Q: I'm expecting my second child soon and a friend gave me a book that's supposed to help infants get on a regular sleeping schedule right away. I did a little online research and discovered this book is controversial. However, I really need something like this because my first child didn't sleep through the night until after her first birthday! Is scheduling OK?
Juli: When it comes to scheduling sleeping and eating for infants, there are two major philosophies. There's what we'll call a "child-centered approach" in which the parents plan what they're doing around the infant's needs. They let the infant eat and sleep whenever the infant wants to and they pick up and cuddle the baby whenever he or she cries.
The second philosophy is often called "family-centered" and focuses on the baby learning to assimilate to the family's schedule. Feedings and naptimes are scheduled, and the goal is to get the baby to sleep through the night as soon as possible. This approach sounds like the book that you mentioned.
Taken to the extreme, both of these approaches can be dangerous to the child -- emotionally and, perhaps, physically. If you take the child-centered approach to the extreme, every time the baby cries, Mom is busy trying to feed, rock or calm her. This can lead to a child who doesn't know how to self-soothe.
If you take the family-centered approach to an extreme, you run the risk of not meeting your child's physical, medical and emotional needs. A baby's needs change from day-to-day, week-to-week. Your pediatrician should give you some guidelines regarding your baby's need for food and sleep based on weight and development.
I'd encourage you to use common sense in blending these two approaches together. Try to introduce some structure into your baby's life. Loose schedules for eating and sleeping will do this. But within the structure, be sure to be responsive to your baby's changing needs for food, sleep and comfort.
Q: I often read about the problems associated with letting kids watch too much TV. Certainly, there's a lot of trash out there. But is there any research that favors letting young children watch strictly educational programming?
Jim: Offensive content is not the only reason to limit a child's TV intake. Regardless of what they're watching, research shows that too much TV can cause kids to struggle academically and socially.
A team of researchers from Canada and the U.S. recently released some startling findings regarding the effects of TV on toddlers. The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine studied children's viewing habits at age 2 1/2, and then checked in with the same kids again when they reached age 10. The study found that for every additional hour of television viewing per week at age 2, the kids experienced a 7 percent drop in classroom attention and a 6 percent drop in math skills. They were also more likely to be bullied; they exercised less, weighed more, and ate more unhealthy snacks.
The same study also confirmed previous research showing that early TV exposure undermines a child's attention span. It also suggested that kids who spend more time watching TV and less time playing with other kids may lose valuable chances to learn social skills.
If you take this research seriously, then the bottom line is that too much TV is detrimental to young children, regardless of the content. We'd recommend getting your kids involved in other activities, far away from the TV. Turn it off whenever you can -- or get rid of it altogether, as my family did two years ago!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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