Category Archives: 5. The Adolescent

From age 10 to age 18.

Attachment Parenting International’s (R)Evolution: An interview with cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker

By Julie Artz, originally published in Summer 2008 issue of API’s newsletter

API-Logo-20th-themeI’ve interviewed some big names in my writing life, so I was surprised at how nervous I felt at the prospect of interviewing Attachment Parenting International’s co-founders, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, about the organization’s beginnings, their book on Attachment Parenting (AP), and the challenges of founding and running a not-for-profit organization.

My anxiety couldn’t have been more displaced. Barbara and Lysa, despite their high-profile positions within Attachment Parenting International (API), are a delight to interview and tell an amazing story of how two young mothers–who were also special education teachers–went from having, as Barbara put it, “our own little support group,” to founding a global not-for-profit organization with the vision of helping parents achieve a more compassionate relationship with their children through AP.

JULIE: How did you two meet?

lysaparkerLYSA: Let’s begin at the beginning. Barbara and I met at a La Leche League (LLL) meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, in 1980. She had just moved from Texas, USA, and was a LLL leader applicant. We started talking and found out we had a lot in common. We were both special education teachers, and our husbands were singers/songwriters. Both our husbands were from Texas, so they knew some of the same people. That’s how our friendship began. Because of our friendship, Barbara shared with me what she learned through LLL and was a great support.

I remember worrying about whether or not AP was right when I was a new mother. What if it’s not right? What if I damaged my child? Because we didn’t know anyone who had kids who were APed. It helps to know someone personally who’s been there. Even moms today in our API circles want to talk to people who have raised children this way.

barbaranicholsonBARBARA: The founders of LLL are seven mothers with an average of about five children each and that was one little light at the end of the tunnel–witnessing generations of their families continuing on with what their mothers started. I always tell my boys, “I’m learning on the job,” but at least you see me reading, trying, and that’s all I ask of you is to keep trying and growing. It is wonderful to see so many of our API and LLL friends becoming grandparents and watching their adult children parent in such loving ways. We feel very confident that our sons will be great parents, too!

LYSA: In 1985, we moved to Alabama, USA, due to my husband’s new work. I became a LLL leader in 1986 and went back to teaching in 1990. It was a real culture shock for me, because I’d gone from this world of loving, caring mothers surrounded by babies and young children where everybody is nurturing toward their children and each other. I found myself stuck in a portable classroom with rambunctious seventh- and eighth-grade students with learning disabilities. Many were emotionally disturbed; they were already initiating for gangs, and one student was already a father. I remember looking in their folders and seeing the problems they had in kindergarten and wondering why no one intervened–believing in my heart that AP could have prevented so many of these problems.

BARBARA: I remember thinking as my children got older, “I can’t imagine going back in the classroom knowing what I know.” I would feel like I wasn’t really serving the students if I didn’t promote AP.

I see prevention as the answer. Maybe 10-15% of these special education children had a true learning disability, and the rest of them just needed someone to sit and hold them and read to them and give them attention. Even in the late 1970s when I was teaching, it was hard to find a parent who was taking the time to give their children special attention. Parents wanted the teachers to take care of that for them, and when the children got home from school, they sat in front of the television. And this was surburban America, not high-risk or inner-city schools; it was a middle-class area, not poor.

isabellefoxDr. Isabelle Fox (a member of API’s Advisory Board) has been telling us very similar stories. She started her practice in the late 1950s, worked through the 1990s, and the shift in the culture that she has seen during that time is profound. When she was first a young therapist, the mother usually stayed home with the children. So if something went wrong with a child, the mother could give the therapist information about the background of the child or what might have led to fears or anxieties. In the present day, Dr. Fox said the mothers don’t know what goes on in the child’s life, because they’re in substitute care with many changing caregivers. If it was a nanny, which is what she recommends for substitute care, at least it would be one stable caregiver who would know the child well. But in most situations, it’s not one stable caregiver; it’s a constant rotation, even in the best daycare situation.

JULIE: When did you realize you wanted to found API?

BARBARA: We were reading these great books, like High Risk: Children without a Conscience by Ken Magid. We actually met him later; he was a real catalyst. Then we read For Your Own Good by Alice Miller. All of a sudden, light bulbs were going on about why parents were having such a hard time learning about positive discipline with their own children: because most of us had not been parented that way. You are so deeply imprinted by the way you were treated as a child. Reactions people think of as instinctual would not be the normal reaction if you’d been raised lovingly. That was a huge “ah ha” moment for us.

I subscribed to a journal published by the National Association of Parents and Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth (NAPPSAC), and the publishers, Lee and David Stewart, had reviewed Alice Miller’s book. So there was this explosion of ideas in the late 1980s. We knew about AP from Dr. William Sears and LLL, but then you have these psychologists giving us the cultural overlay: the punishing culture we live in, that parents only knew what they learned as they were raised.

LYSA: If we had learned about Attachment Theory in college, we didn’t remember, so we’d go to the library and it was like a treasure hunt. We found out about Dr. John Bowlby (known as the “Father of Attachment Theory”) and Dr. James Clark Moloney.

“Attachment Parenting is in many ways the practical application of my father’s [John Bowlby] theory.” ~ Sir Richard Bowlby Bt, Attached at the Heart

richardbowlbyMeet Sir Richard Bowlby Bt, advocate, lecturer, member of API’s Advisory Board and speaker at the 2014 API Conference on September 27 at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, USA. Richard Bowlby, the son of Dr. John Bowlby who first developed Attachment Theory, worked as a scientific photographer in various medical research institutions where he produced visual aids for communicating research findings.

He retired in 1999 to promote a wider understanding of Attachment Theory to healthcare practitioners and interested lay people. His present concern is the psychological impact on babies and toddlers being cared for by unfamiliar people in day care who do not develop long-term secondary attachment bonds to one caregiver. He also gives lectures to a wide range of health care professionals using video material and personal insights to promote a much broader understanding of his father’s work on attachment theory. He focuses on wider audiences using video material to help communicate the emotional significance of Attachment Theory, a potentially dry academic subject with very personally challenging significance.

He supports a range of organizations that address various attachment issues and is seeking ways to help the general public benefit from a better understanding of childhood attachment relationships. His eventual goal is to find ways of “crossing the species barrier” between academics and the general public, to liberate the professional knowledge of Attachment Theory into the population at large. He is developing a broader knowledge of associated subjects, especially the emerging research about the role of fathers and the long-term significance of their early relationships with their children.

We got photocopies of a book of Dr. Moloney’s from Susan Switzer, an LLL leader in Georgia, USA. Dr. Moloney was a psychiatrist who had been sent to Okinawa right after World War II as part of a team processing folks who had suffered greatly during the war. He found that, in spite of everything that had happened to them, they had happy dispositions. They weren’t bitter but were resilient, kind, calm, and it piqued his curiosity. He observed them, and what he found was that their parenting created a culture of compassion. Moloney called it “permissive parenting” at the time, where the child is the sole occupation of the mother for the first two years, then the siblings become part of the care of the child. Okinawan parents were very respectful of the children, contrary to what he had observed in the United States. He came back to the United States to work with the Cornelian Corner (a group of progressive pediatricians at Wayne State University) and started teaching American parents how to parent like the Okinawans. Even though the program wasn’t considered a success, it ultimately had its influence through Moloney’s association with LLL International.

So then we started scheming: What can we do? We wanted to start an organization.

BARBARA: So we wrote a letter to Dr. Elliot Barker, who founded the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (CSPCC), asking if we could found an American chapter. He had given a talk at a LLL conference that was
reprinted in Mothering (magazine). The day I moved into this house, October 1, 1992, we got the phone plugged in and it rang. It was Dr. Barker calling from Canada. I had to go hide in a closet and try to sound professional. I dropped everything to talk to him, while people were carrying in boxes downstairs. I thought he was going to tell me how to join, but actually he told us if he had it to do over again, he would do so much more than just publishing Empathic Parenting (the CSPCC’s quarterly journal published from 1978-2003). He mentored us from then on and told us to use a grassroots approach. It will start slow and it will build, he said, but that’s what’s going to change the culture.

LYSA: Dr. Barker emphasized having a strong mission and a strong vision, because he’d seen organizations get watered down over time and ultimately fold because they didn’t stay true to their mission. He wrote letters to important people asking them to send letters of endorsement, which they did, and suggested forming a strong advisory board of well-known experts. Thanks to Dr. Barker, we believe we found our spiritual calling: He made us feel that this is what
we were meant to do.

Our very first website was created in 1995 by a computer lab teacher at my school. This website became the open door to parents around the world. In 1997, we were contacted by some AP moms in Seattle, Washington, USA, who wanted to start an API group. We asked them to help us pioneer the support group model for us, which they agreed to take on, and they helped us come up with our very first support group materials.

BARBARA: About that time, we hired our first employee: fellow LLL Leader Zan Buckner, who started out just doing filing and then helped us so much with our early materials. We had a wonderful group of LLL friends who wanted to expand their horizons. They were excellent parenting resources. At the conferences, you could really expand on the philosophy of LLL and move into AP, and that’s where we heard so many fantastic speakers. So many LLL leaders were ready to do more, so they joined us.

Our first LLL conference as co-founders of API was in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, with our exhibit that looked like a science fair project: a cardboard, three-sided exhibit with magazine cutouts. We’ll always be school teachers at heart!

API returns to Indiana…Make plans to attend the 2014 API Conference on September 26 at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana! Registration is only $75 for a day packed with AP speakers and fun family activities

One of the founders of LLL, and their new executive director was there. They were so supportive of what we were doing. Since then, we have met every founder, and they have all said they wish they could have done what we were doing–expand their mission into parenting. There wouldn’t be API without the experience of breastfeeding our babies–learning to trust our bodies and ourselves as parents. Some of us were the first generation in several generations to breastfeed.

JULIE: Can you talk a little bit about the struggles of founding a not-for-profit?

LYSA: Every time we’ve gotten to the point where we were about to give up because we didn’t have enough money or resources or we were burned out, someone or something has come along and helped us out. What we’re going through right now is proof of that. If it’s meant to be, it will survive. It’s a constant miracle in our lives to see how API keeps hanging in there.

To us, it’s so important and nourishing to hear from parents and professionals. We’ve talked to people who knew John Bowlby, and they’ve said he would be proud of what we’re doing. His quote that I love is: “If a community cares for its children, it must cherish its parents.” He held support groups for parents when he was practicing medicine at the Tavistock Clinic in London. What an inspiration!

JULIE: And in 2007, you turned over API’s day-to-day operations to a small volunteer staff to work on a book about Attachment Parenting.

Attached at the HeartLYSA: The book, Attached at the Heart, is a culmination of the last 20 or more years since we had our first conversations about wanting to help children and parents. In our book, we paint the big picture and give the reader the reasons why AP is important, as well as the principles and the research to support those reasons. We’re different than most parenting books; we want to give parents the researched information and empower them to make their own informed decisions.

BARBARA: The other important message of our book is the title: Attached at the Heart. We want people to trust their heart when all else fails. When it’s the middle of the night and the baby’s crying, and the pediatrician and the mother-in-law have both said to let the baby cry, we want parents to trust their instincts. Instead of worrying, “Is my baby going to be messed up if I hold her for 15 more minutes?”, we want them to trust their heart. Mothers wouldn’t be in a cold
sweat or crying when their children were hurting, if they instinctively knew to always default to the most loving, connected thing to do.

We really wanted to have something about nurturing, or connection, in the title to capture all of these philosophical concepts we’ve been talking about.

JULIE: A lot of the philosophies you’ve discussed fault what you called a “punishing culture.” How do you go about changing culture to something more AP-focused?

LYSA: You can’t change generations of behaviors in one generation, but you can begin the change. So often, AP is blamed for troubles in a relationship or with children. But really, it has to do with the individual and collective experiences we bring to a relationship. You’ve got to raise your consciousness about yourself so that you’re more conscious with your children. Our children are grown now, but we’re still working on this with them and will be with our grandchildren.

BARBARA: Sometimes we hear of parents who say their own parents stayed together for the children, but did not work on the issues in their marriage. The children were so emotionally damaged, because they had absorbed the dysfunction in their family. They had been given a horrible model for a healthy relationship. We’re proud that our book and our organization emphasize how important it is for couples to model positive, loving interactions and ideally to work on their issues as a couple before they become parents.

LYSA: In the last 15 years, we can say without a doubt that we have seen the cultural shift begin, and AP is becoming more mainstream. It’s reflected in the media with celebrity parents in magazines wearing their babies, talking about breastfeeding and cosleeping; in television and movies where babies are worn in slings or carriers are a normal part of the scenery or with plots that include issues that are AP-oriented. AP businesses have popped up all over the Internet;
people from all over the world contact AP for advice and resources.

BARBARA: We dream of the day when the term “Attachment Parenting” is just “parenting,” and our organization isn’t needed anymore! Until then, we hope the parents who are out there setting such a good example in their communities will continue to nurture their children and each other, family by family creating a more compassionate world.

Different, Not Disordered: An Interview with Dr. Barbara Probst

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA). Originally published in the 2013 “Loving Uniquely” issue of Attached Family magazine (available free of charge to API members–and membership in API is free).

Headshot_(2)_copyWe often hear the importance of treating children fairly, but at Attachment Parenting International (API), we advocate rather to love each of our children uniquely. Because every child—just like every adult—is one of a kind, each individual parent-child relationship forms to the distinctive shape of each other’s differences in temperament, interests, opinions, aversions, conversions and other subtle nuances of what makes each person and their interactions unique.

API celebrates every person’s unique traits, but some children’s differences set them apart from societal expectations enough that daily interactions—whether at home, childcare or school—can be challenging. Rather than viewing our children through the lens of understanding, however, our society’s response is often to see these differences as “symptoms” of a disorder and to follow up with treatments that may not resolve the problem.

I am excited to share a discussion with Barbara Probst, PhD, LCSW, author of When the Labels Don’t Fit, on her approach to facilitate understanding among parents and teachers in order to discover a new relationship with sometimes-challenging children based on appreciation and respect instead of illness.

RITA: What inspired your alternative approach to “treating” children whose differences often lead them to being diagnosed with disorder?

DR. PROBST: I feel quite strongly about the way our culture seems to be viewing every difference, difficulty, struggle and quirk—every extreme or unusual behavior—as a disorder, especially when it comes to kids!

The idea for When the Labels Don’t Fit really grew out of my experience as a clinical social worker. So many parents were coming to me with kids who were intense, complex, confusing, rigid, provocative, volatile, inconsistent—challenging children who had either been given multiple diagnoses and treatments, none of which really helped, or whom no diagnosis seemed to fit.

These parents were understandably looking for some kind of explanation, some way to make sense of their child’s behavior. Yet the only thing they were offered was a negative framework, a way to categorize their child by what was supposedly wrong or missing.

There was no framework that also took into account a child’s strengths, talents, affinities, needs, style, temperament—the things a child loves and gravitates toward—as tools for understanding how that child responds to the world and who he or she really is. There seemed to be an assumption that “naming the disorder” was the key to assessing what was going on and making it better—as in the medical way, “fixing the problem” by diagnosis and cure—but it was obvious that this narrow approach wasn’t really helping anyone, neither kids nor their parents.

I got curious and started to investigate the whole “diagnosis explosion”—more and more kids receiving psychiatric labels, at younger and younger ages, for fewer and milder symptoms. The statistics are pretty staggering! For instance, one in every five American children meets current criteria for a psychological disorder, with three times as many kids now being diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disorders than were diagnosed 15 years ago. It makes you wonder if there’s really something wrong with 20% of our kids or something wrong with our definition of “normal.”

As a culture, we’ve pathologized a whole range of traits and ways of interacting with the world that used to be part of the variety of human experience. Some of the difficulties come from a poor fit with the environment, some from the struggles that are just part of living and growing up, and some are from unrealistic expectations and intolerance for kids who push the envelope or make us uncomfortable.

It’s not that a child’s struggles aren’t real or that some kids aren’t truly hard to raise. Certainly, there are kids who do things that seem odd or excessive at various points in their development, and of course it’s painful for parents when they can’t seem to reach or handle a child they love. And it’s not that “anything goes” or that kids don’t need to understand limits and develop empathy. But finding a disease-based category for the child’s problems isn’t the answer either! Just because a child has difficulty managing stimulation or frustration, hates change or needs to ground herself through touch, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those difficulties are indicators of an underlying pathology.

RITA: This is what many parents refer to as “spiritedness” or “high needs.”

DR. PROBST: I knew there had to be a better, more direct way to understand and help these challenging kids and their parents. I began focusing on the specific issue or trait, rather than the label that “explained” the trait as a symptom of one or another disease, zooming in to the feature, like perfectionism or impatience, that lay behind the problematic behavior. I wanted to understand who a child is, not what disorder he or she has—to be truly solution-focused and figure out why the roof was leaking instead of how to reward the child for mopping the wet floor.

RITA: That’s a great analogy. How did this approach work in the field?

DR. PROBST: I began to apply this new approach in my work, looking for a “difficult” child’s core features as the key to what made that child tick. Again and again, this new approach brought practical and positive results where nothing had helped before—in an amazingly short time!

I began to give presentations and workshops to parents, educators and mental health professionals, showing them how to use the temperamental map I’d developed to figure out how unusual or extreme traits interact with elements of the environment, and then how to target strategies—concretely and proactively—to a child’s specific features. It was so empowering! It gave parents real hope.

They began to see their challenging child as someone intriguing instead of someone to control or fear. What a great experience!

RITA: What temperamental differences do you find create the most friction? How would you define a “challenging child”?

DR. PROBST: Let me start by saying a word about temperament. Temperament is your essential nature, your innate way of being in the world. The early view of temperament, however, like the model Chess and Thomas developed in the mid-1970s, tended to present temperament as a series of good/bad polarities: attentive or distractible, adaptable or inflexible, and so on. I find that quite biased and value-laden, to be honest, like another set of pejorative labels.

It’s really about the fit between traits and context, not about some traits being intrinsically better than others. After all, a highly tenacious child who won’t cede her turn at the kindergarten easel until she’s satisfied with her painting is seen as resistant and antisocial, but she’s seen as admirably persistent in the science lab.

More broadly, if we lived in a culture that valued curiosity and responsiveness instead of order and self-restraint, we’d think that a child who could sit still for an hour, ignoring all the interesting people and impressions around him, as having “attention surplus disorder”!

So it varies, and traits that seem to be problematic in one situation or at one age can be an asset in another, the seeds of a child’s authenticity and fulfillment.

In addition, temperamental traits exist on a continuum, like a high need for stimulation or a low tolerance for change. Although traits in the middle may make you more mellow and adaptable to a wider range of contexts, no trait is inherently “better” or “worse” than another.

Think of it descriptively, rather than judgmentally: Some kids go off on tangents, some can’t bear to leave something unfinished, some find comfort in order and repetition or, on the contrary, always want change. Some like to plunge right in while others take time to warm up and then need to disengage slowly. Within each dimension, there’s a range, with a child tending toward the high or low end when he’s stressed.

Friction is more likely to arise, then, when a trait or its manifestation is at one of the extreme ends of the continuum, especially when the environment has a narrow zone of tolerance. A fixed time schedule—“It’s 10:00, put away your journals and get ready for recess”—can cause a shrieking tantrum in a child who has to “complete his mission” or needs to stop incrementally. A classroom full of stimulating choices can make a perfectionistic child, overwhelmed by all the roads not taken no matter what she chooses, highly anxious or irritable.

RITA: What about temperamental difference between a child and an adult?

DR. PROBST: By “environment,” I also mean the people in the child’s world. If you’re a parent who thinks spontaneity is fun, for example, and you have a child for whom that’s distressing and who really needs to know ahead of time exactly what to expect in order to feel safe, or vice versa, you’re more likely to encounter misunderstanding and conflict. For example, does your child prefer to know what she’s getting for her birthday, or does she want to be surprised?

So it’s often the mismatch, rather than the trait itself, especially when a child hasn’t matured enough to develop a repertoire of coping strategies or is blamed by adults who expect him to be the one to do all the adapting, rather than being curious and open to small changes in the environment that might create “wiggle room” or a “margin of tolerance.”

It’s also important to remember that different traits can lie behind the same challenging behavior, so you need to step back and figure out why your angry child won’t go to bed. Is it because of an irregular inner rhythm or pajamas that “don’t feel right”? Does he need to disengage a bit at a time because of high intensity and focus? Does she need to finish her game because she’s a perfectionist who can’t bear to leave something incomplete? Does he need a set of tactile markers to anchor the verbal instructions?

Threats, logic, cajoling, even offers of kindness and generosity—“how about an extra story?”—may have nothing to do with the reason your child refuses to go to bed. It’s like throwing solution darts at a situation in the hope that one will somehow stick! It’s not a matter of changing the exterior result—getting the child to “behave” and go to bed—but of understanding the interior cause and the child’s interaction with elements of the environment, including space, timing, tempo and sensory factors.

So a “challenging child” is one whose unusual, extreme or erratic traits have been misunderstood and mishandled, often due to a poor contextual fit. Your child’s need for movement or silence or control still must be met proactively, but a need that’s been respected and met, even partially, tends to lead to far less “challenging behavior” than a need that’s been ignored, denied or shamed.

RITA: What steps would you suggest for a parent seeking to learn a different way to look at and act toward their child?

DR. PROBST: One of the most powerful things parents can do is to change their language. Describe your child, to yourself and to her, as organized rather than obsessive, curious about life rather than distractible. Instead of calling her picky, tell her: “You sure do know what you like!” Instead of stubborn: “You’re not a quitter!” That helps her feel she’s not fundamentally defective and helps you feel more open and positive, which results in a less tense relationship that benefits everyone.

You can also use language to put borders around troublesome behavior. “You’re the kind of person who has a tough time with disappointment (or waiting, feeling rushed or feeling there are too many rules for how to do something).” That gives a precise, bounded and concrete place to begin, rather than making a child feel globally wrong or defective.

When a trait like low adaptability, for instance, is likely to pose a problem, talk about it in advance. Name it, predict and use respectful curiosity to help your child make a plan: “It really bothers you when kids change the rules for Capture the Flag. Variations aren’t fun to you; it just feels like they’re ruining the game. So what’s your plan if that happens today? Any ideas about what you can do?”

If your child has had a successful experience of managing a similar situation in the past, remind him of his past success and let him be the expert: “Remember how well you handled things that time the pizza place turned out to be closed? What was the secret of your success?”

If he’s not yet been able to handle it well, offer a suggestion in the spirit of experimentation. Collaborate with your child as detectives or scientists on a quest for data: “Well, I know something that tends to help people who like things to stay the same. Are you game to try and let me know if it helps?”

Tell your child: “I see that you really like to make your own decisions.” Include that feature in advance, rather than punishing your child afterward for asserting her desire to be in control. Give her a way to be involved in the decision about how to clean up, for example, before it’s time to clean up.

This kind of practical, respectful approach is so much more effective than trying to maintain complicated systems of points and penalties! Remember that your child is doing the best he can under the circumstances, given his limited resources. It’s not about reward and punishment, but about the power of self-knowledge. Your goal, in the end, is to help your child be happy and successful because of who he is.

RITA: Some parents still struggle to set limits with their children. It’s as if they and their child aren’t talking the same language.

DR. PROBST: A few core principles lie behind the more than 60 practical strategies in When the Labels Don’t Fit. One principle is to proactively and concretely match the strategy to the feature. For instance, a child who has difficulty feeling time needs a way to organize externally what she can’t organize internally. Tell her: “Two more times going down the slide,” (a unit of action), rather than, “Five more minutes till we have to leave the playground.”

A child who can’t bear disappointment needs a backup plan that’s already in place right from the beginning. For example: “My Plan B is chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream if they don’t have rocky road.” Your child can figure out his backup plan before getting in the car to go out for ice cream, then write it on an index card and put it in his pocket. Unexpected let-downs are harder, but the Plan B approach will be more likely to be accepted if your child has already practiced it in other situations.

A child with a ten-minute attention span needs a planned break after eight minutes.

A child who needs to control and becomes angry at not being in control needs a safe avenue to express power with temporal and spatial boundaries. What can she control? Can you give her a Magic Coin that she can “spend” each day on something where she can be the “boss”? That helps her learn to make and live with choices. Remember: If the only power you give a strong-willed child is the power to refuse, she will surely use it.

And so on. Once you get the idea that it all stems from “the kind of kid this is,” it becomes so much easier to be effective.

Another important principle is to show your child that you “get it.” Don’t try to make your child feel better by telling him that “it’s not a big deal”—to him it is—or that he doesn’t really feel what he feels. A child who’s hurt or angry at being rejected needs you to respect his reality and his temperament. If you deny or dismiss his experience, he’ll think you’re lying or don’t care or both. It’s better to say, “I get that it really hurts.”

Then think about his temperament. Is he the kind of person who feels better when he plunges into a new activity or when he has a quiet space to be alone? Does he tend to ruminate and thus need diversion to interrupt the cycle, or does he lock his feelings away and need help bringing them to the surface?

Too often, unfortunately, we end up rewarding a child for not being himself. A child who needs to touch or move, for instance, gets praised for not touching or not moving, rather than being given a safe way to meet his temperamental need for touch or movement. Then we’re surprised when that child becomes depressed or anxious or hostile.

Begin at the level where success is possible and build from there. Lowering the necessary dose gradually can be an empowering way to help a child manage her need for movement, praise, control and so on.

RITA: How do parents know when they may need more help, when a child should be evaluated for ADHD, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, et cetera?

DR. PROBST: Certainly there are children whose difficulties go beyond an unusual temperament or poor temperament-environment fit. It would be just as wrong to dismiss a serious condition as it would be to over-diagnose a minor one. When we call every moody adolescent “bipolar” or every fidgety preschooler “ADHD,” we trivialize the very real suffering of those who truly do merit the label.

Deciding if a child may have an enduring problem beyond a quirky temperament is a complex process. It’s important to remember, however, that there’s no objective test for any of these diagnoses like there are for medical conditions like asthma or diabetes; the determination is always a subjective one. The criteria rely heavily on words like “frequently” and “often” and on checklists completed by adults rather than on a child’s self-report.

But if difficulties persist despite strategies to reduce stress and maximize adaptation, are present under a wide range of circumstances and cause significant impairment, then it may be wise to seek an outside evaluation.

It’s also important to remember that a child may still need help, even if she doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria for an official mental health diagnosis. The way our insurance reimbursement system is set up requires some diagnosis in order to justify the need for treatment under the principle of “medical necessity.” So the mental health clinician may select the label that seems the closest match, the least stigmatizing or the most likely to get the child the services he needs.

Yet in working with the child, what’s often more significant than the formal label are the specific impairing traits, which may or may not correspond to items on the official symptom list. For instance, “doesn’t feel time” and “is a perfectionist” aren’t on the list for any of the educational or mental health categories, even though they’re common problems.

RITA: Thank you so much, Dr. Probst, for your time and insights! Can you share any final thoughts on this topic?

DR. PROBST: It’s vitally important for us to keep questioning the idea that “difficult” or “different” means disordered! We need to reject the idea that every child who’s hard to handle or doesn’t fit in has a psychiatric disorder.

Many children go through tough times or seem extreme, eccentric, provocative or immature at various points in their development. But that doesn’t mean they have a disease that needs to be cured, medicated or taken as the most important aspect of who they are.

We need to ask the right questions. Instead of trying to figure out if a child has ADHD, Asperger syndrome or bipolar disorder, we need to take the labels apart, zoom in to understand each feature and find specific places where change is possible.

We need to identify the source of a problem—usually in unmet needs, discord and imbalance, not from something inherently wrong or missing in the child’s makeup—before trying to solve it by generic approaches. We need to tailor every strategy to fit a child’s specific traits and needs, and to take responsibility for how we, too, need to adapt. We can’t ask our kids to do all the work.

TAF2013lovinguniquelyYou can read more in the “Loving Uniquely” issue of Attached Family magazine, in which we delve into temperament and how it intersects with parenting and the development of attachment style, and we challenge the notion that every hard-to-handle child needs a diagnosis. The magazine is free to API members–and membership in API is free! Click the link above to access your free issue or join API.

Spotlight On: The Girl Behind the Door

tgbtd-ebookcov_03-600The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks chronicles a father’s experience from the adoption of his only child to her suicide in her teen years, including the exploration of the role of an attachment disorder. 

Editor’s Note: This book contains references to parenting practices that are counter to API’s Eight Principles of Parenting but they are not provided as advice, rather as facts as the author reflects back on his personal story. The author also includes ways he could have incorporated the Eight Principles more in his parenting role, as he reflects back on his adopted daughter’s life.

API: Tell us about your book.

John: In 1991, my wife Erika and I adopted our daughter, Casey (née Joanna), from a Polish orphanage at age 14 months. She was weak and sickly from a year of institutionalization. We believe she spent much or most of her time in her crib while her dedicated and valiant caregivers essentially performed triage on the older disabled children at risk for self-harm. But within days in our care, Casey’s developmental rebound was nothing less than astonishing. Over the years, she blossomed into a beautiful, smart, popular young lady living, by most measures, a privileged life in the San Francisco Bay area. But she wasn’t perfect. She suffered violent meltdowns and tantrums, crying jags and hypersensitivity, and seemed completely impervious to discipline, all in a manner out of proportion to age or circumstance. What were we doing wrong? Therapist after therapist, who knew full well about her past, told us “just be tougher with her.”

In the fall of 2007, she accomplished her dream–she was accepted at prestigious Bennington College for the fall of 2008. She never made it. In January of that year, she took our car, drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Her body was never recovered.

The Girl Behind The Door is my search for answers to Casey’s suicide. Why did she do it? What did everyone–especially the professionals–miss? What could we have done differently? What could we share with other adoptive families? Through research and interviews with adoption and attachment experts, I learned about the attachment issues and disorders that burden so many adopted children and result in the behaviors we saw in Casey. It explained everything about her. I share with the reader everything I learned about parenting and therapy techniques that have proven effective in helping orphaned children cope with the lasting effects of birth trauma, abandonment and emotional deprivation.

There are numerous books on adoption and attachment from a clinical perspective. Other personal adoption stories seemingly end with wheels up from Moscow or Beijing, implying that the heavy lifting is over when it has only just begun. The Girl Behind The Door integrates a tragic personal adoption story with information from the experts to teach other families what we learned too late.

API: What inspired you to write the book?

John: I think that many parents who’ve lost a child feel compelled to do something to give their life meaning. Parents join grief and advocacy groups, and lobby for new laws to protect others from tragedy, among other things. I’ve joined the fight to install a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge–the deadliest structure on Earth for suicide. But my journey led me beyond the bridge to determine what led Casey there in the first place. So I wrote a book.

API: How will this book benefit other families?

John: Much more is known today about the effects of abandonment and adoption than was known in 1991, before researchers had an opportunity to study the long-term effects of deprivation on Romanian orphans. Today attachment resources and therapists are still difficult to find, even in big cities. Many therapists are still unschooled in specialized attachment therapies and treat adopted children as they would any other children. While I don’t claim to have uncovered every attachment resource (see my Resources section), I’ve found many that readers can use as a starting point for their own journey in trying to get help for themselves and their children. I’m not a professional, and I don’t diagnose or dispense advice. But by raising awareness to the challenges that adoptive families face even today, I hope to make a difference.

API: Is there any special message you have for parents of children with attachment disorders?

John: It is important to note that not all adopted children and adults suffer the effects of their early life trauma, but many do. Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Prospective adoptive parents need to be thoroughly schooled by a qualified professional before they get on that plane or head for the delivery room. In all likelihood, that schooling will not come from the adoption agency or facilitator. Even better, these parents should meet adopted adults and hear about their life experiences.

2. Have your child tested and diagnosed by a qualified professional [if you suspect problems]. All too often, attachment disorder or reactive attachment disorder are convenient catch-alls when other disorders may be at work and difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate, such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, Asberger’s syndrome and autism. If your child isn’t properly diagnosed, he or she can’t be properly treated.

3. It is absolutely vital to find the right kind of help. A qualified adoption therapist knows what questions to ask and how to ask them.

4. Be prepared for the kind of parenting and family experiences that may not be comfortable for you but are necessary for your child’s well-being.

API: What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing? How does your book work within our mission statement?

John: I think that API and the support and practices it promotes for families are exactly what is needed for the adoption community. Not only are its resources invaluable, but providing a sense of community is very important for parents (like us) who often feel beaten, desperate and utterly alone. That sense of belonging to others with a shared experience is a powerful coping tool.

API: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

John: I think the book makes clear that, despite our difficulties, Casey meant everything to us. She was our entire world. And despite her tragic loss and the shards of our broken family left behind, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad. I could never imagine a more magnificent daughter.

API: Where can people find more information about your book or your work?

John: Readers can visit my website www.parentingandattachment.com.

A limited number of books are also available for purchase in the API Store.

 

Screen-Free Week: An Interview with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator and an API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska, USA)

for-white-TEE-e1390923415217Television, computers and other technology can offer a lot in terms of education and entertainment. Living in a temperate region with bitter winters and sweltering summers, there are seasons when my outdoors-loving family prefers time inside, and I have found creative ways to turn screen time into interactive family time as needed.

However, I also have to admit that it can be tempting, especially in the seemingly endless winter months, to overdo the screen time. Screen-Free Week—being observed this year from May 5-11—serves as an annual reminder to balance screen time with time away from technology.

Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes a balance of screen time within the family as one of the many ways to prioritize the parent-child relationship. Each year, API’s online magazine, blog, social media sites and other online resources go quiet in support of Screen-Free Week. We’re excited to be able to bring you this interview with Sara Adelmann, MA, with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, home of Screen-Free Week, to further inspire your family to take part in this international event.

RITA: Thank you, Sara, for your time. I understand that this is a very busy time of the year for you as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) gets ready for Screen-Free Week. API embraces Screen-Free Week as an opportunity to educate and support parents in reducing screen time in their homes. Let’s start by learning more about CCFC and Screen-Free Week.

SARA: CCFC is the proud home to Screen-Free Week. We set the dates each year, provide resources and help spread the word. But it’s the thousands of individuals all over the world who organize local events. Anyone can organize Screen-Free Week in a classroom or entire school, with a scout troop, faith community, neighborhood association, at a local library or in any community group. Organizers and volunteers promote the week, reach out to partners, and help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.

Screen-Free Week celebrations vary from family to family, school to school and town to town. Every year, we hear from organizers and participants around the globe about all of the fun screen-free activities they’ve discovered. Visit www.screenfree.org to find out how you can get involved—for the children in your life, for yourself and for a more positive, healthier future.

RITA: Screen-Free Week is an innovative project and so needed in our tech-heavy culture. What originally inspired CCFC to organize Screen-Free Week?

SARA: Reducing children’s screen time and advocating for screen-free, commercial-free time and space has always been essential to CCFC’s mission. That’s why when the Center for Screen-Time Awareness closed its doors [in 2010] and asked us to become the new official home of what used to be called “TV-Turnoff” [since 1994], we leaped at the chance.

Children are spending way too much time with screens—a staggering 32 hours per week for preschoolers and even more for older kids. And now, with mobile devices, children are immersed in screens, and the things they sell, nearly every waking moment. Regardless of content, excessive screen time changes children’s fundamental connection to the world. It deprives them of hands-on creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to wrestle with life to make it meaningful. And the costs are extraordinary: poor school performance, childhood obesity and problems with attention are just a few.

Turning off screens for seven days helps participants realize that life without screens is not impossible and is actually fun. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and develop more productive and healthy habits. Giving children the chance to play actively, develop relationships and learn to evaluate options will help them become more well-rounded people, better educated citizens and more alert consumers.

RITA: API loves how Screen-Free Week promotes families spending time together beyond technology, but we recognize that in many families, at least some screen time is the norm. How much screen time is too much?

SARA: Research links excessive screen time with many of the health and social problems facing children today, including learning, attention and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. In addition, the more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults and in hands-on, creative play—two activities proven to be important for learning. It also exposes kids to lots of harmful advertising and can be habit forming.

It’s vital that parents monitor the amount of time their children spend with screen media. With so many different devices available these days, parents might not realize how much time their children are spending with screens—minutes can easily turn into hours. Setting rules early on about when, where, what and how much is important.

Stop Hitting Kids in School: An Interview with Nadine Block

By Lisa Lord, editor of The Attached Family.com.

spankOutLogoThough research continues to show that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are both ineffective and harmful, and despite many nations across the globe instituting bans on corporal punishment in schools and homes, the laws of the United States still do not reflect this reality. Corporal punishment teaches children that violence is a way to solve problems. Children worried about being paddled are not free to learn. And according to The Center for Effective Discipline (CED), certain groups–poor children, minorities, children with disabilities and boys–are hit in schools up to 2-5 times more often than other children. Nadine Block, cofounder of the CED and SpankOut Day April 30, is committed to changing this for American children and children everywhere.

Block spearheaded the advocacy movement in Ohio, USA, that resulted in a legislative ban on school corporal punishment in that state in 2009. In her latest book, Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment, Block shares her experience and wisdom to inspire others to join the movement to end corporal punishment of children, and to give them the tools to make it happen.

It was enlightening and inspiring to talk with her about what advocates have been able to achieve thus far, how much farther we all have to go to see the end of child corporal punishment and how the United States compares to other nations when it comes to legally-sanctioned physical punishment of children.

LISA: Tell us about your new book Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment. What inspired you to write this?

NADINE: I wanted to bring attention to the existence of the practice, because over 200,000 children in 19 states are still being permitted to be hit for misbehavior. This is shameful and unnecessary—and a lot of people don’t know it’s still going on.

I also want to give people tools to protect their children as much as possible if their school districts still permit corporal punishment, and to help end it for all children. It is not enough to say, “No paddling.” You have to show people how it can be ended and encourage them to do so. My experience of more than 25 years of working at all levels–local, state and federal–gives me a unique perspective to be able to do that. About 70 percent of adults in surveys say we should ban it, so I wonder where is the tipping point? When can we get this done?

LISA: How do you feel about the U.S. status globally on the topic of corporal punishment of children?

NADINE: I am embarrassed that we are the only country other than Somalia that has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for giving children basic human rights including protection from harm. I am embarrassed that over 100 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and that 36 have banned it in all settings, even homes, but we allow it in schools in 19 states and in homes in every state.

LISA: As a parent, the thought that someone else would be legally allowed to hit my child is shocking.

NADINE: In some school districts, parents have no right to disagree or to prevent this. In those cases, we tell the parents to write a letter stating that under no condition should their child be hit, and if the school needs help disciplining the child, then the parent will come to school and meet with the staff. Then the parent should sign and date the letter and try to have the child’s pediatrician sign as well. I’ve found that most school districts would be hesitant to hit that child, because the parents have said unequivocally not to.

LISA: You worked as a school psychologist and saw the effects of corporal punishment firsthand. You said in a previous interview with API, “One cannot study learning and behavior without becoming opposed to physical punishment of children. It is harmful and ineffective in the long term.” What kinds of effects on learning and psychological well-being have you seen?

NADINE: We know that people learn best in a more nurturing environment. It is hard to learn when fear is a motivator. Kids may also become school resistant and not want to go to school, and part of the reason is fear of getting paddled, especially for sensitive children who are hurt by even seeing someone else paddled. In my book, I have an example of a reading teacher who tells how kids would come into her reading group anxious and worried, either because they would be hit when they got back to the classroom for something they did, or because of something they saw.

It is not a way to teach children to be independent. What does this teach them about [what to do] when the punisher isn’t nearby? This is not what we want for the long term. We want people who are independent and know that following rules is good for them and the country and their family, not just to escape punishment.

LISA: Why do you think that policymakers ignore research when it so plainly spells out the risks of corporal punishment on children? Who is opposing ending corporal punishment in schools?

NADINE: A lot of it is regional. There are areas of the country, particularly the South and rural areas, where people tend to be more supportive of the use of corporal punishment and do not want it to be interfered with. Some have not fully examined it and give a knee-jerk response. It’s a very emotional issue for them. To question the use of corporal punishment is to question the parenting they had, the parenting they are giving and authority in general.

I believe it shows a fear of losing authority. They look through a prism of tradition, order and faith [religion]. They believe that parents are losing authority and children are worse than ever before in history. They do not believe the statistics that show young people today are less violent, have fewer out-of-wedlock babies, and do less drugs and drinking. They read about a few bad apples and extrapolate that to a whole population.

LISA: What is your strategy when you meet this kind of resistance?

NADINE: The first thing to realize is that social change is slow, but people do change over time. If they hear a message over and over again, they tend to come around. You have to be temperate, consistent and persistent. You may move people, but it may not happen quickly.

In the beginning, it was difficult because I thought that bringing research and reasoned arguments would change hearts and minds. I learned it is much more difficult. You have to appeal to emotions, too, such as with stories about children who are injured. You have to be consistent and temperate in response to critics, who are often quite angry. We move slowly in protecting children but have not gone backward. Knowing you are on the winning side makes advocacy much easier.

If you can get people in the community or the church to come on the side [of opposing corporal punishment], it’s easier. For example, when I found that several African American school board members supported corporal punishment and didn’t want it taken out of schools, Dr. Alvin Poussaint and I asked 20 national African American leaders–including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., and Marian Wright Edelman [founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund]–to sign a proclamation calling for an immediate ban on corporal punishment in schools. Having that proclamation come from inside was helpful.

LISA: If you are from one of the states that doesn’t allow corporal punishment, then it might not be on your radar screen at all.

 NADINE: Right. I think that people from the North, such as New Jersey, where corporal punishment has been banned a long time, need to start moving toward the more European model, which is to ban it in all settings, like 36 countries have done. We can do that incrementally, if necessary, like not allowing the use of instruments to beat children or not allowing children with disabilities to be hit. Protecting children still needs to be on the radar.

There have been a few bills in states like Massachusetts where they have tried to do that. But they will have to try more than once to educate people about why this is needed. It’s so much easier to kill bills in legislature than to pass them.

LISA: In a part of your book, you mention that most educators are not sadists, but they are using the paddling because that is all that is promoted at the school for discipline. Perhaps you can recommend some great positive discipline programs for schools that want to consider transitioning from corporal punishment?

NADINE: Our education goal is to improve instruction and behavior for all students. We want to have caring, informed, empathic, productive citizens. It means using misbehavior as an opportunity for teaching rather than just punishing. It means recognizing that most misbehavior is a mistake in judgment. It means thinking about what we, as adults, want to happen when we make mistakes. We want to learn from them, not be hit for them. It means teaching children social skills they need to behave appropriately, such as listening, asking questions politely, cooperation, managing anger and disagreement, and sharing.

The successful programs are data based and provide a decision-making framework that supports good practices every day throughout the district. Many school districts use Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). It is a U.S. Department of Education system-wide effort that involves using data for decision making, defining measurable outcomes that can be evaluated and supported, and implementing evidence-based practices that can be used for prevention. So instead of punishing kids for specific things, it looks at what we are punishing kids for–perhaps tardiness or fighting in the halls, for example–collecting data so that we know what needs to be changed, then looking at preventive practices that could be used decrease the problems. (See the CED’s website for more information about positive discipline programs.)

In school districts, there is either an atmosphere of looking at things to punish or looking for a way to solve problems. I’d rather be in a district looking for ways to solve problems.

LISA: How can parents and professions start an advocacy effort and locate like-minded policy lawmakers to join them?

NADINE: Advocates for bans should check the list of national organizations that have positions against school corporal punishment. There are more than 50 of them on the CED website.

Start by gathering a support group. At the state level, work on those organizations that already have positions against corporal punishment. Get them to sign a proclamation calling on the state legislature to ban it. Having a long list of organizations shows support for a ban.

Locally look at the organizations that have positions against corporal punishment and find members in the community, such as PTA members, psychologists and mental health professionals, and physicians, especially pediatricians and ER [emergency room] doctors who see paddling injuries. Parents who have had children injured often make wonderful supporters.

Keep informed by reading stories about corporal punishment and doing research on its effects. Join organizations like The Center for Effective Discipline. Help start or join organizations seeking bans in your state. (The CED can help identify these.)

As for lawmakers, take a look at their websites. What bills have they introduced? What is their background? For example, Governor Ted Strickland was a compassionate psychologist prior to becoming a legislator, and he was instrumental in getting a ban in Ohio schools. If you are trying to change a school district policy, attend a board of education meeting. You can tell a lot about the board members by questions they ask, their empathy for children and parents, and their responses.

This is what I did in Ohio. The states around Ohio, like Kentucky and Indiana, still have corporal punishment, but we don’t because we worked at it.

LISA: What effect do you hope your book will have on society?

NADINE: First I want to say corporal punishment in schools is still going on. It isn’t appropriate, and we need to change it. Also I want to tell people how they can do this, to give them the tools and the process they need to go through.

If you take on something like this, you will meet wonderful people, you will feel good about helping children, and you will teach them that giving back is so important. You get so much more back than you ever put in. No state has ever rescinded laws in corporal punishment in schools. Some people have tried, but it has never happened. This is a winning-side argument—and it is a great side to be on. It is the winning side of history.

Visit the Center for Effective Discipline (www.stophitting.com) for information and resources including effective discipline at home, successful positive discipline programs for schools, tools for advocacy efforts, and the latest news from the CED.

API Cofounders Featured in Parenting with Presence Summit

lysaparkerbarbaranicholsonWorld peace, for many, may seem like an unattainable ideal. Not so for families finding support through Attachment Parenting International (API), whose research-backed parenting approach promotes healthy relationships rooted in nonviolent communication and respectful interactions, extending a model of peaceful living into the community.

API cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker celebrated the organization’s 20th anniversary during a teleseminar hosted by parent educator and author Susan Stiffelman, as part of an online parenting conference on March 18-21. A Shift Network event, the API-cosponsored Parenting with Presence Summit gathered together 25 parenting experts and visionaries to share their perspectives on parenthood. The event was available to the public at no cost.

“Ultimately, we’re wanting world peace,” said Nicholson, who presented a session sharing the title of the book she coauthored with Parker, Attached at the Heart: 8 Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. “The mother-father-baby: that little unit is really the core of it all.”

Stiffelman agreed, concluding that many people who are moved toward furthering world peace can make a profound impact without ever leaving home: “The fact is, under our own roofs, if we have children, we can make a dramatic difference in our world.”

Throughout their session, Nicholson’s and Parker’s core message echoed what API has promoted from its beginning—that parents can be nurturing, warm and sensitive while raising emotionally healthy, responsible children. API can provide the guidance and support for parents who need it.

“We didn’t want to spank our children,” said Parker about what inspired API’s foundation. “We wanted to practice more positive discipline, but we were still at the beginning stages. We were each other’s support. The essence of API is parent support.”

Leading up to 1994 when API was first organized, there was a budding awareness in the professional community regarding the importance of attachment research on child development. However, there were no widely circulating resources offering this information to the public.

“We felt there needed to be an organization to get all this information to parents,” Nicholson said.

Fast forward 20 years: Parent education, rooted in attachment science and neurobiology, has permeated much of Western society. API continues to educate and support parents and professionals in adopting healthier approaches to raising children, as well as to introduce new areas of research that further validates API’s Eight Principles of Parenting.

“The Eight Principles are not rules you have to follow, but there is science supporting each of them,” Parker said.

For example, the latest edition of Attached at the Heart covers new information on ultrasounds during pregnancy as well as a new scientific field called epigenetics, which intersects the nature-nurture debate to demonstrate that the choices that parents make can influence the genetic expression for their grandchildren.

“We’re now beyond learning the importance of nurture,” Nicholson said. “It’s exciting but also very daunting. Who we hang out with, what we do, how we eat—everything affects our genetic code.”

During the Parenting with Presence Summit session with API’s cofounders, Stiffelman also explored myths of Attachment Parenting and practical tips to help parents and grandparents bond with a baby beyond breastfeeding, and how API strives to empower parents in following their biological intuition, rather than going along with conflicting conventional wisdom, in raising their children.

“The message is about knowing what’s best for you and your child,” Parker said.

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words For Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International Leader (API of Portland, Oregon, USA), www.kellybartlett.net. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”

This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.

“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”

He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”

This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.

When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.

I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.

Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.

Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.

Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.

Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!

The Family Part of Eating

Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.

This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!

Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.

This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:

·         Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.

·         Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!

·         Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.

·         If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!

·         Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.

·         Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.

I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.

Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.

They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.

Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.

I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.

The Importance of the Family Table

Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:

·         Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).

·         Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).

·         Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).

·         Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.

·         A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.

 

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD

By Dr. William Sears, pediatrician, author and member of API’s Advisory Board. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

billsearsOftentimes, parents bring their child to me for consultation on learning or behavioral problems at school. They typically open their concern with, “We and our child’s teacher believe he has Attention Deficit Disorder.” After taking a nutritional history, I often reply, “Your child doesn’t have ADD; he has NDD.”

Obviously, they look surprised. They don’t know what NDD is, but it doesn’t sound like something they want their child to have. I go on to explain that what I mean by NDD is a Nutrition Deficit Disorder.

In my experience, many children described as having ADD lose this tag once their NDD is treated. Here’s how: Since the brain is 60% fat, it stands to reason that growing brains need high-quality fats. Smart fats make the brain grow and perform better. Smart fats are the omega-3 fatty acids found in high amounts in seafood. Omega-3 fats are also found in some plants (for example, flaxseed oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds), but the omega-3 fats found in plants have to be converted from shorter-chain fatty acids to longer ones before they can be used in the brain. Seafood and supplements are the most direct source of long-chain omega-3s, including the most important omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Smart vs. Dumb Fats

Research shows that omega-3 fats make brains healthier, especially the brains of young kids and older adults. Researchers believe that the high levels of omega-3 fats in breastmilk help to explain the differences in IQ between children who received human milk in infancy and those who did not.

The body uses omega-3 fats to make cell membranes. Omega-3 fats are also needed to make myelin, the insulation around nerves, and to help neurotransmitters function at the optimal levels. Omega-3 fats are known as essential fatty acids from food. Other types of fats can be manufactured in the body, but the body cannot make essential fatty acids. That is why it is important for growing brains to get adequate amounts of these “smart” fats from food.

If there are not enough smart fats available to make brain cells and other key substances, the body uses lesser-quality fats and produces lesser-quality cells. The “dumb” fats—known as replacement fatty acids—such as the kind that come from the trans fats in hydrogenated oils, clog the receptors in the cell membrane and the brain cell does not function well.

Neurotransmitters, the biochemical messengers that carry information from one brain cell to another, fit into receptors on cell membranes like a key fits into a lock. The keys and locks must match. If the cell membrane is composed of the right fats, the locks and keys match. But if the receptors are clogged with the wrong fats, the neurotransmitter keys won’t fit and brain cell function suffers. Omega-3 fats keep the receptors open so the neurotransmitters fit and the brain can function optimally.

Eat Smart Fats: Learn and Behave Better

In the past few years, several studies showed that growing children diagnosed with ADD who were given omega-3 supplements, especially DHA, improved their attention and learning.

In order for kids to learn, they have to be able to concentrate. Studies show that omega-3 fats help the brain pay attention and make connections. Researchers at Purdue University found that boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) had lower levels of omega-3 fats, especially DHA, the main omega-3 fat found in fish. The boys with the most abnormal behavior had the lowest levels of DHA. School-age children with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had the fewest learning problems. In addition, students who were given DHA supplements prior to exams showed less hostility and aggression during this time of stress.

Feed Your Family with Smart Carbs

Around 50% of the energy from the carbohydrates children eat goes to fueling their growing brains. Muscles can store glucose, the body’s main fuel extracted from digested carbs, but the brain can’t store much glucose. It depends on a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream. If the blood sugar dips too low, brain function can deteriorate within minutes.

The brain is very selective about the carbs it craves, and it prefers that you eat the right carbs with the right partners at the right time. If brain cells could comment on the best ways to give them carbs they need, here’s what they would request:

·         Partner carbs with fiber and protein – The brain prefers carbs that are naturally packaged with protein and fiber. These two partners slow the digestive process and steady the rate at which glucose enters the blood. Without protein or fiber in a food, the carbs are digested quickly and rush into the bloodstream so fast that they cause a sugar high followed by a sugar low, as the body releases a large amount of insulin to handle the sugar. Unstable blood sugar levels lead to unstable brain chemistry, which makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control their behavior.

·         Graze on good carbs – Kids and adults don’t think well when they’re hungry. Frequent mini-meals throughout the day are good for the brain.

·         Eat protein for brain power – High-protein foods perk up the brain by increasing levels of two “alertness” neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. A high-protein meal really is a “power breakfast” or a “power lunch.”

·         Add more protein to each meal and snack.

·         Avoid fiber-less carbs (for example, candy and soda) – Instead, choose the fiber-filled carbs in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

·         Feed your child a brainy breakfast – Since proteins perk up the brain, send your kids off to school with a high-protein, healthy-carb and healthy-fat breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal and yogurt.

Brain Food by Dr. William Sears

·         Smart foods: blueberries, nuts, salmon, spinach

·         Dumb foods: excitotoxins (for example, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, food colorings, preservatives), fiber-poor carbs, hydrogenated oils, sweetened beverages

 

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA). Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Cynthia LairMy mother has a PhD in nutrition, and my father recently retired after 35 years in food production research. In addition to their food-oriented careers, we lived on a sustainable farm, meaning that we grew food for our own use, as well as to sell to others, in an environmentally and socially responsible way. So I was raised with an appreciation of food—both for the work that goes into growing it and for its capabilities in keeping our bodies healthy.

I carried on this family legacy of responsibility in food production and consumption with an early journalism career in covering sustainable agriculture, connecting producers to consumers and chefs. For many years, until I became a mother and my personal and professional focus shifted to Attachment Parenting, I covered the “big names” in this genre of journalism.

Among the up and coming stars in this realm has been Cynthia Lair, a self-made whole foods chef turned author and cooking show host. This wonder woman of sorts has a lot going on, including:

·         “Cookus Interruptus,” a web-based cooking show (www.cookusinterruptus.com) that teaches consumers how to cook fresh, local, organic, whole foods despite life’s interruptions.

·         Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents, the book that started it all, and a second book, Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players and Parents

·         Instructor at Bastyr University’s School of Nutrition and Exercise Science in Kenmore, Washington

In my discussions leading up to this interview, published originally in the Attached Family magazine’s 2009 “Feeding Our Children” issue, Cynthia revealed how much influence that practicing Attachment Parenting with her daughter helped to shape her life—and especially started her on the path to becoming the force she is in encouraging others to try to embrace whole foods.

RITA: Thank you, Cynthia, for taking the time for this interview. Let’s start with what influenced you in embracing whole foods nutrition?

CYNTHIA: It’s a little Lifetime movie-ish. My mother was a cancer patient, and I wanted to help in some way. As I was researching, I learned about macrobiotics and its role in disease prevention and healing. Part of this approach calls for people to move toward more natural foods. I decided to leave behind the strict doctrinal part of it and went on with the more spiritual and natural tenets of it.

My diet prior to that had been a “diet” diet. I was surviving on cottage cheese, diet Coke, coffee and salad—always trying to lose weight. I was in my early 20s, and I’m in my mid-50s now, so it was a long time ago. I didn’t know anything.

After college, I began putting on weight and didn’t understand why. The only information at the time was doing a calorie count.

But it was good. Having gone through that as a person—I also had quite the sugar addiction as a child—I can understand that people can change.

RITA: The most passionate people for a movement tend to be those who’ve “been there, done that” in terms of changing. What does it take to change the way we think about food?

CYNTHIA: Many emotions go into the over 200 decisions about food we make every day. I’m the last to understand all of the reasons behind our decisions. Some choices are made from fear or wanting control. Some are made in an effort to be more spiritual or to heal. You have to understand why you are choosing the foods you choose before you can change. I learned much of this from Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink.

RITA: What inspired you to change specifically?

CYNTHIA: After my eyes were opened up to the nature of food and its healing potential, I went back to school in New York City at the Health and Nutrition Program to become a certified health and nutrition counselor.

During school, I focused all of my papers on maternal and infant nutrition. I was newly married, and we were talking about having a baby. This time in one’s life is such a window of opportunity to change how you eat and to learn how to eat. Every mother wants to make the right choices, the best choices they can.

After my daughter was born and it came time to start her on foods, the experiment began. I started feeding her what we were eating, instead of following the cultural rules at the time [store-bought baby food]. And I couldn’t get this book out of my head. Some of the book came from within me, but most of it came from practicality.

RITA: What do you hope to accomplish through your educational efforts in whole foods?

CYNTHIA: Through “Cookus Interruptus,” the point of the show is to demonstrate how to incorporate high quality, wholesome foods into the diet within the context of a busy family.

There’s a back story to the cooking show. The characters are Great-Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandma and the Mom, who is going through an identity crisis and is struggling to take care of her 5-year-old son so she has moved back home.

It’s an Attachment Parenting community. That’s all going on in there, during the show. It’s so subtle. It’s not a perfect family: We got problems, but the boy is being taken care of in a loving and respectful way. I’m very conscious of what kind of family values we’re presenting.

My goal is to move healthy eating away from the fringes and into the mainstream. I want ordinary people to realize that, yes, you can do this.

I thank U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle for normalizing it through their garden and personal food choices. The more normal it is, the easier it is to get some of the more important things done, like getting healthier foods into school lunches and the hospitals and getting farm subsidies in place for growers of fruits and vegetables. It all starts, I believe, at the family dinner table.

RITA: A sit-down meal shared together is a great way for families to continue practicing the second of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Feeding with Love and Respect. Cynthia, can you explain the importance of the family table?

CYNTHIA: Research bears out that for the family that sits down and shares a meal together, the children have a long list of benefits, including closer family ties, better vocabulary, more resilience when facing emotional crisis—wow—and as teens, not going toward drugs and alcohol as much. Sitting down and eating together is nutritious in every way possible, which is why I believe babies should eat the same foods as the rest of the family.

RITA: You’ve told me that API’s Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect aligns so closely to your own beliefs that it could have come straight out of your book. Can you share with us a little about your journey in Attachment Parenting?

CYNTHIA: I’m not a Mother Earth-type person. I know many people who are, and some of them are good friends of mine, but I’m not. I was curious in raising a child, just like we all are.

When babies are born, their mothers have these incredible strings attached to their hearts from their child: You know when they’re going to cry before they do—that kind of thing. I was shocked by how strong that was.

I think mothers have to let go of some of those strings in order to go back to work full time. I couldn’t let go. I had all this creative energy, but I decided I didn’t have to give up one—my career or motherhood—for the other. I allowed both to nourish each other. I think that’s the heart of Attachment Parenting: allowing that bond to be. It’s not that I was giving up my life but instead I was allowing my life to shift. Once I became a teacher, I found that is a really good career for a parent. I never had to use daycare. That’s what I see as the soul of Attachment Parenting: being there.

You have to change the way you think, just like you do when learning to eat wholesome foods.

RITA: What advice would you give to someone who wants to change the way they think about food?

CYNTHIA: The most important thing is to make really small changes and to do these changes slowly. The people who clear out their cupboards are the ones who only last two weeks. For example, you could set the goal to serve dark leafy greens once a week. Do that for three, four, six months and then pick another goal.

RITA: What other goals would you recommend starting with?

CYNTHIA: The first small change I would suggest is to dump diet soda. This is mostly from personal experience, but on a related note, Walter Willett from Harvard University, author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, explains that liquid calories don’t trigger the satiety signals. If you drink 300 calories from a latte, your body still thinks you need lunch.

Second, I would try to serve a warm breakfast once time a week. The easiest breakfast to serve kids is a sweetened or unsweetened cereal. Serving warm toast and eggs is a very loving thing you can do for yourself and your child.

Third, I would learn how to cook more vegetables that are pleasing to your family. Instead of steaming kale and trying to get everyone to choke that down, try serving it in a way your spouse and children would be more likely to eat it. Serve asparagus braised in butter and seasoned. Put cheese on broccoli.

RITA: Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, Cynthia. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

CYNTHIA: One thing I love about the API’s Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect is the word “respect” and its far-reaching implications. That word is important and has a lot of ripples to it: We want to respect ourselves through the food we eat, we want to respect the food by presenting it attractively, we want to respect the work that goes into preparing it, and we want to respect the people who grew the food and brought it to us. Most of all, we want to respect our children by teaching them to eat good food and to respect the people who make the food.

Be Mindful When Feeding Ourselves, Our Children by Cynthia Lair

·         Let an appetite develop – Constant sipping on juices and nibbling on crackers can lead to picky eating at the table. Physical activity is important.

·         Help discover intuition about what the body needs – When your child says, “I’m starving,” ask which food sounds better: this or that.

·         Know what you are serving – not just what the ingredients are but where it came from, how thefood was grown and processed. Whenever possible, choose fresh, local, organic ingredients. Choose whole food (apple) over partial products (apple juice).

·         Instill positive energy into the food you serve yourself and your children – Cook when possible, and pay attention to presentation; create flavor and beauty.

·         Encourage sitting down to eat – In this way, the body is cued that eating and digesting are taking place and nutrient uptake is actually better. Also, most are satisfied with less food.

·         Express gratitude together – Labor was expended in order for you to eat. The miracle of growth from a seed, dirt, water and sunshine occurred.

 Shopping for Sustenance by Cynthia Lair

 This could easily be the mantra guiding whole foods eating. If you purchase a food that was grown locally and organically, and is fresh and in season, that’s as good as it gets.

 High-quality food is more expensive, but consider this: In the 1960s, American families spent 18% of their income on food and 5% on health care. Nowadays, this is reversed: We spend just 9% of our hard-earned dollars on food and 16% on health care. Which would you rather spend your money on?

 Fresh

Fresh is best. The chemical composition of food changes radically a few hours after harvest simply because it is cut off from its food and water supply. Fresh food, particularly fresh produce, gives us maximum nutrients and flavor.

Frozen food can be good, too. Most of the nutrients are retained in foods that are frozen; however, some of the enzymes, color and flavor will have disappeared. If purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables, the texture will have changed. The foods are much less crisp than fresh foods because the cell structure is damaged by crystallization of water.

Canned foods have most of their nutrients present, but the flavor, color and texture suffer. One exception is tomatoes, which are picked at maximum ripeness and canned the same day. Often a canned tomato will be superior in flavor than a fresh tomato purchased in February that was flown thousands of miles.

Local

Did you know that 86% of our fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown on farms surrounding America’s cities? Most farmers who sell their food locally don’t artificially treat crops to withstand shipping and extend their shelf life. Have a conversation with some of the non-organic vendors at your local farmer’s market, and you may find out that some local farmers do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides but lack the size or profits to go through the rigorous process to attain organic status. Many farmers will sell their eggs, beef and pork directly to the consumer. The same is true for milk and milk products from healthy cows and goats.

Check out www.eatwild.com and click on your state. Consider subscribing to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) operation through which a box of fresh, locally grown produce is delivered or picked up every week. The site www.localharvest.org has listings.

As Barbara Kingsolver pointedly reminds us in her essay, “Lily’s Chickens”:

“Even if you walk or bike to the store, if you come home with bananas from Ecuador, tomatoes from Holland, cheese from France and artichokes from California, you have guzzled some serious gas. This extravagance that most of us take for granted is a stunning boondoggle: Transporting five calories’ worth of strawberry from California to New York costs 435 calories of fossil fuel.”

Buying locally supports your community, supports your health and supports the intention of conserving global resources.

Organic

Buying organic products is a form of voting. Your organic purchase says that you support the growers and manufacturers who are producing food without the use of the synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or pesticides that pollute your body and your world.

Buying organic produce, especially locally grown produce, also helps keep you in tune with the seasons.

Many believe that organic produce tastes better and contains more nutrients.

We have national (U.S.) standards for labeling food “organic.” A label that says “100% Organic” must contain all organic ingredients. If the label simply says “organic,” at least 95% of the ingredients are organically produced. When the label reads “made with organic ingredients,” at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. Organic produce label codes start with the number nine.

Please be aware that before there were national standards set for labeling a food “organic,” the term meant that the product had been grown according to strict uniform standards and verified by independent state or private organizations. In constructing national regulations, the standards have been watered down some. Now that super-chains, like Wal-Mart, are carrying organic produce, the standards may be changed to benefit large producers over individual consumers. The large corporations have more lobbying power to get the regulations changed to suit their need for lower prices and bigger profits. This trend may put the small, local farmers out of business, so whenever possible, buy organic produce at your local farmer’s market rather than chain supermarkets.

Make a special effort to use organic products when preparing food for pregnant or nursing moms, infants and children. Toxins found in the mother’s food can cross the placenta to the growing fetus or wind up in breastmilk. What may be tolerated by a mature adult may prove harsh to the immature system of fetus or infant. Regulatory practices used to control pesticides in foods are based on studies of pesticide exposure to the general population without regard to the special needs of infants.

Some of the most pesticide- saturated foods are ones that we routinely give children to snack on, including peanut butter, peanuts, raisins and potato chips. Non-organic apples, peaches, strawberries and celery can contain as many as 80 pesticide residues. Use your power as a consumer to demand the best for our children, our planet and the future of both.

Seasonal

Choosing food that is in season gives the year rhythm and ritual. It is exciting to wait for local strawberries to appear, which are sweeter and fresher than eating Mexican-grown berries in January. Anticipation is a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait for corn to be in season locally because it is so sweet it hardly needs to be cooked. By waiting for produce available locally only during windows of time, our eating has a cyclical feeling keeping us in tune with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also puts your body in tune with the climate you are living in. The stereotypical southern Californian preference for raw salads and avocados has sense to it. The lighter diet that includes lots of raw foods is perfect for living in a sunny, warm climate. Northwesterners need the density of frequent servings of salmon to survive the cold damp of rainy winters. Traveling north of our continent, an even fattier diet is appropriate for surviving the cold. Where do you live? What did the ancestors who inhabited your community grow and eat?

Excerpted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008). Reprinted with permission.

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett

 

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

By Lisa Lord, editor of The Attached Family.com.

Photo courtesy of ChopChopKids
Photo courtesy of ChopChopKids

After my oldest son turned one year old, the number of foods he would eat slowly began shrinking, and it continues it’s descent toward the single digits. Luckily he still eats a few real winners, like strawberries, broccoli, peanut butter and yogurt, but my concern is growing as once-loved foods are picked off the list one by one. My younger son is more adventurous: Pepperoni, black olives and turkey burgers were recently upgraded to “delicious,” and he’s willing to try anything his friends are eating. But even he is prone to turning up his nose at the dinner table.

I’ve always loved the idea of cooking with my kids, but the reality has often been more like a recipe for frustration rather than fun. I hear the same thing from a lot of parents. According to Sally Sampson, founder of the nonprofit ChopChopKids and author of the cookbook ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family, getting kids involved in the kitchen may be just the solution we are looking for, not only to broaden our kids’ palates but to nurture family connection as well.

LISA: Can you tell us about ChopChopKids and it’s mission?

SALLY: ChopChopKids is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families. We do that in print and digitally, and we are just starting cooking classes.

If you’re not cooking, you are probably eating a jot of junk. Whether you are obese or hungry, junk is not the solution. You need to be eating real food, and the way to eat real food is to cook it.

LISA: Why is it so important for parents to cook with their kids? What do parents and children stand to gain?

SALLY: First of all, kids who cook have wider palates. What we have found is that kids often don’t want to eat certain foods because of the surprise factor. But if they are part of the process, then when they sit down to eat the broccoli they just cooked they are not surprised by it and want to show off what they made. They want to try it, and they want other people to try it, much like when they draw a picture and want to put in on the refrigerator.

 Additionally cooking helps with math skills because there is measuring, it helps with understanding other cultures because kids are cooking foods from all over, and it helps with science because, for example, you might be eating yogurt and then talking about fermentation. And it’s a great activity to do together; cooking helps bond kids with their families.

LISA: Mealtimes and food choices can become a source of power struggles between children and parents, especially when parents are worried about the amount or variety that their children eat. In your experience, what happens when parents invite their kids to join in the shopping and cooking?

SALLY: I recently did a series on The New York Times Motherlode blog about picky eating. Obviously it’s really hard to cook every meal with your kids, and it can be frustrating because it’s messy and time consuming. What happened with the twin boys [in the blog series] was that when they cooked it, they ate it. What they were resistant to was foods being unfamiliar. For example, they liked scrambled eggs, so their mother put out little bowls of things the kids could add in, like scallions, ham, kale and cheeses. One of her sons put in scallions, which he claimed to hate, but ate it all. So when he sat down at the table he wasn’t saying “Yuck, scallions” because he had made the choice to put them in himself. The difference was huge.

LISA: Cooking with young kids can be challenging. I can understand why a lot of parents shy away because, as you mentioned, it can be messy and time consuming, especially if the younger kids just want to play while cooking. It’s developmentally appropriate, but it can be frustrating, too. What words of encouragement do you have for parents?

SALLY: You can start small! If you have very young kids, just let them add cherry tomatoes to a salad, or if they are old enough to count, tell them to add 12 cherry tomatoes to the salad, and ask them to mix the salad. The boys in the blog project were 4 years old, so they didn’t do a lot of the cooking, but they did a lot of the prepping, and they added a lot at the table. When their mom made turkey burgers, she had bowls of things set out, and the boys helped assemble the burgers. You can put out chunks of veggies or fruit after school and have kids skewer them. Start with preparation before you start cooking if that’s a hard leap for you.

LISA: Many parents struggle with their children’s picky eating habits, which isn’t helped by the food culture in the United States (and in many other developed nations), in which processed and unhealthy foods are readily available everywhere and are heavily marketed to kids. What advice do you have for parents to help their children eat a wider variety of foods?

SALLY: What started the recent blog project was that the mom I was working with told me it drove her crazy that one son would only eat hot dogs. I looked at her and asked, “Does he do the grocery shopping?” That’s the number-one rule: Don’t buy it if you don’t want kids to eat it. When you’re home it’s easier than when you are out in the world. We have an obesogenic culture; everything is out there, and it’s very hard being the lone mom saying “no, no, no.” I was that lone mom saying no, and it was hard.

Try talking to your kids about why you don’t want them to eat junk. Don’t have food in the house that you don’t want kids to eat. And institute a “one-meal rule.” You make one dinner, and it’s up to kids to eat or not, and you don’t offer to make something else, so you’re not a short-order cook. When my kids were very young, if they didn’t like dinner the option was that they could get themselves yogurt, cottage cheese or cereal (and my cereals were all sugar free). They are now 19 and 21, and both say I didn’t make it appealing to be a picky eater. Since I was always making interesting stuff, there was no upside to battling.

Of course, if your child has food allergies or true sensitivities, that’s different: it’s a medical issue.

Once my kids started to drive and both had jobs, they ate more junk. I only had the kind of food in the house I felt was OK to feed them, but once they get to a certain age they were buying their own. When my son did the grocery shopping, at first he came home with junk. I told him that he could eat it, but I wouldn’t pay for it. And that’s still the case. You can’t control what a 19-year-old eats, but you can control what you pay for. I’m not insanely rigid–clearly we don’t eat just brown rice and tofu–but my house is pretty clean.

LISA: This ties in well with of one of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Feed with Love and Respect, because it’s a way to feed respectfully according to your values and kids’ best interest in the long term. Do you have any special tips about helping kids get comfortable with a variety of vegetables?

SALLY: The number one mistake people make is to assume that their kids aren’t going to like certain foods. I’m opposed to the “take-one-bite rule.” I think you say, “Wow this is fantastic!” and then the kids eat it or not. Some foods don’t taste good to some people, so I’m not saying everyone should like everything, but I think sending super positive messages and being a great role model can help. Serve lots of vegetables at the table, and do little experiments. For example, cut up four different vegetables and serve them with four dips. Make it more about the dip than the vegetables. You can get different kinds of hummus and white bean dip, and so on. You can usually get kids to try this, and it’s really fun. Or serve the salad first, and have kids arrive at the table hungry. I still experiment with this with my son. He loves salad, but if I put the chicken on the table first then he will go for that, whereas if I put the salad on the table first then he eats a ton of salad and then goes for the chicken.

LISA: Tell us about your cookbook ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family.

SALLY: The cookbook is an extension of ChopChop magazine and is a little more detailed. A lot of the recipes in the cookbook are basics that you can personalize. The magazine is written for kids; the cookbook is written for kids but also a little bit more for parents, a teeny bit more sophisticated.

LISA: Where can people find out more about ChopChop Kids, the magazine and the cookbook?

SALLY: People can visit our website www.chopchopmag.org.

 

Words of Encouragement

Still not sure about cooking with your young children? Catherine Newman, editor of ChopChop magazine, offers some tongue-in-cheek words of encouragement.

“Kids cooking. Even just reading those two words, you’re cringing, because you have toddlers still, or little kids, and it is impossible to let them ‘help’ without everything taking a million years, and you’ve got a lock-jawed smile stretching your face, sparrows nesting in the white beard that’s grown down to the ground in the time it took your child to measure 1/4 cup of flour. Plus, there’s the other 15 3/4 cups of flour spilled out of the bag onto the counter and floor, and the cat is trotting through it, and you will find his floury paw prints all over the house for the next 17 months. I hear you. But, and I always say this: it gets better. Invest now, deal with the mess and the endlessness with as much patience as you can muster, because one day . . .  Oh, one day your kids will be cooking for you.” 

(Reprinted with permission, www.benandbirdy.blogspot.com)

 

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett