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Interesting Tips to New Parents

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Like most parents, I turned myself into a scholar about pregnancy, newborns, and child development when I found out that I was expecting my first child. The week my doctors confirmed my pregnancy, I went to the library and borrowed all of the books that I can carry and read through all of them. Yet despite these best efforts, I still found myself struggling through the first few weeks with my newborn, and I am still as confused as most first time parents are, now that I have a giggly, soon to turn 3 year old, toddler. There are a lot of books available, and multitudes of articles in magazines and in the web about parenting tips and styles in every step of your child’s development. However, there is one book that I’ve been known to say to friends as “the only book that I should have read about parenting from birth to toddler years”. This is the renowned book by neurologist Lise Eliot Ph.D. titled “What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life”.

Some of the information provided is the usual tips to first time parents like prohibition of alcohol, illegal drugs, and smoking, importance of touch and affection, etc. How this book differs from the other parenting books is the in depth scientific explanation of how each of these factors and the many incidences and environmental conditions that our child goes through affects his or her neural development. These, in consequence, affects how the mind develops. There are also substantial amount of information and research findings provided about the different stages of cognitive growth that I find amusing and were not discussed in most parenting books. Some of these interesting tidbits of information are as follows:

(1) The Effects of Psychological Maternal Stress.

Our sympathetic nervous system releases hormones that are responsible for our physiological adaptations to a stressful situation; i.e. the flight-or-flight response – accelerated heart beat, tunnel vision, shaking, etc (Flight-or-flight, p. 784). According to Eliot (2000), these flows of hormones can be experienced by the fetus too, but are not necessarily detrimental, unless the hormone levels get too high (p. 84).   She says that if in the extreme, these substance are thought to contribute to the formation of cleft lift, Down syndrome, newborn health problems like eczema, respiratory difficulty, higher incidence of miscarriages, low birth weight, premature birth, as well as fetal and neonatal brain functions like fussier, more irritable newborns, including some delays in mental and motor development (Eliot, 2000, p. 84). But Eliot (2000) also explicitly mentioned that the placenta protects the fetus from the mother’s stress hormones and it is capable of breaking them down into smaller concentrations (p.91). She also expounds that, endorphins, which rise during pregnancy modulate the flow of stress hormones, helping shield the fetus. (Eliot, 2000, p.92). So similar to the age-old advise of eating healthy when one is pregnant, mothers should also observe  “thinking healthy”;  trying their best to have a well-balanced range of emotions and thoughts that will help maintain a more beneficial environment for the growth of the developing fetus.

(2) Sensory Development

The book goes into detail how the different senses (touch, sight, hear, taste, vestibular) develop from the embryo, to birth, and past infancy. She discusses the different sensory capabilities of newborns as well as well as the benefits of facilitating these experiences. She describes how the neuron pools (collection of neurons for certain functions) develop through formation of new dendrites and synapses in the brain which occurs every time an infant experiences something new or a certain behavior and/or observation is reinforced to them (Eliot, p. 28). She shares that when breastfeeding mothers were asked to ingest garlic pills prior to breastfeeding, 3-4 month old babies sucked longer and consume more milk, however, they don’t such more after a certain period of time – indicating that like adults, they get bored and prefer some variety (Eliot, 2000, p. 191). According to her, it is known that the perception of the full range of colors mature by 4 months of age, and experiments have shown that they are good at remembering colors than shape (Eliot, 2000, p. 217). Due to the way our brain processes colors, she recommends that babies respond more to the brightest and purest versions of red, blue, green, and yellow to enhance visual stimulations (Eliot, 2000, p. 217). Another fascinating study she discussed is the benefit of daily massages for infants. Massaged babies, when tested against those who were entertained with a toy, tested higher in detecting changes in auditory-visual stimulus (novelty preference test), which study has shown to correlate to higher IQ (Eliot, 2000, p.143).   

(3) Encouraging Motor Development

Eliot (2000) sites studies that prove the disadvantages of using an infant walker and how it consequently delays walking because it: (1) does not allow locomotor and balance skill development, (2) block’s baby’s view of their feet, an important visual feedback in learning to walk (p. 287). She also notes that the infant’s brain benefits from “gentle challenging” so the first step to encourage motor development in baby proofing the home after which, stimulating infant exercises such as holding their head up, rolling over, sitting, crawling, standing should be consistently encouraged (Eliot, 2000, p. 289).

(3) The importance of ” protoconversations”

According to Eliot (2000), these are the face-to-face, verbal interactions that baby do like cooing with intonations, hand and finger movements, the smile and excited facial expression, all of which the baby maintains as long as he or she has a conversational partner (p. 302). She informs that this, as well as imitation of the baby’s facial expressions usually done by parents, are essentials in their social development which are known to trigger emotional centers in the brain as well as play a vital role in language acquisition and the development of emotional exchange (Eliot, 2000, p. 303).  

(4) The Shy and the Bold Child

As a mother of an inhibited child, this aspect of the development of a child’s temperament and personality is very important to me. Temperament, the characteristic emotional reactivity and intensity, is considered as a genetic trait (Myer, p. 140). A study by Jerome Kagan, a Harvard psychologist, provided proof that timidity, regarded as mostly due to fear, is orchestrated by a more reactive amygdala which is part of the lower, more primitive, and less malleable limbic system (Eliot, 2000, p 318) While personality, the characteristic pattern of thinking, is influenced by the very plastic upper limbic structure – the cerebral cortex. Eliot (2000) postulates that from these studies as well as others, it is likely that an inhibited toddler will grow up to be a shy adult, but they usually also grow up to be good students since they are more afraid of failure and they enjoy solitary school-work more (p. 318). With the appropriate coaching from parents, their immediate social environment, and the presence of enriching opportunities, timid kids can still then have enjoying, satisfying, and very successful lives. A big sense of relief, especially to a worried mom like myself.

(5) The “Perfect” Parent.

According to Dr. Lise Eliot (2000), the perfect parent “if she (or he) existed, would devote herself full time to the care and teaching of her child” (p. 459). This does not simple mean taking time off from work, but entire sense of a mother’s personhood is taken over into rearing this little person: having the ideal, unmedicated delivery, breastfeeding until the child is potty-trained, spending all the mom’s hours enriching the child’s experiences, allowing her child to play with children of similar perfect parents, and attend various toddler classes and the perfect preschool, while being always on the top of her game on learning the latest child-rearing information and preparing more interesting activities for the child. Such a parent would really be ideal, but Eliot (2000) notes, “Then again, you have to wonder what children learn from parents whose only focus in life is their offspring” (p. 460). Whenever a friend worries that she is not being the best mother that she can be, I always say that no one can beat a mother’s best effort for her child. Anything better than that is impossible. As much as a healthy dose of paranoia is most of the time helpful especially to the first-time parent, we also need to trust in ourselves and all the evolutionary and cultural progresses behind our body and our society that will help us rear this special person that has been given to us.

  References:

Brosnan-Watters, Gayle L. “Fight-or-Flight Response.” Salem Health: Psychology & Mental Health. Ed. Nancy A. Piotrowski. Vol. 2. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2010. 784-787. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Oct. 2010. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/ps/i.do?&id=GALE%7CCX2275200232&v=2.1&u=viva2_vccs&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w

  Eliot, Lise. “What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life”. New York, NY: Bantam Book.

  Myers, David G. Psychology. 9 th ed. 2010 Worth Publishers. p 140

collectivist culture

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

this blog is turning out to be a repository of my writing assignments in class. apologies – to you who, for some crazy yet really (REALLY) good reason, reads these entries. when my life is no longer dictated by my course work, then maybe i will have the chance to write something for fun.

fun? ano yun?

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 I have been living in the US for the past four years, which is not a considerable length of time to erase the traces of the collectivist culture I am proud to be a part of. I was born and raised in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Our racial ancestry is mostly regarded as Malayo-Polynesian, similar to Indonesians, Malaysians, and some Vietnamese and Taiwanese groups. Just like most Asian cultures, we have strong affiliation to family. But the typical Filipino family is not just composed of the mother, father, and children. It includes the grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, and cousins up to the 3rd or even 4th degree, which are all collectively referred to as relatives. This is very important to a Filipino’s psyche that pivots around the concept of “togetherness” (kapwa); often classified as either other people (“ibang tao”, meaning not part of the group), or not other people (“hindi ibang tao”, part of the group) which is, most of the time, composed of relatives and close family friends. As an example, Filipinos would not mind living in confined spaces among relatives or tell their deepest and most embarrassing secrets to friends in a text message, but they will definitely try to distance themselves when introduced to a stranger and would need a considerable amount of time to warm-up to them.

The bond we have to the group of people we consider as extensions of ourselves is steadfast, such that, most are willing to endure physical, emotional, and even social stigmas for the group’s and/or specific members of the group’s sake. Mothers and fathers working abroad tolerate the separation from their loved-ones, and sometimes even ill treatments and abuses, if it means that their jobs can help secure the future of their families. When united against a common enemy, Filipinos have the capability to show great strength as evidenced from the first bloodless People Power Revolution that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos from presidency back in the 80’s. Education is very highly regarded since it is commonly the path towards financial security. Our value system is closely linked to its long history as a Catholic nation mixed with proportions of mysticism from pre-colonial times, and we eat about five small meals a day (like hobbits).

It goes without saying that this collectivist culture that I grew up with influenced me on my views about family, mate selection, and my career choices. As a kid our grades in school are often times the golden ticket to the toys we wanted and it also predetermines quantity of gifts we will receive come Christmas. My academic excellence was never just a measure of my abilities, but was also a measure of my parent’s skill in raising a child as well. Hence, my failures and successes are not just mine, but theirs too. This may have provided added pressure to me growing up, but I believe it propelled me to always strive to do better and make my parents happy and proud, while also knowing that they are always there to support and love me in every step of the way.

I ended up marrying my now husband whom I went to the same science high school and university with, though we only met during my senior year in college and his freshman year in graduate studies. Such is also the case for most of my Filipino friends, who either marry their college sweethearts or someone they met at work who, most often than not, they share the same profession with. Despite our many differences, my husband and I share the same goals.  Examples of which are securing the welfare of our family, serving our country as soon as we are able to, and living our lives to the fullest with respect to God. These are a few of the many values I would like my daughter to have when she gets older. But for now as a toddler, she is preoccupied with learning the basic things she needs to cope with life. I took time off from working to be a full time mom and be with her because we were not comfortable with the idea of a daycare service despite its commonality in the area. We all sleep in a family bed and we eat at least one meal together everyday. We are in constant communication with our friends and relatives back home thanks to various social networks and Internet phone services. Once I complete my nursing degree, we might ask one of the grandmothers to move in with us so that they can take care of my daughter – a task they have dreamed and planned of doing, ever since she was born.

if i have the power to redefine the US’ drug policy …

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The current US’ drug policy basically view consumption of illegal drugs as a moral mistake, an act that consequently impacts the society in a negative way. This view is particularly evident in how the US government categorizes and defines drugs that are based on its “potential for abuse” or addiction, with Schedule 1 being those with highest potential and Schedule 5 with the lowest potential (Federal Drug, p1). Consequently, the punishments for usage of drugs are based on the same thing, with Schedule 1 receiving the harshest punishments possible and Schedule 5 the lightest (Control Substance Act, p1). Whether a drug is placed under which schedules has been highly criticized due to its inconsistencies and its tendency to be racist (Drug Policy, 2008). Not to mention, US’ programs of spraying large amounts of herbicides in the jungles of Central and South America, harming the farmers and natives below who have nothing to do with the drug trade but are left with severe health problems, food shortage issues, and robbing of their cultural heritage (Blumenson, 2002).

This is in contrast to the more liberal drug policy of Netherlands, where in the consumption of drugs is considered a health matter, therefore providing only 2 classifications: hard and soft drugs; with the government focused on health care and prevention while simultaneously directing aggressive enforcement efforts against organized crimes (Netherlands, p1). It may seem, based on these contrasting policies, the Dutch treasure individual freedom more – with their government playing no more than a background role on deciding issues of morality.

To me, a synthesis of these two contrasting drug definitions may better help society deal with the problems presented by drug addiction. I stand on my earlier definition that a certain drug should be deemed beneficial or not based on the context of how its usage aids in the survival or development of a society . This definition focuses on the capability of a certain drug to either be detrimental or good to a person as an individual and as part of a collective whole. It is guided by a principle based on harm prevention rather than frequency of usage, but still takes into consideration the societal impact of drug abuse as well as its health risks to the individual. Such a definition acknowledges that there are drugs that can be beneficial to the society, and that such benefits should be exploited. Also, an approach that centers on harm prevention would also allow more focus in educating individuals about drug abuse, treating those who are suffering from drug abuse, while also refraining from causing pain and violation of personal freedoms of other societies. If it is acknowledged that a society will never be “drug-free” since the usage of drug can be either good or bad dependent on the context of its usage, then the success of drug abuse prevention campaigns will not be measured based on percentage of users in a population, but based on decrease in diseases and deaths caused by drug abuse. Efforts will then be focused in preventing these ill effects to the society, and not on its consumption alone.

  References:

Drug Policy. Facts on File: Issues and Controversies. 11 April 2008. http://www.2facts.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/icof_story.aspx?PIN=i1300210&term=war+on+drugs

Control Substances Act. National Substance Abuse Index. http://nationalsubstanceabuseindex.org/act1970.htm

Federal Drug Classification. National Substance Abuse Index.

http://nationalsubstanceabuseindex.org/drugclass.htm

Blumenson, Eric. “How to Construct an Underclass, or How the War on Drugs Became a War on Education.” Suffolk University Law School. 1 Dec 2002

http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=suffolk_fp

The Netherlands. Drug Policy Around the World.

http://www.drugpolicy.org/global/drugpolicyby/westerneurop/thenetherlan/