It’s Okay To Go Up The Slide: The first book in this series– It’s Okay Not To Share– is one of my favorite parenting books, and I was eager to read It’s Okay To Go Up The Slide, which is aimed at parents of elementary schoolers. Much of the advice was solid. Let children read books that are scary or sad or have unhappy endings; it builds empathy and helps them process bad things that happen in their own lives. Elementary school homework causes stress and family conflict and takes time that could be spent on more valuable activities, and there’s no evidence that suggests any benefit; consider campaigning against it at your child’s school or– if you have the class/education/race privilege to pull it off– simply informing the teacher that your child shall not be doing homework. Recess is tremendously beneficial to children, but many schools are cutting it to spend more time on academics or punish children by removing recess (boo! hiss!); encourage your school to end these harmful policies and transition towards spending perhaps a quarter of the child’s time at school at recess. Allow your children bodily autonomy by not requiring them to kiss or hug adults.
Unfortunately, there was a section I found appalling, which was the section on technology. The respect for children’s autonomy that pervades the rest of the series was thrown out the window as soon as the topic of screens came up. The authors encourage long periods of uninterrupted free play in which children can make their own decisions, but also encourage limiting screen time to thirty minutes per day. The authors encourage violent play as a way for children to process their feelings and play with power, but first-person shooters make them clutch their pearls about encouraging violence. The authors talk about the ridiculous, almost gaslight-y “right to engage with the real, non-screen world for most of the day.” Setting aside the bizarre definition of the word “real”– where talking to a friend who lives far away is not real, and watching actors pretend to be imaginary people in a play is real, and whether a fantasy novel is real depends on whether you’re using a laptop to read it– if you have to force a person to do something against their will in order to get them to exercise their right, it’s not a fucking right.
I’m not knee-jerk pro-screen-use. I am as troubled as anyone else by the addictive nature of social media and some video games. I am concerned about low-value Internet browsing crowding out the healthy boredom that builds creativity and cherished childhood memories. I plan to limit my children’s use of screens before bed because I am concerned it will disrupt their sleep.
But I think we need to be careful and discerning about what our children’s screen use means. Are they writing a novel, or are they getting in dumb fights on Facebook? Is it a situation where we should take away their laptop, or a situation where we should support them in learning the skill of managing their own Internet use? Is excessive screen use a coping mechanism for some other problem– boredom, inability to access space away from adults, depression– that would be worsened by getting rid of screen use? What are the benefits of screen use for our child? (I myself am autistic and developed social skills online, because I could lurk to teach myself social rules and because there was no confusing body language or vocal tone, which meant that online social skills were simpler to develop. Spending “too much” time online was one of the best things I could have done in my adolescence.)
On a less important note, the chapter on princesses was clearly aimed at an audience different from me. The chapter was all “I know you think little girls (and boys!) pretending to be princesses is awful, but have you considered that instead of banning princesses entirely you can limit the number of times they watch princess movies and not buy them princess dolls?” Dude, if I have a daughter I am going to watch Mulan with her because Mulan is a great movie and you are missing out. Sofia the Great is pretty solid too.
I honestly don’t get this objection to princesses. A lot of the criticisms (“princesses don’t do anything, they just wait for a man to rescue them”) imply that the speaker literally has not watched a Disney princess movie that came out within my lifetime. People are very rarely troubled by little boys and girls playing superhero or Star Wars, despite the problematic messages in those stories; why are we troubled by them playing princess? Honestly, I think the number of little girls playing princess is linked to the fact that– although this trend is shifting due to shows like Steven Universe– there is very little media that has multiple female characters and doesn’t have any princesses in it. (Okay, yeah, Tinkerbell, but I think the anti-princess crew is probably not a big fan of Tinkerbell either.)
Bottled Up: Honestly, mainstream parenting as it is described in this book sounds horrifying? I started out breastfeeding my son, then started giving him supplementary bottles, and eventually switched to full-time bottlefeeding when I realized that breastfeeding was giving me severe gender dysphoria. No one has ever commented negatively on this or judged me. My parent friends who breastfeed were very supportive of my decision to switch to bottles (in fact, one was like “why are you even breastfeeding?”).
Anyway, I’m very grateful I’m not in this horrifying subculture of people who are weirdly invested in what other people do with their boobs. If you are in this subculture, consider picking up the book; it might be validating.
Cribsheet: I loved Emily Oster’s Expecting Better and I bought Cribsheet, her book about birth through preschool, on the first day it came out. It’s skippable if you’re generally an evidence-based parenting nerd, but if you’d like a reasonable introduction I’d put it right up there with Science of Mom.
Take home lessons, if you want to skip the research and just want to know what she believes:
- Newborn baths are unnecessary but not damaging; do a tub bath.
- Circumcision has small benefits and small risks.
- Rooming in probably doesn’t have a big effect on whether you breastfeed or not, but make sure not to fall asleep with your infant in the hospital bed.
- Swaddling reduces crying and improves sleep. Be sure to swaddle your baby in a way where they can move their hips and legs.
- Colic will EVENTUALLY STOP. Changing formula or maternal diet and giving baby a probiotic may help.
- Limit the exposure to germs of infants under three months, because the interventions for young feverish infants are very aggressive and stressful for parents and baby.
- You will bleed for several weeks after childbirth and you may have vaginal tearing which will take several weeks to heal. It will take significant time for you to be mobile after a C section.
- You can start exercising a week after giving birth and return to your normal exercise routine by six weeks after giving birth.
- You can have sex as soon as you feel comfortable and ready and aren’t in pain. The “wait six weeks” thing was made up by doctors who want to give women an excuse not to have sex.
- Postpartum depression is common and treatable.
- There is limited evidence of health benefits to breastfeeding early on and no strong evidence of long-term health or cognitive benefits to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding reduces your risk of breast cancer.
- Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth improves likelihood of breastfeeding success.
- Fixing a tongue or lip tie can reduce pain but doesn’t necessarily improve nursing.
- Nipple shields can improve a latch but can also be hard to quit.
- There is not a lot of evidence on how to prevent pain with nursing, although fixing the latch may help. If you are in pain a few minutes into the feeding or a few weeks into nursing, seek help; it might be an infection or something else with a solution.
- The evidence does not suggest nipple confusion is a thing.
- Most women have milk come in within three days after the baby is born, but for a quarter of women it takes longer.
- Nursing more will increase your milk supply. The evidence for non-drug/herbal interventions is limited.
- Pumping SUCKS. It is time-consuming, unpleasant, and degrading.
- Babies should sleep on their backs.
- Bed sharing can be risky. The risks are higher if you or your partner smoke or drink alcohol. But if it’s the only way you can get some rest, the risks are going to be worth it for many people. Sleeping on a sofa with an infant is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. ALWAYS take your baby into your bed if the other option is sleeping with them on the sofa.
- Room sharing is beneficial in the first three months. Both your sleep and your child’s may be better if they sleep in a different room after the first few months.
- Crib bumpers have a very small risk and a very small benefit.
- Don’t put soft stuff in your baby’s crib. Do give them a wearable blanket/sleep sack.
- In general, longer nighttime sleep starts around two months, three regular naps around four months, two naps around nine months, one nap around fifteen to eighteen months, and no naps around age three.
- Children’s sleep schedules are very very different from each other and you cannot control them.
- Most babies and toddlers wake up between 6 am and 8 am.
- Putting your baby or toddler to bed earlier will cause them to sleep longer.
- VACCINATE YOUR KIDS.
- Babies benefit from their mothers taking maternity leave.
- Studies do not show any consistent positive or negative effects from having a stay-at-home parent. Do what works for your family.
- The most important thing about childcare is quality. Look for a warm, responsive provider who cuddles the baby, reads to them, comforts them when they’re sad, and plays with them.
- Kids in day cares typically have slightly better cognitive outcomes and slightly worse behavior outcomes. Kids in day care get sick more but develop more immunity.
- Parenting quality is way, way more important than childcare quality, even though your child is spending lots of time with their childcare providers.
- “Cry it out” methods encourage nighttime sleep, improve mental health for parents, and do not harm infants in the short or long term.
- All sleep training methods work about equally well. Choose something you can stick with, then stick with it.
- Expose your children to food allergens early on to prevent food allergies.
- Expose your children to a variety of foods. Even if they reject it the first time they have it, keep offering the food.
- There is no evidence behind the usual recommendations for when to introduce food. Baby-led weaning isn’t magic but it works fine
- Give your baby vitamin D but don’t freak out about missing a day here or there.
- Delayed motor development can be a sign of certain disabilities such as cerebral palsy, but variations within the wide normal range are not a cause for concern.
- Children get about one cold per month during the winter. Buy lots of lotion tissues.
- Children under the age of two can’t learn from TV. Children from age three to five can. But the evidence is sparse.
- Try to expose children to high-quality educational TV such as Sesame Street.
- The timing of language development is correlated with later outcomes, such as test scores, but pretty weakly.
- Starting intensive potty-training before 27 months does not seem to lead to earlier completion of potty training. After 27 months, potty-training earlier leads the child to use the potty earlier.
- There is limited evidence on potty-training methods.
- Some children may refuse to poop in the potty. Praising children for pooping in the diaper may reduce the rate of children refusing to poop in the potty, but there is not a lot of evidence.
- To discipline your child, don’t get angry and provide consistent rewards and punishments.
- Spanking is associated with worse behavior throughout childhood and into adulthood.
- Read to your children starting in early childhood.
- Your baby cannot learn to read. A few unusual two- or three-year-olds can read.
- Evidence on preschool philosophies is limited.
- Marital satisfaction declines after you have kids. If you’re happy before you have kids, and the kids are planned, the declines are smaller and briefer.
- Unequal division of labor and less sex probably cause at least some of the decline in marital satisfaction, but we don’t know how important they are.
- There is limited evidence that marital counseling and marriage checkup programs increase marital satisfaction.
- The data does not provide guidance on the ideal number of children or birth spacing, but very short birth intervals may lead to preterm birth and possibly higher risk of autism.