I asked the parents in my baby class last week how they saw their role in their children’s lives. Some of the words I heard were: supporter; advocate; care giver; model; adviser. I liked that these words are compatible with the role that Montessori and Magda Gerber saw for parents. But as a more than 30 year preschool teacher, I have a role for parents that I really wish they took more seriously. We know that babies are self learners and self initiators. If we give them free movement, they learn most everything on their own. But they can’t ensure good sleep or nutrition. Only parents can. We are the health and safety czars!
I see many, many children who come to my class very sick for weeks and even months at a time. These are children whose autoimmune systems are clearly in distress. They have multiple or one continuous infection and are not given the time to rest and recuperate. And bedrest and fluid are still the best remedies for fighting infection.
Children can be born with weak livers or early vaccines or childbirth drugs can impact their systems. Some of them can’t tolerate grains and/or sugar under one year and may need an elimination diet to determine what is disagreeing with them as well as strengthening probiotics and other nutrition.
Symptoms are just that – they are symptoms of an underlying problem. When your body sends mucus it is also sending a signal “I want this infection OUT of this body” and so the mucus pours out and hopefully the infection with it. We sneeze and we cough in order to GET THINGS OUT OF OUR BODY. We have a fever to BURN THE INFECTION. These are all wonderful things to celebrate. But we also have to know they are signs of infection and infection needs all of our resources to fight it.We need to be in bed and drinking fluids, helping your body flush, flush, flush and rest, rest, rest to do this big job.
Yet children come to my class with runny noses day after day after day. For weeks at a time. I am so very grateful to the parents who keep their children home for a runny nose. For most parents, a runny nose is not worthy of a day home in bed. They have to be vomiting or feverish to justify a day home. Or parents will say they can’t find or afford both school and a babysitter. To me that is like saying you can afford the restaurant but not the tip.
Something else I’ve noticed in more than 30 years of teaching; children whose sleep is not protected are usually the sickest. One child who had trouble with sleep and was constantly sick came back after a holiday and I asked how his sleep, which had been going badly, was now. I was told that much family was in town over the holiday and that he hadn’t slept much at all because of it. Guess what? He still had a really seriously congested nose full of green mucus.
And then there is nutrition. If you have a nose that runs clear for months or years at a time (yes this happens. “Does he have a cold?” “Oh no, his nose just always runs.” “For how long?” “Oh, since he turned one, almost two years now.” ) there is something wrong. There is probably a food that is not agreeing with him. I always wonder if your body is this sick, how can your brain be working?
Then there are the children with bruising, puffiness, wrinkles and bags under the eyes. This is a sign that the sinuses are filled and/or that an inflammation reaction is taking place. This is a also probably a sign that there is a food that is not agreeing with him. And I can tell you, in my experience, the children with these issues are also the ones who have behavioral and/or learning problems.
But when I try to talk to parents about these things, they stare at me blankly. Honestly, not once has anyone said “Really, do you think so? Any ideas about what I could do?” Because I do have ideas, yes, but no one has every asked me for them, imagine that, and it stymies me every time because what more important role could we possibly play? This child cannot be responsible for the nutrition going into his body. If he is ingesting something that doesn’t agree with him there is NOTHING HE CAN DO ABOUT IT! It is our job and the most important one, really, because the child is a self-creator. We are not creating him. We are not developing, stimulating or teaching him to become his highest self. We are only providing the environment for him to do that himself and the most important environment is one where he is functioning at full capacity! So, so, so important!
There is no more important job than making sure that our children are eating well and getting enough sleep. Personally I advocate for 16 hours of sleep under one year of age, moving by three months toward nighttime sleep from 7 -7 and naps from 9-11 and 1-3. And then after a year, children tend to lose the afternoon nap as the morning nap moves later and later until by 12-16 months they are sleeping at night from 7-7 and napping from 1-3.
A few other sleep books I recommend:
12 Hours by 12 Weeks
Secrets of a Baby Whisperer