Q&A: using the potty for everyone but her parents

Kim writes:

"I have read through all of the potty posts and I
don’t see my exact problem…….

My 2.7 year-old daughter is a little bit potty
trained (it there such a thing?  Is that like a little bit preggo?). 
By this I mean….. she’s done it, but with no consistency

We have the fun potty chair, candy, stickers, ice
cream, potty party, the no-big-thing party, the rubber potty-train pants,
the naked toddler, the cool "big girl" panties……

I know not to push her until she’s ready….but
here’s the deal….she will tell others when she has to go…..Grammy,
Great-Grammy, church nursery worker, Auntie, mama’s friend but NOT mommy or
daddy.  She tells us AFTER she goes poopy, but never potty and it doesn’t
matter if we are home or out.  We’ve tried wearing the panties (her, I
mean)…..she will potty & poopy on Dora & Strawberry Shortcake EVERY
time, even if we tell he that is not a nice thing to do.  She’s not afraid
of the potty….she loves to poop in a diaper and then flush it down the

The only time she will tell us she has to poop is
if she is in the bath.  And she gets out of the pool to potty in the grass
(even though she has a swim Diaper on) and get right back in.  She listens
to her urges with others, but not us.

We have had some changes.  We had another baby
4 1/2 months ago and I became a SAHM.  I have lots of time to work with her
and the new family addition did not seem to affect her at all.  She doesn’t
have any hang-ups that I can think of, and having poop attached to her bum
doesn’t seem to bother her.

Also, I cloth diaper both my kids and I have heard
that should make this process easier…….

Can you rescue me?"

This is a frustrating one. I can come up with a diagnosis but not
necessarily a guaranteed treatment. Fortunately, the readers are generous, and I’m hoping they’ll come through with something good for you.

It seems pretty clear that she’s refusing to poop for you guys because it’s a control issue. Most kids are going to have some
issues of one sort or another with a new sibling, and I’m guessing your
daughter has some, too, even if you don’t see any other signs. It
sounds like this potty thing is the way your daughter’s feelings are
coming out.

You’ve got to hand it to her–she’s picked something that’s destined to drive you slowly insane. It’s almost as if she knew you’d start to wonder what you were doing wrong instead of why she’s doing it. She sounds very smart and intuitive, and will probably be wildly successful as an adult. But that doesn’t solve your problem right now.

If this is, as I suspect, a way of showing you how angry/confused/conflicted she feels about the new sibling, then once she starts having more fun with the baby she should come out of it. I’ve talked before about the timeline we learned in the sibling prep class we took before #2 arrived, but let’s review:

  • Leading up to the arrival of the new baby, the child’s behavior gets worse and worse because they child knows something important is going to happen but can’t imagine what it will be like and expects the worst.
  • For a week or two after the baby arrives, the older child is wonderful. The arrival of the new baby wasn’t as horrible as expected, there are plenty of people around to play with, and people are mostly happy.
  • As soon as the baby starts to crawl, s/he can interact a little with the older child, so the older child starts to enjoy the baby again and stops acting out as much.

We found this timeline to be pretty much dead on in our family (with the omission that as soon as the baby can grab the older child’s stuff there’s a lot of jockeying for position and grabbing) and others have reported that it’s held true for them, too. So you can either back off and wait it out until the baby starts crawling, or try to help her get out her feelings now in other ways and see if that helps alleviate the potty problem. It may not, but at least it’s something to try.

I’m hoping some readers will have good suggestions about books to read that will open up the topic of the stress of a baby sibling. The only one I can think of right now is the Caillou one, but I"m ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I love that Caillou gets to have normal, negative behavior (he even bites his baby sister!) that his parents help him work through, instead of being Perfect Older Sibling. On the other hand, I can’t get past the fact that every adult in the Caillou books and show is wearing maternity clothes, even the grandfather. (I know it’s a stupid reason not to like the series, but it just bugs me.) So I’m hoping someone else will know of good books that open up the topic and allow negative and/or ambivalent feelings about a sibling.

She may or may not want to engage in some role playing with dolls or stuffed animals. Some kids will really use doll play as a way to get out their aggressive feelings, but others, not so much.

I’m sure you’re already doing this, but make sure that your daughter gets to have special alone time with you and also with your partner at regular, designated times during the week. She’ll know they’re coming and will be able to look forward to special time with just you.

OK, readers. What else have you tried? I’m sure someone else has gone through this exact same situation and had a toddler who was suspending potty-training as a way to get out negative feelings. What did you do? Did it work?

Q&A: what to do when you break someone’s stuff

Denise writes:

"Recently, we (me, my 3 year old and my 20 month old) were at a neighborhood playdate, and my 20 month old tipped a lamp which tore the lampshade. It happened quickly, and I felt bad, apologized profusely, and offered to replace the lampshade. The mom said it was no big deal, don’t worry about it, that is what happens with kids, etc. I know that is what I would say at my home – and I know I diligently watch my kids (meaning we are not the crazy destructo kids family). So, my question is what should I do? Email or call her and offer to buy a shade again? Send her something (bottle of wine and sorry note, or gift certificate)??

I don’t have any idea how expensive this lamp shade is, and I know that I cannot just go and buy one anyway. She does have a very nice home and so I am sure it wasn’t cheap.

So what should I do?"

I think this goes back to babyproofing. If you have a kid, and are going to have any other kids in your house, then you really shouldn’t have an expensive, irreplaceble lampshade. It’s just common sense. Kids break things all the time. It sounds like the other mom is aware of this and really wasn’t that upset by the incident. So I wouldn’t give any more thought to the actual lampshade.

However, you do want to attempt to make restitution for the breakage and increase your friendship, so I would send an apology note along with a bottle or two of wine. I wouldn’t go with a gift certificate, since that directly deals with the lampshade. But wine is always good (assuming they’re not in recovery or nondrinkers–in that case I’d go with nice chocolate or some kind of fancy pastry like cannoli, a cheesecake, or babka). Plus, it’s a friendly way to offer amends without dwelling on the actual incident.

Then make sure you host a playdate at your house soon. And make sure to put all your breakable stuff out of reach before anyone else gets there.:)

Q&A: raising a child bilingually

Shelley writes:

You’ve said enough about your family and your background that I infer you are raising them with two languages, English and Spanish. My husband is Swedish, and I lived there for two years and went to school full-time for the language for a year — so I’m fluent as well. We are raising our daughter (2 years old, with an October birthday) with Swedish and English, following the "one person one language" method for the most part — I do speak a lot of Swedish to her, or repeat what I’ve said in English, etc. as she gets English reinforcement from the 3 days a week she’s in daycare and the rest of her surroundings. I’ve never heard her father address her in English (except for concepts that don’t exist in Swedish, i.e. "Easter bunny.") He is home with her two mornings a week, so they get lots of one-on-one time.

When the three of us are together, often English becomes the default, just because our lives are in English for the most part. However, my husband and I are working on speaking more Swedish when the three of us are together. We read and sing in Swedish as much as possible, my husband even translates English kids’ books on the fly. We also have a rule that any kids’ DVD we possess will be Swedish. Unfortunately, we live in a smallish city and don’t know (and are unlikely to find) any Swedish-speaking families for playgroups, etc. We see my husband’s parents about once a year, either we go there or they come here, but that hasn’t happened since her speaking skills started to blossom.

So far, it’s crystal clear that she understands Swedish perfectly, but she doesn’t use it nearly as much as we would like her to. I’m looking for tips on raising children bilingually, more specifically on how to encourage a bilingual child to use the minority language."

I’ve given the wrong impression (OK, somewhat deliberately to help guard my anonymity so I’m not outed to my family) but we only speak American English at home (except when my husband does his ridiculous Scottish accent) for the most part. Our part-time babysitter is originally from a Spanish-speaking country (she emigrated with her family when she was a kid), and she teaches a Spanish class for El Chico and she and I speak Spanish together in front of the kids, but it’s not anywhere near raising kids bilingually.

So I am definitely not an expert on raising kids bilingually. But I know there are regular readers who are doing it (Menita, maybe Lisa C, maybe wix, and a few others who’ve slipped out of my mind right now) who I’m sure could offer their experiences and opinions. And we have several friends who are raising their kids bilingual with one parent speaking English and the other speaking the other language (or the parents speaking one language and a nanny speaking the other), so I’ve seen how it works for them.

From what I’ve observed with our friends, the kids seem to use one language primarily and use the other language only when they’re with the parent who speaks it or others who speak it to them (meaning grandparents or others who only speak the "other" language). The catch is that the language the kids seem to prefer sometimes switches over time. I remember one playgroup at which a girl who spoke English with her mom and Italian with her dad was speaking Italian to all the kids. We’d never thought about it before because she had previously only spoken Italian to her dad and relatives in Italy, but one day she just started speaking Italian to everyone. (All the parents at playgroup were really amused, but the kids were very confused.) That lasted a month or so, then she switched back to mostly English, and by now (she’s 4.5) she switches back and forth effortlessly.

All that is to say that I don’t think it’s surprising that your daughter doesn’t use her Swedish as much if most of what’s going on in her life is in English, because it seems to be a normal phase of language acquisition from what I’ve observed.

I’m guessing that the easiest way to shift the balance of English and Swedish would be to start speaking exclusively Swedish at home. The first couple of weeks would take a lot of mental adjustment for you and your husband, but once you got into the swing of it you wouldn’t have to focus on it as much. She’s going to continue to speak English from living here, but speaking Swedish at home will give it much more real estate in her brainspace. It sounds like you’re flirting with switching over, but just deciding to have Swedish be your official language would probably help you get her to speak more pa svenska.

I think you covered media, and playgroups sound like they won’t happen, so I’ve got no other reasonable suggestions. Does anyone else have anything for Shelley?

Q&A: older child hurting a baby

Brandi writes:

"I would like to know
if you have heard of older children (6-8 years) scratching infants for no
reason?  There is this girl in my neighborhood who came over last week and
left deep scratches on my daughter’s arms and legs.  I don’t know what steps
I should take in "disciplining" the girl, but I am very very very upset and
confused.  Can you please provide so insight on what possibly could have
prompted her to do so and what should my husband and I do as angry

Wow. I think I’d be completely shocked and livid if that happened to my baby. A child that age should absolutely know better than to hurt a baby.

I’m not a development or psychological expert, so there may be something going on here that I’m not even considering. But the first thing that occurs to me is that the little girl may be jealous of the baby and may be trying to hurt her. If the girl spent time with you and your husband in the past and felt like you had a special interest in her, then she may be very jealous of the baby for taking your time and affection. She should know better than to hurt the baby, but the jealousy would explain why she did it.

The other thing that occurs to me is something that I hope isn’t the case, which is that the girl herself might be a victim of physical abuse. Kids who grow up being hurt don’t know that it’s not normal until they’re older (and some of them never realize it isn’t normal, which is why they pass it on to their own kids). So if she gets hit or scratched, she may think it’s a normal way to interact with a baby.

In this situation I think I’d take photos of the scratches to make sure I had a record of them. Then I’d call the girl’s parents and discuss with them what happened and make sure they know how upset you are, but in a non-confrontational way. Let them discipline the girl. (I think an exception to this would be if you think the girl herself may be a victim of abuse. In that case, I’d call a social worker to get ideas about how best to proceed with this. If the girl is being abused by her family you can get them all some help, which will help your situation as well.) In the meantime, she shouldn’t come over to see the baby until you’re sure she’s not going to hurt the baby again, which may mean she can’t come over for months or years.

I’m very sorry this happened to your daughter, and I hope you can come to some kind of resolution with the girl and her family.

Q&A: babyproofing

Meghan writes:

My seven-month old seems seconds away from crawling, so my husband and I have stopped procrastinating and are babyproofing the house. I don’t want my house to be wrapped in foam, but I do want to have a safe environment. We’ve installed a gate at the top of the stairs and plugged up all the outlets. We have kitchen cabinet locks and a foam edge for the fireplace.  I want to be reasonable about it, but I got overwhelmed shopping for babyproofing products–I spent far too much time examining babyproofing product websites–if they make a foam bumper helmet, maybe I need it?! Maybe I do need to anchor my bookshelves to the wall? I’m beginning to feel irrational about this and my husband is skeptical that we need any of it. How much babyproofing is reasonable?

And a second issue: yesterday my MIL scoffed at our plug covers and said she wouldn’t babyproof her house, she would just keep an eye on the baby (as if I don’t ever watch my daughter and that is why I am babyproofing my house). My inlaws live nearby and want to babysit at their house. I want to insist that they do a minimal amount of babyproofing if they are going to babysit there, but how much is reasonable?"

Everyone’s going to have a different position on this. I think people mostly break down into three types of babyproofers: people who babyproof everything they possibly can, people who only babyproof things that would kill the kid or make them want to kill the kid, and people who babyproof nothing. As usual, I’m weighing in with a vote for moderation, both for the parents’ sake and for the kids’ sake.

People who babyproof everything are obviously doing it out of love, but I think they’re driving themselves crazy trying to imagine every possible dangerous scenario. They’re also taking the chance that their children won’t learn to be properly impressed with dangerous situations and will do risky things later on just because they don’t know they’re dangerous. What if the coffee table at home is padded but it isn’t at a friend’s, and the kid runs right into the corner at high speed because she never got bumped gently by the coffee table at home while she was crawling? Too much protection gives kids a false idea of the basic principles of physics, as well as the capabilities of their own bodies. Plus, there’s always something more you can do, so you’re setting yourself up for a nervous breakdown.

The moderate route is to think about the situations that are truly dangerous (serious injury or death) and protect for those. So gating off stairs, plugging up outlets, and putting locks on cabinets and drawers containing poisonous stuff. Walk around with your head down low and look for things that could kill or seriously hurt a child at a crawling and walking level. Then think about things that would make you despair or rage if they were disturbed, like tall towers of CDs, wine racks, flat-panel televisions, original artwork. Gate them off and you’ll be able to enjoy life so much more, knowing your child isn’t going to cause $3,000 worth of damage in 2 minutes or make you spend 30 minutes picking up discs and putting them back in their cases.

Part of this moderate approach is realizing that not all kids are attracted to the same things. We went to friends’ house once and El Chico made a beeline for the unguarded wine rack and began pulling out bottles. The dad was shocked, because their daughter had never shown the least bit of interest in the wine. But they had a lock on the refrigerator, which I thought was goofy until I learned that their daughter liked to go in and yank the carton of milk off the shelf, spilling it all over the floor. Similarly, I thought toilet locks were overkill until my nephew stuffed a golf ball down my SIL’s toilet and the plumber couldn’t get it out and had to replace the whole toilet. A toilet lock is way cheaper than a toilet. So you should cover the basics, but keep an eye out for what attracts your particular kid and be prepared to act swiftly if you need to put up gates or locks or just move the items up to a high shelf.

Speaking of shelves, if you have a climber, you should make sure all your shelves are anchored to the wall so your child won’t pull one on top of him/herself while trying to climb one. Having said that, only our heaviest shelf is anchored, because neither of our boys has tried to climb shelves. Again, you need to watch and learn from your own kid.

People who babyproof nothing are operating under the assumption that 1) they’re going to be right on top of the kid all the time, and 2) a child will learn to avoid or negotiate the things in his/her environment. I do believe that kids become fluent in navigating their environments with time, even once that have dangerous objects. But. I also don’t want to trust that I’m going to be 100% on top of my child every second of the day, when it comes to things like toxic chemicals and electricity. Maybe some parents are that vigilant, but I do things like cooking meals, going to the bathroom, sneezing, and answering the phone, and sometimes just spacing out or sneaking into another room to eat a few spoonsful of Ben and Jerry’s.

I’d rather just eliminate one source of stress by plugging up the outlets and gating stairs and locking up the bleach. My older son is 4.5 and he has no interest in sticking objects into our outlets, despite our having plugged them up when he was a toddler. So I think that kids will learn the important lessons if you keep reinforcing them, even if they aren’t given free reign to experience logical consequences. Especially when the logical consequence is death.

So I’d tell your MIL that if she won’t plug up the outlets (and proof any other cause of potential death, like a swimming pool or tall set of stairs) then your daughter can’t be there for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. She doesn’t need to pad her fireplace (although it should be gated in some way while there’s a fire going in it, obviously) or her furniture, but electrical outlets are no joke. If she continues to scoff, then no babysitting until your daughter is older. (And yes, you’re the mother, and you get to make this decision, and if you let your MIL overrule you now it will never stop. But you already know that, which is why you wrote me to get some validation.:)) If you show up at her house with the outlet plugs, then she’s going to look like a real ass if she doesn’t let you put them in her outlets.

BTW, my #1 top pick for Most Useful Babyproofing Object is the Safety 1st outlet cover that has a new plate that you switch in for the regular plate. It has notches on it so you can plug cords into the outlets, then snap a cover over the plate so that the cords stay plugged in but protected. Kids can yank on the cords, but they can’t pull them out of the outlets or make any sparks. They let you keep floor lamps or other applicances plugged in but not a hazard. Pure genius, and I hope they make a bazillion dollars off this idea. I got mine at Buy Buy Baby but of course OneStepAhead.com has them, too.

It sounds to me like you’ve already got your house covered. Unless your kid has a major balance problem or clotting/bruising disease, you can skip the helmet. Every kid has to go through months and months of bumps and bruises to learn how to negotiate the world. You just need to protect them from serious injuries, not all possible problems. Good luck with your MIL.

Q&A: book for raising babies

Claire writes:

"My question is one for your personal opinion – I’d like to know if you’ve read the Babywise series of books (and any of their friends) & if you have your critical opinion or alternative recommendations? I’m currently 5 months pregnant & want to make sure I’m prepared as much as possible for the challenges new babies are, but I don’t want to fill my head with useless twaddle.

I guess the reason I’m torn is that so many of my friends swear their sanity was saved by that book & indeed their children are really comparitively angelic (though still well within the bounds of
normal) compared to the few people I know who run a laissez faire attitude to babies doing whatever they do. Those friends don’t seem to be getting any sleep or routine & they are having a freak out & not so much fun.

I’m not a 100% do it by the book sort of gal, but I would like to know if there’s a book that you can recommend that’s perhaps a bit more scientific than some Ezzo dude’s opinions & aprocrypha, but will still enable me to try to have a balanced happy moderately routine friendly baby?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about this & any books you can recommend for preparing for parenting – birth is the least of my worries :o)"

I despise Babywise, and there are huge numbers of people who have been hurt (and their relationships with their children hurt) by Ezzo. For the full critique on what’s wrong with the Babywise approach, you can check out http://ezzo.info

Basically, any book that tells you to fight biology by never allowing a child to go to sleep by feeding (among other things) is completely full of it and is making tons of extra work for the parents (and let’s be
real, it’s the mothers who usually have this extra work, rarely the fathers). Nature already built in this wonderful way to get your baby to sleep, and if you mess with it by imposing some ridiculous schedule about the baby always having to "play" after feeding or only eating at specified times then you are messing around with the way babies are hardwired. Of course people who "do Babywise" have these calm, placid babies, because the babies’ spirits have been broken. They’ve been taught to ignore their own hunger cues and other needs, and just to wait passively until the parents decide it’s time for the next thing to happen.

I think there are some religious communities that value "breaking" children. If you don’t belong to one of these communities, then Babywise is something you want to stay far away from.

There is no other book I recommend as a parenting "method." Your method should be 1) trust your own instincts and 2) give your baby what s/he needs by paying attention to your baby and responding. Yeah, it’s confusing at the beginning, but the good news is that babies don’t remember much of the first few weeks. All they remember is that someone was there holding them and snuggling
them and feeding them when they’re hungry. All the other stuff is just a blur. So you don’t have to be good at reading your kid until a few months into the whole deal.

Babies and kids like predictable routine, but most babies, if paid attention to and responded to, will fall into a routine that works for their bodies within the first few months. Of course it evolves over time as they get older, but if you stick with the routine as it evolves, you’ll have a predictable, somewhat structured day and your baby will trust you and the world. There are days you can’t seem to get
it together to go through the regular routine, but letting everything slide into a big mush of a day ends up letting everyone descend into chaos. (I’m not talking about the first 8 weeks or so, when everything’s pretty much chaos anyway–cut yourself a break and just focus on getting enough water and sleep and the routine will kick itself in soon.)

One really important thing that I think most BDTD parents will recommend (even if they never consciously thought about it at the time) was going outside the house every single day, no matter what the weather (hurricanes and blizzards excluded, of course). If you go out every day at approximately the same time, even if it’s to go to a cafe to get an iced coffee for yourself or to the grocery store to wander
the aisles looking at all the new breakfast cereals, you will add more structure and more emotional space to your day, even if your baby is teething and nothing else is going right.

IME the secret to having a structured, balanced routine is simple–watch your kid and follow his/her routine. If something seems to be off, troubleshoot instead of blaming yourself. Is it a developmental spurt going on? A physical spurt? Teething? Something the child ate? A change in sleep needs? Stress from the environment around the child? Do what you can to change the problem or wait it out, and you’ll be back on track.

Raising children is hard. Really freaking hard. A predictable routine makes it a lot easier, but imposing a routine set by someone else who’s never even met your child makes no sense and can be counterproductive. People often joke that kids should come with an instruction manual, but they do–it’s their cries and their smiles and their facial expressions. Trust yourself, trust your child, and eat lots of
chocolate, and you’ll both come out of it with no major trauma.

Now, I read a lot of books, so of course I’ll recommend some books to you. (And yes, I’m working on a full booklist to put up later.) Here’s my caveat: Don’t become a fanatic about something anyone else says. Almost any routine is going to work better than no routine for a baby. So of course the people who follow Babywise will have better-adjusted kids than people who are tossing their kids Ritz crackers from the couch and watching endless reruns of "The Real World." But a routine based on your actual kid is always going to be better than any routine in a book, so don’t look to books to tell you what to do. You’re your child’s parent, and you and your child together have everything you need already.

Books I don’t recommend:

  • Babywise and all of it’s siblings. Ezzo has no child development experience, early editions of the book cause Failure to Thrive in many babies, and the alleged Biblical basis of the ideas in the book are misinterpretations at best and deliberate blasphemy at worst. http://ezzo.info
  • Anything by the Pearls. No. Just no. Although I doubt anyone inclined to follow the Pearls is reading me anyway.
  • The Baby Whisperer. Hogg’s not a malevolent nutjob like Ezzo, and she does have some good tips on certain topics, but the idea that all kids have to follow the same sequence of events every day? Not sound. Also, if your child doesn’t go down to sleep from being awake by 4 months, nothing bad will happen to anyone. This book will make you feel inadequate and make a ton of extra work for you. If you’re going to read it, borrow it from the library or a friend instead of spending good money, and keep your common sense with you as you read.


Books I do recommend:

  • The Wonder Weeks. Of course. The best part of this book is that it tells you what’s going on and why your child is cranky or not sleeping, but it doesn’t tell you what to do. Information but no dogma is my favorite combo.
  • Between Parent and Child. It’s about talking to your kids, so it’s way too early for dealing day-to-day with babies, but reading it now will help you understand kids better in general and help put you in the right frame of mind for dealing with tantrums and all the stuff that starts to happen at the end of the first year.
  • Happiest Baby on the Block. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the 5 S’s are going to be helpful to settle most kids because of the way babies are hardwired biologically. Maybe not a whole book’s full of content, but definitely worth borrowing and reading before you give birth, or at least watching the DVD.
  • The Mother of All Baby Books. Common sense in a fun-to-read format.
  • Your Baby and Child. Just a straightforward resource, in a brisk, keep-a-stiff-upper-lip style.


Books I recommend with hesitation:

  • The Baby Book. I love the medical and developmental parts of this book. But those first few chapters can be so guilt-inducing, even to those of us who tend toward the attachment style already. Read the first few chapters with a critical mind, trust your own instincts, and remember that all this "the mother has to bond instantly with the baby" stuff is written by someone who’s never been a mother. But the medical and developmental stuff is great, non-alarmist, and balanced info.
  • What to Expect the First Year. I just really don’t like the "what to expect" books in general because they’re beyond pedantic and alarmist, but if someone gives it to you you can look stuff up in it if you’re in a good mood. If you’re worried about something in particular, though, keep it on the shelf so you don’t scare yourself unnecessarily.

Q&A: 3.5-year-old loves her body

Kristen writes:

"My daughter is 3 1/2 and I am having some
problems with her.  She goes to her great grandmother’s during the day
and she likes to run around with no clothes on.  This really bothers my
grandmother in law.  I don’t know how to get her to want to wear her
clothes.  She has also recently started getting dressed with no
underwear on. And she touches herself down there. What do i do to stop
this behavior..or is it normal?"

The only problem I really see is the conflict of interest that your GIL wants her to wear clothes and she doesn’t want to. Your daughter is old enough at 3 1/2 to understand that she has to respect her great-grandmother in general, and to follow her rules in her house. So sit down and have a talk with her about how she is allowed to choose what she wears (although she has to wear underwear if you want her to), but there is no choice about wearing clothes at great-grandma’s house, she just has to do it. If she doesn’t wear clothes there she doesn’t get to go. This is going to be the first of many conversations about appropriate attire ("no shirt, no shoes, no service" is a hot topic in our house this summer), and is part of the process of learning to balance her own desires with the social compact.

There’s no point in trying to make her want to wear clothes. You can’t make her want to do anything, and it doesn’t matter if she wants to or not, as long as she follows the rules. This is an important distinction that she’s probably too young to even begin to understand, but that will become really important to her when she’s a teenager and has to do all kinds of stuff she doesn’t want to do. I mean, who actually wants to write an essay on Beowulf? But she’ll have to do it anyway, even as she maintains the integrity of her own feelings about liking it or not liking it. (Talk about framing narratives–how much do you not want to have to deal with your daughter’s nakedness, but you do it anyway because sometimes you just have to do annoying things as part of life.)

To ease the pain of having to wear the shackles of the patriarchy clothes at her great-grandmother’s house, you might want to institute an official Naked Time every night between dinner and bedtime. Naked Time is a popular event in my house, and I’m guessing there are a lot of readers who are laughing because their kids love Naked Time, too.

The touching herself is completely normal
and really healthy. You want her to know her own body and to know what
gives her pleasure. It’s only going to help her maintain
self-confidence as she grows older and starts to becomes more
self-aware, and then later when she starts dating.  But she shouldn’t be doing it out where everyone can see, so tell her it’s one of those things you do by yourself with no one else around, like pooping or picking your nose. If she does it in front of other people again just calmly and non-punitively send her to do it in her own room.

She sounds absolutely normal and right on track developmentally. The whole naked-love thing is both disconcerting and hilarious, but it seems to go on for months (if not years), so just establish some boundaries and then try not to worry about it.

Q&A: 20-month-old twin won’t nap

Toby writes:

"I have a 20 month old with a long history of sleep issues (short naps,
no naps, etc). We had a good stretch a while back — she went to bed at
7:00 and slept a good 11 – 11 1/2 hrs (still does), and took a 2 hour
nap.  The 2 hour nap lasted about a month (right after she went from 2
naps to 1).  Since about April, she has reduced her nap time to 45
minutes, sometimes less.  I feel 45 minutes is not enough sleep, she
gets a little cranky.  I’ve tried to adjust nap time and bedtime, but
the nap continues to end after 45 minutes.  Everyone else I’ve talked
to with children this age gets a 2 hr (on average) nap.  (By the way, I
have twins and my other 20 month old takes a 2-3 hour nap).  I’ve tried
leaving her in her bed and letting her cry but she screams bloody
murder and doesn’t go back to sleep. I’ve read everything I can get my
hands on about sleep and children and your website is the only thing
I’ve seen that addresses this issue (she was almost 18 months when this
started).  It’s been three months, how do I get her back on track so
she gets enough sleep and I don’t go crazy."

I’m going to need some help with this one from parents of multiples. I’m afraid my suggestions might be tough to implement with another child the same age in the house, so any tips on juggling two conflicting nap schedules are welcome.

The first thing I’d do is check for environmental factors. Is your daughter eating anything that could be giving her reflux or tummy distress or keep her awake? (Think acidic things like citrus or tomato–especially ketchup–or the common allergens like wheat, dairy, corn, artificial colors and flavors, and artificial sweeteners.) Even things that don’t affect your other child could be a problem for her that makes it physically impossible for her to sleep for long.

Then I’d try to help her relax into sleep. She’s probably a little young to drink Just For Kids Nighty Night tea (you’d have better luck with that with a kid over the age of 2, unless you have one of those toddlers who will actually drink hot tea), but it’s not too early for homeopathics. I’ve had some success with the Hyland’s formulation Calms Forte 4 Kids. It has homeopathic ingredients that help them relax their bodies and minds enough to fall asleep. If you can’t find the Calms Forte, try chamomilla pellets. Homeopathy has no side effects, so it’s safe for babies and kids. Even if you don’t think homeopathics do anything, they still give you the opportunity to try the placebo effect by telling your daughter that the tablets will help her fall asleep.

Make sure she’s getting enough exercise in the morning to be tired out enough to sleep, but watch out for activities that could be making her too excited or anxious to relax into sleep. If you’re using TV or videos to help your kids wind down into naps, reexamine what you’re showing, because it could be helping one child relax but riling up the other one, so you may need something more bland.

I wonder if it would help if you could lie down with her to get her to fall asleep. She may need a little help making the transition to the Land of Nod. I think it’s a fairly common practice among SAH parents of toddlers to lie down with them to help them calm down when they’ve been riled up too much to drift off easily. The clear and present danger here, of course, is that you’ll fall asleep, too. Which is probably good for your body, but isn’t going to help with the laundry situation, and could be disastrous since you have another toddler in your house.

If you had a singleton, I’d tell you to try driving or strolling her to sleep for the nap (and then driving or strolling for as long as it took to keep her to sleep for at least an hour). If it worked, I’d tell you to do it at the same time every day for a couple of weeks until she’d gotten into the habit of falling asleep and sleeping for a decent stretch at that time every day. I can’t really imagine how you could do this with multiples without incurring a lot of confusion, extra work, and back strain, but if you find yourself with an extra adult during the day for a few days, you might try it to see if it helps.

Also, examine your weekend schedule. Are things so exciting on the weekends that your daughter gets out of the habit of sleeping and can’t get back into it again during the week?

That’s what I can think of. Any parents with multiple-specific suggestions or insights?

Q&A: commuting out-of-town two days a week

Maggie writes:

"I was
hoping you could offer some advice for my upcoming work travel plans. I
have a nine-month old daughter, and from September to December, I will
be commuting to another city two days a week, leaving early one morning
and returning home the next evening. While I am gone, she will be cared
for by my husband, who has taken a very active role in her care since
she was born, and my mother, who has been caring for her several days a
week during the day for the past several months. The rest of the week,
she will be cared for by an in-house nanny while I work out of my home
office. (For the record, I have been working part-time since she was
three months old, usually out of my home office, with my mother or an
in-house nanny.) She is a very contented, good natured baby who is
friendly and outgoing, and who has handled all our adventures
(including foreign travel) very well. Do you have any advice about what
to expect, and how to make the transitions easier? Also, I am
breastfeeding, and hope to continue — any advice? She is currently
breastfed, with about 4-8 oz of formula a day plus baby food."

I think your timing is cutting it close, but could be exactly right. Most babies go through a separation anxiety phase (whether pronounced or subtle) at around 9 months, so that’s not the best time to introduce anything new. Your daughter may have come through this first separation anxiety phase by the time you start the new travel schedule. If she’s through it, I think it’ll be a piece of cake. If she hasn’t, the first couple of weeks could be a little rough, but they’ll get better.

It sounds like you’re in the best possible situation for this kind of repeated separation because your husband, mother, and babysitter already share so much in her care. If she’s out of the separation anxiety stage, she probably won’t be as phased by the trips as you will. Obviously she’ll notice that you’re gone (you’re her mother, after all), but since she’s used to your leaving and coming back regularly and is comfortable with her caregivers, she won’t be traumatized.

Once you start traveling, she may be fussier and more clingy, and her sleep may be disturbed (but since she’s 9 months her sleep is probably not that hot right now anyway). After a few weeks she’ll adjust to your schedule and will either stop displaying fussy behavior or will condense her fussy behavior and make it more pronounced and predictable (like crying inconsolably for 10 minutes after you leave, but then being fine for the rest of the day).

One way I think you can ease the separation would be to make her a little book about what’s going to happen. Talk about going to the airport and taking the flight, then working, then sleeping at your hotel, then working, then coming home, then seeing her again. Draw simple pictures (or cut and paste from magazines or print out pictures from Google Images to paste in the book) to illustrate the words. Then read the book to her a bunch of times, so she’s got the story in her head. She obviously won’t understand all of what it means, but you’ll have given her the basic info that you’re going away and coming back.

In my mother’s experience (my dad used to travel on business regularly when we were tiny), kids do better when the traveling parent calls in the morning before the day really starts than when they only call at night. I’ve found that to be true for my kids when we’re separated from their dad. I think it lets the children know that the parent is still alive and thinking about them, so they have that to carry them through the rest of the day. So try to juggle things so you can get in a call to your daughter in the morning so she can hear your voice.

In all probability you could reduce your pumping sessions while you’re out of town. But I’ve heard from many women (myself included), those who pump regularly and those who pump occasionally, that around 10-11 months they started having trouble pumping as much. Most of these women didn’t seem to have supply problems while nursing, just while pumping. So knowing that it’s a possibility that your ability to pump as much might go down around 10-11 months, I don’t think I’d cut any pumping sessions, just to cover your bases and try to prevent your supply from dropping. But I also wouldn’t freak out if I couldn’t pump as much during that time unless you also noticed that your daughter wasn’t satisfied when she nursed.

(Incidentally, I have no idea why 10 months seems to be a trouble spot for pumping, and I haven’t seen any reference to it anywhere, but I could name at least 8 friends or acquaintances offhand who mentioned that it was a problem for them. More than a coincidence, but less than a trend.)

Does anyone else out there do short, regular trips? I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem, but it would be nice to hear some tips from a BTDT mom.

Q&A: introducing cows’ milk

Becky writes:

"I have a 11 month old daughter and I am still
breatfeeding her, she has never had formula and I would like to start
introducing whole milk.  I am a working mother, but am very luck to work at
a job that has a daycare facility for its employees.  I use to pump 2 to 3
times a day in my office and freeze my milk, I would go and feed my daughter on
my lunch.  Now that she is eating so many types of food we have eliminated
pumping and she only nurses 4 times morning 5 or 6 am, afternoon, when we get
home 6 pm and before bed at 9:30.  She sleeps the whole night and I am
working on dropping the 6 pm feeding time.  She is fine with a bottle; she
gets it at daycare with my frozen breastmilk.  But how do I start
introducing whole milk.  Do I slowly add to her bottles with my frozen milk
and can I just start giving her milk?  Help !!!!"

How you introduce it is going to depend on your daughter’s personality. If she’s the kind of kid who really doesn’t like change, then you should probably mix a little cows’ milk with her bottle of your milk, gradually increasing the ratio of cows’ milk to your milk until she’s only taking cows’ milk from a bottle and is only getting your milk when she actually nurses. (And obviously you know this, but I feel I should point out that you can keep nursing her as long as you want to, even if it’s only once a day, in addition to the cows’ milk she drinks. Or you can gradually replace one nursing session at a time with a bottle of cows’ milk.)

If she’s fine with change and trying new things, then I’d seize the moment to begin the process of migrating from bottle to cup by giving her cows’ milk in a cup instead of a bottle. That way by the time she’s off bottles of breastmilk she’ll also be off the bottle in general.

Let me interject that I think it’s asinine that so many parents are told here in the U.S. that their kids need to be off the bottle by 12 months. Why? There’s no reason for it, assuming the child isn’t falling asleep every night with a bottle. If a bottle brings your kid comfort, then keep using it until the kid doesn’t need it anymore. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it another 500 times, but college applications won’t ask at what age your kid was off the bottle or the pacifier, so give your kid what s/he needs right now.

But back to Becky. If you want to introduce cows’ milk as a separate, new thing, I’d give it to her cold (since you’re far more likely to have cold milk at any given time in the future than warm milk) and in either a sippy cup or a straw cup (straw cups tend to be a little easier for younger kids to learn–Melissa left the ur-method for teaching kids to drink from a straw in this comment to an earlier post). Then gradually have your daycare providers switch in a cup of milk for each bottle of breastmilk she’s been taking. Take as long as she needs, and it should be a pretty eventless (although perhaps long and gradual) process.

Oh, and she might not like cows’ milk. Some kids don’t. Kids in some whole cultures and ethnic groups don’t ever drink cows’ milk. Neither my brother nor I have ever liked cows’ milk, in fact. As long as we have other sources of calcium and get plenty of water and other fluids, it’s totally fine. So if she doesn’t like cows’ milk don’t worry about it. You could try other calcium-fortified milk-like liquids (soy milk, rice milk, oatmeal milk, etc.) or you could just let it go, get her drinking water, and make sure she has plenty of other calcium-rich foods offered to her over the course of the week.

Good luck. I hope you and she have fun with this transition.