Parenting Tips: Maintaining Work/Life Balance with Young Children

It's a fact of life: Whether you work at home or out of the home, part time or full time, life with young kids is always a juggling act.

Achieving balance is really only aspirational -- never truly possible. But living in Hawaii has shown me that surfing is an apt metaphor for what we all aspire to -- a sense of freedom and control in the face of powerful life forces.

I'm especially proud of this post I wrote for my fab partners over at The Learning Care Group: Check it out, and let me know what YOUR tips are for staying sane when trying to stay on top of it all.

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

Cool New Gigs

Is it possible that BabyShrink is approaching it's THIRD birthday? This site was launched with much anxiety on my part -- and also, great hopes and dreams. Sort of like having a REAL baby. Come to think of it, there are lots of similarities between writing a parenting column and having a baby -- the staggering amount of work -- 24/7 -- being one of them.

So as I was toiling away out here in my island home, pressing the "Publish" button every week and wondering whether anyone would even read my stuff, an interesting thing happened -- people DID start reading, and more importantly -- enjoying their parenting adventures a little more because of it.

So it comes with a great sense of satisfaction (and even joy) to announce the next step for me -- adding the title of "Expert", in affiliation with some pretty impressive folks. You've probably heard Dr. Oz talking about his great new health site, ShareCare, powered by some of the most prestigious names in the country. I'm excited to be on ShareCare -- here's my bio -- answering your questions about parenting, child development, and family life. It's a super user-friendly experience, so I hope you'll sign up today, along with the 200,000 others who have already jumped on board to Dr. Oz's Move It And Lose It personalized diet and fitness plan -- and countless others looking for real answers to health questions.

I'm also really excited to be featured alongside some awesome names in parenting and family health over at Parents.Com. They have a cool Q and A tool where you can submit questions -- and the panel of experts answers for you. Check me out on the same list with gurus like Dr. Harvey Karp (of "Happiest Baby on the Block" fame), Dr. Ari Brown (of the "Baby 411" series), and Dr. Alice Domar, a fellow shrink who's done tons of fantastic stuff on women's health at Harvard (among others).

Thanks for all of your support and encouragement -- as always, send me your parenting questions. In addition to these cool new ways to reach me,  you can always comment here, tweet me, or drop me an email so that we can arrange some individualized Parent Coaching for you and your family. I'd love to talk with you personally.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

Parenting Tips: More Thinking Points

 

One of the reasons I produce BabyShrink is that I've had to learn the hard way with my own 4 kids -- what works, what doesn't -- and why. Those of you who know me know that my doctorate in Psychology, and a license to practice in two states, didn't get me much closer to answers. Doing a ton of research -- practical and applied -- has gotten me to this point. Why should YOU have to go through all that effort to reinvent the parenting wheel? Believe me, people -- it CAN be easier -- and a lot more fun. Keep these things in mind as you confront the seventy bazillion or so parenting challenges you face each day:

TEMPERAMENT makes a big difference. Your child's inborn nature: whether he's irritable, easy, shy, or bold (among other things), will shape the way he deals with your guidance -- especially when he's young. Pay close attention and figure out his temperament -- it will help you decide what's best for him. For instance, an "easy" baby might be pressed to give up his Binky at 6 months. An irritable, easily overstimulated little guy might be given a pass until age 2 or even 3.

AGE makes a big difference. Sleep issues (among other things) change dramatically over even a few weeks. A newborn isn't a 3-month-old, who isn't a 9-month-old, who certainly isn't a 3-year-old. You shouldn't expect your newborn to put himself to sleep -- nor should you try. But it's very reasonable to work on it with your 12 or 15-month-old. Vary your approach based on age.

FAMILY NEEDS make a big difference. Culture, style, the state of the parents' relationship, and personal preference matter. If you don't mind co-sleeping -- if it works well for your family -- great. But if the baby keeps you awake, interferes with your relationship, or you just don't wanna -- then DON'T. Your baby takes his cues from you, and he'll be fine either way. It's the "trickle down" theory of family happiness.

And now I hope you browse around for specific tips on your questions -- potty training, bath time fears, sleep issues, behavior, sibling stuff and more.

Here's another Thinking Points article, if you're interested.

(And I hope you like some of the new changes here at BabyShrink!)

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

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

Child Development: Why Your 9-Month-Old Baby Is So Difficult All Of A Sudden

I had an amazing conversation with one of the world's foremost infant researchers last week, Dr. Joseph Campos. He's at Berkeley, where he's churned out tons of scientifically rigorous studies about the developmental changes in infancy. He's come up with some transformative ideas about babies, the upshot of one being that crawling causes your baby to become your little social partner, for the first time. No longer just a passive lump in the social world, now she's able to start to understand some of what's going on inside your mind. She understands how important you are to her, and seeks your emotional support, presence and encouragement as she starts to scoot out into the world under her own power. She now gets reassurance from your presence and your emotions -- your facial expressions and body language -- not just from physically holding her. Super Cute, and Super Challenging

The flip side of this is that it also causes clinginess, fussiness, and sleep problems -- some of the major complaints of parents at this stage. Turns out, crawling out into the wide world is fascinating -- and terrifying. Your little adventurer gets it now -- that as much as she wants to venture out on her own, she desperately needs you, and is panicked that she'll lose you somewhere along the way. As Dr. Campos said to me, the baby's drive for independence is equally matched by her fear of it.

So to you fellow parents of 9 to 12-month-old babies out there: I know it can be a challenging, difficult stage. Your little bug seems content to scramble around the house one minute, then wails in panic the next. What used to be stable sleep habits are now in a shambles. Feeding --and nursing -- has become an unpredictable struggle -- and separations are exceptionally difficult. And forget diaper changes! What a wrestling match! Immmobility is the enemy to her now -- being restrained in any way is bound to be a fight. High chairs, strollers and car seats are demon baby torture devices. They keep her from exploring her brave new world.

What to do? Re-think your daily tasks with this knowledge in mind. Everything will take a little longer, as your baby goes through this unpredictable (but temporary) stage. Some days she may need you constantly. But don't worry -- when you've finally reached the end of your rope with your little Clingon, she'll start to feel "refueled", and venture out again -- allowing you to catch up on that laundry and email. And make sure you get some help with nighttime wakenings -- you'll need extra rest too, since you're up again with a fussy baby -- but don't forget to reinforce the sleep routines that have worked well in the past. She'll eventually remember what her job is, at night -- and now that her memory is better, she can hold on to her internal image of you a bit longer, giving her some comfort, despite being away from you to sleep. Feel some reassurance knowing that the earlier -- and stronger -- your baby shows separation anxiety, the sooner it resolves. Lots of parental support and understanding help her get through this challenging -- but remarkable -- stage.

Dr. Campos was generous and encouraging in my BabyShrink book-writing project, and I had a blast geeking out with him, picking his brain about the amazing new developmental capacities in normal 9-month-old babies. What a great experience! Now, please excuse me -- I've got a 9-month-old baby clinging to my leg.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: What to do When Your Toddler Won't Nap Anymore

It happens to the best of us. We work so hard to establish nice, regular nap schedules for our babies. Finally, we've gotten used to a more predictable nap schedule for our toddler. And boy, do we need it: Running around after a toddler all day is HARD WORK. We need that couple of hours to clean up, get stuff done, pay attention to a neglected sibling, and sometimes -- gasp! JUST RELAX! Then, it happens. One day, your toddler decides that, hey, why not just STAY AWAKE, instead of go to sleep? There's so much to do, let's just keep the party going ALL DAY LONG! And the frustrating thing is that, usually, she'll nap perfectly well at daycare. This makes us feel like WE'RE doing something wrong.

UGH. A non-napping toddler triggers desperate measures. We lie down with the offending 2 (or 3)-year old, we pretend WE are sleeping (and sometimes, we don't have to pretend!). We bribe. We cajole. We threaten. Sometimes it works -- and sometimes it doesn't. And on the days it doesn't work, our toddler is a fussy, tantrumming mess by dinner time. Or worse: she falls asleep in the car at 4pm, meaning she'll then stay up till 10 or 11 pm! Yikes!

Nap schedule? What schedule?

Reader Ilima worries that her 2-year-old still needs a nap, but has starting refusing to sleep. What to do, she asks?

Dear Dr. Heather,

I have a napping question. My daughter still takes naps at day care, but we can't get her to nap at home. At home she gets out of her bed and won't stay in. If I leave her alone she just gets out and plays in her room. If I stay and supervise, she does whatever she can think of to provoke me and get a reaction, and it becomes a game that gets her stirred up. If I lie down with her, she just wants to talk and play with me. She's 2 and a half now. She still seems tired, and I know naps are important for her brain development. Any thoughts?

Ilima

Dear Ilima,

I've been there. All morning long, you're talking yourself through the frustrations of dealing with a toddler by planning what you'll finally be able to do, once she goes down for her nap. If I can just make it until 12:30, I can eat a nice, peaceful lunch, straighten up this mess, and catch up with a friend on the phone. But your toddler's got other plans.

What Not To Do You can't force anyone to sleep, especially a toddler. It's similar to feeding and potty-training issues. Trying to force a toddler to eat, poop, or sleep is a setup for disaster. You don't want to trigger a power struggle -- one that you'll lose -- by trying to MAKE her follow her nap routine.

You also can't allow yourself to get desperate and miserable about this new turn of events. I know it's really easy to get comfortable with a nap routine, and it feels impossible to get through the day without it. But don't panic. Here's why: Your Baby is Growing Up! Babies NEED to sleep during the day. Their brains can't handle all that stimulation without shutting down after a few hours. But your toddler's brain is growing past that stage -- and isn't that an amazing thing? She can handle more now. And despite what other "experts" may say, most children automatically get the amount of sleep they need, more or less. They require your direction and support, but they don't need you to closely control their need for sleep. As my mentor (an infant development expert) said, while scolding me for putting too much emphasis on my own toddler's nap schedule, "If she's tired, eventually, she'll sleep! You don't need to make a federal case out of it!"

But She Still Seems Tired! I know. this development thing isn't perfect. She'll still have crabby, tired days as she transitions from daily napping to no naps. Some days, she'll absolutely NEED to nap. And on those days, feel free to insist that she does. But on days that she resists -- let her stay up. If she falls asleep on the couch or in the car later, wake her so that she doesn't stay up to an ungodly hour. Eventually, her boody will adjust, and she'll sleep in later in the mornings, or allow you to put her down at night a bit earlier, or nap once in awhile.

Then Why Does She Nap at Daycare? Take it as a compliment -- daycare isn't as fun as home. Your toddler would MUCH rather be up and having fun with her family. Unfortunately, she also saves her worst toddler moments for you as well. That's why this "Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde" sort of dual-personality thing is so common at this age. All her very best -- and very worst -- moments are reserved for you!

Tricks for the Toddler in the Napping Gray Zone If you know she needs a nap but she's been resistant, use these tips that I learned from our kids' expert babysitter. Say, "Today, you don't nap. But you need to lie down in your bed with your book for 30 minutes. But whatever you do, DON'T GO TO SLEEP!" Often, your oppositional toddler will resist your suggestion to NOT SLEEP -- by sleeping. (Hey, I never said they were RATIONAL as toddlers, just OPPOSITIONAL!)

Decide in advance that she won't nap on a certain day, and make a big deal out of it. Say, "Hey! Today is a NON-NAP DAY! You get to be a big kid and NOT NAP! And on non-nap days, bedtime later is at 6:30, because you're SUCH A BIG GIRL!"

Plan your life differently. From now on, you won't be able to count on mid-day time for yourself. But you CAN plan for more evening time. You can also plan your toddler's day accordingly. Set aside "quiet time", "free play time", and other set blocks of time when you encourage her to entertain herself. Reward her with praise or little rewards for playing nicely and quietly for increasingly longer blocks of time. As she gets older, you'll be able to count on her more and more, so that you get little "mini-breaks" throughout the day, instead of one long nap period.

Remember, your toddler is becoming a KID, and kids don't need daily naps. Kids go to school, go to sleepovers with their friends, and in general gain more independence every day. (Sigh! I know it's a cliche, but now that our oldest is 8, I see how truly fast they do grow up!) This is just another phase in the amazing process that guides the development of your child. Hang in there!

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

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.

Parenting Tips: Help! My Toddler Suddenly Hates the Bath!

Today, my sister in North Carolina called. I could barely hear her, with her 12-month-old screaming in the background. "We're trying to give her a bath, like usual. But all of a sudden, she HATES it. What happened?" She remembered me telling her about one of our kids at that age. "It's as if there's an electrical current in the water," I had said. "Just putting his foot into it makes him shriek with terror and pain, and he pulls his foot up high, away from the water, until I take him out of the bathroom." Actually, we went through it will ALL of our kids. Each of them previously had loved their bath. Suddenly, it was Bathing Terror.

There must be a weird moon in the Baby Bath Constellation, because I've gotten this question quite a lot recently. BabyShrink reader Erik is a stay-at-home Dad to this little 16-month-old cutie, who previously enjoyed her bath. "All of a sudden," he writes,"she seems to panic when we get her in the tub. We have measuring cups, bubbles, and all sorts of distractions. We've even tried to join her in the tub, but this seems to panic her even more." Erik googled the problem, and found that, often, there is some traumatic experience before the panic starts (such as slipping and falling in the tub, or otherwise being frightened in the bath). But Erik assures me this has not occurred. So what can he do?

Sudden Bath Fears Are Common There are major cognitive changes that take place, along with the development of walking. All of a sudden, your toddler can purposely move -- away from you, and known safety, into strange and new situations. Discovery of a new thing leads to excitement -- and then fear. This stage is characterized by the back-and-forth of moving out into the environment -- just until it gets a little scary -- and moving back to be with Dad or Mom to get "refueled" for future discovery. As my Parenting Guru Dr. Brazelton says, there is an upsurge in fears at this point, starting at about 12-18 months. The bath is a common fear. Think about it: your baby is just getting used to walking, and in the process, her sense of equilibrium and body control get messed up for awhile. She's not quite sure what her body can -- and can't -- handle. Your Toddler's Perspective on Bath Time The bath is slippery. She thinks, "I can get soap in my eyes. I can bonk my little head on the side, or on the faucet. If I have a scrape or a cut, it hurts in the bath, and I can't always figure out why, or how to tell Dad about it. Then there's this weird wall between me and the outside, and I'm not allowed to just jump in and out if I get nervous. And when the water gets sucked down into the drain, I wonder, will I fit down that thing? Am I going to get sucked down there too?" She's still figuring out cause and effect, and she's not quite sure how that drain thing works. But it's powerful, it makes noise, and it sucks all the water into it. So Do I Have to Let Her Be Stinky Until the Next Developmental Phase Kicks In? No. Well, maybe just a little. Pediatricians say that we Americans bathe our babies way too much anyway; it's not necessarily good for young skin. So you can back off the nightly baths. Don't feel temped to FORCE the issue; I promise, it will only make things worse. But of course, smashed banana needs to be cleaned out of hair, and dirt needs to be dislodged from various nooks and crannies. And I wouldn't suggest giving in to the bathing fears, simply being a little more flexible about it than usual. Here are a few other suggestions: Know that this IS a phase. It's not permanent. This is a temporary blip in your bathing routine. Eventually, your toddler will regain confidence and enjoyment in the bath. For Now, Rely on the Kitchen Sink At this age, they need to be wiped down after every meal and snack anyway, right? So keep a bottle of her bath soap in the kitchen and strip her down at the sink after meals. Clear the sink area of unsafe stuff. Then let her splash away -- with you holding her firmly, of course -- and wipe her down as you play with her there. And most kids still love to play with the hose or the kiddie pool, despite bath fears. So sneak in a little cleaning while she's splashing around in the yard. Keep Trying, But Don't Force It, If You Can Avoid It Every few days, make a big deal out of preparing a really fun bath. Use bubbles, add new toys, and be silly. Allow your toddler to play in the water from the outside of the tub, but don't make her get in. Talk about what fun she will have, when she decides to get back in. You want her to have a good experience -- at her pace -- with the bath. Let her "help" you with bathing a sibling -- sitting with you, outside the tub. Let her get in -- and get out again -- if she's even slightly interested. Or let her walk away -- it's her choice, at this point. Make a big deal out of letting HER decide about the bath. What If I Forced It Already? Don't feel guilty. Listen, when TT was going through this phase, he woke up one night, puking. There was no way around it -- he had to have a bath. So I explained to my very miserable little guy that we had to have a bath, and I knew he was not going to like it, but that I would make it very, very fast. He screamed bloody murder the whole time. But he eventually got over his bathing fear in about the same amount of time as his older brother and sister did (about 3-4 months). The main thing is to convey your empathy about the situation. "I know you're afraid of the bath, and I'm willing to do whatever I can to help you through this time. I know that one day you'll like it again, but for now, we'll take it at your pace."

Erik: Let us know what happens. Readers: Got any other suggestions to add?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: The “Good-Enough Mother”: Are Breasts Required?

Dear BabyShrink,

I fully intended on breastfeeding my first baby. But after trying hard for six weeks, we had to give up. We had 3 lactation specialists, moms, friends, and my doctor helping. But my baby was not gaining weight and crying all the time. I just never made more than a half-ounce of milk at a time, despite pumping and nursing all day (and night). But the specialists all told me to keep trying. That eventually, I would make more milk. I never did, and I could not stand to know that she was hungry. I had to feed her!

Feeding my baby formula felt like a failure as a mom. But she is developing into a wonderful and healthy little girl. Now that I am expecting my second baby, I still think back to that time and I worry about it. It makes me so depressed that I still get teary-eyed every time I think of trying to nurse again. All my friends and my sister were able to nurse. Why not me? People are urging me to try it, but I just can’t go through that again. I was so stressed out at a time I wanted to be enjoying my new baby. Now I will have a toddler to care for as well.

How do I handle this? Any thoughts are appreciated.

Sign me,

Anonymous in Atlanta

Dear, Dear Anonymous Mom,

I asked you if I could post this letter because so many moms out there are experiencing this same thing right now. Terrible guilt and angst because of being unable (or unwilling, for what can be excellent reasons) to breastfeed their babies. Let me say this immediately: as a psychologist, I want you to be as happy and stress-free as possible during the early months with your baby. Your baby’s development and happiness depends very much on YOUR emotional state at that crucial time. If breastfeeding is causing you too much strain and guilt…it’s just not worth it.

OK, I said it! Let the breastfeeding police come and take me away. But it has to be said.

Some of you are about to get angry at me. So before that happens, let me state a few things as fact:

Breastmilk has absolute advantages, nutritionally, over formula

Nursing has been shown to be beneficial in many ways, to both mother and baby

I support the ability of Moms to nurse their kids anywhere at any time

I nursed our four kids

But the pressure to breastfeed can be harmful to many Moms. It’s hurting some of you (and by extension, your babies). While I accept the fact that some Moms simply may not understand the benefits and simplicity of breastfeeding, and I do wish more Moms would at least try it out, I don’t accept the patronizing (matronizing?) attitude that often goes along with judging Moms for their choice not to nurse…or their physical inability to do so.

As a licensed psychologist, I also see many Moms who feel inadequate, uncertain, and self-critical because of society’s pressure to breastfeed. They in turn transmit those feelings to their babies.

Although we are told that virtually all mothers can (and should) nurse their babies, consider the following real-life examples of Moms who simply can’t breastfeed: The Moms who, like Anonymous above, went through several lactation specialists, medications, and weeks of stress, only to find her breasts simply won’t produce milk (and her baby wasn’t gaining weight)

The Moms who need to take medicine for postpartum depression (or other life-threatening illness) and want to protect their babies from the medication

The Moms who have no breasts, or inadequate breast tissue, either because of an accident, illness, surgery or congenital condition

These are cases where Moms CANNOT breastfeed. Yet in each case, these Moms are criticized and judged by others who have the nerve to ask them, “Why aren’t you breastfeeding?”

But I must maintain that there are also situations where Moms CHOOSE NOT to breastfeed, and that choice must be respected. Who are we to judge the choices other parents make about feeding their babies? Who are we to impose our decisions on them?

I would rather see a happy mom and baby with a bottle of formula than a stressed out mom (and baby) struggling through nursing. To me, the most important thing is that Mom feels comfortable in her decisions as a parent. If Mom is happy, everyone’s happy. I actually stole the term "Good Enough Mother" from one of my shrink heroes, Dr. Donald Winnicott. He was the first to say, "back in the day", that you should not strive to be a perfect parent....just a good enough parent. If you want to get the scoop on him, read more here. (It's a little technical, but if you're into psychology, Winnicott is a classic.)

And it extends to the “I’m a better parent than you” kind of competitiveness that continues beyond the baby stage. Who’s toddler is smarter/cuter/faster/going to the “better” preschool? Who is watching the least TV? Who has the better diet?

Our expectations of being “Good Enough” mothers have gotten completely out of whack. And the very strong pressure to breastfeed our babies does not help.

Again, this is all about expectations. It’s important for parents to have realistic expectations of their parenting. Parenting decisions have to be made with the best interests of both parent and child in mind. Breast or bottle? Your choice is best.

If you're struggling with this issue and want to talk personally with me about it, I'd love to help you. Hit the "Parent Coaching" button, or email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com to arrange a Skype, phone, or in-person appointment.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert