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.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Devlopment: How To Play Your Young Toddler (12-18 Months)

Those of you long-time BabyShrink readers know that my Baby #4 is now officially a toddler. She's toddling, lurching, and careening around the house like she owns the joint. And now that she's officially past her "baby" days, her brain is going through a big burst that allows her to tackle more organized and complicated projects. It's why she now enjoys "working on" toys, as opposed to just chewing on them, or looking at them.

Your young toddler can remember more now, stay focused for longer, and is eager to try out her rapidly improving motor skills. She's also getting interested in trying to imitate you. She can't "play pretend" yet -- when she picks up the play phone and jabbers on it she's not pretending to talk to grandma (yet) -- but she's imitating YOU. It's an important step towards creative play -- which is the watershed development that leads to the ability to think and work creatively all her life.

You have the opportunity to make the most of this incredible time of development. Don't make yourself nuts by thinking you have to provide a ton of educational "stuff": simple things (and not too many of them) work best. Make yourself available to play with her, when she's receptive -- strike a balance between staying out of her play, and overwhelming her with your own play agenda. Follow her lead. When she picks up the dinosaur and looks to you questioningly, use it's name -- and offer a play option. "That's a dinosaur. Do you want to put him on top of your block tower?" Acknowledge her interest, and suggest a creative direction. It's called scaffolding -- letting her set the pace, but giving her a "boost" to build up to the next level of complexity in play. But don't push it -- you're there as a benevolent observer, and part-time participant.

Be ready to add these elements to your young toddler's playtime:

* Add another character, so that the play becomes about people and relationships.

* Add another object so that things can function in relation to each other. Think prepositions -- put something On Top Of, Underneath, or Inside.

* Modify the pace of play, based on her energy level. If she's getting too wound up, introduce some slower action. If she's not interested, try something new.

And most importantly, have fun!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Dr. Heather in Parents Magazine, August Issue

See me on page 191 Thanks to Parents Magazine and Sharlene Johnson for giving me the opportunity to be the "Q and A" expert on a

topic we're all familiar with...The Dawdling Toddler. Pick up a copy anywhere magazines are sold, and let us know YOUR suggestions for getting your toddler out the door in the morning.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Fabulous Fraiberg #5 - Dealing With Negative Toddlers

Here's a continuation of the previous quote from Fraiberg. I try to keep this in mind while wrestling with the baby at diaper-changing time:

The chief characteristic of the second year is not negativism but a powerful striving to become a person and to establish permanent

Toddlers -- messy and hilarious

bonds with the world of reality. We must remember when we speak of the "negativism" of the toddler that this is also the child who is intoxicated with the discoveries of the second year, a joyful child who is firmly bound to his parents and his newfound world through ties of love.....Under ordinary circumstances it does not become anarchy. It's a kind of declaration of independence, but there is no intention to unseat the government....The citizen can be allowed to protest the matter of the changing of his pants (they are his pants, anyway) and the government can exercise its prerogatives in the matter of pants changing without bringing on a crisis. When the citizen is small and wriggly, is illiterate and cannot even speak his native language, it takes ingenuity and patience to accomplish this, but if we do not handle this as a conspiracy against the government, he will finally acquire the desirable attitude that changing his pants is an ordinary event, and one that will not deprive him of his human rights.

Selma Fraiberg, The Magic Years, pages 62-62

It's a lot of work coping with (and cleaning up after) these shrimpy mess-makers, but try to remember that you're in charge, after all. Then try to enjoy the wild abandon that is the miracle of your toddler.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: The Fabulous Fraiberg #4 -- Why Your Toddler Says NO

Toddlers say "NO" with such glee. It's clear that they've discovered a powerful tool when they start to randomly chant "no no no...." like the words to a song repeated ad nauseum, meant to irritate us parents. Here's what the Fabulous Fraiberg had to say about the issue: Already a politician

So the toddler, with only a few words at his command, has come upon "no" as a priceless addition to his vocabulary. He says "no" with splendid authority to almost any question addressed to him. Very often it is a "no" pronounced in the best of spirits and doesn't even signal an intention. It may even preface an opposite intention. He loves his bath. "Tony, would you like to have your bath now?" "No!" Cheerfully. (But he has already started to climb the stairs.)...What is this? A confusion of meaning? Not at all. They know the meaning of "no" quite well. It's a political gesture, a matter of maintaining party differences while voting with the opposition on certain issues...."I wish to state at the outset that in casting my vote for the amendment on the bath, I am not influenced by the powerful interest groups that are behind this amendment, but I favor of baths." It's a matter of keeping the record clear.

From The Magic Years, page 60. So for all practical purposes, it's important to keep a sort of "Toddler Translator" running at all times, ready to analyze the true meaning of any given "NO". I've found this helps take the grind out of the seeming constant negativity of this age. When you look at them that way, toddlers can actually be quite hilarious. Hang in there! Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

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

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

Hi Dr. Heather,

But he never uses a sippy cup at home!

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


Dear JD,

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

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

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


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: The Fabulous Fraiberg #3 -- How to Civilize Your "Little Savage"

Your toddler isn't a "kid". Your toddler is a unique creature with his own way of thinking. We could all use some reminding about what it's like to be a toddler. Check this out, another gem from Fraiberg, about the experience of a young toddler:

The missionaries have arrived

The missionaries have arrived. They come bearing culture to the joyful savage. They smuggled themselves in as infatuated parents, of course. They nurtured him, made themselves indispensable to him, lured him into the discovery of their fascinating world, and after a decent interval they come forth with salesmen's smiles to promote higher civilization.

Somewhere between eight and fifteen months they sell him on the novelty and greater convenience of a cup over the breast or bottle. By the time he himself has come to regard the cup as a mark of good breeding and taste the missionaries have lost interest in the cup and are promoting the hygiene and etiquette of potty chairs and toilets which, he is assured, will elevate him into still higher strata of culture....They are forever on hand with a clean diaper, a pile of fresh clothes and hypocritical smiles to induce him to leave whatever it is he is doing for whatever it is they want him to be doing, and it's certain to be a bore. They are there to interfere with the joys of emptying garbage cans and wastebaskets. And of course, they bring in proposals of naps and bedtime at the most unfortunate moments and for reasons that are clear only to them.

Now, admittedly, such interference is necessary in order to bring culture to a fellow who obviously needs it. But from the baby's point of view most of this culture stuff makes no sense at all. He only knows that certain vital interests are being interfered with, and since his missionaries and he do not even speak the same language, the confusion will not be cleared up for some time.

The baby resists these interferences with his own investigations and creative interests. This earns him the reputation of being "negative" and permits us to speak of the second year as "a negativistic phase." This is not entirely fair to the toddler who lacks the means for stating his case. If he had a good lawyer he could easily demonstrate that most of the negating comes from the side of the culture bearers, and his "negativism" is essentially a negation of their negation.

From Selma Fraiberg's The Magic Years, pages 59-60.

That's why an easy-going toddler toddler with no complaints actually worries me. It's not developmentally appropriate. So the next time your toddler dumps out your garbage can, think of Fraiberg and try to smile. My 7-month-old and I be joining you there again in just a few months :)


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: When Children Are Stressed About A New House Or New Baby

Dear Dr. Heather, My 2-year-old granddaughter is stressed about her new house. Her parents moved a couple of weeks ago, and then her mother had a new baby. Emma seems to "love" her new brother, so I can't imagine that he is upsetting her. But I am concerned that her mother is not giving Emma new routines in the new house. Emma is overtired and cranky. She is a lovely, intelligent child and I am worried about her. Doesn't she need routines?

Sometimes it's all too much for a little kid!


Dear Chris,

It's tough being a grandma -- you can see that your kids (and grandkids) are suffering, but there's little you can do about it, since you're not the parent.

But yes, the changes that Emma has experienced are quite pronounced, and even a 2-year-old picks up on all the changes. The new baby is a big part of it, believe me. At times she is thrilled and entertained by the new baby, but deep down she suspects that the baby is the cause of all the problems in her life right now. That's why we always remind parents to NEVER leave a baby alone with a toddler -- no matter how much the toddler "loves" the new baby. Too many "accidents" happen to babies that way. But don't blame Emma -- she really can't help herself. It's her age.

And of course you are right that Emma needs routines, as close as possible to the old routines as possible. But right now, with the new baby, all bets are off. Her poor Mom is struggling with the new addition, PLUS a new house, AND being up all night, and so she gets special dispensation to be disorganized and "out of it". The name of the game now, with your family, is to GET THROUGH IT, in any reasonable way. Let the new routines emerge naturally and support Emma's parents as much as possible. The better they feel, and the more rest THEY get, the more their own natural instincts will kick in, and they'll naturally start to establish new routines.

But if there aren't many routines yet, and Emma is cranky and overtired for a few weeks -- it's OK. We assume that a few weeks' disruption will naturally return to normal after an adjustment period. If not, talk to Emma's parents about your concerns, but until then, I would suggest simply supporting the family and being understanding of a cranky toddler. (And after all, grandmas get special dispensation to spoil their granddaughters, especially when they're a little stressed out, right?)

If things don't improve in a few weeks, let me know.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: The Fabulous Fraiberg #2 -- Fear and the Young Child

I'm plowing through essential classic parenting titles as I write my own book. Fraiberg is such a gem, and even 50 years after publication, this book is a giant among Fears can't be avoided

parenting titles. In this next section, she elaborates on the theme of the child's own innate ability to deal with fears. She give us a timely reminder that we need to trust in the inner ability of our children to cope with their own difficulties. Of course they need us to assist and support them in that process, but the "equipment" is there, naturally. These days too many of us get caught up in worrying that we need to teach our kids every single thing, and don't give them enough space to work on solving their own problems. I find it quite a relief to be reminded that my kids are far from a tabula rasa -- a blank slate -- but rather, they come pre-loaded with all sorts of fancy developmental abilities.

(Normally) the child overcomes his fears. And here is the most fascinating question of all: How does he do it? For the child is equipped with the means for overcoming his fears. Even in the second year he possesses a marvelously complex mental system which provides the means for anticipating danger, assessing danger, defending against danger, and overcoming danger. Whether this quipment can be successfully employed will depend, of course, on the parents who, in a sense, teach him to use his equipment. This means that if we understand the nature of the developing child and those parts of his personality that work for solution and resolution toward mental health, we are in the best position to assist him in developing his inner resources for dealing with fears.

From Selma Fraiberg's The Magic Years, page 6.

So as parents, the best we can do is to understand the developmental process, know the temperamental realities of our own kids, and hold their hands while they walk through the tricky spots. No parenting "technique" can take the place of a genuinely interested, centered, and supportive parent -- one who knows when to step in and help, and one who knows when to hang back and trust the magic of the developmental process.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Is It Okay That My Baby Walks But Never Crawls?

Dear Dr. Heather, Our 8 month old son seems to be skipping the crawling phase altogether and learning to cruise and walk straightaway. Today someone told me that this means he’ll have learning disabilities later; is this true?Baby walking but never crawling, any learning disability worry?


A Concerned Dad

Dear "Concerned",

That's an old wives tale, but one that many people still believe. Here's the deal: if he's not working on locomotion -- in some form or another -- at this age, it could be reflective of some underlying issue. But ANY of the goofy forms of locomotion exhibited by babies at this age counts as "normal locomotion" -- the "Commando Crawl", the "Tushie-Scoot", the "One-Kneed Creep", and of course regular cruising and walking. Apparently the Back-To-Sleep campaign has resulted in an increase in babies who skip crawling, as they don't get as much practice on their tummies. But getting mobile is the important thing.

Look at it this way: crawling is a drag. Walking is a lot more fun --and a lot less gross -- for parents (Think: less opportunity to find and eat yucky stuff off the floor!). Plus you'll save tons on Spray 'n Wash since his knees won't be dragging through the dirt all the time. And for you parents of girls -- rejoice! You can finally bust out the pretty dresses! (There's nothing more frustrating to a crawling baby than having a dress get caught up underneath her over and over!)

We look for some form of mobility -- attempts to crawl, scoot or walk -- by about 10 months, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. Your pediatrician can do a quick review of your baby's developmental progress if you're worried.

Enjoy -- and double-check your baby-proofing. This phase begins the wild time of The Mobile Baby With No Self-Protection Mechanisms! You'll be running around after him very closely for the next year or so!

