If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be Okay - parenting book full of things you don't need to worry about

When we found out Alice was pregnant, we wrote to all our friends who had recently had their first kids and said, "What's your one tip-top piece of advice for parents-to-be?" My second-favorite piece of advice came from Stewart Butterfield, who said "Buy one parenting book. Only one. It doesn't matter which." (My favorite piece came from John Henson, who said, "Agree with everything she says.")

If I had to choose just one book -- I cheated and read several -- I think it would be this one: If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be Okay: How to Know if Your Child's Injury or Illness Is Really an Emergency, by the paediatrician Lara Zibners.

Apart from a terrific title, the book has plenty going for it. Basically, Even if Your Kid Eats This Book is a detailed guide to everything you don't have to worry about. It has an orifice-by-orifice guide to detecting and removing Lego! A list of things under the sink that won't poison your kid! Sensible advice about how to get rid of dry skin! (Hot bath, then anything greasy from Crisco to Vaseline, then time).

And of course, there's also very clearly spelled-out, highly specific lists of what is worth calling your doctor or going to the emergency room for; along with details about why those things are scary and what the worst could be (it's usually not very bad).

There's nothing more soothing than a list of stuff you don't need to worry about. Yes, 12 Hours Sleep By 12 Weeks is more practical, but once the kid is sleeping OK, this one is indispensable.

If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be Okay: How to Know if Your Child's Injury or Illness Is Really an Emergency


  1. I have to ask……does it cover the insertion of small denomination coinage into the nasal passage? THAT was one I’d have loved to have found in a book…..[and FYI, A&E emergency]

  2. My wife and I have been reading Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. Also there was something recently on Radiolab (I think…or maybe This American Life) that if you don’t allow some risk in your child’s play, you might be getting in the way of their development. The obsession with safety, the culture of fear in parenting can be really intense, especially early on. Books like these can really bring you back down to earth a bit.

  3. I think books like this one and others (free range kids is another excellent book) are important for overcoming parents’ irrational fears, but there is some evidence that parents also overestimate their own child’s ability to avoid real hazards.

    In this study ( http://bit.ly/mdjBQ ) parents only identified 40% of the hazards in a simulation because they thought that their child wouldn’t get into certain kinds of danger.

    They “perceive their children as being somewhat invulnerable or smarter, safer or developmentally more advanced than other children”

    So there is some danger if you go too far the other way on this issue.

  4. Erm, that’s a heavily flawed study, because it discounts the possibility that, at least some of the time, the parents are correct that their kids know not to do certain things. I wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with that reasoning in my developmental-psych student days.

  5. “highly specific lists of what is worth calling your doctor or going to the emergency room for”. I wonder what got Lara Zibners MD started off on writing the book?

  6. My daughter was born when I was 22 and she’s remained our only child.

    Now she’s 17 and a senior in high school and I’m so proud of who she is becoming and excited for her about college, etc… I’ve rarely looked back towards really being a kid myself when she was born.

    Something about this book review gave me a pang of nostalgia and *almost* sets me to thinking about going through the process again.

  7. #5 Raj77

    Also it isn’t relevant because it doesn’t say groups who have particular ideas about ‘free range’ parenting differ in supposed ability to avoid ‘real’ hazards.

  8. My one piece of advice I tell all my friends who are expecting – “You’re going to get a lot of advice from alot of different people and books – just nod your head and say OK, and then do whatever works for you. Every baby and parent is different.”

  9. any friends or family that are expecting an addition to the family get a single piece of advice from me:

    “if they’re coughing, they’re breathing.”

    then i tell them to ask me any questions no matter how ‘gross’ it may be, or if they dont think they can ask anyone else.

    … I don’t think i’ll ever live down all the times I pointed this out, “honey, you _HAVE_ to steralize the bottles before feeding, yet, you just pick up the pacifier from the floor and wipe it off with your hand?”

  10. When we had our first child, my grandmother (who raised 5 of her own, including twins) had these two pieces of advice:

    “Every child must eat a bushel of dirt before he or she turns 16.”

    “The dust bunnies will always be there. Your children won’t.”

  11. Cory: Thank you for the wonderful review! I’m staggering around in delight. Please feel free to sign up at http://www.drzibners.com for my updates and to please send me any funny stories or questions.

    PiersW: I’m an ER pediatrician. Too many middle of the night unnecessary visits, big bummer for both me and the parents.

    Bear4Film: I really tried to present a balanced view on what actually can kill your kid but you don’t realize it (like baby oil and vanilla extract), so I really hear your point but in the end I just want parents to relax a little and enjoy their kids before this great ride is all over.

    Thanks again everyone!!

  12. Our one year old once ate an entire package of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum. Not the small one, mind you, but one of the gigantic economy-sized one.
    We were about to take him to the emergency room, even though he seemed OK. The hotline nurse laughed and told us to feed him lots of water and liquid foods and to be prepared for gooey, sticky diaper changes for days. She wasn’t fooling. I still can’t smell peppermint without having my gag-reflex go into overdrive and that was nearly 20 years ago.

  13. I really, really appreciate links like this that are a clear stream of rationality in the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that seem to represent today’s parenting headlines and general advice.

    As one of my friends says, ‘Kids today need to eat more dirt.’

    Top soil tartare, comin’ up.

  14. I’m probably taking a page from the Doc’s book, but this one will save you a trip to the ER; The first time my son gotNursemaid’s Elbow we freaked out (me especially, because I caused it by swinging my son onto the bed by his arms, a no-no, I later found out). Fortunately, despite the pain, it’s easily treatable by a parent, so I recommend a quick readup on it.

    Personally, I think mommy and daddy have naturally different outlooks and roles to play. My all-purpose motto is, ‘rub some dirt on it!’

  15. Before our first kid was born, we took a parenting class the women’s clinic offered. There was lots of generic advice, but one thing really stuck out. I called it the “Funny Looking Kid Video”.

    They’d show a picture of a kid, and say something like “Sometimes, passage through the birth canal can compress the skull to a slight point. This is normal, and will fix itself in a few weeks.” followed by another kid and something like “Sometimes, bilirubin will accumulate in the baby’s body before birth, giving their skin a dark tone. This is normal and will clear up and a few weeks”, etc.

    It was just a bunch of pictures of kids with various non-serious side effects of being born, followed by “this is normal, and will clear up in a few weeks”.

    It amused me.

  16. I read one book before my son was born, and it covered such in-depth topics like, “How to change a diaper.” We pretty much wing it on everything else.

    I don’t think parenting is something to go into with a theory or philosophy. At the end of the day, for all the incredibly important early inputs, most of our kids will end up in roughly the same place.

    I suppose that’s a philosophy, in and of itself. Dammit.

  17. When my son was two or so he shoved a bead up his nose I was worried and prepared to take him to a doctor in the morning but a simple sneeze brought it out.

  18. When my daughter was 3 or so, she shoved a *popcorn kernel* up her nose. We tried to have her blow it out but it didn’t work – and she kept sniffing it up higher into her nose.

    An expensive deducticle bought us this tidbit: have mom or dad pinch the other nostril closed, and then blow on the kids mouth like you’re doing mouth to mouth. In our case, it came flying out her nose.

    As the kid said “Mommy blew it out with a kiss.”


  19. My wife and I have two sets of friends that we have known now for at least a decade and a half. Having babysat all 6 children (each is a 3 child household) it’s been good fun to watch how their ‘concerns’ have matured….

    1st child: Nothing under the sink and house baby proofed to the point of being almost being adult proof; baby not allowed out of arms reach; constant attention and lots of photos

    2nd: Dish soap etc. reappears under the sink; as long as baby is in the same room, life is ok; almost all photos are taken with sibling and there are fewer of them.

    3rd: What I have under my childless house sink is what they have under their sink; baby can be left on a couch in the next room without concern; eldest sibling doesn’t want to pose next to the newest member of the family and that’s ok, there aren’t that many photos anyway…..

  20. I’ve found myself looking at poisons websites once in a while. One evening I took about 20 minutes to deduce (NB I am not a medical doctor so do not think that I was right) that given the LD50 lethal dose of wormwood, she’d have to have drunk about half a bottle of Olbas Oil (decongestant) before we needed to really freak out, not just a couple of drops.

  21. Try Barbara Coloroso’s book, “Kids Are Worth It” for when she’s a little older.

    The take away: “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” – it’s working for me and my kids. :-)

  22. I want to also recommend “Free Range Kids”.

    Here’s my summation of how parents view raising kids during the first years:

    Child 1: “IS SHE DEAD?!!@#$!?”
    Child 2: “It’ll come out in her poop”

  23. They “perceive their children as being somewhat invulnerable or smarter, safer or developmentally more advanced than other children”

    Maybe they were.

    Here’s my anecdote. It’s not science–it’s just an anecdote–but it’s mine.

    My wife and I are raising our children (currently six and nine) in a pretty free-range way. We do have some limits and rules, but they’re pretty straight-forward, things like “encourage the kids to do things only if they’re comfortable with it” and “OK, if death seems like a real possibility, real them in a bit.” We seem to be the some of the few parents that do this. For example, my son (the none year old) walks home from school, and as far as I can tell is the only one in his school (or at least his class) that walks alone.

    The theory behind this, of course, is that by practicing the use of their minds and bodies, they’ll actually learn how to use them. It’s working out great. (Random example: I saw some 20 something climbing on some rocks by our house the other day, and the nine year old is a better climber on those rocks.)

    People never let their young kids out of their sight, so the kids don’t really learn safety. When my kids cross the road with me they’re not good at looking, but when they’re by themselves they do (I’ve observed this from a distance), but the reason they are good it is is that they started practicing when they were young enough that it was a Big Deal, and they took it very seriously.

    [Example conversation: “Can I walk home from German Street?”

    “Do you feel comfortable doing so?”

    “Maybe not yet. Can I walk home from High Street?”

    “Sure, but remember to cross High Street carefully. The cars don’t have a stop sign, and the college kids drive fast and don’t always pay attention.”


    Now, we know a couple in town who have children very close in age to ours (six and eight), but this couple is very protective–the kind of people who yell at their kids for swinging sticks around at the playground, and would never dream of letting their kids make a rickety tower and clime up it. And you know what? They may think they have their kid’s safety at heart, but because they’ve never learned to use their minds or bodies, they’re in the ER all the time with fractures and sprains and all manners of boo-boos. Seriously. And my kids have never once gotten really hurt. Sure, they’ve had skinned knees and the like, but skinned knees are the best teacher. Minor abrasion will teach a kid much more quickly than any shrill lecturing.

  24. When my wife was a little girl, she shoved a doll’s shoe up her nose. No amount of nose-blowing or tweezer-probing could extract it, so her parents put her in the car to bring her to the hospital. One the way, she sneezed and the shoe came flying out.

    But I assert that she didn’t actually sneeze; she was actually exclaiming: “A shoe!”


  25. Ambiguity, in defense of the 20 year olds, climbing is a lot harder when you’ve gone through puberty. I was awesome at climbing when I was nine too.

    I was, like, the only kid who rode my bike to school alone all the way from elementary to high school. I hope a looser leash on privileged kids comes back into fashion, but I don’t have great faith that it will. After all, I’m only planning on one or two kids, not enough to have spares.

    1. Indeed. I sometimes ride in the unicycle club in NYC. There’s all sorts of pre-pubescent boys there that can pick the things up and an hour later be riding around and doing jumps and twists. It’s not so easy for adults.

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