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Experimenting With Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform On Your Kid: Exactly what it says on the tin! If you would like to replicate a bunch of developmental psychology experiments on infants with your very own infant, this book will explain to you how! All the experiments were selected for being easily doable in the home and posing no risk to the child. Important note: buy a copy while you’re pregnant, as many of the experiments are best performed on newborns.

The Baby Book: Since there is very little evidence about most decisions parents make about babies, I feel perfectly free to make my decision based on my own preferences and values. Attachment parenting, I think, is in line with my values: it hews closely to the way people raised children in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness; it emphasizes closeness and support; it doesn’t involve letting your child cry it out, which personally I feel like would make my heart shatter in two. Whether or not Dr. Sears’s advice is right for most people, I definitely think it’s right for me.

I don’t understand why the attachment parenting blogosphere is such a cesspit. Dr. Sears emphasizes that the most important thing any baby needs is happy parents and that parents know their own baby best, so if advice goes against your own parental intuition throw out the advice. Even the much-despised advice about being a stay-at-home mother is primarily motivated by concern for the mother: raising a baby is very stressful and combining it with a full-time job can make moms miserable and unable to enjoy their babies. I think Dr. Sears both doesn’t think enough about his class privilege and doesn’t recognize that some mothers legitimately prioritize career success or would go insane only talking to people whose age is measured in months, but I think it comes from a good place.

And yet all the attachment parenting blogosphere is like “h o n e s t l y if you’re not breastfeeding your child until three and you’re not using handmade cloth diapers and you don’t cosleep until the child decides to leave your bed on their own you’re basically abusing them l b q h.” There are people feeling guilty that cosleeping isn’t the right choice for them! This is absurd. How do people take such a kind and compassionate book and transform it into an opportunity to beat up on other mothers for doing it wrong?

The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach To Baby’s First Year: Okay, now I understand where the guilt comes from.

This was pitched to me as “amazing hatereading material” and it was, in fact, amazing. I learned all about how you can prevent the adverse consequences of vaccines by giving your child megadoses of vitamin C and homeopathic preparations. And how formula is basically POISON. And pretty much every object I’ve ever bought is also POISON, full of dangerous and unpronounceable chemicals. And that “a person—a loving, calm, skilled, experienced person who was with the laboring woman, breathing with her, talking to her, being quiet with her, supporting her” is an acceptable substitute for fetal monitoring. And the important baby bonding of elimination communication (look, it’s fine if you personally feel that elimination communication helps you bond with your baby, but my opinion is that we live in the 21st century in which there is such a thing as a disposable diaper). And that epidurals hurt your baby (no, they don’t). And in general that we should trust Nature. To be honest, Nature invented the concept of parasitoids, I think she’s a terrible fucking mother.

Apparently “woman is the birth power source.” I have no idea what this means but to be honest I sort of want to make “the birth power source” my pregnancy tag.

Brain Rules for Baby: How To Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five: This book I like!

Prenatal stimulation is really cool and I feel sad about how much pseudoscience has given it a bad reputation. Your baby can learn things before they’re born! They can recognize Dr. Seuss books, or lullabies, or soap opera jingles, or their dad’s voice. And familiar sounds are likely to be comforting! It does not make your child a genius, but it doesn’t have to make your child a genius to be nifty.

Apparently one third to one half of new parents experience as much marital distress as couples who are currently in therapy trying to save their relationship. The biggest causes are sleep deprivation, social isolation, an uneven division of labor (usually in heterosexual couples favoring the man), and postpartum depression. To prevent this, practice empathy and ensure that you are doing your fair share of the chores (which will probably feel like you are doing an unfairly large share of the chores).

To increase children’s intelligence: breastfeed; talk to your baby a lot; encourage imaginative play, possibly using the Tools of the Mind classroom techniques which increase executive function; praise effort, not IQ. I think the last piece of advice was poorly phrased in the book: they imply that you should just switch out “you did well on that math test, you’re really smart” with “you did well on that math test, you worked really hard.” Of course, if your kid didn’t work hard at all, they’re going to be totally aware that you’re bullshitting them. So you should probably just say “good job” about the math test and instead praise their soccer performance, where they keep tripping over their own feet but also keep showing up to practice.

To increase children’s happiness: practice a demanding but responsive parenting style (support, warmth, and acceptance, combined with high standards and strictly enforced rules); be comfortable with your own emotions, including negative ones; be attuned to your children’s emotions; teach children to label their own emotions; validate and don’t judge emotions, but teach children about unacceptable behavioral responses to emotions and view crises as an opportunity to teach self-regulation skills; if your child is throwing a tantrum about not having a cookie, say something like “I bet you wish you could have another cookie. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and make all the carrots taste like cookies.” The advice here is pretty similar to How To Talk So Kids Will Listen (And Listen So Kids Will Talk).

To encourage self-control and altruism: create reasonable, clear rules; praise when the rules are followed and the absence of bad behavior; be warm and accepting when enforcing rules; when punishing, be swift and consistent, use real punishments, and remind your child that you love and accept them; whenever possible, use natural consequences or withdrawal of parental attention; provide an explanation for all rules during warnings, praise, and punishment; don’t spank.

I have two complaints about this book. First, autism is described as a single condition caused by a deficit in theory of mind, even though the evidence suggests that theory of mind deficits are not universal in autism. Second, the author explicitly claims that their advice might not apply to single parents, gay parents, or blended families because research has mostly been done on parents who are heterosexual married couples. I’m not sure why your parents being gay would mean that one should instead be harsh and unaccepting when enforcing rules, but okay.

Caring For Your Baby And Young Child: Birth To Age 5: Extremely complete, fairly mainstream, not a lot to say about it.

I must say I have a grudge against the American Academy of Pediatrics on the cosleeping thing. If you control properly for confounders, sleeping in a nursery is only a little less dangerous than safe cosleeping. And yet the AAP is all like “you should NEVER EVER EVER cosleep even if it is the ONLY WAY to get a good night’s sleep and even if you are afraid that YOU WILL KILL YOUR CHILD IN A CAR ACCIDENT DUE TO SLEEP DEPRIVATION OTHERWISE”, and their book is not only doesn’t address concerns about nurseries but also is like “here’s some advice about how to decorate your kid’s nursery.” Bleh. I can’t help but think that this is a class thing.

The guide to improving your child’s brain health includes the statement that you should avoid subjecting your child to psychological or physical traumas. Thanks, AAP. I never would have guessed.

Montessori From The Start: The Child At Home, From Birth To Age Three: What is it with parenting books and taking umbrage about totally random things? This book objects to disposable diapers and playpens. Like, honestly, lots of children use disposable diapers, and yet they all wind up toilet trained eventually anyway, so I don’t see any reason to stress about it. More seriously, Montessori from the Start also objects to pretend play, which is cognitively important for the development of small children.

I like the Montessori attitude of respecting children’s autonomy and giving them responsibility. I think that this book is exactly correct that toddlers are capable of handling a lot more than people think they are, if parents are patient and willing to teach. The book gives many practical suggestions of activities that allow one’s toddler a sense of independence and self-reliance, such as teaching the toddler to make their own snack.

The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-To-Be: I was hoping for a book something along the lines of The Birth Partner, but for the entire pregnancy– a calm, patient book aimed not at the pregnant person but at the pregnant person’s support network. Unfortunately, that is not this book. This book is very definitely aimed at men. The sections about How You Might Be Feeling This Month include lots of information about what your masculinity is doing. Maybe you are feeling more masculine because you impregnated a woman! Maybe you are feeling less masculine because you’re experiencing couvade syndrome! Since my husband does not really have a masculinity in the first place, this book was less than helpful.

One thing that was actually good about this book was its extensive advice for deployed fathers feeling connected to the pregnancy. I myself am neither in the military or married to someone who is, but if you are this book might be helpful.

The Baby Owner’s Manual: An extremely cute premise– basically it’s a baby care book written as if it were an operating manual for a car or an electronics device. The advice is mostly boring standard advice you will also find in the American Academy of Pediatrics book. I had hoped it would be laugh-out-loud funny, but unfortunately the authors were insufficiently good at puns to make that happen. Not recommended.

Moebius Noodles: Adventurous Math for the Playground Crowd: A series of games which teach mathematical concepts to children from birth through school-age.  It covers symmetry, numbers, functions, and grids, and provides a variety of games that you can play with children and they can play with each other. While I know literally nothing about mathematical education, it does seem like the suggested activities are fun and would help build mathematical reasoning. Weirdly, it does not include any moebius strips.

Eating Well When You’re Expecting: A guide for nutrition for preconception, pregnant, and breastfeeding parents. This book appears to follow the USDA’s nutritional guidelines. Like all books in the What to Expect series, it is overly conservative about food safety (for instance, it forbids sushi because of the risk of parasite infection) without providing sufficient information to allow the reader to assess what they should eat based on their own risk tolerance. I suggest consulting Expecting Better or Debunking the Bump for food safety information.

Eating Well When You’re Expecting does not contain any information that you cannot find in What To Expect When You’re Expecting, except for a bit more information about various nutrients, some trouble-shooting about how you can get your nutrient needs met if you’re busy or broke or nauseous or at work, and a large number of pregnancy-safe recipes. I would suggest skipping it unless you’re having serious problems getting your vegetable/proteins/grains/whatever servings, in which case it might come in handy.

This is probably my fault for pirating the epub in the first place, but not having a search function is a huge pain in the ass if you’re trying to figure out which food groups peas count as. So if you are planning, like me, to maintain a spreadsheet where you keep track of your servings of Vitamin C foods, it might be worth obtaining an ebook with a search function.

Debunking the Bump: A Mathematician Mom Explodes Myths About Pregnancy: If you liked Expecting Better, you’d like this book, as they are in fact identical.

Debunking the Bump goes through a long list of things that pregnant people are supposed to worry about and tells you which ones are the biggest concerns, and which ones you probably shouldn’t worry about. She considers miscarriage and stillbirth to be an order of magnitude worse than congenital disability, which she considers to be an order of magnitude worse than things which cause minor impairments (very low birth weight), which she considers to be an order of magnitude worse than things which cause statistically detectable impairments (low birth weight). Given this value set (things will probably change if you have different values!), here is a listing of how risky things are in order of how risky they are.

  1. Smoking more than ten cigarettes a day.
  2. Delaying from age 35 to 36.
  3. Smoking less than ten cigarettes a day.
  4. Delaying from age 30 to age 31.
  5. Delaying from age 25 to age 26.
  6. Having a BMI of over 30.
  7. Alcohol abuse.
  8. Contracting viruses from small children.
  9. Lead.
  10. [Tied] Not eating oily fish; driving.

Of course, many of these are not actionable: you can’t become younger, and if you are smoking cigarettes while pregnant it is probably because you are a nicotine addict and not because you are unaware that it is very risky. Here is her list of actionable advice:

  1. Wash your hands frequently when interacting with small children; avoid baby drool.
  2. Cut down on discretionary car trips, wear your seatbelt, and drive cautiously.
  3. Eat a daily serving of fish, particularly salmon and mackerel.
  4. Eat organic vegetables to avoid organophosphate pesticide residue, particularly green beans and bell peppers.
  5. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever eat any kind of meat without microwaving it or thoroughly cooking it first. This includes cold cuts!
  6. At your next prenatal checkup, ask for your blood to be tested for lead. If your lead levels are high, take a calcium supplement.

The Shit No One Tells You: A Guide To Surviving Your Baby’s First Year: I really wanted to like this book! It’s a funny memoir by a disabled lesbian about the experience of parenting. I think a lot of parenting books are really, uh, optimistic, and The Shit No One Tells You provides a realistic point of view on how much labor sucks (a lot), whether you will have time to do anything except take care of a baby (no), and how much poop your life will involve (lots, and sometimes preceded by the word ‘projectile’).

But then I got to the chapter on vaccines.

Look, I feel like I’m a tolerant human being. “The research on this subject is overwhelming and confusing and I don’t know what the right thing to do is” is a common feeling. I am even sympathetic to parents who don’t want an autistic child, particularly an autistic child with high support needs. But when you say something like “there are so many anecdotes about children who got vaccines and then the light in their eyes just went out!”… guys, I’m autistic, and I’m a person. The light is still on in my eyes! I understand I am verbal, I don’t require a paid caregiver, and my violent meltdowns are extraordinarily rare, but people with more support needs than I have are still people! It is like finding a worm in the middle of an apple. The rest of the apple might taste really good, but it kind of ruined my whole experience.

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers: This book contains medically inaccurate information about formula. In the developing world, breastfeeding is a very important public health intervention: breastfeeding reduces the risk of severe gastrointestinal infections, which can kill; parents who use formula in the developing world can wind up making their baby’s formula with unsafe water or diluting formula to save money. In the developed world, where most people can afford formula and the water is generally pretty safe, breastfeeding is less important: it leads to fewer gastrointestinal infections (which are far less dangerous in the developed world), lower rate of constipation, and probably a higher IQ. Many of the benefits this book claims simply have not been backed up by evidence.

In addition, Breastfeeding Made Simple has an anti-science attitude that upsets me. It’s true that formula was widely adopted, not because it was better, but because it seemed more scientific. And it’s true that some parents, inspired by behaviorism, ignored their babies’ cries and hunger signals. But that does not mean that we have learned that sometimes the wisdom of motherhood matters more than science; it means that science is self-correcting and sometimes makes mistakes, but that we can revise these mistakes. And it doesn’t mean that alternative medicine is an adequate substitute for real medicine.

I don’t mean to criticize this book overall. If you take the alleged benefits of breastfeeding with a grain of salt, it seems like an extraordinarily useful resource for breastfeeding parents, covering many common pitfalls. Babies do not understand the concept of clocks, and so you should generally expect to feed your children on their own schedule, not on yours; formula-fed babies take to a schedule much better, while for breastfed babies scheduling feedings can lead to underfeeding and loss of milk. You should never experience pain worse than a slight tenderness while breastfeeding: if you do, your baby probably has an improper latch-on. To ensure proper latch-on:

  1. Hold your baby’s body under your breast and firmly against you; align your baby’s nose to your nipple; allow the baby’s head to tilt slightly back.
  2. Lightly bring your baby to the breast (NOT breast to baby), rubbing your nipple along your baby’s face until the baby’s mouth opens.
  3. Before the baby has developed head and neck control at four to six weeks, gently push the baby to get the baby to take more of your breast into their mouth.

For the first forty days after your baby is born, you should not expect to do anything except sleep and breastfeed. Clarify this state of affairs with your coparent(s); even though you may be home for parental leave and they are at work, they should still expect to handle all the cooking and cleaning. However, over time, breastfeeding becomes easier than formula feeding; you don’t have to prepare formula in the middle of the night, you can just sleepily stick the baby on your boob.

If your baby has enough stools, they are probably getting enough food. After the first week, the baby should have three to four stools the size of a quarter or more daily. It may help to track your breastfeedings and the baby’s stools on a piece of paper. Your doctor will weigh the baby; if the baby is losing weight, they are not getting enough food. If you are a neurotic wreck, or if you have some reason to believe you might not produce adequate milk, investing in a baby scale allows you to check your child’s weight at home. (This is unnecessary for most parents.)

The easiest way to wean a child is to simply continue to breastfeed until the child decides they no longer want to breastfeed. There are only positive consequences of this; in many hunter-gatherer cultures, children are breastfed until four or five. If that is not possible or desired, a gradual weaning is far superior to an all-at-once weaning; it is far less likely to be painful and to lead to health consequences like mastitis.

Several chapters at the end kindly and compassionately discuss breastfeeding difficulties. I appreciated the reminder that some breastfeeding is always better than no breastfeeding, and the most important aspect of feeding babies is that they get enough food. If you must supplement with formula for health reasons, this is not a failure.

Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students With Special Needs Succeed in School and Life: The opening paragraph of this book is about a teacher introducing the author to her students and saying “and these are my slow students”. The author wonders, “doesn’t she know that they can hear her?” As soon as I read that, I knew I would like this book.

It’s no secret that a lot of special education is really bad. “We’re cutting shop, which you like and are good at, so you can spend more time reading, which you hate and are bad at” bad. “This kid with ADHD forgot their homework, so we’re keeping them in from recess to make it up” bad. Neurodiversity in the Classroom argues that, instead, teachers of neurodivergent children should deliberately construct positive niches that build on the children’s skills and strengths. He provides a seven-step process for doing so:

  1. Strength Awareness. Teachers and the student know what the student is good at and don’t just think of them as a pile of flaws and disabilities.
  2. Positive Role Models. The student is aware of adult role models who have the same neurodivergences they do, including both celebrities and people in the community.
  3. Assistive Technologies and Universal Design for Learning. Assistive tech is technology that improves access for disabled people, such as augmented and alternative communication devices, wheelchairs, and large-print and Braille reading materials. Universal design for learning is designing a learning environment that accommodates a wide array of learning differences for both neurotypical and neurodivergent children: for instance, using interactive digital books which provide speech, text, and graphics.
  4. Enhanced Human Resources. The use of individuals besides the teacher to help the student, including psychologists, physical therapists, parents, tutors, and other students.
  5. Strength-Based Learning Strategies. The teacher should build on the student’s abilities and interests when teaching them; for instance, an intellectually disabled student who loves music can be taught to read through song lyrics.
  6. Affirmative Career Aspirations. The student should be aware of careers that they are well-suited to, given their neurodivergence and other abilities. For instance, a student with ADHD might be encouraged to look into jobs that involve novelty and movement, like being a personal trainer.
  7. Environmental Modification. An environment should be created that fits the student’s needs. For instance, a teacher might muffle school bells if they have an autistic student with a sensitivity to sound.

The book is full of practical ideas about accommodating neurodivergent people in the classroom. For example, to accommodate a student with ADHD, the teacher might help the student use time-management software, frequently change activities (group work, then individual work, then lecture), provide hands-on learning activities, hold science or physical education classes outdoors, introduce movement breaks into the day, or have the student use a balance ball chair instead of a regular chair.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education At Home: A lot of the advice here seems like silly and/or counterproductive ways to educate children. Why would I waste energy teaching my children to be able to name off the English kings in order? Why would you attempt to teach spelling through workbooks instead of teaching it the way every good speller learned to spell– lots of exposure to text and having their misspellings corrected? Why would you primarily teach subjects through having children do readings and then outline their readings? (Why not spaced repetition? Oh, right, they didn’t have that in the Renaissance.) Why are you teaching children to think using formal logic, but not even addressing the skill of reading a study? Where, pray tell, is the evidence base?

Not all of the Well-Trained Mind is bad. Teaching the humanities as a single subject in its historical context seems to me to be a better approach than artificially separating art, music, literature, and history. A great books education still seems to me like a useful way to teach about the development of intellectual thought. But I expect the correct way to do it is just to work through the St. John’s College Great Books list once the kids get into high school, and not bother with all this nonsense about outlining.

Every Book Is A Social Studies Book: How To Meet Standards with Picture Books, K-6: This is pretty much exactly what it says in the title: a bunch of ways to use classic children’s books to teach about social studies topics. (“Let’s use the Sneetches and discuss prejudice!” “Let’s read about Ellis Island, then talk to people we know who are immigrants!”) If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d be interested in, you’d probably be interested in it. It is mildly annoying that one of the suggested lessons is about reducing one’s garbage output, when in reality excessive garbage production is not a particularly urgent environmental issue and it would be much better if they had talked about climate change instead.

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs: In case you’re wondering, these skills are focus and self-control, perspective-taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed engaged learning.

To build focus and self-control: support your child’s interests; play games that encourage executive function, like guessing games, puzzles, sorting games with changing rules, Simon Says, and Do The Opposite Of What Simon Says; have children participate in reading books by repeating refrains or familiar words; for children over the age of two, show them age-appropriate, meaningful, educational, and nonviolent television; no background television; encourage children to play pretend; get children to make plans, follow plans, and then discuss what they accomplished; ensure your child is well-rested and has breaks; model focus, self-control, and taking breaks yourself.

To build perspective-taking: model perspective-taking; teach children collective problem-solving skills, like brainstorming possible solutions and identifying ways to meet everyone involved’s goals; be warm and kind to your children; validate your children’s feelings; talk about feelings– yours and theirs; talk about other people’s points of view in everyday life; encourage playing pretend; when a child does something that hurts others, explain how it hurts others; ask children to try to figure out the goals and motivations of people they know and fictional characters.

To build communication: model a love of language and literature; talk a lot to infants and toddlers; talk about subjects that go beyond the here and now, like what happened in the past and might happen in the future; talk about what your children find interesting; tell stories about your life and ask children to tell stories about theirs; read to children and talk about books with them; play word games; encourage children to write; use cognitively engaging talk and complex words; give children access to many forms of media, including music, art, and the performing arts.

To build the ability to make connections: tell the child about other things that are connected to their passions (e.g. a knight is like a superhero in the past); acknowledge that making mistakes is part of learning; give children open-ended toys like balls and dolls; use spatial words like “above”, “behind”, “below”, etc.; when playing with children, don’t boss them around, but instead ask questions, describe, and point out mathematical concepts; play hide-and-seek and treasure hunts; use math talk in everyday situations, such as giving out cookies; give children chores that involve math; play board games and dominoes, which involve counting; show children optical illusions; give them feedback on the strategies they chose for thinking about problems.

To build critical thinking: encourage your child’s curiosity and interests; let them play; give them accurate and valid information, even if you have to look things up; help children find other experts; teach children how to assess if things are true; talk about television shows and ads to encourage media literacy; when you and your child have a conflict, help them brainstorm ways to resolve the conflict; talk to your children about confounding variables (or someone else will).

To build the ability to take on challenges: model managing your stress, talking to others about stress, and taking time for yourself; don’t protect your child from normal bad experiences; have a warm, caring, and trusting relationship with your child; don’t freak out about your child hurting themself; help them develop coping strategies for stress; have reasonable expectations; have your child come up with a plan for following your rules and meeting your expectations, including a plan for if their first plan doesn’t work; let shy children watch new situations and gradually come to participate; promote your child’s passions; praise effort not ability; teach them that the brain is like a muscle and it gets stronger with use and hard work.

To encourage self-directed and engaged learning: be trustworthy and reliable, providing safety, security, and structure; help children set and work for goals; always include a social, emotional, and intellectual aspect to learning; when a child is recalling a past event, practice a high-elaborative style, in which you ask open-ended questions, show interest, provide feedback to the child, and repeat what the child says; have conversations that explore the past, the future, and fantasy; have children explain what they’re learning; have children strive for their personal best; give children accountability through clear expectations, acknowledging their strengths, and praising effort; create a community of learners.

How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid For Success: You know that thing where people say DARE makes kids use drugs more because it normalizes drug use by telling them about all the other kids who are doing drugs? I don’t know about DARE but that is definitely true of this book for me. Normally, I think that unstructured play is the best thing for children, and my parents gave me plenty of time for it. I know there are a lot of great schools; I’ve met enough people who went to Ivies to be aware that their college experience honestly wasn’t that much different than my own. And I had a full-time mental illness as a teenager which meant that I didn’t do three hours of homework a night or go to fourteen extracurriculars.

But then I read this book and I was like “holy shit, people will judge your child for going to Barnard instead of Stanford? People hire coaches to help their children optimize their college applications? People start trying to get their children into prestigious preschools as soon as they’re born? THERE’S SUCH A THING AS A PRESTIGIOUS PRESCHOOL???????” and now I have tons of anxiety disorder fuel I didn’t before. Thanks! Very helpful.

Also, what is it with old people and the trophy thing? Yes, I got a participation trophy for soccer when I was six. No, I was not somehow deceived into thinking I was good at sports; I was perfectly fucking aware I sucked at sports. No, I don’t think it screwed me up. Can’t we wait for relentless competition until the kids are no longer reading books with pictures in them?

The Happiest Baby on the Block: When babies are born, they are not 100% finished yet. Human babies are far more dependent than nonhuman babies, because we have big heads and narrow hips and if we waited for the babies to actually be finished mothers would be way more likely to die in childbirth. Therefore, babies are likely to be very fussy and bad at self-soothing for the first few months of their life.

The solution is to create an environment that imitates the womb. This is what The Happiest Baby on the Block calls the 5 S’s:

  • Swaddling– tightly wrap your baby. You can do this really tightly; most parents wrap far too loosely, for fear of causing damage.
  • Side or Stomach– put the baby on their side or their stomach, not their back. (Always put the baby on their back when they sleep, to reduce risk of SIDS.)
  • Shhhhhh– Make a loud shushing sound near the baby’s ear. Try to be as loud as the baby’s crying. You can also use a white noise CD.
  • Swinging– Rock the baby, put them in a swing, or even stick them on the washing machine. For this one, it’s important to be gentle, because shaking a baby can cause brain damage.
  • Sucking– Give the baby something to suck on, such as a pacifier, your finger, or your boob.

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How To Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old: The part of toddlers’ brains that is good at language and logic is immature, and therefore the emotional and impulsive part of their brains is in the driver’s seat. It is best, therefore, to think of yourself not as your child’s boss or as your child’s friend, but as an ambassador from Adult Land to the exotic country of Toddlerlandia, with its strange customs and manners. An ambassador is unfailingly polite and respectful, and they’re willing to negotiate. But when a country is trying to get away with something that is absolutely unconscionable, an ambassador is willing to put her foot down and say “my country will not accept this.”

When a toddler is upset, always begin by echoing what she wants and feels, to make her feel understood, before taking a turn to tell her your important messages. (Of course, if your child is doing something that harms herself or others, always stop her first and then empathize. You don’t her to be hit by a car because you empathized while she was running into the street!) Use language toddlers understand: short phrases, repeated several times, with animated gestures and an expressive tone of voice.

If your child is behaving in an annoying but not dangerous way, first empathize with her, using words she understands. Then offer her a win-win compromise where you both get something you want. If she continues to behave in an annoying way, clap your hands hard and growl “no!” If she still does that, then kindly ignore her until she quiets, checking in every twenty to thirty seconds to empathize again. If your child is harming herself or others, or breaking one of your firm rules, use an appropriate consequence such as a time-out or taking away a privilege.

The best way to combat bad behavior is to prevent it. Therefore, give your child plenty of attention and praise when they’re doing well. Praise is often more likely to be believed if you say it to another person where the toddler can overhear. Offer your child age-appropriate choices (although not with more than two options, which is the most she can handle). Sometimes pretend to be incompetent at things (“do the pants go on your head?”) to make your child laugh and feel confident. Occasionally delay something your child wants for ten or twenty seconds, to give the child practice with patience and teach them that things they want will come if they wait. Help them practice breathing slowly, so they can do it when overwhelmed. Spend special time with them (as little as five minutes) several times a day, and talk to them at night about things they did well over the course of the day. If your child does not have a lovey or transitional object, help her find one. To teach appropriate behavior, tell stories about children who behave in appropriate ways, notice and praise other children who behave appropriately, and role-play troublesome situations when the child is calm.

[content warning: depressing fact about the Holocaust]

Free To Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life: It turns out this whole time Mike Blume and I have been unfairly blaming the Prussians and school was just as bad before then. The 17th century Protestants are going about memorizing little ditties about how if you tell a lie you will go to hell and be tortured for eternity. Not to be outdone, the Catholics were memorizing “What does it mean to resist authority? To resist authority is to rebel against the divine order. What happens to those who do not submit to authority? They will suffer eternal damnation.”

The basic thesis of this book is that children have a natural drive to learn, which schools successfully manage to beat out of them over the course of twelve years. This seems plausible to me. Preschoolers are, after all, known for their incessant questions. Human beings evolved to have an extended childhood because of how much we need to learn. It seems extraordinarily strange that evolution would have us pay all the costs of taking care of a child for ten or fifteen years instead of having new children, and not bother to evolve children a desire to actually learn things as opposed to being dragged into learning kicking and screaming. Other animals learn through play, and children do have a notoriously strong desire to play. We know that extrinsic motivation kills intrinsic motivation dead. And hunter gatherer tribes do not explicitly teach their children; instead, their children play games, imitating the adults, and over time acquire all the skills they need to be successful hunter gatherers. The fact that children have to be forced to learn is very strange, and primarily because for a very long time obedience and respect for authority were far more important virtues to teach children than independence and autonomy. Since, nowadays, independence matters more, it makes sense to shift back to a forager model of learning.

My one point of disagreement is that Free to Learn adheres to a Sudbury school/unschooling model in which children basically do whatever they want. I agree that that is the ideal and it works best for hunter-gatherers. However, hunter gatherers also have thousands of years of social technology, which means that the games children want to play are games which teach them skills useful in a hunter-gatherer society. We have, clearly, wasted our last couple of thousand years of cultural evolution on getting children to memorize things about eternal torture. So in the meantime I think something like Montessori is correct.

That said, time for unstructured play is also very important. Consider Little League versus a game of baseball with your neighbors. Because you have a coach at Little League, you’re probably going to be better at baseball, if for some reason you care about elementary schoolers actually being good at baseball. But if you play with friends you get the same amount of exercise, you’re free from adults, and you get practice resolving conflicts fairly and compromising with others about what you want to do. Kids who really really don’t want to play baseball don’t have to, and there’s an incentive to make playing baseball more fun for kids who suck at it– otherwise, you won’t have enough players to make up the team. And Mom doesn’t have to drive anyone anywhere. It just seems like a better system all around.

Interesting fact: The Baining are apparently the world’s most boring people, and at least one anthropologist quit studying them in disgust at how dull they are. They think that natural things are shameful and that the purpose of human life is work. Almost uniquely among human cultures, they don’t really tell stories; most of their conversation focuses on work and details of daily living. Free to Learn argues this strange behavior is linked to the Baining finding children’s play shameful and discouraging or even punishing it.

Other interesting fact: At Auschwitz, Jewish children played gas chamber.

[content warning: child sexual abuse]

Our Whole Lives: Sexuality Education For Grades K-1: You know how sex-positive feminists are always like “we need comprehensive sex education that goes beyond STIs and putting condoms on a banana. Sex education should talk about pleasure. It should give children an opportunity to think about sexual ethics and their sexual values, without assuming the only way to ethically have sex is to wait until marriage. It should be inclusive of disabled people and LGBT+ people. It should help people set boundaries and teach them to respect other people’s consent.” Well, good news, this exists and it’s called Our Whole Lives.

I particularly liked the abuse education lesson. Child sexual abuse education is very important, but I worry that if you only talk about genitals in the context of abuse, then it winds up treating genitals as bad and wrong and forbidden, which is not the message we want to send. The lesson on abuse begins by talking about healthy things we do for our bodies like exercising and eating vegetables, then talks about how loving touch is another healthy thing we do with our bodies which makes people feel good. Then masturbation is discussed briefly, along the lines of “masturbation is touching your own vulva or penis. Some children do this and other children don’t. Either way it is fine, but masturbation must be done in private.” Then they move to talking about how no one should ever touch you without your consent except in an emergency, and you don’t have to put up with touch that makes you feel angry or afraid. Only after all this context has been laid out do they talk about sexual abuse. I think this gives the message that (a) touch in general and sexuality in specific is a good thing, but (b) some bad people use touch in a way that is hurtful to others. Which I think is the right message to be sending.

Disability is included casually throughout the program: for instance, some of the children in stories are disabled, and the teacher is asked to specifically point out that disabled bodies are also wonderful.