I’m going to be on vacation July 3 through August 7. New Q&As will post every Monday through Friday while I’m gone, but I won’t be checking email. Have a great July, everyone.

If your baby is 4 months, 8 or 9 months, or 18 months old and is having sleep problems, read this post.

Q&A: baby swimming lessons

Holly writes:

"I have a request for information that is pretty reflective of first-time-mom syndrome (we still have time to over-think things!)

My 9 mo boy and I are going to start "Pee Wee" swim classes next week. I am wondering what to expect, and if you or your readers have any recommendations from their experiences? What swim diapers? Feeding and napping timing advice? I breast-feed, do I really need to worry about leaking? Should I get a pair of LilyPadz or is that overkill? Maybe just funny story or two to share.

More Info: The class is 30 minutes long, twice a week, at 4 p.m. (normally wakes from nap around 3 or 4) in a covered pool (It is fully enclosed in the winter and they take the sides off during the summer. So I’m hoping it is warmer in the afternoon, but since it is covered we don’t have to be as concerned about sun care.) It is taught by Red Cross certified instructors and offers to "help parents feel comfortable in the water with their baby." So its not one of those "teach your baby to swim" classes. I’m hoping for a little exercise, socialization, and another fun way to play with our P."

Am I the only one who thinks it’s hilarious that baby swim classes are called "Pee Wee" classes? Redundant, yet accurate. Ah, the scatalogical 4-year-old humor that is starting to take over my life.

The swim classes sound like fun. And having a covered pool is going to take away the suncreen factor, which is more of a pain than you’d think it would be. 30 minutes is probably going to be just about enough time in the water, although the changing into your suits and back into your clothes will probably take at least that long!

Swim diapers need to be tight enough (but not pinchy tight) around the legs to keep urine or poop inside them in the pool, since they don’t really absorb anything. You can go with disposible swim diapers, which are basically the shell of a disposible diaper without any absorbant layer. Or you can go with washable swim diapers, which are just waterproof cloth diaper covers with no cloth layer to absorb anything. The benefit of using washable ones (besides the fact that you don’t have to keep buying more) is that they’re often the inside layer of a cute set of swim trunks. The benefit of using disposible ones (besides the fact that you don’t have to wash them) is that you can put a cute set of trunks over them.

Make sure you rinse the pool water off him well after the class, since chlorine can irritate baby skin.

I think a late afternoon lesson sounds lovely. He’ll be happy after his nap, and it’ll help give that "How long until dinner and bed?" stretch of the day some shape. You don’t have to wait a full half hour after feeding him to swim (he’s not going to be going for distance or doing any cardio), but if you feed him before you leave the house you’ll probably have less chance of having anything come back up in the pool.

If you’re a leaker regularly, you may want to get some Lilypadz anyway and then wear them in the pool. If you’re not really a leaker, I wouldn’t worry about it. (Unless your suit isn’t lined and you want to prevent nipple showthrough.)

I have no funny swim class stories, because swim class was usually my husband’s thing. But someone’s got to have an anecdote or some advice to share about swimming with babies. Anyone?

Q&A: cutting a toddler off so much milk

A reader writes:

"My two-year-old is not a great eater. In fact, I think he’s a milk
addict. He has always had a strong need to suck (great breastfeeder in the early
weeks, pacifier for a short time, still makes sucking noises in his sleep). He
much prefers a bottle of milk to any food. Yes, he is still on a bottle. Most of
the time during the day he will accept a cup (especially with no lid), but when
sleepy or upset only a bottle will do (efforts by mommy otherwise met with great
knashing of teeth). Advice on cutting down the milk intake? I would like more
variety in his diet and also (ideally) dropping the 3:00 am bottle."

You know, I think there are a lot more 2-year-olds who are still on the bottle than most pediatricians think there are. And somehow they (like kids who nurse to or past the age of 2) seem to come out emotionally and physically normal. Amazing, isn’t it? As long as you brush his teeth with a xylitol toothpaste and he doesn’t fall asleep with one in his mouth, no harm will come of still using a bottle.

But the problem is his milk consumption, not bottle use. I think you’ll have a big trauma if you try to cut out milk completely, so you’ll have to decide how much milk you want him to drink and come up with some rules about that. Probably the easiest thing to do would be to decide that he can have a bottle of milk before bed and when he wakes up in the morning (and when he’s really upset). The rest of the time offer him water to drink. You didn’t mention if he’ll drink water willingly or not. If he doesn’t, you can always do the cheat of putting in a splash of juice to make it just a little bit sweet. Once he’s hooked on the deliciousness of water you can cut out the juice splash.

Once he’s reduced his milk consumption during the day, you can move on to the night. If you can figure out what the 3 am bottle is about you’ll have better success cutting it out. Is he hungry? Thirsty? Looking for human contact? If he’s hungry, you can leave him a little snack that he can feed himself (crackers and some raisins, for example) in the middle of the night. Make sure he’s got a nightlight so he can find the snack when he wakes up.

If he’s thirsty, leave him a sippy or bottle of water for when he wakes up. (Remember those old-fashioned cup-holders that would hook onto the window of your car? If they still made them they’d be perfect to hook onto a crib rail to hold a cup of water.)

If he’s looking for human contact, you’ll have to slowly taper him off of that with a lovey or music or something else that helps him self-soothe. A crib music player (like those aquarium toys), a CD player or radio playing music he likes, a stuffed animal that plays music, etc.

Whichever one of these things it turns out to be, make sure during the day to talk about what’s going to happen with him at night to reinforce it. "When you wake up and are thirsty in the middle of the night, you can drink your own water like a big boy!" or "If you’re scared in the middle of the night, hug your bear and sing the ABC song," etc. He’s definitely old enough to be able to remember and act on what you’ve talked about when he wakes up in the night.

If you make very clear rules about when he can and can’t have milk (before and after bed, for example, not just deciding on a case-by-case basis) it’ll be easier for him to deal with the reduction. In a few weeks he won’t even remember that he used to drink so much milk.

Q&A: tips for breastfeeding in public discreetly

Jessica, who had her beautiful son, is back with another question:

"I would really appreciate a primer on discreet public breastfeeding.  By this I mean the best bras and outer clothing to wear, what to do with your Lilypadz, best way to cover yourself, best way to get everything snapped back up and into place nicely, best way to prevent your grabby child from accidently exposing you, best way to deal with your toddler that wants to "help" you with this process, etc.  In particular I feel like I am very awkward about getting the baby to latch on without completely exposing myself first.  In addition, I have trouble with the finishing up procress of getting everything all snapped back up and my Lilypadz back into place. Finally, I frequently make the baby upset because I have covered up his head too much. (Usually I throw a receiving blanket over my shoulder covering both him and my boob.)  This not only makes him cry, but it also results in me having get him latched back on without showing everyone around us my entire boob!

Since I breastfed my daughter for about a year, you would think I wouldn’t be having such trouble with my second one.  But M was great about accepting a bottle too, so I almost never nursed in public.  Now I have a child who is both constantly hungry and also completely opposed to a bottle, especially one offered by me.  Also, my lifestyle and work situation are completely different now, so I have many more opportunities to be out and about with both children during prime feeding times.  I am not shy or embarrased about the need to feed my child, but I am a modest and conservative person by nature and I feel like there has to be a smoother way of doing this that would make both the baby and I, as well as anyone who happens to have us in their sight lines, more comfortable.

Thank you! Any advice/instructions you could offer would be so helpful!"

Congratulations on your son!

I know people think using a blanket to cover up will make nursing more discreet, but I think it often backfires. There must be some kids who allow their heads to be covered up while they nurse, but I haven’t encountered many of them. Which means that it takes longer to latch them on and get them settled down after fighting over the blanket placement. Even if you luck out with a child who will permit one over his or her head while nursing, you’re still advertising to the world "There’s something interesting going on here! Look this way!" with a blanket. Since it doesn’t seem like your son likes it over his head, you might as well just give up on the blanket.

For truly discreet nursing, you’re probably going to be better off with some good nursing shirts. There are plenty of companies that sell nursing shirts (and dresses). My favorite is Expressiva.com, but tons of women love Motherwear.com and OneHotMama.com. Another option is to buy nursing tanks (either from Glamourmom.com, Motherwear.com, or Target) and wear them underneath another shirt to turn it into a nursing shirt. If you have a sewing machine, you could take a plain white T-shirt and use the buttonhole attachment to sew long buttonholes for nursing openings, then use a seam ripper to open up the slits, and wear this shirt under another shirt or sweater to cover your stomach while you nurse. (If anyone markets my buttonhole-opening undershirts, you’d better give me a royalty.)

Once you have a few nursing shirts (or have juryrigged your regular shirts into nursing shirts with nursing tanks or DIY nursing undershirts) you need to have easy-to-open and -close bras. If you’re wearing a nursing tank, your problem is already solved. (I find that the tanks I have give adequate, but not stellar, support for my DDs. I think they’d be great for a C cup and under, and not so hot for anything above a DD.) If you need a bra, look for a model with plastic closure hardware that clicks. Hook and eye closures are extremely hard to do with one hand or with any hope of being discreet. Stretchy straps or cups are also going to make it harder for you to close the bra one-handed. I find stretchy cups more comfortable to wear, so I have bras for in the house (the comfy stretchy ones) and bras for wearing outside (they may not be quite as comfortable, but they’re easy to open and close with one hand).

My opening technique is this: I hold the baby in the general direction of my breast to kind of shield my breast from view with the baby’s head. I use the hand not holding the baby to quickly worm up through the nursing opening, unhook the strap, pull down the cup, and then latch the baby on. Once the baby’s safely on, I adjust the fabric of the nursing shirt so that it covers my breast but not the baby’s face or head. When (never if, unfortunately) the baby tries to yank up the shirt, I gently but firmly pull it back down and hold it where I want it. If I were smart I’d probably have some little toy to put into the baby’s hand to distract him.

My closing technique is similar: When the baby comes off, I quickly yank down the nursing shirt so it covers my breast. Then I go down the neck of my shirt with one hand and pull up the cup of the bra and rehook it. I find it easier almost all the time to refasten from the top than from the bottom. Then I do a little shimmy so that everything falls back into place the way it’s supposed to.

The Lilypadz are a sticky wicket. I love how well they work and how they don’t show under clothes (and how all I have to do is rinse them off once a day), but they’re tough to deal with when you’re nursing in public. Where do you put them? (I’ll tell you where you don’t put them–on the park bench next to you in Central Park in the autumn. Because then when you accidentally knock them onto the ground they get dried leaf bits all stuck to them.) I try to remember to put the one that’s not on me on my same knee (curving over the cap of the knee so it doesn’t fall off) or tucked into my other bra cup until I’m ready to put it back on.

The reapplying it can be tricky, too. You can either put your finger in the middle of the Lilypad and push it onto your nipple, then flip the rest of the pad on the breast, and then pull up your bra. Or you can refasten your bra, then reach down from the top and put the Lilypad on from the inside while the bra’s already closed again.

The only idea I have to help your daughter help you nurse is to have her bring along her doll and nurse while you do. My older son liked to nurse his doll while I was nursing his younger brother in the early days, and I’ve seen lots of older siblings do the same thing. I’m sure the readers will have other good ideas for you to keep your daughter occupied (aside from the normal things like reading her books while you’re nursing or having a special toy she only gets to play with while you’re nursing the baby).

I’m a real proponent of nursing in public (I think the more people see women nursing their babies out in public the more normal it will become and the less stressful it will be for women who need to feed their babies while they’re outside) but I try to do it as discreetly as possible. IME, you get better with practice (even if you’re wearing a bra that’s hard to close), and it gets a lot easier once your baby is old enough to latch on quickly. So keep practicing, and in a month or two you’ll feel like it’s no big deal.

Anyone have any other tips for Jessica about nursing discreetly in public?

Q&A: 2-year-old hates the bath

Paula writes:

"My 2 year, 3 month old daughter intensely dislikes the bath.  She has
never really enjoying bathing, but we’ve made it tolerable with wind up
toys, bath crayons, etc.  Lately, just the mention of a bath and she
begins crying.  She really screams when we wash her hair and continues
to cry during the bath.  It’s become really difficult especially since
she needs more frequent bathing with all the playing outside.  I’ve
been unable to determine what about the bath she dislikes.  I’ve tried
a shower with me, a bath with me, bubbles, blowing bubbles, sticky
letters, and every bath toy imaginable.  Nothing seems to work and it’s
only getting worse.  Any ideas?"

Could she be afraid that she’s going to go down the drain?

Mister Rogers did a segment on one of his shows demonstrating how it’s physically impossible for a person to get sucked down the drain. Before I saw that, it never occurred to me that a kid could be afraid of going down the drain. But sure enough, when my son was an older toddler he went through an anti-bath phase because he was afraid of going down the drain. (We showed him how his toys couldn’t fit down the drain, so there was no way he could, either. It took a few times, but he got it.) It seems like the fear would be even worse for a kid who already didn’t like bathing.

If it’s not a fear of going down the drain (or something else you can figure out–and remember that it doesn’t have to make sense to you), I’m not sure what else you could do besides try to wait it out. An older child will be able to understand that the bath is going to happen anyway, so she might as well just get it over with. But there’s no way a 2-year-old can process that. So aside from running her under the sprinkler or garden hose every night, I’m not sure how you can make it an easy experience. (Unless you can delegate the bathing to your partner, in which case it still won’t be an easy experience for your daughter, but it’ll be an easy experience for you. <insert evil laugh>)

Did anyone have a 2-year-old bath resistor? What did you do? Did it help?

Reader help needed: bug repellant

For me, this time.

But before I ask you my question, let’s talk about the sponsors a little.

This is the last week of the "Up Your Budget Treasure Hunt 2006." They gave away another $25,000 prize last Friday (plus a $10,000 and a $5,000 prize for the second and third-place winners, respectively). Play along this week, because it’s your last chance this summer to make that much money just for being dope with maps and quick at sending in your answers.

And welcome to author Barbara Freethy’s Taken, which looks like it (and all of her other books) would be perfect for reading while on vacation. Click through to the website and you can enter to win a stained glass window or an autographed Barabara Freethy book collection. You can click through that site to get 20% off mystery and suspense thriller books. Perfect for vacation!

And speaking of vacation, here’s my question for all of you:

We’re about to head up to the Mosquito State on vacation, and I’d like to have a plan in place for bug management. So give me what you’ve got in terms of repellant sprays that are safe for kids, supplements we can take to make our blood less attractive, magical talismans we can wear to ward off the winged beasts, etc.

The caveat is that the scent of Skin-So-Soft makes me nauseated.


Q&A: moving far away with little children

Lisa writes:

"I have a 2 & 1/2 year old daughter and a 4 week old son. We will be moving in 2 months from the Midwest to the West Coast thanks to a new, wonderful job for my husband. We are currently living nearby both sets of grandparents and see them very often (every other day if not every day). How do I prepare my 2 1/2 year old daughter for this huge change?

Before my son was born last month, we read books about babies and being an older sister. She liked these books. In fact, the morning she woke up to find my mom here, she immediately asked, "Mommy and Daddy at the hospital so the baby can come out?" Are there books that you would recommend we read?

Also what should we talk about now, when should we begin talking about it. What should we do once we move? Help!

Also any advice on how to keep my sanity through this all would also be appreciated."

Congratulations to your husband on the new job, and good luck with such a huge move. Just switching two rooms in our apartment this week is making me really pissy, so you have all my sympathies on a cross-country move.

Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos recommends Rosa’s Room by Barbara Bottner as a good book about moving. The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day is good for talking about the logistics of moving (packing up and the physical process). I’m hoping readers will have other suggestions.

I would start talking about it now. There’s no way everyone around you will be able to resist talking about it, and you want her to hear it from you, not just pick up bits and pieces and make it something scary in her mind. You could also talk to her about special things she wants to do before you leave to go to your new town, and then make an effort to do them all. I’d also enlist her help in planning what her new room is going to look like as much as you can so she can start getting excited about being a big girl in her new house.

It would be helpful for your daughter to have a photo album of pictures of her with her grandparents (maybe two albums, one for each set of grandparents). They might even want to help her make it in the next few months. There should be photos of them together at your old house and at their houses, and doing all the routine fun things they do together. This way she can look at the albums in the new place and talk about her grandparents and how she misses them and all the places they used to hang out together.

If you can make plans ahead of time for both sets of grandparents to come out to visit, that would also be a good thing to be able to refer to. While you’re setting things up in the new house you can talk about how excited she’ll be to show Grandma and Grandpa her new room, new yard, new bathroom, etc. when they come. If there’s a previously-arranged date that they’re coming to visit, you’ll have that concrete information to tell her.

I’ve got nothing for keeping your sanity. How much help are you going to have during the process? And how much are you going to be able to play the "I have a teeny baby and a toddler so maybe someone else should pack those boxes" card? If your husband’s new job offers relocation assistance, max it out.

Has anyone out there done a big move with little kids recently? Any ideas for Lisa?

Q&A: 2-year-old sleeping (and everything else) problems

Katie P writes:

"I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all your advice, and I’ve poked through the archives, but haven’t seen anything that quite explains what is going on with my two-year-old son (technically, he’ll be two on July 1). My formerly good sleeper is now taking well over an hour every night to settle down and go to sleep, and even that takes me going in there and either hushing him to sleep or rocking him.

Caveats: There’s a whole lot going on right now. We just — as in we’ve been in this house less than a month now — moved 400 miles west, and the daylight is different. It’s not more daylight or less, just a time shift since the sun sets about half an hour later than it did where we were before. This does mean that it stays light in his room longer, although we’ve tried to fix that with a light-blocking shade (which we used before). The move also marked his transition out of the crib, in part because I’m 26 weeks pregnant and we wanted him to have plenty of time to adjust to being in a big-boy bed before the baby arrives.

I’ve tried to keep our bedtime routine pretty much the same as it was before we moved, although I have played around with the actual time itself a bit, and it hasn’t helped. I used to go through the routine, put him in the crib and tell him "Night night, Mama loves you," and he’d put himself to sleep with no crying in about five minutes. Now there’s some extended playtime (he likes to get up and shut the door to his room all the way, among other things) and wailing before he settles down. And again, it’s taking me having to go in there and either sit on the bed and say "hush" to him or pick him up and rock him in the living room before he’ll go to sleep. But I cannot take this much longer: the last couple of nights it’s been 10 p.m. until he’s in bed, and then he’s sleep-deprived and cranky during the day. Which, by the way, is now spent entirely with me, since I stopped working when we moved, too.

We won’t even get into the issues with him flat out ignoring me when I ask him to do things like go get a diaper change or pick a toy up off the floor (he closes his eyes because if he can’t see me, then he doesn’t have to listen). Not to mention that as soon as Daddy gets home, I might as well not exist anymore, which is hard on my husband who feels he gets no time to himself to relax in the evenings. Oops, I guess I got into them after all.

Help! Where do I even start?"

What I find fascinating about this email is that the child’s whole demeanor, day and night, is going kablooey, but Katie titled her email "Another sleep question." Isn’t it funny that we’re able to put up with so many troubling phases our kids go through during the day, but they really bug us at night?

It sounds like this kid is dealing with a bunch of things right now. The first are the things all kids go through at this age: the second major separation anxiety phase, a big gap between receptive language and expressive language, and the normal control issues that seem to fluctuate by the day.

Then add onto that a move, losing all his friends, losing his daycare provider(s), a new house, a new bed, spending more time with his mother (a positive stressor, but still a stressor), the different light schedule in the new place, and a sibling on the way.

Of course he’s freaking out. Frankly, I’m surprised that he’s not waking up multiple times in the middle of the night with all the stuff that’s going on in his brain.

Time is eventually going to fix all the problems he’s having, because he’ll adjust to the new house, new schedule, new time with his mother. He’ll make new friends and get engrossed in new activities. It will all become normal to him and he won’t be stressed out about it anymore (except for the new sibling, but that’s just part of being the older child).

In the meantime, probably the best thing you can do is focus on maintaining a solid, predictable, almost rigid daily schedule. He needs to feel like he knows what’s going to happen over the course of the day when he wakes up in the morning, and what’s going to happen the next day when he goes to bed at night.

When he wakes up, review what’s going to happen that day. You might even consider doing the picture schedule some daycares and preschools do, where there are pictures of the different activities up on a wall so non-readers can keep track of what’s going to happen next.

As you finish one activity, talk about what’s going to happen next. Keep talking about what’s going to happen all throughout your daily activities. Before bed, talk about what’s going to happen the next day.

Giving him a solid, predictable routine is going to help him feel more secure. Try to build playdates and errands into the same time slots every day. That way he’ll know that right after breakfast you go outside and meet someone else at the park, and after lunch you go out in the car to run errands, or whatever you decide the schedule should be. It doesn’t matter what you do when, as long as it’s predictable and comforting for him.

This isn’t going to transform your son into a smiling, obedient cherub,
but it will probably cut down on some of the tantrums and control games
he’s trying to engage you in.

You’ve only been a SAHM for a month, but I’m sure you’ve already figured out that sticking to a routine (even a flexible one) is essential or else you both end up still in your pajamas at 3 pm. (Er, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) So having a strong routine for the next few months is going to end up helping you get stuff done and get established in your new town, too.

I don’t have any good advice specifically for bedtime. When we were having the same problem I tried putting my son to bed much earlier, then putting him to bed much later (figuring that if he was going to be up until 10 anyway I might as well start with the bedtime routine at 9:40), then being strict and mean at bedtime, and then letting him fall asleep in our bed. Eventually he did start going to bed again easily, but I don’t think it had anything to do with anything I did. You might end up happening on something that will help your situation if you can figure out what exactly is causing him to stay up. Is he afraid that when he wakes up things will be different? Is he too excited from some activity you’re doing in the afternoon or evening in the new place that you weren’t doing in the old? Is he working on some new skill? Or is it just the lightning rod of all his stress?

If you can’t figure out exactly what his particular bedtime issue is, don’t feel bad about it. Just know that it will get better as he gets more comfortable in your new place with your new routine. And see if you can trade off bedtime duty with your partner so neither one of you has to deal with it too many nights in a row.

Q&A: brushing toddler teeth

Meghann writes:

"My daughter is 20 months old now and has her full set of
teeth, except for her 2nd year molars.  When she was smaller I
would wipe her teeth with a washcloth to keep them clean.  Since she
turned 1, I have been attempting to use a toothbrush.  This never went
very well, but I thought as time went on she would get used to it and it would
be ok.  However, it is getting worse.  At this point, she won’t
let me brush her teeth, she clamps her mouth shut when I am holding the
toothbrush.  I don’t want to resort to using force, as this will
make it even more unpleasant for both of us and probably make her not want to
do it even more.  When she is holding the toothbrush she will put it in
her mouth and chew on it, but she doesn’t really move it around and brush
her teeth.  I try to put my hand over hers and help her, this helps a
little bit, but still she’s not really brushing all her teeth.  As
time goes on, I am getting more and more worried because I am fearful her teeth
will become decayed.  This brings up many images in my head of her being
the outcast at school with rotten teeth (yes, a bit dramatic, but you know what
I mean).  Has anyone else had a similar problem?  Any suggestions??"

There is no magic toothbrushing trick. Just a bunch of things you can try and hope that one or more of them work.

It’s clearly about control*, so you want to make her feel like it’s her idea, or make it so much fun that she wants to do it.

Here’s what I’ve got:

Get a fun toothbrush. Kids love cool toothbrushes, and kids love electric toothbrushes. Especially toothbrushes with Dora, Bob the Builder, Cookie Monster, a race car, or a Lego rocket with an actual Lego astronaut inside the clear capsule. Take your child to the store and let her pick out the toothbrush she wants to use.

Get fun toothpaste. Tom’s of Maine makes really yummy clear liquid toothpaste (with Xylitol**, even). One of the national brands (Crest? Colgate?) has toothpaste with sparkles. A cool yummy toothpaste will make the experience more fun, too.

Make it a game. Do the airplane-going-into-the-hanger thing, or pretend she’s a lion with big sharp teeth that need to be cleaned (she can roar while you’re brushing). Whatever will get her to forget that you’re brushing her teeth and laugh and have fun will make it go more easily.

See if she’ll do it more easily with your partner. Sometimes kids won’t do something with one parent but will do it easily with the other. Sometimes they switch back and forth between which parent they’ll allow to help them.

What’s working for everyone else?

* I get a bunch of questions about 20-month-olds. It’s a tough age, apparently. Most of those questions are about getting 20-month-olds to eat. So keeping their mouths tightly shut may be the 20-month-old control technique of choice.

** Xylitol is a sugar from birch trees, and it kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay. The children of mothers who use xylitol toothpaste and/or gum in the first two years of their children’s lives have fewer dental problems up through age five than kids whose moms don’t use any xylitol products. But even if you don’t use xylitol toothpaste your kids can. If your baby is too young for toothpaste, you can get Spiffies xylitol wipes to wipe their little baby teeth.

Q&A: toddler running away from parent in public

A reader writes:

"Running away from mommy in public places. I
thought you would have some insight on this living in the city and having 2
mobile boys. For the most part he will stick near me in stores, etc., but if
something catches his eye he is gone like a shot. I especially worry about this
when he is with Daddy as he is not as hyper-vigilant as I am. Yesterday in a
dept. store he was sitting on the floor next to me and when I glanced back (I
know, never take your eyes off him) he was gone. Thank God I heard the bell for
the dressing room and knew where he was. He got a stern reprimand and we left
immediately. In the car I tried to explain why mommy was so upset, but how much
does he understand? The lure of the forbidden is too much sometimes. Anyway, I
am not anxious to try a leash, and would like some alternatives for the times he
WILL NOT sit in a cart or stroller. He needs to walk sometimes and also to learn
about boundaries."

Remember back before you had kids when you thought those harnesses were barbaric? And then once your kid started walking they started to make sense?

This is such a tough age, because while 2-year-olds can understand intellectually that they’re not supposed to run away from you, they just can’t seem to control the impulses. You can talk to them about it, and they’ll even affirm/rehearse it verbally–"I stay with Mama"–but that doesn’t mean that they won’t take off like a dog after a squirrel when something interesting catches their eye.

The one thing we did (and I know tons of other parents with this exact same rule) that seemed to help the most was to institute a "hold hands or ride in the stroller" rule. Those were the only two options, we never backed down, and if neither of these things were happening we stopped dead in the street until he’d hold our hand or get into the stroller.

But that’s only really helpful for when you’re walking around. El C took a movement class for toddlers with a teacher who knows more about little kids than almost anyone I’ve ever met. One of her many great ideas is that it is easier for toddlers to control their movements while they’re in motion than it is for them to stay still. So, for example, you can get them to run around in a circle, then change direction, then start jumping up and down, more easily than you can get them to stand still for 5 seconds. From my observations of toddlers, I’d say that this is dead on.

If we’re aware of this, it would make sense to try to work things so that a kid has more freedom while s/he’s in motion, and less freedom while still. So while you’re walking to the store your child will probably be able to stay on course (while holding your hand if it’s a busy area), but while you’re reading the labels your child should probably be contained in the cart.

If you have no way to contain your child, or you want to do a little boundary-stretching to see how impulse control is progressing, you can try giving your child a specific job to do while you’re shopping. Looking for a can with a blue label, finding a skirt with a yellow tag, counting the dollars in your wallet, etc. Some kids will take this seriously and become engrossed in the task, others won’t (and will still run away from you).

Another idea would be to bell the cat. You could get him squeaky shoes, or a jangly necklace to wear, or ask him to sing his favorite song 40 times in a row. Then, even if he gets away from you, you’ll be able to hear where he is.

I’m getting a little facile here. The real problem is that this, unlike so many other parenting problems, is actually a high-stakes issue. A kid who runs away from you could get hurt or taken or seriously frightened. I don’t have any sure-fire techniques that are guaranteed to keep your kid from running away from you (that’s what the harness* is for). I just remember that this phase made me exhausted and cranky every time we left the house. It’s hard work staying on top of a speedy little kid bent on giving you the slip every other minute.

I wish you speed and stamina.

(This doesn’t have anything to do with the question, but I wonder if parents start spanking when their kids start running away from them. My first reaction the one time El C ran into the street wasn’t to spank him [I spontaneously burst into tears and started hyperventilating], but I can see why it would make sense to someone else, even someone who was generally opposed to spanking. Any thoughts on this?)

* Am I the only one who thinks the One Step Ahead catalog is the SkyMall catalog of parenting? So many totally unnecessary items, and yet while you’re reading the blurbs you can’t imagine how you’ve made it this far without owning everything in it. OneStepAhead is to SkyMall as this is to this.