Parenting is the process of raising children. Parents to be and new parents often worry that they will not do a good job raising their children, or feel overwhelmed by the responsibility. According to Dr. Spock, a well-known childcare expert whose book, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, has been translated into 37 languages and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, parents know more than they think they do, and should rely on their common sense,and the advice of their family, friends, and doctor.

Mothers and fathers learn how to be parents gradually, by caring for their children. They consider the way they were brought up, and use the methods and techniques that their parents used they thought were effective and constructive in raising their own children. Parents should also be friendly and accepting toward their children. They need to spend time doing things with their children, and show an interest in things that their children want to share. Parenting is hard work, but it is very satisfying. Although the needs of the children nearly always come before those of the parents, the parents also need tospend some quality time with each other.

There are many things parents can do to raise physically healthy children:

  • Good nutrition is critical to the well-being of children. Because children learn which foods they like early, children who are given healthy foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans) regularly learn to eat and even prefer them. Of course, parents must eat healthy too.
  • Keeping childrensafe is an important part of parenting. In children above the age of one, injuries cause more deaths than all types of illnesses combined. Many accidentsthat cause injuries can be prevented and injuries from unavoidable accidentscan be minimized through safe practices. These include the use of car seats,seat belts, and bicycle helmets; crossing streets safely; installing smoke detectors; lowering the temperatures in the water heater; child proofing the home; and supervising children closely. In the home, dangerous objects like scissors and glass vases should be moved out of the reach of children. Replacecoffee tables with sharp corners and other hazardous furniture. Do not leavestairs unguarded or beds next to open windows. Despite childproofing, children at home need close supervision, especially toddlers. They need even closersupervision outside of the home.
  • Growing teeth need good nutrition. Calcium and phosphorous (found in vegetables, cereals, and milk), vitamin D (found in fortified milk, vitamin drops, and sunshine), and vitamin C (found inmost fruits, vitamin drops, raw tomatoes, cabbage, and breast milk) are important to healthy teeth. Fluoride, available through many community water systems or in vitamins, helps build strong teeth and prevent decay. Children's teeth should be carefully brushed twice a day.
  • Immunizations are one ofthe best ways to protect children from contagious diseases. They artificially create immunity to certain diseases. Vaccines, made of relatively harmlessmolecules that come from or are similar to the viruses or bacteria that causethe diseases, stimulate the immune system into reacting as if the infectionwere present and build the ability to fight off the infection in the future.Immunizations protect children against these diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP); polio; measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); Haemophilisinfluenzae B (HIB, this is not the flu); chickenpox; and Hepatitis B. Doctors can provide a list of the recommended vaccines and the latest immunization schedule put our by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because some variations are acceptable, the doctor will set up an appropriate schedule for individual children.
  • Parents who smoke should quit. Passive smoke is harmful to children, weakening their respiratory systems, and making them more likely to get colds, coughs, asthma, and ear infections. Parents who cannot quit should at least not smoke in the house or the car.
  • Children also need to be protected from too much exposure to the sun, especially between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., when the sun is strongest. Children should wear protective clothing and a hat. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and sunglasses (even with infants).

Emotionally healthy children are raised through loving, nurturing, relationships with their parents, where parents and children respect each other. Parents should promote the following:

  • Self-esteem makes children feel like they are likeable, loved, and doing well. Parents should genuinely praise children and show that they respect them.
  • Discipline means teaching children how to behave and what society and other people expect of them, not justpunishment. Parents need to be firm when necessary, and stick to their convictions. Threats and physical punishment should be avoided.
  • Children learn about the facts of life early. Although many parents have trouble talkingabout sex, they should answer questions honestly and in a wholesome tone.
  • Good manners are important. Parents should teach children to be politeand considerate.
  • Duties, from putting away toys to helping around thehouse, should be enjoyable and prompted by polite, matter-of-fact reminders.
  • Reading is important to success in school and imagination. Parents should promote a love of reading by reading to their children from the age offour months on.
  • Children learn from play. Parents should provide simple toys that allow children to use their imaginations. They should let children play at their own level and speed, and come down to this level when playing with them. Teaching children to share their play things is a gradual process.

Modern issues in parenting include computer literacy, raising non-violent children, media exposure, and the changing roles of men and women. Computers have changed the way we learn, work, communicate, gain information, and keep track of things; their role in our lives at home and at work is only going to grow in the 21st century. Parents should ensure that their children grow up feeling comfortable with computers. They should have a computer at home if theycan afford it. Parents need to set limits on the use of computer games, whichare generally violent, and the Internet.

Children are using alcohol and drugs at earlier ages than ever before. Havinga good relationship with children helps prevent them from getting into drugsand alcohol. Parents need to talk honestly with their children about drugs and alcohol. They should tell children under the age of 14 not to use drugs atall and discuss things with older children.

Violence by teenagers is on the rise. In order to raise non-violent children,parents must clearly communicate the message "no hurting!" They should neverphysically punish children. Parents should talk about violence with older children and teach them non-violent ways to get out of potentially violent situations.

Television, movies, and rock and roll teach children to look at the world ina distorted way. Although some television programs do educate children in a fun way, they are in the minority. Television viewing should be limited and parents should watch TV with their children. Parents should be careful when taking children under the age of seven to movies; they do not distinguish clearly between real life and make-believe and get scared easily. Most children donot notice songs with offensive lyrics, but parents should still discuss themwith their children.

Children also need to learn about the changing roles of men and women, as more parents of both sexes work away from the home. Sex discrimination against women begins in early childhood. Boys and girls should be raised to learn both"female" and "male" skills, that is those skills traditionally stereotyped as acceptable only to either women or men. For example, girls should not onlydo the dishes and boys only rake the lawn. They should be raised to believe they can enter any career they choose to. They should grow up believing that family is the longest-lasting satisfaction in life.

Children rarely become seriously ill without warning. Treating symptoms promptly can prevent an illness from getting worse or becoming an emergency. Parents should call the pediatrician if they see any of the following symptoms intheir children:

  • High fever (the temperature depends on the age of thechild, the illness, and other symptoms)
  • Chills that cause the child to shake badly
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headaches that are severe
  • Extreme sleepiness or lethargy that is unexplained
  • Sudden weakness or paralysis
  • Seizures or uncontrollable shaking or an arm of leg
  • Discolored, bloody, or smelly nasal fluid
  • Pain, heaviness,of stuffiness around the nose, eyes, or forehead
  • Hearing or vision loss that occurs suddenly
  • Earache or fluid discharge from the ear
  • Red, swollen, and water eyes, with or without blurred vision
  • Stiffness or pain in the neck, especially with fever or headache
  • Extremesensitivity to light, especially if this occurs along with a fever, headache,or stiff neck
  • Yellow in the whites of the eyes or the skin, especially with pain in the stomach and/or urine that is dark or tea-colored
  • Severe sore throat
  • Uncontrolled drooling due to swallowing that is painful
  • Unusually rapid breathing
  • Vomiting for 12 hours or moreor vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing, especially if the lips or nails are pale or bluish
  • Abdominal pain that is intense or unusual
  • A swollen or abnormally large abdomen
  • Diarrhea that is streakedwith blood or mucus
  • Back pain, especially along with fever or discomfort when urinating
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Vaginal dischargethat is thick and white, brown or discolor8ed, or smelly
  • Unexplained pain, redness, or swelling
  • A cut or scrape that oozes pus or becomes hot, red, tender, or swollen
  • A sudden rash or bunch of blotches orblisters, especially over a large part of the body.

Parents can also call the pediatrician for other symptoms that they worry about.

When true emergencies (a severe injury or illness is threatening the child'slife or may cause permanent harm) occur, emergency medical care is necessary(in an emergency room). Parents should discuss emergencies in advance with their pediatricians so that they are prepared. Many emergencies are due to sudden injuries, for example, poisoning, choking, near drowning, or falls. The following are signs of an emergency in children:

  • Acting strangely or becoming less alert
  • Trouble with breathing that gets worse
  • Bleeding that does not stop
  • Skin or lips that looks blue or purple (or gray for children with darker skin)
  • Rhythmical jerking and a loss of consciousness
  • Teeth that are very loose or knocked out, or other major injuries to the mouth or face
  • Persistent pain that increases or is severe
  • A cut or burn that is large or deep
  • Loss of consciousness, confusion, a bad headache, or vomiting several times after a head injury
  • Decreasing responsiveness when parents talk to their children.

In the event of a medical emergency, parents should stay calm. They should start CPR if it is necessary and they know how to do it. If immediate help is necessary, they should call 911; otherwise, call the pediatrician's office andtell them that it is an emergency. If the child is bleeding, apply continuous pressure to the injury with a clean cloth. If the child is having a seizure, place him/her on a carpeted floor with the head turned to the side; stay with him/her until help arrives.

During the newborn period (the first month of life), parents and babies needto get used to each other. Parents should feel comfortable calling their pediatricians whenever they have questions. Newborns usually sleep most of the day. Parents need to keep babies comfortable. Clothing should be comfortable and convenient. Parents should feel the baby's legs, arms, and neck to determine if he/she warm enough. Layers of clothing are good. Hats should be used insummer for sun and winter for warmth. Booties and socks should be used to keep feet warm in cold weather. Car seats for infants are required by law. The use of pacifiers is controversial, and they should never be used in newborns who are breastfeeding until the nursing routine is well established. Newbornscan be taken outside, but parents need to be careful about exposure to sunlight and cold weather. When bathing babies, parents should wash around the eyeswith a soft washcloth or cotton ball and plain water and the outer ear withmild soap. Parents should never leave a baby alone. The type of diapers usedis up to the parents; some babies respond better to disposable and others tocloth diapers. Parents need to avoid exposing newborns to crowds and keep follow-up doctor's appointments. The umbilicus cord will fall off within 12 to 15 days of birth; until then, keep it dry. Studies show that breast milk is best for babies.

Infancy (from 1 month to 1 year) is a time of rapid change. Babies go from breast milk or formula to beginning to feed themselves, from sleeping most of the day to activity all day (except for naptime), from laying on their backs to sitting up and then beginning to walk, from communicating by crying to beginning to talk. As babies begin to crawl, safety is very important. Parents need to make sure the crib is safe (no more than 2 3/8" between crib rails, with a snug mattress and no toys with sharp edges). Never leave infants unattended on a bed or table, or in a bath. Use gates at the top of stairs and coverunused electrical outlets. Keep all harmful substances (cleaning fluids, insecticides, and medicines) out of the infant's reach and keep him/her away fromplastic bags. Car seats are required by law. Reading labels helps parents select toys that are right for the infant's age and safety. Infants in swings and jumpers need to be supervised; walkers have caused many injuries and should not be used. Parents should dress infants in comfortable clothing, usuallyone more layer than they have on. To prevent diaper rash, check the infant'sdiaper often and after removing it, wipe the baby with a wet washcloth or anunscented diaper wipe. To help prevent disease, wash hands thoroughly and often, do not touch the nose and mouth or smoke at home, and use a disinfectant.

Preschoolers (children ages 1 through 5) are demanding and can consume parents' energy. These years can be trying, as preschoolers are caught between wanting to do things themselves while still wanting their parents to be around and help them. Their intellectual capacity develops fast, from a handful of words at 12 months to being able to carry on a conversation by age 3, and sometimes even being able to read and write by age 5. Preschoolers are very curiousand prone to accidents at home. Common accidents to prevent are burns, drowning, poisoning, falls, and choking. To help prevent disease, wash hands thoroughly and often, do not smoke at home, teach the child not to touch his/her nose or mouth, throw away the toothbrush after an illness, and use a disinfectant and clean frequently. Parents who have a pet should discourage the childfrom kissing it. Prevent diaper rash as described in the previous paragraph.Car seats are necessary until the child reaches about 40 pounds; after that he/she should always wear a safety belt. Never put a baby to bed with a bottleand try to limit sugary treats to mealtime. At age one, begin teaching the child how to brush his/her teeth, but help to make sure it gets done right. Children should begin visiting the dentist at age three. Parents who use childcare should select a high-quality center that has been licensed by the state.Visit several centers at different times of the day and interview the director and the teacher who will care for the child. Most vaccinations are done during the preschool years.

During the school years (ages 6 through 12), children become part of the larger world and are influenced more by peers and teachers. They become less dependent on their parents. During the school years, parents should seek out thecompany of their children, discussing their interests and participating in activities together. Children should have regular checkups with their pediatricians and dentists. To prevent the spread of disease, parents should keep their children out of school when they have communicable diseases like colds, theflu, and chickenpox. Washing hands often and well is the best way to preventthe spread of infectious diseases. Children need enough sleep at night; up to 10 to 12 hours at age 6 and about 9 hours at age 12. In cars, children should always wear a seat belt. Parents need to teach their children about safe behavior. The school years are the time to teach children about hygiene, nutrition, dental care, substance abuse, and accident prevention.

During the teenage years (ages 13 through 19), the relationship between parents and children changes. Open communication is important in maintaining a good relationship. This period includes puberty and the growth toward becoming an adult mentally and socially. Physical and intellectual growth do not usually happen at the same time. Teenagers spend more time outside of the home andparents often feel upset and threatened as their children mature. Teenagers are often rebellious, becoming moody and unpredictable. Parents should help their teenagers understand their sexual feelings and help define sexual behavior; this includes openly discussing contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Teenagers are also tempted to experiment with behavior that threatenstheir health (including abusing drugs and alcohol, and unprotected sexual activity). Teenagers should have a regular checkup every two years. Childhood illnesses are replaced by other medical concerns, including: sexually transmitted diseases, acne, infectious mononucleosis, urinary tract infections, iron-deficiency anemia, painful for menstruation (for girls), migraine headaches, scoliosis (a curvature of the spine), epiphysitis (an inflammation of long bones such as the thighbone), and vision or hearing problems. Injuries, especially car accidents, are a major problem for teenagers aged 15 through 19. Athletic and bicycle accidents are also concerns. The teenage years are challenging for both parents and children. Parents should try to be supportive.

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