Is It Bullying Or Not?

As a psychologist and Parent Coach, I’ve noticed that we’re constantly bombarded with negative messages about our children. It seems that every new headline gives us another reason to worry about our kids. But often, our kids are doing great – it’s we as parents who need a little attitude adjustment! That’s why I’m happy to be a part of the Positive Parenting Network’s Spring Fling – to help get out the message about positive parenting approaches. Because sometimes, our fears get the best of us. It reminds me of a recent situation when a parent stopped me, worried about a 6-year-old “bully”. The child in question — in my observation — wasn’t a bully, but rather a fairly typical little girl, testing out her advanced verbal (and not-so-advanced social) skills. Did she hurt her friends’ feelings? Probably. And did her friends reciprocate by saying something mean right back? They sure did. The parent was very upset about the impact of this “bully” in the classroom — and wanted to know what could be done to stop her. But was this truly “bullying?” No, it wasn’t. And I worry about the little girl being labeled “bully”, because the word has such negative connotations. So, what IS the definition of bullying?

Bullying is being intentionally, repeatedly cruel and belittling to smaller or otherwise less powerful kids. 6-year-old girls telling each other “you can’t come to my birthday party”, or “you don’t get to talk!” don’t qualify as bullying. And defining normal social “sparring” as “bullying” does everyone a disservice. Bullying has been getting some much-deserved attention in the media, and as a shrink I can attest to the terrible damage that TRUE bullying does to kids. But as an Early Childhood specialist, I know that little kids — especially girls — “practice” their social skills quite a lot with their classmates, and those skills get quite a bit of needed refining in 1st and 2nd grades. Teachers in those grades know that this is common behavior, and gives the kids the opportunity to do some social “practicing” in a fairly safe situation. Do they need limits, structure, and guidance in the process? You bet. But labeling them “bullies” is a major overreaction.

If you have a kid in these grades (as I do) — here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Kids need to “try out” their peer-to-peer social skills. Like lion cubs, they need to practice — but they don’t really mean any harm.
  • "Victims” at this age tend to shrug off the insults with no problem. Don’t jump in to protect your cub until you see she’s truly struggling.
  • Talk early — and often — about the little social struggles among your kids’ friends. Make it a point to ask about all the details, not to get anyone into trouble — but to help your cub think through the next incarnation of the battle. We’re building “social muscle” here.
  • Role-play regular situations that crop up. Cutting in line, saying “mean” things, and “who is best friends with whom” are typical arguments. Walk through these issues with your child frequently to try out new approaches and solutions. Ask, “What might you say instead next time?”
  • Be interested, open, and empathic — and try to hold back your parental protectiveness, unless there’s something more serious going on.

And of course, if your child is truly being bullied — or is, in fact, the bully — please step in immediately to involve the teachers and other parents. This is an age where this kind of behavior can — and should be — nipped in the bud. The Mom in question arranged a Parent Coaching session with me – via a conference call, so we could also include her husband – and we discussed strategies especially for their daughter. After a brief follow-up session, they’re now confident their daughter is gaining in confidence and blossoming in the classroom. It’s wonderful how one or two short sessions can relieve parents’ guilt, worry, and stress – and guide the whole family forward, in a positive way. With some practice (and a little luck), you’re setting the stage for your child to come to you with social problems in adolescence and beyond — for help and support in solving ever-more complex social dramas and situations.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Please check out the other experts at PositiveParentingNetwork.com to read some of the other great advice!

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

Toddler Behavior: Why Does My Baby Behave Better With The Babysitter Than With The Parents?

It's always a shock -- finding out your oppositional little tyke is a perfect darling for the sitter (or grandma). When I found out my usually picky eater ate like a champ at a neighbor's house, I felt embarrassed that I had been complaining about it. It must be me, after all! I worried. Then I realized that our kids have special plans for us -- plans to humiliate, embarrass, and otherwise show us for the idiots we fear we are. And these plans don't stop at toddlerhood, they only get more complex as they get older and wiser. Parents are morons, right? I guess I remember feeling that way about my own parents (sorry, Mom and Dad!)

It helps (a little bit) to know that toddlers act better for others because they love us so much. When they're with the sitter, they "hold it together", waiting for the moment when we return. They put on brave little faces and their best behavior for those temporarily in charge. And then when we return -- look out! All of that stored up stress and worry and upset about our leaving is dumped at the feet of those who caused it. Here's a reader question about the issue from the comments section, posted here in case you missed it:

Hi Dr. Heather,

But he never uses a sippy cup at home!

I could use some advice on getting my baby to drink cow’s milk. He just turned one last week, so I started mixing breastmilk with cow’s milk in equal parts. Our sitter says he drinks it with no problems from a sippy cup, but with us, he doesn’t seem interested in it with either a sippy cup OR bottle. He drinks water from the sippy cup, so I know that he is capable of using it. Same thing with naps…no problem at the sitter, but with us, he puts up a fight. Is it common for babies to behave differently with the sitter vs the parents? Do we just wait him out with the milk until he’s so thirsty that he’ll drink anything? Should I be concerned that he still drinks from a bottle? I’m clueless!

JD

Dear JD,

YES, it’s extremely common -- predictable even -- that your baby will “perform” better for a sitter. The babies save their best — and their worst — for us. They seem to “hold it together” while missing us at the sitter, and then sort of fall apart for us. Refusing things like milk or cups falls into the same category.

But what to do about the milk dilemma? Milk in particular is reminiscent of the early, close bond with mom, and so there is often a special struggle around it. Try VERY SLOWLY introducing the cow’s milk — say one tenth at a time, and wait until you’re SURE he’s used to it, then another tenth. DON’T MAKE AN ISSUE OF IT — don’t mention it, (and try not to show him both milk containers in the kitchen, maybe prepare them in advance) and just try to be matter-of-fact. Slow, steady, but no pressure.

For the cup thing, offer him a sippy of perhaps watered down juice — just a small amount, ALONG WITH whatever he’s used to, at his highchair. It’s a drag to offer both I know, but he’ll start out “playing” with the sippy and eventually get used to actually drinking out of it. And he won’t fear that you’re trying to take away his usual. You can also make a game of it by giving him juice to drink in the tub, or even in the stroller, car etc. Eventually offer the cup more and the bottle less, and offer a lot of praise when he really starts to get the hang of the cup. Also, point out kids he likes when they're using their cups. "Look at Max and his cool Spider Man sippy cup. Max sure looks thirsty!"

Aloha!

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Discipline: Will One Spanking Traumatize My Toddler?

Poor reader Jenn wrote in to confess her guilt at giving a swat on the tush to her toddler, worried that she might have psychologically scarred the poor baby for life. I hope you know me well enough by now that of course I don't condone spanking, and aggression turned on your child is always something to avoid. A time out is best, of course.

But none of us here is perfect, right? I chuckled at this poignantly cute description of a situation we've all experienced -- losing our tempers after a long day with a challenging toddler -- as well as her daughter's perfect illustration of how little ones learn to handle unusual situations:

Hi Dr. Heather -

Long time reader, etc.... I have two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 17-month-old daughter. Recently, it had been a long day and my kids had been getting on my last nerve. I had the two kids in the bath, and had gotten the older out and toweled off, and then asked the 17 month old to stand and step onto the mat. She thought about it, and started to do it, but refused. I asked her twice more, and she refused, sitting there staring at me. So I told her, "If you don't get onto the bathmat, I'm going to give you a smack on your bum." Of course, she just sat there looking at me like, "I've always wondered what that is." So I stood up, gave her a smack on the bum (very symbolic, didn't even redden the skin), and put her on the mat. She looked like she would cry for 5 seconds or so, but didn't, and then went on with her night.

On it's own, that's pretty much a non-story. Although I do try to be more creative in my parenting than resorting to any kind of hitting, but I obviously wasn't successful that day.

What I have a question about is that right after that, we were in my older's room getting him dressed, and while I was busy with that, my youngest lined up all of my oldest's stuffed animals, bum up, and was giving them bum smacks. OK. And she did this the next day. And the next. And at the library, when I got distracted by something, and turned to find all dozen of the library's stuffed animals lined up for a bum smacking.

What have I done? Could this have been very traumatic? Any insight you have here would be helpful. I don't know how you do it with (now) 4 kids - I only have the two, and just keeping my head above water takes up all my time.

Thanks - Jenn

Hi Jenn,

What a great question! I love your depiction of this very common toddler-esque behavior; mimicking behavior that seems emotionally "loaded".

Now of course you haven't traumatized her for life, from what you've told me. But she has realized that the smack is a powerful thing -- and she's probably picking up on your sense of conflict and guilt about it. (Amazing how they can sense those things in us, huh?) She's doing what toddlers do -- re-enacting confusing or "loaded" situations so that she can figure them out and put them in their place in her mind.

You can talk her through it, when you see her doing it. "Oh boy, seems the Mommy lost her temper and the babies got a smack. Are the babies crying now? Do they feel better now?" You can also add, "Bum smacks aren't a good idea. In our house, we talk about our problems." Try to remain "centered", emotionally, when it comes up -- no guilt or pressure, just curiosity and reassurance. And you can apologize for losing your temper, in a sincere but matter-of-fact way. You can also model toys "using their words" when they get upset, too.

Don't forget, you're not striving for parenting with perfection, you're striving to be Good Enough. In fact, the research shows that only about a third of mother's reactions to their babies are "attuned". Another third eventually get "repaired" over time, and the rest never do. So the best that any normal baby can expect is about two-thirds of perfection from you at any given time! She'll receive far more "talking-to" than bum smacks from you, so she'll get by experience how to handle problems. And the lining up of toys for a good spanking should eventually slow down on it's own.

Does that help?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

Jenn wrote back to give me this update:

Dr. Heather,

I did have to have an emergency talk with her, when she escalated to giving us random smacks (like coming up behind me when I was working in the kitchen and giving me a very firm smack on the bum!). And it is hard to sound legitimate telling her that, "in our house, we don't hit, we use our words" when her memory of getting a bum smack is so vivid. But I did apologize to her for giving a smack before, and explained that I was wrong, and that if we smack someone we need to say we are sorry. She seemed to absorb that (and it's amazing what all they can actually understand when they can barely talk), and eventually agreed to say she was sorry to smacking us.

Of course, all of our stuffed animals are still living stomach down, but eventually that will pass, I'm sure, and it will just be one of those stories that I'll remember for later.

Of course, you are welcome to use this for a BabyShrink post. I always like seeing what challenges other people are having, and I'm tickled that I'll now be in that group.

Thanks! - Jenn

Thanks for the story, Jenn, and for reminding other readers that we can't strive for perfection, just for Good Enough! And if you have a sticky situation with your toddler, I'd love to talk with you personally to help you work it out! I'm offering Skype, phone, or in-person Parent Coaching sessions, starting at $75. Email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com, or fill out the form at the bottom of the Parent Coaching page. Looking forward to it!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Tips for a Toddler Tinkling (and Screaming) in the Bath

Hi Dr. Heather, My husband and I are hoping you can shed some light on a concern we have for our son who is 27 months old.

Over the last month during bath time, my son has peed in the bath 3 separate times, and without fail he would then 'hold himself' while crying/screaming hysterically! This has continued during every bath time where he is screaming like we have never seen. He doesn't necessarily pee every time, but since the first occasion... then a second, and a third... his screaming has continued.

Even when he doesn't pee in the tub, he still holds himself and is screaming almost like he doesn't like the water hitting his 'manhood'? We have tried new toys and bubbles; to all of which have not work or helped. We even tried to have him try to go potty before the bath but doesn't go.

I must say also, that he is not potty trained yet but we are working on it.

We are not sure why he's continually freaking out with or without the pee.

If you could please help and how we can overcome it we would be extremely grateful.

Regards,

Atlanta Mom

Hi Atlanta Mom,

Sudden fears of the bath at this age are quite common. One of my most-Googled posts has to do with sudden bath fears; I'll post the link below. In regards to his "manhood", perhaps he's upset that he couldn't control it; on some level he's starting to get the idea that "pee-pee does not belong in the tub", yet he was unable to control himself those few times. So he's really upset with himself and in conflict about the whole bath/potty training thing. (And of course I assume his penis doesn't bother him any other time -- like there's not a urinary tract infection or something -- also, some kinds of soap and bubble bath can be irritating. I assume that's not it, but check it out.) Talk to him about potty training, where pee-pee belongs, and how he accidentally peed in the tub; use a matter-of fact tone, with no scolding or worry in your voice. See if you can make it like a silly joke, so he doesn't feel so bad. "Does pee pee belong in the tub? NO, silly! But that's OK! We'll keep trying and one day for sure you'll get it!"

In the meantime, try some of the tips in my post linked below for bathtime fears, including letting him stand by the bath and playing with the water, until he feels comfortable getting back in the tub. Keep reassuring him, and go at his pace. Hang in there, I promise this will pass!

Here's my Bathtime Fears Post: http://babyshrink.com/2008/08/help-my-toddler-suddenly-hates-the-bath.html

Good luck and keep usposted!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Discipline: Discipline Tips & Techniques for a 3-Year-Old

Dear Dr. Heather, When my 3-year-old son hits, pushes, or bites me, my husband, or his 6-month old sister, or is throwing things or generally being threatening (he likes to act like a mad dinosaur), our response is to tell him he needs to calm down and spend some time playing quietly in his room. Theoretically, this gives him a chance to calm down, plus teaches him that the consequence of misbehaving is that he doesn't get to be around the rest of us. He gets to come back downstairs whenever he feels he's ready to be nice.

In the last week, though, he has started really testing how much he can pinch, slap and otherwise hurt his sister. This culminated in him biting her thumb - HARD. He had missed his nap and it was late afternoon, but otherwise things were calm, we were relaxing in the bedroom, and he had climbed up on the bed to give her a hug. While hugging, he apparently decided to bite her. Thankfully it didn't break skin, but it was close. Our response was to make him spend the last few hours of the day in his room playing quietly, although we let him come out whenever he had to use the restroom and to join us for dinner. We tried not to be overly dramatic about it, and talked about how he needed to stay in his room because he isn't allowed to bite or hurt his sister.

What are your thoughts on our discipline approach? Is it ineffective because he gets to play in his room (i.e. is a "naughty chair" a better approach?). I like the idea of having a consequence that is related to the crime - removal from the family area and time alone if you are not behaving as expected toward family members - but only if it works. And the recent biting and acting out makes me wonder, but maybe that's typical behavior toward a sibling. Also, he is really focused on talking about how I love him even when I'm mad, which of course I confirm and say I love him no matter what, all the time. But I worry we might be messing with his psyche in some unknown way. Okay, so I'm worried about that a lot! Your thoughts are appreciated.

Thanks,

Cherise

Hi Cherise,

I must say that you sound very thoughtful in your approach; your thinking is right on. You seem to have developed a way of thinking through these situations that makes sense, based on your kid. Bravo!

I do think, though, that he's too young to spend an afternoon in his room; it's simply too long, at his age. The usual rule of thumb is about one minute of time-out per year of age, so he shouldn't have more than about 3 minutes in his room. Any more than that is overkill.

His biting should be met by immediate attention to the "bite-ee", plus an unemotional reminder to him about the rule against "no biting". He can then be removed for a time out, and when he returns, have him check on the "bite-ee's" condition. "Check and see if your sister is OK. She us how you can apologize." Don't over-react to biting, but make sure your approach is consistent. Overreacting is likely to INCREASE the behavior, so respond unemotionally, but firmly.

His asking about "Do you love me even when I'm mad?" is fine....as long as he's not using it to distract you from doling out some kind of consequence. I think it's great to introduce him to the concept that even though you may or may not like his behavior, or even if YOU'RE having a grumpy day (Moms are allowed!)...you love him, no matter what. And that people can get mad at each other, but then get over it; and still love each other the whole time. "Anger" doesn't equal "loss of love". That's a difficult -- but important -- concept to start conveying to your kids, even in their early years.

In terms of "naughty chair" vs. "time out"...I think it totally depends on your own preferences, the layout of your house, and last but not least....WHAT WORKS BEST for YOUR PARTICULAR KID. For some, a quick trip to the end of a hallway met by a closed door is enough to turn around the behavior. Other kids need longer time outs, or more specific locations that work best. Experiment. GO BY WHAT WORKS.....that's a BabyShrink theme.

There are also some relevant tips to look over in my "Biting Babies" post; click here to check it out.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Child Development: Help for a Jealous 3-Year-Old

There are still more people to thank, as I celebrate the first year of BabyShrink. But questions keep pouring in, so I thought I'd post this one today. It's from a mom struggling with the "Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde" attitude change in her 3-year-old, following her new baby's birth: Hi Dr. Heather!

I have a 3-year-old daughter and a 2-month-old son. I was working full-time and had my daughter in daycare (where she was the apple of everyone's eye) up until a few months ago. I stopped working and pulled her out of daycare to spend some "quality time" with her before the baby arrived.

Things were great for the first week or so, and then everything went downhill. I was trying to keep up with daycare by drawing with her, teaching her the alphabet, numbers, and how to write her name and other small words. She had fun in the beginning, but would start to become very upset and not want to have anything to do with it. She also started this "shy" thing. She hides behind me when we go anywhere and doesn't want to talk to family...she tells them she is shy. All of this has led to a lot of frustration between the two of us. I can't understand why she clammed up all of a sudden and have begun to lose my patience. She, obviously, doesn't understand why I am frustrated, which has made it an endless cycle of irritation between us.

After our son arrived, and she began to realize he needs attention as well (I include her with everything I possibly can), life became even more rough for her. She basically does anything for attention, positive or negative. I decided to enroll her in a Montessori school just to get her out of the house and interacting with others again (and I needed some sanity after sleepless nights). This has turned into a chore as well. Getting ready in the mornings is a nightmare. She is the happiest child alive when she first wakes up...then as soon as I try to get her into the morning routine...her world turns upside down. "I don't like this." "I don't want to do that." I mean...she can't even get herself dressed in the mornings! I am also concerned that she is doing everything backwards, upside down, and inside out. Letters, numbers, clothes, shoes...you name it. Is this an early sign of a learning disability? Could this be the root of our problems? The frustration just builds and builds.

I don't know what to do. I try to nurse my 2-month-old before she wakes up so I can spend some time with her in the mornings (just us)...but everything just blows up in my face.

I love my daughter to pieces and want life to be happy again for her. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you! G.

Hi G.,

I've been there myself. Your little angel becomes a terror when a new baby arrives on the scene. You try hard to arrange for some rare "special attention", but they throw it back in your face. And your daughter is old enough to know which buttons to push to get you upset.

But don't forget that kids REGRESS when a new baby comes on the scene. They also famously behave way worse for you, as opposed to a teacher. So your plans for "keeping up the schooling" after she came home were perhaps doomed to fail.

Getting ready in the morning (or NOT) is also a famous 3-year-old strategy for making parents nuts. So please don't worry that your daughter is unusual or abnormal -- she's not at all, from what you tell me. (Of course I can't evaluate her myself, so take what I say with a grain of salt, and check with her pediatrician to make sure).

All you can do is DIAL BACK YOUR EXPECTATIONS, try to EMPATHIZE WITH HER SITUATION, and try to TAKE THE EMOTION OUT OF YOUR REACTION TO HER. This doesn't mean you should allow her to monopolize every situation; she needs to remember how to wait her turn and share. But you have to go back several steps in the "lesson plan" for her behavior. She's been hit by a ton of bricks, in terms of a new baby on the scene, and she's old enough to understand how much it jeopardizes her previous place in the sun.

You, as well, are in a different place -- you're exhausted with a new baby, and upset with your daughter. HANG IN THERE. This is sort of a "do whatever works" time. I know you want -- and need -- some kind of routine and predictability, but right now, you just need to get through each day as reasonably as possible. If she wears her pajamas to Montessori once in awhile -- so what? If she's late sometimes -- so what? She's only 3.

Focus on what she IS doing right. Praise her mightily when she behaves "like a big girl who knows how to wait for her turn so nicely". Make her into your "helper" with her brother, and point out what she is able to do -- and what he's NOT yet able to do. When she regresses into a tantrumming 2-year-old, take a deep breath and try not to over-react. YES, she knows better, but she's just not capable of it that second. Don't take it personally, just deal with her as a 2-year-old in that moment. And when she's a little angel again, don't hold a grudge, even if she was a little devil only a minute ago (easier said than done, I know, but keep trying).

About her doing everything backwards and inside-out; it's tough to say, but usually we don't diagnose a formal learning problem until second grade. She's obviously upset with you, and she knows it makes you upset when she does things backwards. So again, dial back your expectations and let that stuff go for awhile. You will have plenty of formal schooling time and firm rules for school in her future, but relax while she's still in preschool. Try to get in some fun "big girl time" when she is open to it, but don't put the pressure on her that "the baby is asleep and so we have to make the most of our time together!" If it happens, it happens. If not, maybe next time.

HANG IN THERE, and let us know how it goes.

Click here for a related post; this on one a 5-year-old who started hitting her new baby brother.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Child Development: Food Allergies, Your Child's Behavior, and YOUR Guilt

I've been away on vacation for a bit, and we were able to visit lots of family and friends. I was struck by how many have kids with food allergies and sensitivities -- more and more of us are discovering what a difference our food choices have on how we, and our kids, feel and behave. But it ain't easy, managing special diets. The pressure to "join in" and have "just one cookie" is quite difficult. The pressure even comes from within the family, often in the form of well-meaning relatives who want our kids to "not be different" and "just have fun". Many parents feel guilty that they can't give their child what the other kids can have. But guess what? Parenting is at least as often about saying "no" as it is about saying "yes", and having limits and structure in life is good for our kids' ultimate development. On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extreme and be rigid when there's no need. So it's a balance between being realistic about food choices, firm in your decisions, and flexible when you CAN be. I appreciate the comments left by Hot Wife, KiwiLog and Margaret after my last post, and I urge you to review them, and their resources, if you're interested. Here are some of my additional thoughts and recommendations as well:

For parents of kids with food sensitivities:

Make a big deal out of exploring new, safe food options. Have fun in the kitchen and enlist your child's natural desire to learn the "rules".

Kids with sensitivities (as opposed to true food allergies) can often have a certain amount of the "offending" food. Determine, with her doctor and/or nutritionist, how often your child can have foods that trigger her sensitivities. Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Then give her the freedom to pick and choose those foods within her allowed time-frame.

Be flexible in allowing "treats" that fit in with her diet -- don't make yourself crazy trying to follow every single rule about healthy foods. The more unnecessarily rigid you are, the more you risk a backlash against your rules in adolescence.

Stay closely in touch with online or in-person support groups, as information about food sensitivities and allergies changes rapidly, and your doctor may not have the resources to keep you abreast of all the developments, new foods available, etc.

For parents of kids with life-threatening allergies, I also suggest the following:

TALK to your child, even if she's very young, about her food safety issues. Empathize with the fact that she can't have what she wants; you understand that it's hard. Give her examples in daily life of you and others saying "no" to themselves in order to be healthy and successful. Explain that it's hard for ALL kids to say "no" to themselves, and you'll help her to do that until she's able to do it for herself.

Try not to feel guilty about "depriving" your kids of the junk they can't have. All parents have challenges with their kids, and this is yours. It's your job to keep her safe. She'll understand your reasons as she gets older.

Don't hesitate to tell everyone at your child's school, and playdates, about her safety issues. Don't worry about "rocking the boat". Use your child's pediatrician as a backup if the school doesn't take your child's safety seriously.

Use this experience as an example of how the whole family can effectively deal with one of life's challenges. This is only one of many that will be faced by you and your child, and you have the opportunity of making it a learning experience for everyone!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Does Your Child Have Food Allergies?

Having a child with food allergies is tough -- first, there are the obvious safety issues involved. You don't want your child to accidentally -- or intentionally -- eat something that may make him sick, or even kill him. Then there are the practical challenges; finding acceptable, palatable food substitutes for the things he can't eat. I know many families who have to spend tons of time (and money) planning and making separate meals for their allergic kids, and strategizing about "dangerous" situations like birthday parties and school lunch rooms. But it doesn't stop there. The doctors and nutritionists who diagnose the allergies, and prescribe the necessary diets, unfortunately don't often have the time to get into the psychological aspects of food allergies -- and leave the parents wondering how to handle this very tricky aspect of the allergy.

The behavioral and emotional effects of the allergy and related diets include the resentment caused in the child by not being able to eat foods his friends CAN eat. The feelings of deprivation and being "different". The parents' worry that these food issues will lead to eating disorders in adolescence. All of these problems are very real challenges of raising a child with a food allergy.

I recently got a phone call from a friend who's daughter has multiple food allergies -- gluten, casein (dairy protein), tree nuts -- the works. They've been able to reasonably control her food intake up until recently; she's now an active, busy second-grader who is starting to get resentful that the other kids can get all kinds of foods that are forbidden to her. My friend was mortified to tell me that they discovered a stack of 30 or more string-cheese wrappers stuffed under the couch recently. And a rash that preceded the cheese-eating was diagnosed by the doctor as "psychological". Poor little thing is itching herself raw, and hoarding and "sneaking" disallowed foods.

I've got some ideas about how to handle these issues, and I've had to do the gluten and casein-free diet in our home for awhile when we were ruling out food allergies with our daughter. But I know there are a LOT of you out there struggling directly with these challenges in your home. I'm hoping some of you will post your comments to my friend here, giving us some tips for what works -- and what doesn't -- in your home. I'll collect your responses and include them with some of my own in my next post.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training Tips: MORE on Poop-Smearing: A Complicated Case

"What," you may ask, "is the most popular 'lurkers' topic at BabyShrink?" Is there a common theme that brings the most readers to this site? Yes, there is.

Every day, I check my WordPress "Stats" to see what parents have been reading on BabyShrink. I think it's hilarious that each and every day I get several Google "hits" from people entering in phrases like this to the search box:

My toddler smears poop everywhere, what do I do?

They end up on this page, which is my all-time most-read post. And if you've read the post, you know that I laugh from all-too-knowing experience.

But every so often, I get a question from a reader who needs more help with this problem; it's progressed past the point of my suggestions. So yes, dear readers, it's time for yet another poop-smearing post:

Dear Dr. Heather,

My three-year-old daughter has been smearing poop, and it has increased in frequency. Not only does she smear her poop everywhere, but she also has a corner in my living room where she, for the lack of a better term, "marks her territory." She knows when to pee on the potty and does it fine. But more lately, she will strip off her pull-up and go to that corner to either pee or smear her poop. I don't know what to do since EVERYTHING I have tried seems not to work. I have had extreme difficulty with her potty training, which her doctor said is normal due to the fact that she is extremely hyperactive and just doesn't want to stop. He says she is afraid to miss something. I realized that almost a year ago her father stopped coming around, and it has been almost a year since she began this frustrating habit. But it's gotten worse lately and I don't know if it's an outcry towards me because she is possibly mad at me for her father not being around?? Also I am a single mother and although I was able to quit my job and be with her recently i am still not able to give her my 110% attention all the time. I don't know...all I know is I need help. I can't handle this...nor can I STOMACH this anymore!! Thank you for your time.

"Tired of Cleaning Up After the Little Stinker"

Dear Tired,

Sounds like you have a complex problem here. If her pediatrician says there is nothing medically or developmentally wrong, you can try using some of these techniques:

First, try some concrete behavioral strategies. Does she have a usual time of day when she poops? Most toddlers do it about the same time each day, and only do it once. If she does, watch her closely until she's made her poop. Don't let her wander away from you unobserved until she has pooped. Then you can give her a little more free-reign after you know she's done for the day. Also, you can dress her in a more restrictive way until she has done her poop. Get a larger size onesie, with perhaps some leggings over it, to put her in until she's pooped. If she lets you know in advance that she needs to go, fine. You can help her get undressed and to the toilet. If not, it's OK for now if she goes in her pull-up.

You might also move around things in "her corner", making it a difficult or unappealing place to spend her time. Experiment with furniture in the room to see if you can re-configure it to "eliminate" that place where she usually goes. Change around the whole room so her association to it is also changed. Make "her corner" a more focal place of the room, so that it's not a hideaway, and she can't have any privacy there.

Don't make a big deal about using the potty right now. She's giving you mixed messages about being ready, and in that case, the advice is usually to back off from potty training. Let her be in charge of when she uses the potty. But do be clear with her that smearing poop or going on the floor is NOT an option. It's yucky. Mommy does not like to clean that up. But when she DOES successfully use the potty, make a big deal out of it. Hurray! What a big girl! It's so nice and clean when you go in the potty! Consider giving her a small treat (one jelly bean, for example) every time she does go to the potty, even if it's just to pee. And try not to be scolding if she goes in her pull-up. Just be matter-of-fact about it, and clean it up.

I also would not use punishment if she smears poop again. You might remove her from the "scene of the crime", since you have to sanitize it. Be serious, but neutral. Remind her where she should go, and that poop does not belong on the walls or the floor.

Also, it's important to give her plenty of opportunity to play with acceptable, squishy, messy things like finger paints, play-doh, even mud pies. She clearly likes the feeling of it; give her ample opportunity to make a mess in an acceptable way. Tell her when you're playing with messy things, "This is fun to be messy. We can be messy with paints!"

You ask about the impact of her Daddy leaving, and whether that is related. I can't judge that from here. But you can ask yourself about the impact it has had on YOU. If you have been upset, if things have been very different around the house, you can bet your daughter has picked up on that. But is it related to the poop-smearing? Difficult to say. If you need more input about that, I would suggest talking with a licensed therapist who has a specialty in working with young children. And if you're having trouble coping, please seek out some help. A little bit of good therapy can go a long way -- and help you to trouble-shoot when difficult times arise!

Try some of these strategies, and let us know how it goes!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Discipline: Is My Little Kid a Controlling Bully?

Hi Dr. Heather, My almost-4-year-old is extremely controlling. She tries to control everything, including telling us to stop whistling or singing, and trying to control the other children at her preschool. She has always had an outgoing personality, and is very determined. We have tried ignoring the situation when she tries to control us, which has significantly helped. After weeks of us reacting the same way to a particular controlling behavior, she will subside. Now, the problem is when she tries to control the other kids in her school.

Is there anything we can do at home that will change her controlling behavior toward others when we aren't around to handle the situation? She is also a very sweet and affectionate little girl who loves to laugh. It is her mix of control and determination that is concerning us.

Thank You,

Jenelle

Hi Jenelle,

We've got a 5-year-old who tries to do the same kind of stuff. It is annoying, to be sure! We've done what you have; ignoring the behavior. Eventually, it works (even though it can take WEEKS, as you experienced!)

But when it comes to school behavior, it is a different story. First, arrange a meeting with her teacher to talk about it. Find out how frequently your daughter tries to be "bossy" at school. Ask if it's impacting her ability to make (and keep) friends. See if it's interfering with the teacher's lesson plans. The degree of your response will depend on the answers to those questions.

If it is a significant problem at school, you want to coordinate your approach with her teachers. Make sure everyone (including teachers' aids, enrichment teachers, etc.) is involved in creating the plan, and everyone responds similarly. The more everyone is "on the same page", the faster the offending behavior will decrease. You know your daughter responds to the "ignoring" approach, so use what works, just expanding it into the school setting. Then get at-least weekly updates as to how the plan is going.

You can also engage in some play-acting of the scenarios she encounters at school; ask her teacher to give you some examples of what tends to happen. Don't scold her, but rather wait until you have some time together. Tell her you heard from her teacher that there was a problem between her and another kid, and you want to learn what happened, and how to try to make it different next time. Then start a "pretend" scenario, asking her to play it out with you. Switch roles so that she has the opportunity to be the "boss-ee". Talk about how it feels to be bossed around. Play-act different ways of responding to similar situations, then ask how THAT felt. Again, try to keep any scolding tone out of your voice; she won't listen as well if she feels defensive. Sum it up with a quick rehearsal of how she can "ask people nicely", or "wait her turn", or "let people try things their way", or whatever the issue is.

And no, I'm not necessarily concerned about a determined and "head-strong" 4-year-old. She's at an age where you have the ability to characterize her attitude in either a positive (or negative) way -- and your attribution will "stick", over time. So look for the positive side of her personality. This dedication and intensity will help her be a leader and a hard worker. And look at it this way; you won't be worrying about your daughter getting bullied at school!

Try these suggestions on for size, and let us know how it goes.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Help! How Can I Stop My Toddler from Hitting our Pets?!

Dear Dr. Heather, My 15 -month-old terrorizes animals. We have a small dog and a few cats, and any time the child sees one of them she goes running over with her arm cranked back to whack it. If she has anything in her hands she will use it as a club. If the animal is on the ground she will grab it by the back and try to crush it into the floor and sit on it. After this greeting she will say "gentle" and pet the animal nicely, evidently to make sure it appreciates the difference.

We don't smack her, we don't smack the pets, so why is she so violent? How do I get her to stop before she gets bitten? Luckily we have very complacent pets but I'm sure even the most patient animal will defend itself eventually.

Thanks for your advice, Christine

Hi Christine,

I know it's hard to see your baby so aggressive with animals. Now that your toddler is big enough to move around and check out her environment, she wants to feel, grab, and test everything out. We're all born with aggressive instincts; it comes from evolution and our animal roots. But she has no way to understand that aggressive handling of things will negatively affect them permanently. She can't yet understand that crushing the kitty will HURT it. (And she won't understand it yet, even if you explain it to her a million times.)

She's not yet cognitively able to understand the impact of her actions on others. She's just exploring, and using her own natural (and normal) aggressive instincts. But it's not really "violence", in the sense of really intending to hurt someone. So don't jump to conclusions about your toddler's personality or temperament. She's just doing the usual toddler thing. And she's clearly also trying out the "gentle" actions she has seen you model.

So, what to do? Your daughter is at what I consider to be the most difficult age of childhood; the 10-20 month window is when babies become toddlers, physically, but they haven't yet fully transitioned into their non-baby minds. So what you get is a big, mobile baby, not fully in control of her body, with all this pent up energy and interest in the world, and not a lot of coping strategies to manage the unavoidable frustration that comes along with it. My shoulders still tense up when I recall my own kids' passage through that very tricky time.

Johnny Depp said that having a toddler is like constantly being on suicide and homicide watch. You always have to be prepared to prevent your toddler from killing herself, or someone else. It's a dangerous time! All you can really do is provide as much safety and structure as possible -- and this usually means a 1-1 parent-kid ratio at all times, until she gets into a slightly more predictable (and manageable) stage.

But with all that parent-toddler time, you do have the opportunity to model good behavior, demonstrate how to touch others (including animals) appropriately, and generally navigate around the great big world. Many of your lessons won't bear fruit for quite some time, so pace yourself. But feel confident that eventually, your daughter and your kitties will be the best of friends!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: What Should I Do If My Baby Is Difficult To Console?

Is my baby just "difficult", or is there something wrong? And if I do have a "difficult" baby, is there anything I can do about it? BabyShrink reader Tina is struggling with this issue. She writes: Dear Dr. Heather,

I need some good advice on how to stop my 2-year-old from screaming for everything she wants. She doesn't yell just for fun; it is always out of anger. I hate to sound negative, but she really has seemed like a miserable soul from day one. She was a very hard baby to console as an infant, she is strong willed, and throws huge tantrums. I have tried telling her to ask mommy quietly, and that works a little, but she keeps doing it. The tantrums we pretty much ignore as much as possible until she calms down and then we talk to her, but is that doing much good? She also screams out in the middle of the night.

Another problem is that she won't go to anyone but me, not even her daddy! This really bothers me and I don't know how to handle it because it makes me feel very trapped. She is OK after a bit of crying if I leave her with someone, but if I'm there, she wants nothing to do with anyone else. Is that normal?

Thank you for whatever advice you can offer, because I don't know where else to turn.

Tina

Dear Tina,

Like many parents out there, you are having a tough time with your little one's behavior. You wonder whether there is something "wrong", per se, or if this is simply her personality and temperament? And if so...what then?

You ask about your daughter preferring you to all other adults. It is common for a toddler to show a strong parental preference for one parent over the other. And this changes over time; when she's three or so, she'll likely start becoming more interested in her Daddy.

I'm worried that you feel she has been "miserable" since she was born. First, find out if there's a medical or developmental problem. Start with her pediatrician, and share your concerns. Are there digestive problems? Some other medical concern? Get treatment for that first. Some pediatricians have a good "take" on infant temperament, and might have something helpful to suggest in that regard as well. You can also ask for a referral to a pediatrician who specializes in Developmental/Behavioral pediatrics. These are specialists who are trained to evaluate child behavior and temperament more fully. They may also be "plugged in" to a larger group of Early Intervention specialists who can help too.

In the process, it would be worthwhile for you to look into the Early Childhood Intervention programs in your area to see if there is someone who can help you with this. All communities in the United States have a free program that will evaluate the development of any referred child, from ages 0-3. They will look at all domains of your baby's development (including social and emotional development), and offer intervention services, if needed. Ask your pediatrician's office for the name of your local agency. It's important to know that your baby's development doesn't just refer to rolling over, walking, and talking. Her emotional and social skills are a crucial part of her development as well.

If this is not a medical or developmental problem, it could be a problem in the parent/infant relationship itself. All babies are different, and some have truly challenging personalities. Some parents are lucky enough to have a complementary temperament; they can "roll with" their challenging baby's antics. But most of us struggle with frustration as our challenging babies "push our buttons".

What strikes me about your question is the fact that you feel "trapped" and helpless. This isn't so unusual, and I don't want you to feel guilty about it. But it does show that you need help and support in dealing with your daughter.

There are a few well-trained therapists out there who specialize in Parent/Infant Therapy; they work with the parent(s) and baby together. They seek to understand the unique personalities of the parents and the baby involved, and help everyone cope and adjust better. One of my Child Development Heroes, Dr. Donald Winnicott, wrote that "there is no such thing as a baby". A baby cannot exist alone. There is only a parent AND a baby, together. Therefore therapy can't be focused on only the infant; the main caregivers need to be involved as well.

This kind of therapy is extremely effective. Please don't hesitate to try it if you need it. I also suggest that you reach out to other friends, family and community resources to help you feel more supported in what sounds like a lonely struggle for you.

You can also read Stanley Greenspan's The Challenging Child. Dr. Greenspan is an excellent resource on child development, and the book is in paperback.

I'd also like to hear from other readers out there who have struggled with the temperaments of their babies. What tips can you share with Trina?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training Tips: Handling The Grossest Problem Yet, Poop Smearing

BabyShrink readers Angie, Sharon and Stacy have emailed me over the past few weeks with the same horrified question: Why is my toddler suddenly smearing poop everywhere, and HOW CAN I GET THAT DISGUSTING BEHAVIOR TO STOP?! Although I tried to offer some suggestions, I had never experienced the same thing with my kids, so I really didn't have much "oomph" behind my answers.

And then the Great Karmic Finger pointed at my household. And that finger had poop smeared on it.

Our TT is now 2 1/2. He's kinda-sorta potty trained. He's healthy (minus one hernia, which I will update everyone on later in the week), developmentally on-track, and he's got the "easiest" temperament of all our three kids. But over the past few weeks, it's happened three times; he's pooped in his diaper, then reached in to decorate his crib with it. And it's the grossest clean-up job I've ever had to do.

Your story is similar. Your toddler is somewhat engaged in potty training. They're at the age when they can understand most of what we're telling them...and certainly understand that poop is yucky. Then all of a sudden, you discover your little darling has smeared poop all over the place. Reader Sharon tells her stinky story this way, "She's in her crib about to nap, and I hear the usual noises of her just talking to herself. Then I hear this: “Mommy, yucky.” So I go in there and see the worse scene of my life!!!! She apparently had a poopy diaper, took it off, and proceeded to smear the walls, her crib and everything in the vicinity with poop. I was mortified! I quickly yanked her up, stripped her down and got in her the bath as fast as possible. I had to call my husband and tell him to come home so I could sanitize her room. Ugh, it was awful!"

Is This Normal? Yes dear reader, it is. Not necessarily common, but normal. A 2-year-old is struggling with attempting to master his own body, to control it's functions, and is quite curious about his productions. (They don't call it the Anal Stage for nothin'!) Preschool teachers will tell you it's common to see children this age quite interested in messes, too. They can alternate between being quite the obsessive neat-freak, OR the poop-smearing opposite -- as they struggle to master this stage. I would say, however, that poop-smearing past the age of 3 1/2 -- 4 would concern me. An evaluation, starting with your pediatrician, should occur in that case.

How Do I Get It To Stop?! First, know that, for an otherwise typically developing toddler, this should be a time-limited, passing phase. Nobody likes the smell of poop. It's an experiment that is naturally self-limiting!

The most important thing is to control your own reaction. Don't overreact; you risk reinforcing the behavior. If Junior knows that Mom will FREAK every time this happens, he's got a potent weapon to use, when necessary! Instead, calmly say "Yucky. Poop is dirty. It belongs in your diaper or the potty. No more touching poop." As grossed out as you may be, take a deep breath (outside of the room!), clean up the offensive little beast first, and close up the room until you have backup. You'll need time, and someone to watch Mr. Stinky, while you break out the Clorox.

Next, it's time to get practical and LIMIT ACCESS TO THE DIAPER. Go out and find some toddler sized "onesies", or other one-piece clothing. Some creative parents have even put one-piece PJs on backwards to further limit access to the diaper area. Keep them clothed this way as needed, until the phase has passed.

Also, take it as a sign of interest in potty-training. Use it as an opportunity to review the proper use of the potty, and validate their interest in poop. "Here, make your poop in your potty. Then when you're done, you can look at it. We don't touch it, but you can look at it if you want to see what it looks like."

Finally, create opportunities for your creative genius to make acceptable messes. One of the hallmarks of this phase is the desire to make -- and clean up -- messes. It's how we eventually learn to keep things clean and organized, and how to handle all the messes in life. So it's a vitally important lesson to learn. Offer messy finger painting, kitchen mixing and squashing, and outdoor mud play, liberally. Talk about it, as you do. "I know you want to make messes. THIS is a good place to make a mess. I will help you clean it up later. Here, let's make a mess together!"

Hope that helps, Gang. Happy Cleaning!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

PS: THIS POST HAS BECOME MY ALL-TIME MOST-READ ENTRY! (Is that weird, or what?!) FOR MORE TIPS ON THIS GROSSEST OF PROBLEMS, SEE MORE OF MY THOUGHTS ON IT HERE.

Child Discipline: How To Give "Time Out" to a Toddler

When your baby becomes a toddler, it's very exciting. But with all his new skills comes the need to set firm and consistent limits; both for his safety, and for your sanity! Lots of you wonder how, and when, to give a Time Out to a toddler. And is it OK to do it, even if he doesn't "understand" the concept? Reader Kelly has this dilemma: Dr. Heather,

My 14-month-old son has developed a scratching habit. It started with him scratching me for a reaction. I would firmly say, "NO, scratching hurts mommy." This led to more scratching. He does it if he's angry, or just because. I tried Time-Out, but I'm not sure he's understanding the concept. We're trying Dr. Harvey Karp's "toddlerese" which doesn't seem to work with the scratching, because most of the time he seems to do it out of the blue, and I don't know what he's feeling in order to show I understand his needs. Any ideas on ways to prevent this?

Kelly From Maryland

Time Out for a Toddler

Dear Kelly,

A 14-month-old is just starting to get the idea that using his new-found skills in controlling his body can lead to some interesting results. Your baby was used to being the passive recipient of action all day; people picking him up, putting him down, giving (or taking away) food, toys, or arms of comfort.

Now that he can walk and better control his body, it's a whole new ballgame. HE gets to be in control! HE gets to experiment with ways of getting (and keeping) your attention. He's also not quite sure how to modulate the force of his touch, either. He's experimenting with what's OK; how hard (or soft) to touch others. So, your approach should be to model nice, gentle touching, and to provide consistent, firm limits when he's aggressive.

Focus on how to touch others nicely. Point out how well he touches others, when he's in the act. "I see you petting the kitty so gently. What a nice job!" Demonstrate with his peers. "Can you show your cousin how you touch nicely? I like how you patted her back so softly." Do lots of positive reinforcement of the behavior you want him to repeat.

Other times, he will need limits. When you say you're not sure he understands the concept of Time Out; I'm sure you're right. A 14-month-old certainly won't "understand" it, at least until he’s experienced it many, many times, consistently, for the same offenses. But Time Outs have a cumulative effect, and soon, he’ll get the message.

Try this three-part approach:

  1. Immediately (and briefly) explain the infraction, and the consequence. “No scratching. Time Out.” Use a firm, but low voice; you want to get his attention, but not let him think he’s got you really upset. (You don’t want to reward him if he’s just doing it to get your attention.)
  2. Find a convenient corner or other area that’s removed from the usual action. Sit with him, and have him face the corner. At 14 months, you’ll probably have to gently hold him there for the duration of the time out. At this age, I would suggest 30-60 seconds, depending on your child’s temperament. (Some get the message more quickly than others!) When he protests, simply repeat, in the same, low voice, “No scratching. Time Out.” Don’t get into explaining or yelling. He won’t understand it anyway. You just want him to realize that scratching immediately results in Time Out.
  3. And when Time Out is over; it’s OVER. Say, “Time Out’s all done.” And then move on; don’t lecture or rehash the event, or ask him to apologize. At this age, all you can hope for is that he’ll internalize some control over his aggression.

It’s also a good age to start showing him there’s a time and place for everything. Make sure he has ample opportunity to get physical; throwing, kicking, climbing, and yelling during playtime, every day. Toddlers need a solid, physical playtime of at least 45 minutes each day, as long as there are no health issues. Let him know that he is allowed to express his aggressive feelings, at the appropriate time and place. A toddler who is run into the ground at the park is far less likely to scratch, bite and yell at home! WEAR HIM OUT. Play chase, jump up and down, yell and holler, climb and roll. Then give him the opportunity to destroy things, when allowed; tearing paper, dumping items out of bins, and making (allowed) messes like finger painting are all good ways to positively channel a toddler’s aggression and energy. Then when he’s with you, he’s more likely to be calm and gentle.

As your little guy develops, soon he'll learn that he can avoid Time-Outs by paying attention to the behaviors you're reinforcing. "Catch" him behaving nicely, and give him a lot of praise when he does. That way, you'll be able to use Time Outs infrequently.

Hope that helps. And check out more on my strategies with other Annoying Toddler Behaviors!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink