Expecting Anxiety

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m 34 and my wife is just a few weeks away from giving birth to our first baby. I’m excited about becoming a dad, but my anxiety levels over the past week have been through the roof and sometimes I feel like I’m having a heart attack. On top of my shortness of breath and dizziness, I’m also breaking out in hives. I’ve seen my doctor about this, but he has yet to solve my problem. My wife has been very supportive, but I hate feeling so helpless when she’s the one who has to give birth. What can I do to be normal again?

A: Good news: as unpleasant and frightening as your symptoms are, what you’re going through is actually perfectly normal. There’s no question that your wife’s physical experience of pregnancy is a lot more intense than yours. But psychologically, the two of you are going through pretty much the same thing. I sometimes think that the above-the-neck part of the pregnancy might even be more profound for men than it is for women. Women have far stronger social networks than men do and they’ve got mothers, sisters, aunts, and female friends to talk with about their fears, worries, and concerns. Men tend not to want to admit to anyone else (sometimes even ourselves, and especially not our spouse) that we’re scared half to death of the way our life is going to be turned upside down and inside out.

Those fears—and the accompanying anxiety—make perfect sense. If you’re like most first-time expectant dads, you have no idea how your life is going to change. Sure, everyone you know has probably told you that “life’s never going to be the same.” True, but have you ever wondered what that means? One of my favorite quotes came from a woman who was asked to describe the way everyone told her that parenthood was going to be like and the way it actually turned out to be. “It’s like the difference between watching a tornado on TV,” she said, “and having one tear the roof off your house.” She’s right, and there’s nothing you can do to prepare 100% for your little tornado.
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Dairy Deception and Thriving without Milk

Alissa Hamilton, author of Got Milked?
The great dairy deception and why you’ll thrive without milk.
Issues: The major players in promoting milk in the U.S.; how milk makes us sick and increase the risk of bone fractures; the need to balance calcium–which we get a lot of–and Vitamin D and magnesium (which we’re not getting enough of).

Potty Training + Got Milked?

Jamie Glowacki, author of Oh Crap! Potty Training.
Everything modern parents need to know to do it once and do it right.
Issues: How do I know if my child is ready; why won’t my child poop in the potty; how do I avoid power struggles; How can I get their daycare provider on board? what about nighttime? why children regress.

Alissa Hamilton, author of Got Milked?
The great dairy deception and why you’ll thrive without milk.
Issues: The major players in promoting milk in the U.S.; how milk makes us sick and increase the risk of bone fractures; the need to balance calcium–which we get a lot of–and Vitamin D and magnesium (which we’re not getting enough of).

Don’t Know Much About…

Whether you call it the “summer brain drain” or the less-catchy “summer slide,” the sad fact is that most children forget a lot over the summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association (http://www.summerlearning.org/), “students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.” Low-income students do worse than their middle-class peers. The result is that, on average, teachers have to spend the first 3-6 weeks of the new semester reviewing the previous year’s material instead of teaching new material. This week, we review several products that will put a plug in that brain drain.


super genius - multiplication super genius - 5 gamesSuper Genius (Blue Orange Games)
Super Genius is a collection of five very clever games that are designed to be used at home or in school to help early elementary age children learn, review, and master basic math facts and sight words. The basic platform is the same throughout: match something on one card with something on another. With the math games (Addition and Multiplication) about half of the card have five equations (2+3, 2×4) and the other half have five numbers. With the word-based games (First Words, Reading 1, and Reading 2) half the cards have pictures and the others have words. We’re not sure how they did it, but there’s always one match between any cards in the two decks. Each Super Genius game comes with instructions for how to play five different matching games. Some require memory, some speed, some both. What’s especially nice is that the names of those games and the basic rules are the same in each set. So kids will be able to move from reading to math and back again without having to learn new rules. All games can be played with 1-6 players. The reading games are targeted to kids 5 or 6 and up, and the math ones for 7 or 8 and up. And all take a maximum of 15 minutes to play. Prices ranges from about $8 to $14 at your favorite retailer. Or visit http://www.blueorangegames.com/


talking USA puzzleTalking USA puzzle (Discovery Kids)
Every year we hear the results of surveys that show that American school children can’t find China, Iraq, India, or most other countries on a world map. That’s bad enough, but the real shocker is that a lot of Americans (some estimates go as high as 20%) can’t even find the U.S. on a map. And if they can’t locate the country, they’ll have a really tough time identifying individual states. The Talking USA puzzle will definitely help with that. There are two components: The largest is a colorful puzzle with pieces that are shaped like each of the states (although a few of them combine some of the smaller east-coast states). Push on the state and you’ll learn its slogan, capital, and a fun fact. The other component is the USA Fun Fact Map that has a visual hint for each state and a series of statements. The object, of course, is to match “This ‘Pine Tree’ state produces 99% of all the blueberries in the country” with Maine. Although this puzzle is theoretically for kids, geographically challenged grownups will learn plenty. (At the very least, people on the coasts will be able to stop saying, “somewhere over there” when asked to identify a state on the opposite coast. Although, in defense of the West, some of those East Coast states are really, really small.) Batteries included. Comes with a pull-out storage drawer to keep the pieces from getting lost. About $30.

The Importance of Being a Blockhead

dad kids and tower

dad kids and towerDear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are new parents and our baby is going to have his first birthday in a few weeks. We both work in tech and we’re really excited about getting a tablet for him. There seem to be so many options out there and we’re a little overwhelmed. Should we get an iPad or is there a better choice for toddlers?

 A: Yes, the Internet is full of videos of very young children happily swiping away on their tablets. But the best tablet for your baby is no tablet at all, at least not for a while. In fact, if I had to recommend one toy that’s an absolute must-have for every nursery, it would be a nice set of blocks.

But before I tell you why blocks are so great, let’s talk about why tablets are such a poor choice for babies.

  • The more time a baby spends interacting with a screen, the less time he’ll spend interacting with real, live humans—which is a lot more important. Tablets are great for a lot of things, but they can’t teach verbal- or social skills.
  • Although research on babies and tablets is in its infancy, early results aren’t very pretty. Researchers (and day care providers) are finding that toddlers who spend a lot of time playing with tablets are developmentally lagging in terms of muscle tone and hand-eye coordination (swiping takes a lot less dexterity and coordination than stacking blocks or picking up tiny objects). One app company, Tiggly, has taken some excellent steps to bridge the gap between swiping and developing actual fine motor skills. But the rest of the industry has a long, long way to go.
  • As kids get older, screen time is associated with weight gain, behavior problems, repetitive stress injuries, sleep problems, and low cognitive performance.

Okay, so what’s so great about blocks?

  • They help your baby develop hand-eye coordination as well as grasping and releasing skills.
  • They teach your baby all about patterns, sizes, categories (big ones with the big ones, little ones with the little ones), gravity, balance, and structure. These mini lessons in math and physics lay the foundation for your baby’s later understanding of how the world works.
  • They teach good thinking skills. “Taken from a psychological view-point,” wrote Albert Einstein, a guy who knew a thing or two about thinking, “this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought—before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.”
  • They can help your baby grasp the difference between things he has control over (such as which blocks he wants to use and how high he wants to go), and things he doesn’t (such as the law of gravity, which keeps pulling down his towers).
  • They teach perseverance. Building a tower—or anything else—out of blocks can be an excruciatingly frustrating experience for a baby. But along the way, he’ll learn that if he keeps working on something long enough, he’ll eventually succeed.
  • Research by Dimitri Christakis and his colleagues at the University of Washington has found that kids who play with blocks have better language skills and watch less TV than those who don’t.
  • The best thing about blocks is that they encourage parents to get down on their hands and knees and spend time with their children, playing, laughing, and learning.

Finding the right blocks can be just as overwhelming as finding the right tablet. For reviews and recommendations, do a search at http://parentsatplay.com/