Sunday, September 28, 2014

Your Kids Can Get Free Books: Here’s How

A terrific neighbor of mine (Thanks, Shannon!) recently told me that Frankie could get free books through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. All you have to do is sign your kid up and you get a free book every month from birth until your kid turns 5.  It’s a little tricky to figure out how exactly to get the free books because every area has a different protcol, so I did the research on how to get your free books in a lot of the areas that I have Facebook and IRL friends. I have to admit, however, that in my quest to get you free books, I quickly became disheartened because there are a lot of areas that don’t have the program. Below is a list of places that I looked up with links to get you hooked up or information to get you your swag. I also have information on how to find out for yourself if your area has the program. The list is organized by state, then within state, by county/city/area. 

In Gratiot and Isabella County in Michigan, the Gratiot‑Isabella Regional Education Services District runs the program. Fill out the form and mail it in. 

In Ashtabula County, Ohio parents can sign up at any Public Library in Ashtabula County including: Andover Public Library, Ashtabula County District Library, Conneaut Public Library, Geneva Public Library, Grand Valley Public Library, Harbor-Topky Memorial Library, Henderson Memorial Public Library, Kingsville Public Library and Rock Creek Public Library.

In Delaware County Ohio, the United Way of Delaware County runs the program but they charge $25. I don’t know what the eff that’s all about. I emailed about how to get a scholarship. I have received no reply. I’m disappointed that Delaware County is not offering free books and doesn’t seem to want to tell people how to get a scholarship for free books. Fill out the form online if you want to participate in the equivalent of a $25 a year surprise book club.

In Erie County, Ohio, the program is run by the Erie County Community Foundation. I emailed the contact person who informed me that application forms are available at the Sandusky Library Children's desk.  You can fill it out there and give it to the person at the desk.

In Fairfield County, Ohio (Oh, how I miss you…), the United Way of Fairfield County runs the program. Fill out the form and mail it in.

In Fulton County, Ohio, registration is old school, but I managed to get a digital (though, it’s barely digital) copy that you can download and mail into 604 S Shoop Ave Wauseon, Ohio 43567.

In Kirtland, Ohio go to the Kirtland Public Library or go to the Imagination Library website and register online.

In Knox County, Ohio, they are in the process of putting the registration form on their website, but in the meantime, you can register by register by contacting United Way of Knox County either by phone 740-397-5721 or by email at 

In Toledo, Ohio the Women's Initiative of United Way of Greater Toledo handles registration online.

Union County, Ohio: I emailed Union County, Ohio because the online registration link was broken. I got it fixed, so you’re welcome, because now you can register online. They also sent me a PDF of the form, so you can register via snail mail as well.

West Columbus Suburbs and Jackson, Ohio: Easter Seals Central and Southeast Ohio currently serves families living in the following zip codes: 43228, 43026, and 45640, which is basically Hilliard and Jackson (Other than this sentence, I won’t comment on how weird it is that Hilliard and a place that is almost in West Virginia have teamed up on this). I emailed them because their website said to in order to register, which led to me getting you access to the online form. 

In Spartanburg County, South Carolina you just register online on the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library website.

If I didn’t list your area, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you and your kids. It just means I got tired of looking up how to get free books or you didn’t reply to my request on Facebook for your county. There are two ways to figure out if your area has an Imagination Library Program. First, go to the Register My Child link on the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library webpage and follow the directions. If your area is available you’ll have two options: Register online or register through your area’s liaison. If you have to register through your area’s liaison, you’ll have to Google and go to the website of the organization that handles your area’s Imagination Library. There’s sometimes a Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library icon on the page, which you click on, or the information is hidden under the organizations initiatives or programs tab on the webpage.

I have some sad news, though. Another reason I may not have listed your area is because your area doesn’t have a program. For example, Franklin and Licking Counties in Ohio don’t have program. It’s basically non-existent in the greater Cleveland area. Lots of counties in Maryland don’t have the program, like Anne Arundel, MoCo, Howard, and PG. Virginia is also sparse (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties don’t have programs). DC is weird with only DC Cluster 29 (centered in Bethesda) and Ketchum Elementary having programs. Greater LA is also dead with programs only in Santa Barbara and Temecula (though good luck registering in Temecula because the contact person’s email address isn’t correct or doesn’t exist). South Carolina was weird too because if you live in Greer, you can get books if you live in Spartanburg County, but not if you live in Greenville County.

I guess one way around this unavailability issue is to register your child with a relative who lives in an area with a program, but that would be a total Slytherin move and I would NEVER suggest doing something like that. Get my drift? 

Need to do a mitzvah? Be sure to share my link with your friends!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Attachment Parenting Won’t Make Your Kid Secure

I spout off about lots of things related to child development because I have a PhD in Developmental Psychology (see, for example, The Dos and Don’ts of Screen Time for Kids). Sometimes I even use my Mom Card as my authority to spout off (see People Are Rude: Pregnancy Edition, Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). I know a lot about child development, but I’m an expert in attachment theory and research (the study of the close, long-lasting, emotional bonds that kids develop with caregivers, and adults develop with each other, like in romantic relationships). I wrote two theses and a dissertation on attachment and my grand-advisor is Mary Ainsworth who, with John Bowlby, created attachment theory. I’ve even discovered and written about some pretty cool things on attachment. I’m also certified to teach classes on how to foster security in your child. I’ve given you my pedigree and blabbed on and on about how educated I am for two reasons: One, I’m pretentious and want you to think I’m important. Two, I want to assure you I know what the heck I’m talking about before I get into the meat of my exposition on how “attachment parenting” won’t make your kid secure.

We all want our kids to grow up healthy and well-adjusted. Many of you know that a great foundation for raising a happy, healthy child is to parent in a way that your kid is securely attached to you, which means that your child will use you as a secure base to explore the world and a haven of safety from which to return. Having this secure frame-of-mind supports their developing into all-around well-functioning individuals in many ways. Due to the amazing powers of having a secure attachment, some of you have likely heard of this thing called “attachment parenting” that purports to ensure that your child is securely attached. Not surprisingly, many have adopted the associated parenting techniques leading parents to bed-share indefinitely, eschew sleep training, breastfeed forever, and baby wear all the time. I don’t have any problem with any of these things in particular. In fact, I generally see these parenting techniques in a positive light. If bed-sharing makes your life easier, do so (with the proper precautions, of course). It’s certainly made it easier for me to get some goddamn sleep. If you don’t want to sleep train, don’t. I did it, but it can be really difficult in the beginning. If you want to breastfeed your children until they self-wean, go for it! It’s certainly the best food you can provide your child. Baby wearing is a nice way to be able to calm your bubala and get some shit done. Again, I say, do it if it suits you.

Here’s the kicker, however. If you are doing these things only because you want your child to be securely attached, you can stop now. The only thing you need to do to help your child develop a secure attachment to you is to generally be available and sensitively responsive to your child when he or she needs you. As such, “attachment parenting” can result in raising an insecurely attached child if you are doing all those “attachment parenting” things in a way that you are unavailable (mentally checked out, for example), insensitive (harsh or intrusive), and/or unresponsive to your child’s needs for exploration and/or connection with you.

I know you might be thinking that being sensitively responsive and available sounds pretty esoteric, so let me pass along some words of wisdom on the issue that come from my training and research with the Circle of Security (a parenting intervention that has been shown to increase attachment security). Here it goes… “Always be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind. Whenever possible, follow my child’s need. Whenever necessary, take charge.” This statement means that if your child is exploring, be there watching over him or her. Let your child take the lead in directing his or her own play whenever possible. If you need to, kindly take charge (for example, your child is about to hurt him or herself or break yet another object in your home). If your child is upset, be with him or her until the emotional turmoil is resolved. Don’t yell or punish your child for his or her emotional expressions. Recognize, validate, empathize, and be with your children (physically and mentally) during their emotional ups and downs. Don’t be mean. You can and should discipline your child, but you should do so with kindness and empathy. In fact, as your children’s future college professor, PLEASE set clear, firm boundaries for appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Discipline, however, does not have to be the angry, punitive discipline that you might have received as a child. Discipline can be kind, gentle, firm, and effective.

Related to this issue of “being with” your children during their emotional meltdowns and discipline, let’s talk about time-outs. I know you may think what I’m about to say is outrageous, but avoid using use time-outs as a form of discipline because they aren’t kind. Time-outs send your children the message that when they misbehave or have intense emotions, you will withdraw your love (that’s mean), which will work against your goal of helping them develop a sense that you will be there for them when they need you. This idea isn’t new—others have the same view.

I hear you cursing at me for telling you that time-outs are a no-no, but maybe it’s because you wouldn’t know how else to get your kids to stop acting like wild animals if it weren’t for time-outs? Let me offer a replacement: Reward behavior you want to increase as much as possible and when absolutely necessary execute negative consequences for behavior your want to decrease. The thing I find the hardest is rewarding good behavior because your kids are generally not acting up. The key is to try to see more of those moments and let your kid have some praise for that behavior (e.g., verbal praise, TV time, playing a video game). When your kids are acting like maniacs, quickly and firmly correct the behavior and provide them with an idea of how they should act. Tell them if they misbehave in that way again what the non-time-out consequence will be (e.g., loss of TV time, not getting to play with their favorite bath toy). If the misbehavior happens again, quickly, firmly, and as kindly as possible, enforce the consequence. I’ve said it before, but I love it so I’ll say it again—consider creating a token economy in which good behavior earns tokens that can be exchanged for rewards and misbehavior results in tokens being taken away.

In sum, the techniques that “attachment parenting” require are nice parenting techniques, none of which I have any problems with. If you enjoy them, by all means, continue, but if you hate “attachment parenting” then stop, especially if you are doing so only to make your kid secure. These techniques cannot replace being available and sensitively responsive to your child’s needs for exploration and comfort, which research has shown over and over is the path to making a child securely attached. At best, these techniques can be thought of as nice supplements to helping your child develop a close, secure emotional bond to you.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Students Are Rude: Things You Should Teach Your Kids Before You Send Them to College

It’s the start of a new school year and I’ve already been reminded that students can be quite rude. As a developmental psychologist and professor, I feel like it’s my civic duty (I may even count this post as service on my CV) to let you know what you can do to make sure your kids’ professors don’t bitch about them behind their backs. 

Mrs. Stupica? Miss Stupica? Ms?... 

Who are you talking to? It can’t be me. Moreover, I don’t look anything like any of the Mrs. Stupicas that I know, so you can’t be mistaking me for any of them.

You are in college. Most of your teachers have doctorate degrees, which makes them Dr. So-and-so. Assume that your professor's appropriate title is Doctor until you are told otherwise. The offense can be pretty egregious too. So far in my career, about a dozen times students have stood in my doorway after looking at the name plate on the door that says, “Dr. Brandi Stupica” to make sure they have the correct office and then they will say, “Miss? Ms.? Mrs.?” like assuming I’m single or married is the thing that is going to offend me as I sit in my academic office.

You know what’s even more annoying? Students who email me, “Dear Mrs. Stupica”. You could have looked up my title on the Internet, but you chose to call your PROFESSOR Mrs. Stupica. My title is definitely on the college’s website. Let’s not mention that those emails are usually asking me for a favor. The thing that’s the most obnoxious…my male colleagues rarely get this disrespect. In fact, my husband who does not yet have his PhD but has taught a few college classes is more frequently extended the title of Dr. Stupica than I am. I’ve had my PhD for 2 years and it’s happened to me so much that I can’t even recall all the times and it’s so annoying I’m basically writing a blog post about it. It’s academics and we have probably have PhDs, even if we have vaginas. Parents, please teach your children to call their professors by their actual title.   

Are we doing anything important in class? 

This question assumes that I at least occasionally waste your time. This question is also telling me that you think there might be something more important than you coming to class, which you chose to take. If you’re not sure whether you should miss class, then you probably shouldn’t. You’ll know when your absence is more important than attending class. For example, if you are having non-elective surgery and it will require you to miss class, you would just tell me that. Thus, when you ask me this question, I now know that you think that your extracurricular activities or starting your Thanksgiving break early is more important to you than my class. Telling us that we waste your time and that you have other things that you’d rather be doing than coming to class is hurtful. Parents, please teach your children that hurting people’s feelings is rude and that hurting your professors’ feelings is a terrible idea. 

What did I miss when I was absent? 

That’s your job to figure out. Your absence is your problem, not mine. Moreover, you may now be drawing attention to the fact that you were absent. That is so dumb. That is really dumb. For real. Did it ever occur to you that I didn’t even notice your absence? You bringing it to my attention now only makes me fully aware of it. Also, you asking me if you missed anything doesn’t make me think you are a good student who is trying to catch up on what you missed. It makes me think you are an irresponsible student who wants me to wipe your nose for you. Um, also (I can’t believe that I even have to write this), I’m not going to give you your own personal lecture. If you missed lecture, you missed it. Part of this problem, I do believe, stems from the primary and secondary educational system having a protocol in which your mom calls the school to tell them you will be absent and someone gathers all of the work that you missed so that your mom can pick it up for you. At some point, kids need to learn that their absence is not a reason for other people to be inconvenienced. Parents, please teach your children that when they are absent, they need to read the syllabus, ask their classmates, and check the course’s webpage to figure out what they missed and catch up. 

When’s our paper due? 

IT’S IN THE GODDAMN SYLLABUS! It takes me between 20-40 hours to create a syllabus. Effing read it before you ask me questions. Parents, please teach your kids that it’s rude to waste people’s time by asking questions that were already answered. 

5 is more than 4. 

Your kid asks you for $5. You give them $4.99. This is not $5. In fact, it’s less than $5. You can guarantee that your kid is going to bitch and moan about being shorted. Now, imagine a professor assigns a 5-page paper. Your kid turns in a paper that spills over onto a 5th page. This is not a 5-page paper. We have asked for 5 whole pages of a paper. Don’t try to be cute and give us 4.99 pages. Also, don’t fiddle with the margins, font, or spacing. We’re not idiots and you doing so makes us think that your think we are idiots and that’s just rude. Parents, please start teaching your children about numbers in a way that they can use them in real life situations like turning in papers with the appropriate page-length. 

The Most Important Thing to Teach Your Kids Before Sending Them To College: Working Hard Gets Rewarded 

When kids get an A, they are often praised for being smart rather than how hard they worked to achieve the A. Do NOT do this. Praising your children for being smart is teaching them that they were born smart and that trait is something inherent to their being and that their smartness is static and unchangeable. You are also teaching them that smart people get As rather than people who work hard and study get As. First of all, this is simply not true either in academics or the “real world.” Students who turn in shitty work and don’t learn the material do not get As and workers who turn in shitty work don’t get raises and promotions. Moreover, getting an A doesn’t indicate that you are intelligent. It indicates that you learned the material or turned in a high quality assignment. If you don’t learn the material or you turn in shitty work, you don’t get As.

Second of all, this method of praise and reward sends kids the false idea that intelligence is static. It is, in fact, malleable to at least some degree such that studying and working hard at solving problems make you smarter. Don’t teach your kids things that are not true. Praising their smarts is also teaching them that their intelligence is omnibus and that they are smart and good at everything. Hint: They probably aren’t. They will likely excel in only some areas. If you make them think they their smarts are omnipotent, they will do silly things like major in pre-med for waaaaaay too long when they actually excel in poetry.

In addition, even if your kids are smart, you’re sending them to college where everyone else is smart too. Professors make tests and assignments that assess how hard your children worked on a particular problem or how hard they studied or whether they completed the assignments. They will not pass tests and get As in classes simply for being smart and being able to take multiple choice tests well. The difference in success in college and the real world will be about who works hard at solving problems and studying.

Lastly, even if your kid is smart, praising intelligence over perseverance, curiosity, willingness to explore new ideas, and the process of building knowledge is setting your kids up for a potential tragic blow to their sense of self-worth when they get to college and don’t earn an A, or even a B, or even a C in their classes. These students seem devastated that their smarts didn’t get them an A. They have a hard time adjusting to the idea that an A is based on turning in work that deserves As. They will also be traumatized when they finally do learn they aren’t good at everything. Every semester I have several students in my office who are dealing with the pain of having received a bad grade after not reading the textbook, not coming to class regularly, and waiting until the last minute to start an assignment. They will place the blame on everyone but themselves because they were taught that they are smart which means that grades that do not match this view are the result of an unfair system (too much other classwork, too many readings, lectures are difficult to understand, class is too early, test was unfair, teacher grades too harshly). I didn't just pull this out of my ass. This is based on well-respected and replicated research. Parents, teach your children that the way to succeed is to put in effort. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Avoiding Flame Retardants: Other Household Items

Besides children’s PJs and mattresses, flame retardants are in an inordinate number of baby products. Some good news, however, is that in 2010, the law that prompted flame retardants showing up in almost everything was changed to exempt strollers, nursing pillows, and baby carriers from having to pass flammability standards. Then, the law was changed again in 2013 to exempt bassinets, booster seats, changing pads, floor play mats, highchairs, highchair pads, infant bouncers, infant seats, infant swings, infant walkers, nursing pads, playpen side pads, playards, portable hook-on chairs. I’m still cautious about any product I buy, however, because exempt does not mean that the items don’t have flame retardants. In addition, there are some items that are not exempted and may still contain flame retardants. Five things I ran into are below:

Car Seats: Car seats have to comply with the federal motor vehicle flammability standard so they will all have flame retardants (Believe me. I searched for days). You also aren’t likely to skirt around the issue by not buying a car seat because you can’t leave the hospital without one properly installed. I was disheartened, but in the end I tried my best to pick one that had the safest chemicals. By far, the leader (and, not surprisingly, most expensive) is Orbit Baby. I bought the G3 Infant Car Seat and Car Seat Base. Although it was $440, I feel like it was worth it because the company is the most blatant about using the least toxic and safest materials possible, including the flame retardants they use. They’re also lauded the world over on how non-toxic their products are. Not to mention, it’s what North West travels the world in. 

Portable Cribs/Playpens: The change in the law exempts only playpen side pads. This means the bottoms are not exempt and will likely contain flame retardants because kids often sleep in them. Given that the flame retardants are typically in the mattresses of portable cribs and playpens, you could just replace the mattress of anything with something that is free of flame retardants. That’s what I did because I’ve got a second-hand Phil&Teds Traveller, which the company stated has an organic phosphate flame retardant in the mattress. Don’t be fooled by the word organic. It’s organic in the sense that organic chemistry is organic. The flame retardant in their mattress still bioaccumulates and is considered a persistent organic pollutant. As such, my research led me to simply remove the mattress and replace it with leftover natural latex foam from The Foam Factory from when I reupholstered my glider because reupholstering the glider was the only flame retardant free option I could afford (see below).

Had I purchased a new portable crib, I would have gotten the Lotus Everywhere Travel Crib because it’s free of flame retardants. I didn’t and wouldn’t get a playpen because the travel crib can also serve as a playpen (which is what lots of people use the playpens for) and portable cribs are waaaay lighter and easier to transport than playpens, which is really the whole point of having a portable playpen. In addition, I couldn’t find a good flame retardant free playpen option.

Rocking chairs: These items aren’t exempt from the flammability standards because they are furniture. Some good news on this front: The law was changed so that furniture foam no longer has to be flame resistant. Instead, now only the fabric must pass only a smolder test. Given that most fabric inherently passes this test, by January 2015, you should see a lot more flame retardant free options (though I’ll always double check with the company to be sure). In the meantime, however, good luck because it’s basically impossible. I searched and searched and the only option I could really find hovered around $1000.

What I ended up doing was finding the cheapest glider I could that was made of wood and had padding and upholstery that I could replace using materials I knew were free of flame retardants. As I mentioned above, I used a natural latex foam mattress topper that I got from The Foam Factory, the same company that made my mattress. My husband cut out a piece of plywood onto which we placed 4 inches of latex foam, then covered using a pretty cotton fabric. We did the same thing to the stool, expect no plywood. Then, I used the back cushion that it came with as a pattern to make a new one with my fabric, which I stuffed with new batting. Lastly, I made new armrests.

My glider, free of flame retardants after a little DIY. #iusedafilterbecauseitsfilthy

Bumbo chair: I thought for sure there would be flame retardants in the polyurethane Bumbo chair. Weirdly enough, a well-respected peer-reviewed study did not find any of the harmful flame retardants that they tested for in the Bumbo chair. Given the study and the fact that the coating is likely to keep any possible flame retardant dust to a minimum if there were any, I felt comfortable enough with the chair to buy one for Frankie.

Carpet Padding: Foam carpet padding almost certainly contains flame retardants. The best way to reduce exposure to flame retardants from carpet padding is to remove the foam and replace it with natural wool, natural rubber, fiber or felt. Good luck with this too. You could also do what I did and just get rid of carpet and replace it with hardwood or tile. Now that I’ve had hardwood floors and tile and absolutely no carpet for 5 years, I can’t imagine living any other way. You wouldn’t believe the filth that collects on my floors between my St. Bernard’s hair and drool and my baby’s spit up. Carpet would have been disgusting. Plus, given that I haven’t been able to remove all of the things in my house that have flame retardants (foam insulation, foam couches and chairs), I prefer to be able to get the floors as squeaky clean as possible to remove the flame retardant dust that is surely falling onto them.

I’m concluding my posts on flame retardants now, but I want to leave you with two things. First, I want to remind you that the cheapest, quickest, and easiest way to reduce flame retardants in your and baby’s system is to wash hands with soap frequently (hand sanitizer doesn’t count!) and keep dust to a minimum with frequent HEPA vacuuming and wet mopping. Second, for more science-y information about flame retardants, go to the Green Science Policy Institute’s webpage. They’re a group of people with PhDs in this area and they write about the topic in a way that the general public can understand.