Tag Archives: parenting

Parenting Through the Debates: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer

24 Apr

Title: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with your Baby
Author(s): Tracy Hogg with Melinda Blau
Credentials: Tracy Hogg is a nurse and child-care specialist; Melinda Blau is a writer
Genre: Parenting handbook, moderate [between parent-centered and baby-centered]
Audience: Very new parents, primarily mothers

Happy meal version:

Tracy Hogg offers a structured routine for adjusting to a newborn. In a colloquial style, she advices parents to relax and listen to their babies, to slow down and give both themselves and the newborns time to adjust to their new lives. Her major offering to the world of parenting handbooks is the EASY routine: she advises following a routine of Eat, Activity, Sleep, and then grabbling some You time while the baby sleeps. Within the chapters, she offers practical advice and anecdotes (some of these anecdotes are composites).


Introduction. Here, Hogg describes her experience and her development of the EASY system.

I. Loving the Baby You Gave Birth To. According to Hogg, babies come in five temperament. She offers you a test to determine which temperament your baby is. Throughout the book she offers advice targeted at each temperament: Angel, Textbook, Touch, Spirited, and Grumpy.

2. EASY does it. According to Hogg, the EASY routine offers a middle ground between scheduled and on-demand baby care, and between “parent-centered” and “baby-centered” parenting by focusing on the family. “Mindful parenting” is the alternative to “accidental parenting,” and you should “start as you mean to go on.” This chapter includes a very practical and helpful step-by-step guide to what to do when you come home with your baby.

3. SLOW Down (and Appreciate your Baby’s Language). Parents often make the mistake of responding to crying in a panic. Instead, Stop, Listen, Observe, and ask What’s up. It’s important to treat your baby like and individual and realize that he has needs and desires of his own. Head-to-toe, babies give of lots of signals to tell you what’s wrong. Hogg includes a chart to help you learn to read your baby.

4. Eat. Hogg argues that breastfeeding and bottlefeeding are both good choices and you should make the one that’s right for your family. After the first few days, babies should be on a feeding schedule and not eat on demand. This chapter also includes a timetable and chart on weaning. [Note: I found this chapter problematic. Although she claims to talk about the pros and cons of breastfeeding versus formula feeding, she really only looks at the cons of breastfeeding, and she purveys some information that is inaccurate, such as the myth that babies will self-wean at 9 or 10 months. If you are nursing and want to continue past the first few weeks, ignore this chapter. It will reduce your confidence and possibly your milk supply.]

5. Activity. Babies should be given toys that are within their “learning triangle.” It’s important not to give your baby toys that she can’t handle and not to force her to do things, like roll over, before she’s ready. Here, she discusses childproofing, bathing, dressing the baby, and massaging the baby. This is an extremely helpful, practical chapter.

6. Sleep. This chapter discusses sleep patterns and habits. She presents herself as occupying the middle ground between Sears’ bed sharing and Ferber’s controlled crying. Hogg’s solution is to put the baby down sleepy and pat his back while he cries. She advises dream feeds and cluster feeding to help the baby sleep through the night. Her chart of average sleep seems optimistic. She advises parents that they can expect their baby to sleep up to 12 hours in a row by six months. [For alternate opinions on that, see Weissbluth and Sears; for similar opinions, see The Sleepeasy Solution.]

7. You. This chapter offers helpful, practical solutions for the new mom, including information on moodiness, PPD, relationships, sex, and work and childcare. She discusses different “types” of dads and offers information and tips. A very helpful tip is the suggestion to assign reluctant or nervous dads specific tasks, like bathing or reading. She is dismissive of a cult of motherhood and urges moms to get help and not think that only they can care for the baby. She is supportive of moms who choose to go back to work. This chapter is balanced and moderate.

8. Special Circumstances. In this chapter, Hogg talks about the peculiar challenges facing adoption, surrogacy, multiples, preemies, and those who may have had trouble getting pregnant. It seemed a little light on content.

9. Three-Day Magic: The ABC Cure for Accidental Parenting. This chapter offers a plan for parents who want to change some aspect of their baby’s behavior, like not wanting to be put down or resisting her crib. She advises figuring out the Antecedent–what caused the behavior?; the Behavior–what exactly is your baby doing?; and the Consequence–what pattern has been established? It contains a troubleshooting guide with common behaviors that cause parents anxiety. The “ABC” guidelines are catchy but forced. I can’t visualize how I might put them into action myself.


This is a comforting, reassuring book that offers lots of practical advice and tips. I particularly liked the sidebar explaining how to get a shirt on a baby (which is a lot harder than it sounds). Her EASY plan is sound advice and has entered collective knowledge. Her advice is dispensed in catchy phrases that are easy for new parents to remember. In fact, I wish I had read it before having my baby, especially the first three chapters.

However, chapters 4-6 and chapter 9 contain many, many opinions that are disguised as facts, particularly around eating and sleep. For example, she claims that no baby needs to eat every hour and a half. In fact, many breastfed newborns do need to eat every hour and a half, and on-demand nursing is extremely important not just for the first day, as she suggests, but for the first weeks in order to establish a good milk supply. Other experts will also point out that sleep patterns are quite variable throughout the first year. Her chapter on temperament doesn’t acknowledge that babies can change radically. At two weeks old, my baby would have been either grumpy or touchy; at nine months, she’s absolutely textbook. More troubling to some of her critics, she believes that babies should learn to be independent and self-soothing from the day they come home from the hospital–an opinion that many infant development experts will challenge.

Recommended for middle-of-the-road parents, but do read other books as well for a more rounded perspective.

Related books:

The Sleepeasy Solution
Heading Home with Your Newborn
Baby 411
The No-Cry Sleep Solution


Grad school parenting

20 Apr

Are you in grad school? Are you thinking about having a baby? Before I had a baby, here was a typical day on fellowship:

9.00: Wake up. Have a leisurely breakfast, coffee, internet-checking hour or hour and a half. Maybe go for a run or to the gym.
10.30: Start working. Work in a desultory fashion for a few hours. Maybe throw in a load of laundry once a week.
1.00: Lunchtime! Watch some TV.
2.00: Back to work … or not. Maybe shower, maybe take a nap, maybe do a little crafting, maybe take the dog to the dog park.
3.30: Leave for tutoring. Tutor.
6.00: Hang out, watch some TV, knit.
7.30: Make dinner. Eat dinner. Watch TV or play guitar hero.
11.00: Bed

Sure, my schedule wasn’t always like this. When I was taking classes AND working AND tutoring AND teaching, I worked like a demon from 6AM to 9PM most days. But fellowship years were pretty sweet, and even with only working a few hours a day I was ahead of a lot of my cohort in terms of progress to the degree. But then I got married and had a baby, and then my husband (thank god!) got a full-time job. And now my days look like this:

4.30: Eyes open. Why am I awake? [Baby cries]. Oh. Maybe she’ll go back to sleep. More insistent crying. Nope.. Get out of bed, stumble to nursery, nurse baby. Pee. Get back in bed and lie awake for half an hour.

7.10: Eyes open. Why am I awake? [Baby cries]. Five minutes later, husband’s alarm goes off. Drag self out of bed, get baby, come back to bed with baby. Baby latches while I desperately try to fall back asleep for a few minutes. Husband is asleep again.

7.24: Alarm. Baby coos and sticks her hand in my mouth, trying to separate my jaw from the rest of my skull. Husband gets up and feeds the dog, starts the water for coffee, and gets in the shower. Change baby’s diaper. Prepare breakfast for baby. Grind and pour coffee. Start folding laundry while keeping an eye on baby to make sure she doesn’t choke. Smell milk: milk is bad. Black coffee today.

7.45: Husband can’t find pants or undershirt. Undershirts have mysteriously gotten mixed in with baby’s laundry, which I have not put away in days. Pants are also located. No time to iron a shirt today.

8.00: Wipe down strawberry-covered baby. Dress her. Husband leaves. Feed dog and cat. Set diapers to soak. Notice that I am still not dressed and I have not brushed my teeth. Put baby in baby jail to prevent her from ingesting anything and everything left on floor. Dress and brush teeth.

8.30: Shove a few bags of milk and a change of clothing in baby’s go-bag. Collect baby and bag; get to door and realize tactical error: baby is now outside and dog is inside. Go back inside and put baby in baby jail. She screams. In order to stop screaming, take baby back to car and buckle in carseat. Rush back inside to collect dog. Cat gets out. Collect cat while hanging on to dog’s collar with pinky finger. Shove cat inside, lock door, get leash fastened on dog. Put dog in car.

8.35: Drop baby off with my mom. My dad follows me to the car place to drop the car off to get its brake pads replaced and then drives me home.

9.00: Stick week-old oatmeal in microwave. Start dryer and washing machine. Load dishwasher.

9.05: Sit down at computer with cold coffee and oatmeal. Check internet, then start writing.

12.30: Eat last night’s popcorn and an apple for lunch. Pump.

2.00: Realize that I still have not showered. Debate taking a quick nap versus showering. Pump and then shower.

2.30: Walk over to parents’ to pick up their car, since mine is still in the shop.

3.00: Pick up tutee from school. [This is unusual–a favor for the parents.] Drive to library. Tutor.

4.30: Retrieve baby from parents. Visit for a few minutes. Head home. Put baby in jail, straighten up. Prep dinner. Play with baby.

5.30: Husband is home. Hand baby to husband, finish dinner prep.

6.00: Dinner. Most of it ends up in baby instead of on the floor. Success.

6.30: Give baby a bath. Try to keep her from using the hot water faucet to pull herself up. Diaper baby on floor, because baby now hates changing pad. Husband studies.

7.00: Playtime and reading time for baby. Husband reads her White Noise while I clean up dinner.

7.20: Nurse baby.

7.35: Read Goodnight Moon for the nth time. Put baby down. Baby goes right to sleep, thank goodness.

7.45: Evening! Best time of day! Watch movie and knit. Make popcorn.

10.00: Baby cries. Wait a few minutes. Floss, brush, wash face. Crying escalates. Go in, pick baby up, rock. Put baby down. Leave. Baby cries. Wait a few minutes. Crying escalates. Go in, nurse baby. Baby falls asleep. Put baby down. Leave. Baby cries. Husband goes in and gives baby tylenol–maybe she’s teething. Husband rocks baby and checks diaper. Baby, now wide awake, cries. Go in, take baby from husband, rock baby, put baby down, leave. Baby cries. Give up, get baby, take baby in bed, turn out light. Baby seems to fall asleep. Baby suddenly realizes she’s in bed with her two favorite people and gets REALLY EXCITED. Starts babbling, rolling around, grabbing noses, eyes, faces. Starts kicking excitedly. Get up, restore baby to crib. She stays down.

11.20: Sleep.

4.30: Why am I awake?

The thing is, this actually isn’t so bad. I do have time to write because we moved to be near my parents, who babysit at least a few hours every day. If it weren’t for them, I’d be taking care of Abby all day and working at night. And I love having a family, and I adore my daughter and my husband. But the change from Miss Independent to Adult Lady is pretty dramatic. And involves a lot of laundry.

Parenting Through the Debates: Nurtureshock

12 Apr

Author(s): Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Credentials: Writers
Genre: Evidence-based Parenting
Directed at: High-achieving parents; nerdy types
Thesis: “Instinct” is not necessarily the best rationale for making parenting decisions.

Happy meal version: The basic premise of Nurtureshock is that everything you thought you knew about parenting has been disproven or refined by scientific studies over the past twenty years. This book takes on a number of different parenting hot-points and raises questions about the prevailing wisdom. It does not exactly offer a “way” of parenting, but it does provide suggestions. The attentive reader will be able to modify her parenting based on the information in the book, but it isn’t prescriptive. More specifically:

Praise: Turns out, general praise for a child’s intelligence backfires and can make smart kids underperform. Specific, situational praise that focuses on effort is better. Bad: “You are so smart!” Good: “You must have tried really hard to get an A on that test.”

Sleep: Children need more of it than they’re getting, and a lack of sleep could be contributing to a lot of the so-called teenage problems of depression and defiance.

Authority: Children are most resistant to authority right before they become teenagers, and most teenagers actually get along well with their families. Teenagers see arguing with the parents as a positive sign that their parents are willing to listen to them. Negotiating within reason can actually strengthen a parents’ authority. Example: A child’s curfew is 11, but he is allowed to stay out later for a special occasion.

Race: Many families don’t draw attention to race because that’s the liberal, progressive thing to do. It backfires. Children who talk openly about race tend to have more interracial friendships.

Gifted Testing: It’s done way too early. Gifted programs are terrible at identifying gifted children. Intelligence is highly fluid and develops at different rates. If gifted testing is done at all, it shouldn’t be done until around third grade.

Siblings: Siblings don’t automatically teach children how to share and get along. A child’s relationship with his friends is a better indicator of how he will treat a sibling than the other way around. To get along, siblings need to think of each other like friends–because a friend can be lost.

Lying: All children lie. They start lying to make adults happy and they keep lying because they see adults doing it. Lying is an advanced skill and shows an ability to think abstractly. To keep kids from lying, emphasize that it will make you happy to know the truth.

Self-Control: Self-control is probably the best indicator of future academic and life success. Self-control can be taught through various means: check out the Tools of the Mind program.

Bullying: Bullying is a sign of social success, not marginality. The most popular kids bully the most. Educational children’s programs can actually increase bullying, because they focus a lot on undesirable behaviors only spend only a few minutes wrapping up and teaching a moral lesson. Little kids aren’t sophisticated enoguh to know that they’re supposed to ignore the bullying and take away the lesson.

Language: What matters for language development is what comes out of the child’s mouth, not what goes in. Pouring language into a child’s ears doesn’t aid her language development. Parents have to respond to noises that a child makes, either by verbally responding or, even better, by touching the child.

Verdict: This book presented some thought-provoking findings. It was highly readable and engaging. I came away convinced enough to alter some of my parenting behavior and to pay closer attention to my interactions with my daughter. However, the book does not always explore the possible slippage between correlation and causation in some of the studies it cites. It’s also worth noting that parenting books come out every few years or so that claim to change everything you thought you knew. On the whole, this book is highly recommended if you are interested in the latest research about children’s social and behavioral development. If you are looking for a parenting manual, you will have to keep looking.

Related books:

Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina
Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky
Tools of the Mind, Elena Bodrova
What’s Going on in There?, Lise Eliot
Bright from the Start, Jill Stamm

Parenting Through the Debates: I read the books, so you don’t have to.