Monday, July 18, 2011

Keeping Our Children Safe in a Scary World

Since the horrific murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn last week, a lot of us parents can't stop wondering whether our children are safe and what we can do to keep them from being harmed.

There are a few simple but incredibly crucial things you can - and must - do to keep your children safe. Watching them like a hawk and not letting them go out on their own are not one the list.

The single most important thing every parent must do is have an open relationship with his or her child. Maintain a dialogue with your kids about their daily lives and make sure they feel they can tell you anything. This is not something you can do overnight, especially if you haven't been the type to share with your kids in the past. But you need to express an interest in what's going on in their lives and let them know that they can always come to you - even (especially) if they've done something wrong or think the information will be upsetting to you. If you have this kind of relationship with your child, he or she will feel comfortable asking you questions and bringing up uncomfortable situations.

In addition to fostering an open relationship in which your children know they can tell you anything, there are three messages you MUST get across to your children in order to protect them:

1. There is never a circumstance where an adult can tell you to keep a secret from your parents. If anyone ever tells you "don't tell your mommy and daddy," come tell me about it right away!

2. Your body is your own. Just like a person can't come grab a cookie out of your hand, NO ONE can touch your private parts. (Be clear: These are the parts of your body that your bathing suit covers.)

Be specific about who may and may not touch your children. Don't say "it's ok for relatives and friends." Unfortunately, most cases of sexual abuse are perpetrated by people the child already knows. Tell your child that only Mommy and Daddy can touch his private parts when bathing and dressing him and his doctor when examining him.

3. It's ok to say "no" - even to an adult. If something makes your child feel uncomfortable, there's probably a reason for it. Empower your child and let him know that just because someone is an adult doesn't mean they can touch him or speak to him in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable. Kids have good instincts. They can tell when something feels wrong, but they don't always realize they have a say in the matter.

There are three things you should know about the molestation / kidnapping / murder of children.

1. These crimes are incredibly uncommon. I mean, the chances of one of these things happening to your child are miniscule. We freak out when a big case like Leiby Kletzky's hits the newsstands, but it is extremely extremely rare for these kinds of things to happen. I'm sure that's no comfort to Leiby's family but I'm hoping it will help you.

2. Most of these cases occur when children are unsupervised, especially during the summer months when they're just "hanging out" and have no structure or schedule. So for goodness' sake, send your kids to camp, to their grandparents, to a neighbor, or to a babysitter, but don't let them wander around and get bored!

3. The vast majority of these cases occur to children who are naïve and whose parents never warned them about "stranger danger." They feel they can trust an adult and go with him in his car even though they don't know him. It's an uncomfortable topic to talk about with your children, and please don't go into the details of what happened to Leiby. But do talk to them about the points mentioned above and that they should never, ever get into a car with a stranger, no matter what he says or what he offers them. If they get lost they should call you or find a police officer or go back to the last place they saw you, but by no means should they go with any old adult who offers them a hand.

Finally, here are some things you DON'T want to do. Don't decide to take away their freedom. Do not doubt yourself or your children. And do not scare your kids! The last thing you want is to give your children the idea that the world is an unsafe, scary place. If our children are afraid to go out into the world and see every stranger on the street as a threat, what kind of world are we raising them in? We need to instill confidence in them - confidence in themselves and their capabilities as well as confidence that the world around them is an intrinsically good place - albeit with a few not-so-good people living in it.

Don't start changing the rules on them. If you let your children walk home from school by themselves, don't decide it's too dangerous and insist on driving them from now on. If you were about to let your child ride his bike to a friend's house for the first time, don't question your judgment and tell him he's not old enough after all. Remember, and remind your children, that the "bad guys" are one in a million. Make sure your kids are equipped with the knowledge they need to be safe and protect themselves, and with the confidence that they can do it on their own. (Don't show them you're anxious because they'll detect your anxiety and lose their self-confidence.) It's perfectly acceptable to ask your child to call you when he gets to his friend's house. But let him ride there alone - he's going to have to step out of the nest sometime.

When we feel helpless, our instinct is to be overly cautious and protective of our loved ones. As LA child therapist Miven Trageser says, this works well for belongings but not so well for people. Psychologically speaking, people are actually less safe locked away and protected all the time. Children need to learn and grow, and necessary to this is letting them venture out on their own and learn to be autonomous. One day our children are going to have to grow up. And if we make them wait to experience real life until they're actually grown up, they will not be prepared to live in the real world.

So yes, be afraid. You wouldn't be a good parent if you were completely unphased when something like this happens. But instead of trying to keep them "safe" from reality, talk to your children, prepare them for life, make sure they know how to stay safe and what to do if they feel unsafe. And then watch them take a step into their futures.


Horowitz, Yakov. "Speaking to Your Kids about Personal Safety."

Trageser, Miven. "Leiby Kletzky's death shouldn’t make us fearful parents: Let yours roam free."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Death in the Family

Q: How do I tell my 2-and-a-half-year-old that her dog died?

A: Talking about death is tricky with little ones. We tend to want to use euphemisms to lessen the blow, but don't be tempted. Euphemisms are confusing for kids and can end up being scarier than the actual truth.

For example, some people refer to death as "going to sleep" for a long time and not waking up. This can lead to a fear of going to sleep, which will result in issues at bedtime that may last a long time. Your daughter might be afraid to let anyone go to sleep, lest they never wake up.

One euphemism that adults often use to refer to dying is "passing away." Sometimes we forget that children don't know what this means. I know a woman who approached the little flower girl at a wedding and said "I'm a friend of your grandma's." The preschooler responded "oh, are you the one that passed away?"

A natural connection for us grownups is the one between illness and death. But resist the temptation to say "Lucky died because she was very sick." Your daughter will be terrified of illness. Every time she, you, or anyone she knows or loves gets a little cold or a sniffle, she'll wonder if they're going to die.

Another thing you don't want to say is "she's gone to be with G-d" or "she went to a better place." My friend's daughter has taken to saying "I don't care if I die, Mummy, because I'll go to heaven and it's better there anyway!"

I have found that the best way to explain death to little kids is to say that the person (or animal) got very very old and his/her body stopped working. Just like sometimes an old toy stops working because it's old and we've had it for a very very long time and we can't fix it anymore. Lucky's body died, but her soul (the part of her that we loved, that was playful and silly and was inside her, in her heart) is - fill in the blank - with G-d, looking down on us from heaven, etc. Or you can just leave it at that.

Be prepared for a lot of questions. Especially "When will Lucky come back?" My grandmother died when my daughter was three-and-a-half. She's five now, and every once in awhile she still asks me when Great Grandma is coming back! The finiteness of death is very difficult for children to grasp. You're going to have to gently remind her every time she asks that Lucky won't come back. She loves us very much but she can't come back because she died and her body doesn't work anymore. But we can think about her and talk about her and look at pictures of her to remember her, and it's OK to be sad and miss her - Mommy misses her too.

Your daughter is too young to make this connection, but one day, like my daughter did recently, she might ask "Are you going to die, Mommy?" Here's where I recommend against honesty. We know that nothing is certain in this world, but for a young child, the knowledge that Mommy and Daddy are going to be there tomorrow is everything. So as hesitant as you may feel, try to sound confident when you say "Everybody dies, and one day Mommy will die too. But not for a long long time, when I'm very very old and you're very very old too. You don't need to worry about that."

Make sure she's asked you all her questions and gotten satisfactory answers. Then change the subject and bring out the toys.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taming Tantrums

The other night I was trying to get the kids fed, bathed and into bed. For some reason that evening, in the eyes of Eliana (4.5), I could do nothing right. She didn't like the way I prepared her food. She didn't like the bowl I served it in. And how dare I take her little brother upstairs to try to bathe him while she was "starving" (despite the fact that her dinner was sitting right there on the table)?

I've tried every reaction to tantrums I can think of. I've tried placating. I've tried ignoring. I've tried bribing. I'm embarrassed to say I've tried screaming back. This girl will have none of it.

So that evening, while Eliana was screaming in the kitchen and Ami (2.5) was playing contentedly in the bathtub, I opened a package of brand new bath crayons I'd been planning to surprise them with. A few minutes later, Eliana walked into the bathroom, still screaming about the "unfairness" of it all, and caught sight of Ami gleefully scribbling all over the tub. "Why did he get those," she demanded, her temper escalating.

"Because he's behaving nicely," I answered quietly, turning back to Ami and helping him draw a star on the tub.

Without a word, Eliana zipped her lip, took off her clothes and climbed into the tub.

So I recommend the next time one of your kids is having a tantrum, forget ignoring, forget reasoning, forget bribing, forget yelling, forget punishing. Rewarding the child who's behaving works so much faster and so much more easily. The reward doesn't have to be a prize or a treat, either. A cuddle, some lap time, a story or a game works just as well to tell your tantrum-thrower "this is what you'll get when you settle down, but right now you're not very pleasant to be around."

If you only have one kid - sorry, I've got nothin for ya.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pick Your Battles

We were about to go out this afternoon so I told my kids to put their shoes on and get ready to go. Four-year-old Eliana asked if she could keep her Tinkerbell costume on for our outing. Two-year-old Ami refused to wear his shoes. "Elmo slippers," he insisted. I smiled at my crazy kids, helped Ami put his slippers on, and shooed them out the door.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. You have to pick your battles. This is true with your kids, with your spouse, with your boss, with whomever.

Whether you want to "battle" with your kids on a particular subject depends on a number of things:

• How major/minor is the issue? (Hitting - Battle. Shoes on the couch - Up to you.)

• How many other things are you working on ingraining in your child simultaneously? A kid can work on learning approximately three different lessons at any given time. If you're working on teaching her not to lie and to look both ways before crossing the street, do you want to make speaking with an indoor voice your third issue or reserve that slot for something more important that might come up? Believe me, they'll be yelling next week too. You're not going to miss your chance. You WILL have an opportunity to teach them about indoor voices!

• What else is going on in the immediate environment? Did your child miss her nap? Is the baby crying to be fed? Are you stressed to get out the door and get to work on time? Is your daughter starving because you haven't gotten dinner on the table yet? Did she have a hard day in which she failed a test, was teased or bullied, or fell in the mud? Did YOU have a rough day in which you messed up a work assignment, had a flat tire, or argued with your spouse? Is it bedtime and you don't want to spend an hour arguing when it's time for the kids to start winding down? Your child's mood and emotional state, your own mood and emotional state, and whatever else is going on in your household at the moment is going to have an impact on her behavior as well as on your decision about whether or not to fight this battle right now.

Remember, anything that is an issue or a lesson your kids really need to learn is going to manifest itself over and over again. You will have plenty of opportunities to deal with the issue in the future, especially if your kids are young. Not only do your kids' immediate needs (food, sleep) need to come first, but any lesson you try to impart to them isn't going to sink in anyway if they're hungry/tired/upset.

Now I'll be honest. Sometimes I do tell Eliana an outfit she's chosen doesn't match. (And she has gotten to the point now that she will often ask me whether it matches.) But I know that not only is arguing over what she wears a waste of time and energy that I should be saving for the real issues, but letting her pick her own outfit also boosts her independence and self-confidence.

So let your kids pick out their own outfits sometimes. Even if you're not in a rush to get out the door. And even if you know you're going to get some funny looks because your toddler is walking around in Elmo slippers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

Q: My kids refuse to sleep in their beds. How can I get them out of mine?

A: Co-sleeping is a heated topic, and there's no right or wrong - only what's right or wrong for your family. If no one's getting any sleep, if it's causing discord between Mom and Dad, or if for whatever reason you want your kids out of your bed, then it's not working for your family. If that's the case, consistency is the key to getting your kids out of your bed for good.

First of all, tell them in no uncertain terms that sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's bed is not happening anymore. You love them very much. Don't follow this with a "but." The "B" word negates the entire first half of the sentence - any time you use it. Tell your kids they're big boys and girls. They are to sleep in their beds, you will sleep in your bed, and you'll spend lots of time together during daylight hours. Nighttime is not for spending time together - it's for sleeping.

Do they have a fear of something in particular? If so, address it. Do they need a nightlight? Do they need the door left open a crack? Do they need you to yell, "Monsters, monsters, stay away!" into the closet and check under the bed for the boogeyman before you leave? These are all acceptable ways to resolve children's fears. (Don't tell your kids that there's no such thing as monsters. They're not going to believe you, they're just going to think you're not on their side. Instead, come up with a way to keep the monsters away.)

Maybe your kids feel that they're not getting to spend enough quality time with you during the day and are trying to make up for it at night. If this is the case you're going to have to make more time for them. This can just be an extra 15 minutes a day. Fifteen minutes amounts to a few extra stories, a quick arts and crafts project, or a game of catch. It's quality here, not quantity. These few minutes can make a huge difference in your relationship with your kids. I highly recommend finding the time, even if your kids don't have sleep problems or security issues!

Once all underlying issues have been addressed, this is what you need to do:

Let's say your kids go to sleep fine in their own beds, but creep into your bed in the middle of the night.

I know you're tired and it's easier to just scootch over and let them in, but if you ever want this to stop, you need to get up and take them back to their beds. Do this as many times as it takes. It might happen 10 times in one night, but don't give in. If you give in once, they'll learn that all they have to do is keep trying and eventually they'll wear you down. I promise you, if you do it 10 times in one night, the next night (or maybe the night after) it'll only be seven or eight times, and after about a week they won't be coming to your bed anymore. It's just not worth their time and energy if they see it's not going to get them anywhere.

If your kids won't even go to sleep in their own beds and insist on going straight to your room at bedtime, here's what do to:

Put your child to bed in her bed. Sit on the bed with her for a few minutes (quietly - don't get her into another habit like singing her songs or rubbing her back, unless you want to keep doing this every night forever. Which is fine, if you want to do it every night. Just be aware that if you start in with something like this, it will become another routine that your child won't want to let go of). If you pray with your children every night, this is a good time to do it. If your child is the type that falls asleep very quickly, it's fine to sit with her until she falls asleep. If not, choose an amount of time and then say good night and leave the room. Do this every night for a week.

After a week, when you put her to bed, sit on a chair right next to her bed. (Make up an excuse if you have to - your back hurts or there's not enough room for both of you on the bed.) Sit there for a few minutes for several nights to a week. Then move the chair a foot or two away from the bed, towards the door. Sit there for a few nights. Continue moving the chair until it's outside the bedroom door.

You did it! You're free!

P.S. It's perfectly OK to reinforce good nights slept in their own beds with stickers on a sticker chart in the morning if you know this will help motivate your kids!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How (Not) to Praise Your Kids

This post is dedicated to Ava Josephine Jerrick, who passed away one month ago today. Ava, I know your Mama would be praising the heck out of you if you were here right now.

I hesitate to ever say there's a "right" or wrong" way to parent. But there has been research in the last few years on, of all things, how to praise your children.

One would think that praising your children is good and not praising them is bad. Period.



According to psychologists, when you praise your child, you're supposed to focus on his effort, rather than on his accomplishments. This seems counter-intuitive. After all, if your child scored three goals in the soccer match or got an A on his essay, shouldn't you focus on how well he did?

Apparently, you shouldn't. Instead, focus on how much he practiced and how hard he played, or how much time he spent in the library researching that essay even though you know he'd rather have been doing something else.

Why is this so crucial? For several reasons.

First of all, your child can't always control how well he's going to do something. For example, some kids are just uncoordinated. They're not going to score that many goals in a soccer match, if they score any at all. (Whether uncoordinated children should be playing soccer is another question. Personally, if they enjoy it I think they should go for it. Only if they feel discouraged and out of place should they be encouraged to find an activity that is more suited to their abilities).

If you focus on the quantity of your child's achievements, i.e. number of goals or grade on an essay, you're focusing on his ability or skill level. Granted, sometimes kids can improve by practicing harder or studying more. But sometimes that B or C really is the best they can do. They shouldn't feel bad for doing their best! They should be praised for how hard they tried, not for the outcome.

Secondly, it's hard to believe, but praise for your child's accomplishments can actually have negative effects. If your child sees that what's important to you is how well he does, this can affect not only how hard he tries but also his self-esteem and in fact his entire outlook on how the world works. If he thinks the only thing that matters is skill level - coordination, intelligence, artistic ability, or any other - he might decide there's no point in trying to do something that could be a great experience or a crucial part of his development because he just doesn't believe he has the skills to succeed. For example, if you're always praising him when he gets As on his English homework and he comes home with a C in math, he may well decide "I'm no good at math so I might as well not waste my time. I'll just focus on the subjects I'm good at." This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if he doesn't make an effort to study math, he will in fact fail at it, which will only reinforce his attitude. On the other hand, if you praise him when he studies hard, no matter what the end result, he'll get the message that the most important thing is effort. This way he'll continue to work hard and may just get a B or even an A the next time. So in effect, praising him only on his accomplishments may actually end up sabotaging him.

Praising our children for their efforts is crucial not only to our kids' self-esteem but to teaching them that in order to succeed in life they need to try hard and can't give up.

My kids are young, but I have to try to catch myself and not only praise four-year-old Eliana when she draws a picture that actually looks like a person or a rainbow, but also when she draws a picture that I can't recognize (and don't even know which end is up). After all, she spends a long time on her drawings and she is working on valuable skills like patience, concentration, and fine motor development, no matter what she's drawing. The other day she tried to write "Mommy" for the first time. She started with a "W." The first thing I did was say "Wow, Eliana, that's amazing! I can't believe you did that all by yourself." (The second thing I did was teach her the difference between a "W" and an "M.")

But I guess I should have said something like "I'm so proud of you for working on your writing! You're trying really hard," rather than the more specific "You're writing really beautifully." I'm not exactly sure how this whole thing works, but I'm going to try to be more conscious of it in the future.

Praising our kids for their efforts rather than their accomplishments is a really difficult rule to remember. But no one ever said parenting was easy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kids Aren't the Only Ones Who Need a Time Out

Being a mother is like being on an airplane when the pressure is dropping and the oxygen masks pop out from the overhead panel. "Please secure your own mask before assisting others," flight attendants remind frequent fliers before every takeoff. It's common sense, really. A person can offer no help to the passenger beside him if he's gasping for air. Nor can a mother raise a child if she's gasping for air.

Every mother wants to be Supermom, spending all her time with and on her children, and if she's not with her children, she feels her remaining energy should go to her husband. But it's crucial to a woman's physical and emotional well-being, not to mention her sanity, to get a break sometimes. Physicians are not allowed to work more than 30 hours in a row, and for good reason: they could seriously hurt or even kill someone if they don't get a break. Well, isn't that true of mothers as well?

That's not to say you can take a break from parenting every 30 hours, but you should try to get a little "me time" in at least once a week to keep from going crazy. Not only will you feel better, but your kids and your husband will notice the difference too. After all, who do you really think they'll prefer to be around: a cranky, exhausted, overworked wife and mother or a refreshed, relaxed, happy wife and mother? The answer is simple. A stressed out mom makes for a stressed out household and a happy mom makes for a happy family.

A lot of times when moms are home on maternity leave, they start to go a little stir-crazy, missing their daily routine and grown-up conversation. By the time those few months are up, they're practically climbing the walls to get back to work. But when they're no longer around their kids 24/7, these same moms find they actually have more patience and appreciate and enjoy being with their children in a way they weren't able to before. Similarly, getting away even just for an hour or two can refresh you and give you a whole new perspective on life (or just enough energy to make it through till next week).

"Time for mom" does NOT mean the two minutes of privacy your kids allow you in the bathroom (if you're lucky). There are a million things you can do with a little "me time" - and a nap doesn't count either! Napping doesn't recharge your sanity. You might be a little less tired when you wake up from a nap, but you won't feel energized and refreshed like you will if you do something that truly makes you happy. Once in awhile you need to know you have a life outside your kids. So try out that new sushi place with the girls. Take up a hobby like scrapbooking or learn to master an instrument you've always dreamed of playing. Join a pilates class. Take up photography. Get a mani/pedi, a facial or a massage.

Unfortunately, budget has to be taken into account and a lot of moms complain that between the price of babysitters these days and the cost of whatever club or class they want to join, extracurriculars are just not an option. Well, no one said a happy mom needs to be a broke mom! There are plenty of things you can do that don't cost a cent and don't require you to fork over cash to a babysitter every week either. Try one of the following tips for moms:

• Take a luxurious, candlelit bath (with or without bubbles).

• Read a book. You can even start a book club that meets at your house once the kids are in bed!

• Start a journal or a blog.

• Work out to an aerobics video or groove to some tunes on your iPod.

• Draw, paint, or create a collage.

• Take up sewing, knitting or crocheting.

• Invite a friend over for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

And if you really want to learn to play that flute, get creative! See if you can work out some kind of barter arrangement based on skills you have - offer to tutor the instructor's child in math, for example, or perhaps draw up an ad for her business if you're skilled in graphic design.

Too tired to go out and do anything fun by the time you get your kids in bed? Enlist your husband, your parents or a friend to help out with dinner, bath and bedtime once in awhile so you can check out early. If evenings are too difficult, send older kids off to a playdate one day a week, reciprocating the offer so the other mom can get a break another day. And there's no shame in asking your husband to give you a couple of hours to yourself on the weekend. This is a great opportunity for him to bond with the kids, and when he sees how refreshed you are when you come back, he'll be glad he obliged.

Even Supermom needs a break once in awhile to fly off to her Fortress of Solitude, be it at the North Pole or at the local yoga studio. So instead of feeling guilty for not being the perfect mom, embrace what you might see as an inherent flaw and use it as an opportunity not only to pamper yourself, but to actually make yourself a better mom.

There's a phrase that can be heard by women at happy hours everywhere: A happy mom makes for happy kids. So get yourself to that happy hour, and make your kids happy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

As Seen on Facebook

My friend's Facebook status yesterday:

"Sometimes I've cut the crusts off my own sandwich before I realize what I'm doing."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Driven to Distraction

Q: I have twin one-year-olds. I'm constantly telling Becky, my four-year-old, not to pick up the twins because I'm worried about her dropping them and seriously hurting them. (She has dropped them before and they've been badly bruised.) I try to focus on how nicely she plays with them, but I feel like a broken record saying "don't pick up the babies" over and over again. I understand why she does it and I can't blame her for wanting to, but I can't allow it because I'm really worried that they'll get hurt. I'm afraid to leave her alone with them for a minute, even just to go to the bathroom. An "I listen the first time" sticker chart has worked with other issues but not with this one. Any suggestions?

A: I have two tips for dealing with this issue, which I'm going to place in the general category of "following directions."

1. Turn the negativity around. This will accomplish several things. You won't sound like a broken record. You won't feel like a nag. Becky won't feel nagged and she won't feel like she's being picked on. (I know she plays nicely most of the time, but for every negative interaction you have with your child she needs at least five positive ones. Can you really say you compliment your kids on their behavior five times as often as you find something negative to say? I know I can't.

Think about it: Your boss says you did a good job on something. You feel good for a few minutes, maybe even an hour, and then you move on. Your boss criticizes you. You hold onto that for the rest of the day - at least. How much more so with a child? At the end of the day you want your child to remember how much you showed her that you love her and forget about anything negative you might have said.)

Besides, there's an important rule I've learned about kids. When you say "Don't do XYZ," all they hear is "XYZ." The "don't" falls by the wayside. I remember so clearly when I was a teenager, playing outside with some kids I was babysitting for. I said "Please don't break my sunglasses." Fifteen seconds later, CRACK.

Obviously those kids didn't hear "break my sunglasses," but you get the picture. It would have been much better if I'd said "Please give me my sunglasses" or "put the sunglasses down."

Believe me, "Don't pick up the babies" is going in one of Becky's ears and out the other. And the more you say it, the more she tunes it out. I admit, this will require some effort on your part. You may have to make a list of alternative things to say when you see Becky wants to pick up one of the twins. Here are a few ideas:

- If you go sit on the couch I'll put the baby on your lap.
- Please cook the babies some soup in your play kitchen.
- Why don't you go get a book to read to the twins/for me to read to you?
- Should we get out some play-dough/crayons/something else Becky enjoys doing?

Keep your list handy so you don't get flustered.

Which leads me to my second point.

2. Distraction. When a child is doing something you don't want her to do, one of your best options is to distract her with something else. Don't even deal with telling them what not to do. Just find them something else to do instead. The younger they are, the easier this is. "Hey, look at this toy." "I think I hear an airplane." "Want a snack?"

In this particular case, switching negativity to positivity and using the distraction method end up on your end as one and the same. This is not always true. I'm sorry that I'm not giving you two different practical actions you can take to change Becky's behavior. These are two general parenting tips that can be applied in all sorts of situations. But unfortunately in your situation the practical application of both tips is the same.


Finally, here's a note that you can feel free to take or leave at your discretion:

I gave you the above answers a couple of days ago. But rereading your question now, it strikes me that perhaps (and I hesitate to say this to any parent) you're being a bit overprotective. Kids fall. The twins are going to have their share of spills, whether Becky drops them, they trip over a toy, or fall down the stairs. Kids are resilient. I always say that's why babies are so short. They fall all the time but because they're so close to the ground, they're usually OK.

Becky is not that much taller than the twins - she's only four. She's not holding them way up high off the ground like you do when you hold them. And they're not newborns. They're not THAT fragile. They can hold their heads up, they can catch themselves when they fall. I know they've gotten hurt in the past and it scares you. I'm not promising that nothing's ever going to happen to them - I wish I could. And I'm not saying don't TRY to prevent Becky from picking them up most of the time. But I am saying you shouldn't freak out if you have to run to the bathroom and leave Becky alone with them for a minute. Give her a little space. She might just surprise you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pacifiers, Part II

In last week's post, a mom wrote in asking about weaning her 3.5-year-old, Katie, from her pacifier. In that post I discussed the various opinions about whether or not a child that age should have to get rid of her paci, and concluded that weaning her would be best.

Here's a list of pacifier weaning techniques:

1. Cold turkey. You'll have to deal with crying for a few days to a few weeks. It may help to keep Katie up late till she crashes for the first couple of nights. My mom taught me to cut with scissors the night I gave up my paci (giving it up was my idea, though, as she had always drilled it into my head "when you're a big girl you'll throw your paci in the garbage" so I did). I stayed up really late cutting paper and watching TV with my parents till eventually I crashed.

2. The Paci Fairy. Go around the house with Katie, collecting all her pacis and putting them in a fancy gift bag. Before Katie goes to bed, take her outside and help her hang the bag (or a bunch of loose pacis) on a tree branch. In the morning, the fairy will have left her a special prize.

3. Needy Babies. Tell Katie the new babies in the hospital don't have any pacis and they really need some. It will be a wonderful good deed on Katie's part if she'll help you put them all in a box and to send them to the new babies in the hospital. You can even have her decorate the envelope and write a special message to the babies.

Some parents combine methods 2 & 3, telling kids that the Paci Fairy will come collect the pacis and bring them to the new babies in the hospital, and leave a prize for the good little children who give up their pacis.

4. Sticker chart. I've never seen this done with pacis, probably because it's best done cold turkey. But theoretically you could do one with small prizes leading up to a big prize when she's ready to get rid of it altogether.

5. Books. Read books with Katie about saying bye-bye to paci. There are tons of them, although I don't have personal experience with them so I can't recommend any specific ones. There was a great one that my sister-in-law had for my nephew a few years ago, I don't remember what it was called. It was about a little boy who made a house for his pacifier out of a cardboard box. He used to peek in at it through the window when he missed it.

6. I think making a little house with Katie for her paci is a great idea too!

After some research, I also discovered the following ideas:

7. Make the paci taste bad. I've heard the same with weaning from the breast - rub vinegar on your nipples and tell her your milk has gone bad. It sounds a little cruel but it does make the decision your child's and not yours. Some websites suggested chili pepper but I'd go with the vinegar.

8. Lose it. This shouldn't require a lot of work on your part. Pacis go missing all the time. Just stop buying new ones. If for some reason they don't go missing in your house, just put one away (or throw it out) every few days. Tell Katie there are only a few pacis left and when they're all gone, that's it. She'll be sad but it makes a lot of sense - there just isn't a paci to be had. Again (at least in her mind), you're not the one taking it away.

9. Break it. Start by poking a tiny pin hole into the paci. For some kids, the loss of resistance when they suck is enough for them to lose interest. If this doesn't deter her, you can cut off a tiny bit of the tip. When she shows you that her paci's broken, tell her that pacis are for babies. I'm sure this is something you've told her countless times before, but now add that babies don't have teeth, and because Katie's a big girl, she has big girl teeth and they're too sharp for a paci. She'll probably get fed up with her half-a-paci and trash it herself.

I hope that with all these options, you'll find something that will work for you.

Good luck, and remember: transitions like these feel like they last forever, but in the grand scheme of things, a few rough nights (or even a few weeks of rough nights) are not all that much in the course of your or your child's lifetime. One day you'll look back on this, just like you will with potty training, the first day of school, and a million other things, and wonder "why did I make such a big deal out of that?"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Body Image and Your FIVE YEAR OLD?

Q: Maya, age 5, keeps coming home from kindergarten telling me she doesn't want to get fat! What is she learning? Who is telling her this stuff and what do I say??

A: You want to know who's telling her this stuff? Ask her! The first thing you need to do, before you react, is find out what's going on in Maya's world. Who's she been talking to, what are they saying, and why doesn't she want to get fat? Why is fat "bad?" Does she know how people get fat? What does she know and what does she believe?

Once you find out exactly what you're dealing with, there are several issues you need to tackle. The first one is self-image. If you don't tell Maya, she won't know that the most important part of her, and of any person, is what's inside. No matter what she or anyone does, nothing's going to change who she is. If she's a good person who cares about others, helps them and shares with them, she's a beautiful person INSIDE and that's the only part of her that matters.

Ask her who she likes to be with. What do these people have in common with each other: Do they look alike? Are they all tall? Brunettes? Blue-eyed? The same age? Probably not. These physical, external factors do not make them the people they are - the people she wants to be around. She likes who she likes because they are kind or fun to be with. That's what makes them beautiful inside. And people are going to like her if she displays those same qualities - it doesn't matter what she looks like on the outside!

The next issue you should discuss with Maya is health. It's true that in general it's not a good thing to be overweight, but that's not because of how it makes you look. It's because usually it's not healthy for your body. What's important here, though, is that she learn a lesson in good nutrition. At the end of the day, again, it's not what's outside but what's inside that counts. If Maya - or anyone - eats the right foods in the right amounts, it doesn't matter what she looks like because her insides are healthy.

I'd teach her about the food pyramid. (Is the food pyramid even the model nutritionists go by anymore? Who cares, really. It's a good, simple way to teach the food groups and what's healthy and what's not.) Teach her about the different kinds of food - starches like bread, rice, cereal and pasta - and what they do - give our bodies energy. Dairy products - milk, cheese and yogurt - help build strong teeth and bones, etc. Show her on the pyramid how many servings of each we need to make us grow healthy and strong. At the top of the pyramid are sweets and junk. This means not to eat very much of them because not only don't they contribute any nutrition to our bodies, but they also fill us up so we don't have room for the healthy foods our body does need.

If we follow the food pyramid and eat the right amounts of the foods that are good for our bodies and help us grow - and we keep fit by exercising, playing outside, and not sitting around being couch potatoes - chances are we won't get fat.

Finally, I'm sure you're well aware of how much what we parents say and do seeps into our kids' minds and hearts. I'm on a low-carb diet but I am very careful not to let on to my kids because the next thing I know they'd be saying they don't want to eat bread or pasta or cereal either. Once in awhile they'll offer to share their candy with me and I'll say "No thank you, Mommy tries not to eat junk because it's not healthy." But be aware of how you talk about and look at your own body, because even when you think Maya's not paying attention, she is!

When it comes down to it, Maya needs to understand that getting fat is not something she needs to worry about. The most important message you can give her is that all she needs to focus on is being a good, kind person, because at the end of the day, that's what's going to make her friends like her and that's what's going to take her far in this world.