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

Parenting Tips: How To Leave Your Baby For The First Time

I get a weird, quivery feeling in my stomach when I think back to the time, 8 years ago, when I first left our first child in the care of a sitter. That sitter, Keri, has gone on to become a part of the family -- a central figure in our lives and the reason I can function on a daily basis. But on that day, I had horrendous visions of the damage that would be done to my daughter. How could anyone care for her as well as I? I had to force myself away from them -- Keri holding my daughter's arm up to wave "bye bye" as I drove away. I cried on my way to the meeting I had to attend. It's harder on us than it is on them

Of course, all went very well that day, and for all these years since. But that day ranks up there with one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Here are some tips for those of you facing that fateful day:

Ease Into It Slowly

You and your baby will adjust more smoothly if you plan to be away for progressively longer periods of time. Start out slow: figure out the least amount of time that you'll be able to handle being away, even if it's just for a few minutes. Arrange to have the sitter come anyway, and explain to her that you'll be coming and going as you all adjust to the new arrangements. Or if you're leaving her at daycare, work out a "transition" time with the teacher so that you can come and hang out for awhile at drop-off and pick-up times, helping your baby (and you) to adjust. Eventually build up to the length of time you'll usually be away. For some, this may take days -- or weeks. That's OK.

It May Be Harder For You Than It Will Be For Your Baby

Regardless of baby's age, talk to her about your plans to leave in advance. Even if she doesn't understand your words, the tone of your message will sink in. It will also be therapeutic for you to talk about it. Up until about 5 or 6 months, your baby will be pretty cool with you being away for awhile. Older babies and toddlers will need more "practicing" in advance, but for most, their protests will only last a few minutes at most after you leave. A good sitter will have a plan to distract her quickly after you've gone. Have the sitter call you when the baby calms down -- you'll feel much better.

Know That You'll Feel Like A Part Of Your Body Is Being Removed

You're supposed to feel that way -- Mother Nature makes sure of that. Know it in advance and make plans to deal with the feelings: Call an understanding friend after you leave, and make plans for a fun thing you haven't been able to do because of the baby. But don't let the feelings keep you from getting the sitter in the first place.

Each Time It Will Get Easier

As long as your sitter is good, you'll feel better and better each time you leave. And then you'll start to feel a developing sense of relief and gratitude that you don't have to do it all yourself. You have help now! HOORAY!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Advice For Diaper-Changing Struggles

Chasing a toddler around is exhausting. The last thing you need is to get into a wrestling match with a poopy diaper and a flailing child. Here are some tricks to try (that also work with wriggly babies, 5 or 6 months and older, too):

Give a warning: When the stink-bomb hits, let your toddler know that he'll be getting cleaned up in a few minutes. Advance warnings help with transitions.

Time it right: Don't interrupt your toddler's flow of play if you can help it. Deal with the stinky diaper when there's a pause in the action.

Have a special basket of "Diaper Changing Only" toys that are normally forbidden: We have an old remote (with the batteries removed), a broken watch, a semi-functioning bright orange solar calculator, and various interesting items that normally wouldn't be allowed (like small cardboard boxes and other unusual things). Of course, safety is the number one concern. But since you're right there for those few minutes, you can monitor. When you're done, the toy goes back into the basket for the next diaper change.

As with all Toddler Power and Control Issues, parents need to assume -- and exude -- a calm sense of flexible authority. You're in control: Don't beg or plead for cooperation -- quietly assume you'll get it (and more often, you will).

Happy changing!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

updated 11/30/2010

Baby Behavior Problems: Tips For Helping Your Baby Eat Baby Food

Dear Dr. Heather, My baby won't eat his baby food. His doctor says he's ready, but he's just not interested.

He takes a couple of bites here and there, but would really rather drink his milk. I'm starting to panic since the other babies in his playgroup are trying all sorts of baby food and really progressing. Not my guy. The doctor says he's healthy so I try not to worry, but do you have any suggestions?

Thanks, Carla

I'm going through the same thing that reader Carla asks about: A baby who is lukewarm, at best, about eating baby food. Carla's son is 7 months old, and mine is 6 months. As parents, we're genetically wired to FEED OUR CHILDREN.

Some babies just don't like baby food

They must eat to grow, right? So, what if they won't eat? Here are some tips for parents like me whose babies would rather play than eat:

Babies Vary Widely and Can Still Be Normal

We're used to our babies marching along in lock-step with their baby peers on the magic developmental continuum. But this is where babies start to diverge. Some are huge eaters from the get-go (I had two of those), and some eat like little birdies (got two of those too). Think of adults (or even big kids): Some pack it away, others seem to subsist on air. When our first baby (a non-eater) dropped on her weight curve late in her first year, I started panicking. But her pediatrician pointed out that "some kids are slender. Be happy, she's healthy." He also pointed out that she still had enough cute baby chub to make baby dimples on her knees, despite her skinniness. She's now a skinny (and healthy) 9-year-old who still barely eats, some days. But our second kid ate so much that first year that my life seemed to revolve around procuring, preparing, and providing food to him. As a 10-month-old, one of his meals (of which there were FIVE per day) consisted of: half a block (and I mean half of the whole pack) of tofu, half an avocado, one cup of cheerios, and 6 ounces of milk. Of course, as always, check your baby's weight and eating habits out with your pediatrician.

It's a Learning Curve (for Some)

For some (like my second), eating is EASY. They know what to do immediately and do it with vigor. For others, it's a slow process that takes weeks (or months) of introductions, playing, experimentation, smearing, blowing raspberries (wonderful, trying to scrape solidified baby oatmeal off your jeans!) and basically NOT eating, before any food is consumed. Our first had this weird habit of sucking the "juice" out of any food, then spitting out the rest. This went on for months. She also really just preferred her milk. So although it's tiring to prepare yet another meal that you suspect won't be eaten, keep soldiering on, and don't let it get to you. This is a learning process that will set the tone for other parenting issues later on. Just breathe deeply and try not to worry about it as you dump yet another uneaten meal down the drain!

When to Ask for Help

Luckily, well-baby checkups are frequent during the first year of life, so you'll have ample opportunity to discuss any concerns with your pediatrician. If there's a concern, you can be referred to your local "Feeding Team", a group of clinicians who work with babies and these challenges at many children's hospitals. They are awesome specialists who can help. Barring any medical concern, you can feel comfortable that a slow, steady, and patient approach will win the day. Remember: You can't force your baby to eat, sleep, or poop. It's a process of learning and support that helps guide their development -- but a process that ultimately has to be driven by BABY, not eager parents like us.

Good luck, and happy eating (eventually).


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: What's Your Toddler's "Lovey's" Name?

I need your help! I'm writing my book chapter on toddlers' gotta-have, must-have, go-ballistic-without-them comfort items. You know: The Binky. The Baba. The Blankie. Your toddler's "Comfort Thingie" -- whatever it might be. But I know your kids have come up with some fantastic, silly, unforgettable names, and I want to include those names in my book. Here are some cute, silly and endearing entries to get you started, from various readers, family and friends of mine:

My Mockedy (a ratty old blanket) Daka (a stuffed Humpty Dumpty toy) The Little Silkie (blanket) My Habit (another blanket) Milky Baba

So please add your comment here, with the "Thingie's" name and a short description. With any luck, it'll be immortalized in my first BabyShrink book!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Discipline: Will One Spanking Traumatize My Toddler?

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

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

Hi Dr. Heather -

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

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

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

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

Thanks - Jenn

Hi Jenn,

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

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

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

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

Does that help?


Dr. Heather

Jenn wrote back to give me this update:

Dr. Heather,

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

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

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

Thanks! - Jenn

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


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

I Need Your Most Challenging Baby-Parenting Stories!

When our first child was 3 months old, a stranger in a coffee shop stopped to "ooh and aah" over her. "Is she your first?" He asked. When I nodded through my sleep-deprived haze, he went on to say, "A first child is always showered with love -- and anxiety." He didn't stay long enough to explain this pithy statement, but it really is true. Our hearts are rent open forever, exposed outside our bodies, by the vulnerability we now feel, and by the love and havoc wreaked by these tiny creatures. The first baby gets the brunt of our fears, projections, stress and worries. Becoming parents changes us from the inside out, and those early weeks and months are unique in our lives.

People, you've been good to me these past 2 years. I appreciate your support, your questions, and your stories. Now it's time for me to take the next step and announce my next project -- No, I'M NOT PREGNANT AGAIN. (Sheesh! I just had my fourth....give me a break people!) No -- I'm writing a book. And I need your stories for my book on -- what else? -- parenting babies.

I need the lessons you learned, the dilemmas that vexed you, the memories you'll carry with you forever. And I promise I'll share mine too. Please try to dig down in your memory for dilemmas, lessons learned (or not learned) and things you wished you'd known in those early weeks and months of parenting for the first time. And if you're living it now, even better -- what anxieties do you have? What challenges you most? Thanks in advance. Comment here, or email me.

As always,

With 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 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 what age and is this normal? What should I be doing at this point? My number one priority is protecting my young daughters.


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 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.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Post updated 12/2/2010

Sleep & Nap Issues: A Toddler's Sleep Dilemma Solved

Hi Dr. Heather, I have a sleep question regarding my 11-month-old. Since he was 5 months, he successfully fell asleep in his crib after our nightly routine, and woke 2 or fewer times to nurse. Similarly with naps. We do not use any type of music or white noise when putting him to sleep.

We have always had a music box in his crib. We usually turn this on when we put him in the crib for "safe keeping" while we wash our hands after a diaper change. We do not use it for sleep.

In the last 2 weeks or so, we have noticed he frequently uses the music box. Now when we put him down, he will get up less than a minute later and turn on the music box. Sometimes he will play with it for a few minutes (turning it off and on) - but eventually he will usually lay down and fall asleep. We have noticed him using it in the middle of the night as well - sometimes letting it play out then turning it back on again. (Usually this is after I have gone in due to his crying and put him back down again).

Putting him down for naps has been a struggle this past 6 weeks or so, and the last 2 weeks he has been playing with the music box during naps, sometimes falling asleep, sometimes crying after he is done playing and defiantly not going to fall asleep anytime soon. (about 60/40).

Okay, so all that to ask: Is this okay? I do not want my baby dependent on a lighted music box to fall asleep, and I do not want him playing in the middle of the night. But, if this is how he "self-soothes" . . . Will this become a dependency problem or will he grow to not need the music box? Should we let this continue as he chooses or should we turn off the music box or do we need to remove it from his crib? What do you think?

Thank You, Angie

Dear Angie,

Thanks for your question! You're not the only one to wonder about this; our 3rd baby used to do the same thing, with a very similar music box. We'd be asleep late at night, then all of a sudden we'd hear that familiar tune coming from his room. What the heck? We'd wonder. Our little guy was in there, happily rolling around, very pleased that he'd turned on the music all by himself.

At first we worried that we'd have to take out the music box, since we didn't want him to be up and playing, late at night. Then I realized...Hey, instead of crying for me at midnight, he's entertaining himself. This is a good thing, right? I left him alone in there and sure enough, he'd fall asleep on his own after awhile.

Because the overall drift of our parenting goals is to support them in being independent, as soon as they are ready. And babies and toddlers DO normally still frequently waken at night, it's just an issue for us when we have to get up too to help them get back to sleep. But if they're handling it on their own? That's a good thing. I also recall that the late-night-music-party was a short phase. The excitement ran out after awhile and then we were on to the next dilemma.

And now that your little guy is approaching toddlerhood, you're going to get a lot more testing along these lines. The nap issue is always going to be there, in one form or another, through toddlerhood. The music-box thing is only his first effort to avoid naps. Most toddlers go through phases where they're really good at napping, and then take a stab at trying to stay awake. Let your expectations be known, urge him to nap, but don't get too worked up about it. He'll make up for any lost sleep at night, or when he's done testing you with that particular phase.

But I also hear that you're concerned about being consistent as a parent, and not wanting to send him mixed messages. Listen: Don't worry. It sounds to me as if you're trying to be very consistent, and all you can really do is send a general message of what you expect from him. There is a lot of parenting advice out there that says you need to be consistent to a fault. I don't agree with that. These are people we're talking about! And rigidity is never a good approach in dealing with people, large or small. We have to be flexible as well as consistent, as our kids think up all sorts of new wrinkles to throw at us.

I, too, used to over-worry about the importance of being perfectly consistent, until my mentor suggested that I lighten up. "A habit isn't a habit until it IS a habit," she told me. In other words, you're trying to be consistent in order to instill a sense of structure, predictability, and behavioral expectations. But you can do that by being generally consistent; it doesn't have to be a 100% effort. I promise: You're allowed to be flexible -- I even strongly SUGGEST that you're flexible. It offers a good model to our kids that we can consider new situations and not be rigid about them. Consider every new situation afresh, THEN make your decision.

So next time you hear that familiar music drifting out of your son's room late at night, try to let the music calm YOU back to sleep too. Your baby is getting bigger, and soon he'll be getting into bis "big boy bed", and then you'll have reason to worry about new things...wandering in the night, monsters, and everything that goes along with THAT phase. So enjoy this time when he's still captive in his crib!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink