Zero To Five: An Interview With Tracy Cutchlow

Do you ever wish that all the tidbits of research and parenting tips you are bombarded with each day could show up in one nifty book? Well, you are in luck! Seattle journalist and mom Tracy Cutchlow has crafted the perfect companion for parenting from birth to kindergarten and it’s hot off the press!

Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I've Learned So Far)takes about half of the parenting books on my shelf and sums them up in to one beautiful book. Tracy gathers the critical information in these books and distills them down in to bite size pieces that even sleep deprived new parents can handle.

Zero to Five features one tip per page, photographs of real families, and a design that's easy to dip into between diaper changes and tantrums. It also features some hot tips from yours truly! Want more information on a topic? The citations make it easy to know where to go. In fact, Tracy’s book makes a fantastic desk reference for those who work with children and families.

I sat down with Tracy to ooh and ah over her beautiful creation and ask a few questions about her book. Here’s what she had to say:

Why did you decide to write Zero to Five?

I wrote Zero to Five for several reasons. I wished I'd had a book like this when I first had my baby, and I thought other new parents might appreciate it, too. I was the editor of Brain Rules for Baby, which is a great book for understanding what boosts brain development, and I'm so grateful for that experience. But then when I had a baby, I was like, "Wait, how exactly do I do these things?"

My publisher had been joking about this book since I got pregnant: "Hey, the editor of Brain Rules for Baby now has to apply the book in her own life – great story!" Over time, it became clear that he wasn't joking. Believe me, no one with a 6-month-old baby thinks, "You know what? I should write a parenting book." Then I got excited about creating something really useful for new parents. It turned out to be an advantage that I was going through this stuff as I was writing the book, from 6 months to 2 years. If I were looking back now, trying to remember, the personal stories wouldn't have been as real.

Why did you choose to focus on newborns to 5 year olds for Zero to Five?

Zero to Five focuses on baby's first five years because this is when we, as new parents, wading into uncertain waters, need the most help. (I know, parents of teenagers disagree!) And such an incredible amount of change is happening in the first five years in baby's brain. Starting in the second half of pregnancy, those neurons are making hundreds of connections per second. We're thinking, "I don't want to mess this up." At first, that panicked feeling is about keeping our tiny, incomprehensible newborn alive. Then you get a handle on that and say, "OK, now what?" Zero to Five is about what you do next.

What is the most surprising thing parents of young children may learn about discipline from Zero to Five?

Well, what surprised me about discipline is the concept of teaching instead of punishing. I thought punishment was how you to taught a kid not to misbehave. You know, "Throw your food again and you're not going to your friend's house." But this doesn't teach the things you actually want your child to learn in the long run – like why they shouldn't do that thing, how they can manage the emotions behind the misbehavior, and what they might do instead.  

Teaching instead of punishing doesn't mean you're weak on discipline. You have rules and you have consequences for breaking them. But your consequences are carefully crafted and delivered in a certain way. You have to separate your desire for your child to "just do what I say right now" from the values you want your child to learn. Thanks again, Sarina, you were incredibly helpful to me in putting together this part of the book!

What is the one thing you would tell all first-time parents?

When you feel yourself getting frustrated, take deep breaths. Everyone's heard this. It sounds simple. But it requires noticing that you're getting upset and then just stopping in the middle of whatever's happening. That takes practice. You can practice by sitting in silence for a few minutes each day and catching on to the thoughts that flit through your head. Notice the emotions these thoughts bring up. Notice how the emotion feels in your body: palms, heartbeat, shoulders? Then name the emotion: "That's anxiety." "I'm feeling fear." Breathe. Breathing deeply is such a powerful tool because it engages the parasympathetic nervous system. It's our body's built-in way of restoring calm during stress. And when we're calm, we make better decisions. This is one tip you'll be able to use multiple times a day!

Thanks to Tracy for creating this fantastic resource for new families. Visit Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned So Far) for more great tips or to pick up a copy for yourself.