Discussion: helping your child have a happy childhood

Sandra writes:

"I have a question; it’s a rather "heavy" one because it doesn’t address a day-to-day issue, it’s more about parenting in general. My son is one year old now. Ever since I got pregnant, I’ve been looking back at my own childhood in an evaluating manner. How happy was I as a kid, and what can I do to make my son at least as happy, and if possible, happier? This is a thing that I want to work very, very hard on as a parent: helping my son to have a happy childhood. Not happy as in ‘spoilt’, but happy as in ‘I had a wonderful time when I was a kid, and this happy childhood empowers me as a human being’. I know that positive experiences and memories about youth depend on all kinds of aspects, many of them unrelated to parenting decisions. A sibling, your spouse, or you could become ill or die. Your kids could have an accident. They can have awful experiences at school (bullies…). Well, so many bad things can happen. Good things as well, of course But, I’m sure there’s a lot you can do as a parent. Based on my own (positive or negative) experiences as a kid, I’ve come up with a few guidelines myself:

– offer your kid as much room to explore and experiment as possible, within safe but loose boundaries;
– keep trying to understand, know, appreciate and love your child just the way he/she is (even when he/she seems to makes horrible decisions or turns out to have very different opinions from you);
– be extremely clear about boundaries, expected chores, rules; be very communicative and open about them (don’t "assume" that your kid will do something in a specific way if you’re not clear about it); say ‘thank you’ often enough.

I’m curious about other people’s ideas about this. Especially people who do look back upon a happy childhood. What were the key things your parents did, or decided, that made your childhood so happy? Any ideas?"

I think I had a happy childhood, and what I remember about it that made it happy was that things were mostly pleasant in my house. My mom and dad didn’t fight in front of us (a little bickering, yes, but that was more like a sport than something unpleasant), we had family mealtimes as much as we could, and I just felt like my parents were happy we were there.

That Maya Angelou quote (and Lord Google isn’t giving me anything exact) about the most important thing for children being that your eyes light up when they come into the room rang really true for me. My mom still sounds absolutely delighted when I call her, even if I was talking to her 30 seconds earlier and lost the signal and had to call back.

I think you have some wonderful ideas about creating a happy childhood, and that those things are important for creating a feeling of safety and security in a child.

What do the rest of you think? Have you been intentional about facilitating happy childhoods for your kids? What have you identified as the crucial elements?

Q&A: going outside with a newborn

Jennifer writes:

"I’m due any day now, and my pediatrician, whom I think is quite
sensible about most things, recommends that I don’t take the baby
outside at all for six weeks because of the high level of pollutants
and allergens in my area.  My husband has seasonal allergies, so it’s
something I’m aware of.  This summer hasn’t been a bad summer at all.
No code red days, and Hubby hasn’t resorted to his allergy meds nearly
as often as usual.  Six weeks seems like a long time to keep a baby
with a normal immune system indoors.  It seems like a very, very long
time to keep me indoors.   Can this be one of those situations where I
take the pediatrician’s advice under advisement, and then do what feels
best to me?"

Do you live in Mexico City*? If not, there’s no reason to assume that your baby is going to have abnormal problems with weather conditions or pollutants. If your area is having alarm days, obviously follow the recommendations to stay inside during peak hours, but going out in the early morning and in the evening should be fine. I’m assuming you’ll be paying attention to the baby while you’re out and not just sending your monkey butler out to walk the child, so if the baby starts to have any problems you can go inside again right away.

All the warnings against going out I’ve heard have been based on not taking your child to enclosed areas with a bunch of people with their accompanying bunch of germs. If you’re breastfeeding you don’t have to worry so much, because your milk passes on immunities to the baby (whose own immune system isn’t really in full force for a few weeks). The best way to manage this exposure is to stick to places where there aren’t as many people or they’re all spread out, and not tight or crowded groupings. So huge mega-grocery store or short walks around the block–yes. Crowded subways or dorm parties–no.

You can also keep your baby more protected by carrying the baby in a body carrier (sling, pouch, wrap, etc.) close to you. People seem to be less inclined to walk up to and try to touch a baby carried close to a parent than one in a stroller. Also, you can block anyone with your hands if the baby is right there. And they’re not exposed to the world, but snuggled right up in your airspace.

I think you should plan on being inside for at least a few days, if not a couple of weeks, just to give yourself a chance to rest and reenergize. (In many cultures, new mothers and newborns stay inside and everyone else brings them everything they need for 40 days. So from a resting-up and bonding standpoint staying inside makes a lot of sense, assuming there are plenty of other adults there to take care of you and keep you company. But that’s a huuuuge assumption.) But then you’re not going to be going out on any all-day hiking trips that soon anyway, so just do what your energy level dictates. As long as the baby’s with you and you’re watching his or her cues, you’ll be fine.

*Don’t any of you chilangos get mad at me for talking smack about El Districto. You know it’s super-polluted. When I lived there in ’95 we used to joke that they should just chop off the last two places of the ozone index, like they did with the peso a few years previous to that. As far as I’m concerned, the pollution and traffic are the city’s only flaws. Lindo y querido.

Q&A: poop issues with older preschoolers

Today we have two emails about older preschoolers pooping in their pants.

Samantha writes:

"I have a 3.5 year old daughter, Ariana and a 19 month old son, Blaine.
Ariana has mastered the going pee in the potty but refuses to poo but
only in her panties. I don’t yell at her but try and promote that
"everyone" (nana, papa…etc.) goes poo in the potty. Blaine comes in
from time to time to see what she’s doing on the potty. She doesn’t mind
that at all. She is actually happy to see him witness her being a big
girl. I’m not sure what to do about this. I have only 10 pairs of
panties and they last a day. Please, any advice would be great!"

The first thing I’ll tell you to do is buy more panties.

(Seriously, though, you should buy more panties, just to save yourself the aggravation of running out of clean ones.)

I have two suggestions, and maybe one will work for you. The first is to arrange playdates with kids her age who do poop in the potty. Even if she isn’t swayed by your statements that everyone poops*, she may get the urge to do what the other kids are doing. If the other kids are pooping in the toilet instead of their pants, peer pressure could work in your favor. The only catch to this is that she’ll have to be there when the other kid poops, which may be tricky to arrange.

The other suggestion is to have her go bottomless at home as much as possible. When she has to poop, she’ll have to make a decision. With pants on, she just goes in the pants, but with no pants she’ll have to decide whether she’s going to 1) poop on the floor (she’s old enough to think that’s gross and not respectful), 2) ask for a diaper to poop in, 3) ask for underpants to poop in, 4) poop in the toilet, or 5) not poop at all.

Your job is to watch her and help guide her into pooping in the toilet. If she starts out pooping on the floor, neutrally guide her to the toilet, then help her clean up the poop on the floor. (This means she does the cleaning and you help out, not that you clean and she watches.) If she asks for a diaper or underpants, calmly try to persuade her to "try" pooping on the toilet. If she does it once or twice, she might realize she likes not having to be cleaned up so much afterwards.

My only fear with taking the pants off for an older child is that she’ll not poop at all. If she shows any signs of withholding poop, put her pants back on right away. Better to be pooping in her underpants than not at all. Which segues us into the next question.

Rebecca writes:

"My son turned 4 in July.  He still poops in his pants.
Well, some background.  He had some withholding issues and has a prescription
for Miralax that he takes a few times a week.  He still relapses into holding
his stools, so we’ve not put pressure on him to poop in the potty.  (He’s
been pee trained for a long time.)  I don’t know what to do.  Offering
rewards does not work.  Sticker charts do not work.  I haven’t wanted to
use punishment so as not to have him regress into more withholding.  So we
decided to just kind of ignore it and not make a big deal about it.  Well, it’s
almost as if that has backfired because now it IS no big deal to him to just
poop in his pants.  He’ll do it and then just ask to be changed.  I’ve
thought about having him be responsible for cleaning, but how well can a 4 year
old wipe himself, you know?  He starts school on Monday (preschool) and I’m
just hoping he doesn’t poop in his pants during the 12 hours a week he’s
there.  I really thought this would just be something he’d outgrow,
except now it’s as if he thinks it is fine to continue to do this
forever.  I am honestly afraid he WILL be going to kindergarten in a year and
still not fully potty trained.  Please help me!"

I have no idea. We have a friend this same age with almost this same problem, and I wish it could be resolved for both boys.

My instinct is to ask his teachers if they have experience dealing with this. Withholding poop is not a unique problem, so experienced teachers have probably seen it before. They may have some suggestions.

I think if it were me, I’d put him in Pull-Ups because then I wouldn’t have to carry around poopy underpants, and it would be clear that it isn’t a regular thing for him to do. But maybe that would make him feel even worse around the other kids?

I would ask your doctor if there’s a therapist or specialist who deals with this kind of stuff (a poop therapist?) and see if you can get together some sort of meeting with the specialist and the teachers (if they have any insights) to figure out what to do.

I wish I had a magic bullet that could get him to want to poop, and to poop in the toilet. Maybe one of the readers has been through this and can give some advice.

* Please tell me I’m not the only one who imagines Michael Stipe singing every time you see the Everybody Poops book.

Your chance to help

I just got a note from Asha at Parenthacks asking for donations of used stuffed animals. Asha was contacted by Edmay Mayers, an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working in Iraq who distributes toys to the children she meets over there. Mayers says that they can’t keep up with the demand for toys for these kids.

Read the entire post, which includes mailing directions for the stuffed toys, here at Parenthacks.

This is a fabulous opportunity to clean out stuffed animals your kids no longer play with (or never did play with) and, at the same time, help kids who have almost nothing. And this could make a great service project for elementary school kids.

Q&A: 21-month-old acting up on purpose

Kate writes:

"My son is 21 months old.

Up to now he has been extremely responsive to correction from us.  If I told him something was a "no-no" and wagged my pointer finger, he would stop what he was doing, wag his own finger, say "no-no" and then applaud.  And we would applaud too.

In the past week or so, this has stopped working. Yesterday, I told him to stop grabbing the lettuce off of my plate and throwing it on the floor.  But he just got a glinty look in his eye, grabbed as much lettuce as he could and threw it on the floor.  Today, I told him I would not buy him a matchbox car from the man selling them on the street.  So he took his hand and swept it along the table pushing 5 or 6 cars onto the sidewalk.

I would like to handle incidents like this calmly and consistently.  Our old method doesn’t really work, though, because as our son has matured he’s lost interest in doing things like touching fans or outlets that are predictable enough that we are able to put them in the "no-no" category in advance.

He also seems to have started acting badly "on purpose" as opposed to because his overwhelming interest/lack of impulse control got the better of him.  He seems to be doing bad things to see how we will respond.

So my question to you is — how should we respond? First, how should we respond if he does something bad that we’re not 100% sure he knew was bad, like sweeping the cars onto the sidewalk?  Second, how should we respond if he does something he was well aware was bad — like throwing food on the floor?

Although what I am most interested in is your expert opinion, if there’s a book or other resource you think would be helpful, that would be great too."

Well, I’m so not an expert, but I did feel like this was a problem I had half a decent handle on the first time, and may be able to deal with as I head into it again. (In contrast to the myriad problems I have no clue about.)

I think the thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to engage in a battle of wills with your toddler. This shouldn’t be about controlling him, but instead guiding him to better behavior. He’s testing to see what he can get away with, and it won’t serve anyone if he gets away with negative behavior, but if you can guide him without being punitive he’ll have less to push back against.

The way I handled that was to remain matter-of-fact as I said "No" and just picked him up and redirected him. I found that my older son needed to be physically guided away from things he shouldn’t do (whether that was throwing food on the floor or biting other kids or pulling the cat’s fur) and guided toward the new thing I wanted him to do instead. Part of my plan was to have him repair any damage he’d done as much as possible, so if he threw food on the floor, I’d guide his hands while he cleaned it up. We’d talk about how to fix a situation if he’d taken or broken anything. Sometimes things couldn’t be fixed. We talked about that, too.

The idea I returned to again and again with him was "We don’t do that." That made it just a standard of behavior, not something I was setting up that he could fight me on. (The same way we used "It’s time for bed" instead of "I want you to go to bed.") I think if I’d known about Hedra’s "safe, respectful, and kind" idea I would have filtered everything through that. "We don’t do that because it’s not respectful," etc. He knew very clearly what the boundaries were and that he couldn’t go past those boundaries, but there was no nastiness or control struggle about it. (Is anyone else testing out Hedra’s Big 3? We’ve been doing it for about a week in our house. If anyone else is trying it we can all discuss it in a few weeks.)

If I could get to him before he misbehaved to move him away from what he was going to do, things worked out better than if I had to play clean-up after he’d done something he wasn’t supposed to. I really don’t believe in waiting to see what a kid this young will do, and then punishing when they misbehave. It’s a toddler’s job to test limits, so of course they’re going to do what they’re not supposed to. Catching him when he opened his mouth and started to lunge, and putting in his biting toy was part of the process of helping him be able to make better choices. Waiting until he’d bitten and then punishing him pulled the focus away from helping him learn the boundaries and to control his behavior.

You may have a child who responds well to verbal cues and doesn’t need the physical guidance. In that case, you’ll have to stay on top of things by directing him to do what you want him to do before he misbehaves. As an example, if you saw him about to throw the lettuce, you could direct him to put the lettuce on the table. Again, you’re helping him make better behavior choices and at the same time not allowing him to do the negative behavior. If he still does the thing you don’t want him to do, try using the physical guidance and see how he responds. And, of course, he needs to clean up any mess he makes, whether it’s throwing lettuce or brushing cars on the floor.

If you reinforce the boundaries like this, there really isn’t a difference in the way you treat something you know he knew not to do and something you don’t know he knew not to do. You’ll have plenty of time to get angry at him for deliberately disobeying you when he’s 3 1/2 (oh, yes), so at this first misbehaving stage try to keep the focus just on reinforcing boundaries without emotion.

There are going to be tantrums. Only you know what your child needs during a tantrum. And it may vary by the situation. Some kids are just letting off steam and need to be left alone to rage. Others need closeness to be helped through the bad feelings. You could always try asking, "Do you need a hug?" and if the answer is "No" (or "No!!!") you can say "I’m sorry you feel so sad. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready for a hug." That way your child knows you’re there to comfort them, but the tantrum doesn’t dictate anyone’s actions.

That’s what worked for me. We entered this phase right after I read Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and I know that book helped me focus on what message I was trying to get across during this extremely trying phase.

I know some of you will also have great ideas about how to weather this stage gracefully and productively, and some book recommendations. Lay them on us.

Q&A: feeding issues at 8.5 months, 15 months, and 2 years

A trifecta of feeding issues for the weekend.

Tina writes:

"I have a question about my 8 1/2 month old’s eating, or rather
lack thereof, habits.  To be honest,  I am actually not that concerned
right now, but I am wondering when I should be concerned.  My son is
breastfed and because I am fortunate enough to work from home
part-time, he rarely takes a bottle. He has always been a snacker,
eating on average in less than 10 minutes.  We introduced solids at 6
month starting with rice.  We pureed everything else, except
applesauce. 

He can chew, although occasionally he spits it (and everything
else) back up.  We have also introduced finger foods, mainly whatever
bland items we are eating at dinner.  I have given no thought to
weaning him and had fully planned to breastfeed for at least a year.
We have no history of allergies in either family.

I guess since I am writing you I am probably more concerned than I
am willing to admit.  I just don’t know when I should truly be
concerned about his development if he doesn’t start eating."

He actually sounds dead-on normal to me. There are many, many kids who like eating right at around the 6-month mark because it’s new and exciting and they get to do what the big people are doing. But then it’s just not as interesting as crawling or rolling or staring at ceiling fans or blowing raspberries. And being spoon-fed totally loses its appeal, so they only want to eat things they can feed themselves, but even that gets boring soon. So they hit a dip in eating (both amount and variety).

The cure is pretty much the same cure to most baby-related problems: Wait a few months and it’ll all change. Keep offering your son foods he can feed himself from what you’re eating, or snacks during the day of healthy things like big pieces of apple, banana, avocado, cheerios, etc. Since he’s still getting most of his nutrition from breastmilk anyway, it’s not a big deal if he’s not eating as much as he used to. If I were going to bet money, I’d bet that he’ll start putting food away at around 13 months (another time kids seem to suddenly start eating if they didn’t before). It’ll be easier then because he’ll have more deterity and more teeth, so he’ll have a wider range of available options.

The lovely Dee writes:

"I’m having a tough time with my 15 month old daughter when it
comes to eating. Since she is my first child, I’ve not had any previous
experience with the palate and dining preferences of little people 🙂
so I’m at a loss on how to proceed.

The
tough part is not the eating itself, per se, but coming up with foods
that she’ll want to try (and hopefully like). Many times, I’ll simply
give her some of whatever my husband and I are having for dinner but in
many instances, she doesn’t care at all for it (e.g., grilled sirloin
diced into small pieces, etc.). I then must wrack my brain to come up
with something else I think she’ll like.

There
are certain foods she loves so often I’ll rotate those but because they
are  limited in number, I don’t want to bore her with repetition of
them. They include smoked turkey breast, macaroni and cheese, green
beans, spaghetti with sauce, club crackers, hot dogs (without ‘skin’
and cut into pieces), watermelon, goldfish crackers, and a few other
things. Not exactly the healthiest menu but she steadfastly refuses
many new foods we try or she’ll like them at one sitting and then not
touch them the next time I serve them to her.

Even
though I know that no two children are alike, I was wondering if
perhaps you or your gracious readers can recommend some other foods
that their children have been fans of. I figure that way, I can perhaps
start adding some to our rotation and see if any become favorites. I
can think of no other way to expand her eating horizons at this point
in time.

Please keep in mind that she’s not
really good at using silverware yet (she tries but just can’t seem to
connect food with utensil and then with mouth) so most foods I serve
are ‘finger foods’ in nature–easy for her to pick up and get into her
mouth sans utensils."

Here’s my theory, and I don’t have any evidence except anecdotal evidence, so take this for what you’re paying for it: I think that at around the age of 2, kids stop eating the things they ate when they were younger because refusing food is one of the only ways they can exercise control over their lives. So that means that a kid who eats 20 different things at 15 months and a kid who eats 250 things at 15 months will both probably end up eating the same 20 things from the ages of 2 to 4.

I was reading a post Danielle at Foodmomiac wrote about making foods for your kids’ lunchboxes, in which Danielle pointed out that adults get bored eating the same things every day, but kids truly like to repeat things and have the same things to eat all the time:

"I, personally, need variety in my daily lunches. Small children do not.
Small children are happy with Mac and Cheese or PB&J every day.
Please, please, please remember this when making your lunches. The goal
is to make your kids happy, while providing nutritious meals. The goal
is not to win a school lunch award."

So the lack of variety is more of a problem for us than it is for the kids, and how many foods we introduce them to now will have nothing to do with how many they eat when they’re 3, and may not even have anything to do with how many they eat when they’re 30.

Having said that, the foods I’d recommend trying are rice and beans, quesadillas (cut in wedges and served with salsa to dip them in), baby carrots, edamame, corn on the cob, pieces of avocado, yogurt, hummus (either on pita wedges or fed to her with a spoon), baked fries (either regular potato or sweet potato–cut the potato, toss in a little oil and salt, and bake at 350 until done), and cut pieces of fruit (big enough that she can really grab them and shove them in).

Anyone else have any ideas for Dee?

Nikki writes:

"So my 2-year-old son seems to think that anything but junk food is the devil. I can not get him to eat things that he once loved.
What can I do to get him to eat the once-loved foods.  Any suggestions?"

Wait until he’s 4. And I’m kind of serious about that. I’m not sure there’s much a parent can do when a 2-year-old is using food choices as control. You don’t want to engage in a battle of wills, because it’s not good for either of you or for your relationship. Plus, a child has more energy and boldness, so he’ll probably win. You have to use your patience and wisdom to wait him out.

One thing you can do is not buy the junk food so it’s not available in the house to him. (Or hide it really, really well so you can eat it when he’s in bed for the night. Not that I’d know anything about that.) He may not want to eat the nutritious foods you subsitute for the junk food, but eventually he will eat at least some of them so he doesn’t go hungry.

Another thing you could do is trick him into thinking things are junk food that actually aren’t. A guy I know was told by his mother that dried fruit was candy, and she only allowed them to have it on Sunday nights after supper, so he grew up thinking prunes and raisins were a special treat. Hee. If you could ration out healthy snacks and pretend you weren’t sure he was really allowed to have them, you could make him think they’re something he wants to eat.

You could also try outsourcing his eating as much as possible. The control game is one he really wants to play with you, since you’re his mother. He won’t care as much about doing it with a babysitter or grandparent, so if he spends time away from you, ask whoever’s with him to try to get him to eat with them. Odds are that he’ll eat better for them than he will for you.

Whatever you end up doing, don’t let him know that his lack of eating bothers you. Be unemotional and nonchalant about it, and he may come around more quickly because it’s boring not getting a rise out of you. But know that it’s super-common, and we all grow up despite not eating anything all day for weeks on end when we’re 2. He’ll probably make up for it when he’s 15 and eat you out of house and home.

Q&A: no naps in car and short nap problem

I get plenty of questions that stump me. Here are two of them for today.

Sarah writes:

"I’ve searched everywhere for help with this but as it’s unusual, I’m at a loss. My 10 month old son is unable, or rather just doesn’t know how, to sleep in the car. Due to his colic, we were so careful in his early months to get him home by naptime that he now just fusses and rubs his eyes but won’t sleep unless he’s in a crib in a dark room. So, my husband and I have resigned ourselves to very short outings so that we’re home before Nate is too sleepy.

Will he ever just learn to sleep in the car? Is there a gentle way to teach him? We’re beginning to feel trapped and want to be able to go on vacation or visit relatives without a miserable experience."

It seems a little ironic to me that so many colicky babies can only sleep in a moving car, but Nate can’t sleep in one at all. At least you’ve been saving on gas all these months.

I wonder if you could do some kind of step-down program. Stay with the darkened room, but work on getting him to sleep in his carseat inside the crib. Then move on to the carseat instead of the crib. Then move on to the carseat in a room that’s not darkened. Then try the carseat on a short trip at exactly nap time (to maximize the likelihood that he’ll fall asleep then). It won’t be a fast method of getting him to sleep in the car, but it should cause him less trauma than going cold-turkey and doing a 7-hour trip at night would.

Other than that, I’ve got nothing. Has anyone else transitioned a bad carseat sleeper to a good carseat sleeper?

And Jennifer writes:

"Help, please! My now
9 ½ month old boy only naps 40 minutes at a time. He’s been doing this since birth, and I
keep thinking he’ll grow out of it, but still hasn’t. Every now and then he takes a 1 hour 15
minute nap, but I never know when that will be. It’s so hard to have any schedule with him, it’s driving our
family crazy. Thoughts?"

I’m surprised he hasn’t grown out of it yet either. (40-minute naps are very common for babies in the 2-5 month age range, but most grow into longer naps around 4-5 months on their own.) Is it possible there’s something bothering him physically?

I’d try propping the head of his crib, just in case he’s got silent reflux (although you’d probably see problems in his night sleep if he had it). Could he be too cold? Too hot? Is there noise in his room that could be waking him up? Anything he could be allergic to? Does he sleep in the car or the stroller?

I hope it’s something physical that can be resolved easily, because there’s also the possibility that he’s just a short nap-taker. Apparently, extremely intelligent people do not need as much sleep as the rest of us do, so maybe your consolation for all this time of having to wade through this nap mess will be appearing in a fancy dress when he receives the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship.

Does anyone have any other things to check that I didn’t think of?

Q&A: breastfeeding the second time around

Vanessa writes:

"I had a terrible
time starting breastfeeding with my daughter. I had flat nipples and
sensitive skin and my daughter had a high palate. I never
cracked or bled, but my nipples were constantly in pain (bruised and
abraded) for the first two months. I saw a lactation consultant
several times, and the latch looked good to her. From everything I
read, it seemed fine to me too. She had some suggestions for
correcting the problems I was having, but nothing seemed to work for us. I
was determined to breastfeed, so I just kept going through the pain. Eventually I was able to heal and we went on to breastfeed comfortably for
over a year. 

Now I am pregnant with my
second child, and I am getting nervous about the same thing
happening again. It’s been a while, and I know my nipples are not as tough
as they were. Do people usually find it easier the second time, or do
I just have to get through the bad part with the knowledge that it
will (eventually) get better?"

I think almost everyone finds breastfeeding the second time at least a little bit easier, if only because you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel one way or another. Plus, the first time around neither you nor your baby knows what you’re doing. The second time, even if your baby has a hard time latching at the beginning, at least you know how to nurse. Since breastfeeding is a two-person job, that makes an enormous difference.

I think it’s possible that you’ll be in pain again if the new baby also has a high palate, since it sounds like that may have been the big issue you and your daughter had. But it shouldn’t be as painful for as long as it was, because you’re not starting from the same point physically or emotionally. With your daughter, you had no idea what to expect, and the pain probably seemed endless. The next time, you’ll know that the brand-newborn phase is really only a short time (even when it seems like an eternity), so it’ll be easier to trust that you’ll make it to your goals. (I"m assuming you’re like a lot of us and set progressive goals of making it to 3 weeks, then 6 weeks, then 12 weeks, etc.)

Plus, even though your nipples seem exactly the same as they were before you had your daughter, they’re going to be ready to swing back into active duty much more quickly than they did the first time. The flatness might not be such as issue, and they won’t need as long a period of toughening up.

I really think a major factor in what makes the second time around easier for most women is that the second time you know what’s normal and what’s not. You know how to latch a baby and how to check and correct your own latch. You know that if you get lazy about enforcing correct latch during the middle of the night you’ll be paying for it the next day, but it’s more a calculated risk than a miserable betrayal (the way it felt the first time around when you discovered that equation). You know that one bad feed isn’t going to kill your baby or make your milk dry up.

And none of the other stuff will be a shock, either. Nursing by itself can be difficult, but that first time around it’s just sensory overload when you add it to all the other aspects of caring for a newborn. The poop, the odd marks on the skin, the spitting up, the crazy only-sleeping-during-the-daylight schedule, the mood swings, the loss of identity you feel, the fights with your partner, etc. The second time through, even if you don’t remember and anticipate all this stuff ahead of time, when you’re in it you can remind yourself that none of that lasts forever and you’re doing a great job of treading water until things change.

Another often-overlooked factor is that statistically women have more success with nursing after easier births than after harder ones. And second births tend to be much easier than first births, whether they’re repeat vaginal births or repeat c-sections, and recovery is almost always easier the second time. (The women I know personally who’ve attempted VBACs mostly seemed to be happy they’d tried them, whether they ended up delivering vaginally or by c-section. So I don’t know that the attempted VBACs can be considered "easier," but the mothers had increased self-esteem after them.)

If you really had problems nursing the first time, and ended up supplementing with or switching to formula, you probably felt rotten and inadequate. The second time around a) you’ll probably have an easier time and a better supply anyway, and b) you’ll know that any milk you can give your child is great, so using formula doesn’t make you a lesser mother. It doesn’t seem like the horrible tightrope act is was the first time, since formula doesn’t equal failure anymore. (I’d urge anyone who had a crappy nursing experience with a first child to try it with a second. It could be far easier, just because the second child is a different person. To increase your odds of success, see an IBCLC lactation consultant before you deliver. She’ll help you pinpoint what the major problems were the first time and come up with a plan to increase your odds of success the next time. You’ll never know if you don’t try.)

So I think you’re going to have a far easier time with the second baby, Vanessa. I can give you my data point: I’m white and have pale skin and blue eyes (which seem to correlate to having nursing pain for a longer time at the beginning). With my first son I had nipple pain for 5 weeks. Some of that was a bad latch caused by the Boppy (it didn’t hug up to me and my son was so big that he’d fall into the crack between the Boppy and me and twist around, hurting my nipples) but some of it was my paleness. With my second son I started to feel a little pain, but by day 3 it was resolved.

Anyone else want to give data points on the differences between nursing a first and second child?

Q&A: toilet talk

Tiel writes:

"My question is about ‘toilet talk’. I have  an almost 4 year old and since starting kindy and I think with the influence of another little charming friend at family care, his language has gone down the toilet so to speak. He isn’t swearing. He says things like. ‘poo poo dog’, ‘smelly face’  etc etc…you get the gist.  Some things are quite creative, like ‘radio monster’ and  my favourite..’you’re a mustard pickle!’ But on the whole it is driving me insane. I know that a lot of children do this, but WHEN IS IT LIKELY TO STOP???? Any suggestions on how to approach it. I’ve tried talking to him about ‘naughty words’, even ignoring him, but he thinks it is all very funny."

Well, in all honesty, it is pretty funny. "Mustard pickle," especially. But I feel your frustration, as we were in this exact situation after a few weeks of preschool last year, and it was driving me off the deep end. Truly, I thought I was going to gouge out my eardrums rather than listen to any more fart and poop talk and random word string insults.

My son’s teachers had a policy that we continued at home about "bathroom talk" (the effluent-related words and insults), which was that you could say those words all you wanted to, but you could only say them in the actual bathroom. It seemed to work fine for them at school, but was a constant battle at home. (It was truly hilarious, though, when El Chico would run to the bathroom and I’d expect to hear him lifting the toilet seat to pee, but instead I’d hear him shrieking "Poop! Farts! Doodoohead!")

Meira and her husband used reverse psychology to get their older son to stop with the bathroom talk at that stage by taking his favorite potty words and setting them to a tune, and then singing them loudly and with gusto for days until he got tired of them and stopped. (Because anything will become instantly uncool if your parents are doing it.) You can see why this appealed to my imagination, so we tried this method. I don’t know if it was the singing of the potty words that did it (we kind of did a fugue style in harmony), but El Chico finally stopped with the effluent-related words. He kept up the random-strings-of-words-as-insults for a few more weeks, but then that petered out, too.

So you can try this stuff (and I’m sure someone else will have suggestions of other things to try), or you can buy a big roll of duct tape and tape his mouth shut get some earplugs so you don’t have to listen to it anymore wait it out. He and the other kids in his class should move on to the next thing in a month or two. It will probably be pretending to shoot each other, or dressing in capes and being superheroes.

Hang in there.

Reader call: dark circles and sallow complexion, toddler drinking too much water, and having a third child

There are some things I don’t have any idea about, and that Lord Google isn’t telling me. Please help if you can!

1. Laura writes:

"I’m trying to find out what could be going on with my 8 month old son’s complexion or more expressly his general pallor. He looks unhealthy around the eyes. He always breaks out with red circles and tiny bumps. In general his skin tone looks sallow to me. I took him to a homeopath (not for this problem) and it’s one of the first things he mentioned was his skin. You know when you see young babies most of them look robust in the cheeks, well he doesn’t. What I’m trying to figure out is whether this is something internal or something in his environment that’s causing flare ups. He has very reactive skin so when he cries, bumps himself, rubs his eyes or is sleepy it all shows immediately around the eye tissue. I haven’t been able to find out any info about this."

This screams out "allergies" to me. I would go over his diet with a fine-tooth comb, looking for anything that he’s been ingesting since you noticed his skin problems. The most likely culprits are the usual suspects–wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and artificial colors/flavors. I’m also wondering about his iron levels. Do you live in an area that mandates lead testing? If so, they will probably test his iron level at the same time.

Does anyone else have a more specific guess about what’s causing the dark circles and rash?

2. Kathy writes:

"My 18 month old she drinks
about 80-90 oz. of fluids a day (rice milk, water, water w/ a little apple juice
for flavor). Is this normal? It seems excessive to me. This is my third child.
She has various food intolerances (hence the rice milk). I can’t tell if the
drinking (cup, mug, sippy cup, bottle [of water] right before
naps/bedtime) is to soothe a stomachache or if it could be a sign of something
else. The doctor already checked her sugar and it was fine (no diabetes). Any
help?"

The guideline I’ve heard that seems to be highest (higher than the standard 64 oz a day) for adults is to take your weight in pounds, divide by 2, and drink that much liquid in ounces every day. (Convert kilos to pounds and ounces to mL here.) And even if there’s a higher guideline for kids, 80-90 ounces still seems excessive. I would be on the lookout for symptoms of water intoxication to make sure she’s not hurting herself (lethargy and confusion from lack of sodium in the brain, or in severe cases twitching and seizures).

All the sources I’m finding mention either diabetes and hypoglycemia, but since her sugar is normal you can rule those out. Other conditions I’m seeing are adrenal hormone or thyroid hormone disorders. But there also seem to be plenty of cases of excessive thirst with no known cause.

Anyone have any ideas for Kathy about what this could be?

3. Here’s one for readers with more than two children.

Ann writes:

"Though I have no perfect argument for having a third child, I just
feel that a third will be a nice addition to the family.  Yet, we have
an extremely bright firstborn (age 4) who is still psychologically attached to
me (his mom) and is very needy emotionally.  Will I be damaging his
accelerated development by having for a third child? I also wonder
whether with a third I will be able to pay much attention to my second
child (age 2).  I also want to add that my first is developmentally (academically and
physical abilities) way ahead of the curve as well so I worry a great
deal about him just as I worry that even the little (one-on-one) time I
get with my second will be lost.

Our two children are currently the best of friends and I am so
afraid I will shake the apple cart of seeming peace in the family by
even thinking about a third, yet I don’t want to regret later in life
by not going for another child.

I also hope that with your answer to my question, I will be able
to build a strong argument for trying for a third with my husband. I am 37+ already…so there is not too much time to wait.

Please advise."

Anyone? I was very worried about having a second, knowing that it would take time away from my first. And it did, but the interaction they have makes up for it in different ways.

For those who have 3 or more, what was the greater change–one to two, or two to three? And is there any way to avoid shortchanging the middle child?

Obviously we can’t advise Ann one way or the other, but what thoughts did you have going into your third child? What do you wish you’d known?