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Barbara F. Meltz writes the Globe's Child Caring column. She is author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Understanding How Your Children See the World," and a frequent speaker to parent groups. Join her chat on the first and third Monday of the month at noon.
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September 26, 2007

A few good books

I love good children's story books, and I continue to collect them even though I am past the days when my son climbed into my lap and cuddled for a story. OK, long past.

On a shelf at home are the beloved books from Eli's childhood (if you're interested, I wrote about some of those titles in the early days of the blog) but in a drawer in my desk are books I've saved because, well, just because. Something about each one made me smile. Here are a few of the titles:


"Loud Lips Lucy" by Tolya Thompson, illustrated by Juan Perez (Savor Publishing, 2002). Hip-hop in a book! It's a touch moralistic, but the illustrations are fabulous (Perez is an artist with the New York Police deparatment), and the rhyming is downright delicious. Here's a sample:
"Now Lucy shouted out this and that. She loved to flap her lips and chat. She would take a deep breath, fill her lungs with air, and as loud as she could she would scream, Beware! Watch your step! Don't fall!' She'd scream these things for no reason at all."

"Kitty in the City, Mind your manners, s'il vous plait" by Kinsley Foster, illustrated by Kari McGaren (What's Inside Press, 2000). If you ask me, good childrens' books come in two categories, those that are purely delightful and those that have a message and manage to be delightful just the same. "Kitty" (there's a whole series, but this is my favorite) is in the latter category. She's perfect for girls in the 4- to 7-year range and best read with a sense of humor.

"It's time for school, Stinky Face" by Lisa McCourt, illustrated by Cyd Moore (Troll, 2000). The perfect book for any 4- to 6-year-old with trepidation about going to school. McCourt out-imagines even the best 5- or 6-year-old's imagination.

"Time to PEE!" by Mo Williams (Hyperion, 2003.) I have to admit, I am biased against books for kids on toilet training. They are either cutesy or preachy. But Williams manages to catch just the right tone. If I was looking for a book on the subject, this would be it.

"When Katie Was Our Teacher," by Amy Brandt, illustrations by Janice Lee Porter (Red Leaf Press, 2000) I liked this book enough to build a column around it. Brandt does an incredible job of validating a child's loss when a teacher leaves, but still manages to help a child move on. These two also paired up to write, "Benjamin Comes Back," about a little boy having separation difficiulties at day care.

"My mother's voice" by Joanne Ryder, illlustrated by Peter Catalanotto (Harper Collins, 2006). Just because. I am a mom, after all, and a daughter.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 05:06 PM
September 26, 2007

Are you ready for your parent-teacher conference?


Got your parent-teacher conference schedule yet? How 'bout your case of the jitters?

Parent-teacher conferences should be about the partnership between the two parties. After all, parents and teachers are working toward the same goal, a mutual concern about the progress of this young learner. Somehow, though, the fact that this particular learner is related to you tends to muddy the waters.

A favorite story of mine comes from a mother who put a lot of thought into her first parent-teacher conference, when her son was a first grader. "I saw us as a team," she says. "My goal was to be a good listener and a good advocate. I wanted to absorb what she had to say, but I also had some things I wanted to tell her." It never happened.

It had nothing to do with the teacher or their intereaction. It was all about the chair. You know -- one of those pint-size, first-grade chairs. This slightly over-sized mom was so uncomfortable, with her knees up to her chin, that she couldn't think straight.

It's not unusual for something as simple as that to derail a parent teacher conference. Shame on any teacher who doesn't think ahead enough to borrow a folding chair from the auditorium, and shame on a parent who's too intimidated to speak up and say, "Any chance there's a normal size chair around here?"

Here are some other suggestions:

Go into the conference expecting it to be a partnership. If the teacher doesn't ask you questions, offer your opinions anyway: "You know, she's been like that since she was a toddler. She's very quiet in any new situation until she feels comfortable with the authority figure."

Since most conferences are short; 20 minutes these days is long, and there's often another set of parents waiting in the hall for their turn. Bring notes of reminder for yourself, but if you find your time is up and you didn't get through your list, try this: "You've given me a lot to think about. Can we schedule another time to talk?"

The goal of a conference is to be able to walk away and say to yourself, "This teacher really knows my child." If that's not what's happening -- if the teacher launches into a memorized monologue about curriculum, which is what should be the subject of back-to-school night, not conferences -- here are some questions that can pull the teacher back to talking about your child: "Tell me about my child's learning style." "How's she doing socially? Does she seem to be making friends? Is she comfortable in the classroom?" "Have you noticed some of the same endearing quirks that I have, for instance, that she ..."

If you come to the school experience bearing baggage from your own school experiences -- let the teacher know: "Thisis hard for me. I didn't have an easy school career."

It's hard to hear something negative about your child. Try to remember that you're a team and that it isn't an attack on you as a person or on your ability to parent. Ask for facts, not judgments: "You say she's too social. Can you give me examples?"

Tell your child that you are going to the conference; ask if there's anything he wants you to talk to the teacher about. After the conference, share a detail or two, an observation about the room, an impression you formed about the teacher or a strategy you agreed to.

Share with a teacher your philosophy of parent involvement -- for instance, that you don't believe in helping with homework other than to make the time and place for it to happen -- and ask what kind of help she expects you to give your child.

Most importantly: If you think there's a problem, don't wait for a conference, and don't wait for the teacher to bring it up to you. Talk to the teacher as soon as something crops up.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 02:24 PM
September 26, 2007

Crib recall has a sad backstory

Turns out, there's quite a backstory to the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall of one million cribs (scroll down to yesterday's blog entry). Enough that I'll bet there will be backlash for the agency.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the CPSC dragged its heels in investigating the crib death of Lian Johns who died in 2005 when the drop rail on his Simplicity crib detached from its plastic track. The baby -- he was 9-months-old -- slipped feet-first through the resulting gap, where he got trapped. He died of asphyxiation.

It's a tragic story made even more horrible because the CPSC didn't warn parents about the flaw in the crib until Friday, when the Tribune was about to publish its story which documents how an understaffed CPSC falls short in its role as watchdog.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 01:06 PM
September 25, 2007

Messy teen rooms


I did it again last night. I went into my college son's empty room to sit on his bed and soak up his absent presence. I find it soothing. My husband stops in the room, too, but for a totally different reason. He likes being able to see the floor. He likes not having to stumble over piles of clothing and squash rackets. Neat and clean is good for his blood pressure.

I'm not gonna say that I miss my teenage son's messy room, but it never did bother me as much as it did my husband. I was reminded of all that last night, so for those of you in the midst of the struggle, here's a column I wrote when we were.

Child Caring
By Barbara F. Meltz


Introduce two parents of teenagers to each other, utter the words
``messy room,'' and watch the rolling of the eyes, the knowing nod, the
instant simpatico. Are there any parents in America who make it through
their child's adolescence without a struggle over the messy room?

That such a mundane issue can cause so much intensity surprises some
parents, especially if the problem starts at age 8 or 9. No doubt about
it, this is a loaded issue. But even though this rite of passage
probably can't be avoided altogether, it doesn't have to be a daily or
even weekly battle.

``The messy room is the drip, drip, drip of daily life, the lightning
rod for more crucial issues,'' says psychologist Laura Englander.

She says that for the parent, it raises questions of authority and
effectiveness: How good a parent am I if I can't teach my child to take
responsibility for his own room? For the child, it's about autonomy and
privacy: This is my room.

What complicates this even more for parents is that there's no right
or wrong. ``This isn't cheating or stealing,'' says Englander. ``It's
cleanliness and pride, personal stuff. If you're a neat person who sees
your home as a reflection of yourself, this is very tough to take.''
Englander specializes in family therapy at Stoney Brook Counseling
Center in Billerica and is in private practice in West Concord.

Teresa Artiano of Plympton knows the feeling.

Coming home from work at the end of the day, the first thing she'd
see at the top of the stairs was 17-year-old Kathryn's messy room. It
became a daily issue. ``It's hard to see a sweater you paid $50 for
rolled into a ball on the floor,'' says Artiano. ``Kids say, `It's my
stuff.' But who paid for that stuff?''

Parent educator Suzie Draper tells parents to call a cease-fire by
letting natural consequences take their course. ``When she wants to wear
the sweater that's now dirty and wrinkled, or she wants you to buy her a
new sweater, or she can't find it because it's buried under a pile,
well, that's too bad, isn't it?'' she says.

After a few weeks of unhappiness with a mess of his own creation, a
child is more likely to buy into a solution, says Draper, who is
cofounder of ``Programs for Parents'' workshops in North Andover.
Problem-solve together by first getting him to state the problem: too
much time spent looking for things, clothes are dirty when she wants
them, the room smells . . .

Use this opportunity for a general evaluation. ``Some kids don't take
ownership of their room because the room doesn't work for them,'' says
Kate Kelly, author of ``The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a
Teenager'' (Alpha, 1996).

A problem that's often overlooked is lack of storage. ``Maybe there
was enough shelf space for a 5-year-old's sweaters, but not for a
15-year-old's, so she's constantly frustrated trying to keep herself
organized,'' says Kelly.

Or maybe she doesn't care about the room because the space reflects
you, not her. First, reorganize it together by going through toys and
clothes, decide what to give away and rearrange the remains. Then
redecorate. ``By 11, a child needs input into a room. If there are still
cowboys riding the border, it's too babyish,'' Kelly says. ``Present
choices you can live with but give her the final decision.'' Don't
invest a lot of money, though: She may want to redo it in 10 months.

This is the time to set cleanliness standards. While you can have
some basic rules -- nothing hazardous, such as candles; no food unless
plates and remains are returned to the kitchen that day -- definitions
of cleanliness need to be arrived at together. Teresa Artiano agreed
that her daughter could be as messy as she wants, Monday to Saturday, if
Sunday is cleanup day, including vacuuming. To minimize stress even
further, however, Kathryn moved to another bedroom, out of her mother's
daily sightline.

When Draper was unhappy with her daughters' rooms, she offered Cara
and Dia, now 21 and 17, an experiment: one week of picking up clothes
and toys at the end of each day, one week of letting the mess accumulate
and picking it up on Sunday. By timing both methods, they could decide
which took less time.

Not only did they see for themselves it was faster to pick up daily,
but because Draper started when they were young, 5 and 9, it became as
much a part of the daily routine as brushing teeth.

Indeed, beginning to set standards for a room during the toddler and
preschool years is the best antidote to teenage tantrums, says early
childhood educator Jaesook Lee, director of the Early Childhood Lab at
the University of Kentucky.

``Singing a song and doing it together establishes cleanup as a fun
rountine,'' says Lee. There's a fine line to be drawn here, however. In
these early years, the process counts as much as the result; expecting
too much will not only lead parents to be disappointed but also lead
children to conclude, ``I can never get it right.''

Lee says that by age 3, a child can help keep her room neat by putting
one item away all by herself -- dirty clothes in the laundry basket, for
instance. By 7, a child can pull a quilt over the covers to ``make'' a
bed, and in subsequent years, you can add responsibility -- ``I'll fold
clothes, you put them away'' -- and choice: ``Do you want to straighten
today or Sunday?'' Even in early school years, straightening should be a
cooperative effort that you aren't rigid about, says Lee.

Despite your efforts, expect times when none of this works.

If your child isn't meeting his part of a bargain at all, maybe
something's wrong with the bargain: He's too tired to clean on Friday
and would prefer Sunday; standards are too high. Retool a contract once
or twice, but if the room continues to be an issue, Kelly considers it a
red flag. ``You shouldn't need to be grounding a child every weekend
over a messy room,'' she says. ``Something else may be going wrong in
the relationship.''

If your child is typically taking good care of her room with
only periodic blips of messiness, consider the context. With a
school-age child, the messiness may be so overwhelming, he doesn't know
where to begin. Be supportive: ``Gosh, things really got out of control,
didn't they? What can I do to help?''

Even in the middle of a mess, look for ways to offer praise, says
Kelly. With a preteen girl, for instance: ``I know all those clothes
are on the floor because you had a hard time deciding what to wear this
morning. Good for you for still getting to the bus on time!'' On the
other hand, don't go overboard. ``Remind her,'' says Kelly, ``that if
the clothes sit on the floor too much longer, she'll have a lot of
ironing to do, and when is she going to have time for that?''

In high school, Kelly advises giving the typically responsible child
even more slack. With exams, crew, college applications, accelerated
classes and life in general, Dia Draper hasn't had time for her room in
recent weeks.

Dia hates that as much as her mother. ``Your room should be a
comforting place and when it's a mess, it isn't,'' she says.
Nonetheless, Dia was grateful when her mother agreed she could let her
room go for a while. ``I needed one thing in my life I could lose
control of and have it be OK,'' says Dia.

Once in a while, what every child may need is the Cleaning Fairy. At
the Drapers', the Cleaning Fairy comes several times a year, magically
cleaning a child's room that is totally out of control. Over the years,
the fairy has also cleaned an out-of-control playroom now and then, much
to the delight of parents.


If you don't make your bed and straighten your room, don't expect
your child to.

Don't always pick up a toddler's or preschooler's room when he's
asleep or not home. He'll think it happens by magic.

Any-age child will get discouraged and figure, ``Why bother?'' if
you consistently correct, criticize, or redo her straightening.

Be specific about what a clean room is supposed to look like. Take
a photo of it clean as a reminder.

If you or someone else vacuums, dusts, etc., agree to rules about
privacy. Remind him to put away what he doesn't want you to see.

Children who have bedrooms in more than one residence need leniency
and support around room responsibility. If she's at your house only on
weekends, don't clean and straighten without talking about it first; it
upsets some children to return to a room that looks different from when
they left.

Don't make an issue of a room without explaining why it's important
to you: that if mice or insects come, they won't just stay in one room;
that it reflects on the whole family; that it's inconsiderate to your
brother who shares this room, etc.

If you hate to look at the mess, close the door to the room.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 03:50 PM
September 25, 2007

On Teens, drugs & drinking

For parents of teens, two different groups are weighing in today on issues that weigh heavily on our minds: drugs, alcohol, and internet use.

Let's start with some questions: When your teen goes to a party, do you think there's alcohol and/or drugs? Eighty percent of parents say no. Fifty percent of teens say, uh, yeah, there is.

Do you think your teen ever has been offered drugs? Twenty-seven percent of parents say yes, but 45 percent of teens say it has, in fact, happened to them.

You get the drift. Parents' heads are in the sand. Or under a rock.

The research is among the findings done for the White House Anti-Drug Media Campaign which today launched an initiative called the Parent Chronicles. It's an attempt to help parents bridge the gap -- some might say chasm -- between the cultural reality our kids live in and the world we, as their parents, imagine. The premise of the campaign is that parents who make a real effort to understand the pressures and influences on kids are more likely to keep their teen healthy and drug-free. The campaign is running a series of ads called, "Do you speak teen?" View a video here; for a column by yours truly about how girls are out-pacing guys as drinkers, click here.

When it comes to internet saftey, parents are a little more reality-based. A survey released today, also in Washington, shows that 85 percent of parents of children 6 to 18 who use the Internet have talked to their chidl about how to be safe. More than 93 percent say they have tgaken action to make sure the Web sites their kid visits are safe. The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive for Cable in the Classroom/Common Sense Media.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 01:52 PM
September 25, 2007

Crib Recall

This voluntary recall of one million cribs by Simplicity sounds pretty scary to me. Hardware installed upside down can cause the drop-side to detach from the crib, creating a gap in which a baby can become trapped. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says two babies have died, and references 55 other "incidents" in these cribs. It makes me sick just to think about it.

The best thing to do -- right now -- is see if your drop-side is installed right side up.

Here's what a correct installation looks like:

Here's what it looks like if incorrectly installed:

[Photos courtesy of the CPSC]

There's a distinction between "older" versus "newer" style hardware on these cribs, which is a little confusing. The newer hardware is not included in the recall, although the CPSC is also investigating one death with the new hardware. The cribs in question were sold from 1998 through May 2007. Some were under the Graco logo.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:33 AM
September 25, 2007

It's about time

David Fine and Sara Susskind of Cambridge with Zachary, 6.
Robert Spencer photo for The New York Times

Have you had the experience of flying with your kids and having the airline show a movie that your kids wouldn't otherwise be allowed to see? Make you pretty angry? Maybe, like Thomas Fine and Sara Susskind of Cambridge, you spent the flight trying to distract your 6-year-old from a movie like "Shooter," which is what was showing on their recent flight.

If you care, now's your chance to have your say. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-NC, filed a bill today called the Family Friendly Flights Act. It would require airlines to create sections on planes where children won't be forced to see -- if even only peripherally -- movies with inappropriate violence, nudity or offensive language. The organization behind this is; to sign its petition, click here.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 10:38 AM
September 24, 2007

When is a lie a lie?

Kids will lie, that's the truth. Teresa Fung emails with this question:

"My son lies occasionally, usually about things that I ask him to do but he didn't (e.g. did you wash your hands with soap?). Since I can't tell every lie he tells, I am conveying to him that sometimes he can get away with it. How do I promote honesty? He does the same thing with my husband, too. Sometimes he'll say "I don't know" or "I forgot if I did". He knew, just
didn't want to tell us."

Sometimes kids just can't be bothered applying the brain power to remember if they did or didn't do something, so saying "I forgot" isn't necessarily a lie. Lazy, maybe. Here are some other thoughts on the subject.

A column on why children lie, which I wrote a number of years ago, began with a story that's become one of my favorites:

"One day last week, 2 1/2-year-old Diana Peters was meandering down the hall of the psychology building at the University of North Dakota, where her father, Douglas, is a professor. She paused at that big, red thing on the wall, just within her reach. At the very moment that her father came out of his office to see where she was, Diana reached up and pulled down.

"The fire alarm sounded, people poured out of doorways, and Diana's stricken father gasped, "Diana, what have you done?"

"Nothing, Daddy! I didn't do it! Brian did it!"

"Brian, her 4-year-old brother, wasn't even with them, but a frightened Diana stuck to her story as police and six Grand Forks fire trucks arrived.

For Peters, the moment was a curious blending of personal and professional lives. For the past eight years, he has been researching children's lies; here was his daughter publicly providing him with a whopper.

"Peters reacted as a father. "What could I do -- argue with her? Force her into saying she'd done it? She's 2 1/2 years old!"

"Hours later, though, Diana voluntarily owned up. "Daddy, I pulled the switch." Peters remained casual, saying only, "I thought so. It's good you told Daddy that you remembered you pulled the switch."

For years, researchers did not think children as young as Diana had the cognitive ability to lie on purpose, that they were too egocentric and cognitively unable to purposefully deceive. Now research disputes that saying that there are a number of reasons -- mostly ego-centric -- why they might lie. In the story above, for instance, Pteres speculated that his daughter was frightened by the noise, that it was a reflex to say, "Not me!"

Here are some excerpts from the column:

"...There are two reasons why preschoolers lie: to get a material reward or to avoid punishment. Peters' research prompts him to add a third motive for young children: "A commitment that is strong enough to lie for." He says a 3-year-old who makes a promise may believe that the ethics of keeping it is more important than telling the truth, a finding that has significant implications for children testifying in court cases.

"School-age children lie for these reasons as well as some others....: to impress a peer or to challenge your authority, to get out of an awkward social situation, and, by 9 or 10, to get privacy from an overly intrusive parent.

"Children of all ages lie simply to see if they can get away with it. 'Did you wet the bed last night?' 'No, the dog did.' 'Did you have a cookie?' 'No, the baby did.' "

"Between 6 and 10, children also engage in ...'tricking': ''It's a kind of game they play. They're trying to get you: 'The cafeteria had elephant burgers today!' 'Come on, elephant burgers?' 'Ha, ha! I tricked you!' "

At some point, though, they stop announcing, "I tricked you."

...Ultimately, the message you want your child to learn is that lying erodes trust. So you start by telling your preschooler that lying is not nice, even when it's not much of a lie.

"Don't overreact -- that can be frightening," says Peters. "Just work into conversation how much you value honesty and truthfulness. Let your child know that even if he feels badly about something he did, it's OK to tell you the truth."

"By 5, children are able to [understand] that lying is unfair, that it's cheating. They also can understand the consequences of a lie. For instance, Peters says if Diana had been older, he would have explained that she should tell the truth because the firefighters needed to know why the alarm was pulled, whether it was a real fire or an accident.

"About age 8, you can begin to get to the heart of the matter by introducing the idea of the boy who cried wolf: He lied so often, no one trusted him when he did tell the truth."

Here are some suggestions if you suspect your school-age child is lying:

Don't try to trap him; just try to stop him from lying. "I'm not sure if you are telling the truth or not. Before you say anything else, I want you to think some more about this."

Don't tempt him to lie. If you suspect he's broken a rule, don't ask, ''What did you do this afternoon?" That makes him think, "He doesn't know. I can get away with this." Instead, present him with the evidence you have found -- "The CD player was left on." If he still lies, [here's what you can say]: "I don't think you are telling the truth. I'm not happy if you broke my rule, but I'm even less happy if you lie about it."

Reflect aloud for a motive. "Something must have made you use the CD. Were you trying to impress a friend?" [That's reassuring} It gets decoded as, 'Even if I do something really stupid, my parents are understanding. I can tell them."

Punishing a child for lying is tricky because it makes some children resolve only to learn to lie better. Instead, create an environment that supports telling the truth and offers rewards for that rather than punishment for lies. Some children are punished enough by your strong disappointment.

Your model is the biggest reason children do or don't lie.

A preschooler's face gives his lie away. In school-age children, look for these telltale signs: he avoids eye contact, puts his head down, turns his back on you, or engages in a nervous gesture such as rubbing his arms or hands.

A child who starts off lying and then tells the truth shows courage that should be rewarded, even if he was trying to cover up for something he shouldn't have done. If it's a first-time transgression, tell him: "I'm so proud of you for telling the truth, I'm not going to punish you this time." If it happens again, be clear that you still admire the truth but can't overlook the transgression. Don't make the punishment so severe, however, that he will feel telling the truth is a wasted effort.

If your child lies constantly, seek professional help.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 04:08 PM
September 24, 2007

Lusher lungs?

Want something else to worry about? Apparently the story of a baby with grass growing in her lungs is more than urban myth. I first heard about it from a reader who came across it in the blogosphere, but the international press is reporting it as fact here, in Australia's Herald Sun. This is the time of year when many of us are re-seeding in the hopes of a lusher lawn come next spring, so I suppose a baby who's crawling around on a newly seeded lawn could just possibly inhale a grass seed that could just possible take root... Oh my.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 03:57 PM
September 24, 2007

More on colic


Colic follow-up. Since my posting last week, I've heard from many parents whose babies had/have colic. My heart goes out to each and every one. Two of the most representative emails, from Seta Davidian and Shannon Larkin, are below. Meanwhile, I promised to share my experience:

My son's colic began at about three weeks and it met the classic definition, known as the Rule of Threes: crying by an otherwise healthy baby that lasts three or more hours, for three or more days, for three or more weeks. A happy, adorable baby the rest of the day as well as a good eater, he would typically begin to cry between 4 and 6 pm (just in time for my poor husband, as he was arriving home from work) and would keep at it until midnight or 1 am.

We tried everything, from car rides to placing the infant seat on the top of the dryer. The rememdies typically would give us a few minutes of respite but then we were off again. We worried, we cried, we became desperate. Our pediatrician was helpful but he could offer neither cause nor cure. (Even today, doctors still can't.) We investigated the typical culprits: my diet? (I was nursing); lactose intolerance? One day when Eli was 11 weeks old, I took the two of us to the pediatrician's office. I didn't have an appointment. The receptionist didn't think they could squeeze me in.

I sat in the waiting room. Sure enough, it got to be 4 o'clock. Eli began to cry. Within minutes, I found myself in an examining room. The doctor appeared shortly. He took one look at me, one look at my crying baby and said, "I have a prescription." It was for paragoric, a sedative, he said, that would calm the baby. Desperate measures, and all that. He got that right: Did I feel like there was something wrong with me? That it was my fault, that somehow I was lacking the motherhood gene? You bet.

That night after dinner (we took turns pacing with him while the other one ate), we put our baby in the infant swing in the kitchen and sat down at the table across from one another to have a heart-to-heart about whether we could give our 11-week infant a sedative. It didn't feel like a good choice. But could we go on as we were?

Suddenly, we both realized something was different. Something was wrong. There was quiet. It was only 9 pm and Eli had stopped crying.

Asleep in the swing, it was as if Eli had heard our conversation, agreed with us, and decided to cut it out then and there. There was no more colic that night, or any other. I still marvel at the coincidence.

Two days later, when I guiltily called the doctor to tell him I had never given the baby the medicine, he told me, "Not to worry. It wasn't for the baby that I proscribed it. It was to give you and your husband a break."

In all the years since -- my son turns 20 next month -- including the times when I've written columns about colic, I've always looked to see if new research turns up any lasting effects from colic. So far it hasn't. The article by Jerome Groopman that I referenced in my blog earlier is a careful and succinct summary of all the research about colic through the years, including the current thinking about its impact on the family as a whole, not just on the infant. My pediatrician was clearly ahead of the curve. Thanks, Jim.

Here are readers' stories:

From Seta:

"Well, the first thought that comes to mind is TIRED and dreading the post-suppertime hours! Frustrating that I couldn't settle her down right away at night since during the day she was easy to settle down and only cried when she needed something. One time it was embarrassing when we were at a relative's house and the colic reared its ugly head in full force. It was embarrassing for me because I felt like a bad parent (of course they were very understanding and we still joke about it now but it was one of her worst nights ever)

"Also, the colic was very frustrating because it made getting my son to bed who was 2.75 yrs old very challenging - not because he wanted to stay up but he was mad that she was keeping him awake, along with him going through the usual sibling adjustment! If my husband wasn't home, doing the bedtime reading routine with him was hard - the sling was very useful then.

"With both my husband & I being tired, I would say that our relationship was just solely focused on the kids, and, yes, that does get very draining but we weren't depressed because we had 2 things in our favor:

a.) It was our second baby, so we knew that at some point this would end. Having previous experience made a HUGE difference.

b.) Once our daughter did finally go to sleep, she would only get up once during the night for a feeding, and it wasn't another colic ordeal.

"My advice for parents would be to take turns holding; as a mother, you feel like you are the one who should be able to calm your baby down the easiest and fastest, so it is easy to feel like a failure. I think it's OK to put the baby down for a few minutes if you need a break - you never know, sometimes they might just fall asleep! If you are alone, have a dear friend come over to keep you company - otherwise the time just will not pass - 5 minutes feels like 5 hours. ....Harvey Karpís techniques did help and I do highly recommend them. Lastly, try try try to have some sense of humor about it.

"As far as colic bringing on depression in parents - I think that all new parents go through being shell shocked no matter how calm or colicky their baby is. I never heard of anyone saying "Oh, this is totally what I expected!"

"The funniest part of all is when my husband, Ray, and I talk about Nairi to someone, I will say she had colic, and Ray says "She did? I don't remember!"

From Shannon, whose son is now 7:

"Having lived through [colic], it's a subject I feel strongly about. I don't think I'll ever fully recover from those months of being screamed at. Much as I love my son, I certainly have no interested in having another child and possibly repeating the process.

"My son started screaming the day I brought him home from the hospital, and didn't stop for the next four months. And it was loud - much louder than a normal newborn cry. To this day, I'm surprised when I hear a soft baby's cry. I thought my child's was the standard.

My stomach would lurch whenever I heard that first wail, because I knew what the next three or four hours would hold for me. I still flinch if I hear a similar wail from a stranger's baby when I'm out.

"There are so many things I wish I'd had back then - but most of all, I wish I had known someone else who had been through it. It was so hard, so INCREDIBLY hard to try to describe the despair and physicall illness I felt whenever my son started to wail. Parents of non-colicky babies would dismiss me by saying things like "oh, all babies cry" and "well it must have been something you ate" (I nursed) or worse, insinuate that I just wasn't handling parenthood well. After all, he was my first - what did I know? After a while, I began to believe these things, and blamed it on myself. I just wasn't well-prepared, wasn't coping well, wasn't a good mother. All babies cried right? so therefore it was just bothering me more.

"The worst was when my own mother said, "You know, a baby's early temperment can tell you exactly what they're going to be like as an adult". He was screaming in her arms when she said this to me, and I couldn't help wondering if I should throw myself out the window now, or later? (As you can see, I decided to wait)

"Nowadays, I say to that - "Bullhockey!" My baby cried - no screamed - ten times more than any other baby I knew. And he did it almost all night, every night. And he arched his back and kicked and acted as if he didn't want to be held, yet screamed more if we put him down. And nothing we did - holding, not holding, diet changes, overstimulation, understimulation - changed that. And yet, he gained weight and met all his milestones. My husband and I were nearly superhuman simply to have survived those months with our marriage intact.

"What I would say to a friend now, if she had a colicky baby?

"1. If someone offers to babysit for you, TAKE THEM UP ON IT. Don't worry about ruining your friendships - they will survive a few hours of aural misery. You, on the other hand need a few hours of quiet. Just make sure you warn your potential babysitter of the potential for inconsolable screaming, so they're not caught off-guard.

"2. Wear earplugs. You don't have to go deaf to be a sympathetic parent. You can hold your baby and walk him around and sing to him without being pushed to the threshold of pain.

"3. Colic does NOT mean that your child will be high-maintenance for the rest of his life. I have the world's happiest second-grader now. We never had the terrible twos, or threes or anything else. In fact, we joke that he got all his crying out at once, rather than drawing it out over 80-plus years.

"4. Take turns with your spouse. It doesn't take two people to listen to a baby cry.

"5. Write a list of things to try to comfort the baby and put it on the fridge. When the screaming starts, you can't think, so it helps to have a list of things to try, one after the other, without thinking about it. Mine consisted of things like "sing", "walk", "put baby on washing machine", "put baby in bath", "try vibrating bouncy chair", "nurse", "burp", etc. They seem so simple, but at 3:00am when my brain was fried, it really helped.

"6. No one goes to college with colic.

I'd better stop writing before I have a flashback - I can already feel my pulse speeding up, just remembering those days."

-Shannon Larkin

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:58 AM
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