Savvy Essentials: Your Child's Body, a Parent's Owner's Manual

Amy Rees
March 2, 2010

We constantly puzzle over the workings of our children's minds. We wonder what they are learning, when they are learning it, where and how and from whom they are learning it. We notice new features in their drawings, we listen to snippets of conversation among preschool friends at the park, we get busted spelling something out in front of them when they recognize the word. 

But something else is going on at the same time as all that learning. One day, his pants are flood-height. Does she grow in her sleep? How could he be fine one minute and running such a blazing fever just an hour later? Is it normal that she ____ <fill in your own parental hypochondria here...>

Much of learning is physical, in fact. Kindergarten readiness has more to do with being able to hold a pencil (and hop on one foot) than almost anything else. A splotchy rash puts an end to any social fun you had in mind for this afternoon. Just as you yearn to understand his mind, you become expert in the workings of his always-growing body. All of parenthood is physical, it seems sometimes. From the myriad mysteries offered from a newborn you can easily balance in one hand to the no-fewer enigmas presented in "older" kids of up to six, here are the contents of our Savvy, can't-live-without-'em books about our children's bodies: 

I really, really try not to be jealous of my fellow parents, but oh, the stab when my neighbor mentioned that her boarding school roommate is a pediatrician, and oh she just popped over to take a peek at my neighbor's son after a feverish night. Who gets a best friend like that?! Well, in fact, you do. Make the acquaintance (best friend-ship, if you prefer) with Dr. Cara Familian Natterson. Dr. Natterson is a mom and a pediatrician, and she keenly identified the gaping hole in the parenting book market for something actually useful in making sense of your newborn's body and the oddly wonderful and sometimes scary things it does. Stop making lay diagnoses-by-internet late at night; start flipping through your own PDR -- that's Parents' Desk Reference, in this case -- Dr. Natterson's Your Newborn: Head to Toe. All questions are answered, starting with when you need to worry. Don't fret until she tells you to -- advice from a friend, indeed.  Dr. Natterson's companion book for toddlers is equally essential for the 1+ set. 

Taking a longer view of your child's growth is also important.  And taking the long view requires a nice, highly normalized sense of what is supposed to be happening in your little one's body, compared to a broad sample of her peers.  Your pediatrician, of course, gives you this sense at regular check-ups. For the time in between, consult this volume of advice agreed upon by all the nation's pediatricians, as a group. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 tells you how it all works -- consult it early and often.

And speaking of how it all works, you are going to have to explain how it all works to your child. Yep, "it." That "it." You. Oh, dear... But we have another friend to introduce you to: Debra Haffner. Her From Diapers to Dating is exactly what you need to hear, even if you don't want to hear it. Everything parents need to think about -- and talk about -- in the world of babies, bodies, and sex. You'll decide for yourself precisely how much of her let's-be-a-grown-up-about-this advice you can implement in your family, and when, but you'll appreciate the very specific advice about what to tell children at various ages. And you'll also appreciate the pep talk that Haffner gives you about why you want the information about your child's sexuality to come from you and to be positive and not from the wildly uninformed and scary game of telephone that happens during school recess. (Another don't miss: our own expert Betsy Brown Braun has an indispensible script on the birds and bees topic in her Just Tell Me What to Say.)

Anxious to return to the thinking part of your child's world? A bridge between the very real but sometimes messy physicality of parenthood and the world of thinking and understanding comes courtesy of the excellent Your Child's Growing Mind. Jane Healy's explanation of how exactly your child's brain works and grows should be required reading for all curious parents. It is like having a kindly developmental neuroscientist as a neighbor -- or best friend. 


From the Parents

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