I Remain Wary of Parenting Campaigns

Posted July 14, 2009


I've watched a few parenting campaigns unfold in my lifetime.  The SIDS campaign ("Back to Sleep"), the breast-feeding campaign, the sunscreen campaign, the publicity around infant toilet training, toilet training in one day (Dr. Phil) and life-saving swim lessons for 6 month olds, to name a few. While I respect some of the research and some of the intentions behind each campaign, I get nervous when I see one coming.

My kids were little when the sunscreen campaign was born.  I'm not sure to this day what/who was behind it but I'm sure sunscreen companies got rich and have stayed rich every since.  Basically it makes sense to protect a child's skin from sunburn, of course.  But that simple message got picked up and carried away by marketers and soon everybody jumped on the bandwagon. 

It turns out, however, that as a result of the fanatic effort to protect children from the sun, we ended up "protecting" them from much-needed vitamin D.  New research is leaning toward unexpected conclusions about vitamin D deficiency in children, particularly those living in northern climates like Canada. It is possible that childhood asthma rates, some types of cancer (not skin) and diseases such as MS are linked to vitamin D deficiency, since rates of each have risen alarmingly and mysteriously in our children since the start of the campaign to prevent skin cancer. 

Looking back, parents should have been informed of the need for modest sun-protection without the expensive, scary, advertising-driven campaign designed to get all of us, sheep-like, onto the sunscreen train. Regarding the other campaigns I mentioned above, parents need to be informed of the benefits of breast milk without making mothers afraid or guilty if they choose to feed their baby formula.  Parents need to be made aware of the safest sleeping position for a baby and the dangers of cigarette smoke - without making a parent feel she has to lie awake all night to be sure her baby is still breathing.

I wonder how this should be done.  Can we keep ourselves informed without making ourselves scared?  And what should a parent's response be when a new, million dollar campaign hits the streets?  If we become cynical or dismissive of new research, we won't be serving our children well.  But we do need to question, read more and discuss these campaigns with a doctor you trust to gain a realistic perspective.

p.s. Here are two articles which may be of interest to you:

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The Best Music Teacher is you!

Posted July 7, 2009

In 1974 when my first child was two years old, I read about a music class for toddlers.  I was very excited and signed us up the very next day.  My husband and I both enjoy music and we wanted our daughter to have a good introduction by a professional teacher so she could grow up appreciatng music. In fact she already showed a lot of interest in music, dancing along when I played the piano. 

I remember arriving at the class the first day with high hopes.

The teacher had a basket of instruments in the centre of the room and Jenny was interested immediately and headed right over!  The teacher explained to Jenny that we would be able to touch the instruments pretty soon, when the class started.  I had to pull her away forcibly.  As other children and mothers arrived I noticed each new child would spot the basket and head over, only to be told by the parent and teacher "Don't touch."  While I understood the teacher's need for order, I also understood the impulsive curiosity the children were showing.

Soon the class started and the teacher said each child could come up and pick an instrument to start with.  "Mine!" "Mine!" could be heard from the kids and - just as loudly - "Share!"  "Share!" was heard from the mothers.  The class got off to a rough start, with the two kids who got tambourines being quite happy and those left with the rhythm blocks, not so much.  The next two weeks were no better.  Once, I had to hold Jenny for the whole 45 minutes to keep her from taking other kid's instruments.  When everyone danced together to the music she was highly engaged but when the toddlers were supposed to be quiet and listen, most of the children were restless.

I learned something that day.  Two year olds aren't ready for structured, adult-directed learning and that is not the best way for a child to grow to love music.  I started dancing with Jenny every morning after breakfast to music I loved and soon she was begging for "musey time."  It really didn't matter what music i put on, as long as I liked it and was willing to dance and sing all around the room.  The words didn't have to make sense to her.  She loved the rhythm and - here is the most important lesson - she loved doing with me!  I turned out to be the best music teacher in the world - for Jenny!  It goes without saying that YOU will be the best music teacher for your child, too. Save your money and just dance and sing every day with enthusiasm. 

You may have plenty of music at home to inspire you and your child to learn about music together.  I've just run across a new one called Let's Sing a Song and the recording artists are Heather Walter and Eric West.  Eric West wrote most of the 25 songs and they are very singable!  Songs I liked are Creatures at Home in the Sea, macaroni and Cheese and the Bakeapple Song.  There is a lovely, child-friendly environmental overtone to the CD.  You can learn more about these artists and order the CD on their website at 



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Instead of Praise? Try Low-Key, Positive Observations

Posted July 2, 2009

   Your child will want it again and he'll want more. Typically, children who receive lots of praise from parents will begin to look for it and even demand it if it isn't immediately forthcoming. When the parent then tries to tone it down and help the child value his accomplishments himself - without the praise - the child may stop playing or working entirely.  Praise, particularly constant, frequent praise, causes the child to become dependent on an outside judge in order to feel good about himself. 

So if not with praise, how can you best show your child your approval and admiration?  I suggest using low-key, positive observations.  Here is how these might sound:

"Daddy!  I went down the slide!"  "Did you? Was that fun?" (said with obvious interest, but allowing the feelings of accomplishment to remain within the child)

"Watch me throw the ball!"  "You are throwing that ball! How did you learn to do that?" (a perfectly satisfactory low-key observation - non-addictive yet carries a tone of approval)

"Look!  I drew a picture!"  "I see. You worked hard on that."


In your question, you mentioned you never received praise as a child.  I would like to suggest that in particular, what you might have missed out on were clear signs of approval from your parents.  Expressions of approval of and genuine interest in a child by the parents are two of the best strategies for giving children confidence. I'm reading a book right now called The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance by Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD. It's a trap I can relate to.  My first child was born during the height of what I now see was a campaign designed to boost the self-esteem of every child via the heavy use of praise, constant recognition and pep talks about a chlld's exceptionality.  As a parent, I fell for it hook line and sinker and even taught the basics of this self-esteem movement to other parents during the 1980's.  That this theory has now so soundly been proven wrong has contributed to my cautious approach to parenting campaigns in general.


Let's think of infants as having been born with a strong tendency to believe in themselves.  Our job as parents is not to build or boost or create self-esteem--we just need to do our parenting in ways that support and maintain what each child comes with.  A topic for a future blog will be keeping parental expectations appropriate to the age of the child.  Expecting or demanding skills or learning that are inappropriate for the age - can wreak havoc with self-esteem.


Thanks for your good question. I hope we hear from other parents on this subject.


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