Book Review – Thirty Million Words

30-million-cover-hi-rez

If I could only remember the source of the referral, I would shake that person’s hand, or at least electronically elicit the same gratitude.

Thirty Million Words has been one of the most informative and genuine books that I’ve read with regards to engaging with your child. By this, I mean that the true beauty of this book is in it’s simplicity and logic.

Suffice it to say, that there are hundreds and thousands of guides about how to ‘properly’ raise your child, how to maximize the window of ‘sponginess’ of your little one’s mind in their prime, and how to ensure that your baby not only becomes a formidable contributor to the human race, but a leader amongst us.

No pressure, eh?

As I write this blog, I’m in the midst of reading Stephen Camarata’s ‘The Intuitive Parent’, which thus far has taken jabs at the parenting model that perhaps I’m a part of. A recent article in Maclean’s magazine (where I found his book) went even further in criticizing my generation of parents in their article, The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up’.

There are many aspects of the article I agree with, such as restoring the hierarchy of command in the family dynamic; we are not to plead with our children for agreement, or negotiate consensus. Parenting involves discipline, and though right now it’s easy to say with only a 4 month old in tow, but I do plan on being an authoritative figure through my parenting style.

However, the article goes on to address the fact that parents today amass giant libraries of reference guides on how to ‘properly’ raise a child. Subscribing to forums and online newsletters and worst of all, referencing the dreaded Dr. Google. The article assumes that much of this is fed from a heightened need to keep up with the Jones’s by creating unachievable environments that can and will only lead to a path of failure and overburdening our kids.

They quote psychotherapist Katie Hurley, who says “we’ve been conditioned to question ourselves—to constantly look for information to make sure we’re doing it right. Because of that, parents are in a state of learned helplessness.”

In my opinion, there is always a grey area – the place where we don’t go to extremes, but find a happy medium somewhere between inundating our kids in karate-piano-algebra-public speaking classes and letting them lie lethargically on the couch, growing eyes like an old potato.

Since it’s my blog and you’re reading my two cents, let the record show that I whole heartedly encourage caregivers, parents and parents-to-be to get learning! Read, read, and then read some more! I would be hesitant to say that we can be ‘over-informed’ yet at the same time, we do need to be able to sort through the good and the bad.

And with that, let me introduce to you the good.

Good implies that the source of information is reliable, and for that, one need only look at the team behind Thirty Million Words, led by author, Dr. Dana Suskind.

First off, Dr. Suskind is a paediatric otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) who specializes in hearing loss and cochlear implantation and directs the Paediatric Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implant program at the University of Chicago Medicine. Feel free to give her a quick google and you can see all of her accolades, which in my opinion make Dr. Suskind a very reliable source of knowledge.

Next, by looking through the TMW team page, you see a slew of other doctors, speech pathologists, and healthcare advocacy professionals. This is a group of experts who not only have scientific basis for their approach, but are also passionate enough to have created a whole movement behind the principles that they’ve painstakingly researched.

Compared to the generic mother of two speaking about her personal experiences with flash cards helping her kids speak by 9 months highlighted in a comments section of an online baby site, I think you can see why I feel the TMW team are a verifiably credible source.

This movement has actually gained a lot of traction lately, with groups within the U.S. educational system expanding to include specialty training guidelines for children aged 0 to 3. A huge focus has now started to shift towards this under-appreciated window of time in our children’s development, thanks in large part to the Thirty Million Words initiative.

Ok, now back to the actual substance of the book.

What Dr. Suskind and team discuss, is the very logical reality that babies and toddlers in the first 3 years of their lives, are little learning machines, with synapses shooting and transmitting data while brains are developing at a very quick rate. They pinpoint for parents and educators, how intrinsic we can be during our child’s development phase through these early years, and then subsequently help give us the tools to develop and optimize these building blocks.

The premise of building blocks was one that I found incredibly interesting. Each smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch that a baby encounters is potentially, the very first time that they’ve experienced it. When presented during such a vital development stage, it helps create the building blocks upon which extended smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and feelings will be formed. The premise is that by introducing these building blocks, especially those surrounding language, more effectively, one can accelerate and improve a child’s ability to develop these senses.

Thirty million words, specifically, is the gap in words that underprivileged children hear in their families versus children from more affluent upbringing, within the first 3 years of their lives. The impact of this resonates throughout an underprivileged child’s life, wherein the absence of these building blocks potentially creates a struggle to thrive equally with their peers.

Once this principle is outlined, TMW introduces three steps in successfully implementing a technique to help bolster language development in this crucial and influential time.

The three key steps are Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns. These ideas seem very straight forward, but you often will catch yourself either ignoring them, or not utilizing them to their fullest potential.

Tuning In is the primary one that I often see ignored. Tuning in doesn’t just mean sitting down and playing with your child, but rather identifying what it is they are doing and exploring that focus further.

IMG_8486
Charlee’s 1st Symphony

I often see parents playing with their child and constantly trying to redirect their attention. For example, let’s say little Jimmy is playing with a puzzle. Then mum comes over with a book and says, “Jimmy, do you want to read Dr. Seuss?”.

The intent is to try and relate to your child, but by not tuning in to what little Jimmy is focusing on, ends up being a missed opportunity. The book highlights how in little Jimmy’s mind, having to stop his focus on the puzzle, change direction and refocus on a new item such as a book, is actually counterproductive and a missed development opportunity.

Talk More is simply that – generating conversation. This means asking questions that stimulate thought processes, rather than just yes/no questions which are finite.

This intrinsically feeds into Taking Turns. Once you can develop a conversation, you start to take turns in continuing the dialogue.

These three steps are just a snippet of what this book offers. Thirty Million Words is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it not only for the fact that the outcome is a renewed approach to parenting and educating your children, but also getting insight into how the research was accomplished and the findings revealed.

On top of that, I would even push for this to be one of your first reads, because first off, it could and should define how your interaction with your child develops.

As I mentioned, I’m reading the Intuitive Parent, which so far speaks about a lot of our parenting approaches as coincidentally being intuitive. While this may be the case, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be perfected or in the least, optimized.

It comes back again to the old adage, that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Well, sure, but Thomas Edison famously once said, “There’s a way to do it better… find it!”.

His and Her’s Nervous Breakdowns – How Not to Sleep Train a Baby

brace yourself

Here’s a term for you: “Sleep Regression”

Ever heard of it?

Neither had we, yet they happen at 4 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and apparently straight through to 2 years’ of age.

Now you’ll have to pardon my french, but how the fuck was that not something that we would have read about at this point? I truly had considered ourselves well versed on many things baby… not everything, but I thought it was fair to say we were a tad smarter than the average bear.

A quick google search will find you a ton of pages highlighting the “pleasures” of sleep regression and the methods to go about dealing with it.

Let’s begin with what exactly it is, as described by www.babysleepsite.com:

A sleep regression describes a period of time (anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks) when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking early from naps) for no apparent reason. Parents often describe being caught totally off guard: you think your have conquered all your little one’s sleep challenges, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re back to constant night wakings and nonexistent naps.

Each regression has a different rationale. The 4 month one makes sense, especially if you tie in what we had read about in Dr. Karp’s book, with regards to the fourth trimester. Charlee at this point is ‘graduating’ from infancy into becoming a baby. I guess within three and a half short months, we’ve seen Charlee evolve from newborn to infant and now finally to baby, and with this title comes new challenges and behavioural nuances. These include ditching her infant-like sleeping patterns, which were a bloody godsend, and now frequently  waking and fussing with shortened naps much like a newborn, hence the ‘regression’.

This is a child who just 3 weeks ago was sleeping 7-8 hour stretches, napping when she felt so inclined, and rarely, if ever, fussing about anything. She spoke a language that we could comprehend, and did not have the capability to manipulate with crocodile tears.

Let me preface whatever else I’m going to write here, with the fact that we absolutely love our daughter with all our heart and we recognize that there are going to be many moments in her life that lead us to frustration and test our limits.

Fair?

Ok – carrying on.

Charlee has always been ‘advanced’ for her age. She’s in the top 85th percentile for weight and height, is strong like a bull, communicates impressively well, and we feel that all in all, she is progressing extremely well for a 3.5 month old.

We were so convinced of this, that upon the first sign of her beginning to fuss during the days, we read and determined that she was either teething (around 1-3 months early), or had matured to the point where she needed a much more rigid sleep structure.

In hindsight, it may be a case of how you search for things that determines what you find, so the fact that we searched and read up on sleep training (i.e. what to do in order to sleep train your child) versus ‘is it normal that my 3 month old is beginning to fuss’ (i.e. how to handle a normal baby like a normal person would), probably fed a good portion of our issues for the last 3 weeks.

Upon reading a slew of different articles and soliciting feedback from family and friends, we opted to put together a schedule for Charlee that would ensure she slept for 10-12 hours at night and another 3-5 during the day while at once making sure she didn’t have awake stretches longer than an hour and a half.

We read articles and books about the ‘cry it out’ technique.

We then read articles and books against the ‘cry it out’ technique and how it will scar your baby for life.

We read articles and books about props and crutches such as pacifiers and swaddles, and how to eliminate those from your child’s sleep dependencies as it will cause your child to grow up with elevated levels of anxiety.

We then read articles and books on how those specific ‘props’ can be integral in ensuring a good sleep even into the 3, 4, and 5 month periods and helps impart feelings of safety, security, and calmness.

Ironically, we read about consistency being key, yet continuously altered our approach based on feedback and guidance, and what seemed like whichever was the flavour of the day or week.

Seemingly overnight, we went from having a calm, cool, stress free household, to one that revolved around our daughters rigid yet ever changing schedule. Constantly jotting down notes in her sleep diary that we created while at once watching the seconds tick by as we stared blankly at the baby monitor, praying she wouldn’t budge. We continually would hear ‘phantom cries’ and would barely get more than 1-2 hours sleep at a time.

All this and poor Charlee was fidgety, upset, overtired, and cranky for most of the day.

It's like deja vu all over again
It’s like deja vu all over again

We were a mirror image of that.

Poor sleep breeds other poor habits, most notably poor eating. Poor eating and lack of sleep have a direct effect on one’s behaviour, emotions, and ability to function.

I was the first to snap.

Ironically, vocalizing it all was somewhat therapeutic, but it was not pretty and I felt horrible that Becca was on the receiving end.

I spent that night in front of the computer at around 2 AM typing a letter to Becca apologizing and really opening up in greater detail about everything. 4 hours and 7 pages later, I sent it to Becca’s email and returned to bed in time to get back to our awakened baby.

We had a very good chat about things and continue to every day. We’ll figure things out, and as one of my favourite quotes goes, “yard by yard, life is hard, but inch by inch is a cinch”.

Becca’s turn came a few days later… what’s good for the goose, eh?

While we’ve both been waking up every hour on the hour, I’m the guy that can change a diaper, while Becca is the only one who can provide food.

Did I mention that this sleep regression can be brought on by a growth spurt? Yes… ANOTHER growth spurt! And with great growth spurts come great yearning for nourishment and Becca can’t even keep up with a pumping schedule to have bottles ready for the ‘in case of emergency’ feeding, or for daddy to step in.

I underestimated the toll this takes on Becca and with the two of us in such a sleep deprived, stress elevated, boob deflated, and angry state, negativity bred negativity and Becca needed an outlet.

The saving grace for all of this is that it gave us a chance to really ‘rebaseline’ expectations. To sit back and go… whoa… what just happened?… how did we get here?… how do we fix this?

And fix this we shall, care of our good old friend Dr. Harvey Karp.

I liken this to any personal experience someone would have with any professional. If that professional is engaged and solicited for advice that proves useful and effective once put into practice, why would you not come back to that same professional for future advice?

Dr. Karp’s book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, was intrinsic in our successes leading up to Charlee’s birth, and for the first 3 months of her life. As we’re entering the next stage in her life, we have now started reading “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years” and it is fundamentally helping us get back to the ‘good old days’ where Charlee was a good sleeper and functioned so much better.

pTRU1-17866870enh-z6

Suffice it to say that I will do a full book review in the near future – probably after the next 2-3 months of fully implementing his recommendations. But until then, I can look back and realize exactly where we went wrong.

Remember how I mentioned that we’ve always seen Charlee as a mature over-achiever? Well that was our first downfall.

Yes, she’s large for her age.

Yes, she’s fantastically bright and capable.

Yes, she’s strong and excelling in her abilities.

But at the end of the day, she is still a 3 month old baby who does not need to be rushed through her development just to float our egos.

Charlee did not need to be weaned off of a pacifier and swaddle. Charlee does not need to adhere by rules and timelines devised by some random internet doula.

We are taking away a number of lessons from this whole experience:

  1. We love each other and need each other and are here to support one another and be the most dynamic, effective, loving, passionate, engaged, and informed parents we can be
  2. Charlee is a wonderful baby and we genuinely want what’s best for her, but need to have some patience
  3. We have resolved to read up on everything BEFORE it happens and come to consensus on how we are going to parent her as a team, rather than reactively having to dig up information and test it out with trial and error
  4. Lastly, parental instinct is a profound thing – sometimes you really do need to go with your gut, because you truly have a better sense of what’s good for your baby

In less than 2 weeks Charlee will be 4 months old and we’ll be celebrating her 100 Day birthday with friends and family.

We all plan to be very well rested for a lovely, stress free event.

IMG_1823

 

Book Review – Bella’s Magic Dream Glasses

Magic-Dream-Glasses-Kindle-Cover-

Recently I was given the privilege of reviewing Andrew Swanson’s beautifully written and illustrated book Bella’s Magic Dream Glasses. While my own daughter is only a newborn, I have already taken the opportunity to read it to her, and no doubt will continue to do so through the years ahead.

Andrew’s telling of his seven year old daughter’s journey through dreamland exemplifies the innocence and imagination that are so prevalent in our children today. Bella’s visions of accomplishment, fame and stardom know no boundaries, and Andrew’s ‘dream glasses’ provide the view into this youthful imagination that we can all relate to from our own childhoods.

Meshed with Christobal Mikhovski’s dynamic illustrations, the reader truly gets immersed in young Bella’s dreamscapes and vicariously thrives off her vivid imagination.

Andrew is a full-time stay-at-home Dad for two wonderful little girls and a part-time beat writer/on-air personality for ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM in Albuquerque. After years of writing about sports and fantasy football, Andrew decided to share his love of writing and storytelling with children around the world.

You can find more of Andrew’s books through his website, www.andrewswansonbooks.com, and pick up your own copy of Bella’s Magic Dream Glasses or one of Andrew’s other enjoyable reads through Amazon.com.