DefCon 5

Things were a little strange here at my mom’s house last week (no internet access, record heat and no AC, husband out of town, a big purge of my parents’ stuff), but then a few days ago my mom fell and got a nasty sprain plus a chipped ankle bone. She’s getting her hard cast today and won’t be able to walk on it for 6 weeks. So no new posts until I’m back in NYC on August 8. (The AC is fixed now, thank goodness.)

Reader call: toddler vandalism

Chip writes:

"Our two-year-old took a ball point pen to our 6-month-old flat screen, HDTV.  We got the ink off but it left a few scratches.

Any ideas?"

Yowza. Maybe dock the kid’s college fund to pay for the repairs to the screen? I wonder if there’s a way to fill the scratches in the screen somehow, or if that would make it worse. In your situation I’d probably call up the local TV repair store (the local guy, not the big box retailer) and see if he laughs when you explain the problem or not.

My friend’s husband was totally anal about his TV and stereo equipment and put one of those play-yard gates encircling the entertainment center so his daughter couldn’t get within 3 feet of it. At the time I thought he was a little nutty, but now I’m wondering if he wasn’t crazy like a fox.

Someone else out there must have had this problem. Any suggestions?

Q&A: bored kids

Kari writes:

"It’s only the end of June, and my 5-year-old and 3-year-old are already complaining that they are bored. There are no day camps for kids this young in our area. I’m hoping you and your readers will have some ideas to keep us all from killing each other before school starts again at the end of August."

I’m not sure I’m the person to ask about this, since my solution has been to cram the whole family into a rental car and drive all around the Midwest for five weeks. (The trip odometer flipped to 1800 miles yesterday, and we still have two weeks left of the trip.) My kids haven’t had time to be bored, what with the confusion about whose house they’re waking up in this morning, the vague stomachaches from too many brats and frozen custard, and all the lake sand in their cracks and crevices.

When I’m in NYC, we just spend all day long at the playground, going inside at midday to get out of the sun a little. If I lived in a house with a yard, I’d probably do what my parents did, which was designate a big corner of the yard to be a dirt pit. All the kids in the neighborhood used to congregate in our yard to dig in the dirt and mud. My parents had a crappy-looking yard, but the kids were happy (and practicing teamwork), and my parents always knew where we were.

In theory, I’m completely in favor of boredom for kids. It forces them to be creative and come up with things to do on their own. But the "I’m bo-ored!" refrain can really get on your last nerve. So maybe you can make a weekly plan for one activity a day, whether it’s a trip to the library (library reading contests can take up lots of time, and get your kids excited about books) or making a volcano in the back yard (or on a cookie sheet with a lip in the house–if you do it outside, you can use dirt instead of the doug to hold the bottle) or doing some cooking project (homemade bread takes a long time and needs no specialty equipment) or having a playdate with another kid from school. That one activity can give some structure to the day, and the kids can fill up the rest of the day with free play.

If the complaints get too hot and heavy, you can always confuse them by using the line my dad always laid on us: "Boredom is the soft underbelly of insensitivity." By the time they figure out what it means, they’ll be leaving for college.

Readers, help us out, please. How do you keep your kids occupied enough but not too scheduled in the summer?

Q&A: baby won’t go down awake for naps

Amanda writes:

"Can you please give advice as to what to do? My
little boy is 18 weeks old and will only fall asleep if held/nursed or pushed in
his pram. If I try to put him down awake in his cot and sit with him to go to
sleep he starts to scream and will eventually get into a state of some distress.
I can not bear to see him cry in such a way. Can you please give me advice
as to what steps I can take to learn him to self soothe without causing him any
distress. Any help would be very much appreciated."

I really hate this idea that a baby should be able to go down in a crib awake and fall asleep on his/her own at only a few months old. I think it’s highly unrealistic and causes a ton of stress for parents who think there’s something wrong with them because their baby just won’t do it.  Of course there are going to be some babies who will be able to go down awake and put themselves to sleep from Day 1 (or a couple weeks old), but most kids really have to be taught how to go to sleep.

It seems to me that it helps to figure out exactly what your sleep goal is for your child. If your goal is to get your child to go to sleep without intervention from you at the youngest age possible, then it might be worth it to you to aggressively pursue training your child to go to sleep from an awake state, no matter how long it takes. If your goal is to condition your child to associate falling asleep with positive, stress-free time so that they’ll fall asleep easily under various conditions for the rest of their life, then pushing your child to learn to self-soothe before the child is ready to is going to be counter-productive ultimately.

The advice some experts give that kids "have" to be
be able to go down awake and get themselves to sleep by a certain age
or they’ll never do it is simply wrong and IMO is a scare tactic.
Experts who can create fear and feelings of inadequacy in the people
who read their books will get followers who buy more books and try even
harder to live up to the experts’ dogma. But think about it: Do you
know anyone who needs her mother to come over and rock her to sleep as
an adult? (And that creepy Love You Forever book doesn’t count.)

OTOH, I do know several parents who have tried so
hard to get their kids to go down awake (because some expert said they
had to) that they ended up with 2-hour ordeals for naps and bedtime. The
parents were frustrated and exhausted and felt inadequate, and the kids were jittery and exhausted. They all would have been far better off if the parents had just
listened to their kids (instead of a book or TV show or website), rocked or strolled or nursed or pacifiered or whatever to sleep, and then adjusted to the next stage when it happened
in another few weeks. You can’t put a price on mental health, and you
can’t put a price on everyone getting some sleep.

As with everything else humans have to learn, self-soothing to sleep can’t be taught until the person is physically and emotionally ready to learn. That point is different for all kids, but gets easier as a kid gets older. There are many babies who need to be rocked to sleep at 4 months who can soothe themselves to sleep at 6 months. Or who still need to be rocked to sleep at 11 months but can go to sleep on their own at 14 months. Some kids need some help going to sleep for years, and then one day just say, "Goodnight, Mom!" and go to sleep. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them–it’s just the way they’re wired. If you give them what they need, and every so often test to see if they’re ready for the next step toward independence, separation and self-soothing will fall into place for them when they’re ready for it.

It sounds like Amanda’s son is just simply not ready to go down awake yet. So I’d stop trying completely at this point and revisit it in a month or so. In the meantime, I’d start laying the groundwork for teaching him to go to sleep by putting some kind of musical lovey in his pram with him while he’s strolled to sleep. That way he’ll start to associate this lovey and its music with falling asleep peacefully and easily. (This is also useful for babies who nurse to sleep–just snuggle the lovey in with the two of you while you nurse to sleep for a few weeks.) Then once you do go back to putting him down drowsy (don’t try to go cold turkey to putting him down awake unless he’s just passed one of the developmental leaps, stick to putting him down veeeeery drowsy) the music and lovey will help to bridge that "I’m half awake–should I go back to sleep or wake up and start crying?" gap.

Try again in another month and he’ll tell you if he’s ready for it. If he protests a little, keep trying, but if he becomes scared and worked up, back off again and just give it a little more time. All kids eventually get there, and if you push gently but not past what the child can take you’ll end up with a kid who goes to bed happily and easily even at the age of 5 or 8 or 15 or during menopause.

Learning how to fall asleep is one tiny part of the main developmental task of the first year for babies, which is learning to trust the world and his/her parents. It can be a really stressful stage for parents, because it means you have to respond again and again and again, even when you’re beyond exhausted. Please don’t make it worse on yourself by believing the "don’t let your kid do that!" hype. If your child is helped by a pacifier or music or a lovey or co-sleeping or the crib aquarium thing or nursing to sleep or strolling to sleep or patting or whatever, just do it. It’s part of the process of teaching your child that falling asleep is fun and easy. When the child is ready to move on from the prop, you’ll be able to take it away, no matter what that lady at the grocery store says. It won’t happen easily in one night, but you can definitely do it if you pay attention to what your child can handle and give yourselves enough time to adjust to the new thing.

Q&A: helping 5-year-old deal with joint custody

Regina writes:

"My ex-husband and I have a five-year-old daughter (as well as an 8-year-old daughter).  The time is split approximately 65-70% with me, and she’s (they) with her father every weekend (a long weekend).  We’ve been doing it this way since we separated when she was six months old. She has a very difficult time when it’s time to transition back to mom.  She cries on Tuesday mornings at school because she knows that Dad won’t be picking her up, but rather mom will. She has never cried about leaving me.

Her dad runs a diner near the school, and although Fridays are her days with mom, I still take her to the diner for lunch.  I also sometimes keep her dad’s dog, Biscuit.  I do these things to try and bridge the gap, and also to show her that mom and dad get along very well.  We haven’t even had so much as an argument this year. My heart bleeds for her, but at the same time I feel that the current arrangement is best.

She complains that she should have equal time with both of us, but I feel that a child should have a primary residence, especially a child her age. I have also tried to explain that although she spends one more night a week at mom’s house, if you don’t count the sleeping hours, she really only spends about 10 or so more hours at mom’s.

Her dad is a very social person and she has recently complained that when with him she doesn’t feel like she’s getting enough attention.  He almost always plans social events for them on weekends.  I know that he’s only trying to make sure they have fun with friends and parties, and that he’s really a good father.  But sometimes I wonder if there is enough "family time" there.  I haven’t approached this topic with him, as I don’t feel it’s my place to micromanage his time with the kids, and as I said, he’s trying to give them a good time.  I know he loves them.

I seem to be the "disciplinarian" of the two parents, and she has commented that daddy lets her do whatever she wants, and that all she has to do is throw a tantrum or tell him he’s handsome, and she gets what she wants.  I’m sure this is normal too. I know that this situation is what it is, and that it is normal for a child (especially a daddy’s girl) to make the transition.

This is such a difficult (and hurtful) situation for me, as my 8-year-old daughter and I are extremely close.  She is "my" girl, but she admits also that she loves both of us the same.  She has never appeared to have difficulty with the transitions, but rather looks forward to seeing both parents.

Of course I take this personally, but at the same time, I don’t.  Iknow that this is about her.  What can I do to help HER?"

This sounds like such a tough situation for all of you.

Before I say anything else, I need to say that I have zero experience with shared custody or negotiating parenting with a partner who doesn’t live with me. So take everything I say as just speculation, and please give at least equal weight to the commenters who are divorced or separated who have BTDT.

It sounds like your 5-year-old is having a hard time navigating her desires for closeness and contact, the two sets of rules at the different houses, and her changing ideas about boundaries and control that are part of her developmental stage. On the one hand she seems to want more of your ex-husband’s attention (even though she has plenty of his time). On the the other hand she’s confused about the different disciplinary styles. If you’re the heavy then of course she’s going to chafe at the rules and discipline, even though she craves boundaries. If he’s easier for her to manipulate then it makes her feel more pampered but also more out of control. I think it’s hard for kids (even those living in only one house) to reconcile their strong need for boundaries and rules with their increasing desire to control their own lives, let alone verbalize their confusion. Your younger daughter is clumsily trying to tell you that she feels stressed and confused about being confused. Your 8-year-old is better able to express herself, and has probably worked through a lot of the stuff your 5-year-old is just hitting now.

I don’t really know what’s going to fix things for you, but I’m positive that sitting down and talking about it with your ex will make it at least a little better. He may have no idea that this is happening. Or he may know it’s happening but have no idea how to deal with it (and might be increasing scheduling activities, thinking that will help your 5-year-old). She may be giving him a totally different story than she’s giving you. But whatever’s going on, the two of you need to be on the same page about how to deal with it. You don’t have to have the same rules and same style, but you do both have to have the same expectations and commitment to helping your daughter make it through this confusing stage.

It would probably help if you each could have little emotional check-ins with your daughter at the beginning and end of your respective times with her. Knowing that when she says "Daddy doesn’t make me do that" really means "I hate that you have rules but at the same time it makes me feel safe," or that "I don’t want to go back to Mom’s house because she never lets me do that" really means "I love being able to control you but it makes me feel scared, too" is going to help both you and your ex-husband keep things on an even keel for her.

That’s all I’ve got.  I know there are parents out there who are dealing with this same kind of thing right now or have gone through it in the past. Any insights you can offer Regina?

Q&A: teaching a preschooler how to read

Danielle writes:

"I know you touched on this briefly in a previous post, but I’m very
interested in finding out more about how to best teach my daughter how
to read. Actually, I really want to know how to teach her babysitter
how to teach her to read.

Dylan, my daughter, is 4.5 years old.
She is very stubborn and very opinionated. While we have a great
relationship, I am the first to admit that it is often hard for me to
sit down with her and calmly show her something. We end up bickering,
and nothing gets accomplished. Plus, I’ve found that she is much more
willing to listen to adults who aren’t me. (Are all kids that way?)

Long
story short, we have hired a full-time babysitter to watch Dylan and
her baby brother this summer while I am at work. She is starting in
July. In the mornings, she will be taking the kids on adventures to the
pool, the park, the library, etc. In the afternoon, she will be hanging
with them at the house so that the baby can take his long afternoon
nap. I thought it might be nice for Dylan to spend maybe 1/2 hour a day
working on her reading with the sitter (who has a degree in education)
while the baby naps. She knows her alphabet, can write every letter,
and knows the sound that every letter makes. She is very interested in
reading and has told me that she would like to work on her reading with
the sitter. Are there any books that you would recommend I pick up that
they could use for their lessons? I thought she might like to have a
little workbook of her own. She is very enamored of binders (she calls
them her "folder work"), so printouts that I can hole punch would be
great as well."

The previous post Danielle is referring to is this links roundup with a link to a PDF on Synthetic Phonics, a new way of teaching phonics from Scotland that seems to be more successsful than regular phonics teaching, especially with boys.

I don’t have any specific recommendation for books for your babysitter to use with your daughter. But I asked my mom, who is a former second grade teacher and reading specialist (including working with remedial reading and kids with learning disabilities back before anyone knew anything about learning disabilities). This is what she said about teaching preschool kids to read:

1) Separate the reading from the writing. Kids this age don’t always have the manual dexterity to write well, and they don’t need to write to be able to read. So work on the reading and if she’s able to write well she’ll start doing it on her own anyway.

2) Use manipulables instead of worksheets and books. The most entertaining and simple manipulables are letter blocks, magnetic letters that you can do on the refrigerator or a file cabinet or just on a table or floor (you might have to buy 2-3 sets to get enough letters to make the words you want to spell), and sidewalk chalk.

3) Let your daughter type words on the computer. (We do this by putting on Word, then setting the font size to 26 or 28 and turning on bold. We used to put on Caps Lock until we move on to lowercase letters, too. When I was a preschooler and learning to read my mom let me type letter by letter on her manual typewriter.) This is also a way to let a kid "write" who doesn’t have the physical ability to write, or to write quickly enough to get his or her thoughts down.

4) The best texts for reading are the things your daughter sees every day–cereal boxes, signs, all the words that are at her level.

5) Make sure to emphasize phonetically regular words so that she starts to internalize the rules.

6) Don’t forget to cover vowel and consonant clusters as well as the 26 letters. If you start out teaching that "th" makes the th sound, for example, you won’t have to have her struggle through sounding out t and then h and then having it not be the correct sound.

What my mom emphasized most is "It needs to be a game. If you push what the child is ready for you’ll only end up frustrating you both." In her experience, kids who had reading problems later on were usually the kids who were pushed to read before it really clicked in their heads. It sounds like Dylan is totally ready for it, but your babysitter should be alert to make sure she lets Dylan take the lead and backs off if she’s tired or distracted or just not into it that day.

Q&A: car seats for people without cars

Mia writes:

"I have a question for you about car safety.

Living in a big city with excellent public transportation we are very lucky and happy to be able to live without owning a car. We do however from time to time rent a car, go for a ride with car-owning friends or take a taxi and do for these instances need a car seat for our 13-month old son. Even though he is on the small side at 18 pounds and some odd ounces he is outgrowing his infant car seat and we are looking to replace it. And here comes our conundrum: with what? I am at a loss when I try to figure out what kind of seat would suit us best among the plethora of rear-facing seats, forward-facing seats, convertible (into what?) seats, booster seats, seats with bases and seats without bases and so on and so forth. Our number one concern is of course safety, but weight, price and how easy it is to install/uninstall is also important to us."

I’m right there with you in feeling lucky not to have to own a car. But it does make the car seat issue truly tricky, because you can’t just install it and leave it in your vehicle.

I am far from an expert on car seats. The two resources I’d highly recommend are The Car Seat Lady and the iVillage Car Seat Message Board. The Car Seat Lady has an extensive website with info about requirements and safety and correct installation. She also does in-person consults in NYC and Baltimore. My favorite thing about her site is that she has more info about using car seats in taxis than you’ll find anywhere else, and she specifically mentions the best portable carseat options (such as the Sit ‘n’ Stroll and the Randian). The iVillage Car Seat message board posters review practically every seat on the market and can give you tips for installing the seat you buy. The thing to remember about the iVillage board is that most of the people posting on it come from the POV of installing in your own family vehicle, so some of the things that they rate highly in a car seat may make it less practical for those of us who use taxis.

A convertible seat is just a seat that you can use rear-facing and then turn it around to use front-facing when the kid is older and bigger. Once your kid is out of the infant seat you won’t be dealing with bases anymore, but you also won’t be able to wheel your seat around as your stroller (with a few exceptions). It’s safer to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible (so if there’s no real reason to switch your child at a year you shouldn’t do it), and in some countries they have special seats that allow them to keep 2 and 3-year-olds rear-facing. I don’t know if those seats come with barf bags.

My data points: I’ve been very happy with the Graco SnugRide as an infant seat, but I think most infant seats are about the same. The only thing I’d note is that if you’re using an infant seat in a taxi, you don’t have to install the base first. You can put the shoulder and lap belt through the alternate belt path on the seat itself, so you don’t have to lug the base with you. (Just make sure you use the level indicator on the side of the seat so you know when it’s at the right angle.) The exception to this is the Peg Perego infant seat, which must be used with the base. This makes the Peg an unwieldy choice for people who use taxis a lot.

We also have a Britax Roundabout. I bought it because a forensic engineer friend of mine bought it for his own kid, saying that the EPS foam would make a big difference in an accident. However, I find it nearly impossible to install snugly in the rear-facing position, and I’ve never been able to install it to my satisfaction in a taxi. In hindsight, I wish I’d known how tough it would be to install and reinstall it in the rear-facing position, and I most likely would have gone with a different model. My personal opinion is that it’s worth the tradeoff of the shock-absorbing foam to be able to keep my kid rear-facing for longer than the bare minimum of 12 months (and to know that the seat was installed correctly before he turned 1). We bought our Roundabout before the Marathon was introduced. My older son was 40 pounds and 40 inches at 2.9, so he was out of the Roundabout long before he turned 4 (the minimum age for a booster). This meant we needed to buy another seat for him anyway before he could go into a booster. So if you’re going with a Britax (and yes, the straps are far superior to those on the other brands and that makes more of a difference than you’d think) and your kid has a chance of being tall or heavy or both, I’d go with the Marathon instead of the RA.

Other non-car-owners, what do you think? And do any car owners have insights that would help those of us who need to install and reinstall every time we take a taxi?

Q&A: potty-training problems with a 3-year-old

Teresa writes:

"Our 3-yr-old daughter is still not
potty trained. I know that it’s 99% due to me. I’m a SAHM with a 17-mo-old
daughter as well. We have one bathroom – upstairs, a dog I don’t feel
comfortable leaving alone with either child of course, and did I mention our one
bathroom is the size of a phone booth?

We were doing SO well with the
potty charts, stickers and small rewards for each accomplishment. I think the
only thing we’ve not done is just wear the cotton panties all day – and go with
it every hour and a half or so.

I know what we need to do, but my
concern and question is – since we are halfway there, and the excitement of the
stickers and such has worn off now, are we doomed? Is she STILL ‘trainable’ or
are we looking at a reallly hard struggle for the finalization of
this?

Am I alone in the absolute dread
of the messes, accidents, extra laundry, clean-ups all while rangling a crawler
soon to be walker and crazy pets, stairs and a room with a capacity of 1???

I know I’m a slacker here. I know
I am awful and she should have been trained a LONG time ago….we had some
health issues with our youngest a while back and that also took focus.  She
is so aware and sometimes will tell me when she needs to go but with no real
consistancy.

She thinks that if she goes once,
that’s it…and then it’s time for the BIG reward she wants which is to paint
her toenails pink.

I feel SO inept with this issue –
like I have fumbled it so much already that she will be in first grade with a
diaper on.

Her consistancy is off and so is
ours….so is there any tip or idea that will help us? Or are we a lost
cause?

I know I will be thrown out of
the Mother’s Club of Amercia for this. I feel like I’ve missed my window and
have ruined everything.

All of her friends are now
trained. I feel like I’ve just held her back now. ANY help and support on this
will be so appreciated."

Take a deep breath. You are not a shitty mother, you have not ruined her life, and in 2 years you will not even remember how awful this period felt. Once she’s potty-trained it’ll be a done deal and you can move on to other things.

I’m going to suggest something totally radical (as opposed to, like, totally awesome) and ask if you’ve considered training your 17-month-old at the same time. Obviously the 17-month-old isn’t going to pick it up right away, but if the concern is trying to keep the younger kid from messing with toilets and horning in on the 3-year-old’s potty action, you can mitigate the problem somewhat by having the 17-month-old use the potty occasionally, too. And who knows? The younger child could be one of those kids who trains by 2 just to be like her older sister. A mother can always dream.

While you think about that, I’ll suggest getting one (or two or three, depending on how big your house is) potties and putting them in places that are easy to get to for your daughter. Definitely put one or two on the first floor. The goal at this point is to get her to pee and poop in a designated, toiletesque spot every time. Once she’s got the hang of that, she can start going in the bathroom only. By that point all you’ll have to do is the wiping, so it won’t take as long and the dog and younger child won’t present as much of an issue.

For younger potty learners I usually suggest a one-piece potty with no lid since it’s easier for them to get to and sit on. But since your daughter is older and you’re trying to manage a dog and a toddler, I’d definitely suggest the seat potties with lids that you can close. Your daughter may enjoy helping you by emptying the potty into the toilet.

Beyond that, I’d just declare it a diaper-free zone. She’s going to be either pantsfree or in underpants all the time (minus nights, unless you’re doing nighttime training at the same time). In the general lore of potty training, it’s easier for the child to learn with no pants on, so you might want to take off her pants when she wakes up and leave them off all day long while you’re at home until she goes reliably in the potty. Then move on to underpants at home, too.

You are going to have some messes to clean up, unless you really take advantage of the summer weather by staying outside most of the time and letting your daughters go pantless outside. They can pee in the grass if they can’t make it to the potty (another advantage of a potty: you can bring it outside with you for training al fresco). You could also just keep your daughter in a non-carpeted area of your house while she’s pantless and potty training. Wiping up spills on wood or tile or linoleum is a non-issue compared to dealing with pee-soaked carpets. Once she’s ready to wear underpants you could also add another layer of protection for your floors by getting the cotton training pants with the extra layers at the crotch. The underpants will get wet, but they’ll soak up the pee that would go on the floor or her outer clothes.

It seems to me that, especially with an "older" child, you’re already mostly there if your kid wants to be potty-trained. So if your daughter wants to be A Big Girl In Underpants, the process is halfway complete, and all that’s left are the logistics. If you feel like she’s losing steam, see if you can arrange some playdates with potty-trained friends to harness the awesome power of peer pressure. Or renew her interest in the painted toenails with a big challenge by making sure she understands exactly what the terms of the reward are.

Other ideas I have no experience with whatsoever but which could easily work as well as or better than anything I’ve suggested:

1. There’s a book about potty-training in one day using a doll, a ton of fluids, and a bunch of rewards. It’s 30 years old and is controversial (all the Amazon reviews seem to be either 5 stars–"We should have used this method starting at birth!!"– or 1 star–"This will give your child a nervous tic and years of emotional problems!!"), but if you have the kind of child who likes definite rules and rituals, it seems like it might be just the thing to catch their fancy. I wouldn’t try it with a kid who really didn’t want to use the potty, though, or a kid who chafed at a lot of structure or was having any stress or changes going on in his or her life. Read the reviews and use at your own risk, but I have two friends who used the method with their very rules-oriented kids and felt it was both effective and respectful.

2. See if you can get your mother or MIL to potty-train your daughter. I am not joking. There are so many kids who will do anything their grandparents ask them to, and you and your partner both learned how to use the toilet from these women, so it could be a recipe for success that would take the pressure off you (leaving you with "only" the 17-month-old and the dog) until your daughter has the hang of it. If you have a nearby well-loved relative with a proven track record of successful potty-training, see if you can at least enlist that person’s help for moral support, if they won’t agree to run Grandma’s Potty Camp for a few days.

But whatever you do, stop beating yourself up about this. We can only do what we can do at any given time. When the first window of opportunity was there you had other, more important things going on. That’s the only difference between you and someone who hopped on that first window of interest because there wasn’t anything else demanding their attention. There are no extra points on the SAT for potty-training early.

Anyone else want to chime in with advice for a 3-year-old potty learner, or even just "confess" that your child isn’t out of diapers yet? Or tell me why working on training a 3-year-old and a 17-month-old at the same time won’t work?

Q&A: prying nasty stuff out of a baby’s mouth

Someone with a really goofy email address writes:

"How do you get a baby to give up what she’s chewing on–like when you know it is some nasty thing she found on the floor just now–and you put your finger in there and she totally bites you?"

Any way you can.

Several possible methods:

1. Offer her a piece of chocolate instead, and maybe she’ll spit out whatever’s in there so she has room for the chocolate.

2. When she bites you, scream in pain. When she starts to cry because she made you cry, fish out the object before she knows what hit her.

3. Hold her down and squeeze the sides of her jaw with one hand (like you’re trying to give a cat a pill) to get her to o-o-o-open, and then pull the thing out.

4. Make her laugh and see if she spits out the thing involuntarily.

5. Shift the balance of temptation by dropping a few cheddar bunnies on the floor every time you give her a snack. Then the ratio of things that are good to eat to things that are bad to eat on your floor will be higher and you won’t have to stop her from eating as many things.

Anyone else have any ideas?