Let's Get This Potty Started on TV! Potty Training Advice and Tips by Dr. Heather

Lots of potty talk going on at KITV recently. Come see a fun interview about Let's Get This Potty Started! My new potty training book is doing awesomely well, thanks to all your support and reviews. It's consistently in the Top 3 on the Kindle Toilet Training List. Woo hoo!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Sleep & Nap Issues: I Need Help Transitioning My Toddler From A Bed To A Crib

At first, Attachment Parenting sounds really good. Responding to the baby's needs, keeping her close for skin-to-skin contact, letting her learn independence at HER pace. I get it. I live on Maui, people -- this is Attachment Parenting Central.

Or maybe you just accidentally fell into having baby sleep in your bed. Lots of babies don't sleep well in the first year, and we're so tired that we're willing to do anything to get a little rest. Plus, it really can be dee-lish to snooze with that little sweetie right there.

But eventually, your little baby grows -- into a toddler. And realizes that she can 1) keep herself awake on demand, 2) insist on nursing constantly through the night, and 3) crawl, climb and play all over Mom and Dad, who are trying (in vain) to sleep.

So I get a lot of desperate emails from readers like Amy who are re-thinking the Attachment Parenting thing. Maybe not the WHOLE thing, but the "not getting any sleep at night after umpteen months" thing. Is it possible to transition a toddler OUT of your bed, and INTO her own crib? (Or is a toddler bed in your room better?)

This is such a complicated situation that I'm devoting an entire chapter in my book to it. But until that's available, here are some things to consider:

  • Toddlers don't associate cribs with "jails" or "cages", as some might suggest. That's an adult projection. Toddlers feel relieved to have a safe, cozy, predictable place of their own to retreat to, after a long day toddling, climbing, and falling.
  • Letting a toddler have free access to your room (or the whole house) at night while co-sleeping (or sleeping in a toddler bed in your room) is enough to cause most parents to sleep with "one eye open". Too much freedom, not enough sleep -- and maybe not safe, I say.
  • Parents who aren't getting much sleep after many, many months risk SERIOUS health consequences (think: life and death), plus the obvious negative impact on the relationship. Parents need some sleep to stay healthy and sane -- plus their own time -- together -- to be "on the same page" and have a strong relationship. Even babies and toddlers can absorb -- and accept -- this message.

But how to do it? This depends on your family's needs, the setup of your home, and your kiddo's temperament. If you're struggling with this, let me know. We can problem-solve in the comments section.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert Sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me:

Toddler Behavior: Louise Bates Ames Writes About Your One-Year-Old

I'm reading every parenting book ever written on an obsessive quest to find helpful nuggets and insights to include in my first BabyShrink book. Those of you who know me know that I think much of what's available these days is garbage. Junk. Not practical. Not worth the money.

But once in awhile, I find a gem. Most of these gems are "oldies but goodies" -- dated, in some ways, but true and superb in the way that classics always are.

Louise Bates Ames, PhD, wrote a whole series of parenting books over 30 years ago, with a new book for each year of life. I've read most of them, but so far, this is my favorite. It might have to do with the fact that I have a particularly spicy 1-year-old in the house (thankfully NAPPING, at the moment -- something I don't take for granted with her).

Ames doesn't take 12-24 months for granted, like so many other parenting writers. Ames contends that, in fact, this is one of the trickiest ages to parent -- and I fully agree. In this book, she explains why -- and gives the simplest, sweetest, most effective suggestions I've ever read on how to contend with your newbie toddler.

Enjoy.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Sleep, Toddlers, and Mental Health (Hopefully, Not Mutually Exclusive)

Mental Health Blog Party Badge I'm blogging for mental health today -- but not in way you might expect. Mental health isn't just some esoteric list of psychiatric diagnoses. It starts with simple -- but critically important -- things. These include the support of loved ones, meaningful work and relationships, and enough resources to have a little fun. On the top of that list, though, is getting adequate SLEEP. Having young children is the quickest way to ruin in the sleep department (and I speak from vast experience). Here's a quick tip on tackling the sleep issue for toddlers (and by extension, YOU):

Dear Dr. Heather,

 

My 2 year old started climbing out of the crib a few weeks ago. We transitioned her to a toddler bed and she continues to wake up around 2 am to play! And doesn't go back to bed until after 4 am. I've tried cutting her nap, which resulted in a miserable little girl in the afternoon and still waking in the middle night. I know allow her to nap for an hour and she's still up and playing at 2 am. Her bed time is around 8:30pm every night. Help!

Holly

Dear Holly,

It's very common for toddlers to start waking in the middle of the night after transitioning to a bed. That's why I always recommend WAITING to give up the crib as long as possible. But don't worry: Your late-night party-girl will remember how to sleep through the night -- with your help.

During the day, remind her that it's her job to sleep when it's dark outside -- plus, Mommy and Daddy get grouchy when she wakes them up at night. Everyone needs their sleep to be healthy.

Adopt the "broken record" approach -- she needs to stay in bed. Lights out. Time to sleep. If she gets up or makes a ruckus, calmly guide her back to bed and repeat the rules. Don't get emotional, don't turn on the lights, don't talk much, and certainly don't offer any food, drinks, or TV.

It may take a zillion or so reminders (or just a few, depending on her personality), but eventually her internal clock will win out and she'll start to sleep again -- as long as YOU'RE consistent in your approach. And when she DOES sleep through the night again, congratulate her for a job well done in the morning, and tell her how great YOU feel after having a good night's sleep!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

 

Toddler Behavior: How To Stop Children From Grinding Their Teeth

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

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

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

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

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

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

Sleep & Nap Issues: When Your Toddler Looks Tired -- But Won't Nap

It was 2 pm, and my toddler STILL hadn't gone down for her nap. Routines were followed, milk was drunk, and the house was quiet (no small feat around here, I assure you). She was rubbing her eyes, complaining -- but plowing ahead. Throwing her little arms in the air, she was chanting, "Up! Up!"

Some of you are pretty mellow about your toddler's nap schedule. But I'm the type who has to have "mellow" beaten into me with the stick of experience. "Toddlers are supposed to nap. Go to sleep, toddler of mine."

Not always that easy, is it? Turns out, none of my 4 babies ever read the Weissbluth or Ferber books, and they totally failed the "How Many Hours Per Day Babies Need To Sleep" test. They didn't follow those rules, and I was left fretting that something was wrong (and trying to soothe an overtired baby).

But guess what? I'm up at 3 am writing this post. Why? I can't sleep. I did my nighty-night routine, but my BabyShrink work beckoned me from bed. Your baby has important work to do, too. Sometimes, it's more important than sleep.

But what does a poor parent do with an obviously sleepy (but not napping) toddler?

Here on my 4th baby, I've discovered some important truths about nap schedules:

* The best-followed routine doesn't always work. Sometimes a nap simply isn't in the cards.

* Yes, an over-tired toddler sometimes means a cranky and difficult afternoon. But often, your toddler can rally and make the most out of the day.

* Toddlers are notoriously wacky about following nap schedules -- some more than others. Focus on nighttime sleep, and an earlier bedtime when there's no nap.

* Some parents attempt to hang on to that second nap for too long. If she used to be a good napper and now isn't, experiment with dropping the nap.

* Yes, I know: Sleep is important to a baby's brain. But as with food, parents need to focus on the overall amount, over time. A bad day ( or week) of sleep isn't going to do any lasting damage (except to us).

Now it's off to bed for me. If you're still awake, go and read more about your toddler's sleep challenges here.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: My Toddler Won't Sleep

Reader Allie emailed me a couple of questions about her 15-month-old Jack*.

He was an otherwise healthy boy who simply stopped sleeping a few weeks ago. After getting through a nice, regular sleep-time routine -- a routine that used to work beautifully -- Jack would fuss, play, and scream. Anything to avoid going down to sleep. This would escalate over the course of the night with Jack snoozing briefly here and there -- but only with Allie holding him. The moment she carried him to his crib, he'd pop up, wide awake. Although she wasn't a co-sleeper "type", she tried it in desperation -- and it only made matters worse. Mommy's bed was treated like a big playground by Jack.

And Jack's Dad wasn't so hip on it either. He was of the belief that "tough love" was in order (as was Jack's pediatrician), and again in desperation, Allie tried it with Jack. After three hours of crying (and barfing all over himself and his crib), Allie had enough. No "CIO" for this baby.

After weeks of this, poor Allie was totally blotto from the accumulated sleep deprivation. My emailed suggestions didn't seem to get to the heart of the problem, and so I asked for more information. Turns out that Mom and Dad were having relationship difficulties on top of everything, and they just couldn't agree on how to handle the nighttime sleep issue. They had just started couple's therapy, and although the therapist was helpful to them, there was no time to focus on the problems with Jack. Plus, the therapist wasn't a specialist in babies and young children.

I suggested a Parent Coaching session, so that I could see Allie for myself, get to know her a bit, and have some time to get into the nitty gritty of Jack's situation. We spent an hour on Skype, going over Jack's temperament and personality, as well as options Allie hadn't thought of yet. I gave her detailed information on what is "normal", sleep-wise, as well as developmentally, for a child Jack's age. This helped decrease her fear that something was really "wrong" with Jack. Also, Allie was upset that Dad wasn't seeing things exactly the same as she was. I carefully side-stepped the relationship issues, focusing on helping Allie to understand that different parental attitudes CAN WORK with children. We created a plan that both parents could agree on, with the goal of helping EVERYONE get better sleep.

The "nuts and bolts" of the plan weren't anything fancy or unusual. But the fact that we had the time to really put our heads together to make a plan -- a plan that would work for Mom, Dad, AND Jack -- made it simple, but powerfully effective. And although I'm not necessarily against CIO in every case, I knew it was off the table for this family -- so we worked out a different plan. I was excited to receive an emailed update from Allie this weekend, letting me know that Jack was back to his old good-sleeping self (and more importantly, so was SHE).

If you can relate just a little too well to Allie, you've come to the right place. I'm including a link to one of my most popular Sleep posts here, to get you started. If my sleep posts aren't enough, shoot me an email (BabyShrink@gmail.com) or hit the "Parent Coaching Packages" button up on the top of the page to complete the form. I'll be happy to chat or Skype with you, too, to help you FINALLY get some sleep!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

*Allie asked me to keep her name, and that of her child, private -- these aren't their real names. But their experiences are real.

Toddler Behavior: When and How To Get Rid Of Your Toddler's "Comfort Thingie"

The "Comfort Thingie" -- your toddler's thumb, binkie, blanket or other "lovey" -- is a vexing problem to most parents. Usually yucky, stinky, shredded and gross, we'd love to chuck it, but Toddler would FREAK. HOW to get rid of it? WHEN is it OK to get rid of it? And WHY does she need it so much, anyway?

The Comfort Thingie is part you, that's why -- it helps your toddler transition from complete dependence to independence. It carries a bit of parental mojo along with it's stink and shreds. (And by the way, Comfort Thingies also include weird repetitive toddler behaviors -- cramming blanket corners up her nose, twiddling a lock of hair, walking around with her finger in her belly button, or even head-banging to get to sleep -- all qualify as Comfort Thingies.)

Tips for Getting Through The Thingie Phase

  • * Know that it’s completely normal, age appropriate, and promotes independence
  • * Show that you respect the Thingie, no matter how disgusting
  • * Try to understand the draw of the Thingie so that you can understand what comforts your child – these things tend to be idiosyncratic, and reflective of the child’s enduring temperament and personality and preferences
  • * Consider keeping the Thingie. If it's OK with you, a tattered blanket never hurt anyone. There's no psychological reason to force the issue. She'll eventually lose interest, and then you can keep it to give her her when she has her own babies. (Awwwww......)
  • * Pace Yourself – and your child. Don’t try to give up multiple Thingies at once (for instance, don’t eliminate the bottle, binkie, and crib simultaneously) and back off of the potty training until any Thingie Phase-Out has become routine.
  • * Talk to your toddler about how the Thingie helps, so that she can begin to understand (and internalize) it’s power
  • * Identify stress in your toddler’s life, and try to decrease it.
  • * Don’t even suggest giving up the Thingie until the age of 3. Don’t waste your parental capital on this one, as often, the Thingie will be given up naturally. After 3 it will be easier to negotiate with your child for a “Thingie Phase-Out Plan”.
  • * Rule out any medical explanation (especially in the case of head-banging) – just to be sure.

And finally… Look Away and Breathe Deeply – you might as well start practicing now! Your ability to pick and choose your parental battles will be key to getting through all the phases of your child’s development with your sanity (relatively) intact. The Comfort Thingie -- while certainly disgusting now -- resolves naturally in typically developing children.

Here's more on how to know when, if, and how to transition your toddler away from her Binkie. And if you still have questions, email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com, or hit the Parent Coaching button above. I'd love to talk with you about your toddler's stinky habit, and help you decide how to deal with the situation.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How To Handle Sibling Rivalry

I love it when parents say, “Our toddler is SO happy that she has a little baby brother. She seems to have accepted him totally!” Just wait.

Sibling rivalry usually doesn’t become a problem until your toddler has to contend with a mobile baby --one who gets into her stuff, pulls her hair, and otherwise competes with her in the Zone of Stardom she previously owned in the family. When that happens, all the harmony that existed in the home evaporates, replaced by screams of “MINE!”, “HE HIT ME!”, “STOP TOUCHING ME!”, and “AAAAAGGHHHHH!”

It’s pretty upsetting, to see it in action. Our fierce protectiveness of the baby kicks in, and it’s made worse by the fact that the offender ALSO belongs to you. “How COULD she? Am I raising a sociopath? What have I done wrong?” We worry.

First of all, it’s important to understand how painful it is for your toddler to have to share you with a sibling. Here’s an analogy: Your partner comes to you and says, "Honey, I love you SOOOO much that I've decided to get another partner JUST LIKE YOU -- to live with us, be taken care of by me, and to mess up all your stuff. Isn't that GREAT?!" Not really. In fact, pretty sucky. That's how your toddler feels (at least some of the time).

And yet: The sibling relationship has the potential to be profoundly important. Think about it: We have the longest relationship of our lives with our siblings. Siblings can understand each other like no one else, because of the shared, early experiences of our families of origin. For these reasons, we WANT our kids to get along.

Know this: Parenting a toddler AND a baby who are fairly close in age (anything less than 3 or 3 1/2 years apart) is really, really hard. In fact, IT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING I HAVE EVER DONE.

I’m here to give you two messages: 1) Don’t worry – it’s common and typical for toddlers, little kids, and even big kids to fight like cats and dogs. It’s a drag for parents, and not usually anything to worry about, BUT, 2) we have our work cut out for us, if we want to maximize the potential good relationship between our kids. There are lots of things we can do to make it smoother – maybe not so much now, but for the future.

That said, keep these things in mind:

• Safety, of course, is Job One. Never, EVER, leave a baby alone with your toddler (at least up to age 4), even for a second. The toddler can't help herself -- and you're not allowed to get mad at her if she starts hitting while you're not looking. She’s just too young for you to expect more.

Adopt a "matter-of-fact" attitude. In normal circumstances, your toddler isn't a sociopathic maniac, and your baby isn't a traumatized victim. Baby is tougher than you think, and Toddler is less evil than you fear.

Expect your toddler to TRY to hammer away at the baby -- it's simply human nature – but let everyone know you won’t allow her to hurt the baby. Your mission is to convey this: “I can’t let you hurt the baby. Tell me you’re mad, but hitting isn’t allowed. It looks like you’re mad because Baby got to sit next to me. Am I right?” Guide the interaction towards talking. This is the perfect crucible to grind out the issue of talking about feelings – instead of acting them out. Political correctness, manners and grace come much, much later (ages 6, 7 and beyond). In the meantime, expect to be there as protector -- and try not to get disappointed, worried, or critical of your toddler. She's just really bummed about having to share you.

Resign yourself to breaking up fights -- sometimes constantly. I know it feels like you're a referee all day sometimes, and it's easy to worry about the future implications of the sibling relationship. "Will they always attack each other like this?!" They might, for a really long time -- and that might actually be a good thing. Family is the pressure cooker of life, and siblings have the opportunity to work out lots of life's big issues together: Sharing, patience, and cooperation.

But you've got to emphasize the positive. When they DO get along -- notice, praise, and reward. "What nice sharing, you two! Wow, what a lovely time you're having together. That looks really fun." Even if it's only a brief interlude in the action, make a point of praising.

Finally, make it a point to regularly schedule “special time” with each of your kids – ideally, with each parent, separately and together – to get some time where that one kid can be the focus. Nothing fancy -- even if it’s just a trip to the market while the baby is home with grandma, it will help.

Smoothing out the rough edges in their relationship -- over and over -- will eventually help them create a stronger relationship.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert Sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me:

Toddler Behavior: Reasons Your Toddler Doesn't Eat Much

I've just had a rare parenting experience; making a meal that my toddler ate -- and enjoyed.

Pediatricians tell us that toddlers need fewer calories, so not to worry. But there's another more developmental reason that toddlers often don't eat. The "simple" cycle of HUNGER -----> EATING -----> FEELING BETTER isn't really so simple for your toddler. It involves conscious awareness of a physical cue (hunger), understanding that FOOD is the solution to HUNGER, and then expressing that need to us. Not only do toddlers have better things to do than to sit and be restrained in a highchair (things like walking, running, climbing and screaming about bathtime), but they have a hard time "tuning in" to that feeling of hunger to begin with. We can all relate to that, right? Getting so consumed in an absorbing activity that we forget to eat. That's the daily experience of your toddler.

Understanding this dynamic makes it easier to handle. Try this:

Think ahead about when your toddler's likely to get hungry, and offer something she usually likes to entice her to the highchair. (Thin, crunchy breadsticks are the snack of choice at our house these days.) Then offer her a prepared meal -- don't expect her to sit and wait while you make it. If she resists, that's OK. Take her down and send her on her way. Try again at the next regular snack or mealtime.

Drinking milk is your toddler's default -- it's a lot easier to drink milk (think how easy a nice milkshake goes down), and it's reminiscent of the good ol' baby days, when parents took care of everything. In other words, it's regressive -- and comforting. And sometimes, toddlers get so crazy-hungry that they're beyond food -- it just doesn't satisfy the way milk would. As long as your toddler's experimenting with food and getting a little variety during the course of the week, regressing to milk in the service of preventing a hunger meltdown sometimes is OK. (But check out her menu with her pediatrician if you're unsure.)

Don't panic about rejected food. You can't force a toddler eat, poop, or sleep. Putting extra pressure on the situation only makes it worse. Take a deep breath and be glad you're not contributing to a future food neurosis.

Rest assured that as your toddler gets a bit older, this dynamic will naturally improve -- young toddlers have more trouble with food than older, "more experienced" toddlers do. And as she gets to preschool age (3 or so), she'll be more interested in playing social games involving food (think "Tea Party"), AND she'll have a lot more experience with food under her belt. Once again, the miracle of development will help us get through this maddening stage.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Dealing With Sibling Rivalry: When A Toddler Bashes Baby (or Preschooler Bashes Toddler)

Shawn poses as this unassuming urban Dad who backpacks around with his two young kids while his wife toils away at a high-powered job.

But in reality, he's scary-smart, this close to getting his PhD at Stanford, in philosophy -- of all things. He can write (and backpack) circles around me, and in the couple of years we've both been blogging he's built up a massive following and hob-nobbed with all the big online names. All while I'm toiling away in obscurity, 2500 miles away from the action. (Don't feel too bad, though, since I'm in Hawaii.)

So I was happy to oblige him when he asked for a guest post -- that is, until he suggested a topic that has been argued and written about for thousands of years -- sibling rivalry. Typical philosopher. I reminded him that HE'S the one who still needs to finish his dissertation, not me. But last I heard, he had bailed out of the library and was headed down to the Happiest Place on Earth, so it looks like that PhD will be claimed another day.

But I hope you come check out my advice to him over at Backpacking Dad, because I gave him some ideas that should help you smooth out the relationship between your young kids, too. Toddlers bash on babies, preschoolers bash on toddlers, but there ARE things that we, as parents, can do to minimize the bashing (and maintain some semblance of our own sanity.) And thanks for the guest spot, Shawn. (Now -- get back to work!)

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: "Perfectionism" in A 2-Year Old?

Longtime reader Katie has asked me about her baby before. But now that her daughter is an honest-to-goodness toddler, there are new questions about perfectionism. Babies don't care about "the rules" -- toddlers do. And so a new struggle with "doing it right -- by myself" begins: "I DO IT MYSSEF!"

Dear Dr. Heather,

For the past few nights my daughter has insisted on putting her pajamas on herself. This would be great, except she can't quite get it by herself and ends up getting really frustrated. However, she gets even more angry and upset when I try to help her. I end up being torn between my desire to let her learn to do it herself and my desire to get her to bed at a decent hour. Usually she genuinely needs a few small helps to get the pajamas on, but I try to let her do as much as possible by herself.

This also is a symptom of a larger problem - what I perceive to be a growing perfectionism on her part. For example, if one cheerio from her bowl falls on the floor she will not eat another one until it is picked up. She also is very definite about using the right words for things - she just corrected me that the noise we heard was an "airplane" not a "plane." Having struggled with perfectionism myself, I worry a lot that I might pass it on to my daughter, or that she might spontaneously develop it on her own since she seems to have that kind of personality. Do you have any advice that might help?

Katie

Hi Katie,

Your daughter is just now learning that things can be done "just so". She didn't care before, and she's experimenting with it now. It's totally common and normal. It's also part of the control trip that goes along with toddlerhood. Just how far can she take this control thing? She's exploring those boundaries. It's also part of her growing sense of independence -- wanting to do it herself. A good thing, yes?

But it's not always possible for her do it herself. So, the advice is -- allow her to do it her way, WHEN IT IS REASONABLE. Give her options and choices ahead of time to try to limit the struggles that may come up. You are totally allowed to step in and be the boss when you need to -- don't feel bad about it, just matter-of-fact. But allow her the independence when you can. For rituals that take forever and get in the way of other activities: plan in advance -- give her a lot of extra time in the evening for putting on jammies, and give her a lot of praise for getting steps right herself. Try to leave her to her own devices to explore her skills. Tell her to ask you for help when she gets frustrated, but don't go overboard and do the whole thing for her. She may end up frustrated anyway, but that's OK. Rescue her when she's at her limit. I think you might also be nervous about some kind of impending red flag for perfectionism, because of your own history and tendencies. Rest assured that it's normal at this age. You have the opportunity to help her live with imperfection, as well as to explore her new skills. If she is suffering from it when she is starting school, then you can start to wonder if she might need some intervention. But for now -- it sounds fine.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

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

Don't Take It Personally, Dad.

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

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

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

Thanks very much.

Grandma ~~~~~~

Dear "Grandma",

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

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

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

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

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 #6: Why Won't My Toddler Sleep?

zzzzzz.......Excuse me, I was just dozing off. I haven't been able to get much sleep over the past, say, 10 years or so (I keep having babies, what can I say) -- and the pursuit of sleep, because of unwilling babies and toddlers, has become an obsession for me. Unfortunately, there's no holy grail, but at least there's a good explanation for it. As usual, I turn to the Fabulous Fraiberg for a little support over my sleepless children. I always get goosebumps when I reach the end of this section:

We began with a baby in the first month of life....His world was a chaos of undifferentiated sensation from which he slipped gratefully into the nothingness of sleep...

At 18 months this baby is traveling extensively and has acquired a small but useful vocabulary (just enough to get a meal and bargain with the natives). He has encountered some of the fundamental problems of the human race -- the nature of reality, of subjective and objective experience, causality, the vicissitudes of love, and has made promising studies in each of these areas. We could easily forgive him if these first encounters with our world should create a desire to go back to sleep twenty hours a day. But this fellow upsets all notions about human inertia by forging ahead like a locomotive right into the densities of human activity. Sleep?...Let us try to take it away from him and put him back into the darkness. Sleep? But look, he can't keep his eyes open! He's drunk with fatigue. He howls with indignation at the extended hands, rouses himself with a mighty exertion from near collapse to protest these villains who take away his bright and beautiful world. From his crib, in the darkened room he denounces these monster parents, then pleads for commutation of sentence in eloquent noises. he fights valiantly, begins to fail -- then succumbs to his enemy, Sleep.

Sleep -- at last

From Selma Fraiberg, The Magic Years, pages 63-64

Don't blame the toddler for resisting sleep. But notice, Fraiberg doesn't suggest we take him out of the crib and let him keep up his explorations -- no, Fraiberg asks us to understand the toddler's dilemmas, to empathize with him, but to put him to bed nonetheless, when he needs it. A toddler can be "pushed" to go to sleep. A 6-month-old baby shouldn't (yet). It's this major disparity in the developmental needs of young children -- 3 months, vs. 6 months, vs. 9 months, vs. 12 and 18 and 24 months -- that confuses us, as parents. But the more we understand the unique needs of the specific age of our child, the better we will be at negotiating their needs.

And now, off to get a cup of coffee -- the baby needs me :)

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink