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

Toddler Behavior: How To Stop Children From Grinding Their Teeth

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Getting Your Child To Eat Fruits And Veggies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

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

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

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

Don't Take It Personally, Dad.

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

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

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

Thanks very much.

Grandma ~~~~~~

Dear "Grandma",

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

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

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

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

Television & Technology: Pros and Cons of High Tech Toys for Young Children

Are high-tech toys good -- or bad -- for young children? Helpful toy -- or demon gadget?

I was recently contacted by Aaron Crowe, who's doing a story for the AOL personal finance site WalletPop on the use of high-tech toys with young children. He had some interesting questions about the pros and cons of these ubiquitous gadgets. He specifically asked about these new-fangled iPhone apps that are designed to entertain the little ones. With spring break upon us, lots of us are traveling with young kids and want whatever help we can get to make it through those TSA lines at the airport and to our destination with our sanity generally intact. So, are these apps super-cool parent-helpers, or brain-damaging demon gadgets?

There hasn't been conclusive research on this subject yet. Some of you have seen my articles on TV-watching and young kids. There are some conflicting research studies on the impact of TV, but no "smoking gun" as to clear-cut negative effects -- that is, if you are careful as to WHAT is watched, and for HOW LONG. I think we can reasonably assume that the use of high-tech gadgetry has a similar impact on kids as to that of TV.

Another Balancing Act for the Good-Enough Parent A Good-Enough Parent is one who balances the child's needs within the scope of the needs of the whole family. A Good-Enough Parent doesn't worry that playing with a high-tech toy during a long wait at an airport will do damage to their child, but rather is grateful for the help of technology and takes the opportunity to grab a coffee and have a few minutes of peace, while their child is "app-happy". After that brief interlude to get re-charged for the trip, a Good Enough Parent focuses back on the child and looks for ways to make the trip fun -- or at least tolerable -- without the gadget. But guess what? If you're traveling under serious degrees of difficulty -- as in, multiple young children, lots of delays, transfers, or red-eye flights, that high-tech gadget might come in really handy. And if your toddler or preschooler ends up using it the whole darn trip, IT'S OK WITH ME. The only danger is in getting used to relying on the high-tech toys after the trip, and forgetting that, deep down, what kids really want is to play with their parents. Simple family-oriented time together is what young children need most.

Because to me, the main issue is BALANCE and MODERATION. Use of your cell-phone apps for toddlers on a daily basis? (Insert loud buzzing sound here.) Use of said apps to get through an otherwise painful trip? Ding ding ding! Go for it! Because you know how technology works -- kids go through a phase where they really get into a new gizmo, and then after awhile, lose their enthusiasm. It's up to us as parents to create an environment where kids (and we grown-ups!) can enjoy conversations, simple games, and creative toys to balance out the high tech stimulation we all get on a daily basis.

Thanks, Aaron, for the opportunity to be used as an "expert" for your feature.

If you're interested, check out his story here.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: How to Handle Aggression in Your Young Child

Recently, I've gotten lots of questions about how to handle aggression in young children. It's a common concern, and it's always startling when your previously sweet little baby starts to bite, hit, or generally wreak havoc. How did this happen? Did I do something to cause this? Surely, we rationalize, he's learning it from daycare...(or a sibling, or a neighbor)...ANYONE but us, right?How To Handle Aggression in Young Children Well, he MIGHT be learning it from daycare. But guess what? Aggression is an INBORN DRIVE. Aggression is NATURAL in young children (and older children...and adults!). We ALL have some aggression in us....thankfully. Aggression helps us protect ourselves and our offspring, and, when properly re-directed, gives us energy to pursue our goals in life.

But there's a lot of parenting "advice" out there that seeks to squash any hint of aggression in our kids, and indeed to pretend that it doesn't exist. Worse, to punish the expression of it in children.

Instead, we must understand that aggression is a normal drive; as inescapable as hunger, thirst, and the developmental urge to get up and walk. When I see a child in the clinic who expresses NO aggression -- THAT worries me.

Of course, the problem is not with aggression per se, but with HOW IT IS EXPRESSED. That's the key, isn't it? Aggression must be re-directed appropriately, so as not to be destructive.

So, how do we do that, as parents?

First, get comfortable with aggression, including your own Yes, your own. I will bet that the Dads reading this won't have as much difficulty with this part of the assignment. After all, boys and men are typically more direct in their expression of aggression. I'm all for women's rights, but there's no doubt that most boys (and men) are more directly aggressive than girls and women. My husband is a lot more comfortable with our kids' aggressiveness than I am. But I've had to learn from him that it's not good for me to automatically chastise the kids simply for being aggressive -- kids need healthy outlets for their aggression, as long as they're not hurting anyone (or anything).

Moms need to understand that we, too, have an aggressive drive within us. Think about it. How do you channel your aggression? One friend of mine goes on a pounding run. Another paints vivid pictures. My sister likes horror films. Personally, I'm a head-banger. I feel so much better after a good power walk, listening to Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins or Black Sabbath (am I dating myself here, or what?). Get comfortable with your own aggression, and think about how you channel it in a positive way. Then, think about how you can help your children with the same issue.

Next, convey this to your kids: I understand you want to break that toy. I know you're mad. That's OK. But I can't let you break things. Sometimes when I get mad I listen to loud music and jump up and down. Wanna try it with me? Or: You guys can't hit each other. I know you got mad at each other. Let me help you use your words to say how mad you are at each other. Then when we're done, we'll try to find out how we can be friends again.

More tips on handling aggression For babies and young toddlers (up to about 18 months), IGNORE it as much as possible. (And yes, even babies express aggression. What breastfeeding mother can't attest to that? One minute you're having a nice nursing session, and then all of a sudden --- OUCH! Your sweet baby has decided to act out his aggressive impulses -- on your nipple!) If baby is biting, physically stop her, in as unemotional manner as possible (you don't want her to be reinforced by a big reaction from you), and try to move on. Babies will misinterpret any chastisement, and internalize it as shame. Not good.

For older toddlers, you can express your understanding of the emotion, but firmly show him what you'd prefer. You also want to praise and reinforce his HEALTHY expression of frustration and aggression. I know that little girl made you mad. I could see you were upset. But I am so proud of you for being a big boy and walking away from her. You didn't hit. Great job! And try really, really hard to stay unemotional about it yourself. Easier said than done, I know, but if your child can trigger YOUR annoyance and aggression easily, it's reinforcement for his own aggression. If you act out your aggression, so will they.

For preschoolers, you can talk more about their conflicts and help them role play or plan out problem situations in advance, or even after the fact. I know Ashley sometimes makes you mad. What will you do in school today if Ashley upsets you again? Can we practice what you might say or do, instead of hitting? Or try a role-playing exercise. OK, I'll pretend I'm Ashley, and you try using your words instead of hitting. Let's practice.

I also want to say a bit about "scary stories". Preschoolers naturally gravitate towards "scary stories", because they fulfill an important psychological function. They offer a way to SAFELY MASTER FEARS -- as well as their own aggression. Because fears and aggression are related, psychologically. Fears crop up when children start to see what their OWN aggression can cause. They then start to generalize this fear of aggression to others. Some parents or "experts" suggest avoiding scary stories, but this is actually counterproductive. It's important to give your child an opportunity to process and deal with scary things in a safe and manageable way. Why do you think the classic fairy tales have been around so long? Because they offer children a chance to process their natural aggression and fears. Of course, follow your child's lead. Don't expose him to scary stuff he can't handle. But recognize that it's important psychologically to allow him to deal with aggression in stories, at school, and at home.

In general, you want to convey your empathy and support for all your child's feelings. When he feels understood, it will be easier to show him how to appropriately channel and redirect his aggression and other negative feelings. This is an important lesson for him to learn now, so that he can manage his aggressiveness throughout his life.

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 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

Parenting Tips: What Should We Do If My Kindergartener Hates School?

This year, one of our sons is starting kindergarten. Being a second-born, he was "raring to go" to school; he talked about it incessantly over the last few months. When asked if he likes school, he replies, "I don't LIKE school. I LOVE it!" But the J-Man already knew his teacher before school started; she was his older sister's teacher two years ago. J-Man also had been going along for school pickups and drop-offs for the past couple of years; he'd had the chance to slowly get used to the school environment. It helped a lot. But his older sister was more tentative, when she started school. She had to learn the routine from scratch, and didn't have an older sibling on campus to help make her feel more at home. It took her quite awhile to get into the swing of things. For awhile, we fretted that perhaps we had chosen the wrong school, or she wasn't in the right classroom, despite the fact that her teacher was a gem.

I've gotten several emails lately from parents in a similar situation. "My child just started kindergarten. She acted like she was excited to go, but now that school has started, it's a real battle. Although she attended preschool with few problems, she's now clingy, whiny and tearful every morning. Her teacher says she does well after I leave, and when I pick her up, she's fine. But the next morning, all I get is crying, whining, and begging to stay home. What should I do?"

Of course it tugs at our heartstrings when our little "Big Kid" wants to stay home with us just a while longer. Their tears are surprising. We doubt ourselves, and argue over whether we made the right choice. "Maybe she's just not ready yet," we wonder.

But by and large, the protests put up for parents at the beginning of kindergarten are temporary, normal, and not cause for undue concern. We can help our kids get through the transition more easily if we remember where they are developmentally, and have reasonable expectations.

It's important to understand the developmental issues of a kindergartener. A 5 or 6-year-old still has, in many ways, a preschool mind-set. We expect a kindergartener to be a "Big Kid" and go to the "Big Kids' School", yet emotionally, they're still more similar to the squirrely preschoolers they were last year. Kindergarteners don't care much about social norms, fitting in with other kids, or achieving well academically. But our current system of education in the US asks them to do just that: act like a "Big Kid". Yet we can't realistically expect them to behave that way until sometime in 1st or 2nd grade.

So, what to do? Luckily, most kindergarteners have a rough time for a few days (or few weeks) at most. Then, they're off and running with the pack, happily ensconced in their classroom, with their teacher and new friends. Here's what to keep in mind until then:

Talk with your little one about school. Listen to her fears, and clarify any confusion she has about the day. Understanding the flow of the school schedule will help her feel like she knows what'll be happening after you leave.

Be positive, and don't entertain a discussion about possibly staying at home. Say, "I know you feel scared. But your teacher will take care of you, and I will be there to pick you up right after school. I know you can do it. You might be scared sometimes, but you'll have so much fun, too! What a big kid you're getting to be."

Rely on the teacher for advice and guidance. She (it's usually a "she") is an expert at this, and goes through this every year with several of the kids in kindergarten. She'll have suggestions for how to best handle drop-offs. Usually, this involves a cheerful goodbye, a quick kiss -- and then a purposeful exit.

Hold your own concerns in check until you've given your child (and the teacher) a few weeks to settle in. If your child is still upset about going to school, then it's time to schedule a sit-down meeting with the teacher to explore what might be going on. You'll also want to observe the classroom in process -- unobserved by your child, if at all possible. Even a few minutes watching her will help you decide if her protests are just meant to test you -- or if she's really unhappy there.

Most of the time, kindergarten fears and tears evaporate within a few weeks. By then, we're left tearfully wondering, "When did my baby get so grown up?"

What are your experiences with kids starting kindergarten? Care to share?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

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

Parenting Tips: Dealing With 'Tics' in Young Kids

Hello BabyShrink! I have a six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. They are like night and day personality-wise. When my son was between two and four, he had several “tics” including twiddling my thumb with his finger and his own belly button and nipple. He also had a pacifier in his mouth until he was almost four. This wasn’t harmful to him or anyone else so I never really worried about it. My daughter never took a pacifier. She has recently developed some habits that I may be able to overlook like my son’s, which he outgrew eventually – but I feel they are more damaging. She sits and scratches her legs, twists her hair into knots and pulls them out, and not only bites her nails but when she runs out of nail she chews on her fingertips. I thought I might get her a doll with lots of hair to twist and pull on to stop the hair pulling. Any suggestions for the rest of the issues? Some people have said tell her doctor she needs to be medicated but I think that is ridiculous! She is four!~~ Debby, Louisville, KY

Hi Debby,

The issue of tics is not discussed enough. This is a really common behavior, especially in young children. Studies show that between 20-30% of all school children will show these repetitive movements at some time in their childhoods.

Usually, tics peak at age 10-12. However, tics spontaneously disappear in the majority of all kids who have tics. So for most of us (present company included, though to protect a certain kid I'm not naming names!) who have kids who do weird repetitive movements like eye-blinking, shoulder-shrugging, facial-grimacing or throat-clearing, we simply should ignore it, and it will eventually go away.

The emergence of a tic, however, should initiate some thought and concern by a parent. Is there any undue stress in the child's life? How can we help the child to cope more effectively? The tic is a reflection of something else; some new stress or change in the child's life.  Approach the situation in that way, not by trying to control the tic.

It's thought that a tic is a way perhaps of "blowing off steam", and not at all under the child's voluntary control. Shaming them for it, repeatedly pointing it out, or making it a big deal is actually asking for more trouble – it could reinforce the habit, and trigger a power struggle between you and your kid (one you won't win).

There certainly are cases that need professional evaluation and treatment. Since a tic COULD be caused by a medical condition (I know of a case of "shoulder-shrugging" that was triggered by an undiagnosed neck injury), always involve your child's pediatrician in the process. If the tic does not go away over a period of 6-12 months, it starts to interfere with school or social life, or is associated with other problems (obsessive/compulsive behavior, attention problems, etc.), get a thorough evaluation that includes medical/neurology, psychology/psychiatry, and educational consults.

Now, back to your question, Debby. What you describe as "tics" in your son are really more under the category of "weird, annoying, but common toddler behavior". (How's that for a professional diagnosis?)  But what you describe in your daughter concerns me. Her behavior doesn't actually sound like tics to me. It sounds more like anxious behavior, and self-destructive anxious behavior, especially in a child this young, is worrisome. Of course medication is not my first thought, since you need a complete evaluation for your daughter to determine the cause of this anxious behavior. Have there been recent stresses or changes in the family? Has she experienced something traumatic? Those would be some of the questions I would ask if I was involved in evaluating your daughter.

Please reach out to your pediatrician, clergy, school system and friends to find a good licensed child therapist who can help you start to solve this problem. If you have more questions, I'm here.  Good luck and keep us posted!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

P.S. Follow this link to a nice article about tics in school children written by a group at NYU.www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/tics_6_03_e.pdf