.

When the children were 4 and 5 years old, researchers took blood spot samples that could be used to measure the telomeres in leukocytes, which are white blood cells, from 121 children. They found that children who were being exclusively breast-fed at 4 to 6 weeks of age had telomeres that were about 5 percent longer, or approximately 350 base pairs longer, than children who were not.

The new findings may help explain the trove of benefits that accrue from breast-feeding, said Janet M. Wojcicki, an associate professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and the paper’s lead author.

“What’s remarkable about breast-feeding is its ability to improve health across organ systems,” Dr. Wojcicki said. “Telomere biology is so central to the processes of aging, human health and disease, and may be the link to how breast-feeding impacts human health on so many levels.”

There are several possible explanations for the correlation between breast-feeding and longer telomeres. Breast milk contains anti-inflammatory compounds, which may confer a protective effect on telomeres. It’s also possible that parents who exclusively breast-feed their babies are more scrupulous about a healthy diet generally.

Yet another possibility is that breast-feeding is a proxy for the quality of mother-child attachment and bonding, said Dr. Pathik D. Wadhwa, who was not involved in the research but studies early-life determinants of health at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. “We know from studies looking at telomere length changes in babies who came from orphanages that the quality of the attachment and interaction, and more generally the quality of care that babies receive, plays a role in the rate of change in telomere length,” he said.

When children are exposed to adversity, neglect or violence at an early age, “psychological stress creates a biochemical environment of elevated free radicals, inflammation and stress hormones that can be harmful to telomeres,” said Elissa Epel, one of the authors of the study who is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the Aging, Metabolism and Emotions Lab.

“The idea that breast-feeding may be protective for telomeres is heartening because we don’t know much about what’s going to help protect them in children, besides avoiding toxic stress. And boy, do we want to know,” Dr. Epel said.

Although genes can’t be changed, Dr. Epel said, “This is part of the genome that appears to be at least partly under personal control.”

Harry Potter’s a Dad: ‘Accio, Pacifier!’

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Harry Potter fans wait for the release for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Harry Potter fans wait for the release for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”Credit Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times

Our family is just home from the bookstore, with multiple copies of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in hand, gamely reading in a new format — the book is the script of the play by the same name, and thus a different reading experience from the seven novels that came before it.

There will be no spoilers here, but the very title makes clear that “The Cursed Child” is a story about parents and children in a way that the original series never was. Harry Potter is a father now, and one question this book will answer is how the Boy Who Lived — when his parents didn’t — handles that role.

As an orphan, Harry himself could operate free of the burden a parent’s fears, love and expectation can place on a person. Now, as a parent, he has to confront it.

For readers who started reading these books when the first one came out nearly 20 years ago and grew up with Harry and friends, the scenes that reveal the characters as adults are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Though the story has serious themes, the sheer fun of returning to the familiar magical world is a delight.

And there are certainly moments when real-life parents can fantasize about the possibility of a magical assist. Imagine being able to use a spell like “Accio Binky!” to return a dropped pacifier to the sleeping baby, or “Expelliarmus Mobilio!” to expel a mobile phone right out of a teenager’s hand.

Molly Brennan, a mother of two attending a book release party on Saturday night at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., suggested a spell called Behavioramus. “I would dodge it,” said her son, Logan Brown, 9. “I like my behavior how it is.”

Becky Middleton of Glen Ridge, N.J., who has four children ages 6, 9, 9 and 11, said her spell of choice would be volume control. Rob Fechner of Montclair, the father of two boys ages 7 and 10, asked for a spell “to pause time so I could get stuff done and take a nap.”

It’s giving nothing away to say that none of those abilities seem likely to make raising children any simpler for Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron. As Julia Miner, a mother of three who lives outside Washington, D.C., said Sunday, when she was up to page 70 of “The Cursed Child,” parenting teenagers has challenges no matter who you are. Magic has never helped much with relationships in the Harry Potter universe, and the fact that wizards face some of the same bitter limits that Muggles do has always been a part of the series’ appeal.

But for many parents and children in this universe, the books are conversation–starters that help connect us, engaging us in the same world. Now our conversations can go further.


In the comments or on Facebook, tell us what spell would help you most as a parent.

Cancer in the Family: Compliments on Being Thin

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Credit The author with her daughter, Devon.

“I’m so jealous. You’ve lost so much weight, you look amazing,” a friend says to me. “I’d love to catch the stomach bug this year and lose a few pounds myself.”

I smile. I don’t know what to say.

Since January, one of my 12-year-old twin daughters, Devon, has been in isolation in a Boise, Idaho, pediatric oncology unit receiving chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia. Her sister, Gracie, remains behind, in a little town south of Sun Valley. To cope, she has assigned herself as captain of Devo’s Fight Club, a band of peer supporters started with a sweatshirt she designed in the first 36 hours of her sister’s diagnosis.

Their dad and I have been driving the two and a half hours between home and hospital, splitting the week between our daughters, our jobs, middle school’s demands, puberty’s capriciousness, sports, music and running a household that includes cats, dogs, horses, cows and fish.

Devon’s cancer was as random as a dice roll. She had swollen gums for a week and then, a simple blood test to rule out mono instead declared that this sleek, athletic, freckle-faced cowgirl had a rare and often fatal leukemia.

My husband says he has gained weight since Devon’s diagnosis. I have lost weight. A lot. Neither one of us notices the other because we relate over phone or email mostly, and offer a country-style, four-finger half wave from the steering wheel as we blow past each other on the highway between towns.

Over the next 120-mile drive I am perplexed and obsessive.

“I’m so jealous. You look amazing.”

I’m nearly 51 years old and was prepared for the idea that menopause would keep me round despite my best efforts. How much weight have I lost? Was I really that fat before? Should I eat before I get to the hospital or after? The smell of food makes Devon sick. Eating in front of her seems torturous and unfair.

After I arrived at the hospital, a friend stopped by to visit. Before acknowledging Devon, she looked at me. With purrs of envy, she commented on how thin I looked. Again, I was at a loss for words. My daughter was not.

“My mom is not skinny because she worked at it,” Devon told our visitor. “It’s because I’m sick.”

The friend waved it off in the way that one deflects praise of a nice outfit with “this old thing,” and we all moved on. But every time someone notices my weight loss with a tinge of envy it makes me cringe.

Please, I want to tell them, do not admire how thin I have become since my daughter’s diagnosis — unless you are suggesting I look undernourished and want to give me a cupcake. My weight loss is not a goal you should aspire to, nor should it be confused with health and well-being. I was perfectly happy and fit in my pre-cancer-kid size, and a little hurt to hear that this shrinkage that could cost me a lot more than new pants makes me more beautiful than ever.

But what is most painful for me is the collateral damage to my daughters. When they hear that Mom is enviably thin, they hear that this is a reward, a take away for the suffering. That thin is best no matter the circumstances.

Gracie, a minute ahead of her twin, but always an inch and a pound behind, is now getting stretch marks from growing so fast. When her peers note how she “swims” in her choir dress, her mind begins the dance with body consciousness. Weight fluctuations are somewhat inevitable in adolescence and during menopause, but certainly magnified under the circumstances.

Devon’s physical changes are pushed to the bottom of most people’s thoughts now, because in this setting of a hospital room, she’s supposed to look wan and pale. Instead, her inner beauty and sense of humor are noted.

I’ve been sick and thin enough times to know I don’t want to be either. But my girls are facing this for the first time, and the ripple effects of this entire traumatic episode will surface the farther we get from the cancer. Hospital social workers are preparing us to watch for anxiety, regression, depression, eating disorders, apathy and sleeping issues. And signs of cancer returning, of course. And survivor’s guilt in Gracie, which could carve out a whole new emotional journey.

Devon, thankfully, is home now. But I’ve just been told that five months in the hospital have cost Devon nearly a third of her body mass. That her overall strength is that of a 90-year-old, and that after the chemo, her heart, which once pounded fearlessly, is in danger of failing. Her brain is wobbly from the lack of nutrition and her skin is translucent and cold where it once was earthy and warm.

When she returns to school next year, navigating the social riddle of middle school — now half a year behind her peers — and still mostly bald, and undoubtedly still thin, she will return with a self-consciousness she has never known.

Do not covet her thinness. Admire her resilience, and tenacity, and sheer will to live.

And, if you look into her eyes and you can see they are dim from the struggle, a happy-to-see-you smile or just saying nothing at all will do more than you know to help her find her way to loving herself as life has created her in this moment.

If you want to know how someone is, look in their eyes, because their size is not where the information is.

Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children

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Credit Giselle Potter

There is a hunger in our culture for true stories from the parenting trenches where life is lived mud-flecked and raw. I’ve written extensively, intimately, damningly, about my children for seven years without once thinking about it from the point of view of their feelings and their privacy. A few months ago I stopped.

I wish I could say that I deeply reflected on the ethics of writing about my children and heroically pivoted myself out of a concern for my character, but here’s what really happened: My father called.

He called me after reading a blog post I had written about my son’s first signs of puberty. It seems an obvious line-crossing that I wrote about such an intimate detail, but I did. At the time I didn’t pause for a split second; I was more than willing to go there. I had been writing and reading extensively about parenting tweens. I knew people might be mildly shocked, but mostly interested.

We live in a break-the-internet arms race of oversharing. And adolescent sexuality is an emergent, fascinating topic, especially for parents who are figuring out how to address difficult questions with their children. For example: I ate up Peggy Orenstein’s marvelous new book, “Girls & Sex,” with a spoon, shocked and upset the whole way through.

But when my dad said, “Elizabeth, are you pausing to deeply consider what you’re writing about?” I wanted to get defensive. I said, “Uh. I kinda perceive myself as a confessional poet, Dad,” I said, “Heir to Plath, Sexton and Sharon Olds. And the photographer Sally Mann, if I’m honest, Dad.”

But he said, “I’m not talking about art. I’m talking about my grandson.”

He was a lion for his grandson. I listened. I heard him. His words went to my heart, my maternal heart, which is in equal parts steel and cornmeal mush. I thanked him honestly for his feedback, got off the phone, and cried into my daughter’s stuffed animals, which are very soft and plush and forgiving.

So began my wrestling with my relationship with the Nora Ephron line, “Everything is copy.” Until now it has been my battle cry and artistic excuse for printing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with very blinkered vision. Maybe, in fact, not everything is copy. Maybe it’s people’s lives, and we should be considerate and loving and respectful of their privacy. It’s a new point of view for me in our clickbait culture of confessionalism and parading nakedness.

When I started blogging, my kids were babes in arms, hardly people; they were creatures, mewling, milk-drunk, with eyes so deeply slate they were alien-denim blue.

I used the blog as a live journal to get me through postpartum depression and “the lost years” for me that were “the magic years” for them, when I felt overwhelmed by washing out sippy cups, lurking at the edges of the mommy wars, and co-sleeping and diapering.

Writing made the joys and the hardship of parenting into stories. Stories I could tell. Stories that I considered as one considers a diorama.

I was always the narrator, the main character, even if I was also the storm-tossed heroine, the hot mess in mom jeans who couldn’t get the overalls on her 2-year-old. Or figure out fourth-grade fractions homework. I was working out my issues. My kids were always satellites to the big round-faced moon of me.

I’ve shamed their eating habits in chat rooms. I have Facebooked the things they’ve said. I have skewered them horribly, but also with great interest and affection, as a collector might do to some butterflies.

I think Sally Mann’s photographs of her kids are luminous and transcendent, while others accuse her of child pornography. The lines between art and privacy are blurry. You have to consider what you are doing carefully. And previously I wasn’t.

Sally Mann and I don’t belong in the same sentence. I’ve been a Baltimore mommy-blogger writing about things like head lice. She is a world-class artist. But she and I have done the same thing: publicly disrobed our children.

My children didn’t give me their permission to tell their stories, or strike poses in a waterfall, naked, gorgeous as all get out, and human, with lives ahead of them, as Sally Mann posed hers. And now that I see that, I don’t want to mar my children’s glory and subvert their beginnings for my so-called art.

If I’m going to continue writing, I realize I need to find some new material, and for that I’m going to have to look more deeply within myself or entirely outside. For inspiration I have turned to writing about nature. The environment. The sea. Things that are bigger than me. I’ve been reading John Muir. I’ve been reading “Braiding Sweetgrass.” Nature is for all to see. Nurture is between me and my kids, off the record.


Elizabeth Bastos lives in Baltimore and writes about urban nature. Follow her at thenaturehood.blogspot.com and on Twitter @elizabethbastos.

Helping Our School-Age Children Sleep Better

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Credit Getty Images

Everyone knows that getting a baby to sleep through the night can be a big challenge for parents. But sleep problems are common among preschool and school-age children, too. As we ask children to function in school, academically and socially, fatigue can affect their achievement and behavior.

Australian research on sleep problems in children has included work aimed at the “school transition” year in which children adjust to a school schedule. In a study of 4,460 children, 22.6 percent had sleep problems, according to their parents, at that transition age of 6 to 7 years. “We were surprised, we thought it was all baby sleep” that was the problem, said Dr. Harriet Hiscock, a pediatrician who is a senior research fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne who was one of the authors of the study.

Those results led to a randomized controlled trial of a brief intervention for children in their first year of school. A group of 108 parents who felt their children had sleep problems was divided into two groups. One group got a consultation at school, with a program of strategies tailored to the child’s sleep issues, and a follow-up phone consultation; the other group got no special intervention and served as controls. Parents in the intervention group were counseled about a range of possible measures to improve sleep, from consistent bedtimes and bedtime routines to relaxation strategies for anxiety that might be contributing to insomnia. The children in the intervention group resolved their varying sleep problems more quickly, though sleep problems got better over time in both groups. The interventions also produced positive effects on the child’s psychosocial function and parents’ mental health.

The most common sleep issues for children around the age of school entry, Dr. Hiscock said, definitely include limit-setting issues — that is, some of them need their parents to make the rules and routines clear. But there are also children with what sleep specialists call “sleep onset association disorder,” in which a child has become habituated to falling asleep only in a certain context, requiring the presence of a parent, or needing to have the TV on, to cite two common examples. Very anxious children are also often problem sleepers. And then there are children beset by nightmares, night terrors and early morning waking.

Screen use is a major issue in childhood sleep, and more generally in childhood these days. The first recommendation is always to get the screens out of the bedroom, the same recommendation made for improving adolescent sleep, and for adults in the current best-selling book by Ariana Huffington. All of us, old and young, are vulnerable here, but it’s a good place for parents to draw the line for their children, even when they can’t quite manage it for themselves.

Reut Gruber, a psychologist who is an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University, where she is director of the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab, said that there is a close association between sleep and a wide range of cognitive functions, including attention, executive function and memory. When children go to school, “they need to pay attention and plan and follow instructions, all of which fall under executive function, which is very much affected by sleep,” she said.

Many parts of the brain work less well when children are tired. “The prefrontal cortex is very sensitive to sleep deprivation, and it is key to the brain mechanisms which underlie executive function and some of the attentional processes,” she said. “The amygdala is affected by sleep deprivation and is essential for emotional processes.”

These different but connected brain pathways led her to be interested in the way that sleep affects many different aspects of academic performance. In an experimental study of a small group of 7- to 11-year-olds who did not have sleep, behavior or academic problems, the children were asked to change their sleep patterns, so that they were sleeping an hour less per night, or an hour more. After five days with less sleep, she said, there was measurable deterioration in alertness and emotional regulation, and after five days with more sleep, there were gains in these areas.

For the past several years, Dr. Gruber and her colleagues have worked with a school board in Montreal to develop a school-based sleep promotion program that was piloted in three elementary schools; results were published in May in the journal Sleep Medicine. The intervention involved a six-week sleep curriculum for the children, to teach them about healthy sleep habits, and materials designed to involve parents, teachers, and school principals, who were asked to consider the sleep ramifications of school schedules, extracurricular activities and homework demands.

The children in the intervention group extended their sleep by an average of 18.2 minutes a night, and also reduced the length of time it took them to fall asleep by 2.3 minutes. These relatively modest changes correlated with improved report card grades in English and math; the control group children’s sleep duration did not change, and their grades did not improve.

The goal of the intervention was to help families make sleep a priority.

“How do you make changes in your priorities, find the way as a family, as a school, as an individual, to reshuffle things, no matter how much homework, no matter how many aunts and uncles coming for a visit, that bedtime will still be respected?” Dr. Gruber asked. “We all agree in principle, but how do we actually incorporate it into daily life?”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently endorsed the 2016 guidelines issued by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, that 3- to 5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day (including naps), while 6- to 12-year-olds need nine to 12 hours for optimal health and well-being.

Dr. Gruber advised that a child should wake up naturally, without requiring energetic parental encouragement. If after nine or 10 hours of sleep, a child still seems very tired, parents might wonder about whether a sleep disorder is affecting the quality of the child’s sleep, she said.

But for most school-age children, it’s an issue of habits and routines, screen time and setting limits. Many of us know, as adults, that we don’t get as much sleep as we should, or that we don’t practice very good “sleep hygiene,” as the experts would say when they advise us to get the screens out of our bedrooms, create regular routines and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime. Making school-age sleep a family priority is a good way to get everyone focused on what really matters: waking up rested and ready to function well, in body and mind.

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Learning to Scale Peaks From My Underprotective Mother

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Credit Giselle Potter

I grew up hearing stories of my mom’s grad school days at M.I.T. in the early ‘90s: pulling all-nighters in the Fishbowl, a cluster of computers off of the Infinite Corridor; writing messages to other Project Athena users on black screens with green text; sneaking through tunnels at night. Later, after dropping out, she gave birth to me.

And after that, she climbed mountains in the Himalayas: Everest and K2, Gasherbrum II and Kanchenjunga. As the only child of a single mother, I stayed in Connecticut with my grandparents during her journeys, swinging on the swing set in their backyard, waiting for her to come home.

I missed my mom desperately and feared for her safety — so much so that she nicknamed me Mrs. Potts, after the motherly teapot in “Beauty and the Beast.”

But death was a real possibility in the Himalayas. I understood that much. Luckily, my mom always came back, her fleece smelling like countries I might never see.

For my 18th birthday in 2010, my mom drove from Connecticut to Boston to visit me at Harvard. She parked beside my dorm at 9:30 p.m. and texted: Come outside.

I met her at her car. We drove across Cambridge in her silver Subaru, not talking much. She parked at M.I.T. near the Small Dome, a structure that sits atop 10 Ionic columns. From the car, the dome looked like the surface of the moon.

“Leave your ID and wallet in the car,” Mom said.

“What?”

“Just do it.”

We slipped through one of the building’s open doors. She held my hand as we snuck upstairs, past corridors of professors’ offices and classrooms with empty chairs. The few students we passed didn’t recognize us as trespassers.

We found our way to the door she was looking for. The crash-bar read: “Emergency exit. Alarm will sound.”

Mom took out her car key and gingerly depressed the latch. She procured a piece of duct tape from her pocket and covered the latch so that the door wouldn’t lock. The alarm didn’t sound. Without another look back, she stepped onto the roof and started walking.

I hesitated in the doorway, one leg out and one leg in. “Mom,” I called out. “I’m scared.”

I was not then (nor am I now) drawn to climbing. For years I had a deep fear of mountains –– they represented an uncontrollable force, the thing that took my mother away from me when I felt like I needed her the most. But as early as elementary school, I understood that my mother’s way of healing was to seek solace in ascents and summits.

Many American parents would probably say their primary responsibility is to keep their children safe, to teach them to respect authority and stay out of trouble. These were not my mother’s goals.

She turned around to smile and reassure me. “You’re going to love it.”

I followed her. Late September wind gathered along the sides of the buildings, blowing my hair up and out, wrapping stray curls around my face. The late-night pedestrians under the streetlights looked like Lego figures.

We trekked across a long section of the roof, turned, and stared up at the dome. The summit. Mom laced her fingers together and went down on one knee to give me a boost. I took my fingers out of my pockets and breathed on them, trying to summon some warmth. I stepped onto her hands.

The first time we tried, I stepped without confidence and stumbled. The second time, my hands made contact with the lip. I did a half-pull-up and wriggled my torso onto the dome. I rolled over, turned around, and called down to Mom: “You coming?”

“No. You go. I used to have the upper body strength to do this alone. Not now.”

“You sure?”

“Go enjoy the view.”

I kept climbing, trying to get handholds and footholds on the surface of the dome.

I stopped just before the window above the atrium of the building, not wanting to feel vertigo, not wanting to test how thick the glass was.

From up that high, I could see the Charles River unfurled like a wing. Stray lights reflected on its surface. The domed skyscraper on Huntington Avenue stood across the river, as regal as a Himalayan mountain –– or what I imagine one looks like. I’ve only seen pictures. The moon was full, another gray dome in the sky.

I scrambled back down. We walked in silence across the roof, through the door (Mom removed the piece of tape with her fingernails), down the stairs, across the lawn, and into the silver Subaru. Only there did we collapse into laughter, relief. We’d had our adventure. No parking tickets waited on the windshield.

A year ago I rode my bicycle solo along the length of New Zealand. In the South Island, I cycled to the base of Aoraki Mount Cook, the mountain where Sir Edmund Hillary’s mountaineering career began. It was there I realized that my mother’s example has allowed me to be a female adventurer of a different sort.

I didn’t become a mountain climber, but for the last two years I have been traveling mostly by bicycle in the United States, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I’m halfway through a project to collect 1,001 stories about water and climate change from people I meet.

Now I can see that my mom’s birthday gift to me was more valuable than the kind that comes wrapped in paper and ribbons, even though the only tangible thing she brought was a strip of duct tape.


Devi Lockwood is a poet who will be attending the United Nations COP22 climate talks in Morocco in November as a youth delegate for SustainUS.

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A Pediatrician’s View on Gun Violence and Children

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What does it mean to consider gun violence a public health problem, especially when it comes to children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced the development of a new initiative last week reacting to the violence in St. Paul, Baton Rouge and Dallas, an attempt as pediatricians to find ways to protect children, adolescents and young adults.

This isn’t a new issue for the academy; the existing policy on firearm injuries in children emphasizes the importance of sensible gun control, along with the importance of counseling parents about how to reduce risks. Pediatricians as a group have long been concerned about the psychological effects of exposure to violence and the culture of gun violence.

But how can pediatricians make a difference? “I would like us to think deeply about this being trauma for kids,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, the president of the academy. He emphasized that the discussion must include the overlapping issues of race and the impact of racism on children and adolescents.

This past week, children, along with the rest of us, have seen a truck used as an assault weapon in Nice, France, reminding us that violence takes many forms. Many families worry about how to discuss with our children the disturbing images and stories that play out in the news media. There is an overarching sadness to this discussion. We would like to tell our children that they live in a better, safer country, that the world is getting safer, and that we are making some progress on racism and racial disparities.

Parents need to protect young children from repeated exposures to graphic images, and to be mindful with all children about just how much they’re seeing and hearing. Be there to watch with an older child, both so that you can monitor the exposure, and so that you can talk about disturbing stories and convey the message that it’s O.K. to have these conversations, even when there are no easy answers. The A.A.P. offers age-related guidelines for talking to children about tragedies and other news events on the Heathy Children website.

When children are very upset or worried, they may have nightmares or other sleep disturbances, or complain of physical problems which perhaps will keep their parents nearer, or otherwise, according to their ages, may signal depression or anxiety. Again, it can help to make it clear that you’re willing to talk about these events and the emotions they engender, and willing to get pediatric or mental health help for a child who is particularly distressed.

Beyond what we say in difficult conversations with our frightened or troubled children, adults face the challenge of really making the world safer.

Dr. William Begg, the emergency medical services medical director for the area of Connecticut that includes Newtown, was in the emergency room when the shooting happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He co-founded United Physicians of Newtown, a medical group working to keep children safe from guns.

“I’ve said at every opportunity we have to look at gun violence as a public health issue,” he said. “I think we have to do more as physicians.”

Parents who choose to own guns need to understand how dangerous an accessible gun can be, especially a gun kept in the home, often loaded and unlocked.

“Those are the guns that get used in suicides and unintentional killings and some of the intentional killings,” said Eric Fleegler, a pediatric emergency physician and health services researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital.

As sample safety measures, Dr. Fleegler brought up good safety locks, or even biometric safes, which can be opened only by the right person’s fingerprints, as well as the possibility of safe repositories where people could store guns outside their homes, either temporarily or permanently.

Dr. Begg said it’s important that pediatricians have the opportunity to talk to parents who are gun owners.

“I would never tell a parent, you can’t own a gun; what I would tell a parent is, you should make an informed choice knowing the facts, knowing your family situation,” he said. “I think if people understood the data, many people would make a different choice.”

But these conversations can be controversial; Florida, Montana and Missouri have laws that restrict doctors’ discussion of guns; eight other states have considered such legislation.

When you consider guns as a public health issue, the first thing you look for is data and research, but under pressure from the gun lobby, Congress has restricted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health from doing or funding research on gun violence and how to prevent it.

Researchers look for associations between injury rates and possible interventions, safety measures and regulations. A study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Fleegler and his colleagues showed that states with more firearm laws had fewer firearm-related fatalities; the association was true for both homicides and suicides.

As with so many public health issues, risks are greater for children in poverty and greater for minority children. “The numbers are staggering no matter who you are, but worse the poorer you are, the darker your skin, especially for violence and homicide,” Dr. Fleegler said.

According to the C.D.C., in 2014, homicide by firearm was the second leading cause of death among 15- to  24-year-olds in the United States, with suicide by firearm in fourth place. For those 10 to 14, where the numbers are much lower, the order was reversed, with suicide by firearm the third leading cause of death, and homicide by firearm fourth.

We lost more than 10,300 males from age 10 to age 19 to violence-related firearm deaths from 2010 to 2014; 63 percent of them by homicide, 36 percent by suicide, and 1 percent by legal intervention. The death rate for the black males was 26.3 per 100,000, compared with 6.6 per 100,000 for the white males.

The public health approach means talking to parents about how to keep their children safe, and looking for strategies—technological, behavioral, and legal—to make everyone safer.

Think about what it has meant to bring down the numbers of children dying in car crashes. We don’t look at collisions as unavoidable twists of fate. We look for strategies — technological, behavioral, and legal — to reduce the incidence of collisions and minimize the damage that they do to small bodies.

“We need to take away the notion that we shouldn’t regulate the safety of firearms,” Dr. Fleegler said. “We take pride in our cars, but the idea of removing safety regulations makes no sense.”

Dr. Begg said that for the first 25 years of his career, while practicing in different emergency rooms around the country, he saw patients harmed by gun violence and took care of them, but did nothing to address the larger problem.

“After the Sandy Hook tragedy where I saw the children of my friends and the children of my community, I didn’t know if my children were going to be affected — they were in lockdown also in school,” he said. “I decided I was going to devote the next 25 years of my career to promoting gun violence safety. There’s a lot more change to come.”

My Autistic Son’s Lesson: No One Is Broken

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Credit Giselle Potter

My youngest son, Sawyer, used to spend far more time relating to his imagination than he did to the world around him. He would run back and forth humming, flapping his hands and thumping on his chest. By the time he was in first grade, attempts to draw him out of his pretend world to join his classmates or do some class work led to explosions and timeouts. At 7 he was given a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum.

That was when my wife, Jen, learned about the practice called joining. The idea behind it, which she discovered in Barry Neil Kaufman’s book “Son-Rise,” is brilliant in its simplicity. We wanted Sawyer to be with us. We did not want him to live in this bubble of his own creation. And so, instead of telling him to stop pretending and join us, we started pretending and joined him. The first time Jen joined him, the first time she ran beside him humming and thumping her chest, he stopped running, stopped thumping, stopped humming and, without a single word from us, turned to her and said, “What are you doing?”

“Learning what it’s like to be you.”

We took turns joining him every day, and a week later we got an email from his special education teacher telling us to keep doing whatever we were doing. He’d gone from five timeouts a day to one in a week.

The classroom was the same, the work was the same – all that was different was that we had found a way to say to him in a language he could understand, “You’re not wrong.” Emboldened by our success, we set about becoming more fluent in this language. For the next couple of years we taught ourselves to join him constantly. This meant that whatever we were doing had to stop whenever we heard him running back and forth and humming. But we could not join him simply to get him to stop running and thumping and humming. We had to join him without any judgment or impatience.

That was the trickiest part. The desire to fix him was great. I had come to believe that there were broken people in need of fixing. Sometimes, I looked like one of those people. I was a 40-year-old unpublished writer working as a waiter. My life reeked of failure. Many days I looked in the mirror and asked, “What is wrong with me?”

The only way to believe that Sawyer wasn’t broken was if no one was broken – not anyone anywhere ever.

I was used to seeing good people and bad people, smart people and stupid people, talented people and untalented people. I had to break that habit. I did this through a trick of perception. If someone was flapping and humming, or insulting you or saying something cruel about a whole group of people, I taught myself to pay attention to the person beneath the behavior, to the one who was scared or confused, who felt unlucky or undeserving or inadequate.

I did this, ostensibly, so that I could be Sawyer’s dad and help him flourish in the world. And by and by he began emerging from his bubble, began talking about wanting friends, began talking about his future. Now, 10 years later, at the end of our classes (we home-school him) every day he asks, “Dad, can we hang out today?” Had this been all that had come of joining Sawyer and learning to see a world without broken people, I suppose it would have been enough.

But 10 years later the writer who couldn’t get published, who felt like failure, now finds himself talking to groups and even crowds of people, telling them, in so many words, “Everything is O.K. even though it looks like everything is not O.K.!” I would never have talked to these people, nor published the essays that inspired these talks, if Jen and I had not joined Sawyer.

Yet the moment I really understood the power of joining came long before any of this. I was having an argument with my wife. I consider ours a good relationship, by which I mean it is the relationship against which I measure all my other relationships. But on this evening we were in the thick of a particularly nasty back and forth. It started small, as they all do. We each felt wronged by the other. The more we talked, the more we tried to “clear things up,” the worse it got. We raised our voices though we live in a small house and our boys would hear us. As the argument grew more heated, as Jen’s voice grew louder and sharper, she shifted before my eyes. I wasn’t seeing my best friend and lover anymore; I was seeing an enemy. Her words, it seemed to me from the opposite end of the couch, were daggers aimed squarely at my worthiness. I had to defend myself.

It was just as I was preparing my next attack that I remembered Sawyer and our practice. I took a beat, and even though Jen still looked like an enemy, even though she still sounded like an enemy, and even though I had learned over the years to protect myself against enemies, I asked myself this question: “What if she’s not your enemy? What if she still loves you? Then what are you looking at?”

This is often how I’d practice with Sawyer or myself or strangers on the street. If any of us looked broken, I’d ask, “But what if no one is broken? Then what are you seeing?” So that’s what I did with Jen. And as I asked this question, she changed again. Now I saw a woman who was as upset as I was, who wanted to be in agreement as badly as I did, who didn’t understand why we couldn’t reach an agreement. In that instant my war was over. Soon, the argument was over as well. As always, it had just been a misunderstanding. We still loved each other after all.

Joining Sawyer taught me that unconditional love is not some point on the map. It is a path that leads me where I want to go – to the world I want to live in, rather than the one I’m seeing.

William Kenower is a writer and the editor of Author magazine.

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When a Child Thinks Life is Unfair, Use Game Theory

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Credit iStock

As soon as Kristina Dooley’s 5-year-old triplets see an elevator, they race to be the one who gets there first.

“When they get to the buttons, elbows start flying,” she says. Almost immediately, she hears the complaint “That’s not fair!” from the child who doesn’t get to hit a button.

A child’s list of things that are “not fair” is seemingly endless. Whether it’s elevator buttons, equal piles of goldfish crackers, who gets the first bedtime kiss or who gets to use the precious purple cup, children demand precision equality that seems impossible to achieve most of the time.

But research suggests that humans evolved to want fair treatment — an expectation that other social animals share. In a now famous study, a capuchin monkey rewarded for a task with a piece of tasty cucumber was pleased, until she saw one of her peers rewarded for the same task with a tasty grape. The reaction may be familiar to parents. The monkey throws the cucumber at her handler and rattles the cage in anger.

In humans, the desire to be treated fairly starts early. Researchers have found that children as young as 19 months seem to understand the concept of fairness, and appear surprised by scenes of blatant favoritism – such as when one puppet is given toys and another puppet goes without. By age 7, some children will choose to forgo candy rather than get a significantly larger share than others.

“The question of jealousy is easy — in any kind of group living, you have to be careful that somebody else isn’t getting more than you,” said Paul Raeburn, a co-author of “The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting.”

The desire not to have more than others can also be explained. In a hunter-gatherer society where conditions of scarcity arise frequently, sharing food when you have more increases the likelihood that others will share when you have less. “The presumption is that it gave some ancestor an evolutionary advantage,” he said.

Given that a child’s desire for life to be fair seems to be hard wired, it’s better not to fight it, says Mr. Raeburn. Instead, he suggests applying classic game theory strategies to help children make “fair” decisions and stop the squabbling. They include:

I Cut, You Pick: This classic strategy for dividing simple things, like cake, allows each child to make a choice: One divides the desired good, and the other chooses. I Cut, You Pick has limits, says Mr. Raeburn, if the thing to be divided has a different value to each child, or if there are more than two children with an interest. But if nothing else, it works well for cake.

Tit for Tat:When children are faced with the job of cleaning up a joint mess, suggest “you pick up one, then he picks up one,” said Mr. Raeburn. “We had mixed results with Tit for Tat,” he admits. His 9-year-old son was able to manipulate his 6-year-old brother into doing more. “This probably works better with children who are closer in age, or at least both over 7.”

Random Dictator: In Random Dictator, a family faced with a choice that affects every family member (what movie to watch, what cereal to buy, which restaurant to go to) has each family member write down a selection, then draws a single one from a hat. One person ultimately chooses — but who “wins” is random.

Auction: How to decide who chooses the one show that will be watched tonight or gets first play on the iPad on a road trip? Try auctioning the desired reward to the highest bidder, using chores, other privileges or even Halloween candy as currency. “This involves some learning,” said Mr. Raeburn. “It’s easy for a child to overvalue something in the moment and get stuck doing way too many chores.” At first, he says, parents might have to monitor the fairness of the auction process itself — but children who like it may end up running auctions on their own.

Even if you adopt these strategies, chances are that some things will always feel “not fair” to kids.

“Don’t react defensively,” says Laura Markham, author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.” Parents have to recognize that sometimes, no matter how logical the division of everything from elevator buttons to our time and attention seems to us, one child feels less loved. Even grown-ups know it’s hard when someone else gets a gift you wanted, or more ice cream on their cone. Find words that acknowledge the child’s perspective.

“Try focusing on whether you’re meeting their individual needs instead of worrying whether each one is getting the exact same thing at the exact same time,” Dr. Markham said. “When we’re always busy with the baby, or something like that, it really rankles.”

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Playing Catch With Strangers

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Credit Giselle Potter

I’m shooting hoops at the playground in the schoolyard around the corner from where I live in Forest Hills, Queens, when I see a young mother pitching a baseball to her son. He’s probably about 8 years old.

She lobs the ball toward him, but it goes nowhere near the strike zone. The boy frowns with serious purpose and swings wildly, missing. Again and again she pitches off-target and again and again he strikes out.

I amble over to the mother, as nonchalantly as I know how, to offer my services as a relief pitcher.
“Yes,” she says, radiating gratitude. “Please.”

My father played catch with me only once as far as I can remember. We went out on our front lawn and tossed a baseball back and forth, each throw smacking loudly into our mitts. That summer afternoon, I felt about as happy as I’d ever felt. That’s just how it goes when you’re 8 years old and playing catch with your dad.

But then my father got busy with work, too busy to play catch with me anymore, always leaving early in the morning and returning late at night, and that turned out to be that. He had to do what he had to do. He was also born deaf, creating an extra barrier between us, and tended to keep to himself.

I promised myself everything would go differently with my own son and daughter. We tried pretty much every major sport together – baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, you name it. We flung around Frisbees. We raced in sprints. We saw who could swim underwater the longest. It went great.

But then our kids turned into teenagers and young adults. They moved on to more independent physical pursuits – push-ups and jogging and such. And once again, that turned out to be that.

Play has always meant the world to me, even as a so-called adult. So now, if I spot a kid who evidently needs to play, I am happy to oblige.

Once, my wife, son, daughter and I went to a Thanksgiving dinner our friends held in our neighborhood. Halfway through the feast, the oldest son of our hosts, in high school at the time, looked as if he had mingled quite enough with all the grown-ups at the table. As it happened, so had I.

Knowing him to be a serious athlete, I invited him to have a pass with a football in the street in front of the house. Out we went into the November night, shrugging on our overcoats to shield us from the chill. We flipped passes to each other for who knows how long.

“Better than turkey,” the teenager later told me. “Much better.”

Clearly, I suffer from an acute case of Peter Pan Syndrome. But just as clearly, I’m ever-ready to answer my calling as a Pied Piper of play.

So it went last August when my wife and daughter and I took our annual vacation in Mystic, Conn. One afternoon, as we sunned ourselves by the pool at the motel, a boy about 10 years old left the lounge chair next to his mother and slid into the water. Soon, clearly bored, he started to toss a tennis ball in the air to himself. I joined him in the pool and held up my hand to signal for him to toss me the ball.

We played catch for the next half-hour, throwing the ball back and forth, the kid smiling the whole time. It perfectly fit my lifelong definition of fun – an activity spontaneous, absorbing even therapeutic.

Afterward, I said to my wife, “I swear, I could go through my whole life playing catch with strangers.”

“Yes,” she said, “I believe you could.”

A short time later, I realized that in a sense I already do. Playing catch, after all, is a dialogue, a conversation, a connection made. Every school had meant new classmates and new teachers, every job new colleagues and clients, every backyard barbeque new friends and acquaintances, every neighborhood new tenants and merchants, and every basketball court new teammates and opponents. I’d always, after a fashion, played catch with strangers.

Playing catch with kids is a job I still covet, even though I’m now eligible for Social Security. Play is a language children speak fluently.

Every time I engage in a sport with kids, I’m in effect re-enacting that catch with my father on our front lawn and those games I played with my kids. I feel, if only for a few moments, restored to my roles as father and son, connected both to the boy I used to be and the father I’ll always remain.

Back at the playground now, I pitch the baseball right down the pipe and the kid belts a shot into left field. His mother drops her jaw in disbelief. Then the kid clubs another blast even farther. He’s walloping every pitch all over the playground, smiling now, proud of himself.

“Thank you,” his mom says as I start to leave, then repeating: “Thank you.”

I go back to shooting hoops and hear a Mr. Softee truck pull up to the curb nearby, its familiar jingle a siren song drawing children and parents. And a minute later, the same kid, now probably feeling rather like a future Hall of Famer, walks over to me bearing an important message from his sponsor.

“My mom told me to ask you,” he says, “if you want some ice cream.”

I picture swirls of creamy chocolate piled on a cone and feel a twinge of earthly desire. But I decline. I’ve already had my treat.

Bob Brody is an executive and essayist in New York City. This essay is adapted from his memoir, due out next June.

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Parenting Our Children After We Die

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Credit

Accounts of the grief children suffer after the deaths of their mothers or fathers reinforced my desire to use the time granted by treatment to help my adult children cope with my demise. We always parent our offspring to survive us, but cancer intensifies the urgency to do so.

I am not a fan of “anticipatory grieving,” the term psychologists use to describe how some people with chronic disease mourn their expected death with their partners and kids. While I am alive, I do not want to subject my daughters to a long sojourn in the stony valley of the shadow. The idea of converting our present into a prelude of my absence distresses me.

Nor am I thinking of the medical and legal forms — advance directives, living wills, medical powers of attorney — that too many of us leave to the last minute, for those papers are in my husband’s keeping. I am also not considering the words dying people are advised to speak to their beloveds. On my deathbed, I hope I will express my gratitude and love. Given the drugs I will probably need for pain management, however, I cannot count on being coherent then.

Following the lead of other patients with cancer, I have composed two different documents to buffer my girls from the misery that ensues when a parent dies: letters my daughters will receive before and probably after my demise. Though I may never find out if these words ease their loneliness, I like to think they will. And they have certainly afforded me a respite from anxiety.

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A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” <a href="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/06/30/health/well_gubar1/well_gubar1-articleLarge.jpg">See a larger version.</a>

A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” See a larger version.Credit

The first is called “What’s Where.” In it, I provide the locations of my lawyer, financial adviser, bank account, will, computer passwords, the girls’ juvenilia, and my personal effects. This one-page sheet of paper concludes with the name of the funeral home that will oversee the cremation of my remains and the site of the cemetery plot for the ashes. If nothing else, I hope that the existence of such a document demonstrates to my kids that I have reconciled myself to my fate.

The second, “Letters to My Daughters,” I began a year after diagnosis and extend periodically. Here, I relate specific memories I have of my two daughters and two step-daughters and more recently of their families. Each time I write a new section, I date it. It has the look of a journal, but consists of a succession of missives, some addressed to all of them, others to one of them.

In this computer file, I recount jokes, recall musical or sports performances during their school years, thank them for material and nonmaterial gifts, characterize their temperaments at birth or what I made of them when I first met them, embarrass them with stories about gaffes they and I have committed, regale them with cooking adventures and vacation misadventures, remind them of celebrations we relished together. Periodically thickening “Letters to My Daughters” inspires me to treasure our shared past. At some point I will print it out and put it in addressed envelopes.

Recently I encountered a short story and a graphic novel that crystalized my obligations and clarified what a terminal patient with younger children can do to help them.

In “Pretending the Bed Is a Raft,” a story by Nanci Kincaid that was made into the movie “My Life Without Me,” 23-year-old Belinda realizes that she will soon die from a gynecological cancer. In a list of things to do before death, she jots down: “tape-record birthday messages for my kids up until they turn 21. Tell them I love you every day.” For her 6-, 4-, and almost 2-year-old, she spends weeks recording instructions and assurances “until she had them all legally grown.”

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A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” <a href="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/06/30/health/well_gubar2/well_gubar2-articleLarge.jpg">See a larger version.</a>

A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” See a larger version.Credit

Belinda suspects that if she gave the tapes to her husband, “he would listen to all of them the first night and after that he might lose them altogether.” So she determines to give them to a lawyer “who could dole them out one message at a time on the proper dates.”

About a father with larynx cancer, the graphic novel “When David Lost His Voice” considers what happens to a family when a reticent man becomes more silent during treatments for larynx cancer. In especially poignant pictorial sequences, the Belgian author and illustrator Judith Vanistendael focuses on David’s 9-year-old daughter, Tamar.

Pictures abound of Tamar’s last boat trip with her father, her swimming with the mermaid friend she encounters in the sea and sending a letter to a real friend via a balloon, her later conversations with this boy about how to preserve her father’s soul in a jar, her lying with David in his sickbed. These beautiful images convey the young girl’s fear of abandonment and her imaginative means of sustaining her attachment.

In the hospital, when Tamar hugs David’s emaciated body after his larynx has been removed, she wants her father to stay with her. Unable to speak, he writes her a note: “My darling, I am with you.”

Amid Ms. Vanistendael’s experiments with all sorts of visual forms — anatomical diagrams and scans, traditional comics, impressionist watercolors, pen and ink sketches, children’s book illustrations, surrealistic dreamscapes — I am especially moved by the small frames of David penning his note and of Tamar putting it into a vial she then strings around her neck, to remind herself that her dying father’s undying love will sustain her for as long as needed.

Susan Gubar is the author of the new book “Reading and Writing Cancer: How Words Heal.”

The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Play an Outdoor Game

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Credit Maren Hilton

Don’t let summer slip away! Challenge No. 2: Play (and teach your kids) a classic outdoor game, like Capture the Flag.

It’s week two of Well Family’s Intentional Summer, where — to quote an email from Pete Jameson of Ligonier, Pa. — we are making sure to enjoy “the gift that is summer.”

Why be intentional about this most relaxed of times? Summer goes by so fast. One minute, it’s June, and we have all the time in the world for ice cream, drive-in movies and bike rides. The next, it’s August, and too often, we’re left wondering where it went. We want to avoid regrets over missed opportunities. Every week, we’ll offer research-based suggestions for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year.

Last week, we suggested walking or biking to somewhere you’d usually drive. In our family, a walk to a doctor’s appointment ended in a memorable excursion through a construction zone and under a parking garage — and my 10-year-old was delighted by our “adventure.” Readers tried it too, and reported back: Sam (age 7) and Elisabeth (4) of St. Paul, Minn., (pictured) biked to the library. Anne walked to yoga and back (bonus exercise!). Myriam let our challenge inspire her to start biking to work again after the birth of her baby five months ago: “It was rather hard, my bike is in need of some tuning, I am still sleepy from being up feeding baby at night, but my lungs are so happy and the view of the ocean on the way in was breathtaking.”

On this Fourth of July weekend, many American readers will be joining friends and family at picnics and barbecues. Our second challenge lends itself to a big gathering, though it works well for smaller groups too: Play a classic outdoor game you played in your youth, and teach your kids. If you remember late suburban nights playing flashlight tag or Ghost in the Graveyard under the streetlights, or Capture the Flag in your backyard, this one’s for you.

Anecdotally, parents know our kids spend less time playing outside than we did, and research bears that out. When mothers were questioned about the differences between their childhood experiences and those of their children, 70 percent described playing outdoors daily as children, many for more than three hours at a stretch. By contrast, less than a third of their children played outside every day, and most for far shorter periods — and while most of the mothers said they played street games, only about a fifth of the children ever had. That’s a shame: Outdoor games encourage self-reliance and independence along with an appreciation for just being outside.

“Kids who are used to more structured activities may not know how to create these things on their own,” said Kristen Race, a psychologist and the author of “Mindful Parenting.” With no set number of players and played outdoors, such games encourage a loose creativity (and camaraderie) to develop quickly. “If adults get things started, children will quickly take over,” she said. She suggests pulling aside an older child or two to get things organized. Then, after the adults race around for a bit, sit off to the side and watch the children create their own memories.

We’ve found the rules for some old favorites for you: Ghost in the Graveyard or flashlight tag for evening gatherings that stretch into twilight, or Capture the Flag and Kick the Can for anytime play — but we want to hear about your games, too. If you remember epic nights playing TV tag, tell us how to play and how you recreate them in your yard or local park.

Tell us about all your adventures by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com by next Tuesday, July 5. You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 7. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

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Disney Princesses Do Change Girls — and Boys, Too

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Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

When you’re a parent of children of a certain age, the Disney princesses seem to be everywhere. For years, parents have been questioning how princess culture might influence little girls, particularly those who seem besotted with their images and their stories. A new study offers some surprising insights, finding that the princesses did make a difference in the behavior of girls — and that they influenced boys as well.

Researchers looked at the rates of engagement with Disney princess media in 198 5- and 6-year-olds, and found that for both boys and girls, higher princess involvement (through toys, products and media consumption) over the course of a year was associated with higher levels of female gender-stereotypical behavior at the end of the study — even after the researchers controlled for other variables.

“It’s not just that girly-girls like princesses,” said Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Child Development. “We were able to completely take that out of the equation, and look at whether there is really long-term growth” in female stereotypical behaviors in children with high levels of princess engagement.

“We found that there was,” she said, and that the media was really “driving” that association “as opposed to the other way around.” That growth in female stereotypical behaviors (like quiet play, pretend cooking and cleaning, and avoiding risks, getting dirty or trying new things), was also observed, to a lesser but still significant degree, in boys with higher Disney princess engagement.

How concerned parents will be about that connection depends on how we perceive those behaviors — and possibly on which gender child we’re thinking about. When it comes to girls, the link between princess involvement and stereotypically female behavior is certainly no surprise, said Rebecca Hains, media studies professor at Salem State University and author of “The Princess Problem.” “It supports what cultural studies critics have been saying for years.” Fear of how the princess narrative influences girls in a culture that often puts more emphasis on how a girl looks and behaves than on how she acts and thinks is nothing new, and Dr. Hains is pleased to see quantitative research backing up the qualitative argument that Disney, as a primary purveyor of all things princess, is contributing to that influence.

But when it comes to boys, Dr. Coyne and her fellow researchers described the increase in stereotypically female behavior as meaning something very different. In girls, they saw an increase in those behaviors as “potentially problematic,” while in boys, the increase in androgyny that the stereotypically female behaviors reflected could, they wrote, have “benefits for development throughout the life span.” That preference for shifting girls away from more traditionally female behaviors while encouraging them in boys is reflected in some popular culture as well, such as commercials for GoldieBlox toys in which girls destroy princess toys and new products designed to encourage doll play among boys.

Why is what’s good for boys bad for girls in this case? It’s all about the starting point, Dr. Hains said. “If girls are already tending in this direction, then increasingly exaggerating the feminine is becoming extreme. For boys, who are already immersed in a hyper-masculine culture, becoming more feminine is becoming more well-rounded.”

As appealing as that desire for the well-rounded boy may sound, Catherine Connors, founder of Demeter Media and the former head of content at Disney Interactive for Women and Family, suggests that the reality is more complicated. “We really get our hackles up at the idea of femininity being encouraged in girls,” she said, and that reaction itself is, she argued, “a manifestation of institutional and cultural sexism.” A former academic, she said her daughter pushed her to rethink her own fears about princesses.

“She asked for a Disney princess snowsuit,” Ms. Connors said. “It was pink, it was sparkly, it was like the platonic ideal of princess merchandise.” (This was before her employment with Disney.) “We’d just bought Spiderman snow boots, which I was happy about, but when I balked at the snowsuit, she just looked at me, and she said ‘Mommy, why don’t you think this is cool?’”

Put on the spot, Ms. Connors bought the snowsuit — and started to rethink the princesses. We’re so worried about the passive, waiting-for-rescue narrative, she said, that we don’t see the positive in even the older stories. “Snow White and Cinderella are active,” she said. “They’re just not necessarily active in masculine ways. We see Cinderella being kind as somehow less noble than going out after a dragon.” Snow White, she said, is “about creating your own community, imagining a life for yourself beyond your situation.”

“There are absolutely things about the princesses that should be looked at with a careful and critical eye,” she said, noting the tendency of the products to depict the active princesses of the movies in pretty but passive (and often sexualized) poses. “We also need to look at the rich legacy of these stories.”

That’s where parents come in. “Our goal is not to kill princess culture,” Dr. Coyne said. “It’s a magical part of childhood that I enjoyed with my own daughter. But we can talk about the characteristics of the princesses — the great things they do, as opposed to what they look like, or what girls look like when they dress up like them.”

Dr. Hains agreed. “Call out the good things,” she said. “She’s pretty and she’s so smart. Belle always has a book in her hands. Anna is really a problem solver. Identify the things that are important to your family.” Focus on the princesses’ qualities that support your values. For parents who want to encourage children to think beyond the Cinderella story, Mulan and Merida (of “Brave”) offer alternative models. Both defy expected gender roles, speak their minds and challenge the traditional expectations for princesses and the princes they supposedly seek. Anna and Elsa of “Frozen” do the same.

Still, there’s no need to go overboard in our explanations, Ms. Connors said. “We wring our hands about girls being snookered by the princess narrative, but we don’t worry about boys being confused about their future as superheroes.”


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The Connections Between Spanking and Aggression

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Credit iStock

In the 1990s, in my first month in practice as a pediatrician, I asked the mother of a 4-year-old about discipline and she told me that her son was often out of line and wild, and spanking was the only thing that worked, though she was sure I was going to tell her not to, just as her previous pediatrician had done. Around the same time, my colleague in the same clinic walked into an exam room to find a cranky toddler who was acting out, and a frustrated father who was taking off his belt and threatening punishment. In each case, and in many others, we had to decide how to talk to the parents, and whether to bring up the issue of child abuse — which is definitely an issue when a child is being struck, or threatened, with a belt.

Corporal punishment, also known as “physical discipline,” has become illegal in recent decades in many countries, starting with Sweden in 1979. The United States is not one of those countries, and pediatricians regularly find ourselves talking with parents about why hitting children is a bad idea. The American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends against physical discipline, saying that evidence shows it is ineffective and puts children at risk for abuse; pediatricians are mandated reporters, responsible for notifying the authorities if we think there is a possibility of abuse, though the boundaries are not clearly defined by law.

But many parents continue to spank, even when they don’t think it does much good. In a recent report by the nonprofit organization Zero to Three of a national sample of 2,200 parents of children birth to age 5, parents were asked which discipline strategies they used a few times a week or more. Twenty-six percent said they “pop or swat” their child, 21 percent spank, and 17 percent reported hitting with an object like a belt or a wooden spoon. (Parents could respond that they used more than one strategy.) Zero to Three reported that even those who used these strategies frequently did not rate them as effective, and 30 percent agreed with the statement, “I spank even though I don’t feel O.K. about it.”

One reason the A.A.P. opposes spanking is because of evidence that it is associated with aggressive behavior in children. But does that mean that hitting children produces aggressive behavior, or that aggressive behavior in children elicits more and sterner parental measures?

Michael MacKenzie, an associate professor of social work and pediatrics at Rutgers, called the association “bidirectional and transactional.” How you discipline your child shapes your child, but also shapes you as a parent. But if you control for the child’s behavior, comparing more aggressive young children with other children who behave in the same ways, those who are frequently hit or spanked are more likely to show aggressive behavior and rule-breaking later on.

In a study published last year, he and his colleagues looked at these bidirectional effects. Children who were spanked were more likely to show disruptive, aggressive behaviors later on. Those behaviors, in turn, made it more likely that those children would be spanked more in the future.

“It mattered for everybody, but it mattered more for these kids in riskier contexts, the families facing more stress,” Dr. MacKenzie said. Other research showed that spanking was associated with poorer cognitive outcomes for children, even when the researchers controlled for factors such as maternal intelligence, maternal depression and cognitive stimulation in the home.

Dr. MacKenzie suggested that some families get caught in a “feedback loop,” in which children who are spanked respond more aggressively, and become even more challenging, reinforcing parents’ sense that only harsh discipline will work, so parents find themselves escalating the discipline, which in turn evokes more intense behavior.

“We want to think about these cycles and how they amplify,” he said, and to think as well about how to support families early on so that they set up different patterns. “We’ve sort of suggested the removal of a tool that many parents use, most parents use, without discussion of what the alternatives might be.”

Michael Lorber, a research scientist in the Family Translational Research Group at New York University, has found that parents who interpret their children’s behavior more negatively than an objective observer tend to use more harsh discipline. These patterns begin younger than we think, he told me, with parents in their studies clearly identifying children as young as 8 months old as difficult and aggressive.

“We think the infancy period is probably the time when parents begin to develop their disciplinary practices,” Dr. Lorber said. “Call it difficult temperament or incipient externalizing behaviors or contentiousness, it’s definitely the case that infants’ behaviors influence their parents, including physical discipline.”

One complicated question that researchers raise about physically aggressive children and their physically aggressive parents is whether there may be a genetic component to this behavior, which would be shared across the generations.

Leslie Leve, a professor of counseling psychology and human services at the University of Oregon College of Education, said that it was possible there were genetic predispositions toward aggressive behavior, which might affect both parents and children. “There is a common misperception that when people think of a behavior as ‘genetic’ that it’s not changeable, and that is not true,” Dr. Leve said. “With A.D.H.D. or aggression we know there is a genetic component, but there is a lot we can do in a family or educational environment. Genetics does not mean immutable.”

Dr. Leve has participated in studies of adopted infants, which can help tease out these effects, but which also show how complex the interactions are, with harsh parental responses affected by the child’s characteristics but also by factors in their own temperaments and their marriage.

Zero to Three reported that 69 percent of the parents said that “if they knew more positive parenting strategies they would use them.” Pediatricians try to help parents develop such strategies, discussing what behavior is developmentally realistic for young children; helping them interpret behavior without regarding it as defiant; counseling them about setting limits; and helping them find positive behaviors to praise and enjoy.

Disciplinary choices reflect parental stress, family circumstances and the whole complex cocktail of emotion and personal history and daily life at home. What parents do affects their children — their brains and their behavior — and the ways that children behave affects their parents. And the cycle of spanking and aggressive behavior seems to leave everyone worse off.

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A Poster Family for Diversity

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Credit Giselle Potter

Clicking through the new website of the private school my three children attend, I landed on a close-up photo of my oldest child’s smiling face. I shouldn’t have felt jarred, but I did. The picture, accompanied by a short interview highlighting everything she loves about the school, had been posted on the admissions page. Born in India and adopted by my husband and me, who are white, she’s a minority student at a majority white school that’s striving to become more diverse. Her interview was one of many, but for me, her mother, it generated a spotlight’s heat.

My older daughter is 14. Our son and younger daughter, siblings born in Ethiopia, are 13 and 12. When the children were small, strangers often mistook them for adorable, boisterous triplets. The kids’ friendly smiles and our family’s multicultural makeup ensured that we attracted attention everywhere we went. More than once, professional photographers stopped us on the street to propose a photo shoot. Religious strangers felt compelled to thank my husband and me for “loving the Lord and loving orphans.” Shoppers in the grocery store flagged me down to gush, “Your family is beautiful.”

The idea of us made a lot of people feel good, hopeful even, but I quickly grasped that we could also be perceived by some as a kind of entertaining novelty. For years, another mom at our elementary school referred to me, in public and private, as “Angelina Jolie.” I did my best to shield the kids, and myself, from the attention, so that our family could be just that — a family, not a symbol of post-racial equality or evidence of a supposed Hollywood trend, a trend some critics characterized as white celebrities adopting black babies as fashion accessories.

By virtue of their white parents, transracial adoptees often move in majority white spaces, inadvertently providing diversity for others. Although I’ve always tried to place my kids in environments where they encounter peers and role models of the same race, they inevitably end up in the minority at school, at camps, in enrichment classes and on sports teams.

Early on I noticed how schools and kids’ programs love to feature children of color in their marketing materials to highlight their commitment to diversity, just as the big corporations do. As much as I wanted pictures of my three to entice more minority children to join my children in their activities, I couldn’t bring myself to sign the blanket photo releases that came with every registration packet. I didn’t want my children being used to promote an ideal of diversity that didn’t exist in reality.

But complications arose. Without my release, my son’s fourth-grade teacher couldn’t post group pictures to her classroom website, an inconvenience that didn’t seem fair to her. Then a photo of my daughter, taken without my knowledge at our town’s Christmas parade, popped up in a catalog for the recreation department. A picture of all three kids appeared in a brochure for their favorite summer camp, even though I’d specified no photos. Complaining after the fact felt petty and pointless when I couldn’t identify any tangible harm done.

And then there was the problem of my work as a writer. Frequently when I published a parenting essay, the editor would want to run a family photo. For years I resisted, putting myself at a distinct disadvantage in the world of mommy blogs and image-centric parenting websites. As the kids matured, I discussed the pros and cons of every photo request with the whole family. The kids voted to publish the photo every time, and sometimes I did. Although I’ve been careful to never include their real names in my work to guard their privacy, there’s no question that using my children’s photos on occasion has helped my professional career, a reality I’m conflicted about, even if my kids are not.

And so I gave up. These days I sign all the photo releases for schools and camps and teams because this is the way the world works. All I can do as a parent is maintain an ongoing dialogue with my children about the hidden messages in advertising, about the ways minorities are portrayed in the media, and about why I feel so protective of their likenesses.

Sometimes, when I find a picture of my daughter playing bass guitar on the girls’ rock camp Facebook page or discover a video of my son’s deft footwork being tweeted by his soccer club, I’m thrilled. To see my kids promoted for what they do, not what they look like, feels good. Finding them featured in a camp catalog or a school brochure doing nothing but looking “ethnic” alongside their white peers brings up less positive emotions.

The photo and interview on the school admissions page felt like a “do nothing” at first, even though the school does a good job representing students of all backgrounds in its marketing as a whole. The post also felt like an intrusion. I’d never signed a release for an interview, and nobody had warned me it was coming, let alone sought my permission.

“Did you know they were going to put this interview with you on the website?” I asked my daughter.

“Of course,” she said.

“And you’re O.K. with it?”

“Obviously.”

She’d made her decision. With my children approaching adulthood in the age of the selfie, they’ll be making decisions daily about how to use and distribute their own images, with their status as members of minority groups an added twist. As a mom who shies away from the camera, I hope I’ve given them the tools to figure it out.

Sharon Van Epps is a freelance writer.

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Is Selfie Culture Making Our Kids Selfish?

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Michele Borba

Michele BorbaCredit

The psychologist and parenting expert Michele Borba says society’s fixation with the selfie is having some unintended consequences. She sees children mimicking not-so-nice behavior in adults and fewer grown-ups calling them out.

In “UnSelfie: Why Empathic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” her 23rd book, Dr. Borba combines scientific research with tales from real-world families and offers concrete tips on how to cultivate kindness.

We talked recently about “selfie syndrome,” ways to flip the focus away from the self and specific activities to build empathy in our children. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.

Q.

You suggest in the book that technology disrupts kids’ emotional lives. How?

A.

You have to have face-to-face connection in order to read emotional cues and experience where the other person is coming from. If the average kid is plugged in – let’s just say what Common Sense Media says is 7.5 hours a day – you’re not having the opportunities to look face-to-face. You can do that in FaceTime. You can do that in Skype. It’s not like you’re throwing the entire thing out. It’s finding ways to make sure there are opportunities where your child won’t lose the critical core skills of not only empathy but connection and social skills. We’ve failed to realize that all of those social skills are learned and they need practice. What we’re not doing is helping our kids practice.

Q.

Your book talks about kids and their often-inflated egos. Is this a repercussion of the 1980s self-esteem movement?

A.

Yes. Unfortunately, we misinterpreted self-esteem. I wrote five books on self-esteem, but my whole concept of self-esteem was it was layered. Real self-esteem is a balance between two things. One part is feeling worthy and likable. The other part is being capable to handle life – having the skills and competence.

What we did on the self-esteem bandwagon is we did the whole thing of helping the child feel worthy but without the competence; it backfires. Our praise, if we keep focusing on you, after a while, the kid begins to forget there’s others in the world. And the other thing is they become more and more dependent upon us. We kind of bubble-wrapped the child. We helicoptered them and we didn’t teach them the skills to be able to cope. We’re going to have to re-tilt the balance.

Q.

Let’s talk discipline. You cite a lot of problems with approaches like spanking and yelling, which are known as detrimental. But what’s wrong with time outs?

A.

Time out works if you do it the right way. It’s impossible to discipline wisely or well if you’re in distress or your kid is in distress. It’s better to say, “Let’s separate from each other and let’s calm ourselves down.”

But just sitting alone doesn’t help the kid think through the impact of his actions on others. When your kid comes back out, you need to say, “I’m disappointed in you. I expected better of you because I see you as a caring person. How would you feel if that were you? What are you going to do differently next time?” That’s the piece that research says we may be missing.

Q.

Just what is “selfie syndrome?”

A.

Self-absorption kills empathy. Narcissism is “it’s all me.” Empathy is feeling with someone. Empathy is always “we, it’s not me.” The problem is kids are tuning into themselves, and what we need to do is flip the lens and start looking at others. We started to emphasize one side of the report card and we forgot the other side, which is “You’re also a caring human being.” Let’s redefine success so it’s not just a GPA, but it’s also a kid who has heart.

Q.

You suggest that some activities, such as chess, reading, watching movies and recess, boost not only academic achievement but increase empathy. Why?

A.

Chess is about perspective taking. Kid are not thinking of themselves. They start thinking of others. New research on reading shows that emotionally charged literary fiction like “Charlotte’s Web” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” where the kid can catch the feelings of the character, makes the child not only smart but nice. Chapter books (such as the “Frog and Toad” series) are short and easy, and more parents are skipping literary fiction in favor of a chapter book because they think it will boost their kid’s vocabulary and reading comprehension. What they’re missing is the rich moral dilemma. Movies and literature are the same. Think of the kind of movie that stirs your heart, like “Dumbo.”

Following are some of Dr. Borba’s tips for how to flip the focus and cultivate kindness.

  1. When your children walk out the door, remind them to do one or two kind things each day.
  2. Show that you value kindness. Do not just ask, “What you get on your test today?” but, “What kind thing did you do?”
  3. Praise your kids for being kind in the moment – when they have earned it: “That was being kind because you offered your toy to your friend.”
  4. Make kindness a regular happening. Put a box by your front door for gently used items and when it fills up, drop it off together for a needy family.

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The Intentional Summer

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Credit Getty Images

Summer officially starts today, brimming with delicious potential. You may think you don’t need to schedule summer fun — it just happens, right? Well yes, sometimes, but research shows it helps to plan for it.

Well Family is declaring this the Intentional Summer, and we’re here to help you avoid regrets over missed opportunities. Every week, we’ll offer research-based suggestions for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year.

The sense that summer fun slips through our fingers is real, and it’s reflected in how people report feelings of health and well-being over the course of a 24-day vacation: Our positive feelings increase quickly at the outset, peak about one-third of the way through and then start a downward slide toward our baseline happiness — and sadly, leave us back there about a week after we return to work.

Jessica de Bloom, the researcher on that and other studies on vacation and happiness, suggested that we take time to consider how we can maximize our summer pleasure, even when we’re not on vacation. A sense of autonomy — of making active decisions about how we spend our time — is one of the elements that helps us enjoy our free time.

“Make ordinary evenings and weekends more memorable,” she said. Do the things you normally do “a little bit differently. Take a bike instead of the bus” or car. Research also suggests that people appreciate their leisure most when it includes elements of challenge, connects us with the people we care about, or helps us to feel a sense of purpose, she said.

To add some or all of those elements to these few weeks of summer, planning is essential. As a bonus, planning and anticipating something new can boost our happiness. Once we’re carrying out our plans, said Dr. de Bloom, we need to detach from our usual roles (and our gadgets), relax and savor the experience.

Join us! Every week for the next two months, we’ll propose a simple challenge to help connect you to the season and to the people you love. We’ll be listening to your feedback. Expect fresh ways to get outdoors, get moving (and slow down) and flavor your summer.

Having started with the solstice, we’ll end with another astronomically notable event: the annual Perseid meteor showers, which occur every August and peak this year around the 12th of the month (start thinking now about where you can find some dark sky to watch those “shooting stars”).

This week’s challenge: Walk or bike to somewhere you would normally drive or reach via public transportation. Pick a short distance that might turn into a summer ritual (a bike ride to the library, for example) or a longer trek.

A friend and I once took an entire summer day to walk from his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan down to Battery Park City, something I still remember over a decade later. And that’s exactly the point, said Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before” and host of the “Happier” podcast. “Life feels richer when some parts of it are different.” Routine days run together into a single memory, while special things stand out.

If you’re walking with children, let them help pick a destination, mode of transport and route. Leave enough time to enjoy unexpected discoveries along the way, whether it’s a street fair or a turtle living in the run-off ditch by the side of the road.

Let us know how you do by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, June 28. Was it more fun than you expected, or did things go wrong? Would you do it again? Did you make a day your family will remember? You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, June 30. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

The New Dads’ Club

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Credit Getty Images

When my wife, Courtney, and I were expecting our first child just a few years ago, I was astonished by the almost instantaneous community of expectant and new mothers that greeted her. Despite the fact that we’d just moved cross-country and didn’t yet know many people, she was flooded with sage advice and a deep sense of community.

It was impressive, and yet it often left me feeling like a bystander. As I watched the anticipation of these expectant mothers shift into weekly get-togethers with babies rolling around on blankets on the floor, I found myself envious and wondering: Where was the parallel universe of new dads?

Online, I found several hip publications on fatherhood — from the popular website Fatherly to Charlie Capen and Andy Herald’s widely read “How to Be a Dad,” and “Designer Daddy,” focused on “getting creative with fatherhood.” When our schedules aligned, my friend Peter and I would get vulnerable as we ran through the redwoods. We’ve had several unforgettable conversations about impossibly hard stuff like the loss of his first son and others on the pressure to strike that perfect balance with our wives — who both always seem to be one step ahead of us in this whole parenting thing. Yet nothing seemed to approximate the collective conversations that were happening among my wife and her new mom friends.

Economic and cultural shifts in the last decade have made fatherhood feel like uncharted territory in many ways. In the wake of the recession and the fracturing of the economy, many men, myself included, are less tied to a traditional workday as sole breadwinners. More than a third of American workers are now freelancers, according to an independent study commissioned by the Freelancers Union in 2014.

Many men are increasingly moving beyond the “bringing home the bacon” mentality, and instead prioritizing the careers of wives who make more money than they do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28.2 percent of wives earned more than their husbands in 2014 (in families in which both wives and husbands have earnings). Back in 1987, when I was a kid, only 17.8 percent of American wives brought home more money than their husbands.

These trends are creating entirely new opportunities and challenges for fathers: finding ourselves engaged with aspects of caretaking that many of our own fathers never experienced, more distracted at work, or even less career-oriented in some cases, again, like mine. Men and women, in a sense, are at least getting closer to being equal partners in this journey; according to the latest Pew surveys on modern parenthood, 56 percent of mothers and now 50 percent of fathers say juggling work and family life is difficult for them.

After experiencing, often appreciating, and sometimes lamenting many of these dynamics for the first two years of our daughter’s life, I decided to try to bring some dads together to talk about our shared experience. I had a hunch that I wasn’t the only one yearning for a community and some deeper conversation on fatherhood.

I identified 28 relatively new fathers, mostly through my wife’s friends, and finally worked up the courage to invite them. A stream of responses to my email invitation came promptly and enthusiastically.

On a cool, Bay Area night, those two dozen eager dads (few of whom knew one another) showed up at our place with an enviable array of fancy cheeses, a homemade coffee cake, some Brussels sprouts smoked via some jury-rigged stovetop contraption, and no small amount of uncertainty about what the hell they were doing there. If all else failed, at least we wouldn’t starve.

Among us were both nonprofit and tech company workers, stay-at-home dads, a tattooed investment banker-turned-restaurateur, and a couple of writers, myself included. Most had one child; a few had two.

Nervously excited and visibly breaking a sweat, I explained my reason for bringing the group together: to give new fathers a chance to talk honestly about the highs and lows of their new identity, together.

Throughout our conversation, the mood in the room was fun and lively, but at other times it also felt almost sacred. Although there were many moments of group laughter, unlike so many typical gatherings of guys where there is often cross-talk and side jokes, only one person spoke at a time.

To get things started, I asked the group: “What has surprised you most about fatherhood?” (My wife, a skilled facilitator, had suggested it.) The answers were remarkably wide-ranging. “My own parents seem to care very little about my children,” one dad said. “Having a child has made me lose my career ambition,” said another.

For many of us, as much fun as it can be, being a father is all-consuming and omnipresent, blurring time and space like few other experiences. Some days, especially during those early sleepless nights, it’s hard to know which end is up. And yet these few hours of conversation every couple of months somehow manage to stay with me. I often find myself reflecting on things other fathers said in our groups, days, weeks or even months after the fact. Others have reported the same.

At the end of that first night, one of the other dads asked: “How often do you guys have conversations like this, with other guys? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year?” After the last prompt, finally a mass of hands started going up.

Guys like us, it turns out, are hungry for a place to talk with other men, particularly about how fatherhood is changing us, and changing writ large. Just as literature has long helped people see that our seemingly personal struggles are universal, being able to talk in this group offers a similar revelation. In an age of near-constant superficial virtual connection, there’s an enormous benefit in having a real life community to confide in more deeply and provide a genuine social network — especially for men and young fathers so often without it.

John Cary is the editor of “The Power of Pro Bono” and a strategist for TED.


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For U.S. Parents, a Troubling Happiness Gap

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For years, social scientists have known that nonparents are happier than parents. Study after study has confirmed the troubling finding that having kids makes you less happy than your child-free peers.

Now new research helps explain the parental happiness gap, suggesting it’s less about the children and more about family support in the country where you live.

Based on data from 22 countries and two international surveys of well-being, researchers found that American parents face the largest happiness shortfall compared to people who don’t have children. The happiness gap between parents and nonparents in the United States is significantly larger than the gap found in other industrialized nations, including Great Britain and Australia. And in other Western countries, the happiness gap is nonexistent or even reversed. Parents in Norway, Sweden and Finland — and Russia and Hungary — report even greater levels of happiness than their childless peers.

The researchers, led by the University of Texas sociology professor Jennifer Glass, looked for factors that might explain the international differences in parental happiness, and specifically why parents in the United States suffer a greater happiness penalty than their peers around the world.

They discovered the gap could be explained by differences in family-friendly social policies such as subsidized child care and paid vacation and sick leave. In countries that gave parents what researchers called “the tools to combine work and family,” the negative impact of parenting on happiness disappeared.

“We comprehensively tested every other alternative,” said Dr. Glass, the lead author of the study, which will be published in the American Journal of Sociology in September. “The two things that came out most strongly in explaining the variation were the cost of care for the average 2-year-old as a percent of wages and the total extent of paid sick and vacation days.”

Notably, the researchers found that economic differences, whether a parent was married or partnered and whether the pregnancy was planned or unintended had no impact on the happiness gap. They also considered the impact of other family-friendly social policies, such as extended maternity and paternity leaves, flexible schedules and even policies that gave money to parents in the form of a child allowance or monthly payments.

Paid parenting leave has “nowhere near as big an effect as these other two policies, “said Dr. Glass, while the other policies didn’t have a significant impact on the happiness gap. Policies that made it less stressful and less costly to combine child rearing with paid work “seem to be the ones that really matter.”

Those same two policies, she said, were also correlated with increased happiness among nonparents. That more paid sick leave and vacation time would make nonparents happier was no surprise, but “we were a little puzzled that lower child care costs would show an effect on nonparents,” Dr. Glass said. She and her colleagues speculate that the result is what economists call an indirect benefit: Everyone is better off when countries invest in the future of their labor force, and everyone suffers when they don’t.

But while there are certainly distinctions in family policy to be made between the United States and other developed countries, there are also substantial cultural differences in the ways children are raised here and in other countries. Those distinctions are hard to measure, but might also account for some of the relative difference between parental and nonparental happiness.

“There’s an incredible anxiety around parenting here that I just don’t feel in other countries,” said Christine Gross-Loh, the author of “Parenting Without Borders,” a comprehensive look at modern parent culture across the developed world, who is raising her children between the United States and Japan. She points to Americans’ anxiety around children’s college and future prospects, and also to our emphasis on keeping children physically safe, and the harsh judgment of parents who are perceived to be doing a poor job of it.

“In Japan, my 6-year-old and my 9-year-old can go out and take the 4-year-old neighbor, and that’s just normal,” she said, while in the United States that kind of freedom can draw criticism and even lead to interventions by Child Protective Services.

In countries where there is a strong agreement about the norms around parenting, parents may worry less about their own choices. Without a single overarching parenting tradition, American parents may feel like they have “too many choices” as compared to parents in more homogeneous cultures, says W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “A clear and well-defined script can be psychologically comforting,” he said, and its lack can leave parents feeling “unmoored.”

Dr. Glass agrees that cultural differences add to the greater relative parent and nonparent happiness gap — but she notes that those cultural differences are also reflected in our family policies. Much of our anxiety around our children in the United States, she said, is very clearly a reflection of our policy choices.

“We have to compete for good child care. We compete to live where there’s a good elementary school,” she said. “We compete for activities because a child’s entire fate seems to depend on where he goes to college, because there’s no guarantee — if we don’t, our child might be left behind.”

Those fears, Dr. Glass said, come in part from our country’s high tolerance for unequal access to the resources families need. In countries that offer policies supporting a parent’s ability to balance work and family, she sees a commitment to egalitarianism. “A crucial part of what’s going on is the idea that every child deserves an equal chance in life,” she said.

The good news is that the findings show that the happiness gap of parenting is not inevitable. Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and is co-chairwoman of the Council on Contemporary Families, said it was a pleasant surprise to see the researchers document the need for better family policies.

“Don’t just swoop in and give a longer maternity leave,” Dr. Coontz said. “It’s a lifetime investment in helping people combine work and family for the long haul.”


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Parents Should Avoid Comments on a Child’s Weight

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Credit Stuart Bradford

Should parents talk to an overweight child about weight? Or should they just keep their mouths shut?

Parents in this situation are understandably torn. Say something, and they risk shaming a child or worse, triggering an eating disorder. Say nothing, and they worry they’re missing an opportunity to help their child with what could become a serious long-term health problem.

Now a new study offers some guidance: Don’t make comments about a child’s weight.

The study, published in the journal Eating & Weight Disorders, is one of many finding that parents’ careless — though usually well-meaning — comments about a child’s weight are often predictors of unhealthy dieting behaviors, binge eating and other eating disorders, and may inadvertently reinforce negative stereotypes about weight that children internalize. A parent’s comments on a daughter’s weight can have repercussions for years afterward, contributing to a young woman’s chronic dissatisfaction with her body – even if she is not overweight.

“Parents who have a child who’s identified as having obesity may be worried, but the way those concerns are discussed and communicated can be really damaging,” said Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “The longitudinal research shows it can have a lasting impact.”

The impact on girls may be especially destructive, she said, because “girls are exposed to so many messages about thinness and body weight, and oftentimes women’s value is closely linked to their appearance. If parents don’t challenge those messages, they can be internalized.”

The new study included over 500 women in their 20s and early 30s who were asked questions about their body image and also asked to recall how often their parents commented about their weight. Whether the young women were overweight or not, those who recalled parents’ comments were much more likely to think they needed to lose 10 or 20 pounds, even when they weren’t overweight.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor and the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, characterized the parents’ critical comments as having a “scarring influence.”

“We asked the women to recall how frequently parents commented, but the telling thing was that if they recalled it happening at all, it had as bad an influence as if it happened all the time,” said Dr. Wansink, author of the book “Slim by Design.” “A few comments were the same as commenting all the time. It seems to make a profound impression.”

Some studies have actually linked parents’ critical comments to an increased risk of obesity. One large government-funded study that followed thousands of 10-year-old girls found that, at the start of the study, nearly 60 percent of the girls said someone — a parent, sibling, teacher or peer – had told them they were “too fat.” By age 19, those who had been labeled “too fat” were more likely to be obese, regardless of whether they were heavy at age 10 or not.

Comments made by family members had even stronger effects than comments made by unrelated people.

Several studies have found that when parents encourage overweight teenagers to diet, the teenagers are at higher risk of lower self-esteem and depression and of being overweight five years later.

Research by Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a professor at the University of Minnesota, found that when parents talked to their teens about losing weight, teenagers were more likely to diet, use unhealthy weight-control behaviors and binge eat. Those behaviors are less likely to develop when conversations with parents focused on healthy eating behaviors, rather than weight per se.

Harsh comments about weight can send the message that parents are “tying weight to some kind of perception about how the child is valued,” Dr. Puhl said, and that can trigger negative feelings. “The children are internalizing that, and thinking they’re not O.K. as a person. And that is what’s leading to other outcomes, like disordered eating.”

So what’s a parent to do? Do they just stand by while their child gains weight?

Dr. Neumark-Sztainer was besieged by parents asking her this question, and wondering, “How do I prevent them from getting overweight and still feel good about themselves?”

In her book, called “I’m, Like, SO Fat: Helping Your Teen Make Health Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World,” she notes that parents can influence a child’s eating habits without talking about them. “I try to promote the idea of talking less and doing more — doing more to make your home a place where it’s easy to make healthy eating and physical activity choices, and talking less about weight.”

For parents, that means keeping healthy food in the house and not buying soda. It means sitting down to enjoy family dinners together, and also setting an example by being physically active and rallying the family to go for walks or bike rides together. Modeling also means not carping about your own weight. “Those actions speak louder than words,” Dr. Puhl said.

While your children are young, “there doesn’t need to be a conversation at all – it really is just about what’s being done at home,” Dr. Neumark-Sztainer said.

If an older child is overweight, “wait for your child to bring it up, and be there to support them when they do,” she said. “Say, ‘Look, I love you no matter what size you are, but if you would like, I will support you. I suggest we focus not so much on your weight but on your eating patterns and behaviors. What would be helpful for you?’”

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The Teenager With One Foot Out the Door

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High school graduation can give way to an uneasy season in the raising of a teenager. In place of a summer of family togetherness, parents often feel out of step with adolescents who are preparing to leave home. Though there are certainly joys that come with having a young adult around the house, they can’t cancel out the parting tensions that many families face.

Parents sometimes warn one another about teenagers who feel compelled to soil the nest before flying off to college or other adventures. Home life can become so unpleasant that those who once dreaded their graduate’s departure can’t wait to pack his or her bags. There’s a hidden function to this friction: It’s easier to part from people whose company we can hardly stand.

But subtler dynamics can also be at work. Firm plans for moving out may heighten a teenager’s tendency, which the psychoanalyst Anna Freud observed in 1958, to live “in the home in the attitude of a boarder.” With one foot out the door, a teenager may treat his parents like meddlesome landlords if they should ask what time he will be coming home, or suggest that he drive younger siblings to soccer. And just when new grads are resisting rules and expectations that held sway only a few weeks ago, their folks are often itching to offer some last-minute guidance.

Parents who want to discuss sexual ethics, finances, the hazards of heavy drinking or even the importance of getting enough sleep rarely find an eager audience in teenagers who have already decamped psychologically. These moments may be easier to navigate if we consider why adolescents act like tenants in the first place. It’s a huge developmental step to leave home, a step that teenagers don’t take all at once. Tweens usually begin the slow process of departing by closing their bedroom doors to do the exact same things they used to do with their doors wide open. In their last weeks around the house, adolescents travel the final stretch of this path. They practice living on their own while still enjoying, if they’re lucky, the safety and support of a loving home.

We shouldn’t give up on talking with teenagers about how they will care for themselves and treat others once they move out. But we should set aside the expectation of lengthy heart-to-heart talks. When teenagers are broadcasting their detachment, the most successful conversations may be the ones that begin, “It might seem like we’ve already covered this, but there are just a few things I want to touch base about before you go. I promise to keep it short.”

When soon-to-depart teenagers aren’t rubbing family members the wrong way or holed up in their rooms, they’re often nowhere to be found. Feeling confident in their ties to their parents, adolescents cling to their friends. Or they immerse themselves in efforts to resolve a meaningful high school romance. My years of working with teenagers have taught me that a surprising number of recent grads find themselves in pop-up entanglements that bloom, out of nowhere, in late summer.

Parents who are trying to cherish a teenager’s last days under their roof may be reluctant to split time with high school friends or a serious romantic partner, much less with a passing fling. But adults don’t need to take a teenager’s consuming social life as a personal rejection. The intense focus on peer relationships is often connected to the psychological strain of parting with family. A teenager who preoccupies himself with saying goodbye to his friends often manages to distract himself from difficult feelings about leaving his family. Agonizing about the future of an obviously doomed 11th-hour relationship beats tuning in to the full sadness of moving away from a beloved sibling.

It’s no picnic to send a teenager into the world. Most parents feel both wistful about the past and anxious (and perhaps even a bit envious) about their adolescent’s future. Must we add feeling at odds with or ignored by our teenagers to this emotional stew? Perhaps we could simply discuss these common post-grad dynamics with our adolescents, then go on to enjoy our last summer together.

We could. But we probably shouldn’t.

With their parting maneuvers, young people are subconsciously tempering the emotionally intense, landmark moment of leaving home. In moving out, teenagers give up almost everything they have ever known, with little grasp of what they are getting. It’s no surprise that they rely on adaptive, if sometimes off-putting, psychological defenses to buffer such a stressful transition.

As for the adults, there may be some comfort in knowing that high school graduation isn’t the end of parenting. It simply marks the next phase of it: the one where we bear with our teenagers as they find their way to the door.

Lisa Damour is a psychologist in private practice in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a clinical instructor at Case Western Reserve University and the director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls. She is the author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.” Follow her on Twitter: @LDamour.

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The Seven Words I Cannot Say (Around My Children)

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“Don’t be stife with the bacon.”

I said this to my teenage son while he was picking perfectly cooked strips of pig fat out of a grease-filled pan and laying them on a paper towel to drain. I already knew he was planning to allot me only one slice, adding the rest to his heaping plate of eggs.

He turned from the stove, eyes hard, and I was sure we were going to have the Bacon Fight. But instead he said, “Please don’t ever say that word again.”

There are seven words I am not permitted to utter in front of my kids: Stife, Clutch, Fire, Dope, Swag, Fo’ Shizzle and Chill.

Actually, “Chill” is borderline. Meaning, there are some occasions I can use that word and my sons don’t affect a look as if I’d started dancing in the kitchen in front of their friends. I’m not a bad dancer, and I can easily pull off half those words – but according to my sons, who are 16 and 21, I may do either only in private or with my own friends.

A quick trip to Urban Dictionary provides several meanings for “Stife.” My younger son and his friends employ its third definition: “Used to mean stingy in the very negative sense.” I’ve done my due diligence, and in my view, that’s my initiation fee. But to my boys, I’m barging up the ladder to the tree house, blatantly ignoring the sign that says Keep Out.

When my older son and his friends are together, listening to them talk is like trying to decipher the clicking of the Bantu. It’s all delivered so fast – recognizable words cavorting with the unfamiliar – and there’s not even a moment to ground myself in context clues. I think of it as a unique dialect, perhaps specific to our town – possibly even to our high school. I take in conversations as if they were pieces of music, having no real idea if they’re complaining about finals or making plans to gather somewhere on a Saturday night. But their dialogue feels alive, and I love it.

I like words and I always have. I spent years of my boring youth browsing Merriam-Webster the way some foodies might thumb through Yotam Ottolenghi’s books: not for any real purpose – just to absorb what’s there and what one might do with it. My parents liked words too, and when you grow up in a home rich with vocabulary, it feels good and right to be curious and expand your personal lexicon.

“Explain to me how to use ‘swag.’Give it to me in three sentences. I want to understand,” I’d say to my sons.

Response: “Go away.”

I want talking to be fun, and for me that means discovering new ways to say old things. When I hear my boys talk, it feels as if I’m witnessing the evolution of language in real time. It probably feels to them as it did to me at age 13, when my mother walked into my bedroom and suggested I get some “groovy” wallpaper and window shades that were what she pronounced as “psycha-DILL-ic.”

Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of “You’re Wearing THAT?,” bears this out. “Every group has its own language — terms, expressions, usages that come to characterize the group and give them a sense of belonging when they all use it. When outsiders try to use the language, it’s like they’re trying to break into the group or pretend to be members when they’re not,” Ms. Tannen said.

Sometimes the signals my kids send me are mixed, and that doesn’t help. I’m not allowed to call my beloved new boots “dope,” but if I refer to “weed” as “pot,” they correct me, making sure I’m using the more current vernacular.

Obviously, some of my verboten words are fine to use in a middle-aged context. I am free to say “clutch” if I happen to be in a manual transmission automobile, or talk about “fire” if I’m standing at the grill. But both those words mean something different when my sons use them – namely: great, awesome, fabulous. How tired am I of using the word “great” to signify my enthusiasm about something? What’s the big deal if I find a poppin’ new word to break up the monotony?

But to them it is a big deal.

“Kids at that age are particularly eager to establish their identities separate from their parents, which is why they start identifying with friends instead in the first place,” Ms. Tannen said.

I hold out my plate and meet my son’s eyes. “More bacon, please,” I say, as if he hadn’t just kicked me out of the clubhouse (again). We both know this isn’t really about bacon. It’s about connecting. And he knows he’s being stingy, but he doles out another slice –and it is fresh, in every sense of the word.


Jessica Wolf is a freelance writer and editor.


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Phone-Sick at Camp

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A camper writing a letter at Camp Walden in Diamond Point, N.Y.

A camper writing a letter at Camp Walden in Diamond Point, N.Y.Credit

Leaving for sleepaway camp is, for many children, a major step toward independence. Today, when cellphones keep parents and children in nearly constant contact, the fact that most camps have phone-free policies makes breaking away even more of a challenge.

“Camp-age kids, by even 10 or 11, are used to texting and being in frequent contact with their parents,” said Christopher Thurber, a clinical psychologist who focuses on youth development and summer camp. “How we communicate has changed the nature of attachment, and it complicates the separation that kids and parents go through,” he said.

According to a Pew Research Center study, teenagers send and receive an average of 67 texts per day. Kids are on their phones in school, in restaurants, on vacations and even in bed. For many, sleepaway camp remains one of the last oases, largely untouched by technology.

Yalda T. Uhls, author of “Media Moms & Digital Dads” and a child development expert with Common Sense Media, conducted a study showing that sixth graders who spent just five days at a tech-free sleepaway camp developed greater understanding of real-world interpersonal communication cues, including a better ability to read facial expressions, make eye contact, and interpret tone of voice and other prompts, such as posture and keeping an appropriate spatial distance with others.

“Camp is a sacred space to unplug and be able to learn independence and social skills,” Dr. Uhls said. “It’s really important to put devices down and practice the art of face-to-face communication.”

Putting down the phone can be at least as hard for the parents, who are often anxious about separating from their children and are used to constant check-ins, whether they are in the next state or the next room. We may complain that our children are always on the phone but “the reality is that we want that instant access to our children,” Dr. Uhls said.

Corey Dockswell, the director of Camp Wicosuta, a girls’ camp in Hebron, N.H., said the no-phone rule can be tough for parents. “They’ll say, ‘I’m used to talking to her all the time,’” she said. “It’s a steep learning curve for them.”

When Carrie Irvin, president of a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., decided to send her two daughters to Wicosuta, it was a difficult transition. “I have a really hard time dialing it back but I needed it. It was so important for them and our relationship, and I’m grateful that camp made me do it,” she said.

With this constant communication, children seek their parents’ guidance and emotional support even when they are not together, leaving fewer opportunities to develop their own confidence and internal compass for decision-making. Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and the author of the parenting book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” tells the story of a college student at a salad bar who texted her mother to ask if she liked ranch dressing, rather than testing it herself. Such dependent relationships can rob children of the chance to trust and believe in someone else besides their parents. Creating bonds with others is one of the most important benefits of camp, and it is more likely to happen without the electronic connection to home.

At Camp Walden in Diamond Point, N.Y., “we talk about phones all the time. It’s a huge change in their life,” said Lauren Bernstein, the owner and director. And campers aren’t the only ones unplugging. Counselors and staff members are allowed to use phones only during their time off, so campers rarely even see a cellphone. “It’s important that our entire team live like the kids do,” she said. “Camp is a different world, and we want to keep it that way.”

But many camps are using workarounds, sending a daily email blast and photos of children engaging in camp activities, for example. Some also allow parents to email campers daily – printing out the messages and distributing them to campers at mail time.

To prepare to detach for camp, Dr. Thurber recommends families try one tech-free day per week over the month before camp, with no recreational screen time. “It’s good to practice some withholding from real-time digital communication and learn to not reflexively reach for cellphones,” he said.

Children and parents can get ready by drafting practice letters or journal entries with a bit more of a narrative than the brief, immediate social media contact they are used to. Counsel your child on using an appropriate greeting and sign-off and writing with adjectives that actually describe how they’re feeling rather than using emojis. The goal is to arrive at camp with those new skills in place.

Some kids say unplugging from social media is a relief. Sofia Jacobson, 12, who attends Camp Walden, said, “I love having a break from it. It’s nice to let go and not have to think about what anyone else is doing.”

Finally, parents can help their children and themselves by shifting their mind-set and creating positive expectations for cutting the electronic umbilical cord. Rather than seeing a break from technology as some sort of punishment, view it as an opportunity to be present, nurture relationships and be creative.

“The single most important fact about sleepaway camp is that children are away from their parents, where they experience their camp as their own, their camp friends as their own, and the experience as their own,” said Michael Thompson, the author of “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.”

He added, “You cannot ever fully experience things as your own when your mother is looking over your shoulder, actually or electronically.”


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The Bigger the Bottle, the Fatter the Baby

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A big baby bottle may make for a big baby, a new study has found.

Pediatricians asked parents of new babies fed only infant formula to show them their baby bottles. Some bottles hold two ounces; others hold 11 ounces or more.

After controlling for other factors that influence weight gain, the researchers found that using a large bottle when the baby was 2 months old was associated with a more rapid increase in weight gain by the time the babies were 6 months old compared to those who used smaller bottles.

While babies should gain weight, rapid weight gain in infants is a predictor of later obesity. Using a smaller bottle could be an easy step to take to help ward off excess weight gain, said Dr. Eliana M. Perrin, the study’s senior author and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. The paper was published in Pediatrics.

Earlier studies had found that larger bottles are associated with more formula intake, she said.

It’s important for parents who feed by bottle to pay attention to cues of both hunger and satiety, said Dr. Charles T. Wood, a research fellow at U.N.C. and the paper’s first author. A crying baby doesn’t always mean a hungry baby, and a baby who bats the bottle away or gets distracted and turns away from it may be full, Dr. Wood said.

If that happens, Dr. Perrin said, “Don’t force them to finish their bottles.”