Parenting Tips: Considering Kindergarten?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Spending Holidays with Young Children: Keeping It Simple


Preserving the meaning of the holidays is tricky with so much pressure -- pressure to BUY, pressure to TRAVEL, and pressure to JUGGLE HOLIDAY EVENTS. The obligations start to pile up, and pretty soon we can't wait until it's all over.

Here in Hawaii, we've learned something about simplicity: Simple is better. Not always easier -- but better. As we're being bombarded with impossible holiday expectations, keep this in mind -- babies and young children don't have ANY expectations for the holidays. Everything is new to them -- even more reason to keep it simple. They can only absorb so much before they go into overload and meltdown. Admiring decorations, singing songs, and extra time with family are all it takes to make a great holiday for a young child -- and make it easier on us, too. Because kids -- especially young kids -- take their cues directly from us. So a successful holiday is mainly about OUR mood, and how it affects our kids. If we're stressed about travel schedules, dreading family reunions, and scrambling to get "the best" presents, our kids will absorb THOSE feelings about the holidays. On the other hand, if we can relax and enjoy the time off -- cooking, playing, and having fun with holiday rituals -- our kids will absorb THOSE feelings. Which sounds better?

Consider These Simpler Holiday Options:

* Fewer presents -- more thoughtfully written (and decorated) cards * Fewer "junk" holiday treats -- more time cooking real meals together * Less money spent on toys -- more time volunteering for those in need * Fewer holiday parties -- more family "cocooning" time

Aloha and Happy Holidays,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Television & Technology: Pros and Cons of High Tech Toys for Young Children

Are high-tech toys good -- or bad -- for young children? Helpful toy -- or demon gadget?

I was recently contacted by Aaron Crowe, who's doing a story for the AOL personal finance site WalletPop on the use of high-tech toys with young children. He had some interesting questions about the pros and cons of these ubiquitous gadgets. He specifically asked about these new-fangled iPhone apps that are designed to entertain the little ones. With spring break upon us, lots of us are traveling with young kids and want whatever help we can get to make it through those TSA lines at the airport and to our destination with our sanity generally intact. So, are these apps super-cool parent-helpers, or brain-damaging demon gadgets?

There hasn't been conclusive research on this subject yet. Some of you have seen my articles on TV-watching and young kids. There are some conflicting research studies on the impact of TV, but no "smoking gun" as to clear-cut negative effects -- that is, if you are careful as to WHAT is watched, and for HOW LONG. I think we can reasonably assume that the use of high-tech gadgetry has a similar impact on kids as to that of TV.

Another Balancing Act for the Good-Enough Parent A Good-Enough Parent is one who balances the child's needs within the scope of the needs of the whole family. A Good-Enough Parent doesn't worry that playing with a high-tech toy during a long wait at an airport will do damage to their child, but rather is grateful for the help of technology and takes the opportunity to grab a coffee and have a few minutes of peace, while their child is "app-happy". After that brief interlude to get re-charged for the trip, a Good Enough Parent focuses back on the child and looks for ways to make the trip fun -- or at least tolerable -- without the gadget. But guess what? If you're traveling under serious degrees of difficulty -- as in, multiple young children, lots of delays, transfers, or red-eye flights, that high-tech gadget might come in really handy. And if your toddler or preschooler ends up using it the whole darn trip, IT'S OK WITH ME. The only danger is in getting used to relying on the high-tech toys after the trip, and forgetting that, deep down, what kids really want is to play with their parents. Simple family-oriented time together is what young children need most.

Because to me, the main issue is BALANCE and MODERATION. Use of your cell-phone apps for toddlers on a daily basis? (Insert loud buzzing sound here.) Use of said apps to get through an otherwise painful trip? Ding ding ding! Go for it! Because you know how technology works -- kids go through a phase where they really get into a new gizmo, and then after awhile, lose their enthusiasm. It's up to us as parents to create an environment where kids (and we grown-ups!) can enjoy conversations, simple games, and creative toys to balance out the high tech stimulation we all get on a daily basis.

Thanks, Aaron, for the opportunity to be used as an "expert" for your feature.

If you're interested, check out his story here.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Developmental Issues: Did Swine Flu Cause Autism In My Son?

There's a lot of confusion out there about illness, the flu, vaccines, medications, and autism. This poor Mom is terrified that her son may have contracted Autism from a bout of Swine Flu. Here's her email to me: Dear Dr. Heather,

Please help. I saw your article on autism, and I am very intrigued and impressed by your knowledge and insight.

I don’t know what to do. I have two beautiful, 91/2 month old identical twin boys who were always very social, smiley, interactive, looking directly into the face, etc. The one I am most concerned about would turn his head and smile at his brother in their crib, smile at everybody, I would play the ‘up’ game with him and he would gaze into my eyes, smile, and giggle… and they both almost always responded by looking when I said their names.

Then one of them got sick with Swine Flu on August 6th. His brother got sick on August 8th. I will never forgive myself as the last time I remember him (the baby who got sick on the 8th) acting distinctly like himself was the 6th when I went to pick up his sick brother at daycare… he looked right up into my eyes, threw up his arms, smiled, and said ‘Mommmmm’…. And I barely paid attention to him, I rushed to his sick brother… I should’ve thrown my arms around him and hugged him and praised him…. I have such guilt and keep worrying/wondering what if that is the last time he ever does that?

They were both put on Tamiflu due to being high-risk (they have asthma symptoms). The baby I am most concerned about didn’t get as high a fever, but the virus infected his eye, and we think he also got a bacterial infection, so he got eye-drops and Amoxycillin as well. He was miserable and cranky for days. I know he can hear (by testing by loud noises, etc.) and he doesn’t have an ear infection, as he’s seen a doctor.

Now he is not himself. I first noticed this as he got better. He is not responding when I say his name, hardly ever. If he does he just looks for a second. He will make eye contact, but only for a second or two. He looks away when I try to play the ‘up’ game with him. He is still babbling, but not as much. He did this weird whisper-babbling this morning and smacked his lips. He is still playing with his toys, but is also playing with non-toy objects like straps and blinds.

The doctor has an ear test set up for him, but I have to wait two weeks just for a call to make the appointment.

Can a virus or antibiotics trigger autism? Does a flu ever attack the ears, eyes, or brain which might cause sudden symptoms? What are the other possibilities might be going on if he doesn’t have an ear infection? This is a very, very abrupt change.

What tests should I push for to find out what is wrong as soon as possible? What are the possibilities?

So far his brother is acting normally, but I am terrified as I'm worried about it affecting both twins eventually.

Please, I would love a response. We have (mega-large HMO) and it is hard to get tests/things done. I am eagerly awaiting your response and guidance.

Very, very sincerely, Concerned Mom

Obviously, this mom is in a state of desperation, so I responded immediately:

Dear Concerned Mom,

Of course I cannot evaluate your son myself and as such, I can only provide some educational information for you. But I did want to respond right away because you sound so very upset and worried.

First of all, please know that autism is thought most likely to be a genetically-related developmental issue, and I have seen no convincing information that it can be caused by a simple flu or other virus in a child, nor by antibiotics or antivirals. Additionally, the timeframe you mention of the abrupt changes in your son do not sound like the onset of autism. After all, it's been barely 2 weeks since the onset of his flu symptoms.

A (temporary) step backwards in response to illness However, it is VERY common to see temporary developmental regression in response to illness. This means that your child can take several steps BACKWARD developmentally -- in response to illness and/or stress -- and then "bounce back" days or weeks later. It's all part of the normal developmental process,which is full of starts, stops, and reversals -- the old "one step forward, two steps back" thing. Young children don't understand that the course of illness is temporary; that they will get better. They simply know they feel lousy. They are not up to showing off all their "best" developmental skills. They commonly regress to earlier stages of development, temporarily, until they feel better. And often times, symptoms of illness can linger for WEEKS in children -- especially for something as yucky as a flu. If he is showing regression in response to illness, the regression itself can linger for weeks as well, past the time that he gets better. This may vary from child to child and from illness to illness, so his brother may be fine (at least this time). Personalities vary in response to illness and stress I don't know about your husband, but when mine gets sick, he just wants everyone to GO AWAY. (is this a guy thing?) He's crabby and won't talk to me and is just a completely different personality than when he's feeling well. Everyone is different, and your boys also will have different responses to stress and illness. The point is that there are very reasonable possible explanations as to why your son is acting so differently than his usual self, for this relatively short timeframe.

It's important that you respond in a positive and supportive way, and not convey to him that you're so worried. He's able to pick up your anxieties, and internalize the message that "something must be wrong with him". He needs reassurance that he WILL get better, and WILL feel better, but for now he still feels lousy and needs to be babied -- and that's OK.

As I said, however, I cannot evaluate your child from afar, so it's important you get your doctors' advice, as it sounds like you are doing. But since you have to wait for appointments, I would take this time to hang out with your boys in a relaxed way, giving them the chance to fully recover.

Please let us know how you're all doing in a few weeks' time.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Developmental Issues: Possible Signs Of Autism In A Young Infant

I've written before about the confusion and difficulty around the diagnosis of Autism in young children (before the age of 3). My regular readers know that I'm a strong proponent of Early Intervention screening, and also of early intervention therapy services. This means having your local Child Development center see your child BEFORE the age of three, should you have any concerns about her development, social interaction, or communication skills.

But you also know that I am loathe to jump on the autism-hysteria bandwagon. I worry that there are many other problems that are being missed because we're jumping to the Autism diagnosis too quickly. Issues of sensory, cognitive, medical, environmental, or even genetic problems can be missed when a diagnosis is made too quickly. Also, the range of child development is so wide, that what can SEEM abnormal may not be. And I blame my field; many of us are so concerned about the number of developmentally delayed children out there, and so few of us are adequately trained to truly evaluate for Autism in the early years, that too may children are mistakenly diagnosed as Autistic. And then their REAL problems go undetected -- and untreated. If I had a million bucks (or ten) I'd start a training foundation centered on the intensive training of Early Intervention clinicians in the detection and treatment of Autism-related conditions -- and other problems that might SEEM like Autism, but are NOT. We need a nation-wide (heck, world-wide) training initiative so that psychologists, pediatricians, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, special instruction teachers -- indeed the whole range of Early Intervention professionals -- can get the advanced training we all need in this very specialized area.

In the meantime, you can read this very interesting article at summarizing some of the newest research on signs of Autism in the very young infant. It also helps to explain why this is truly a very difficult disorder to diagnose in the early years. And if you missed it, there's also a link to a popular post of mine on the diagnosis of Autism.

Click here for the article, and

click here for my own article on Autism.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training: My Child's Daycare Requires That He's Potty Trained!

Hi Dr. Heather, My son turned 3 in July and was potty trained in April of this year. Therefore he had four months before he started in a daycare that required him to be fully potty trained.

I have now been blindsided yesterday with an official letter stating they will not be able to continue providing him care. Last Thursday he had four BM accidents in one day, but this was a first. Do State regulations allow them to kick him out for this?

It’s also upsetting to me that the Director mailed a letter I got on the weekend, with no way to contact her until Tuesday.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks, Linda

Hi Linda,

In general, daycare programs have some flexibility in terms of how they interpret the rules. Often, it depends on the Director, and how she chooses to implement them.

4 accidents in one day? Sounds like your little guy might have had a touch of the "runs". Perhaps you could ask if they make any exceptions for illness. You can't know in advance if your kid is going to get the "runs"!

The other issue is whether this is the right place for your son. What is your relationship like with the Director and teachers? Ideally, you would select a daycare center where you have a strong working relationship with all the staff, including the boss. Issues like this come up all the time in daycare. You want to feel comfortable that you and the staff can easily chat with each other when things arise. The fact that you were blindsided by a letter concerns me. Why wouldn't she just stop you to mention her concerns at pickup time? Or at least give you a quick call? Would she write you a letter too if your son had gotten hurt during the day? You want to feel like the lines of communication are open. It makes me wonder if perhaps you might consider your options for other daycare.

Often, parents are told to check if a daycare center is licensed and accredited by an early childhood program, like the National Association for the Education of Young Children. While I agree that accreditation and licensing are important, it's only the beginning. You must do your own investigation of the place before you decide what's best for your child. Don't just accept the first place that has an opening for you, or go on a center's "reputation". Much of your satisfaction in a daycare will have to do with the quality and personality of the specific caregivers and teachers. There's simply no substitute for finding out about the people who will be spending hours a day with your baby.

Here's a quick rundown of things to consider in deciding on a daycare for your young child:

What do the other parents say about the center? Are they satisfied? Are their children happy to go to the daycare?

What kind of staff turnover do they have? You want a place where the caregivers like their jobs, feel supported by the Director, and stay at the center for more than just a few months. And how long has the Director been on the job, as well?

Ask the Director how they handle issues such as the one mentioned by Linda. Will they call you or chat with you, or will you have to wait for an "official" letter? You want the lines of communication to be freely open. You want to get a daily verbal report on how your child's day went, and any changes in the center.

Talk directly with the caregivers who will be responsible for your child. How long have they been at this center? Do they enjoy their work? What kinds of children do they consider challenging? What do they like most about their work? Let them know that you will be an involved parent who is willing to be a cooperative partner in caring for your child, and who also wants to know what's going on at the Center on a daily basis.

Observe your child at play at the center. You know your child best. How does she respond to the caregivers and environment? If the center won't allow parent observations....KEEP LOOKING.

If the staff don't seem to have time for your questions, or convey the feeling that you should be grateful to be accepted into the program...KEEP LOOKING. I know it can be hectic finding daycare arrangements, and parents often feel they have no choice. Don't ever accept that. I'm here to tell you that there are always options, if you're willing to look around, ask questions, and be patient. The time you take to find the right daycare will be more than worth the hassle in the long run!

Many of us have "daycare horror stories", and have learned the hard way how to find quality childcare. Can you give some other tips to Linda, and other parents out there who are struggling to find the right daycare?


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: My Child Has A Fear of Haircuts

Hi Dr. Heather, My three-year old absolutely hates haircuts. Between the ages of 1 and 2, my barber cut his hair for free. He was fine at first, but then I think the clippers pulled him once, and he has not forgotten. We tried a children's barber a couple of times, but, whether she used scissors or clippers, the toys and movies and lollipops did little to quell his fears. Now, my wife cuts his hair with clippers, and he seems to dread it. He screams even when nothing is touching his head. It takes the two of us to hold him down and it’s a draining experience for all involved (but at least we're not paying forit!). Any suggestions?

Love the site. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


Hi Tim!

You have a great question. Your little guy feels he has no choice about the haircutting, following what sounds like a scare for him. Kids at this age let their imaginations get the best of them, and they DO fear what those clippers (or scissors) can do to them.

They are actually wrestling with their OWN feelings of aggression, so fears of monsters, clippers, dogs, and stuff like that are common at this age.

As they struggle with their fear of losing control and actually hurting someone (or breaking something), they become afraid someone or something will hurt THEM.

It's important to give some control back to your little man in a situation like this; otherwise, you're setting him up to fight you as his only response to trying new (and possibly scary) things.

Here are some things to try:

Talk to him about what happened. "I know you got scared that time. The clippers pulled your hair and you thought it would hurt. I know it makes a weird noise. Tell me what you remember about that time? Why did it scare you?" Find out the specifics of what it's like in his mind about the clippers. Listen carefully to all the details. Tell him you promise not to force him to have a haircut, ever again. "I know that time we had to hold you down, but you're a big boy now, big enough to sit still, at least for a super-short mini-haircut. I'm sorry we did that, we're going to try it a different way from now on."If you take all the control away from him, he's just going to try to hold on to some form of power by resisting even more.

Try to make some accommodations for him, based on what you found out. "The clippers scared you because they pulled on you by accident (or whatever he says happened). Do you want to see how it works on Daddy? Do you want to try to hold it for a second when it's on? I promise, today is NOT a haircut day for you. No haircut for you, we're just looking at the clippers today."

Ask him what would help him handle the clippers. "OK, we understand it's scary for you. We can have fewer haircuts, for awhile. Maybe next time, we try to clip your hair for just a few seconds. (turn on the clippers for like 10 seconds to let him see how long that is.) See? Can we cut your hair next time for just this long? Not the whole haircut, just the sides (or back, or whatever). Not today, just next Tuesday, when Daddy gets his haircut too. Mommy can cut my hair first, so you can see how it works."

Offering some choices and accommodations will help to assuage his fears, but it might take some time. Fears like this are common, but working with your kid is very likely to help come to some more positive outcome. He'll start to feel that he's part of the process, and that you are going to work together, WITH him, to come to a solution.

This will add to a great foundation of working together to solve fears and problems over the years! Instead of "Mom and Dad force me to do stuff that's really scary", It'll be, "Mom and Dad help me to figure out new ways to do scary things, and realize they're not so scary after all".

Good luck, and happy haircutting! Dr. Heather, the BabyShrink


Toddler Behavior: How To Deal With Biting Babies

Dear BabyShrink, My 16-month-old son just got kicked out of daycare for biting, a habit he picked up there! I’ve heard many different ways to stop the biting habit. Do you have any suggestions on what you’ve found that works best?

Amy in Louisville

Hi, Amy,

I'm so sorry that your son's daycare hasn't found a better way of addressing this COMMON toddler behavior -- one that needn't be made into such a big deal.

Now, yes, I know that it is very upsetting to be on the receiving end of a bite, and even more so to be the parent of the "bite-ee", but we have to look at this as normal toddler exploratory behavior. Babies at this age still get a lot of their information about the world through their mouths. Plus, they’re often teething, and they’re not the greatest at explaining their wants and needs. So a bite now and then is really understandable. Some toddlers even bite to convey their love and affection for someone! Modifying the environment usually does the trick in minimizing biting.

First, give care and attention to the "bite-ee" IF he/she is upset, and certainly if the skin is broken. But if the child isn't upset, don't make a big deal out of it (you don't want to unnecessarily reinforce the biting). DO show the biter what to do instead. "We don't bite people, but you CAN bite this special toy! This is YOURS to bite!"  (Click HERE to see a photo of the kind of chewie things that Early Intervention specialists use for toddlers; we have one at home.  It's a little different than what you get at the regular baby store. They're nearly indestructible, and they're fun to chew.)

Analyze what came before the bite. Was the child tired? Overstimulated? Teething? Take care of THOSE issues first, and you should see a reduction in biting.

At home, be unemotional about biting, but firm. "No biting. If you want to bite, bite this instead." If he bites you, say, without reacting TOO strongly, "Ouch. That hurt. No biting.  Here's your bite toy." And then move on. If you have to be a broken record, do so -- you might have to for awhile. But he will eventually stop.

Maybe moving to a new daycare is not for the worst thing in the long run. Toddlers need and deserve daycare settings that know how to handle this, and other annoying (but normal!!) toddler behaviors, without making the kids look like little monsters. Try to find a new daycare that has established approaches that work with biting; you don't want a place that is scared off by a little chomping.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink