Category Archives: Appropriate Behavior

One of my friends busted a molester!

Maybe, like me, you've seen creepy people hanging around the playground and wondered if they were really up to no good or if they just didn't understand they were acting creepy. It was a common topic of conversation with the other parents on the playground when I lived in NYC.

So imagine my delight when one of my good friends from our awesome preschool caught a registered sex offender by snapping a pic of him with her phone and showing the police, after he touched her daughter.

Here, read the story:

How bad-ass is she?

Her kid tells her the man touched her (good for her daughter!), and she doesn't hesitate. She just snaps the pic and takes it to the police, and now a convicted child rapist is behind bars again.

I knew my friend was a super-star the first day we met, but this is just beyond beyond.

Trust your instincts.

Don't be afraid to break social norms.

Fight for your kids.

Have a excellent day.



Discussion: Explaining stuff to your children

Whoa. Yesterday was one of the weirdest days in one of the strangest weeks in a long time. I’ve found it to be exhausting, and part of that was dealing with personal sadness (I have several friends who have lost or are in the process of losing loved ones this week). But a big part of it was figuring out how to explain to my kids what was going on.

I had a good conversation with my 4-year-old about the DC Metro crash a few days ago. He had a ton of questions, some of which I couldn’t answer. Then last night the 7-year-old and I spent a lot of time talking about comas and plastic surgery and why adults shouldn’t touch some of your body parts.

I know you all must have been having these same conversations. So I’m hoping we can open up a discussion about how you decide how open to be and how to approach talking to your kids about things. I know someone who didn’t want her children to hear about the netro crash because she thought they were too young to understand, and that’s a valid point of view. I feel like my kids are going to hear things, so I’d rather they hear the facts from me and have the chance to ask questions, which is also a valid POV.

So my question to you is; How do you approach talking to your kids about current events? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your approach? Don’t forget to mention how old your children are, please.

Q&A: early walker scares mother

I'd like to thank all the teachers out there who did projects with their classes for Mothers' Day. Single moms with kids too young to come up with and make or buy their own projects don't get anything else for Mothers' Day. So thank you.

Lydia writes:

"Gah! My 8-month-old is starting to walk. She's a total daredevil, and has no control or judgement. I'm terrified that she's going to fall and get a serious head injury, and am seriously considering buying her a helmet. But then I think that's insane. I need some perspective. Help!"

Let me begin with one of my mom's favorite aphorisms:

"God couldn't make them so fast and us so slow if he didn't also make their heads so hard."

Assuming that you've babyproofed all the truly dangerous things, and that you don't let her walk around in dangerous terrain outside, she's going to find her own level. Which isn't to say that she won't fall. But if she's being monitored appropriately (which doesn't mean you have to hover–just pay attention) she won't get hurt more than her size can take. So she'll get bumps and bruises and scrapes and cuts, but nothing that would require protection from a helmet.

If you think about it, letting her find her own balance and what she can and can't do now, instead of when she's really big and can get into lots of trouble, is going to mean fewer injuries later. Plus, it'll give her confidence in what her body can do, and let her know that you trust her to be able to do what she sets out to do. So letting her learn and walk the way she needs to (helmet-free) is a gift you can give her that'll set her up for confidence and physical accomplishment for the rest of her life.

Did anyone else have an early walker? How did you deal with the lack of judgment at that age? How long until your child was smooth and graceful?

Q&A: talking and thinking about conflict

So sorry yesterday's only post was about laser hair removal! I had every intention of posting another one, but then got completely engrossed in the inauguration here in the States to the extent that I forgot to edit and post my inauguration-related post. So, now I'm a day behind. Here's what was supposed to post yesterday:

Jennie writes:

"This isn't a burning question, but it's causing me some stress. My third-grader has been coming home from school kind of upset because he's been hearing kids talking about some of the stuff we talk about at home–politics, religion, etc.–and the kids are saying things that are the opposite of what we teach at home. How do I explain that people can have different opinions so that he understands that the other kids not agreeing with us doesn't mean we're wrong?"

This is a tough topic. And I disagree that it's not a burning question. Especially on the day we get a new President here in the US, this question and how we deal with it is going to have way more impact on our children and countries in the long run than anything having to do with sleep, eating, pooping, tantrums, etc. All that stuff is going to end (even if we do nothing about it), but how we get along as people with diverse positions on important issues is something that never ends and affects every aspect of our lives, in big ways and small ones.

It seems to me like this is kind of a matrix, and if we could agree on the dimensions we'd be in business. On one axis I see issues that have an absolute value vs. issues that are subjective. On the other axis I'd put things that we need to have dialogue about to come to better understanding vs. things we can just agree to disagree about. So you'd have four squares: absolutes that we need to talk about, absolutes that we agree to disagree about, subjective things that we need to talk about, and subjective things that we can just agree to disagree about.

The problem, of course, is that there's no way to come to any common understanding about what fits into any one category. I think most of us would say that "basic human rights" are in the absolute category. But what's one person's basic human right is another's privilege or even frill. And what's worth talking about and what's OK to just leave alone and disagree about?

It seems to me that each needs to be able to stay meta enough in the process to realize that what's important to you may not be important to someone else. And that sometimes people just don't have enough information to make an informed decision, and sometimes they have made an informed decision and it's just not the one you came to.

Once you understand that disagreeing doesn't mean good vs. bad, then you can move forward and figure out what goes in which categories for you, and help your kids get to that point, too. Helping them figure out what they really believe (even if it's different from what you believe!) is a way of helping them develop both strong analytic skills and a strong moral code. And the way to do that is to talk and talk and talk. Let in information that conflicts with what you believe, and talk about that. Ask your son what the other kids are saying, and try to figure out how they came to that point of view. Understanding that side will help you see things from other angles and refine your own views (and be able to defend them intelligently without getting upset).

Disagreement and being able to assimilate and analyze new information is what creates sharp, layered minds. So don't be afraid of the conflicting views. Turn it into a game at the dinner table if you want to by talking about why a view makes sense and why it doesn't. (For those of you who've taken the LSAT, remember the section in which you read an argument and figure out where it's weak?) Let your kids know that information won't hurt them.

How much talking do you guys do about current events, religion, politics, ethical dilemmas, etc? (We've been having lots of discussions about Gaza right now, and were talking constantly during the 2008 elections.) Are there areas in which you feel like you get stuck? How affected do your kids seem to be by the things their peers say? Do any of you live in places where your views are the minority, and how does that affect how you talk to your kids? How old are/were your kids when you started talking about differences?

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.

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 piña 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.

Forgive my silence…

Some stuff is happening and I just can't seem to wrap my head around the normal questions right now. Nothing bad, and I'll tell you when I can.

In the meantime, how about an etiquette question that you can answer for me:

There are only four kids in my apartment building and two of them are mine. (There are around 45 units total, most of them one-bedrooms.) We've never had trick or treating in the building, even when we had a few more kids, so my kids have always just done one of the community kids' costume parades and trick-or-treated in friends' buildings.

In most buildings in Manhattan, the tenants' association or co-op board puts up a sign-up sheet a week ahead of time for people to sign up if they want to hand out candy, and then tells them to put a sign on their door, so kids know which doors to knock on and which ones to leave alone.

In the past few years we've had a big influx of new people into our building. Last year, after Halloween, one of them expressed sadness that she hadn't gotten to see my kids' costumes or give them candy.

Is it going to seem totally rude and/or avaricious to put up a note on the building bulletin board (we have no tenants' association) asking if anyone wants to hand out candy? It wouldn't have occurred to me except that this woman wanted to last year.

Q&A: husband not into pregnancy yet

Maria B. writes:

"I am pregnant for the first time.  I am married to a great guy and amtotally in love with him.  I am ready to have a baby, and he's warming
up and very supportive.  It was my idea to start trying, and I got
pregnant right away which was a little overwhelming.  My concern comes
here.  My husband isn't yet excited as this is still abstract and he
hasn't really been around babies a lot.  It's early as well, I'm 16
weeks.  I'm ok with this, he's ok with this.  When I tell people I'm
pregnant, they usually press me for details about how excited my
husband is.  He is not telling his friends/co-workers because it makes
him uncomfortable.  I feel a little bit lost about how I can best
support him right now.  We have had conversations so he knows I'm not
pushing him to feel more than he does right now.  But I feel like he
needs me to do more.  Any ideas?"

Well, I figured I'd check with my Roundtable of Dad Advisers, aka the guys I work with. I'd say these guys are about as diverse as a group of all-white, college-educated, middle class New Yorkers can be. Seriously, though, for the most part I'd say they're at least as involved as the average, and a few of them are incredibly hands-on.

To a man, they all said that there's basically no way a guy can conceptualize of a pregnancy or a baby being real until they hear or see the heartbeat, and it's probably not going to seem truly real until they see your belly growing or realize that the profile in the sonogram looks like a person's face and not just a blob.

I wanted to see if it was just Americans that felt that way, so I checked with a Canadian friend, who said that for him it was really when his wife's belly started getting huge. Before that it was intellectual, but the radical change in her body started to make it real for him.

It seems to me that people who expect a male partner to be really excited about things before there's anything tangible (for him) to be excited about have some unrealistic expectations. It's not that there's anything wrong or outlying about your husband. It's just that women tend to live in a baby-worshipping world in which we get excited even passing the pregnancy test aisle in the drugstore. So we forget that men are living in a parallel world in which they aren't thinking much about a baby until they see the whites of the baby's eyes. <insert your own poopsplosion joke here>

Let's also not forget that there are some men who just don't do that well with infants. (That certainly doesn't mean that they get off the hook for doing baby care. At the very least they need to be doing everything–cooking, laundry, cleaning–if the mother's the one doing all the feeding and night waking.) But some guys just don't seem to connect so much with kids in the baby stage as they do with toddlers and older kids. So even if your husband still doesn't seem that excited when the baby's six weeks old, it doesn't mean he won't eventually be completely smitten by the baby and end up being a wonderful dad. It may just be that he does his best work playing horsey or throwing balls or showing the kid how to code or teaching your adult child to mix a mean margarita. If it's OK for moms to do the baby stage without really liking it (and it is OK), then it's fine for dads. As long as they're completing the required tasks, they don't have to love it.

So I would say not to worry about it. If people ask you about how he's feeling, just make a joke like, "Oh, he says he won't believe it's real until the baby poops on his pants." Everyone will laugh and you can start talking about which breast pump you're going to buy, or whether you like the new Winnie the Pooh or the old one, and how you secretly hope someone gets you one of those butt cakes they always have on for your shower even though you know they're frightening.

It will become real for him at some point. And if it doesn't, you can always get him a baby carrot jockey cake to try to scare it into him.

Confirmation or denial? Men? Women who talked about it with your partners (male or female)? And I'd be really interested in knowing what the experience is for female partners of pregnant women. How far along was your partner before you started feeling like it was real?

Q&A: that unbelievably annoying spitting stage

Michelle writes:

"We are flummoxed by my 10 month old’s food-spitting.  It is actually pretty cute…the minute we present him with ANY type of food (baby puree, toast, fruit chunks, even the “puffs” he usually loves) he starts blowing raspberries.  The only problem is that, apart from drinking bottles, he hasn’t had a single bite of any food in several days.  He doesn’t seem in pain, so I don’t *think* he is teething or suffering from a throat infection or something.  Rather, he seems playful or even triumphant about it.  But here’s my question- isn’t 10 months too young for the toddler-style testing?  Is this something babies do when they are leaping forward in other ways?  He is also about to start walking and struggles/fusses a lot in any position other than standing.  Is he basically trying to talk, and I can diffuse some of this behavior by doing baby sign language- which honestly feels a little silly to me?  Is he just destined to reject food and become one of those really picky eaters who only eats fruit roll-ups and peanut butter?"

First of all, I need to put my foot down and insist that no one diss the baby signs. Baby signs have the power, so you can think they're silly all you want, but once you see them in action you'll change your tune. And when your 9-month-old can tell you "more," "all done," "milk," "sleep," and a few other things, you'll be happy you did them.

Now, on to the question. Michelle labeled this a "lighter" question, but I get a version of this at least every month, and some of the parents are truly upset about it. I think it's hard for some parents to see their children testing boundaries and exerting their will so soon. When you've been used to a cuddly, compliant baby and suddenly you have this creature who just won't stop doing something that seems so counter-productive, it can throw you for a loop.

I also think that some parents react with a distress or rage about spitting that's out of proportion to the actual even because it hits something in them. If you were punished or harshly dealt with about eating and food and table manners when you were a baby and toddler, then your child stepping out of line (so to speak) is going to trigger those really anxious, rage-filled feelings in you. If you recognize yourself in that description, good! Now that you know what's going on, you can use those feelings to tell you what you need healing from. It's a good opportunity to give yourself what you didn't get when you were a child.

Now, as for why Michelle's baby (and yours) are doing this spitting thing: Michelle pretty much hit everything. It is too early for toddler testing, but it's right on time for older-baby testing (which no one wants to tell you about for fear that you'd say you were going out for a gallon of milk but you'd never come back). There's a 46-week developmental spurt, and I think part of it is that, but really I just have known so many many kids (both of my own included) who've started to really want to just do what they wanted and now! when they were 10 or 11 months old. 

Add in the physical stuff, and yeah, you've got a would-be tyrant with little ability to make his desires known and a very limited ability to go where he wants to go. You'd be cranky, too, in that situation, and would do whatever you could to piss off The Man

So, seriously, try the sign language (at the Michigan State free ASL dictionary or the Signing Time DVDs), and don't get too upset about the spitting, because it's just a result of frustration on his part plus exploration and being able to do something that feels cool.

Oh, and some of us would be happy if our kids ate both fruit roll-ups *and* peanut butter. Sigh.

Cast your vote in the comments for the most annoying baby/toddler behavior that isn't an actual problem but makes/made you nuts.

Q&A: Playground “rules” from other parents

Molly writes:

"What's the right way to handle playground "rules" set by other people? Sometimes when we're at the playground some other parent will say to
their kid "no swinging on your stomach" or "no going down the slide
backwards" or "no shouting" or "no jumping in puddles" or some other
perplexing rule that I never thought of, and then their kids (no
dummies) say "But he's doing it!"–meaning mine.

I totally, totally get how this makes their life difficult but 1) I
don't get the rule itself, I never thought of it, and I don't see why
it matters and 2) I don't really want to mess with my kid's head by
saying, Oh OK, this random adult made a new rule, let's follow it.
 (I'm not letting him throw dirt or woodchips, I'm not letting him mow
down other kids, I'm not letting him hog all the pails & spades or
anything that would CLEARLY be rude/dangerous, at least to me. )

What's the social contract say on this?  I missed that chapter.  Can we
have separate playgrounds for the intense parents and us lazy parents?"

You know, I think one of the big challenges of parenting is establishing your own policies and sticking to them in the midst of social pressure from other parents (and society at large). Parents of older kids can probably confirm that this gets more and more difficult as the kids get older. Violent video games, violent movies, Bratz, hoochie clothes for tweener girls–it seems like there are a lot of things that we're going to have to work hard to maintain a stance against.

So think of this time of dealing with other people's rules on the playground as little baby steps of preparation for telling your child that, no, she can't go to Cancun alone with her friends for spring break because they're only 14.

The parents I know have always operated under the assumption that you can make whatever rules you want for your own kids, but you can't make rules for other people's kids (assuming the other kids aren't hurting yours), and that enforcing your rules is your own business. Add you can't resent other people for having their own rules.

So that means that you have a perfect right to bring grapes as a snack for your kids, but you can't get angry at another mom for bringing Oreos. You can let your kid run around with shoes off at the playground, and even if I think it's stupid of you, I can't resent you for doing it, even if it causes me extra trouble to keep my kids in their shoes*. I can casually mention the recent cases of kids who've had their feet burned by the asphalt on the playground, but only to help you out, not to tell you you have to parent the way I do.

And, the other responsibility is being able to explain to your kids that "they do things their way and we do things our way" without saying or implying the words "irresponsible," "lazy," "helicopter," "controlling," or "dumbass."

So, basically, you make the policies for your kids, and other people make the ones for theirs, and you don't have to go by theirs and they don't have to go by yours. The stuff you're dealing with now at the playground is small potatoes compared to the stuff that'll come up later, so use this time as practice for helping your kids separate your family from what "everyone else" is doing and making that process explicit. That way later on they'll be less tempted to jump off the bridge when their friends are.

* A tip for that is to get water shoes and call them the "special playground shoes" and hype them as a cool thing they get to wear instead of that they have to wear. This won't work forever, but it will buy you a summer or three.