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.

Aloha,

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 am...in 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!

JD

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!"

Aloha!

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 :)

Aloha,

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!

Chris

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

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).

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?

Aloha,

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 BabyShrink@gmail.com, or fill out the form at the bottom of the Parent Coaching page. Looking forward to it!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: What To Do About Strange Toddler Fears

I've gotten a lot of traffic lately on Strange and Sudden Toddler Fears. I've written on this before (and included a link at the end of this post), but this is such a common question that I've decided to answer it's latest incarnation, hopefully with some additional insights. Here goes: Dear Dr. Heather,

Just in the past week, my 2.5 year old has developed a fear of "going byebye", getting in the car, sitting in the car while getting gas, going outside in the snow. She screams and does what sounds like hyperventilating, but she isn't. Her dad just went on a trip for a week and it seemed to worsen then. She used to love the snow and going for car rides. Now all of a sudden she's hysterical. I don't know if maybe she feels out of control with daddy being gone. She absolutely thrives on routine. Maybe she felt safer just staying home. She was a little "weirded-out" when my husband first came home and she wanted me to hold her, but she warmed up quickly. Any tips you have would be wonderful. Thank you.

Jacki

Hi Jacki,

Toddlers often develop these quirky preferences and fears, seemingly all of a sudden. Partly it has to do with their growing awareness that scary things CAN happen; parents go away, kids get hurt, things get broken or spill, etc. Yet they cannot yet totally compute how to PREVENT those things from happening. It also has to do with their OWN aggressiveness -- they see how they get mad and run away from a person or situation when they are mad, or lash out and hit etc, and worry that OTHERS will do the same thing (even if those others have never been aggressive at all). It's a completely different mindset than that of an adult (or even a bigger kid).

I would let her regress back a bit for awhile until she gets re-acclimated to her Dad's departure and return. Be extra reassuring, and stay home more when it's possible. Go out gingerly and on a limited basis, if you can, until she gets back into the swing of it. GIVE HER BACK SOME OF THE CONTROL. Allow her to make choices about going out, if you can. See if there IS anyplace she would like to go -- to the park? Grandma's? Out for ice cream? And then go there. Little by little, try to sneak in additional outings, and let her know in advance of your plans. You won't always be able to do it her way, and talk her through that. I know you don't want to go to the store today, but we need more groceries. Do you want to go to the store AND to McDonald's today, or just to the store? Giving her some choices will help her feel better. Then, as she grows more comfortable again, cut back on the rewards and incentives. You don't want her to be in the "driver's seat" forever, just until she gets comfortable again.

Try that and let us know how it goes!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

And here's another popular post on toddler fears (this one is about Bathtub Fears).

JACKI'S UPDATE:

Dear Dr. Heather,

Thank you so much for your help! I tried your suggestions. She got very upset at first, but I talked her thru it and gave her time to adjust. We stopped at McDonalds on the way. She did fine thru the drive-thru. She seemed better doing something familiar. She may be on her way back to herself. I won't press it too much. She seems much more settled when I reassure her that daddy is coming home at night. I think I panicked because this went on for a week, and a week can seem like forever! Now she at least talks about going outside w/o panicking. I am glad to know that someone like you is available for these times. I appreciate it.

Jacki ~~My pleasure, Jacki! Glad to Help!

Toddler Behavior: When Parenting Your Toddler Gets Rough, Remember This...

Parenting a toddler can be one of the toughest jobs you'll ever have. Then one day, they become....KIDS. And then BIG KIDS. You get the idea. It makes those tough days with a toddler a lot more bearable when you can re-gain some perspective on the whole process. Check out today's installment of one of my favorite comic strips, Zits. If you're like me, you'll print it out, put it on the fridge, and weep a little every time you look at it.

Enjoy! (sniff!)

Check out the link to the 1/31/10 Zits If the cartoon has rotated, click "previous" to go back to the Sunday, 1/31/2010 installment. You can click on the comic strip and it will open in a new window, allowing you to print it out for your fridge. Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How to Handle Aggression in Your Young Child

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

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

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

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

So, how do we do that, as parents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

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

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

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

Nap schedule? What schedule?

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

Dear Dr. Heather,

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

Ilima

Dear Ilima,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: Tips for a Toddler Tinkling (and Screaming) in the Bath

Hi Dr. Heather, My husband and I are hoping you can shed some light on a concern we have for our son who is 27 months old.

Over the last month during bath time, my son has peed in the bath 3 separate times, and without fail he would then 'hold himself' while crying/screaming hysterically! This has continued during every bath time where he is screaming like we have never seen. He doesn't necessarily pee every time, but since the first occasion... then a second, and a third... his screaming has continued.

Even when he doesn't pee in the tub, he still holds himself and is screaming almost like he doesn't like the water hitting his 'manhood'? We have tried new toys and bubbles; to all of which have not work or helped. We even tried to have him try to go potty before the bath but doesn't go.

I must say also, that he is not potty trained yet but we are working on it.

We are not sure why he's continually freaking out with or without the pee.

If you could please help and how we can overcome it we would be extremely grateful.

Regards,

Atlanta Mom

Hi Atlanta Mom,

Sudden fears of the bath at this age are quite common. One of my most-Googled posts has to do with sudden bath fears; I'll post the link below. In regards to his "manhood", perhaps he's upset that he couldn't control it; on some level he's starting to get the idea that "pee-pee does not belong in the tub", yet he was unable to control himself those few times. So he's really upset with himself and in conflict about the whole bath/potty training thing. (And of course I assume his penis doesn't bother him any other time -- like there's not a urinary tract infection or something -- also, some kinds of soap and bubble bath can be irritating. I assume that's not it, but check it out.) Talk to him about potty training, where pee-pee belongs, and how he accidentally peed in the tub; use a matter-of fact tone, with no scolding or worry in your voice. See if you can make it like a silly joke, so he doesn't feel so bad. "Does pee pee belong in the tub? NO, silly! But that's OK! We'll keep trying and one day for sure you'll get it!"

In the meantime, try some of the tips in my post linked below for bathtime fears, including letting him stand by the bath and playing with the water, until he feels comfortable getting back in the tub. Keep reassuring him, and go at his pace. Hang in there, I promise this will pass!

Here's my Bathtime Fears Post: http://babyshrink.com/2008/08/help-my-toddler-suddenly-hates-the-bath.html

Good luck and keep usposted!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How To Handle a 3-Year-Old's Pestering

Dear Dr. Heather, I have a 3 year-old daughter who is very strong willed and just won't give in. For example, she wants me to get her 'blanky' which is lying around the house somewhere. I tell her no, you go and fetch it, then she says NO -- I must fetch it -- and so it goes on. I keep on telling her NO listen to mummy, but she just doesn't stop and carries on, which drives me crazy. I try and ignore it, but she just continues on!!!

Help! How is the best way to go about it without giving in to her pestering???

Thanks,

English Mum

Dear Mum,

At this age, it comes down to this: Feed good behaviors. Starve the bad. (In terms of emotion and attention, of course.)

With parenting, I often recall the famous line in the movie Amadeus: "Too many notes!" But instead I tell parents, "Too many words!" Say what you mean, very simply, and then STOP TALKING. Look away. Convey by your body language that you've said what you're going to say...and there's no negotiation. Some parents feel somehow that it's unfair to disallow negotiation with their children. But remember, a 3-year-old really isn't capable of negotiation...but she IS capable of testing your limits and rules until you finally give in. Go ahead and give in, once in awhile, if it makes sense and works for you. But your overall message should be: Take what I say seriously. I'm in charge here. It doesn't help to have a 3-year-old feel like she can be in charge; instead, it makes her worry that NOBODY is truly in charge.

I know it's maddening, but you really must avoid extended discussions about it, and show her by your ACTIONS that you DON'T HEAR HER when she carries on like that. Explain to her once that "I know you are a big enough girl to find it yourself. Now, I am done talking about it. I don't hear you anymore if you ask me for your blanket." And then you MUST FOLLOW THROUGH with pretending not to hear her. Don't get mad, take a deep breath, and expect a tantrum on her part. Also, expect the behavior to ESCALATE for awhile, until she gets the idea that you MEAN BUSINESS.

Them when she DOES find her blanket, and DOES calm down, PRAISE HER TREMENDOUSLY for being such a big girl and finding it herself. Praise and reinforcement of her good behavior is what you're really striving for here. Don't forget to praise her for even the smallest demonstrations of positive, nice attitudes and behavior. Eventually, she'll get the picture, and quit testing you in this way...and start showing you how nicely she can find her own blanket.

If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out more on your Little Tyrant's behavior here.

Good luck!

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

Toddler Behavior: Baby's Sudden Fear of the Bath -- Another Hot Topic

One of the FAQs here at BabyShrink is about your toddler's sudden, inexplicable fear of the bath. Readers Noelle and Dana recently joined in the chorus of parents who are mystified about the radical change in their baby's bath-time routine. I've had plenty of first-hand experience with baby's bath fears, and I know it can be a hassle ("It interferes with our evening routine, and they NEED that bath!") and also worrisome ("She never got upset like this before -- is this a symptom of something much more concerning?") But when you understand the normal developmental process driving these fears, a little flexibility -- and empathy -- can go a long way to restoring your toddler's enjoyment of the bath. So thanks for your nice comments about this article, and for making it one of BabyShrink's most popular posts over the past year.

Click here to check it out!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Food Allergies, Your Child's Behavior, and YOUR Guilt

I've been away on vacation for a bit, and we were able to visit lots of family and friends. I was struck by how many have kids with food allergies and sensitivities -- more and more of us are discovering what a difference our food choices have on how we, and our kids, feel and behave. But it ain't easy, managing special diets. The pressure to "join in" and have "just one cookie" is quite difficult. The pressure even comes from within the family, often in the form of well-meaning relatives who want our kids to "not be different" and "just have fun". Many parents feel guilty that they can't give their child what the other kids can have. But guess what? Parenting is at least as often about saying "no" as it is about saying "yes", and having limits and structure in life is good for our kids' ultimate development. On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extreme and be rigid when there's no need. So it's a balance between being realistic about food choices, firm in your decisions, and flexible when you CAN be. I appreciate the comments left by Hot Wife, KiwiLog and Margaret after my last post, and I urge you to review them, and their resources, if you're interested. Here are some of my additional thoughts and recommendations as well:

For parents of kids with food sensitivities:

Make a big deal out of exploring new, safe food options. Have fun in the kitchen and enlist your child's natural desire to learn the "rules".

Kids with sensitivities (as opposed to true food allergies) can often have a certain amount of the "offending" food. Determine, with her doctor and/or nutritionist, how often your child can have foods that trigger her sensitivities. Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Then give her the freedom to pick and choose those foods within her allowed time-frame.

Be flexible in allowing "treats" that fit in with her diet -- don't make yourself crazy trying to follow every single rule about healthy foods. The more unnecessarily rigid you are, the more you risk a backlash against your rules in adolescence.

Stay closely in touch with online or in-person support groups, as information about food sensitivities and allergies changes rapidly, and your doctor may not have the resources to keep you abreast of all the developments, new foods available, etc.

For parents of kids with life-threatening allergies, I also suggest the following:

TALK to your child, even if she's very young, about her food safety issues. Empathize with the fact that she can't have what she wants; you understand that it's hard. Give her examples in daily life of you and others saying "no" to themselves in order to be healthy and successful. Explain that it's hard for ALL kids to say "no" to themselves, and you'll help her to do that until she's able to do it for herself.

Try not to feel guilty about "depriving" your kids of the junk they can't have. All parents have challenges with their kids, and this is yours. It's your job to keep her safe. She'll understand your reasons as she gets older.

Don't hesitate to tell everyone at your child's school, and playdates, about her safety issues. Don't worry about "rocking the boat". Use your child's pediatrician as a backup if the school doesn't take your child's safety seriously.

Use this experience as an example of how the whole family can effectively deal with one of life's challenges. This is only one of many that will be faced by you and your child, and you have the opportunity of making it a learning experience for everyone!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

Toddler Behavior: Help! How Can I Stop My Toddler from Hitting our Pets?!

Dear Dr. Heather, My 15 -month-old terrorizes animals. We have a small dog and a few cats, and any time the child sees one of them she goes running over with her arm cranked back to whack it. If she has anything in her hands she will use it as a club. If the animal is on the ground she will grab it by the back and try to crush it into the floor and sit on it. After this greeting she will say "gentle" and pet the animal nicely, evidently to make sure it appreciates the difference.

We don't smack her, we don't smack the pets, so why is she so violent? How do I get her to stop before she gets bitten? Luckily we have very complacent pets but I'm sure even the most patient animal will defend itself eventually.

Thanks for your advice, Christine

Hi Christine,

I know it's hard to see your baby so aggressive with animals. Now that your toddler is big enough to move around and check out her environment, she wants to feel, grab, and test everything out. We're all born with aggressive instincts; it comes from evolution and our animal roots. But she has no way to understand that aggressive handling of things will negatively affect them permanently. She can't yet understand that crushing the kitty will HURT it. (And she won't understand it yet, even if you explain it to her a million times.)

She's not yet cognitively able to understand the impact of her actions on others. She's just exploring, and using her own natural (and normal) aggressive instincts. But it's not really "violence", in the sense of really intending to hurt someone. So don't jump to conclusions about your toddler's personality or temperament. She's just doing the usual toddler thing. And she's clearly also trying out the "gentle" actions she has seen you model.

So, what to do? Your daughter is at what I consider to be the most difficult age of childhood; the 10-20 month window is when babies become toddlers, physically, but they haven't yet fully transitioned into their non-baby minds. So what you get is a big, mobile baby, not fully in control of her body, with all this pent up energy and interest in the world, and not a lot of coping strategies to manage the unavoidable frustration that comes along with it. My shoulders still tense up when I recall my own kids' passage through that very tricky time.

Johnny Depp said that having a toddler is like constantly being on suicide and homicide watch. You always have to be prepared to prevent your toddler from killing herself, or someone else. It's a dangerous time! All you can really do is provide as much safety and structure as possible -- and this usually means a 1-1 parent-kid ratio at all times, until she gets into a slightly more predictable (and manageable) stage.

But with all that parent-toddler time, you do have the opportunity to model good behavior, demonstrate how to touch others (including animals) appropriately, and generally navigate around the great big world. Many of your lessons won't bear fruit for quite some time, so pace yourself. But feel confident that eventually, your daughter and your kitties will be the best of friends!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink