Parenting Tips: Considering Kindergarten?

I'm digging deeper into the decision of whether to start Kindergarten this fall -- or not. Look out for 4 in-depth posts on the subject. Check out my video over here --> for a sneak-peek!

Next, check out my first post in the series, where I show you how I make tough parenting decisions when there isn't an easy answer. You can apply my method to your kindergarten decision, or any other tricky parenting dilemma.

Here's the second post, for parents of shy kiddos. Even they can have a great start to their school careers.

And now for the third post. The "Redshirting" craze has me worried: Here's why.

My fourth post requires a box of Kleenex for the sentimental among you (and I certainly count myself a member of your group). Our babies are growing up so fast! Some ideas on how to Let Go As They Grow. (Sigh.)

There will be 4 total entries this month, and I'll post as they're ready for you -- so come back and check for each in the series.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

"Cutoff" Birthdays & Kindergarten Readiness: How to Decide?

Dear Dr. Heather,

My daughter turns 5 right before the “cutoff” age for kindergarten – so she’ll be able to attend, but I’m not sure she’s ready. Should we have her start this fall, or wait another year?

Sam in Philly

Dear Sam,

All over the country, parents are going through the same dilemma. For many, like those with “early born” kids, the decision is easy. For others who have “late-borns” (like yours, and my fourth child -- an October baby) -- or for those who’s kids are a tad behind, developmentally -- it’s a tough call. There’s no “magic” test for readiness, and no single developmental accomplishment that means your child is 100% ready.

Here is my basic Kindergarten Readiness Checklist of the areas I consider essential to success in the fall:

  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to speak understandably
  • The ability to listen and follow instructions
  • The desire to be independent
  • Playing well with others (most of the time)
  • Willingness to separate from parents
  • Basic letter and number recognition

Here are 3 steps to help you make your decision:

  1. Have a basic “Kindergarten Readiness” test administered at your intended school. There are many such tests available.
  2. Discuss the results -- plus the above readiness checklist -- with the important adults in your child’s life, including prospective teachers. Your pediatrician can help too.
  3. Revisit your decision over the summer. A child who’s not ready in the spring might quickly become ready in the summer.

Consider YOUR child’s readiness, and make the decision independent of the “trends” in your neighborhood. Ignore the tendency to “go along with the Joneses” – whether to “hold back” or “push ahead”. Whether your kiddo starts kindergarten this year or next is irrelevant compared to the fantastic developments that he’s gone through in the past 4 or 5 years. Remember that tiny newborn bundle they handed you that day 4 or 5 years ago? Look at your baby now! Good work, Mom and Dad!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Exciting Work -- BabyShrink's Updates

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Child I started BabyShrink when this cute guy had just turned 2. And now look at him -- he's the "big boy" in his pre-kindergarten class.  It was easy to decide that he'll start this fall -- he's a January-born guy, so he's already 5. And as the third child of four he's been waiting to be like "the big kids" his whole life. His baby sister might be different, though -- as October-born, we may eventually decide to hold her over for the next year. We'll see. So, how do you know if kindergarten is in the cards for your 4 or 5-year old? Despite the official-sounding "readiness tests" used, there's really no sure-fire way to know. But ask yourself if your "baby" has these skills as we move through kindergarten application season:

  • The ability to speak and be understood
  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to listen and follow directions
  • The desire to be independent, and a willingness to separate from parents
  • Playing cooperatively (much of the time). Can he handle sharing, playing, and taking turns?
  • Basic letter and number recognition

Having these skills makes it far more likely that he'll be ready in the fall. And if he's not -- that's OK too. He'll get there!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Getting Your Child To Eat Fruits And Veggies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Kindergarten Haters And Dumb Potty Training Rules in Preschool

Very Common Problems. We bloggers check our blog traffic to see how many "hits" we're getting. My software also tells me how you got to me -- what you entered into the search or URL line to get to BabyShrink -- and this is where it gets interesting. This time of year, I get a lot of searches that look like this:

SHOULD+I+SNEAK+MY+TODDLER+INTO+PRESCHOOL+IF+SHE+IS+NOT+FULLY+ POTTY+TRAINED?

AND

MY+KINDERGARTENER+HATES+SCHOOL+WHAT+SHOULD+I+DO? The demand is so strong for these topics that I'm re-running these 2 posts together. So without further ado, here's my post on potty training rules in daycare and preschool - you'll see that I have some pretty strong opinions.

And here's my post on what to do if your poor little kindergartener decides that they would rather NOT be a big boy or girl anymore and stay home after all.

I've been there more than once myself, so I can sympathize. Check out those posts and let me know what you think!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Body Awareness & Sexuality: Advice On Dealing With Preschool Fears

Dear Dr. Heather,

I am worried about my 3-year-old daughter, who has made 2 comments about her "bottom" in the last 2 weeks. She didn't want me to look at her bottom when I was putting a pull-up on her. When I asked her why, she said "I don't know." And visiting her grandparents' house, she was getting dressed for the day and told her grandma that she didn't want grandpa to see her bottom. I know that her grandpa would NEVER EVER do anything inappropriate...as a matter of fact, he has never even changed her diaper when she was younger. There is nobody else who she is in contact with who would EVER do anything inappropriate either. But I am concerned. I have never used the word "bottom". I do not leave my girls alone with men or even just grandpas or other children (like playing in their room by themselves). They have to play where I can see them.

What I want to know is this: Do preschoolers develop a self-awareness of their body to a point where they don't want certain people seeing them in their undies, or in the bathtub....at what age and is this normal? What should I be doing at this point? My number one priority is protecting my young daughters.

Signed,

Anonymous -- and Fearful -- Mom

Dear Fearful Mom,

Sometimes it's hard to see our babies venture into territory like this. Body awareness, along with a sense of "private parts", is a first step in a child's developing sexuality. This can trigger strong feelings in us as parents, especially for those who have lingering issues over sexuality, or perhaps have experienced some sort of sexual abuse or inappropriateness in our own pasts. The natural response is to hypervigilant about any possible danger, and to protect your child at any cost. But this can get in the way of your child's growing -- and normal -- awareness of his or her own body.

So YES, children do start to develop a beginning sense of body awareness -- and privacy -- by age 3. It's not a fully-formed sense yet, but preschoolers do start to pick up on the fact that some areas of the body are "private". It's a complicated idea and so at first they can get confused. They might not totally understand whom you DO and DON'T show your private parts to....it would not be unusual for a 3-year-old to act shy about her "bottom", even with a parent. Then there may be other times where she will run around naked, with no inhibitions. They're trying to figure out the "rules" about who can view which body parts. It's a long process that takes at least a couple of years to really come to grips with what is a complicated -- and "loaded" -- concept.

You mention that you're worried about where she heard the word "bottom", since you don't use it in your family. You might think about where else she might have picked it up. Does she go to preschool? Or have friends that use the word "bottom"? Those are possibilities. She could have even overheard a mother talking to her child about it at the grocery store, for instance, "Sit on your bottom when you are in the shopping cart." Of course I can't know, but I'm just thinking of how often you hear parents talking to toddlers and preschoolers about stuff like that in public. Maybe that's where she heard it.

Now, it sounds as if you are afraid something inappropriate might have happened. Of course I cannot say one way or another if that is the case; I'm not evaluating your daughter, only giving you some parenting information. But I can tell you that, usually, children who have been sexually abused show MANY signs of disturbance and regression including sleep, appetite, behavioral, and other problems. Simply using an unfamiliar word -- by itself -- would not necessarily concern me. I would look at her OVERALL behavior over a period of time. Of course if you have reasonable suspicion, you should report those suspicions to her doctor and the authorities. But hopefully this is just part of the normal process of your daughter learning about "public" and "private" body parts -- a task that all preschoolers do work on at this age.

You might also want to check out another article of mine on the normal development of sexual sensations in preschoolers. Click here for it. I hope that helps. Let me know if you need more help.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Post updated 12/2/2010

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

Advice for a preschooler who HUGS too much

Dear Dr. Heather, My 3-year-old son started nursery school a few weeks ago. Everything is fine except that he hugs the other kids too much! They do not want him to hug them and they wind up hitting him or running from his approach. The teachers have tried to talk to him about it and asked me to please try again tonight. Today he came home with 2 more scratches on his face. I don't know what to tell him to make him understand, and I want him to have a good experience at school. Help!

London Dad

Dear London Dad,

Even though it may seem like your son is the only one with difficulties in transition to school, believe me, he's not. They all have their little variations on the theme. I myself have just now returned from dropping off my 3-year-old at his new preschool. He's not a "hugger", but he is a "clingy whiner". Another of the kids there gets upset when the teacher pays attention to other children, and another strips down to her undies when she misses her parents! This is a difficult time of year in terms of transitions to new things for our little ones. Usually, a few weeks max is all it takes to get used to a new school. But those weeks can feel punishingly, guiltily LONG for us parents!

Your little guy is so young and new to the preschool setting. He really can't be expected to get all the social niceties completely worked out yet. Ideally, you want him with a teacher who can help him to transition and learn how to interact with the other kids so that they all have fun together. This should not be a "scolding" thing, but rather a "fun/learning" thing.

As I said, there are other kids there who are struggling as well with the transition, but in different ways. It's normal; we can't expect a 3-year-old to transition to such a new setting without some bumps and wrinkles. So don't feel too bad about it, and try to convey a positive attitude to him. You can practice with him how to greet friends -- lots of "high fives" and "good morning!" greetings. Give him lots of praise when he seems to improve and "get it". Help him greet his friends once he arrives at school -- stay with him 1-1 down on his level until he says hello to everyone. Don't make it a chore, but simply help him do it in a good way, and again -- give lots of praise. And when he gets home, reinforce the positive steps he took during school that day, and practice "how we say hello" to others at school.

Please talk with the teacher(s) about the issue and ask for their help and guidance and suggestions. Good teachers will have come across this before (many times!) and will not be put off by it or scold him for it. And be happy that he's a sociable little guy!

Hang in there and let us know how it goes.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

How to Talk to Kids: A Great Book

Our 6-year-old is in the throes of a really anxious phase. He often needs to be reassured about where we are, even if we're all just in the house. He's afraid to go to sleep at night. And he's terrified of "ET", a classic we allowed the babysitter to show the kids one night. You'd think my shrink-training would help in these situations, but often it doesn't. You know how it goes: When it comes to your own kids, rational knowledge goes out the window. Intellectually, I remind myself that 6-year-olds aren't rational creatures yet. They can't hang on to the logical reassurances we give them. They haven't reached the stage where logic "sticks" in their minds. In many ways, they're still like preschoolers; apt to live in the "magical world" of fantasy, imagination, and fears.

But when he's scared out of his wits, part of me wants to scream, "Snap out of it! We're not leaving you, we never have, and we never will! Enough, already, and go to sleep!"

So I'm calling in reinforcements. I've pulled an awesome book off my shelf and am reminded why I think this is one of the world's best parenting guides. If you haven't seen it, go spend 10 bucks on Amazon for the paperback version, or check it out of your library. You'll refer to it again and again (and I promise, I get no "cut" from promoting anything here). It's called "Between Parent and Child", by Dr. Haim Ginott. It was first published a million years ago, but it couldn't be more appropriate today. His sensitivity and approach to dealing with children simply can't be matched. Reading Ginott again has lifted a weight from my shoulders and reminded me that all will be well with our son, soon enough. It's also given me lots of good ideas for how to approach this phase-specific anxiety he's going through.

I hope you enjoy it!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Cherise

Hi Cherise,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you! G.

Hi G.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Child Discipline: Is My Little Kid a Controlling Bully?

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

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

Thank You,

Jenelle

Hi Jenelle,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Halloween and Young Children: What's TOO scary?

Reader Fran in Massachusetts wrote recently, asking an interesting question about her 3-year-old son, who has an unusual request for a Halloween costume. He wants to be Cruella de Vil this year.

Fran's not worried about the gender thing; she knows that it's perfectly fine for a 3-year-old boy to dress up in a female costume. She lives in a progressive neighborhood, and so her neighbors aren't likely to make a thing out of a little boy in a Cruella outfit. And she knows that, developmentally, it's really common for 3-year-olds to have fun dressing up in opposite-sex costumes, and that it means nothing about the future development of sexual identity. (In fact, just about every 3-year-old boy I've known wants to have his nails painted, often much to the dismay of his Daddy.)

But Fran's question has to do with the downright scary nature of the Cruella character. After all, she kidnaps puppies for their fur. She offers to drown newborn animals. There are all sorts of hellish, devilish references in her story. But Fran's son insists on dressing up as Cruella. What's a Mom to do?

This isn't a simple issue. But you wouldn't know it by scanning the popular parenting media, where we're offered suggestions about trick-or-treating safety, or handy-dandy costume and recipe tips. What about the fact that Halloween is meant to scare the daylights out of our children? Aren't we supposed to be protecting them from frightening movies and TV news during the rest of the year? How come it's now OK to send them to a stranger's door to take candy from a guy wearing a Scream mask? And what about all the ghouls and goblins coming to our door? Isn't the home supposed to be a safe place?

As a reaction, some parents take the approach followed by our local Waldorf school, which does a "Night of Delights" kind of party, and doesn't allow traditionally scary costumes. Fairies and dragons are fine; Cruella is not invited. Yet many kids bristle at the restrictions placed on this kind of celebration. Kids like Fran's son WANT the scary stuff. They seem to CRAVE it. So what's the best way to handle it with YOUR kids? First, KNOW YOUR KIDS Each child is different. Fran's son loves the scary stuff; many do. There's nothing wrong with that; it's his way of learning to understand scary and mean things in life. Sometimes, acting out bad things is a way of gaining mastery over them. If I can act it out, I can control it, and then it won't hurt me. But other kids are truly frightened by scary characters and scenes. Those kids need a more gentle introduction to things that go bump in the night. Using child's language, explain how this night is different...and fun Tell your 2, 3, or 4-year-old how people have fun dressing up in costumes. And on this night...just this night...we get treats at other people's houses. And it's all for pretend, just like we do when we pretend at home. Practice with simple masks -- in front of a mirror, show him how it's still him underneath the mask. Practice what will happen when the kids ring the doorbell and yell "Trick Or Treat!". Enlist his help in handing out candy. And dress up yourself, in just a simple costume, to show that the adults are in on the fun, too...and will still protect him and make sure he's safe. Follow your child's lead Be prepared for the lead-up to Halloween to be at least as exciting -- if not more exciting -- than the actual night of the holiday. Many young children are thrilled with decorating and preparing costumes and treats in the days prior to October 31. But Halloween night can feel overwhelming; after all it IS nighttime, which in and of itself is a scary time for kids. And the disruption and weirdness of having costumed strangers come to the door and roaming around outside can be just too much. If your little Fairy wants to visit one or two houses for trick-or-treating, or even forget about it altogether, be prepared to change your plans as needed. Make alternative arrangements for older kids Your older children have more advanced coping mechanisms in place. They understand that the death themes of the holiday are pretend. They can use the frightening images to learn to master their own fears. And they can enjoy the unusual opportunity of breaking the rules, if just for one night. So arrange with friends to have the brave kids go out with one family, and the scaredy-cats stay home with another. Parents can split up for the night too; in our house, Dad takes the big kids out for trick-or-treating, while our 2-year-old and I stay home to dole out candy. Last year, he was frightened about the kids coming to the door in their costumes. I had them tell us their names and show under their masks before having TT give them their candy. Eventually, he got into the swing of it; then at 8 pm, I turned out the porch light and devoted the rest of the evening to giving him his usual bath/bedtime routine, for reassurance.

Will your young kids dress up for Halloween this year?

Toddler Behavior: Body Awareness & Sexual Fears In A Young Boy

Dear Dr. Heather, My 3-year-old son gets upset with his penis gets erect. He says "mommy my pee pee go big." It's like a question/concern/fear all rolled into one statement. He then pulls down his pull-up or underweare (whatever he is wearing) and shows me...no matter who is around. I tell him it is ok and it will go back down. Is this normal, and if so, when does this stop?

Mel

Hi Mel,

At 3 years of age, your son now has an awareness of his body. He also is sensitive to any changes in it, and worries whether the changes mean something is wrong. Children crave consistency, and when things are different -- they can get upset and worried.

Your son is not alone. Most toddlers and preschool-aged boys show an interest in the sensations and changes happening in their penis. (I guess it's an interest that starts in early childhood -- and never goes away!) It's a perfect opportunity to convey the overall message that:

Your body is a good thing; The sensations your body produces are healthy and normal; and It's OK to touch and explore your body -- in private, by yourself.

Talk to your son about his private parts. Use short, simple sentences, and don't try to convey too much at once. "Yes, sometimes your penis gets big like that. Sometimes it is small. But we don't take off our clothes in the living room. You can go look at it in your room, if you want."

Make sure nobody is giving him a negative message about his body; check with sitters, grandparents and others to see if this has "come up" with them, and how they've handled it. You want to make sure he's getting a consistent, positive message.

Of course girls show the same interest in their bodies; check out this post. It also describes the limits of "normal", and when to worry.

It's not too early to begin to send a healthy message to young children about their bodies. Aim for striking a balance; you don't want to instill a sense of shame or negativity about the body. Yet you want them to internalize the sense that their bodies are private and should be respected. It will help them to eventually feel a sense of physical integrity and safety, and to set appropriate boundaries later on.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: BabyShrink's Hubby Referees Playground Battles

Mr. Dr. BabyShrink, introduced here, is the playground expert. So I'm letting him handle the following question, sent in by reader Ben: Dear BabyShrink, I have a 3-year-old son who gets pushed around on the playground. He is active but friendly. At the playground, my wife gets involved and tries to work out the disagreements that occur between our son and other children. She becomes too protective, and I think I can be the same way. When do we let our son take care of his own battles, and when do we step in?

Ben in LA

Dear Ben,

Here's What Not To Do When our daughter was about the same age, she was pushed flat on the ground by a little girl on the playground. I immediately went into “kick ass mode”, and yelled “Hey you, little girl” at the top of my lungs. I immediately saw that I had scared both girls. I tried to collect myself as the other parents gawked, and I realized I was over-reacting. I walked up to the girl who did the pushing and said, “Honey, we do not push at the playground. We wait our turn. When she's done, it will be your turn”. I could see that both girls didn't hear one word I said. My daughter was still startled and frightened by my tone, and the other little girl was just staring at this big man who had yelled at her.

After talking with our daughter later, she was able to say that she was most upset about me, and not the altercation with the other girl. I had to apologize for my over-the-top reaction, instead of helping her figure out how to handle other kids' pushing on the playground.

Here's What I Should Have Done In the future I will let my BabyShrink wife handle playground skirmishes. But in all seriousness, it would have been better to have stayed quiet, and allowed my daughter to handle it herself first. She was not in any real danger, and I was right there if she needed help. I think it’s natural for parents to over-protect and over-react in these kinds of situations. However, reacting this way, we are conveying the message that the little one cannot handle their own affairs. Parents get in the way and become the focus of the problem, instead of allowing the child to learn to resolve the situation on their own. Children develop incredible social skills by handling difficult situations on their own, as long as safety is not an issue.

Help Them Think It Through, For The Next Time After a parent witnesses “a situation”, it is helpful to talk to your child about the way she handled it, and help to brainstorm other ways of dealing with it in the future. We need to put our Neanderthal instincts in check as much as possible. Our kids will stop bringing these situations to us if they know we will over-react. Children will lie to please their parents, instead of discussing the difficult situation.

When parents become too emotionally charged, it usually does not lead to a good outcome. This is one of the most difficult aspects of being a parent: keeping your emotions in check. How do you do that? Take a deep breath and think about how your response will be heard by your child. "Good enough parenting" takes thought and sensitivity. Show understanding, and confirm the facts. Don’t make a scene. Children do get bruises on the playground - don’t have a coniption about it. Calmly teach your child how to verbally defend herself. And if that doesn't work, have her ask a parent or teacher for help.

I want to thank my friend Jeff for helping me edit this post. Jeff is the stay-at-home Dad to four kids, ages six and under!

Toddler Behavior: Dealing With Finger-Sucking in Preschoolers

Dear Dr. Heather, My daughter is five-and-a-half and starts kindergarten in the fall. Though she's not developmentally delayed, she is a bit emotionally immature. The thing is -- she's a finger sucker (the 3 middle fingers on her right hand). It doesn't interfere with her play, but if her hands are not busy, her fingers are in her mouth. Even when she talks, I constantly have to say, "I can't understand you if your fingers are in your mouth." Her 3-year-old brother is a thumb-sucker himself, so that could complicate any attempt to get her to quit.

Quite frankly, this drives me BANANAS. But I don't want to make her quit just to soothe my own self-consciousness or aggravation. If I do try to help her quit, how? Help me, BabyShrink! Ellen D.

Dear Ellen, While finger and thumb-sucking tends to subside naturally by age 4 or 5, it’s not uncommon for it to linger awhile longer. We expect a kindergartener to behave like other elementary-aged kids. But ask a teacher. Kindergarteners and first graders are really closer, developmentally, to preschoolers. At this age, kids still don’t care how they appear to others. Social pressure to fit in doesn’t start until closer to age 6 or 7. That’s what will probably be more important to her over time; what her friends say about the finger sucking. Until then, there’s not much you can do to stop it, and you’ll have to Find A Way To Ignore It. Look away, take a deep breath, and do something else.

Isn’t it amazing how well our very young children have the ability to find the exact habit that makes us nuts? My current struggle is with our 2-year-old. He doesn’t suck his fingers, (which probably wouldn’t bother me much), but he very deliberately throws food from his highchair. (And he has good aim now, too.) That’s what drives ME bananas. And the more I try to make him stop, the worse it gets. I’m not saying your daughter does it on purpose to annoy you. But I am amazed at how often our kids’ behaviors push exactly the wrong button with us.

Young children have such little control in their worlds. They’re physically small. They aren’t very coordinated. They’re not allowed to do a ton of cool-looking stuff. Their bodies and minds develop so quickly from day to day, they have no idea what they can (or can’t) accomplish at any particular time. And at any moment, they’re liable to get picked up without warning and taken somewhere they don’t wanna go. Their independence is developing, and yet it’s often thwarted. You can’t blame them for trying to establish some sense of power and control in their life.

That’s why they need self-soothing strategies; funky little habits that help them feel better about the lack of control and chaos they experience in daily life. These self-soothing strategies are also selected partly to aggravate us, as parents. It’s your kid’s way of saying, You may be able to have 90% control of me, but this 10% is all about me. The fact that it annoys you may be what makes it so powerful to your daughter. It’s her way of saying, I finally have some control here! I can get Mommy really bananas about this finger sucking thing!

As a child psychologist, I’m not usually worried about the young kids who have developed weird, annoying self-soothing strategies. I DO worry about the kids who are too compliant and too easy, at this age. Their budding sense of independence needs to be appreciated and given room to grow. So my advice is this – Pick Your Battles. And only pick the ones you can WIN. This one, you won’t win. I mean, is there any strategy or technique that actually works to make a kid stop sucking their thumb or fingers? And more importantly, is that technique worth the price you will pay, psychologically?

If you look up solutions to finger and thumb sucking on the internet, you will come across sites that suggest aversive techniques such as using nasty-tasting things, or even installing dental appliances. YIKES! While these techniques may physically stop the offending behavior, I’m really alarmed at the kind of emotional and psychological damage they could inflict. What kind of message does that send to your child? Your self-soothing strategies are so offensive to me that I will pull out the big guns to make you stop. Your efforts at learning to be independent are going to be crushed. This could set the stage for a complete withdrawal of the drive for independence, resulting in a regressed, passive child. It also could simply press the “pause” button on asserting independence, and then you’ll have major power struggles later, when you can’t simply pick them up like a football anymore. I’ve seen too many difficult therapy cases of 10 and 12-year-olds who are only starting to rebel after having their spirits crushed as toddlers. And then, the rebellion is far worse.

So hang in there, with understanding for the struggles your daughter is experiencing. You should always check with your pediatrician if you have any concerns, but by and large, weird and annoying toddler/preschooler behavior is almost always transitory, and almost always normal. And enjoy this last summer before her first “real” year of school! They grow so fast! (sniff!)

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: My Child Has A Fear Of Being Alone

Dear BabyShrink, My 4-year-old has a sincere fear of being alone. She’ll drop whatever she is doing to follow someone out of a room if she realizes she’s the last one in it. She is most definitely NOT SHY; she is extremely gregarious and lights up a room. When I ask her why she doesn’t want to be alone, she just says, “because no one’s there with me." She’s never mentioned monsters or bad dreams. Is this something she’ll grow out of? I’d like to eventually go to the bathroom by myself, if you catch my drift!

Signed,

Kristen

Dear Kristen,

Sounds like you've got an extremely social little girl on your hands!  I've got one of those, too.  I can certainly understand how she feels -- people are just more fun to be around! Especially when you can walk and talk and do all those other "big girl" things she can now do.  But it is important to encourage her to play by herself now and then, and this will stretch into longer periods of time of "self-directed activity", which will be really important once she starts school.

You can try starting really small -- while you're together, and she is feeling good and really engaged in some kind of play, say something like, "Oops!  I have to ....."(turn on the dishwasher, grab a glass of water, etc.).  Then leave the room, for like TWO SECONDS.  Then make a grand re-entrance..."See?  Here I am.  I just turned on the dishwasher, and now I'm back with you."  Then re-engage in play with her.  Slowly stretch out these mini-interludes so that she slowly but surely gets used to you being gone for bits at a time.  When she makes a leap (and you're finally able to go pee by yourself...what a concept!), make a big deal out of how GROWN UP she is for waiting nicely while Mommy pees, and how HELPFUL it is to Mommy that she can wait for a few minutes, and now....let's play TOGETHER some more! So you're using the time together as a reward for her being patient for a few minutes.

Try that, Kristen, and let us know how it works!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink