I’m concerned that pons-triggered-fear-responses are dominating the topic of vaccines.
What do I mean? Well, as the media continues to present stories on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, we read very emotional letters to the editor and online comments that admonish such parents as being anything from selfish to criminals who should be prosecuted.
Yet, there are facts—not opinions—that are usually omitted whenever this topic resurfaces in the news. However, such facts can’t be omitted if we’re to have cortex-based discussions on vaccines.
To note: This post is not intended to support one view or another on vaccines. Instead, it’s to help ensure that our limbic system (our emotional part of the brain) is not deciding what is best for our kids.
So, what are some facts that contradict those emotional accusations (since those are not as well publicized)?
The most concerning misinformation is that unvaccinated people put vaccinated people at risk. But think about that claim.
If vaccinations absolutely prevented disease, then only those who didn’t get vaccinated would be at risk, right? And if so, wouldn’t there be some kind of poetic justice for those “free riders” who refused to cooperate? In other words, just the unvaccinated would become ill.
But that’s not what happens. You can still get a disease, even if you’ve been vaccinated for it. That’s the truth.
So, with that mindset, everyone becomes a potential threat to passing on a disease—if we’re choosing to view people as threatening others’ health and safety whenever they venture out in public.
The media also seems to focus on just one primary reason why parents are opting not to vaccinate their kids, citing that such parents think there’s a link between vaccines and autism. But that infers before autism became primetime in the news, no one had concerns about vaccines. Yet, that’s not true, either.
For example, no one ever suggested a connection between vaccines and autism when my girls were babies. Still, my doctor informed me of potential risks associated with the various recommended shots at our routine two-month visit. In fact, I was definitely told pertussis reactions could even cause permanent brain damage, but I was also assured that such risk was minimal.
However, statistics when it’s one in (fill in a big number) take on a different meaning when you’re the “one” in that equation. My second daughter had that rare—but extremely frightening—reaction to the pertussis vaccine.
I’m talking the kind of reaction where you take a healthy, happy baby to the doctor, and an hour later, she’s having convulsions. I’m talking about the kind of reaction where the doctor is calling you every hour—even though there’s nothing she can really do at that point. I’m talking about one of the longest nights in my life, feeling helpless, just praying the reaction would finally end, that my daughter would be fine.
And she was. But her doctor back then—who was one of the biggest proponents of vaccines–definitely made sure it was written all over my daughter’s medical charts: NO PERTUSSIS VACCINE–ever.
So, in our current discussion on vaccines, we do need to remember that there have always been risks associated with them—long before a potential autism link was ever even suggested.
Those who opt not to vaccinate today are also accused of having a distorted fear of big pharmaceutical companies. Yet, here again, there are facts to consider when making our own conclusions.
First, no doctor or pharmaceutical company can be held liable for any adverse reaction to a vaccine. Call me crazy, but to me, vaccine safety would be a lot more convincing if those fervently advocating and manufacturing vaccinations were also held liable for adverse reactions.
Second, doctors can and do work for pharmaceutical companies—though this association is rarely made public when such doctors are quoted on vaccine safety. Third, vaccines are a 22 billion dollar industry.
While none of these facts negate vaccines as beneficial, they do at least warrant a pause—and pausing is always a good sign of being in the cortex.
But with a cortex-based discussion on vaccines, we equally need to keep alive why vaccines were created in the first place. For example, most of today’s younger generation of parents has not had any first-hand experience with these diseases.
So we need to remember how horrific these diseases are and the implications if they ever again became epidemic. To omit that information is just as negligent as glossing over the other facts noted so far.
Cortex-based discussions also always explore options. For example, today’s kids are recommended to have 69+ doses of 16 different vaccines by the time they are 18.
So, what if some parents choose to vaccinate their kids, but opt not to do all of them? Consider, too, that 145 additional vaccines are currently being developed in clinical trials. That means it’s possible that even today’s parents who follow the recommended 16 may decide to reduce the total number of vaccines for their child if that number continues to rise in the future.
Or, some parents may simply prefer to follow a vaccine schedule of another country, noting that there is not universal agreement among conventional medicine as to when such shots are given.
But it’s those kinds of perspectives, combined with factual information on vaccines, that provide great fodder for lively, cortex-based discussions. Yet, if we allow fear to dominate our responses—whether it’s related to vaccines themselves or what might happen if not everyone is vaccinated—then no one is a winner, least of all our kids.
So, we can agree and disagree on vaccines. And if we stay in our cortex, we don’t feel threatened if others arrive at a conclusion that differs from our own.
I’m lucky. I have the fondest memories of family dinners, both when growing up and when we were raising our girls. But now it’s estimated that just 28% of families eat together seven nights a week.
Sure, today’s families are busy. But I wonder if family meals have declined because they’re often perceived as stressful. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are some ways to ensure mealtime is a positive experience for all family members.
1. Minimize behavior that we already know annoys us. For example, if our child rocks in his chair, we can buy him a vestibular cushion which then satisfies his need to rock without distracting others. We can also create ways for everyone to rock during mealtime (e.g. all family members rock three times whenever something is passed to someone).
If our child likes to stand while eating, we can deliberately leave something on the kitchen counter and then ask our needing-to-stand child to get it for us. This gives our child a chance to get up, only now he’s doing so in a way that helps the rest of the family.
If our child takes forever to finish his food, we give him less food while eating with the family (he can have more after mealtime if he’s still hungry). We can also set a time when mealtime is over—regardless whether everyone has finished the food on the plate. In such case, the plates are cleared and any food left on the child’s plate is then served to him at the beginning of the next meal, ensuring food isn’t wasted.
If our child has a hard time sitting in general, we can excuse him early, acknowledging that we’ve enjoyed her company and understand it’s hard for her to sit for long periods of time. Who says every family member—regardless of age or differing brain organization profiles—has to sit the same amount of time for a meal?
2. Engage in only positive interactions. During the meal, family members tell stories about their day, share jokes or riddles, give opinions on current events, and answer open-ended creative thinking questions. Speeches on how to be better organized with homework, the importance of doing chores without complaining, and other concerns are tabled for another time.
3. Decide whether good manners trump everything during mealtime. When kids have retained primitive reflexes and underdeveloped lower centers, they often eat as though they were a toddler. For example, they prefer using their hands over utensils. They’re messy. They chew with her mouth open. They can’t keep a napkin on their lap. Sure, we can harp on showing good manners at every meal (even though prior reprimands have not yielded a change), but that means we also forego everything else positive that comes with sharing a family meal. So, we need to decide: Is it worth it?
4. Understand how underdeveloped lower centers of the brain can interfere with how food feels and tastes. When the midbrain is underdeveloped, some kids have an aversion to how certain foods feel—even more so than how the food actually tastes—in their mouth. This child may seem like a “fussy eater,” but it’s different than the child who just doesn’t feel like trying a new food or insists on having whatever he wants to eat. Does that mean that we turn our kitchen into a restaurant and cook completely different meals for everyone? No. But we find ways to modify within what’s been prepared. For example, if our child does not like tomatoes, we can serve him spaghetti noodles with butter instead of sauce.
5. Include our kids in the preparation of meals. Why not have our kids shop and help prepare the food? How about starting a garden? How about giving them a chance to plan the menu or even create an original dish? All of the above help kids become more generally invested in mealtime.
6. Ban all electronics from the table. That, of course, also includes having the TV on in the background.
So, perhaps, we no longer strive for a perfect Emily Post etiquette kind of meal. Instead, maybe, we look at mealtime as a wonderful opportunity to connect with and honor all family members.
Yes, there’s nothing like a little eavesdropping—especially when we overhear our own name—to make the ears perk up. As parents, we can take advantage of this fact and deliberately create opportunities for our child to eavesdrop.
How does this work? Well, suppose we want to remind our child that he’s not playing video games after dinner if his room isn’t clean. However, if we tell him that directly, he may hear that reminder as nagging or as a confrontational challenge (if he thinks it’s not a fair policy).
Yet, it’s an entirely different ballgame if we casually comment to someone else, “I know that Ryan wants to play video games this evening, and I’m positive that’s only going to happen if his room is clean.”
As the eavesdropper, Ryan still gets the intended message, but now it’s going into the brain in “third” person. He’s merely an outsider hearing a comment that happens to involve him.
And since most eavesdroppers don’t like to announce they’re listening to someone else’s conversation, they probably won’t respond to what they’ve just heard. If so, then we’ve sent the message and avoided a potential squabble. Seems like a pretty easy way to ensure more harmony in the home.
For teens, all we have to do is lower our voice a tad when they’re in the next room, and suddenly they’re tuned in to every word we’re saying. Who knew getting their attention could be that easy?
So eavesdropping probably won’t ever make the list of good manners, but it can expedite communicating a message to our kids without much ado. And that can be really enticing in many households.
Kids have a great radar for fairness, so here are some questions to consider:
But most importantly . . . if we have double standards in our home, how do our kids view those mixed messages? How about initiating a family discussion to find out?
Suppose you discover your child deliberately kept you in the dark about a bad test grade or a concerning note from the teacher. Before concluding that your child is untrustworthy, here’s an important question to consider: How are mistakes handled in your home? In other words, what reaction has your child come to expect if he had shared that grade or note?
For example, did your child anticipate (correctly) that he’d get a speech laced with disappointment, exasperation, and irritation, followed by some kind of punishment? If so, maybe your child’ reaction was more about self-preservation that dishonesty.
Ironically, we may be concerned about our child’s trustworthiness because he no longer trusts us to respond in a way that’s helpful when he’s messed up. So here’s how we may avoid that from happening.
1. Reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes.
Tell your child that you’re glad he makes mistakes—otherwise, that would mean he’s not human . . . and then that would mean he’s an alien from another planet!
2. Tell your child that you’ll stay calm whenever he approaches you with a problem.
Since that may not have always been the case, establish that if you do not stay composed, your child gets something that he likes. That helps ensure you don’t revert to old reactions. And if you do, then your child figures at least he’s still going to get something good by coming to you.
3. Ask questions that prompt reflection and positive action for the future.
In lieu of giving a speech, ask questions such as: Why do you think you reacted that way? What other options could you have explored? What will you do differently to avoid this from happening again?
If there was another person involved, you might ask: How would (name of that person) describe what happened? That open-ended question then becomes a non-threatening way to hear a different perspective of what happened without anyone confirming that the other person’s account is correct.
4. Avoid “prosecutor-type” questions.
You’ll get immediate feedback if you start doing this because your child will become defensive, rather than reflective. Note that our tone often dictates whether we’re coming across as a prosecutor drilling a witness or a concerned parent who wants to prompt some insightful thinking.
5. Ask your child how he’ll accept responsibility for whatever happened.
With a generic knee-jerk reaction (“You’re grounded for a week!), there’s little chance that our child reflects and learns from any particular mistake. So it’s important that we also ask our kids what they think might be a good “natural cause and effect” for whatever transpired. For example, a child may conclude, all on his own, that he’s spending too much time playing video games instead of studying. If so, it’s going to carry a lot more weight if he decides to limit video games to the weekends until his grades improve.
So yes, we all mess up. That in itself is not newsworthy. But how we deal with our mistakes may actually define us.