Playing in the Dirt: A Boost for Your Child’s Immune System

The following article was originally published in the PEPS July 2010 Newsletter

Playing in the DirtThe sun is (finally) out, and the kids can’t wait to get outside!  Young children love to dig in the dirt, play with shovels and pails, and particularly when paired with summer water toys, frequently start to resemble Charlie Brown’s friend Pig-Pen.  Like many moms, I wince when my toddler takes a break from his garden play and proceeds to grab some snack and shove it in his mouth, filthy hands and all.

But it turns out that a series of studies suggest that kids benefit from dirt – or more specifically (and frankly disgustingly), the bacteria, viruses, and worms – yes worms! – that live in less-than-sterile environments.   (more…)

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July 26, 2010 at 10:59 pm 1 comment

Improving Balance and Motor Skills Through Motion

Mom Spinning DaughterOne of the more unusual research findings that I’ve come across relates to the sensitive period for the vestibular system which regulates our perception of our balance and motion.   According to at least one study, spinning infants (thereby stimulating the vestibular system) may help improve their sense of balance and coordination many months and potentially years later.

If you read our post on baby brain development, you’ll recall that various areas in a child’s brain have sensitive periods during which they undergo tremendous growth.   The vestibular senses emerge quite early in the womb and develop through infancy, with peak sensitivity between (more…)

June 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm 1 comment

Praising a Child as “Smart” Can Be Detrimental

Smart Girl With BooksWe’ve been told for years that praising our children is a good thing; that it builds self-esteem and confidence.  It’s almost instinctual to applaud a child as smart when they do something clever.  My four year-old just recited the fifty states in alphabetical order (thanks to his nanny’s fondness for the Fifty Nifty United States song) and then proceeded to identify more states than I can on his map puzzle.  So I had to bite my tongue not to say “you’re so smart!” or “your memory is amazing!”  I’m fighting my ingrained habits of praise because a growing body of research is showing that complementing innate talents such as intellect or athletic ability can have a number of negative consequences. (more…)

June 16, 2010 at 9:28 pm Leave a comment

Self-Control and the Link to Academic Success

Marshmallow TestAs parents, we want to do whatever we can to help our children succeed academically, and more importantly, in life.  In fact, there is one teachable skill that is a better predictor of academic performance than IQ.  That skill is self control, and specifically, the ability to redirect attention in order to delay gratification.  In a nut-shell: raw smarts matter, but so do preparation and focus.  Consider the kids who study on the night before a test rather than playing video games.

You may have heard of the “marshmallow test” that laid the foundation for research on delayed gratification.  Dr. Walter Mischel studied four year-olds at Stanford University (more…)

June 14, 2010 at 10:36 pm 2 comments

Pesticides and Brain Development in Children

Pesticide Warning in Lettuce Field

Update:  In April 2013, new studies showed that heavy use of RoundUp could be linked to a series of diseases and health problems, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.

Children, particularly infants and toddlers, are uniquely vulnerable to toxins.  While in utero or as infants, their internal systems are less capable than adults of processing pesticides and other toxins.  As toddlers, they spend time crawling or otherwise wrastling on the floor, putting pretty much anything that fits into their mouths, and playing in the dirt (indeed, that can be great for their immune systems!).  However, this constant exploration of the world requires that we, as caregivers, be particularly diligent about limiting their exposure to harmful chemicals.

Preliminary studies published in the Journal of Pediatrics in May, 2010 showed that higher than average exposure to common agricultural pesticides is correlated with a significant increase (55% to 100%) in the incidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).   This research is consistent with (more…)

June 3, 2010 at 10:41 pm 1 comment

Your Baby’s Brain Development

Curious Mind of a BabySignificant advances have been made in the field of neuroscience since today’s new parents grew up.  It’s helpful to understand the basics of early brain development and how new scientific research is shedding light on the caregiver’s role in raising healthy, intelligent kids.

A child’s brain undergoes the greatest transformations from conception through the first two years, however brain development continues into the teen years and beyond.  There are various areas in the brain that develop at different times, with the more fundamental, lower-level brain functions largely developed by the time an infant is born (hence why proper prenatal care is so critical).   Thereafter, the brain develops (more…)

May 21, 2010 at 9:33 am 1 comment

What’s All the Fuss About BPA?

BPA Bottles and CansFrankly, it’s not entirely clear: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is still under investigation.  However, studies on BPA are showing concerning data that warrant caution from parents.  According to the National Institutes of Health, “Evidence from animal studies indicates BPA may cause adverse effects such as obesity, behavioral changes, diabetes, early onset puberty, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, reproductive disorders, development of prostate, breast and uterine cancer, and transgenerational or epigenetic effects.”   Additionally, preliminary studies have suggested a relationship between BPA levels during early stages of pregnancy and behavioral patterns that are atypical for a given gender in toddlers.  (more…)

May 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

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