Q&A: post-holiday tantrums

Theresa writes:

"Anyone else have a rough week last week now that the holidays are over? My son (6) was back to school, I was back to the miserable commute, the
babysitter (whom he loves) was back – and by Thursday we were in
full-blown tantrum mode (we haven't been there for a while).  From
Thursday through the rest of the weekend, we had multiple tantrums a
day.  I think the major triggers were interruptions on his time with me
(not so much his dad, who is more of the primary caretaker now that
I've got the commute from hell), but they could also start over being
asked to practice piano, being asked to finish dinner, stuff that is
never usually a problem.

So I'm wondering if this is just a temporary "end of holidays/vacation"
reaction or something more serious.  I'm also wondering how people deal
with tantrums generally.  I'm a bit at my wit's end right now (to the
point where yesterday, I just ended up resorting to pure bribery)."

Oh, what's a little bribery between friends?

Seriously, though, there's all sorts of stuff I never thought I'd do as a parent, including bribery, that I do without a second thought as long as it gets the job done and prevents those ridiculous, out-of-the-blue, sucker-punch tantrums that make you want to throw yourself on your sword.

And, yeah, we've been having some crazytime here Chez Moxie. I'd been attributing it both to the return to "normal" from the winter break and also to the kids having spent several days in a row with either one or the other of their dad and me (usually they see both of us on most days).

Now, I do think some of this with my older one is that he's almost 7, so I'd say definitely go read through the assessments of what being 7 is like in the comments from hedra and Sharon Silver especially.

But I really think it's just trying to get back to a regular routine after a few weeks of everything being different and more relaxed. Whether your child did better or worse with a less structured day, it's still stressful to go back to a routine and school. I think the key is just to stay consistent and calm (as calm as possible) and know that your child will adjust back within the next few weeks.

How has everyone else been doing? This is the second week back for most of us, so I'm imagining that things are settling way back down from last week. How did you get through the shift?

Q&A: bloody, mucusy stools

Rachel's got a question that's stumping me:

"My daughter is almost 5 months old and has had frequent bloody andmucusy stools on and off since she was about 6 weeks old. She is
exclusively breastfed.  Our pediatrician initially said it was dairy
and soy protein from my diet, so I cut those out. It seemed to make no
difference. I then cut out wheat, then eggs, until eventually the "top
8" allergens were out of my diet. Still no improvement. My pediatrician
says to wait it out, and since my daughter is gaining weight, seems
happy, and is meeting developmental milestones I shouldn't worry. I
just don't feel right about this, and since we are creeping up on
solids introduction age I really want to figure it out.  Do you have
any suggestions? We are so at the end of our ropes here."

Yeah, I just can't imagine that having blood and mucus in your poop is something that should just be ignored, so I'm kind of shocked that your pediatrician is telling you not to worry. Something is definitely not right.

You've dealt with the most obvious things: dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, etc.

Is this ringing a bell with anyone? I'm trying to think backwards through what I'd suggest if it were an adult suffering from blood and mucus in the stool, but I'm not getting anywhere with that in my head, either.

Was your daughter ever given antibiotics? That's the only thing that's jumping immediately to mind.

Please jump in with ideas if this is sounding familiar to anyone.

Q&A: His own bed!

John writes:

"Okay – nothing new or original, but it's driving us crazy:

We can't get our 4-year old to sleep all night in his own bed. We've
been working on this for more than two years now. We've finally got him
to the point where he will go to sleep in his own bed (eventually), but
by midnight or so, he's back in bed with us.

He's got a rigid bedtime routine – dinner, toilet, bath, feed the fish,
3 books, hugs and kisses, go to sleep with audiobooks on the iPod (on
speaker – no headphones). We've used bribes with mixed success and if I
have to, I lie down with him in his bed until he falls asleep
sometimes, but both of those seem like iffy ideas at best.

We try to take him back as soon as he gets into bed with us, but we are
both so exhausted at the end of the day that a lot of the time, we
don't realize that he's in our bed until a couple of hours later, when
our backs give out from clinging to the edge of the bed. He's the
Stubbornest Boy in the Universe (potty training has been a little slice
of Heaven) and if he wakes up enough on the trip back to his bed, he
gets so into the power struggle that he wakes himself up completely and
then the fun REALLY starts.

We're both big.

The Boy is big.

The bed is not.

One of us is going to fall asleep at the wheel and drive into a cement
truck one day on our way to or from work.  (Which may be part of his
plan, because then he'd inherit half of our bed.)

Yours in total, mind-numbing exhaustion,

John"

Think about what a successful life your son is going to have with his refusal to back down. He is going to have the drive to succeed, and the will to keep going in the face of adversity. His stubbornness will serve him well in The Game of Life.

Your sleep situation right now, however, sucks.

It sounds like you've tried a whole lot of things, from bribes to lying down with him. And the problem isn't getting him to sleep in his bed initially, but getting him to stay in his bed.

It seems to me like you have three options. One is to keep going the way you are, but it sounds like you really don't want to do that, so let's not even talk about it. The second option would be to use brute force to keep him in his bed. The third option would be to try to get him involved in the plan.

The brute force option would be to barricade him in his room somehow. I think it's a bad idea for a lot of reasons, but I also know people who've felt like it was the only thing they could do. When you're that sleep-deprived for that long, you try whatever you can think of. The real kicker here, though, is that I think some kids wouldn't really mind being shut into their rooms, but the ones who are coming into your bed every night are the exact kids who would hate it. And then you're setting up a power struggle and control-based situation that's just going to end up making everyone feel horrible and eroding trust between the two of you.

Since these spirited kids need help managing their emotions and impulses, setting up an oppositional situation is just going to backfire by making things worse. Instead, you might want to see if option three works, by enlisting his help in the project of keeping him in his own bed.

It seems like there are a couple of dimensions here. The first is that you want to talk to him and make sure he understand that he needs to stay in his own bed, and why it's very important for the whole family that he does. But the other, key part to this is to get him to tell you why he doesn't stay in his own bed but instead comes into yours. Once you know that, you can try to replicate the conditions he's going for without having him come in with you. Is he cold? Maybe more blankets or a space heater are the answer. Is he scared of being alone, or just wants to be with other people? Maybe you could put a small mattress for him in your room that he could come sleep in in the middle of the night.

There could be any number of conditions that are making him wake up in the middle of the night. (Some kids at this age sleep all the way through, while others seem to wake up, so I don't think it's abnormal for him to wake up, but there also could be some specific reason he's waking up.) Until you figure that out, you really don't know what to do to make it easier for him to sleep through.

Has anyone else been through this? What did you do to help your child finally sleep through in his or her own bed?

Bear with me

Gah–autopost ate my second post from yesterday and I didn't know it until just now, and I spent a few hours at the doctor's office only to be given nothing but cough medicine for this illness that's been here for a few weeks now that won't let me sleep or think or focus on anything.

I had no idea about the IUDs! Interesting…

Q&A: grandmother with compromised immune system

This post seems to be gone, even though I wrote and autoposted it to go up yesterday, I thought. And now I can't even find the original question. So here's a paraphrase of the question, and a reconstruction of my original answer:

"My mother has cancer that's spread to her liver, and is undergoing an extremely aggressive chemo protocol that will go on for basically the rest of her life. Because of this, her immune system is compromised and she's in danger of getting sick and dying of things that the rest of us shake off easily.

How do we deal with this? My three-year-old loves his grandma, and doesn't understand why he can't see Nonnie anymore. And she misses him. Is there anything we can do, or are they never going to be able to see each other again? That would break my heart, as well as both of theirs."

Oh, this is breaking *my* heart. I'm so sorry about your mother.

I don't know if there is any way your son can see his grandmother. There must be a patient coordinator or social worker who can investigate this for you, to find out if there are ways your son can see your mom without endangering her life.

In the meantime, you can use a lot of the ways people have suggested for grandparents to keep in touch with grandchildren when they're living far away. There are many suggestions here, and most of them consist of talking by phone or videophone or Skype (free!), video or audiorecording your mom reading books to your son so you can play the files for him, and recording your son talking to her so she can see/hear him.

Has anyone been in this situation? I'm guessing some of us may have been unable to see someone for a short period of time, but this is a permanent situation for them, it sounds like. Any ideas how to help them cope?

Mirena IUD

Meredith wrote asking for experiences with the Mirena IUD:

"I've been reading all the stuff the Mirena people put out about it, and I know the listed side effects, etc. I guess I'm just looking for experiences from women who have gotten one. Was it uncomfortable to have in all the time? Does it affect your periods? What about mood swings? And I think it's a dealbreaker for me if it lowers my sex drive or makes my skin worse."

So if you've had or have the Mirena IUD in, can you give your experience with all those aspects? Thanks.

Q&A: 4-year-old and death

Ally writes:

"My grandmother is dying of cancer, and I am conflicted over whether ornot it would be ok to have my 4 year old boy at the funeral home for a
little while. We've talked to him about death plenty, as my mother
passed away unexpectedly last fall although they were not close enough
for it to have a long-lasting impact. What I am unsure about is that
there will probably be an open casket. I have issues with that myself,
partly because I want to be cremated once I die because to me once
you're gone, you're gone and your body is just the vessel that is left
behind. But I also was very deeply impacted by my grandfather's passing
when I was 14. He and my other grandmother raised me, his death was the
most awful thing that could possibly happen at the time, and I was
completely freaked out by my grandmother kissing and touching his dead
body.

So, a 4 year old and an open casket – inappropriate? Or is it just me?

And
since I am writing about death and my 4 year old, I may as well toss
this in. We have a 13 year old dog that has cushings disease and at
some point we'll either no longer be able to afford to treat it or
we'll have to put him to sleep because the medication isn't effective
any more. A couple of years ago before he was diagnosed and there was a
good chance he'd die of old age my husband and I talked about what we
would do if he died at home. In that scenario we are both comfortable
with giving our son a chance to say goodbye before taking care of the
body. Now that we are facing euthanasia, I don't know what the best
thing to do is. I don't want to make up something and just have him
disappear. But I don't know how up front to be about the euthanasia
part. How do you explain to a preschooler that you are putting a pet to
sleep? Is it appropriate to do so?

I typically shoot for honesty above sugar coating things, but
again, I have a bad situation in my past where we had to put a beloved
dog down because she started behaving in a way that couldn't be managed
by us. So I can't think very clearly about this."

I completely think the open casket thing is cultural, nothing more. In my culture of origin, open casket is the norm, and to not do it would be disrespectful to the deceased person, and also everyone would worry that the survivors didn't get to have closure because they couldn't actually see that the person was dead.

I didn't know that everyone didn't do open casket until I was an adult, and my first reaction was that people who had closed casket were avoiding the normal grieving process! So it just goes to show that different things work for different people. One person's unbelievably creepy is another's normal, and one person's repressed and avoidant is another person's respectful.

Having said that, I can remember going to open casket visiting hours from a very young age (around 4) and not being creeped out by the body, but finding it interesting that it was so obvious that this was just Uncle Joe's body, but Uncle Joe himself wasn't there anymore. It made the difference between alive and dead really concrete for me as a kid in a matter-of-fact way. But that probably had to do with the fact that the adults there were all confortable with open casket themselves, and had grown up with it, too, so it was just a given.

So my answer is that it's not going to hurt your son to see your grandmother's body in the open casket, but if you don't think you will react well to it yourself, then you shouldn't be the one with him, or you shouldn't bring him. As to your question, it sounds like you think open casket is inappropriate in general, so this really doesn't have anything specifically to do with your son. If you decide you can deal with it, bring him. If you think it'll be too strange for all of you, then don't come. He'll be fine either way, as long as you're honest about what happened to your grandma and he gets a chance to express and feelings about her being gone.

Oh, the dog. It's so hard to lose a pet, and anticipating how your kids will react to it makes it even worse. But kids seem to be way better at accepting the circle of life than adults are.

When I had to put my sweet, elderly cat down a few years ago, my older son was 4 and my younger one was still a baby. I told my older son that Siggy was in a lot of pain, and that we had to "help her die" by giving her some medicine that would make her die. I believe in heaven so I added that in, but the "help her die" angle works pretty much universally, I'd guess. Euthanasia is an act of kindness, so approaching it that way is going to let you be honest about all angles of it. You can still be sad that the dog is sick and in pain, and that you'll miss the dog, but you know you're doing the thing that's best for the dog.

Anyone want to share what you told your kids about putting down a pet? What have your experiences been with death rituals for humans–open casket, closed casket, cremation, kids at visitation/wakes/shiva, etc.?

Q&A: 20-month-old scratcher

Kathy writes:

"I'm sorry about the long email but my husband and I are losing ourpatience fast. It all began with a recently trip to Jamaica. On our way
there, our 20 month old son refused to nap. By the end of our trip, he
was screaming, squirming and scratching at our faces. He's never been a
scratcher but we just thought he was deliriously tired and acting out.
While we were in Jamaica, he scratched our faces a handful of times but
again it was only when he was tired. Our trip back was an absolute
nightmare. My husband and I look like we got into a fight with a rabid
tiger and lost. Since we've been back 3 days ago, the scratching has
gotten out of control.

We've tried the serious voice and stern
"No scratching. It hurts mommy/daddy." He will either not care or claw
at us again. We moved to the "Ouch. That hurts" with a fake cry. His
response is to scream at the top of his lungs… not the I'm sorry
scream but the don't piss me off scream. We even tried the time out
thing today but he was perfectly content to just sit there. We try to
intercept his hand before it gets to our face but he's like a ninja. We
rarely see it coming.

The
scratching is sort of random. Sometimes he's tired or angry but other
times we're having fun together and he'll reach out and take a piece of
my face off. Everything that I've read says to be firm, consistent and
wait it out but I'm not sure if we can wait weeks or even months. We
won't have any skin left on our faces.

Any other tactics or advice? "

First off, I'd cut his nails and then file them down as far as you can without hurting him, just to reduce the efficacy of his weapons!

I have to say that it doesn't surprise me at all that your son is 20 months and is doing this. Remember how we've talked about the whole 18-month evil phase? The kids just get so frustrated and have no autonomy so they basically just lash out. And then something seems to ease around 21 months–they get more words, they seem to have more physical fluidity, and they just seem to be more in command and less stressed all the time.

What that means is that 20 months is the end of the build-up of frustration. I get dozens of questions from people about why their 20-month-olds won't eat, and that's all about controlling the one thing they can control. I think this scratching is the same thing–he can't control things and has so much anger and frustration inside of him. It's probably exacerbated by being back from vacation and feeling tired and off-kilter, and missing all the piƱa coladas and warmth of Jamaica.

I don't think you're going to be able to magically stop it, but I do think you might be able to ease it until he gets older and more able to deal with his conflicting emotions and urges. I think helping him express his feelings and wants might give him a little more space. So definitely start signing, if you haven't been doing any already. (And if you've been doing it but have tapered off, ramp up again.) People loooove the Signing Time DVDs, and you can also use the Michigan State ASL browser online (you need QuickTime on your computer to use it, but you can download it free if you don't already have it).

The other thing you could do is to verbalize his feelings for him. If you can tell he's getting frustrated with something, you can say "You're frustrated. That's making you feel angry and like you want to scratch something!" and then give him a chance to confirm. It's got to be so horrible at this age to have so many complex feelings and not be able to express them so adults can understand! If a grown-up gets what you're feeling and can tell you they understand, that makes things better, even just a little. Everyone just wants to be understood, no matter how old or young we are.

The part about it coming out of the blue is, I think, also just human nature. Think about times when you're carrying around something that's been bugging you, and sometimes you can only be angry about it or mention it when things are back to being calm or happy. And the person who has to hear your anger is blindsided by it. Same thing here, only with physical pain.

Aside from this, I think it's going to help you if you can think of it in terms not of your son acting naughty or trying to hurt you on purpose, but as a problem you need to solve together. Clearly he's feeling awful and angry and frustrated and is just lashing out because he's got nothing else. So whatever you can do to help him reconnect and feel like he's got some power over himself is going to help, and shutting him off (with time-outs or other "discipline" stuff that's really just punishment) is going to make things worse. But you knew that–I just thought it was worth reminding all of us of it again. (And again, and again. Parenting is hard, y'all.)

What else do you guys have for Kathy? Stories? I'm hanging on here by a thread with a chest cough and aching head, so I'm praying my younger one will take a nap (he's in the middle of dropping it) so I can, too.

Q&A: eye candy

Dudes, why did I not try upping my calcium for the clumsy PMS? I know calcium helps if a nursing mom's milk supply drops right before getting her period, so it's worth a try. And thanks to all the other people who admitted to the clumsy thing! I thought it was just my mom and me…

Today's question is from a male friend of mine. He asked me this verbally, so I'm paraphrasing:

How do your readers feel about the who eye candy issue? Specifically, my wife has started exercising to a DVD every night after the kids are in bed, and I'm totally supportive of her feeling good about her health. But the guy in the DVD is very attractive, and I don't know if I should be bothered by that or not. In general, what do we think the borderline is between appreciating a good aesthetic, and inappropriateness?

He was posing the question to me as a philosophical issue, and I don't think he thinks his wife's DVD boyfriend is a problem at all. I don't think so, either, as I know enough about their marriage to know that sometimes a downward dog is just a downward dog.

But I do think it's an interesting question. Where do you cross the line from "Jason from The Bachelor has abs I'd lick Nutella from" to sending naked photos of yourself to members of Maroon 5 and going on online forums to pretend you know them?

I'd argue that it's really all about your emotional health and the health of your primary relationship. If your relationship is good, then things won't go too far. But if focusing on this other person (whether real or famous or a fictional character) is a way of hiding or blocking yourself off from your primary relationship, then it's bad. No matter if it's actual porn or watching too many episodes of "Good Eats."

There are all kinds of ways to escape if your primary relationship is bad. Too much time reading or writing blogs, reality TV, cross-stitching, drinking wine, exercising, pouring all your energies into your kids so you're SuperMom–all these things can let you escape from something that's going off the rails. But if everything's fine, then things probably won't get out of balance.

Opinions? Anecdotes? Favorite eye candy?