The Importance of Touch for Babies and Children

I recently read about a study at Sahlgrenska Academy where Emma Jonsson conducted a study on babies to determine whether or not they reacted to touch. The babies were held by their mothers and experienced brush strokes at two different speeds, one of them at the normal pace we typically use to caress our children and one at a faster pace. The babies also wore an elastic bandage on their heads, which helped to measure blood flow in their brain.

The study found that a slow caress, like we would normally give our children, stimulates more blood flow in our babies’ brains. Think about that for one second: these babies, with an average age of eight weeks, experienced a gentle caress-like touch and it triggered higher blood flow in their brains. Babies are ready to experience caressing, physical affection from almost birth and you can argue that they need it, too, because of how strongly their brains reacted to it.

It got me thinking about my kids (boy/girl twins) after they were born almost 10 weeks premature. They were 3 pounds each and had to spend four weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). My wife and I would visit every day and give them kangaroo care.

If you’re not familiar, kangaroo care is when you take your baby and place her bare chest on your bare chest so that she could physically feel you and the warmth and closeness of you.

I remember doing that regularly, but not having any idea if it really helped. Our babies, obviously, didn’t speak and couldn’t communicate and I was so new to being Daddy that I didn’t know what I was doing. Was this making a difference? Did they even notice us being this close together?

But this research proves the value of us as parents being physically close with our babies and children. It shows our touch makes a difference. It shows our babies need our love and affection from the moment of their birth.

My kids, who were so tiny I could easily hold them both in my arms, are now both taller than I am. Is that because we did kangaroo care when they were babies? Is that because we showed them love and affection consistently?

I don’t know, but this study makes me think kangaroo care and our affection had more of an impact than I could’ve imagined.

How Can We Know What Is Great About Being A Parent Before We Have Kids?

There were so many things I didn’t know about being a Dad before my Okapis were born. The list of changes is enormous, the impact in my life extraordinary–and it keeps growing. My kids are now ten (and a half) years old and I recently learned a couple of new ones.

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. It’s not just love either. Music is part of my life, how I experience the world and myself, how I connect with my own feelings and thoughts, how I recover from the chaos of life and how I show love to my wife. It’s not surprising our kids love music as well.

What has been surprising is how it feels to help them connect to music. When we are in the car and we are listening and all singing along to a song I recently bought, it feels wonderful, like I am bringing joy to my family, sharing my love. Helping my children create their own playlists, helping them to find new music, seeing how they do it on their own feels so wonderful because I know they are incorporating a tool, a healthy resource for them to deal with the chaos life can throw us, the challenges they will face, the joy and love they will experience. Hopefully, they will never need music the way I so desperately did, but they have a connection to it and I feel a strange sense of accomplishment–even though I did not plan this.

As I write this my kids have been in Ecuador for two weeks. Gem and I have had a wonderful time, cooking together every night, making changes to the house, watching Netflix, and not having to worry about the time…the rush of homework, dinner, getting ready for bed, getting them up in the morning, etc. Quite relaxing.

But, of course, we miss them. We’re both ready for them to come home this week, but we won’t see them until we head down there next week. Feels too long, but we know they are having a great experience and we are too. We’ve been texting with them almost every day when they have Wi-Fi (that’s another thing I never imagined, texting with my kids!). Before they left we loaded up their Kindles with books from Amazon and the library, but they are already running out.

Yesterday, I sat down to find more books for them and realized something. Gem has talked about the joy she sometimes feels making dinner for us. Not because cooking is so much fun, but because it is a way of showing her love for us. I feel the same sometimes when I make breakfast on the weekends (which I’ve missed with them so far away).

Getting them books to read, giving them this other resource, helping them to experience the world in another way, to recuperate from the day, is the same thing for me. I like getting them books, because it is another way I can show I love them, how special they are to me. And even better, it is another way we can connect together. A couple of months ago I started reading a series of books (I Am Number Four) and when I finished I thought Lucas would really like it and I shared it with him. He loved it! How many enjoyable conversations did we have with him telling me what part he read, us reading the same books at the same time, talking about what happened.

If someone would’ve told me that I would love getting books for my kids and would thoroughly enjoy sharing the books I love with them, I couldn’t ever have pictured it, let alone believed it.

I think that’s the challenge of becoming a parent. How can you understand something you have never experienced? So much of what is special about it, isn’t humanly possible to comprehend when you don’t have a child you have already fallen in love with.

Ten (and a half) years into it now, and the good things keep on coming.

It’s Possible My Kids Are Addictive

Relationships are tricky. I have spent more than half of my life with my wife and yet we still have things to learn from each other. It comes down to the fact that even though we experience very similar things in our shared lives, we come at them from a different perspective, making each shared experience also a unique one. I recently realized the best example of that while she was away in London.

Gem went on a trip with her best friend to London for a wedding. Not surprisingly, she had a great time (frankly, she could have a great time at anytime and anywhere). But what was wonderful, was the kids and I also had a great time. In fact, the night before she came home, three of us were feeling sad–not because she was coming home, of course, but because we were going to miss this time together. Gem is usually the one who takes them to school and picks them up. I almost never get to do that and I really enjoyed it…and already miss it.

One of the amazing things about Gem is her ability to feel and express her emotions so genuinely. When the kids sleep over somewhere, she misses them. Sometimes if she doesn’t see them after school, she misses them. In fact, she has this way of saying “I miss them” that I can’t do justice in the written form, but trust me, is quite adorable. She places enormous emphasis on “MISS” and it really sounds like she is longing for them.

“I MISS them!”

But to be honest I never understood how she could miss them. She spends more time with them than I do. I have to leave them every day and I didn’t MISS them like that. Yes, I love my children and I miss them when I go to work, but I don’t “MISS them” I don’t think. Maybe I do and I have to put that away or I would never get through the day…that is certainly possible. But I don’t really remember feeling the way she seems to when she is MISSing them.

She had left on a Thursday night and we had an event that night and then I took them to school on Friday morning and picked them up in the afternoon. We spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday just the three of us. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights we cuddled on the couch and watched movies together. I took them to school on Monday and picked them up again as well.

On Tuesday, my work had our Annual Meeting and I had to be there. I took them to school, but then went to work and their grandfather picked them up and then took them out to Friendly’s as he does every week. Since I had been out of the office for a couple of days, had come in late and needed to get to the meeting site early in the afternoon, my day was packed and it moved very quickly. By the time the meeting ended, I couldn’t believe how fast the day went.

Then it hit me.

I really missed my kids.

Excuse me, I mean, I MISSed my kids!

I rushed to catch the earliest train I could. Now, normally I am very respectful of my father-in-law’s special time with his grandchildren and almost never intrude on his special trip to Friendly’s. But on that afternoon, MISSing my kids the way I did, I texted and asked him if I could meet them for dinner.

It was on the train when I realized this is how Gem feels when she says “I MISS them.” I had just spent four days with my kids as the only parent and instead of thankful for the chance to get away, I MISSed them.

When Gem came back home this was one of the first things I told her and I think she really appreciated being understood. We have been parents for an equal amount of time, parenting in the same house with the same kids, but this experience had been different for us and now after ten years, we truly understood each other on this issue. I think it helped us be just a little bit closer.

It also made me wonder if our kids have some substance inherent to them that makes them addictive, because the more we spend time with them, the more we want to spend time with them.

What’s that line from the Supremes song? “If there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it.”

I’m happy just the way we are.

To The Next Dimension – Happy Mother’s Day!

Have you ever felt loved? I mean, truly felt it like a cozy jacket you slip into on a crisp Fall afternoon, surrounding yourself in that feeling as the warmth it provides flows through your whole body? I felt that this morning. It was so palpable, I looked up and thanked God for being able to experience the moment, it was that powerful. I actually put my hands out to my sides awed by how strong my feeling was and thought “This is why we are alive. This is what it is all about.”


I think most people grew up feeling loved on some level and have no idea what I am talking about, have never really not experienced being loved and thus think the feeling is normal. They are immensely lucky and I hope they know that.

I also think there are people who never felt loved growing up and have no idea there is an entirely other dimension to this life. When you don’t know a feeling exists, it is terribly hard to imagine that feeling is out there. How can you imagine something you have never felt?

I fall into this second category. I grew up never feeling loved and not knowing the difference…until I met Gem, the woman I am lucky to be spending my life with, the woman who has added a new dimension to my life that only gets more profound the longer we are together.

I didn’t know love felt like this. I couldn’t imagine loving a woman like this. I couldn’t imagine loving our children like this. I certainly couldn’t imagine a woman could love me like this. Could not remotely imagine the purity of love our children express to us every day. I never knew this dimension to life existed, like I had been looking at the world in only shades of gray, but Gem bought me a retinal display iPad to view the world.

The world now exists in brilliant hues, colors so bright and beautiful that I wonder how I never saw them before. In college, Gem would exude excitement when she saw the Spring green of the trees come back after a long winter. I could tell it was pretty, but didn’t experience it, didn’t understand.  Now I feel the joy beauty brings me, experiencing the world on that other dimension she has always been a part of.

Stepping into this new dimension of life has clarified what it was I never had growing up.  It is so hard to grow up as a child when you don’t feel loved. It is so hard to build confidence, to believe in yourself, to feel safe, to feel anything good quite frankly, when love is absent.

That is why I have always hated Mother’s Day.

My mother was a pretty terrible mother and Mother’s Day is one of the hardest days of the year for me. I used to joke that it was really my National Day of Mourning. On top of all she did/didn’t do when I was a child, my mother doesn’t speak to me anymore, hasn’t for decades, and that still hurts every day; she is alive, having chosen to live her life without me. The way mothers are revered in our society only serves to remind me what I never had, like when you scrape a scab that was just starting to finally heal. I have spent literally a lifetime trying to recover from what my mother did and have often wished Mother’s Day didn’t exist.

But Gem deserves her own day, celebrating how amazing she is as a mother, how she embodies true love, how she helped me to be able to love and feel love, and how we created our wonderful family together. She is, quite ironically, everything good about Moms. She has renewed my faith in the entire concept.

Lucas, Dorit, and I are so lucky to have her in our lives, to be experiencing this other dimension of life. While I grew up in the second category, not knowing love, our children will grow up in the first, where love is embedded into their lives, intertwined into how they experience life, filling their souls that will hopefully last them a lifetime.

As parents, isn’t that the most we could ask for?

Thanks for taking us to the next dimension, Sweetie. Happy Mother’s Day!

Saving A Sparrow is Great For Several Reasons

Lucas and I were alone recently and we were standing by the door when all of a sudden he said, “Remember when we saved that bird?”

“I do.”

“That was pretty cool.”

“It really was, wasn’t it?”

Let me start by saying it always feels good when one of my kids remembers something we did together fondly. It is also interesting to see how they interpret events we shared together.

A couple of years ago, Gem and Dorit had gone out and again Lucas and I were spending quality time together (Daddy/Son time as we call it) one weekend morning. It was a cold, wintry day and when I looked out after my wife and daughter had left, I saw something on the ground on our porch. I went out to inspect it more closely and realized it was a sparrow.

It looked almost frozen, like it hadn’t found a warm place to sleep through the night and had become so completely chilled, it no longer was able to move.

For several minutes, Lucas and I watched it through the door, but after a while I knew something was really wrong and I went outside, lifted the bird gently into a basket full of blankets.

Lucas and I watched some more, but even after more time, our little sparrow was not moving or making any progress. That was when I brought it inside.

I placed it on the stairs, inside the basket, cuddled up in the blankets. Somehow Lucas and I got distracted by something else and by the time we returned our little sparrow was feeling much better. Well, maybe it was feeling too good.

It was perched on the basket and as I approached it, instead of thanking us for our efforts to save it, our little sparrow flew upstairs and I started to see how terribly wrong this all could go. Yeah, let’s bring this sickly little bird into our home where it can fly all over the place, wreaking havoc. It’s possible, in hindsight, that I could’ve thought it all through a tad more before I brought the bird inside.

Lucas and I ran after it upstairs and it went into the kids’ room and perched itself atop the curtains. Honestly, the thing I was most worried about was it pooping all over their room and how the heck I was going to explain that to Gem when she got home. Hi Sweetie, we saved a sickly little bird today (and got poop all over the kids’ room, by the way).

Thankfully, that didn’t happen, our recovering bird probably hadn’t eaten in a long time and spared us that…ummm…experience.

But even so, it was quite frustrating trying to shoo the bird back downstairs without hurting it or scaring it too badly since we knew it must be still pretty fragile.

Finally, we were able to get it back into the basket and take the basket outside and let our little patient fly away. When it did, Lucas and I shared a look, impressed with ourselves that we had actually saved a bird that day. What a great feeling!

Because of the way I am, I remember wondering a day or two later, when I didn’t see any dead sparrows on our property, if our little sparrow had made it. Looking back now, that is often what I feel like about parenting. We do so much for our kids, but we just don’t know how this is all going to play out. Sometimes that is quite challenging for me. I would hate to wake up in ten years and find out I’ve actually been doing something that really screwed up my kids when I didn’t mean to in any way, shape or form.

But it is moments like these, when one of my children remind me of a special experience we shared together and I can see a little of the impact I have had on their lives. It is a pretty nice feeling, the memory of our time together and the realization of what it means.

Parenthood Publishes Jeremy’s Article on Conquering Children’s Fears has recently published Jeremy’s article, entitled Help Your Child Conquer Her Fears. The article, as the title suggests, helps parents be there for their children and the fears they experience.

Jeremy includes the five key things to remember when dealing with your children and their fears:

  1. Redirect her attention away from the fear and onto happier thoughts.
  2. Provide unconditional support, no matter how many times your child comes to you with a fear.
  3. Reassure him while you model how he can soothe himself.
  4. Offer a small physical object that makes her feel connected to you or to home.
  5. Never tease a child about her fears.

Check out the article for details on all five key points. Jeremy concluded the article by saying;

Certain fears may seem irrational or even silly when someone is afraid of something that doesn’t frighten you. But for children, this big world is already a little scary and when they have bumped into something that really frightens them, we can help them by being supportive, encouraging and positive so they can learn to think that way on their own.

The Assumptions We Make As Parents Can Cause Their Own Issues

Recently I read an article about the messages we send our kids. In it Jim Taylor, Ph.D, author of Your Children Are Listening, talked about the conflicting messages we give our children and also where they come from. Coincidentally, I recently had an experience that made me aware (once again) of the assumptions we make and these two issues collided in my brain.

Sometimes we send our children explicit messages on purpose, things like manners, behavior, etc. Sometimes we send messages by example. I had a great professor in grad school, Stephen Treat, who said they never hassled their kids about their homework. He and his wife both had graduate degrees and they both taught at schools.

“Education was in the air we breathed in our home.”

But there are all those times as parents when we send messages to our kids without realizing it and may not even mean to.

For the last several summers, my wife and I have sent our kids to crappy camps. We didn’t know they were going to be crappy camps, but that’s how they turned out, unfortunately. But this summer was going to be different, dammit! This summer we were going to splurge on a special camp for two weeks and give our kids a great camp experience.

Except that at least one of them every day has been utterly and completely miserable, crying as if we were dropping them off at Guantanamo Bay instead of a cool camp. Yet they still had a good time. How do I know? I asked them.

“What was the best camp you’ve been to?”

“This one,” they both told me.

“Is that because the others were so bad?”

“Yeah,” they replied in chorus.

Okay, not a ringing endorsement, but an improvement over the years past certainly.

Except for the misery and torture they seemed to experience.

And it made me wonder why we were trying to give them such a great camp experience? They weren’t begging us for a better camp experience. In fact, I’m not sure they cared about camp all that much. It is just the time between when school ends and when it begins again for them.

Then it hit me.

My kids love school–excuse me. My kids LOVE school. They love learning. They love their teachers. They love their friends. They love the whole experience. Camp is an interruption for them.

I was the opposite. I hated school growing up. I looked forward to camp during the whole school year. Camp was the only place I felt special, felt confident, felt I was close to the real me. Nine months of feeling pretty terrible and two great months. I never wanted camp to end.

I wanted them to have the same kind of camp experience I did and I think they felt pressure to be happy there when in reality, they didn’t want to be at camp; they wanted school. I inadvertently imposed my own issues on them and maybe made things a bit harder for them. I think there were a lot of things about this camp that was tough for them to deal with (would’ve been tough for me to deal with, frankly), but maybe my assumption about how important camp is made things more difficult for them.

We’re always sending messages to our kids. Some are very obvious. Some are good. Some are not on both counts. I didn’t want to send a message that having fun at camp was important. It was supposed to be fun! (Ironically, I intentionally decided not to send them to a sports camp because that’s what I went to and knew that wasn’t for them.)

The truth is, I would much rather them LOVE school and be happy for 9 months out of the year than what I went through. It would be nice if we could help them enjoy summer a little better, but in the meantime, I’ll be a bit more aware of what message I send them about camp.

What inadvertent messages have you sent your kids?

It’s the Balance of Technology That Matters Most For Our Kids

There is some research now on the effects of technology and social media on our children. I’ve been tweeting about it a bit lately. It worries me because obviously I care about my children’s ability to function well in society, to develop strong interpersonal skills, to be able to entertain themselves without a screen. But I also know if they are not incredibly comfortable with technology, they are going to fall behind and have trouble. Technology will only play a more significant role in all of our lives as we get older.

I enjoy knowing how my friends are doing via Facebook. I post on Twitter and try to keep up because I need to. I have four email accounts I check frequently. Heck, I get text messages every time someone scores in a Phillies or Eagles game. We have four computers, an iPad, two AppleTVs, two Kindles and who knows what else in our house. Our children are going to spend time in front of a screen.

I know I can help them by setting limits for them. I can help them by teaching them about technology and how to use it and the benefits of it. But it has struck me that the trick will be to teach my kids how to balance the influence of technology in their lives, to be able to have control over it than feel controlled by it.

How many adults do you know who can’t have a meeting without looking at their phone? How many adults do you know who can’t have a meal without checking their phone? Or watch a movie and are checking their friends’ Facebook status or email or Twitter or whatever it is?

Back in the day it was much easier to be in the moment, to experience what was happening when it was happening. Now, it is much easier to distract ourselves, but it is also much easier to not be fully present. By splitting our time, maybe we catch the drift of the movie or conversation and we keep up with what our friends or favorite stars or teams are doing, but there is a price, a toll we pay.

We’re missing the experience, the connection of the moment whoever we are with, whatever we are doing.

None of the best moments in my life happened on my Blackberry. My best moments are those times when I’m somewhere with my Okapis (my nickname for my children) and we are so fully in the moment that nothing else in the world matters. The best times are when my wife and I are somewhere together, fully together, and the world only exists for us. None of those moments happened with a Blackberry in my hand, but with it tucked safely into its holster on my hip, forgotten.

That’s what I want them to understand.

I want them to know how to use technology, to be comfortable with it, but to be able to know there are many times when we need to stop and live in the moment as well. I want them to remember what is happening right now is almost always more important than what is happening on some screen.

Los Tres Amigos Veterans Day

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Another Los Tres Amigos Sabado (Saturday), another happy day! After my delightful evening Friday night, I woke up bright and early to get the Okapis dressed and out the door to iHop for breakfast. They behaved very well and we had another nice time.

As this is the second time we’ve really gotten to listen to Shabbat music together, they really seem to be enjoying it. They are beginning to have their favorite songs (Dorit’s favorite is my favorite and Lucas’ is a song that has both Hebrew and Spanish in it). It was all we listened to during our travels and it was very enjoyable and felt so good that they are beginning to really connect with it.

After iHop I had a surprise in store for them. We spent a lot of weekends at the beach this summer, but obviously haven’t been back. Since it was such a lovely day, I was thinking we would go down to the beach, see the ocean and the sand again, and take a little walk along the boardwalk. They were very excited to see the sand and ocean again and even knew about the boardwalk (which I didn’t think they did). At one point, we were walking along the boardwalk, hand-in-hand, and I just thought this was the life. Enjoying the sun, the ocean, holding my Okapis’ hands. To me, that’s a pretty damn good weekend.

After the beach we went to the library, which I didn’t know was closed (it was Veterans Day). Bummer. But we recovered quickly and went to the playground where they had a ceremony for Veterans. It was pretty short and I brought the Okapis over to it near the end. I explained to them about the flags, showed them the eagles on the flag poles, and pointed out soldiers, people who had fought in a war.

“You know who else fought in a war?”

“Who?” they asked.

“Uncle H. Uncle H is a veteran. This is his day.”

There we were, in a tiny little playground in the middle of Long Island and they were having a small ceremony, talking about the sacrifices they made, the honor and respect they paid to this country, to its people and to the flag. They talked about those who didn’t come home to their families and I sat holding my Okapis, hoping they never have to experience anything like that in their lifetime – though I know it is inevitable. They didn’t understand the seriousness of the ceremony, but they understood something was going on and they were very quiet and well-behaved. Fortunately, we got to see the flag bearers walk right by us with their flags held high and I think they really enjoyed being so close to these huge flags.

Afterwards, we went to the playground and played for almost an hour. It is always a challenge to have both of them at the playground, trying to keep one eye on each of them without going cross-eyed. At one point, Dorit ran off and I couldn’t see her. I looked all around but to no avail. For a brief moment it was terrifying and I had to yell out her name. Lucas didn’t see her either and I was beginning to feel panic. But then I spotted her out of the corner of my eye. She and I had a little chat on a bench about staying where she could see Mommy or Daddy. Eeessh.

All in all, however, another incredibly enjoyable Los Tres Amigos Sabado.

His Scrape Triggered My Wound

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Lucas has a terrible scrape on his nose and lip. Apparently, when they were going to the beach he tripped on a towel and fell face first because his hands were wrapped in the towel. Every time I looked at him, my insides would squeeze together the way we try to squeeze too many clothes into a suitcase so we won’t have to take another one with us.

It is not the first time he has gotten a scrape; he gets scrapes on his knees almost every day (sometimes I think he even tries to get scrapes so he can get the attention and a band-aid). I also have seen much worse than this scrape; I’ve held my daughter down so she wouldn’t struggle too much while the surgeon cut off a growth on her belly only an inch from my face – I don’t get queasy. This was something else.

After thinking about it, I realized that every time I looked at his beautiful face and saw that scrape, I was reminded how peripheral I am becoming in my Okapis’ lives. Even though they have just started camp and that is a big change for them and my wife, I am not a part of their going to camp experience because I work – nothing has changed for me – I still spend every day without them. This means I can’t help them as much I would like when it comes to adjusting to camp. My wife calls me after she leaves them there in the morning having had to leave while they were screaming, holding onto her, refusing to let go and all I can do is tell her she is doing the best thing for them, that their crying is not a sign of her doing something wrong, but a sign that she has done so many things right for the past 3.5 years. But I have to tell her this over the phone, instead of being able to give her a hug and kiss and holding her.

This is just the beginning. More and more of my Okapis’ lives and what they experience will happen without me and this terrible scrape on my little boy’s face reminds me that less and less of their lives revolves around us, around me. They will spend more time at camp than they do with me each day. They will spend more time with strangers than I will and that kills me. It was one thing when they spent more time with my wife than with me, but with strangers? That really hurts.

My boy’s scrape will heal before we know it, but it has triggered a wound within me that seems like it will only grow worse every year. We are no longer the end all and be all for our Okapis. I know it only means we are entering a very new and different and probably exciting phase. I am sure I will enjoy all of the new experiences that come along with it.

But I really loved the old phase and I already feel myself missing it.