Judgment

A little anecdote for a Tuesday afternoon.

A few days ago I was with my mom, and we were struggling to get El Chico to get out of the car to come into a store with us. It was about 25 degress F ( -4 C) and he was refusing to put on his coat to walk across a long parking lot. There was a guy loading his kids into an SUV next us, and the whole time I was thinking, "He’s got to think I’m a horrible mother who can’t even get her kid to wear a coat in the freezing cold." Finally I got the coat on El Chico and glanced up at the man, and he was smoking outside the SUV, while his kids were inside with the doors shut. He looked at me and nervously said, "I never make them breathe secondhand smoke!"

I had this flash of realization that we parents are expecting to be judged at all times by other parents. He didn’t care if my kid was wearing a coat, but I thought he did. And I don’t care if he smokes outside his car, but he thought I did.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Potty Training 1: What I Did

Note to self: When using auto-post, make sure you click 6 a.m. instead of 6 p.m. Sorry for the delay on this post.

As I said in the previous post, I used a communication approach to potty training. Which was really the only reasonable approach, since we started way earlier than most people do nowadays, and certainly long before the magical 27-month mark some experts say is the earliest a child can control his or her bladder. To understand why I though the 27-month-mark was full of it, you have to understand one of the principles behind elimination communication (which I’ve never done, BTW): The idea is that babies are born with the ability to let you know when they need to eliminate, the same way they let you know when they need to eat. If you start paying attention and letting them go when they need to or changing their diapers right away, it forms a feedback loop and the older they get the more obviously they signal that they need to go (just like they signal more obviously that they need to eat as they get older). In essence, when we put diapers on our babies and ignore their signals that they need to go, we train them just to go in the diapers whenever (diaper-training, instead of potty-training, as it were).

This totally made sense to me. In some cultures they just follow the kid’s signals until eventually the kid can go on his own and doesn’t need to signal anymore, so they don’t even have a concept of potty-training. So I reasoned that if you start working on gettting a kid to pay attention to the body’s signals about when it needs to eliminate, a kid could get back the ability to signal long before the 27-month mark.

And this is where I started–trying to get El Chico to pay attention to what his body felt like so he could eventually tell me before anything happened.

When he was 16 months he started getting extremely interested in all things toilet. He wanted to come in with us while we went, and he started really trying to look at his diaper as I changed it, etc. We were visiting my mom and she wondered why not just buy him a potty? So she bought him two (one for his room and one for the living room) of the one-piece Baby Bjorn little potties. (I think these are a great choice for kids who are still kind of small, as they can easily sit down on them. They’re also one piece which means you can get them completely clean every time, with no cracks or crevices.) It was summer, so we followed my grandmother’s advice and just took off his pants outside all the time. He watered my mom’s lawn a few times (and was fascinated to watch it come out) and fertilized it a few times. But once it happened a few times he really started to get that he pooped and peed, too.

After that it was all about talking talking talking and watching. We watched our cat go in her box (and talked about it). We stopped to watch dogs on the street go (and talked about it). He became our bathroom attendant, standing there holding the toilet paper for us and spraying us with cologne and asking us what we were doing. We read books about it. We watched DVDs about it. (If you only get one toilet-related video, get the Bear in the Big Blue House one. No video is going to teach your kid to use the potty by itself, so you might as well pick one you like. The songs are funny and it won’t drive you nuts if your kid wants to watch it a million times.) We talked about it as we changed his diaper and in the tub and at dinner. It became as important to him as construction and dump trucks and fire engine and tools.

Winter came and went, and when the weather started to get warm enough, I took his pants off at home. I’d take them off in the morning, and not put them on again until we went out. The first few days he peed a couple of times on the kitchen floor. But after that he’d start to run to one of the potties and pee in them. Some days it was one hour diaperless, and some days it was a few hours with no pants. He really thought it was fun to go in the potty.

After a few months I decided to press my luck and take off his pants before his morning poop. The first day he looked at me and said "I have to poop!" with some alarm. I casually asked, "Why not sit on your potty and do it?" He tried it (I think because I didn’t seem invested in it) and it worked. After a few days that became part of our routine, too.

After awhile we started putting on underpants (we used the Gerber lined ones, as everyone we know told us Pull-Ups were a huge rip-off and would actually delay training) and going on short excursions outside. We’d pee before and as soon as we came back into the house. The first day it was 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes.

I would have continued this plan indefinitely (increasing the times we were out gradually), but we had to travel to see my grandmother in another state. The day we were supposed to levae, El Chico refused to put on a diaper for the trip. So I put him in the one pair of training pants I had that was waterproof, and hoped for the best. He told us when he had to go, and stayed dry through a taxi ride, a short flight, a 90-minute layover, a longer flght, and a two-hour car ride. He had just decided this was it. Over the next few weeks he had plenty of accidents, but he was essentially trained.

I guess I could summarize what we did:

1. There was very little pressure. I followed his lead and backed off if it seemed to fast for him.
2. I didn’t believe people who said, "Oh, he’s interested now but he’ll stop being interested in a few weeks." He hadn’t stopped being interested in construction vehicles, so why would he stop being interested in poop?
3. We had fun. When you accept that you may have to wipe up some pee every once in awhile, the whole thing becomes kind of a game.
4. It was all about his mastery of the signals of his body, not a timetable, although obviously I was hoping he’d be done with diapers soon than later. I just tried not to communicate that to him.
5. We tried not to get too excited when he did go in the potty or toilet. Sometimes too much praise can be its own kind of pressure.
6. My husband was unemployed and home for a lot of this time, so they got to do "boys pee together" routines an awful lot for reinforcement. I think it helped it click for El Chico.

You’ll notice that it took a full year from when we started (16 months) to when he was in underpants all day (28 months). I’m sure it would have gone sooner if we’d started later or if I’d really pushed. As it was, he was still trained months earlier than any of the other boys his age, and all but two of the girls we knew.

Questions? Suggestions? Doubts? Unrelated thoughts? What’s another potty-training method we shoudl talk about?

Potty Training Pre-Work

I’ve been thinking about what I was going to write about potty training for a few days, and what I realized was that I couldn’t just jump in with how I did it (or, rather, set the stage for El Chico to do it). I approached it in a different way from a lot of people I knew, but in a very similar way to other parents I know. So I tried to figure out what it was that made different potty training approaches different so I could lay out the choices.

1. The Communication Approach. (This was the way I went.) This approach assumes that the goal of potty training is for the kid to recognize that s/he has to go before it happens and in enough time that an appropriate toilet or toilet facsimile can be reached. The goal isn’t to get the kid to be able to hold it for long periods of time (although obviously an older kid can do this), but just to recognize the feeling and let you know with enough warning that there’s nothing on the floor that requires cleaning up. In other words, the kid needs to be able to decipher the messages his/her body is sending. At the same time, this approach assumes that forward progress is being made when the parent and child can communicate about peeing and pooping (I almost wrote "toileting issues," but come on now), and that any day when you’re having some conversations about the potty is forward motion. Part of it is also that the more you talk about it the more the child learns to decipher the feelings s/he’s having and connect them with the ideas of peeing and pooping. This approach lines up pretty well with the ideas behind elimination communication, although obviously EC is for little babies and not toddlers. The method is a lot of talking about it and creating situations for the kid to have pee and poop-related experiences.

2. The Control Approach. (I’m not trying to use the word "control" perjoratively, so I hope it doesn’t sound like I am. This approach would stress me out, but I think it’s great for other people.) This approach assumes that the goal of potty training is for the kid to be able to hold it long enough after s/he tells you s/he’s got to go to be able to make it to the toilet or potty. It’s probably a semantic difference from the goal of the communication approach, but whatever, I’m kind of a pedant sometimes. At the same time, the parent is trying to train/control the child to be able to control himself or herself. Forward progress is made when the child pees or poops in the toilet or potty, and  charting helps keep track of progress. The method is using rewards as motivation for pottying.

3. The Control/Communication Combo. This approach is kind of a mishmash of the two. Some people seem to be able to use them together to get the kid to be able to listen to the signals, but more on the parent’s timeline (which, dude). Other parents seem to just get it all mixed up toegether and end up stressing everyone out.

Does anyone have another framework? I couldn’t think of any that weren’t one or the other or a hybrid.

I think you need to decide which way you want to go and then base your plan for potty training on that. It’s going to depend on your personality (are you the kind of person who needs to be actively working a plan, or are you someone who needs to watch things unfold?) as well as your kid’s personality (if you have a kid who digs in his/her heels you’re shooting yourself in the foot by bringing control into it, but some kids seem to need pushing or a lot of structure).

So chew on that overnight and we’ll start with some of the logistics tomorrow. If you used a control-oriented approach, I’m going to need some help with reviews of the various methods (that one-day thing with the doll and the snacks, for example, vs. the weekend method, etc.). I’ll also be mixing in some regular Q&A’s this week just so we don’t get too tired of all the poop talk.

Potty Training Week

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about potty training lately, so I thought I could make this Potty Training Week. I am absolutely not an expert in potty training: I’ve only gone from diapers to underwear with one kid, and he basically did it himself. But I can tell you what I did that helped him set the stage (he was out of diapers in the daytime by 2 years 4 months and at night by 2 years 8 months), and maybe it’ll help those of you who are just starting or just starting to think about it. For people with questions about kids older than 3, you guys are going to have to be the advisors.

I’ll get to the full story of what I did later this afternoon, but here’s the advice my grandmother (who had 5 kids in 10 years, and no two in diapers at the same time) gave me: The summer after the kid is 18 months old, let him/her run around outside as much as possible with no pants on. Once the kid can see what happens and connect the feeling with the actual peeing or pooping, you can use that to start them on the road to training.

More this afternoon (I’m actually flying home from my vacation as you read this).

Q&A: playgroup etiquette

Emmie writes:

"I have 11 month old twin boys. I’ve heard that twins are often a
bit undersocialized when they’re young because it’s easier to just stay
home rather than doing the things singletons do with their parents,
like go to the grocery store or to playdates. In an effort to combat
this tendency, I’ve joined a couple of playgroups.

This
is all well and good, but I’ve noticed a bit of, umm, tension, around
how the kids interact. Mine are the smallest in both groups and aren’t
particularly aggressive at this point, but they’re also pretty used to
having another kid in their space. The other moms in my groups get very
worried any time kids really get near each other, pull on each other’s
toys, etc. If anything, my kids are freaked out by the cries of
"genntle!, gennnntle!", "SHARE, baby!", and so on. We’re talking 10-24
month-olds here.

Am I wrong to not want to
intervene (and scold) quite that much? And why are we apologizing to
each other for our kids’ perfectly normal behaviour? I brought a friend
my mom’s age along once, and she was really shocked to see this. I do
intervene if someone seems to be upset or is going to get hurt, but
only by doing the "distract and engage" thing, in a calm manner, and
not also apologizing to the other kid’s mom. I do realize that the
other extreme is sometimes an issue too, but am I wrong to just want to
relax a little? When did a bunch of babies crawling around on the floor under heavy supervision become so stressful?"

Oh, for Pete’s sake. It’s not just you.

Older babies and toddlers are supposed to crawl all over each other, drool and teeth on each other, and grab toys away from each other. It’s how they operate, and it’s developmentally appropriate. Any parent who seriously thinks a kid around the age of 1 can share is deluding herself, or trying to gain approval from the other parents by cracking down on "bad behavior." Yes, you can condition kids not to touch other kids’ toys by negative reinforcement (yelling, scaring them, hitting them, etc.) but it’s more like training a dog than teaching a child anything.

What’s more, young toddlers don’t connect having a toy taken away with the fact that another kid took it. A 3-year-old will get upset because a friend snatched her toy ("Sebastian took my dumptruck!"). But a 14-month-old doesn’t get hurt feelings that someone else took his toy–he’s just upset that the toy is gone suddenly. And most of the time if another toy pops up immediately, it’s fine. That’s why redirection and distraction work so well as tools for adults dealing with toddlers. So it’s kind of silly to be reprimanding a toddler for taking someone else’s toy on the grounds that it hurts someone else’s feelings, since the kid doesn’t even have his own feelings hurt by getting a toy snatched.

A parent of young toddlers really just needs 1)to be on guard to make sure that no one is getting really walloped, and 2) to have a handful of toys so that when one gets taken away another one can appear and make everything fine.

IME, the window when kids can start to connect that they’re not supposed to grab or hit, etc, is around 16-18 months. And then with 2-year-olds you can really start working on stopping the biting and hitting and screeching. But that’s a different post entirely.

I think what it really gets down to is that you’re hanging out with the wrong groups of moms. It sounds like they’re trying to be Perfect Mothers who have Perfect Children who never do anything wrong (or age-appropriate). Playgroup should be about kids playing with each other (even swarming all over each other like puppies) and parents bitching to each other and supporting each other and making each other laugh. Kind of like the internet, only with goldfish crackers and wine. So I vote you find some better parent friends.

There have to be some other parents in your area who are going to have more realistic expectations of normal older baby/toddler behavior. I’d take a look at the groups you’re in first to see if there are other parents there who seem not to be as uptight about things. If so, invite them over for a playdate with just your two guys and see how it goes. Eventually you should be able to put together a group of 3-5 families with your same ideas about letting kids be at their appropriate developmental stages, and playgroup will end up being more fun for all of you.

Q&A: 2-year-old protesting nap

Kids across the planet are not taking naps! I’ve got two overlapping nap issues for this morning (then a playgroup situation this afternoon that will make you roll your eyes).

Chris writes:

"Here’s the issue:  I had been feeling like my son, 22 months, and I were hitting a great stride.  We were having a lot of fun during the day, he was sleeping solid at night (7:30 to 6:30), and he was even going down for his nap at about 1 or 1:30 without any fuss after reading a couple of books.  Well, for about a week now, things have slowly been unraveling with respect to sleep.  First, he started protesting nap.  Actually, he started by just talking to himself for a long time and then dozing off.  Or I would go in and remind him to sleep and rub him a little and he’d crash out.  Then he decided not to nap at all one day, and he just talked and played in his crib for an hour and a half.  The next day he didn’t protest his nap, but then the following day he talked a lot, then cried for a few minutes, then fell asleep.  Finally, today, I put him down for his nap and he cried on and off, for over an hour.  I checked on him, but didn’t want to cave in and take him out.  But eventually I accepted he was not napping again, and I took him out, and he was immediately happy and playful.  Meanwhile, I felt like a total chump.  I mean, what am I doing wrong here?  I know he’s not trying to manipulate me, but I do know he was testing a limit to see if he had to nap.  So now instead of these great happy go lucky days, I am filled with a sense of dread as the napping hour approaches because I know its going to be a struggle and I feel so dejected at the end of it all that the rest of the day I feel like a stupid mother who can’t even get her kid to take a normal nap."

I was running way behind on answering questions (lots of people wrote in that first week of February), so I emailed to ask for an update before I posted this. It’s gotten worse:

"I wish it had resolved itself by now.  We are still a bit of a
rollercoaster.  Today we had a great nap, 2 hrs.  Our friend was over,
so we pretended to put him down for nap on the couch, then took my son
over to his bed and put him down and he totally went with it without a
fuss.  But two days ago I felt like I hit the brink.  He was resisting
even the notion of naptime.  He didn’t even want to go near his room.
I coaxed him in there by just keeping it fun, playing trains.  Then
while he was playing, I started pulling down the blinds, and he went
ballistic.  Crying first, then full on tantrum.  I told myself I would
stick with the framework, stay calm, and place him in his crib.  I did
that, said soothing words, then told him that he could choose to nap or
not, but that I was leaving and that it was time to rest.  He was a
wreck, but again, I wanted to stick with the framework and stop giving
him mixed signals.  Well, I walk out, he’s screaming, crying, etc.  For
about 5 minutes, then all of a sudden, "boom!"  He jumped out of his
crib.  I have no idea how he did it.  Honestly, I think the adrenaline
got to him.  He was totally blase about the whole thing, he just went
straight over to his train table and started playing.  My heart was in
my throat.  We have removed the bumper, and a  couple of large stuffed
animals that I think he used to climb out.  We are thinking about the
crib tent since we already have the mattress at its lowest setting.

Suffice
to say, its still crazy.  I’m trying to release the stress and just see
it from his point of view.  And I keep telling myself its temporary and
that this will resolve itself.  I just wish I had a better sense of
whether or not I’m doing all that I can to ease him through this."

Yikes. You must have been completely freaked out when he jumped out.

It sounds like you are doing what you can. He needs to know what the limits are, and you’re consistently but cheerfully enforcing them. And you know he’s too young to be actually giving up the nap for good yet.

Full disclosure: My older son never took naps in his crib (he took them on my bed, but slept in the crib at night at that age), and he gave up his nap at 2 1/2. So I don’t have a great track record myself with forcing naps (I was in the first trimester of pregnancy when El Chico gave up his nap and I barely had the energy to make us lunch, let alone enforce nap time).

Let me just toss a few ideas around, and you pick the one that makes the most sense for your son:

1) If he’s the kind of kid who really resists authority and does better when he’s got more control, you might want to think of moving him out of the crib and into a toddler bed. At the right-around-2 age he’s in, some kids resist the crib/confinement like their lives depend on it, but if you remove the obstacle and put them in a bed they can get in and out of, they won’t have anything to rebel against and they start taking naps again.

Obviously, you know whether that’s the way your son is. It may be the perfect answer or it may backfire totally because he needs the structure and confinement. Or it may be a partial answer–a friend kept her daughter in the crib for nighttime, but got a toddler-size Aerobed and her daughter was so enthralled with it that she happily took her naps there every day.

2) If he needs the structure and confinement of the crib, you may want to tell him it’s Quiet Time and leave a few books in the crib so he can play quietly. By designating it Quiet Time and not nap time, it gives him more control over what he does, and that makes it more likely that he’ll actually fall asleep (because he won’t be resisting it so much). It also gives him a way to save face if he’s really caught up in the "No nap" fever.

3) You could always trick him. Lie down with him and tell him you’re going to nap together. Or tell him you need a nap but you need his help, and ask him to tell you a story while you "fall asleep." The moms of grown kids I know swear this works wonders (although when my mom did it with me she’d fall asleep and I’d sneak downstairs and watch the drawing shows on PBS).

It seems like you just need a way to get across this gap until he moves into a more cooperative phase, so I hope one of those suggestions will help. Anyway, you’re doing the right thing.

Amy’s having a similar problem with an added stress (two, actually). She writes:

"I have a 2 1/2 year old son and 5 month old twins. Up until now my son has been amazing at taking a nap. He would go down after lunch and sleep for about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Now he refuses to go to sleep (I know he still needs a nap cause by 3 he has meltdowns all the way until bed. I’ve had some luck at lying down beside him for awhile, but this isn’t really a possible every day when the babies need to be fed or looked after)…, but am okay with him having time by himself in his room. I just need this time to recharge as well as continue to look after the twins. But he will not stay in his room. He bangs on the door, screams at the top of his lungs or cries. It is really hard to recharge while this is happening. In fact it is very stressful part of my day. I need some wisdom. I need him to stay in his room (he has toys and tonnes of books which he loves to look at, he just won’t do it during this time). Am I being unrealistic?  Any advice would be welcome! Please I’m about to pull all my hair out!"

I think this situation is directly related to the new siblings (congratulations, by the way). The acting out and exerting control seems to be a way of processing the changes. He probably feels like nothing is the same or fun anymore because it’s winter and he’s stuck inside, plus you’re busy with not one but two new babies.

I predict that this will pass once the babies start to crawl and he can actually play with them a little bit. So you really just need a strategy to help you deal for the next couple of months. I’m going to suggest that you get him some fun new quiet toy that he’s crazy about, with the stipulation that he’s only allowed to play with it in his room with the door shut during Quiet Time. Is this bribery and manipulation? Absolutely. Is it going to work? I sure hope so. If it doesn’t, I’d try snacks or the reward of watching a favorite DVD or anything else that will get him to stay in his room for an hour or so. Since this is a short-term situation caused by an outside stress I wouldn’t worry about any long-term ramifications of bribery.

Whatever you do, though, I’m going to give both Chris and Amy the same advice I gave Heather a few days ago: Tire him out in the mornings. Playdates, trips to indoor playgrounds, running around in the basement with a borrowed dog, whatever. If he’s really tired, and feels like he doesn’t have to fight sleep (because you’ve given him the Quiet Time out or the toy to play with), he’ll probably be more likely to fall asleep.

Let me know if any of these suggestions work. I’m tired on your behalf.

Q&A: breastmilk supply going down at 5.5 months

Toni writes:

"HELP!!  My second daughter is 5.5 months.  I’m still breastfeeding exclusively – but am losing milk – more every day.

I work 3 days a week outside the home – and she started eating solids about 4 weeks ago.

I had this same problem with the 1st one – but it seems to be coming earlier.

I’m wondering what’s the best way to give her enough food – but still try to nurse her as long as I can?

Do I bottle feed her after I nurse her?  (Keep thinking that I’ll lose more milk this way).  Do I wean her during the day (b/c this seems to be the problem time) – but continue at night?  (I’m leaning towards this b/c of the loss of milk).

Tried Fenugreek – nothing major.  Was thinking of beginning to wean around 7 months anyway – but feel guilty about everything at this point.

At my wits end.  Please help!"

It sounds like your daughter is 1) getting more into food so she nurses less, and 2) getting to that alert active stage in which she has no time for nursing during the day because she’s too busy exploring and doing other things.

I think you’re on the right track with weaning during the day and nursing at night, since I doubt you’re going to be able to get your daughter more interested in nursing during the day anytime soon. Your other option would be to add a couple of pumping sessions throughout the day to increase your supply then. I don’t know if you have the time or ability to do that while you’re at work.

To make sure you keep up your supply at night, I’d add a bowl of oatmeal as a bedtime snack (it can be instant–it doesn’t have to be the kind you cook on top of the stove) and add in a pumping session right before you go to bed (you can pump and eat oatmeal at the same time) and right after her first morning feed. Also make sure to stay away from mint at night, since it can reduce supply.

You can’t force a baby to nurse during the day, but you can probably get her to increase her intake at night (while she’s drowsy and it’s so comforting and there’s nothing else to distract her). So if you can preserve your supply at night, which should be easier than trying to maintain the supply when your daytime schedules vary so much, you can keep on nursing indefinitely.

Try the oatmeal and pumping in the evening and morning, and let me know what happens.

Q&A: is this 3-year-old spoiled?

Ellie writes:

"I have a 3 year old son who I’m afraid might be spoiled.
He certainly thinks he runs things around here, and to be honest he’s so darn
cute that we tend to give him his way.  In general it’s not a
problem, but I’m worried about two things: he’s very picky in his eating,
and sometimes his bossiness becomes annoying and rude.  I’m not sure what’s
normal for a 3 year old testing his limits, and where we should start to draw
the line (and how!).

First, his eating. He eats fruit (berries, mostly),
apple cinnamon cheerios, bacon, pepperoni and sausage off the top of pizza,
McDonald’s nuggets (but no other nugget-like food), and grilled cheese
sandwiches. Sometimes a muffin. Maybe some pretzels or
popcorn. There are foods he used to eat, like mac ‘n cheese, spaghetti,
or yogurt that he won’t eat any more. We tried the "just one
bite" plan, where we made him take one bite of what we were eating; that
was a fight every night with over 30 horrible minutes of crying and
bribing.  We’re now giving him only a plate of whatever we have for
dinner (he can still have what he likes for other meals), plus a couple of
strawberries. So far, after a month, he still hasn’t touched anything
other than the berries. He’s polite about it, though, waving his hand over
and saying, "no, thank you, mommy". How can we get him to eat other
things?

On the behavior front, he runs the house. If we don’t
put what he want on TV, or if we want to go out when he wants to stay home, or
if Daddy gets him up in the morning and Mommy wants to stay in bed, or if
something isn’t done in the exact way he wants it, he gets mad. He doesn’t
throw a tantrum, but there’s endless whining and screaming. How can
we take control of the day? Is putting him in time out for screaming or
the very hard-to-define "whining voice" effective?

I suspect the two issues might be connected, that he wants to
be in control. But, seriously, how much more control can an only child 3
year old want? Any suggestions are welcome!"

I think you’re absolutely correct in diagnosing this as a control issue. Control is the name of the game for this age, as is categorization. The categories, at least where food is concerned, seem to be "Yes" vs. "No."

His food preferences (or lack thereof) are normal (annoying, but normal) for this age. Read this post, and the comments, and then the Finslippy post (and hundreds! of comments from people with the same problem) someone referenced in the comments, and you may even start to feel better about your little pepperoni consumer. (And at least he’s polite when he turns down everything but the berries.)

But I’m guessing that his eating isn’t really what you’re worried about. You say "he runs the house" and "How much more control can a 3-year-old want?".  So I’m guessing that you’re worried that you’re totally falling down on the job and are creating a monster by giving in to his cute little face.

Well, I’m not going to go all Supernanny on you and tell you to just lay down the law and haul out the Naughty Chair (full disclosure: I’ve never seen the show, so I’m just repeating what I’ve overheard on the playground). But I am going to say that you need to draw your line in the sand now and start enforcing or else it’s going to get worse and worse until one day you wake up and are buying him a pony (or a golden goose) to get him to do his homework.

I think the problem is probably getting worse because he’s trying to test boundaries (the normal developmental task of the three-year-old) but there aren’t really any to test. Even if there are in your mind, you’re not enforcing. So he just keeps pushing harder, waiting to find something to push against.

You can see where I’m going with this: Set up some boundaries.

There are probably dozens and dozens of things that you honestly don’t care about. That’s fine. In fact, it’s great, because then he can assert control in those areas and it’s perfectly fine. (Some examples from my life: I don’t care what El Chico wears, as long as it fits and is reasonably weather-appropriate. So he walks around in some rather stunning combinations that he thinks are cool. I also don’t care if he colors all over himself with marker or cuts scrap paper into piles of snippets or runs around in his pajamas all day inside the house.) What you need to do is decide with your partner which things are not negotiable, and then don’t back down. (Examples from my life of things that don’t fly ever: Rudeness to adults, running into the street, loudness in restaurants or other public places, hurting your sibling or other people or animals, screaming inside the house.) If one of those things happens, it just stops immediately. No negotiation, no "I want you to," just "We don’t do that" or "That doesn’t happen" and then immediate removal from the situation (or confiscation of the toy, etc.). Once you’ve done it a few times, he will recognize that you aren’t playing around and he needs to follow those rules.

The tricky part at this age is that a 3-year-old is beginning to learn about social customs and politeness and socialization. So there are situations in which he’ll have to learn the code and that he needs to compromise. If you think of it more as a teaching situation than as a discipline situation it might help you work your way through it intellectually and emotionally.

Let me give an example: Son wants to watch one thing on TV, which partner wants to watch something else. You can approach this as "Grown-up always trumps," and that’s fine if you want it to be a static rule that’s always followed. But if you want to use this as a way to teach your son fluency in social conventions and negotiation, walk him through the steps of weighing both sides. Maybe your son picked the previous show, so now it’s someone else’s turn to choose. Maybe partner wants to watch this specific program but will allow your son to choose the next one. Maybe your son wants to watch the thing he always watches right before he goes to bed, but you want to watch the Olympics, so you explain that the Olympics are only on for two weeks every four years, so you have to watch them while you can. This isn’t bargaining per se, although it does teach some of the same skills that will be useful in bargaining. It’s weighing options and coming up with solutions that are equitable. He won’t always like the compromise, and will probably try to get you to accede to his wishes, but that’s where you just have to stand firm.

A confession tangent: I think time-outs are bullshit ineffective as punishment, because it’s extremely hard to make them a real punishment (unless you have a completely unfurnished room to put your child in for time-out). (I also think there’s a lot to Dr. Lawrence Cohen’s theory–in the stellar book Playful Parenting— that much misbehavior comes from feeling disconnected and not knowing how to verbalize that, so disconnecting your child even more by separating them is actually making the problem worse in the long run.) However, I think timeouts can be extremely effective as discipline techniques. It’s a great way to separate a kid from a bad situation (like two kids fighting), break a bad cycle (like the arguing or whining or sreaming or sobbing cycle kids can get themselves into), give you time to figure out an appropriate punishment or course of action or confer with your partner, or just get a kid out of your sight for a few minutes so you don’t go completely postal and do something you’ll regret.

So I’m going to suggest not framing discipline for screaming or whining or resisting as time-outs, but telling him "We don’t scream/whine in the house. If you want to use that kind of voice, go into your room and do it," and then propel or carry him into his room and keep putting him back there until he stops screaming or whining. It’s going to be labor intensive the first few days you have to do it, and it’s going to suck, but once he figures out that not only won’t he get his way by screaming or whining but that you guys don’t really seem to care about the show business, he may wise up and decide to redirect his energy.

Incidentally, the conventional wisdom that you pretend not to understand a whining voice and keep saying "I can’t understand you when you whine. Talk in your normal voice," has worked like a charm for us, so it’s worth a try.

I think all of us are worried at one time or another that we’re raising some kind of anti-social little freak who will end up playing us, having no friends, and having real problems (and possibly being the puppetmaster behind a presidential administration someday). I doubt that’s the case with your son (and you may feel waaaay better about things if you can get hold of a copy of Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Ames and Ilg, which includes, among other things, the little factoid that many three-year-olds don’t like to leave the house, which relieved my mind at one point). But if you’re worried that he’s actually running things, sit down and define where your boundaries are and what you want to teach him about control and limits, and then stand firm. If you’re tempted to back down, think about how much worse it’s going to be if he’s still whining to get his way at the age of 5. Oy.

Good luck. And don’t forget to write down the hilarious things he says when you’re disciplining him so you can read them and laugh all over again in a few years.

Preventing PPD 1 Followup

I’m working on Part 2 of the Preventing PPD series ("Getting your feeding support in place before you give birth"), but won’t have it done in time to post this week. So instead I’m posting an email I received from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. She sent me her story to post hoping that the things she suffered through would help someone else.

"Here is the story:

I fell pg with triplets on my first IVF. The one
baby died at about 8 weeks, but the rest of my pg was very uneventful and I
carried the twins to 37.5 weeks. I had a C-section because my placenta was very
low, the babies were in the "wrong" position and because the one baby’s
placenta was starting to cause problems. I was fine about it all and the
C-section went well – I thought. The boys were beautiful and scored 10/10 on
their apgars. We were very pleased. But then the nightmare started.

I felt so tired and could hardly keep my eyes open
over the next few days. The staff at the hospital were terrible and gave me and
my husband little or no help with the twins, even when I begged them to help me.
I would call them to help me latch both boys, they would, but would then
leave. If one of the boys came "unstuck," I didn’t have a hand to re-latch him
because I was holding the other twin. I also couldn’t press the bell to call the
nurse back because I was holding TWO babies! So I would have to un-latch the
second twin and then try to re-latch both or call the nurses. By the third day I
fell apart. It was probably partly the baby blues, but I also just felt like the
world’s worst mother. And I was so scared. What if I never felt less tired and
foggy and what if I never managed to take care of the twins? My most prominent
thought was that I wished that someone would just come in and take over for me
until I could work out what I was doing. And I cried and cried and
cried.

Only then did the dr tell me that I had actually
bled very badly during the Caesar and had lost more that a litre of blood. [Ed. note–That’s about a quart for us Americans. More than one sixth of her blood supply. Yikes.] My
uterus didn’t want to contract and they had to massage it quite fiercely to get
it to contract–this is apparently not uncommon, especially with twins. He told
me that because of the blood loss, I would feel very tired. At least that was
one mystery solved. But by then I had already been set up to lose. I was
already feeling that there had been a huge mistake and that I should never have
had twins. I was not fit to be a mother because I was incompetent. I cried so
much while I was in hospital, in fact all the time, and yet all they kept saying
is that it would pass. No one could understand the terror and failure I was
feeling. My poor, dear, supportive husband was as freaked out as I was. He also
didn’t know how to handle the twins and me falling apart caused him to become
almost manic. We were a right mess the two of us.

PPD kicked in big time after we came home and the
first year of the twins’ lives was the worst I’ve ever felt about myself.
The twins are now 2.5 and the PPD lifted about 6 months ago. I feel like a
different person and yet I struggle to forgive myself for getting PPD and for
the things I felt and did while I was in that deep, horrible place. So I have
some way to go before I can say this is over.

But when I read your post it gave me a bit more
insight into it all. I always thought that the terrible treatment I got and the
lack of help from the staff at the hospital, set me up for failure, but I think
that maybe not being in control of the Caesar and not being told what was going
on definitely contributed to the PPD. It all worked together to break down the
confidence I had in my ability to mother.

I will read the rest of your series on PPD with
interest. It is really terrible to go through. I recently read Brook Shields’s
book Down Came the Rain and that also helped me. Although our
experiences were very different there are parts of that book that I could have
written word for word.

Anyway, thanks for both your blogs. I have felt
reassured by many things you say about being a parent. I always learn from you,
or else I can just laugh along. Thanks for the insight into the whole birthing
experience – I feel as if I have just found one of the missing puzzle
pieces!"

I wasn’t going to make any comments on this story, but I just can’t help it: Please don’t think it’s your fault that you got PPD. You wouldn’t blame yourself if you’d been in a car accident that ended up seriously injuring you. PPD is a disease. You didn’t cause it, and you weren’t in control of the things you felt and did while it was raging in you. Your boys are lucky to have you as a mother, and you are lucky to have them. And we’re lucky that you shared your story with us, and that you’re strong enough to have made it through.

WWYD?: Temporary lactose intolerance

I decided I should start a special category for questions for which I have no answer. Since I’m turing it over to you, the readers, I’m going to call this category "What Would You Do?". If you have any experience with this, please weigh in in the comments.

Janie writes:

"My 10-month old son has had diarrhea for 18 days now.  (Don’t
worry – he’s not dehydrated and I have had him checked by two
pediatricians!)  Over the weekend I was finally able to conclude (with
the help of my U of Google MD) that he is suffering from temporary
lactose intolerance.  It seems he had a virus or something in the
beginning, and now that is gone, but his intestines were damaged such
that now he can not tolerate milk products.
I nursed him for 9 months, he spent at least one month on the
milk-based formula with no problem, he then suddenly developed diarrhea
and we put him on Isomil DF (soy-based).  Once he improved, at the
doctor’s suggestion, I re-introduced his regular formula (half and half
with the DF).  Within 24 hours he had awful diarrhea again.  Went back
to soy formula only, and the problem is resolving.
Of course, the doctor’s office has not been very helpful – we
actually switched pediatricians over this when the first one just told
me to wait the diarrhea out (on day 11!).  The second doctor is much
more caring and agrees that this sounds like temporary lactose
intolerance.  I plan to keep him on soy formula for 4-8 weeks while his
intestines heal.
So, my question is – do you or any of your readers have any
experience with this?  I am finding it unnerving – I am happy to
finally know what is causing the diarrhea, though, because that was
quite scary for me and very unpleasant for the baby.  He developed a
horrible burn-type diaper rash which has now receded, thankfully.
I guess I’m just looking for advice, support, personal experience
with a lactose-intolerant child.  I am particularly sad because the
baby loves cheese and now his diet must change so much."

Oof. Your poor little guy. It’s good you were able to nurse for as long as you did, or the problem might have been even worse. And how about you for figuring out what was going on! Yay, Tiger Mama.

I’ve got nothing for you here except that of course you know he’ll be fine and perfectly healthy even if he can’t have milk. He may be able to tolerate yogurt, but even if he can’t for awhile (or ever), he’ll still grow up normal and healthy.

Now, readers. Anyone else have any experience with this? Or just with having to put a baby/toddler on a restricted diet? Any advice for weathering this?