Listen to Kids. Here's Why

We're too busy. Too busy to hang out and listen to each other. Too busy to ask open-ended questions. Too busy to let ideas grow in unpredictable, wonderful ways. I'm just as guilty as anyone. Now that our baby is 3, I'm re-dedicating my efforts to get off the crazy/busy bandwagon. She's got a lot to say, and I don't want to miss out. When our kids are little, we have the chance to set the foundation for listening. Asking -- and listening. I advise parents to start doing this with their babies even in the earliest weeks and months of life. A surprising amount of communication happens even then. Eventually, you'll get stories about what happened in preschool that day. Listen for stories of how our kids find their way with their peers. About sharing, arguing, and crying. About making up with friends, and making new ones, too.

Later, in the elementary years, you'll stories about tests and grades, the bully on the playground, and if you're lucky, stories like this:

Pretty cool, huh? If we're too busy, we miss out on those opportunities.

Here's another payoff: When those kids get into middle and high school -- and encounter all sorts of squirrelly social situations -- they'll have a foundation for talking things through with trusted adults to help them find their way. So have fun asking -- and listening.


Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Mom of Four, Parenting Expert




And The Parent Coaching Winner Is...

Folks, this was a tough decision! I got lots of entries, both on BabyShrink and submitted by email. But the top two were clearly AMBER, a single Mom struggling with a clingy toddler, and JEN M., with her crusty, stinky, bath-hating offspring. Yay for the winners!

So what I decided to do was to give EACH OF THEM a FREE 45-minute session! A 45-minute session -- worth $115 -- should be enough to help them make some good progress with their toddlers. And stay tuned -- I'm asking both of them to give me their HONEST and COMPLETE reviews afterward, to post here on BabyShrink. I believe in Parent Coaching so much that I'm happy to be completely open in all my client reviews. I'm not satisfied until my clients are 100% satisfied. I thrive on your parenting challenges, folks!

Thanks for all your entries and votes. If you didn't win this time, I still hope you'll sign up for Parent Coaching. My latest case involves a Mom who's struggling with guilt as she tries to decide how to balance her attention between her toddler and her new baby. Who needs her more? Can she be enough for BOTH children? Will one of them suffer if she inadvertently gives too much attention to the other? We're working on a plan to realistically juggle both kids, increase her parenting confidence, and improve her own "mother's intuition" about who needs what (and when). Hit the "Parent Coaching Packages" next to my photo to find out more.

And Amber and Jen, congratulations! I can't wait to talk with each of you!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

The Generosity of Glenn Sakamoto

There are still more people to thank on this one-year anniversary of BabyShrink. My extremely talented, yet ever-humble friend Glenn Sakamoto has been a mainstay of support since before BabyShrink was even "born". I remember the day almost 18 months ago when I asked him for feedback about the project; I called him with a simple question about the design of my logo, and I wasn't even at all sure that BabyShrink was a viable idea. But I got much, much more than I ever hoped for; he spent two hours encouraging, praising, and guiding my ideas, and I hung up the phone with the confidence to GO FOR IT.

Since then, Glenn's been there. Not only did he create my AWESOME logo, but he's simply ALWAYS provided me with support and encouragement when I need it.

Glenn's portfolio and skills are impressive, and I know he did my logo as a favor for an old friend. I hope one day I can repay his generosity and support. Mahalo and aloha, Glenn!!!

Check out his talent here at

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Great Books for Kids

Here are some of my favorites, if you need last-minute gift ideas for young kids, ages 4-8: Stoo Hample's Classic (Candlewick)

Stoo Hample's The Silly Book, published by Candlewick. This classic holds it's own. My kids recite these ridiculously funny lines in the car, at home, and make BabyShrink's Biggest Fan very proud in the process; she's the one who bestowed this goofy gift upon us. Really, any young kid MUST have this book. Required reading!


Check out Diary of Worm, by Cronin and Bliss (HarperCollins, Publisher). There's a whole series of these Diary books, but this is my favorite. Funny and gross in a way your 4-8-year-old will love. Believe it or not, these kinds of gross stories are developmentally appropriate! Kids this age are starting to understand humor in a new way, and independence is enhanced any time our kids manage to gross us out. It helps them set up a little kid boundary around what they think and enjoy -- and get a little space from us!


Finally, I want to plug my friend Ilima Loomis' new book, Kaimi's First Roundup. It's a lovely depiction of the unique life of the paniolo, our Hawaiian word for cowboy, and the book is getting great reviews. Your kiddie horse-lovers will enjoy this unique take on the cowboy story. (And perhaps inspire a trip to come see us in Hawaii!) Don Robinson's illustrations are fantastic.

Do you need a recommendation for a great book for yourself? Next time, I'll tell you about the book I just finished -- my favorite of the year!

My Favorite Book for the Baby in Your Life

Books are one of my favorite gifts, for any age. But I learned from BabyShrink's Biggest Fan that it's no good to give a book without thoroughly reading it first, to make sure it's just right for the intended recipient. My mother sits for hours in bookstores, pouring through childrens' books, and has come up with some fantastic specimens. I'll feature a couple of those tomorrow. But I have a real bone to pick with authors of books meant for babies -- many of these are just poorly written, with no appreciation for a baby's developmental level. A really egregious example is the series of books I saw the other day at one of the big-box stores. Upon first glance, the pictures were cute, colorful and fun. I think most parents (or grandparents) end their evaluation of the book right there. But if you look closer, you see that the storyline is confusing, there are a couple of parts that would be scary to toddlers and preschoolers, and the actual SIZE of the board book was enormous. Note to baby book publishers: Stop producing those giant board books that no baby could ever hold by themselves! Those things are real hazards. Have you ever tried reading one of those behemoths to a fidgety baby? They grab the pages and try valiantly to turn them, but the sheer bulk of the giant cardboard pages is enough to give the little one a black eye. Come on, let's see some books that are created with actual babies in mind!

So I'm thrilled with my latest discovery, No No Yes Yes, by Leslie Patricelli. It's a simple, hilarious look at the dilemmas experienced several times a day by babies and toddlers learning the rules and limits of life. Most baby books simply have too many words to be appropriate for such young minds.

Cover to No No Yes Yes by Patricelli

Patricelli understands that just a few words -- two, to be exact -- plus simple and straightforward illustrations -- are all that's necessary to convey a world of meaning to a little one. I love that she understands the challenge of this age; to learn to control oneself, given the zillion rules imposed by parents. She's truly speaking to her audience here, and in the process is already gaining an appreciative following. Our two-year-old is a case in point. He laughs hysterically every time he gets to the page where the baby puts a bunch of toys in the potty. He's simultaneously thrilled with the central character's daring, yet also mortified as to what the consequences might be. The book gets read several times a day around here -- and nobody has a black eye from shlepping around a book the size of briefcase!

Please check out Patricelli's book -- and she has several other cute ones I'm looking forward to reading.

Do you have any good baby book recommendations?

Shhh... It's "Confidential"!

I have all sorts of grand hopes and plans for the future of BabyShrink. But since I'm juggling my clinical practice, plus a consulting/management business, AND three young children (not to mention Mr. Dr. BabyShrink), my time is limited. I figure all I need is an extra 6 or 7 hours in every day to accomplish my goals! So I'm thrilled that, despite my limitations, BabyShrink has continued to grow and develop, as any "baby" should. One of the really cool things is when producers of other sites -- especially sites with far greater "reach" than mine -- contact me to ask to cross-post an article. So I'm excited to show off my latest such effort, posted today at My article on "What is too scary for Halloween?" is up there now. Check out the "Hot Topics" box to find it...and cruise around the site, while you're at it!

Check Me Out on!

My blogger friend Daddy Dan has started a new feature; he's polling a bunch of us Mommy, Daddy, and advice-giving bloggers about all sorts of topics. The first installment is today. As you've seen, I don't want to get TOO deeply into politics here, but he gave me my chance at outlining some of the essential legislative priorities for the benefit of young children and parents. Go visit us over here, and let him know what other questions you'd like him to ask his panel.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

BabyShrink's Feelings About Pet Loss

Rusty-Puppy was a sweet, happy dog who spent her life at Evans World Headquarters. She would rest her warm head on your knee as you sat at the table, peering up at you with those trusting brown eyes. She joyfully bounded around the yard with the kids. She was everything you could ever hope for in a family dog. But Rusty got old and sick. There were sparks of her old self, but her quality of life was miserable. Sharon and Danny agonized over when to end Rusty's suffering. They decided that yesterday was the day.

I spoke to Sharon yesterday after their appointment at the vet. "I bawled the whole time," she said. "She kept losing weight. She couldn't make it outside anymore on her own. Then I would see a little improvement. Was this the right time?"

Sharon also talked about the finality of death -- even with pets. "Somehow we take it for granted, if it's an animal. But it's just as final as if she was a person."

In the background, I could hear kids yelling and laughing. Sharon had taken the kids to their first soccer practice of the season. "We haven't told them yet. We told them it was coming; we tried to prepare them as best we could. But I couldn't imagine taking them home to tell them about Rusty, then having to sit there with them as they missed practice. Somehow, life has to go on. I think it may be harder on me than it will be on them."

Last night, I dreamt about Morey. Morey was a skinny red tabby; my first pet. After living through six cross-country moves in eight years, Morey gave me a sense of stability. She would sit in my lap, and I had a friend. I wasn't the "new kid in town" to Morey.toddler and cat

My Dad took her to get "fixed" one day. Late in the afternoon, we still hadn't heard back from the vet. I made him call. I was afraid, but I wasn't sure why. When my Dad hung up the phone, he threw his hands in the air and shrugged. "She died," he said. Then he went for a jog. I sat there and cried, trying to "pet" Morey's fur that was still stuck on my t-shirt.

I hate to tell those kinds of stories about my Dad, first of all because he died several years ago, and second, because he was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. But he was a doctor's doctor. His sensitivity to the emotional life of his kids left a lot to be desired.

Apparently, Morey had a reaction to the anesthesia. (Those of you who read my last post are putting two and two together right about now. Aha. Maybe THAT'S why she's doubly worried about the anesthesia.)

We quickly got two new cats, but they got left in Texas after we moved back to Hawaii. Then the cat I had my whole adult life died when I was finally pregnant with our first child (which was immediately after my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer).

So, my reaction to pet loss is a little more complicated and neurotic, as a result. I wanted to have some pithy comments and suggestions to give Sharon yesterday. But the pit I felt in my stomach distracted me from rational thought.

Sharon and I talked about whether to introduce a new pet into the family, and when. Are there any ideal ages, in terms of the kids? And of course the burden of caring for an animal falls on the adults in the family. Do we really want that extra job, when we're running around after little kids? I told Sharon, "I can't do it again. It's too hard." But I understand that pets provide so much love to a family. I understand that important lessons about the cycle of life and death are beautifully demonstrated to children by owning and caring for pets.

So I'm sitting here, trying to put together some guidelines for how to cope with pet loss. And I can't come up with much, other than the fact that each kid is so different, and each developmental age is so different, that you have to individualize your reaction, based on those factors. Obviously, DON'T throw up your hands and go out for a jog. Let the kids set the pace, in terms of questions about the pet, and death in general. Lean on your family's spiritual tradition to help inform your answers about "what happens after death". When considering adding a new pet to the family, don't automatically jump in to that responsibility. You want to send the message to your kids that, although losing an animal is not the same as losing a person, we still must honor the place the pet held in our family, and that every life is unique.

In my last post, you had some incredible advice and suggestions. Now let me ask you: When IS the right time to add a new pet to the family, following the loss of a beloved animal?

The BabyShrink Book Bag: Current Faves

Today I’m focusing on “expert” parenting authors, and tomorrow I’ll share my list of hilarious mom and dad authors. I’d go crazy if I tried to create a comprehensive list of great parenting books; these are my faves right now, and I will update periodically.

Don’t forget to list your top picks in the comments section below.

  • BabyShrink reader Dylan recommended Dr. Anthony Wolf’s The Secret of Parenting, which immediately rose to the top of my recommended list. He’s got exact scripts for us to use with all sorts of annoying kid behavior, from whining, to lying, to “I’m Bored”, “You Promised”, and of course the always popular, “It’s Not Fair”. He sets limits in a way that takes the angst out of the process for parents, and keeps the focus on the positive -- without punishment.
  • Where’s this little gem been all my kids’ lives? Claire Lerner and Amy Laura Dombro write for Zero-To-Three, the national authority on early childhood, and this book hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. Bringing Up Baby; Three Steps to Making Good Decisions in Your Child’s First Years is a quick read that gives us a way to make our own best decisions about our unique kids, without giving a “cookbook” list of advice. Their Three-Step Approach to Parenting helps us develop our own sense of what’s best for each kid (and each parent), in each situation.  I      especially appreciate their emphasis on discovering your kid’s temperament, (as well as your own), and how that impacts your parenting decisions.
  • I’ve learned so much about the importance of sensory issues, and how they impact our kids’ mood and behavior, from my Occupational Therapist friends. One of my kids is a little sensitive to noises, and he reacts accordingly. Another needs a lot of running around and “heavy” physical play in order to get into a centered, receptive mood. These are all secrets learned from the pros who wrote Raising a Sensory Smart Child. It’s often recommended for kids who have a diagnosed sensory problem, but believe me, it’ll open your eyes about the importance of being “sensory smart” with every kid (and adult!). Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske have won awards and accolades for their work, and I highly recommend it. UPDATE: On a related and very exciting note, Lindsey Biel has agreed to a BabyShrink interview! So, more soon on this interesting sensory stuff!
  • OK, this one’s not a book, but you’ve gotta see this series on DVD if you missed it on the Discovery Health channel. The Baby Human is the most fascinating documentary on the development of babies and toddlers that I’ve ever seen. It got all sorts of awards, because it explains the miraculously complex process of babies’ development with startlingly simple demonstrations and explanations. I’ve been a shrink for a long time, and there are some illustrations of the importance of pointing and speech development that are the best I’ve ever seen. There’s also fascinating footage of infant and toddler research in progress at major universities. Check it out to have a whole new appreciation of the changes your little ones experience every day! I especially like the episode: To Talk.
  • And of course, I must recommend anything written by the gentle giant of the field, T. Berry Brazelton, MD.  Why can’t all pediatricians have the sensitivity and appreciation for little minds that this great man has? He helps us see that back-tracking (or “regression”)  is usually quite normal in development, that tantrums and other annoying toddler behavior is to be appreciated for the message of independence and competence that it sends, and explains why kids do actually want (and need) kind (but firm) limits, in a way that makes perfect sense. There’s so much to be learned from this man; if you haven’t heard of him, immediately get one of his books

What’s your list of favorite “expert” parenting books? Comment here and let us all know!