Q&A: returing to work while breastfeeding an older baby

Laury writes:

"I wanted to ask your advice about carrying on breastfeeding and returning to work. My son is 10.5 months; I’m going back to work 3 days a week in a month’s time. I usually feed him 4-5 times a day (not much at night any more thank heaven), including feeding him to sleep for bedtime and most naps. I can probably do 2-3 of those feeds once I’m working again but I’m wondering what to replace the feeds he’ll miss with, and whether I can carry on feeding him more often in the days I’m with him. He’s not taken to my offers of breastmilk, formula or cow’s milk in a sippy cup (or bottles which he has always refused).  He does drink water out of a sippy. He’s been an erratic daytime feeder for ages, but to complicate things, has just started wanting to drink lots. (There’s some 46-week-ish development thing I think) He eats 3 pretty decent solids meals a day too. I’m keen to carry on nursing, especially as he’s small – i’m just not sure what to expect at this point, and all the extended breastfeeders I encounter seem to be SAHMs. What do you think?"

I think the things you’re worrying about are going to work themselves out. But I also think there’s going to be an adjustment period. As long as you know that and can work with it, you should be OK.

The biggest negative that I can think of is that he might start wanting to nurse at night again for a few weeks once you go back to work. Younger babies almost always try to make up the missed contact by nursing more at night. Your son may or may not want to nurse at night since he’ll be a year old and has a better sense of object permanence, so he’ll probably be better able to deal with your being gone during the day several days. But he might start waking up. If he does, it should work itself out in a few weeks once he’s used to the new schedule.

I think the rest will depend on your supply and on who will be caring for him while you’re at work. If your supply tends to be adequate and flexible (for example, if he nurses less one day you’ll still have enough the next day), then I think you can get away with not pumping at all (especially since many women find that they can’t pump enough at around 10 months, even if they still have plenty when the baby is actually nursing) and just nurse on request on the days you’re home. If your supply is more tightly calibrated, you may have to pump once or twice on the days you’re at work so you have enough on your off days.

If he’s still nursing 2-3 times a day, then he doesn’t actually need milk or a milk substitute while you’re gone. He can drink water for hydration and eat for nutrition. But he may take milk (yours or cows’) from a caregiver just fine even if he won’t take it from you. I’d talk to the caregiver ahead of time and explain that your son won’t take anything from you in any container, but that s/he’s welcome to try. And then let it be the caregiver’s problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if your son will take milk from the caregiver easily. (Parents see this all the time on all kinds of issues, that their child won’t do something for them but will do it happily for a grandparent or babysitter.) It’s both annoying and liberating, because then it really isn’t your problem while you’re at work.

I think you’re in a great spot to be going back to work. Babies this age are so stable with their nursing and eating that any disruptions you see in the first few weeks should be annoying, but minor and not worrysome. And having a 3-day schedule will mean you’re still home more than you are gone, so it should be easier to maintain your grip on things at home than if you had to go straight into working 5 days a week.

Did anyone else go back when your baby was close to a year? How did it go?


Q&A: 20-month-olds won’t eat

I seem to get more feeding questions about 20-month-olds than about anyother age. You can read some past ones here and here. I have a few in my queue right now, and all of them are similar to the following two questions.

Ammy writes:

"I need help on how to feed my 20 month old daughter.  She will only eat
oatmeal, milk, graham crackers, mashed potatoes, french fries and apple
sauce (and the occasional Oreo).  I am worried that she will starve
herself.  I have always had a problem feeding her..except for when she
nursed or had a bottle, but I just cannot get her to eat.  Everyone
says that she will come around, but I don’t think she will.  She is
very stubborn and strong willed and I don’t think it would bother her
to go hungry, although, she gets very fussy.  I still try and offer her
the things that we eat, but she won’t, unless it is a french fry.  I
have tried small pieces that she can pick up and she just throws it on
the floor.  We have tried forcing it in her mouth but she spits it out,
and if she swallows it, she just ends up throwing it up after 2 bites.
Please help me.  I am worried about her health. Someone asked me if
maybe she had a swallowing problem, but I don’t think she does or she
wouldn’t eat cookies and graham crackers."

And Swati writes:

"I have a daughter who is 20 months old. She learns everything very quickly but one things which is biggest problem is that she doesn’t eat anything on her own.

I have tried all the finger food items, juice items and even cut pieces of fruits. She just plays with it for a few minutes and then she just goes away.

Generally I feed her during the lunch and dinner time. And try if she can eat on her own during the snacks time. While I feed her, I have to involve her in stories or television to put the food in.

Please help."

This is so, so typical of this age, and I don’t think either of these children have actual feeding problems. If they did, they wouldn’t be eating foods with texture. Instead, it’s about control, the same as it is with most things kids this age do.

They’re starting to learn that they are separate from you, and that it would be possible for them to have control over what they do. But since they have very little control, because we make almost every decision for them, they have to exert control whenever they can. It’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening at this point, and indicates healthy and appropriate emotional development.

The most basic way to maintain control over your own body (assuming you’re one-third the height and one-fifth the weight of the person making you do things)  is to refuse to put things in your mouth, or to spit them out if someone else puts them in. This explains why eating becomes the primary battleground for toddler struggles with authority.

We all lived through the ’90s, so I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phrase "Don’t hate the playa, hate the game." While it applies well to love relationships (and the East Coast/West Coast/Dirty South Rap Wars), it also applies perfectly to feeding toddlers. You can get all upset with the struggle and feel frustrated with your kid, or you can acknowledge that your child is acting appropriately for this time in life and just stop playing the game.

If you stick with your job, which is to provide healthy foods for your child, your child can stick with his/her job, which is to decide what and how much to eat from within the foods you provide. Barring any metabolic disorders or illnesses, your child won’t allow him or herself to starve, and will be more likely to eat more if you don’t (seem to) care.

Since part of not showing concern for the amount your child eats is not spoon-feeding your child, switch (if you haven’t already done so) to foods your child can self-feed, either with fingers or a fork (at this age they can stab with a fork far more easily than they can scoop with a spoon). IMO, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of work and anxiety if you stop fixing a bunch of different special foods for your child, and just stick with what the rest of the family is eating, plus maybe a few consistent favorites that don’t take much prep (grapes, baby carrots, Cheerios, string cheese, etc.).

If you’re still worried that there may be something abnormal abotu your child, take comfort in the words of my pediatrician, who told me when his daughter was 22 months that "she hasn’t eaten anything but plain yogurt in two months!" Three years later she’s still doing fine (and has expanded her repertoire). This, too, will pass.

Q&A: too much yelling?

Dax writes:

"My 2-year-old is doing the "I want you Mom" thing and then 2 minutes later she is on the floor screaming and crying for no reason. Is this normal for a child to do knowing that her mom and dad are not together and there is a step-parent in the picture? She even cries when I yell at her to stop something. I think I really scare her with the yelling. Am I wrong for yelling at her?"

If you think you’re scaring her, then you probably are. Everyone yells sometimes, but if you feel like yelling is your main form of "discipline," you should reevaluate how you’re communicating.

The common-sense question to ask yourself about anything you do to or with your child is "Would I want to be my child in this situation?" That doesn’t mean that you always do the pleasant or easy thing, but it does mean you do the thing that makes your child feel safe and understood and empowered to act responsibly. If you think you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the yelling that you do, then you know you need to stop. (We can go back to Hedra’s "Safe, Respectful, and Kind" rules, too. Excessive yelling is neither respectful nor kind. Also not safe, because if you yell all the time and she tunes you out, she won’t pay attention when you yell at her to watch out when something’s about to hurt her.)

I don’t think your being separated from your daughter’s father, or her having a step-parent has much to do with it, assuming you all get along and are respectful of each other and she has consistent rules in both houses. I think what’s probably making her scream and yell so much is that that’s how you talk to her. She gets clingy because she wants your love and closeness, but then when she gets frustrated, she yells, because that’s how she sees you handling your frustration.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m not implying that I don’t yell at my kids. I do, but when I find myself yelling I know it’s because I’m feeling at my limit. I yell when I lose my shit. It rarely accomplishes what I want it to. I think it bears repeating that you have to take care of yourself and try to manage your own stress level or you won’t be able to parent effectively.

The only way to really stop yelling is to 1) avoid getting into situations that make you want to yell, and 2) have another plan in place for what to do instead.

To do #1, you’re going to have to pay attention to when you yell. If it helps, write down the times and situations in which you yell for a couple of days. This is going to tell you what your particular yelling triggers are. Once you know what makes you yell, try to figure out some other way to sidestep that situation so it doesn’t escalate to yelling. For example, the thing that makes me yell all the time is when we need to leave the house and my older son won’t get dressed. Knowing that, I can avoid the yelling trigger by making him get dressed first thing in the morning, and helping him choose clothes and put them on when I’m not under time pressure.

Yes, this takes a lot of analysis and thought for a week or two, but it’s going to help you have a happier household for a long time to come. (Now if only I could stick to my own areas of improvement!)

For #2, the first thing I’d do is institute the Safe, Respectful, and Kind rules. She’s still a little young to really understand the ramifications, but it’s been amazing to me how easy it was for my 4 1/2-year-old to go from ignoring my requests to stop doing something to answering the question "What are the three rules?" with "Well, it’s not safe or respectful, so I should stop." And then he actually stops. If you can start presenting things to her through the lens of the three rules, soon enough she’ll be able to make those decisions herself. At the very least, it lets her know that there’s a reason for your wanting her to stop doing something, not just your arbitrary whim.

The next step is to figure out what will help your daughter behave the way you want her to. Is she too tired? Is she feeling lonely and wanting your attention? Did she have too much excitement and/or sugar that day? If there are things that would help her act better, figure out how you can help her fix the underlying situation so she’s able to control her behavior better.

If none of that helps, then distract her with something else. Figure out something that will get her attention, like a toy or giving you a hug or "washing dishes" on a stool at the sink, and do that to stop her from doing what she’s doing. It’s not teaching her any long-term lessons, but it’s stopping her from doing the annoying behavior.

Also, cut yourself a break. Yelling too much is definitely something to work on, but it’s not the end of the world. Two-year-olds are extremely tough customers. If you’re not getting enough sleep and have other stresses, it’s almost impossible not to lose it at least once or twice a day. So work on the tips above, but don’t expect to stop yelling overnight, and give yourself credit for the times you stay calm and collected in the face of 2-year-old beastliness. She’ll move into an easier phase soon.

Happy Birthday to Ask Moxie

Ask Moxie is one year old today (the 26th)! Here’s the post that started it all.

In honor of today’s anniversary, I thought we could all share our most egregious parenting mistakes from the last year (or so). I’ll leave this post up Sunday and Monday so everyone can play. I’ll start:

Some of you already know that when my older son was just crawling (at around 9 months), I found him eating something brown one day, and panicked, thinking it was chocolate. When I pulled it out of his mouth I discovered that it was cat poop that he’d fished out of the litterbox while I wasn’t looking.

[I’ll wait while you all give a collective shudder at that image.]

This year’s Unbelievably Bad Mommy Moment happened over the summer at the playground. My older son was running around playing with his friends, and the baby (15 months) was walking around the playground. I was following him to make sure he didn’t brain himself on any play equipment or bite anyone. At a certain point I followed him to one side of a play structure and started talking to another mom there. He walked under the structure and rolled onto his tummy on the other side. I continued yakking, but could see his feet kicking on the ground on the other side of the play structure the whole time.

Suddenly a dad came running toward me, yelling, "Is that your baby on the ground?!?!?!" I freaked out and ran to my son, thinking he’d been run over by an errant scooter or clobbered by a soccer ball. All I saw when I got there was my son lying on his stomach, kicking happily, with a squirrel a foot or two away from him. One of the moms said, "That squirrel was trying to sniff him."

If you know anything about urban playground squirrels, you know that they’re not docile, they’re not afraid, and they’re waaay smarter than we think squirrels are supposed to be. So I wasn’t sure why a squirrel would be trying to sniff my kid, and was Not Happy At All about this. But I gathered up my son and he started chewing on his fingers. I looked at the squirrel and noticed that it wasn’t moving, and seemed to be looking a little weak. Then the squirrel fell over onto its side and started kicking its leg helplessly. Like it was sick and dying.

Then it got worse. A middle-school girl ran up to me and told me that she’d seen my son grabbing the squirrel’s tail and yanking it, pulling it from side to side repeatedly. For several minutes.

There are no words to express how I felt in this moment. Insert your own. Start with "dumbass," if you must.

Of course I couldn’t tell my husband that I’d let our baby fondle a dying mammal’s fur and then stick his hands in his mouth. I know squirrels don’t carry rabies, but who knows what else made that squirrel sick? (It ran off, either to live another day or to die in dignity alone in the bushes instead of on the playground in front of everyone.) So I watched the baby like a hawk for two weeks, and when he was exactly the same I finally exhaled.

Anyone else? (If you want to post anonymously, put a fake URL in the "URL" field in the comments.)


Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, so by the time you’ve read this I will be on my way to having cooked a big dinner with my mother, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and National Dog Show on TV, eaten a delicious dinner (maybe delicious, since we’re experimenting with gluten-free turkey stuffing this year because of my wheat problem) with extended family, and begun the stain-removal process on my kids’ clothes.

I’m so thankful for all of you, who read and comment and email me with questions and rebuttals and funny stories and challenges.

I’m also thankful for Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting (one of my favorite books ever), who is a calming voice of reason in the parenting literature genre. I just discovered that he’s been answering reader questions over at PBSKids.org (we spend some time there playing the Curious George games like Banana 411). His two most recent books (Best Friends, Worst Enemies:  Understanding the Social Lives of Children and Mom, They’re Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems) are on helping kids navigate social relationships, and that appears to be the focus of the questions he’s tackling in his column at PBSKids.org. Definitely worth a read.

Back to Q&A tomorrow.

Q&A: altercations between toddlers

I got two somewhat similar questions about toddlers (17-20 months) fighting. The first was from Kristin, who writes:

"Our question relates to the effects of physical aggression at play group. We have started to take our 19 month daughter to a playgroup that is apparently run according to Steiner principles. One of the shared, central rules is never saying "no" to a child and never directly correcting what I often consider to be inappropriate behaviour. Most of the time this approach doesn’t worry me, even though I don’t agree with it, but my daughter is now being hurt by other children. For three weeks in a row she has been pushed over, punched and bitten by two older children in four separate incidents. When this has happened I’ve asked the children to stop hurting Boo but was given a very clear message by the parents that it is not my place to do so. However,the only intervention from the mothers has been a hug for the perpetrator – no apologies and no attempt to "make up". We’re really uncomfortable with this but we’re torn about leaving because there are some lovely kids,  Boo does seem to have a good time in many ways and we feel it’s important that she is exposed to different situations with other people (she’s also going to another playgroup where these situations just don’t occur).  Our concerns are two-fold: will my daughter end up believing that aggression is okay, or that it goes unpunished?; will the aggression have a lasting impact on her, undermining her security and confidence? This second outcome is particularly worrying as Boo has started to bring up the aggression seemingly out of the blue: "Jilly push. Boo bump. Sad".  Are we being over-protective?"

So, yeah. Short answer: No. You’re not being over-protective. Long answer will follow the next question. B writes:

"My 17-month-old daughter is in an all-day daycare program that’s
affiliated with a university and generally of high quality. There are
ten one-year-olds in her classroom and usually three teachers. She’s
been at the receiving end of 2 biting incidents and maybe one or
collisions that resulted in a bleeding lip. Overall, she’s very good at
avoiding physical confrontations and knows which kids seem most
dangerous to her–an excellent social skill to have, in my opinion.
Thus far, she’s not been aggressing against other kids.

I know that biting is to be expected in this age group and think that
the teaching staff respond appropriately. But I also know that one of
the biters has been engaging in this behavior for 2-3 months now.
Worse, I’ve seen the notorious biter choke other kids by coming up from
behind, putting them in a headlock and yanking their hair when teachers
seek to break up the choke. Several things worry me about this:
a) it looks like a well-practiced move and rather more, shall we say, "advanced" than I would expect from a one-year-old;
b) the choking incidents are not reported to the parents of either
victim or assailant, yet clearly taken seriously by the staff, who
coming rushing to the scene to free the choking victim;
c) the choking behavior, along with the biting, has been going on for
what seems to me an awfully long time, i.e. 2-3 months; but
d) since the center doesn’t keep statistics on these incidents, I have
no idea about the frequency of either the bites nor the chokes–my kid,
after all, can’t tell me.

Now here are my questions: Do you think that the choking is
age-appropriate? Do you think that any aggressive behavior that goes on
for 2-3 months or more is usefully chalked up to developmentally normal
nuisances? Or would you say that the problem is grave enough for the
teachers to either question the parenting that goes on at home or call
in expert help or both? Further, do you think that a childcare center
should document choking incidents to the parents even if they don’t
leave marks the way bites do? And does it strike you as a reasonable
request to say that a daycare center should keep stats on the frequency
of biting incidents and similar aggressive encounters in the
classroom?  (After all, every poopy diaper gets recorded and every arts
activity photographically documented.)"

This is all just a different version of the question we talked about last week about how to help a 1 1/2-year-old with tantrums.  The bottom line is that tantrums and aggression (hitting, biting, scratching, even choking) are normal for lots of kids. (And 2-3 months is not at all a long time for this to be going on.) They aren’t doing those things because they’re bad kids. They’re doing it because they don’t know how to communicate what they want, and because they don’t know how to process their feelings or deal with the frustration of being so little and wanting to be big, or because they can’t deal with other kids doing things they don’t like.

It is the job of the adults around them to teach them how to deal with their frustration. This can be a tough job, because the toddlers are taking out their frustration on you sometimes, and it’s hard not to just want to tape their arms to their bodies and their mouths shut with duct tape. But, as always, you have to keep your eyes on the long-term goal of teaching them to be civilized people who can communicate in better ways and manage their emotions in productive ways.

That’s what’s so disturbing about both situations. In Kristin’s situation, it just seems counterproductive and ridiculous for the adults just to observe what the toddlers are doing without helping them. At the very least they should be protecting the kids who get hurt from the kids who are hurting, and reinforcing to the hurters that that’s not acceptable behavior. At that age, toddlers absolutely cannot work it out on their own. Occasionally they may be able to navigate a situation in which two kids want the same toy, for example, but it’s certainly not something adults can expect to happen all the time. They need firm rules and guidance in how to interact with each other. They need help from the adults around them.

I can’t speak to Steiner principles (I know the basics of Waldorf method, but not all the ins and outs of Steiner stuff), but it just seems strange to me that the parents of kids this young are deliberately holding back from teaching their kids necessary life lessons. If there’s no room to change the way the adults manage kids’ physical aggression, then I think I’d just leave the playgroup so my kid didn’t get hurt anymore. You absolutely do not want to teach your daughter that it’s acceptable for her to be hurt repeatedly.

In B’s situation, the adult caregivers are seriously dropping the ball. They need to be protecting the kids. All the kids. The kids who are the victims of the biting and choking, and the kids who are doing the biting and choking. It isn’t like it’s coming out of the blue. They know who the offenders and victims are, so they should be more proactive about stopping it before it happens. Yes, it sucks to have to be on top of a kid constantly to prevent him from hurting someone else, but what’s the alternative? Kids who have no other way to manage their frustration and aren’t learning appropriate boundaries, and kids who get hurt all the time (and don’t learn appropriate boundaries).

It sounds like the management of the center is not qualified to deal with this sort of problem, because there’s no clear policy for the caregivers to manage the kids to stop the hurting, and because there’s no clear policy about reporting incidents to the parents. In this situation I’d talk to the other parents in the room and get together as a group to talk to the management and caregivers about what you want done. But it’s not acceptable, and it’s a problem with the adults, not the kids, who are just moving through this developmental stage the way kids do.

Q&A: baby who won’t drink anything

Before we go on to the question, does anyone know how to get iron drop (like Polyvisol) stains out of fibers like clothes and carpets? A couple of people have written in to ask me, and I have no idea. The only thing I can think of is trying a rust remover, but don’t know if that would work (or if it would ruin the carpet).

Now on to the question. Mrs. Gryphon writes:

"I’ve searched your archives, and I don’t see anything that addresses my
concern with our almost-10-month-old.  She was breastfed exclusively
for the first 6 weeks, then I pumped and/or she had formula on the odd
occasions that I was away.  She was great at taking a bottle, and never
had any issues that way.  We waited until she was 6 months to start
introducing solids, which she loooooves.  She is a great little eater,
and eats a wide variety of foods now.  The problem lies in the fact
that she started self-weaning at 8 months (pushing me away and crying
when I tried to feed during the day – she still breastfed at bedtime
and in the morning, sometimes I could sneak one in if she was tired
enough before her nap!).  I’m not concerned that she’s weaning
since she’s the one dictating it BUT she refuses to drink anything from
a sippy cup, a regular cup or even a bottle now.  She only has 3 heavy
wet diapers a day, and I know she’s not getting enough fluids!  We’ve
tried cold formula, warm formula, room-temperature formula, water,
watered-down juice.  We’ve tried spooning it into her mouth (works for
about a 1/2 ounce and then she sticks her tongue out and we can’t get
the spoon in there anymore!), have tried several different types of
sippy cups, with and without the valve sealed.  We’ve tried plastic
cups, glass cups, plastic water bottles… I’m stumped.  Please help :)"

It is my guess that this is a temporary thing that’s got everything to do with developmental spurts and new skills. I predict that she’ll be back to drinking within a few weeks.

In the meantime, try two things. The first is letting her drink out of a regular cup/glass with a straw. You’ll need 3-4 straws, so she can play with a few and can drink out of one. Try whatever beverage she’ll take. Sometimes plain seltzer water will fool kids into drinking because the bubbles are so unnerving and fun. The hope is that she’ll be so tricked into thinking she’s grown up or so excited by the straw and real glass that she’ll forget to refuse to drink.

The other thing is feeding her as many water-rich foods as you can. Cucumber, watermelon, grapes, etc. all day long. The problem is probably either that she doesn’t like the sensation of the liquid or she’s refusing to drink on principle, and feeding her foods with a lot of water in them should sidestep both those issues.

Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Q&A: gift/toy ideas for kids

Meghan jumped to the front of the line with this question, since shop-’til-you-bleed Friday is in 4 short days:

"For the past week or so, we’ve been fielding questions about what Cole
(20 months) wants for the holidays. The problem is, no one wants to
hear the answer – nothing! He has tons of toys and books at home, a
lovely daycare full of even more things, and a playroom that we go to
regularly that has all of the things we don’t have or want at home.

understand that people want to give him gifts and that they will get
joy from selecting something for him, but I don’t know what to tell
them. I also don’t want them buying things we can’t or won’t use. I
want to populate an Amazon wishlist with a few things, but I can’t even
think about what might be good. He loves vehicles, animals, and
football the most, but when I imagine one more digger or one more board
book in this house…! Do you think I might want to request stuff he’ll
appreciate in the future, like art supplies or costumes?  Any ideas at
all for affordable, non-plastic, non-crap?"

I’m asking all of the readers to play along here. Tell us in the comments section what your picks are for best gift ideas for kids of different ages and why. The answers we’re looking for are going to be skewed toward high-quality or simple toys, or sure-fire hits that are on the cheap side. The fewer parts the better (except for Legos, of course).

Here are my picks:

For babies and toddlers:

A soft, anatomically-correct doll that comes in a bunch of different skin tones. My only beef is that the hat doesn’t come off, but it’s a great size for toddlers, contain no plastic pellets (that could come out if the doll is the victim of roughhousing), and toddlers seem to love anatomically correct dolls. Also look at the rest of the site for other soft dolls of different colors and dolls in wheelchairs, braces, with guide dog and with hearing aids.

For toddlers:

A Rody. Kids age 17+ months love to bounce around on this thing. Yes, it’s bright and it takes up space, but you can deflate it to store it and it has no pieces. And it’s good for their balance, plus they can bounce around and get a real workout inside while you’re lying on the couch, exhausted straightening up the house.

Musical instruments. Shakers, bells, drums, and all sorts of other instruments are fun for toddlers. (I linked to the A Greater Gift catalog, which sells fair trade items made by craftspeople in their native countries. If you’re disgusted with mass-produced factory-made stuff, this catalog has some great alternatives, as well as the famous fair-trade chocolate Advent calendars and Hanukkah gelt.)

Balls. The Gertie ball seems to be a particular favorite, along with plain old tennis balls.

A doll stroller to push around outside.

For 2-year-olds:

The cutting vegetables set. The Melissa & Doug version is wooden, but I’ve also seen a plastic version. If you have two kids, you’ll ned two sets because only one knife (its wooden, don’t worry) comes with each set, and they will fight over it.

More musical instruments.

Art supplies.

Play-Dough. A nice gift would be to make a bunch of colors of play-dough (recipe here) and put each in its own ziplock bag and give the whole set, along with a few cookie cutters and some wooden dowels for rolling and scoring.

For 3-year-olds:

Vehicles. Always and forever with the vehicles.

Dress-up clothes (for boys and girls).

Musical instruments and art supplies. Kids this age seem to be really into painting, so some paints and a huge smock would be a nice gift.

For 4-year-olds plus:

Games. iheartnewyork brought up Sorry, Blink, and Uno, but my 4-y-o loves Parcheesi, Balloon Lagoon and Great States Junior as well. They’re not too old for the classic (if boring) Candyland and Chutes & Ladders. Games are great to get people of all ages interacting with each other.


Any age:

A savings bond, if your country issues savings bonds. They’re not the most exciting investment instrument, but they’re straightforward ($25 gets you a $50 bond) and they’re guaranteed to be worth the face value at maturity. One $50 bond for every gift-giving occasion for a kid could pay for all his or her textbooks in college. If you really want to give something fun, give a matchbox car or action figure or doll along with the bond.

Legos. (Duplos or MegaBloks for kids younger than 5.)

Q&A: 2 1/2-year-old swearing

Pam writes:

"Can you help?  I do not know what to do or where to turn.
My 2 ½ year old seems to be swearing constantly, at home and in public
situations play group, shopping etc.  I have tried naughty spot, explaining
that mummy does not like those words and it upsets me and even smacking I am
ashamed to say – to no avail.

What can I do – help!!"

If it makes you feel better, we’ve all been there. And, of course, felt like horrible parents because our precious little one sounds like sailor.

I’ve got two suggestions. The first is to stop swearing yourself (and get other people in your house to stop swearing, too), if you can. (Read my tale of woe here, at the bottom of the post.) If you can do it, it might cut down on his urge to swear, of at least he won’t know as many swear words.

The bigger suggestion, though, is to ignore it. At that age kids don’t have any idea what they’re saying, so the difference between an actual swear word and any funny-sounding word (like "underpants") is only determined by the reaction of the adults around him. The more you react, the more he’ll keep swearing to get a rise out of you. Think about it–if you could absolutely freak out your partner just by saying a certain word, wouldn’t you do it again and again and again just to get a rise out of him? I totally would, which is probably why I enjoy 2 1/2-year-olds as much as I do.

You can ignore it every time he says a swear word, and within a few days I’ll bet saying those words will lose its appeal. Or, you could decoy him with some other, innocuous words, to see if you can get him to switch to those instead.  Pick a word or two that he says every once in awhile, and the next couple of times he says those words, give him a big "No, we never say that word!" reaction. I bet he’ll switch from "@#%*!" to "biscuits!" faster than you can get out the soap to wash out his mouth.

(If your problem is a preschooler using "potty talk," here are the suggestions to stop that. It’s harder to stop with older kids who know what the words mean.)

Q&A: nursing and teething 7-month-old

Mary writes:

"I have recently started introducing solids to my breastfed,19 lb., 7 month old son. With this introduction (2-3 oz./ 3x a day…on good days), I have found that he can go 3-4 hours between nursing sessions. Is this acceptable? I am just worried about juggling his new solid food feeding schedule with his once pretty stable nursing schedule (every 2-3 hours). Also, he has recently acquired 2 pearly whites…and his once restful 10-12 hour a night sleep time has been interrupted with 3-4 nighttime squawking/crying sessions. Is this due to teething and if so, what do i do? Right now, I just make sure he is A-ok and put a pacifier near his hand and he pops it right in…i do not nurse during this time. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated :)"

Some kids stop nursing as much when they start eating solids, while others keep on nursing just as much as ever. Before a year old, a baby’s main nutrition is still breastmilk or formula, with solids just for practice. So I’d monitor how much he’s nursing, but not necessarily by how often he nurses. If he’s still nursing plenty (a few good sessions a day), and doesn’t seem to be trying to give it up in favor of solids, then I wouldn’t worry about the longer times between nursing sessions. If you really are concerned about it, you could offer the breast before every solids-feeding session.

Bear in mind that many kids go forward and back with interest in solids, so he might be really into them this month, but then refuse and only want to nurse next month. That’s very normal, too.

Teething-related sleep disturbances usually happen before the teeth pop out, so I don’t think he’s waking up because of the teeth he just got. I wonder if he’s working on some more teeth right now and that’s what’s causing the waking. You could try giving him some homeopathic teething tablets (either the lactose-based Hylands tablets–not the worthless gel, or the sugar-based Humphrey’s #3 tablets) before bed–they’ll dissolve in his mouth and don’t have any side effects. If it’s actual pain they won’t do anything, but they’re remarkably effective for taking the jittery, cranky edge off a teething baby.

If what you’re doing at night to soothe him is working, then don’t mess with it! Unfortunately, he’s still too small to be able to find his own pacifier in the middle of the night (even the Avent ones with the glow-in-the-dark rings), so you’ll probably still have to be in the loop until he goes through whatever this thing is that’s waking him up. (It could also be his body learning to crawl, but you’ll be able to tell that sooner than later if you come in and he’s on hands and knees in the crib.)

It sounds like you’re doing everything right, but he’s just going through a couple of transition phases with the food and the teething. It’s probably going to stay confusing and a little sleepless for another few weeks until he gets over these new humps. Cut yourself a little slack, and see if you can get to bed a little earlier to help make up for the middle-of-the-night wakings.