Sleep & Nap Issues: I Need Help Transitioning My Toddler From A Bed To A Crib

At first, Attachment Parenting sounds really good. Responding to the baby's needs, keeping her close for skin-to-skin contact, letting her learn independence at HER pace. I get it. I live on Maui, people -- this is Attachment Parenting Central.

Or maybe you just accidentally fell into having baby sleep in your bed. Lots of babies don't sleep well in the first year, and we're so tired that we're willing to do anything to get a little rest. Plus, it really can be dee-lish to snooze with that little sweetie right there.

But eventually, your little baby grows -- into a toddler. And realizes that she can 1) keep herself awake on demand, 2) insist on nursing constantly through the night, and 3) crawl, climb and play all over Mom and Dad, who are trying (in vain) to sleep.

So I get a lot of desperate emails from readers like Amy who are re-thinking the Attachment Parenting thing. Maybe not the WHOLE thing, but the "not getting any sleep at night after umpteen months" thing. Is it possible to transition a toddler OUT of your bed, and INTO her own crib? (Or is a toddler bed in your room better?)

This is such a complicated situation that I'm devoting an entire chapter in my book to it. But until that's available, here are some things to consider:

  • Toddlers don't associate cribs with "jails" or "cages", as some might suggest. That's an adult projection. Toddlers feel relieved to have a safe, cozy, predictable place of their own to retreat to, after a long day toddling, climbing, and falling.
  • Letting a toddler have free access to your room (or the whole house) at night while co-sleeping (or sleeping in a toddler bed in your room) is enough to cause most parents to sleep with "one eye open". Too much freedom, not enough sleep -- and maybe not safe, I say.
  • Parents who aren't getting much sleep after many, many months risk SERIOUS health consequences (think: life and death), plus the obvious negative impact on the relationship. Parents need some sleep to stay healthy and sane -- plus their own time -- together -- to be "on the same page" and have a strong relationship. Even babies and toddlers can absorb -- and accept -- this message.

But how to do it? This depends on your family's needs, the setup of your home, and your kiddo's temperament. If you're struggling with this, let me know. We can problem-solve in the comments section.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert Sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me:

Dr. Heather's First Live TV Appearance

Despite awakening at 4 am with bloodshot eyes from an allergy attack (perfect for HDTV, right?) -- I was psyched to head down to KITV yesterday morning to talk story with the gang about parenting. So mahalo to Jill Kuramoto for inviting me, and a big aloha to Mahealani Richardson, Moanike'ala Nabarro, and Yasmin Dar for making me feel so at home in the studio. Looking forward to seeing you all again next month!

Here's the link: Dr. Heather on KITV -- January 17, 2012

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Louise Bates Ames Writes About Your One-Year-Old

I'm reading every parenting book ever written on an obsessive quest to find helpful nuggets and insights to include in my first BabyShrink book. Those of you who know me know that I think much of what's available these days is garbage. Junk. Not practical. Not worth the money.

But once in awhile, I find a gem. Most of these gems are "oldies but goodies" -- dated, in some ways, but true and superb in the way that classics always are.

Louise Bates Ames, PhD, wrote a whole series of parenting books over 30 years ago, with a new book for each year of life. I've read most of them, but so far, this is my favorite. It might have to do with the fact that I have a particularly spicy 1-year-old in the house (thankfully NAPPING, at the moment -- something I don't take for granted with her).

Ames doesn't take 12-24 months for granted, like so many other parenting writers. Ames contends that, in fact, this is one of the trickiest ages to parent -- and I fully agree. In this book, she explains why -- and gives the simplest, sweetest, most effective suggestions I've ever read on how to contend with your newbie toddler.

Enjoy.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Sleep, Toddlers, and Mental Health (Hopefully, Not Mutually Exclusive)

Mental Health Blog Party Badge I'm blogging for mental health today -- but not in way you might expect. Mental health isn't just some esoteric list of psychiatric diagnoses. It starts with simple -- but critically important -- things. These include the support of loved ones, meaningful work and relationships, and enough resources to have a little fun. On the top of that list, though, is getting adequate SLEEP. Having young children is the quickest way to ruin in the sleep department (and I speak from vast experience). Here's a quick tip on tackling the sleep issue for toddlers (and by extension, YOU):

Dear Dr. Heather,

 

My 2 year old started climbing out of the crib a few weeks ago. We transitioned her to a toddler bed and she continues to wake up around 2 am to play! And doesn't go back to bed until after 4 am. I've tried cutting her nap, which resulted in a miserable little girl in the afternoon and still waking in the middle night. I know allow her to nap for an hour and she's still up and playing at 2 am. Her bed time is around 8:30pm every night. Help!

Holly

Dear Holly,

It's very common for toddlers to start waking in the middle of the night after transitioning to a bed. That's why I always recommend WAITING to give up the crib as long as possible. But don't worry: Your late-night party-girl will remember how to sleep through the night -- with your help.

During the day, remind her that it's her job to sleep when it's dark outside -- plus, Mommy and Daddy get grouchy when she wakes them up at night. Everyone needs their sleep to be healthy.

Adopt the "broken record" approach -- she needs to stay in bed. Lights out. Time to sleep. If she gets up or makes a ruckus, calmly guide her back to bed and repeat the rules. Don't get emotional, don't turn on the lights, don't talk much, and certainly don't offer any food, drinks, or TV.

It may take a zillion or so reminders (or just a few, depending on her personality), but eventually her internal clock will win out and she'll start to sleep again -- as long as YOU'RE consistent in your approach. And when she DOES sleep through the night again, congratulate her for a job well done in the morning, and tell her how great YOU feel after having a good night's sleep!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

 

Exciting Work -- BabyShrink's Updates

Whew, I've been busy! Make sure to check me out all month on ParentsConnect.com, the Nick Jr parenting blog. You know, "We're not perfect, we're parents." We had an awesome connection over my "Good Enough" parenting posts, and it's exciting to interact with so many of their families. It was all made possible by the fab folks at Learning Care Group -- you probably know them by their 1,000+ schools in the US, including ChildTime, Tutor Time, La Petite Academy, Montessori Unlimited, and The Children's Courtyard. I've been blogging for them on the LCG Blog Learning Together too. They have exciting plans for showing off their expertise with kids -- and they want my help. I'm honored and thrilled -- and I'll keep you posted as things develop.

I recently spent a bunch of time with the LCG folks on the mainland, creating a series of parenting videos. I'll post them here soon, and they'll also be on the LCG website. It was a wild ride, creating top-notch, scientifically-based, but accessible info for parents in the most professional, high-quality, high-tech media environment.

In the meantime, I'm expanding my Parent Coaching practice, and juggling not one, not two, but THREE kids' basketball team schedules. What the heck -- it's all good experience for my LCG writing -- they want to focus on work/life balance in the future, and my house is the perfect crucible to test out some new approaches.

Thanks for your continued support, and I hope you'll stick around to check out some of my parenting tips!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Sudden Fears in 12 to 15-Month-Old Babies

Let me tell you about a cool conversation I had the other day with my Infant Research/Rock Star Guru, Professor Joseph Campos (at UC Berkeley).  He helped me understand more about a funky phenomenon I've written about here before: The Weird, Wacky, Sudden Fears of the 12 -- 15-month old. You know: Crazy fears of the bath, bizarre fears of mustached men, and other kooky things like Fear of Flowers (I kid you not -- I've heard 'em all -- many from my own kids). As I've said before, these sudden fears are NORMAL -- but now I understand a little more about WHY.

It's a combination of what I've already written about here -- adjusting to the exciting (and scary) new world of mobility, as well as an inborn fear of sudden, unexpected unfamiliarity. Babies this age tend to freak when they see something that looks out of place -- a man with facial hair (if they're used to clean-shaven guys), dogs that suddenly bark loudly, or things that move in unexpected, uncontrollable directions (like flowers in the breeze). Turns out that adult chimpanzees also have similar fears. Interestingly, our toddlers grow out of these fears -- chimps do not. Rapidly developing baby brains are starting to compare "familiar" to "unfamiliar". It's likely protective -- which is especially needed now that the baby is toddling around, away from parents.

Sudden baby fears are also related to a similar parent frustration at this age: Resistance to car seats, strollers, changing tables, high chairs, or any similar baby-jail. Why? Because they remove the element of control from your little one -- and CONTROL is what helps to decrease baby's fears.

So here's how to cope with those intense and sometimes inexplicable fears in your young toddler: Give her as much control as possible (given safety factors, and of course your need to do other stuff, too.) Fear of the unknown and unexpected is always best soothed with CONTROL. Let baby approach (or avoid) fascinating/scary things (or people) at her own pace. Explain to her when it's time to get into the car seat -- and let her try to negotiate herself into it, if possible. (She just might do it, if you give her a minute to think it through.) Take the pressure off if she's feeling shy or fearful. And most of all: DON'T WORRY. Weird toddler fears mean nothing about future psychological adjustment (and the more YOU freak out about her fears, the more SHE'LL freak out about them.)

But on the flip side: If baby needs to get into the car seat NOW, or if she MUST have a bath tonight -- that's OK, too. Explain it to her. "I know you don't want a bath, but you have enchiladas in your hair, honey. I promise to make this as fast as possible, then we'll be all done." Be supportive and understanding -- but shampoo away. You won't do any psychological harm. The trick is to give her the general message that, WHEN POSSIBLE, you'll give her as much control as you can. But sometimes the grown-ups have to be in charge (and that's a good lesson, too).

The good news is this: These fears almost always dissipate by 18 months of age. (Then you'll be on to bigger and better things -- like Full On Temper Tantrums.) Whee!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four and Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: How To Stop Children From Grinding Their Teeth

Another good question from the Parent Coaching files: Toddlers who grind their teeth. Why do they do it, and are we -- as parents -- doing anything to cause it? And more importantly, how can we get it to STOP?!

For some, this is a nighttime tendency that seems to be hereditary. For others, it's a passing phase -- and more likely to be heard in the daytime.

Teeth-grinding is usually just a really annoying -- but common and normal -- thing for toddlers. Aside from any medical causes you must rule out first -- dehydration, nutritional deficiencies and pinwoms (yech, I know) being among the rare but true culprits -- it's probably not a reason to worry.  It's likely related to all those new choppers growing in -- she's getting used to them. Grinding is a way to feel where they are, make weird new sounds with them, and "sand down" the sharp points that often accompany new teeth. It may also alleviate the pain of teething. PLUS, it's a way to irritate you, if you show it gets under your skin! So watch your reaction -- getting upset about it might be just the fuel she needs to start doing it all the time.

The majority of these cases aren't caused by -- or reflective of -- any parenting flaw. You can  think of other ways to occupy her energy, time, and mouth -- like singing, word games, and crunchy snacks. But don't pay too much attention to the grinding itself. My strong recommendation is to IGNORE IT. I know it can be like nails on a chalkboard, but really -- there is no other way. The more you point it out, the more likely she is to increase the grinding. If your toddler still does it frequently after a few weeks, then it's time to have it checked by a good pediatric dentist. But I bet you'll be on to the next parenting dilemma by then.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Getting Your Child To Eat Fruits And Veggies

Direct from the Parent Coaching files, an issue that plagues many of us: The Preschooler Who Won't Eat Healthy Foods. Common variants of this plague include The Preschooler Who Only Eats White Foods, The Preschooler Who Only Eats Starches, The Preschooler Who Only Eats Chicken Nuggets, and my niece's current version: The Preschooler Who Only Eats Raisin Toast. (What can I say? Our family always has to be a little different.)

Seeing as though we can't force our children to Eat, Sleep, or Poop, we must BACK OFF. Yet, how to encourage healthy eating habits? And how to cope with the obvious complications of No Healthy Food -- constipation, and it's negative impact on potty training?

I wish it was as simple as many of our pediatricians say: "Encourage fruits, vegetables, and whole fibers. Have them drink a lot of water." OK -- but HOW?! Most preschoolers will turn up their cute little noses at a plate of healthy food -- or even something that looks just a little DIFFERENT than what they're used to eating.

My take on it: This is an opportunity to walk the precariously thin line between ENCOURAGEMENT and PRESSURE. Do we give up trying? No. Do we get frustrated and beg, plead, cajole, or bribe them? Nope. But we DO encourage -- with a parenting trick up our sleeves.

So, try this, a daily tactic in our house: It's the One Molecule Rule. We serve meals in courses: Healthy foods first. Each kid gets a serving of either a fruit or vegetable -- kid-friendly -- think carrot strips and ranch dressing, banana "coins", or apples with peanut butter. Each kid's serving must be finished before the rest of the meal becomes available to them. And by "serving size", we start with One Molecule of something different. The other day, we tried pomegranates. One kid LOVES them, but one kid freaked out when he saw them. For him, the rule was One Seed. He had to eat ONE pomegranate seed before "unlocking" his turkey sandwich. And next time, his serving might be TWO seeds. Whatever it is, be reasonably sure that it's a serving size he can handle -- and maybe even feel proud of finishing. SMALLER IS BETTER, until they graduate up to the next level. Praise and reinforce even the most incremental progress. And of course -- model the behavior you want them to emulate. OOH and AAH over your artichokes, brussels sprouts, and avocados. But let them go when they've had their molecule.

Because:  Little kids are biologically programmed to avoid weird, unusual foods. It's a survival thing from back in the day when weird foods could (and often did) kill them. So don't blame your kids, work with them.

And the good news is this: With lots of encouragement over time, this too shall improve. To wit: My 9-year-old daughter, previously a card-carrying member of the "I Only Drink Juice And Eat Goldfish Crackers" club, asked for a CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD last night. And she LOVED it.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Psychological Milestones: Why Your 4-Year-Old Is So Awesome

I'm really enjoying our 4-year-old. He's sort of an "Entry-Level Kid" -- no longer a squirelly toddler, he can join in the group for some fun, manage his feelings pretty well, and tells silly stories that have us rolling.

Common parenting wisdom has remedies for the "Terrible Twos." But they leave out the "Terrible THREES," which can be mighty tough.

Three-year-olds are really just glorified toddlers who still need a lot of special attention, and are prone to frequent meltdowns, tantrums, and making wacky demands.  But the difference between three and four is huge -- and hugely fun.

 

Here are some of the major emotional developments that come along with being four. Your 4-year-old can:

  • smoothly enter into new play situations without much help from you
  • start to be responsible for small, regular chores like carrying his laundry to the laundry room
  • take turns and share (most of the time)
  • create elaborate, vivid play scenarios, and stick with them for longer
  • be goofy beyond belief, and play around with silly words and "jokes"
  • boast and brag with the best of them
  • "use his words" more often than resorting to violence
  • start to follow rules (and even insist others do so)
  • enjoy family outings and trips more than ever

But it's not always rosy. Some 4-year-old challenges include:

  • tattling, name-calling and complaining
  • resorting to whining and tantrums when tired, sick, or overwhelmed
  • trying to change the rules mid-way through games
  • "lies" -- still can't understand the difference between "truth" and "fiction" -- and won't, until age 6+

No matter the challenges, it's a special time -- and I'm making the most out of it. Soon, he'll be starting school, and sometime in 1st grade his focus will shift away from family -- and towards school and peers. It's really our last chance to enjoy the special, intense, close parent-child bond before he starts launching into the wider world. (Sniff! I'm going off to have a little cry now -- for my awesome boy who won't be little forever.)

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Sleep & Nap Issues: When Your Toddler Looks Tired -- But Won't Nap

It was 2 pm, and my toddler STILL hadn't gone down for her nap. Routines were followed, milk was drunk, and the house was quiet (no small feat around here, I assure you). She was rubbing her eyes, complaining -- but plowing ahead. Throwing her little arms in the air, she was chanting, "Up! Up!"

Some of you are pretty mellow about your toddler's nap schedule. But I'm the type who has to have "mellow" beaten into me with the stick of experience. "Toddlers are supposed to nap. Go to sleep, toddler of mine."

Not always that easy, is it? Turns out, none of my 4 babies ever read the Weissbluth or Ferber books, and they totally failed the "How Many Hours Per Day Babies Need To Sleep" test. They didn't follow those rules, and I was left fretting that something was wrong (and trying to soothe an overtired baby).

But guess what? I'm up at 3 am writing this post. Why? I can't sleep. I did my nighty-night routine, but my BabyShrink work beckoned me from bed. Your baby has important work to do, too. Sometimes, it's more important than sleep.

But what does a poor parent do with an obviously sleepy (but not napping) toddler?

Here on my 4th baby, I've discovered some important truths about nap schedules:

* The best-followed routine doesn't always work. Sometimes a nap simply isn't in the cards.

* Yes, an over-tired toddler sometimes means a cranky and difficult afternoon. But often, your toddler can rally and make the most out of the day.

* Toddlers are notoriously wacky about following nap schedules -- some more than others. Focus on nighttime sleep, and an earlier bedtime when there's no nap.

* Some parents attempt to hang on to that second nap for too long. If she used to be a good napper and now isn't, experiment with dropping the nap.

* Yes, I know: Sleep is important to a baby's brain. But as with food, parents need to focus on the overall amount, over time. A bad day ( or week) of sleep isn't going to do any lasting damage (except to us).

Now it's off to bed for me. If you're still awake, go and read more about your toddler's sleep challenges here.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: When and How To Get Rid Of Your Toddler's "Comfort Thingie"

The "Comfort Thingie" -- your toddler's thumb, binkie, blanket or other "lovey" -- is a vexing problem to most parents. Usually yucky, stinky, shredded and gross, we'd love to chuck it, but Toddler would FREAK. HOW to get rid of it? WHEN is it OK to get rid of it? And WHY does she need it so much, anyway?

The Comfort Thingie is part you, that's why -- it helps your toddler transition from complete dependence to independence. It carries a bit of parental mojo along with it's stink and shreds. (And by the way, Comfort Thingies also include weird repetitive toddler behaviors -- cramming blanket corners up her nose, twiddling a lock of hair, walking around with her finger in her belly button, or even head-banging to get to sleep -- all qualify as Comfort Thingies.)

Tips for Getting Through The Thingie Phase

  • * Know that it’s completely normal, age appropriate, and promotes independence
  • * Show that you respect the Thingie, no matter how disgusting
  • * Try to understand the draw of the Thingie so that you can understand what comforts your child – these things tend to be idiosyncratic, and reflective of the child’s enduring temperament and personality and preferences
  • * Consider keeping the Thingie. If it's OK with you, a tattered blanket never hurt anyone. There's no psychological reason to force the issue. She'll eventually lose interest, and then you can keep it to give her her when she has her own babies. (Awwwww......)
  • * Pace Yourself – and your child. Don’t try to give up multiple Thingies at once (for instance, don’t eliminate the bottle, binkie, and crib simultaneously) and back off of the potty training until any Thingie Phase-Out has become routine.
  • * Talk to your toddler about how the Thingie helps, so that she can begin to understand (and internalize) it’s power
  • * Identify stress in your toddler’s life, and try to decrease it.
  • * Don’t even suggest giving up the Thingie until the age of 3. Don’t waste your parental capital on this one, as often, the Thingie will be given up naturally. After 3 it will be easier to negotiate with your child for a “Thingie Phase-Out Plan”.
  • * Rule out any medical explanation (especially in the case of head-banging) – just to be sure.

And finally… Look Away and Breathe Deeply – you might as well start practicing now! Your ability to pick and choose your parental battles will be key to getting through all the phases of your child’s development with your sanity (relatively) intact. The Comfort Thingie -- while certainly disgusting now -- resolves naturally in typically developing children.

Here's more on how to know when, if, and how to transition your toddler away from her Binkie. And if you still have questions, email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com, or hit the Parent Coaching button above. I'd love to talk with you about your toddler's stinky habit, and help you decide how to deal with the situation.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How To Handle Sibling Rivalry

I love it when parents say, “Our toddler is SO happy that she has a little baby brother. She seems to have accepted him totally!” Just wait.

Sibling rivalry usually doesn’t become a problem until your toddler has to contend with a mobile baby --one who gets into her stuff, pulls her hair, and otherwise competes with her in the Zone of Stardom she previously owned in the family. When that happens, all the harmony that existed in the home evaporates, replaced by screams of “MINE!”, “HE HIT ME!”, “STOP TOUCHING ME!”, and “AAAAAGGHHHHH!”

It’s pretty upsetting, to see it in action. Our fierce protectiveness of the baby kicks in, and it’s made worse by the fact that the offender ALSO belongs to you. “How COULD she? Am I raising a sociopath? What have I done wrong?” We worry.

First of all, it’s important to understand how painful it is for your toddler to have to share you with a sibling. Here’s an analogy: Your partner comes to you and says, "Honey, I love you SOOOO much that I've decided to get another partner JUST LIKE YOU -- to live with us, be taken care of by me, and to mess up all your stuff. Isn't that GREAT?!" Not really. In fact, pretty sucky. That's how your toddler feels (at least some of the time).

And yet: The sibling relationship has the potential to be profoundly important. Think about it: We have the longest relationship of our lives with our siblings. Siblings can understand each other like no one else, because of the shared, early experiences of our families of origin. For these reasons, we WANT our kids to get along.

Know this: Parenting a toddler AND a baby who are fairly close in age (anything less than 3 or 3 1/2 years apart) is really, really hard. In fact, IT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING I HAVE EVER DONE.

I’m here to give you two messages: 1) Don’t worry – it’s common and typical for toddlers, little kids, and even big kids to fight like cats and dogs. It’s a drag for parents, and not usually anything to worry about, BUT, 2) we have our work cut out for us, if we want to maximize the potential good relationship between our kids. There are lots of things we can do to make it smoother – maybe not so much now, but for the future.

That said, keep these things in mind:

• Safety, of course, is Job One. Never, EVER, leave a baby alone with your toddler (at least up to age 4), even for a second. The toddler can't help herself -- and you're not allowed to get mad at her if she starts hitting while you're not looking. She’s just too young for you to expect more.

Adopt a "matter-of-fact" attitude. In normal circumstances, your toddler isn't a sociopathic maniac, and your baby isn't a traumatized victim. Baby is tougher than you think, and Toddler is less evil than you fear.

Expect your toddler to TRY to hammer away at the baby -- it's simply human nature – but let everyone know you won’t allow her to hurt the baby. Your mission is to convey this: “I can’t let you hurt the baby. Tell me you’re mad, but hitting isn’t allowed. It looks like you’re mad because Baby got to sit next to me. Am I right?” Guide the interaction towards talking. This is the perfect crucible to grind out the issue of talking about feelings – instead of acting them out. Political correctness, manners and grace come much, much later (ages 6, 7 and beyond). In the meantime, expect to be there as protector -- and try not to get disappointed, worried, or critical of your toddler. She's just really bummed about having to share you.

Resign yourself to breaking up fights -- sometimes constantly. I know it feels like you're a referee all day sometimes, and it's easy to worry about the future implications of the sibling relationship. "Will they always attack each other like this?!" They might, for a really long time -- and that might actually be a good thing. Family is the pressure cooker of life, and siblings have the opportunity to work out lots of life's big issues together: Sharing, patience, and cooperation.

But you've got to emphasize the positive. When they DO get along -- notice, praise, and reward. "What nice sharing, you two! Wow, what a lovely time you're having together. That looks really fun." Even if it's only a brief interlude in the action, make a point of praising.

Finally, make it a point to regularly schedule “special time” with each of your kids – ideally, with each parent, separately and together – to get some time where that one kid can be the focus. Nothing fancy -- even if it’s just a trip to the market while the baby is home with grandma, it will help.

Smoothing out the rough edges in their relationship -- over and over -- will eventually help them create a stronger relationship.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert Sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me:

Toddler Behavior: Reasons Your Toddler Doesn't Eat Much

I've just had a rare parenting experience; making a meal that my toddler ate -- and enjoyed.

Pediatricians tell us that toddlers need fewer calories, so not to worry. But there's another more developmental reason that toddlers often don't eat. The "simple" cycle of HUNGER -----> EATING -----> FEELING BETTER isn't really so simple for your toddler. It involves conscious awareness of a physical cue (hunger), understanding that FOOD is the solution to HUNGER, and then expressing that need to us. Not only do toddlers have better things to do than to sit and be restrained in a highchair (things like walking, running, climbing and screaming about bathtime), but they have a hard time "tuning in" to that feeling of hunger to begin with. We can all relate to that, right? Getting so consumed in an absorbing activity that we forget to eat. That's the daily experience of your toddler.

Understanding this dynamic makes it easier to handle. Try this:

Think ahead about when your toddler's likely to get hungry, and offer something she usually likes to entice her to the highchair. (Thin, crunchy breadsticks are the snack of choice at our house these days.) Then offer her a prepared meal -- don't expect her to sit and wait while you make it. If she resists, that's OK. Take her down and send her on her way. Try again at the next regular snack or mealtime.

Drinking milk is your toddler's default -- it's a lot easier to drink milk (think how easy a nice milkshake goes down), and it's reminiscent of the good ol' baby days, when parents took care of everything. In other words, it's regressive -- and comforting. And sometimes, toddlers get so crazy-hungry that they're beyond food -- it just doesn't satisfy the way milk would. As long as your toddler's experimenting with food and getting a little variety during the course of the week, regressing to milk in the service of preventing a hunger meltdown sometimes is OK. (But check out her menu with her pediatrician if you're unsure.)

Don't panic about rejected food. You can't force a toddler eat, poop, or sleep. Putting extra pressure on the situation only makes it worse. Take a deep breath and be glad you're not contributing to a future food neurosis.

Rest assured that as your toddler gets a bit older, this dynamic will naturally improve -- young toddlers have more trouble with food than older, "more experienced" toddlers do. And as she gets to preschool age (3 or so), she'll be more interested in playing social games involving food (think "Tea Party"), AND she'll have a lot more experience with food under her belt. Once again, the miracle of development will help us get through this maddening stage.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Dealing With Sibling Rivalry: When A Toddler Bashes Baby (or Preschooler Bashes Toddler)

Shawn poses as this unassuming urban Dad who backpacks around with his two young kids while his wife toils away at a high-powered job.

But in reality, he's scary-smart, this close to getting his PhD at Stanford, in philosophy -- of all things. He can write (and backpack) circles around me, and in the couple of years we've both been blogging he's built up a massive following and hob-nobbed with all the big online names. All while I'm toiling away in obscurity, 2500 miles away from the action. (Don't feel too bad, though, since I'm in Hawaii.)

So I was happy to oblige him when he asked for a guest post -- that is, until he suggested a topic that has been argued and written about for thousands of years -- sibling rivalry. Typical philosopher. I reminded him that HE'S the one who still needs to finish his dissertation, not me. But last I heard, he had bailed out of the library and was headed down to the Happiest Place on Earth, so it looks like that PhD will be claimed another day.

But I hope you come check out my advice to him over at Backpacking Dad, because I gave him some ideas that should help you smooth out the relationship between your young kids, too. Toddlers bash on babies, preschoolers bash on toddlers, but there ARE things that we, as parents, can do to minimize the bashing (and maintain some semblance of our own sanity.) And thanks for the guest spot, Shawn. (Now -- get back to work!)

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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I've helped thousands of families, and by popular demand, I'm opening Parent Coaching up to my BabyShrink audience. To kick it off, I'm launching a contest. Sign up by commenting below -- tell me why YOU deserve a free BabyShrink double session with me -- one hour, by Skype, by phone or in person -- a $150 value. Be as detailed as you can. Tell me:

Your child's exact age and your specific problem ~

What you've tried that hasn't worked ~

Anything else that might be impacting your child (health, family changes, etc).

Remember: Parent Coaching is NOT therapy -- just real-world solutions for everyday families. All of my suggestions are based on solid science -- plus my experience as a Parenting Psychologist, and raising 4 young children. Entries will be accepted in the comments section of this post until MONDAY, OCTOBER 4. And if you don't need Coaching, please VOTE for your favorite entries by commenting too.

I'd love to talk to you in person and help you out of your dilemma. Enter now, and I hope to talk with you soon!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: "Perfectionism" in A 2-Year Old?

Longtime reader Katie has asked me about her baby before. But now that her daughter is an honest-to-goodness toddler, there are new questions about perfectionism. Babies don't care about "the rules" -- toddlers do. And so a new struggle with "doing it right -- by myself" begins: "I DO IT MYSSEF!"

Dear Dr. Heather,

For the past few nights my daughter has insisted on putting her pajamas on herself. This would be great, except she can't quite get it by herself and ends up getting really frustrated. However, she gets even more angry and upset when I try to help her. I end up being torn between my desire to let her learn to do it herself and my desire to get her to bed at a decent hour. Usually she genuinely needs a few small helps to get the pajamas on, but I try to let her do as much as possible by herself.

This also is a symptom of a larger problem - what I perceive to be a growing perfectionism on her part. For example, if one cheerio from her bowl falls on the floor she will not eat another one until it is picked up. She also is very definite about using the right words for things - she just corrected me that the noise we heard was an "airplane" not a "plane." Having struggled with perfectionism myself, I worry a lot that I might pass it on to my daughter, or that she might spontaneously develop it on her own since she seems to have that kind of personality. Do you have any advice that might help?

Katie

Hi Katie,

Your daughter is just now learning that things can be done "just so". She didn't care before, and she's experimenting with it now. It's totally common and normal. It's also part of the control trip that goes along with toddlerhood. Just how far can she take this control thing? She's exploring those boundaries. It's also part of her growing sense of independence -- wanting to do it herself. A good thing, yes?

But it's not always possible for her do it herself. So, the advice is -- allow her to do it her way, WHEN IT IS REASONABLE. Give her options and choices ahead of time to try to limit the struggles that may come up. You are totally allowed to step in and be the boss when you need to -- don't feel bad about it, just matter-of-fact. But allow her the independence when you can. For rituals that take forever and get in the way of other activities: plan in advance -- give her a lot of extra time in the evening for putting on jammies, and give her a lot of praise for getting steps right herself. Try to leave her to her own devices to explore her skills. Tell her to ask you for help when she gets frustrated, but don't go overboard and do the whole thing for her. She may end up frustrated anyway, but that's OK. Rescue her when she's at her limit. I think you might also be nervous about some kind of impending red flag for perfectionism, because of your own history and tendencies. Rest assured that it's normal at this age. You have the opportunity to help her live with imperfection, as well as to explore her new skills. If she is suffering from it when she is starting school, then you can start to wonder if she might need some intervention. But for now -- it sounds fine.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: What Do You Do When A Baby Prefers One Parent Over The Other?

Dear Dr. Heather, Our 25-month-old granddaughter has an unusually strong attachment to her mother.

Don't Take It Personally, Dad.

Her parents have been very responsive to her since her birth. Our toddler is easy with other people including her regular caregiver, grand-parents, other extended family and just about everyone else. The problem is that when her mother is around she has a strong preference for her, to the exclusion of most others. This happens about 60% of the time.

Her mother and father are gentle and kind and fun-loving. They respond to her emotions and explain the world to her. They are consistent with their house “rules” and explain the world to her so that things make as much sense as possible. She is a bright, articulate, inquisitive, active little girl and appears to be developing normally. Again, the problem is just that she clings to tenaciously to her mom. This is trying on her dad and also tiring for mom.

Any tips on how to reduce the clinging and increase her involvement with others when her mother is present?

Thanks very much.

Grandma ~~~~~~

Dear "Grandma",

What you're describing is the sign of a healthy attachment to her mother. Babies at this age have a hard time being in intense relationships with more than one person at a time. Strong parental preferences are COMMON. Unpleasant at times, inconvenient often, but COMMON and NORMAL, at this age. The first step is understanding it, the next step is rewarding her when she works well with her father, you, or other adults. She should be gently encouraged and praised for steps in the right direction, but never scolded if she prefers mom, since this will only work against you.

Your granddaughter is at a stage of venturing out into the world, and then coming back to her "base of comfort" as needed to "refuel", emotionally. As she gains confidence this will naturally abate. Also, as she grows closer to age 3, she will be more curious about the different activities her father and you can share with her, and this will help too.

I can certainly relate, as I am currently on both ends of the preference spectrum with various of my own children. I'm top of the list with my 9-month-old and 4-year-old, and bottom of the totem pole with my 7 and 9-year-olds -- Daddy is their current favorite. All of us need to be understanding about the temporary preferences that our children express -- please don't take it personally, nor should her father. Your time (and his) will come...I promise!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Dr. Heather in Parents Magazine, August Issue

See me on page 191 Thanks to Parents Magazine and Sharlene Johnson for giving me the opportunity to be the "Q and A" expert on a

topic we're all familiar with...The Dawdling Toddler. Pick up a copy anywhere magazines are sold, and let us know YOUR suggestions for getting your toddler out the door in the morning.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink